No. 13 Arizona State returns to regular season action this weekend for a three game series against Long Beach State. The visiting Dirtbags have been one of the most surprising teams in the nation thus far, starting the season with a record of 8-4 after losing a lot of talent from a team that made the Gainesville Regional in 2014.
They have got the job done thanks to a number of great arms on the mound. Long Beach State's three man weekend rotation consists of Kyle Friedrichs, Tanner Brown, and Chris Matthewson. The trio have served as the catalysts for the Dirtbags so far.
Friedrichs is the staff's ace, a senior right-hander that will remind Sun Devil fans of TCU's Preston Morrison. He pounds the strike zone and already has 34 strikeouts in three starts, which ranks second in the country. Brown will be throwing on Saturday. He comes in with a 2-0 record and 1.45 ERA.
But perhaps the most intriguing of all three starters is Matthewson, a freshman who boasts a sub-1.00 ERA. He threw seven innings of no hit baseball on Sunday before giving way to reliever Darren McCaughan, who retired the six batters he faced. The two combined for the first no-hitter in Long Beach State history.
The team raced out of the gates, taking two of three from Michigan before topping Pepperdine and the NC Dinos, a Korean professional team. It has since won a pair of games against Utah Valley and swept a three game set against Wichita State. The games in Phoenix will be the club's first outside of the southern California area in 2015.
The maroon and gold enter the weekend at a 7-4 clip. They are fresh off a shutout loss against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday in Scottsdale, but before that won three of four games in the inaugural Phoenix Muni Classic. The offense exploded in their final two games, combining for 30 hits in wins against Purdue and Gonzaga.
While the bats have been hot, Arizona State's pitchers have struggled at times with their command. Head coach Tracy Smith is mixing things up this week, throwing usual mid-week starter Seth Martinez on Friday night. The always solid Ryan Kellogg will then go on Saturday, with Brett Lilek getting the nod in game three.
Sun Devil fans will recognize the name belonging to Dirtbag third baseman Jonathan Serven. He is the older brother of Arizona State catcher Brian Serven and is hitting at a .310 mark through 12 games.
Two other players that have seen action in all 12 games are batting over .300 this year. Shortstop Garrett Hampson leads the team with 10 RBIs and a .326 average, while junior Zack Rivera follows closely behind with nine RBIs and an identical average at the plate.
Long Beach State is not a team that is going to come into Phoenix Muni easily intimidated. The Sun Devils know this, however, and for the most part they have performed well against quality opponents. Pitcher's duels are to be expected in all three games, meaning this series could go either way.
Game one will start at 6:30 p.m. on Friday with Martinez getting the ball for the maroon and gold. The two teams will be back at it at the same time on Saturday, and the series will wind down on Sunday with a 12:30 p.m. first pitch.