It's time for the Territorial Cup to head to the diamond.
The visiting Wildcats will get No. 5 Arizona State back to conference play and have been one of the most surprising teams in the nation so far, starting the season with a record of 22-9 after finishing their 2014 campaign 11 games under .500.
They have got the job done with one of the most explosive offensive lineups in the conference. Arizona has averaged more than seven runs per game since Pac-12 action began in mid March and is led by Phoenix product Scott Kingery. The Mountain Pointe High School product has started in all but one game this year and is hitting at an unreal .477 average.
Cleanup man Bobby Dalbec provides the pop for the Wildcats. He already has 32 RBIs and seven home runs through 31 games. This team has six everyday starters batting above .300 and another three solid bench players doing the same. Some would argue, however, that the numbers are a bit inflated due to an easy early schedule.
Arizona is currently ranked 174th in strength of schedule and rolled through a nonconference slate that featured opponents like Eastern Michigan, North Dakota State, and Oakland. There was a three game set against Rice and a pair of games at Mississippi State peppered in there, but a 1-4 mark against those teams did not exactly prove much.
Most recently was a series in Tucson last weekend against a top-10 USC club, which seemed to separate the true contenders from the pretenders in this league. The Trojans took all three games, including a 13-6 thumping on Friday. If the Wildcats were trying to gain some confidence heading into their Territorial Cup matchup with the Sun Devils, they failed miserably. These games in Phoenix now become a bit of a crossroads series for them. Perform well and get the season back on track, or continue to struggle and a minor setback turns into a major slump.
The maroon and gold enter the weekend with a record of 21-9 (9-3 in Pac-12 play). They are fresh off a surprise loss in Las Vegas against UNLV, but before that took two of three games at Utah. The team has been living on the edge lately, with the four games on that road trip being decided by a total of just five runs.
They will be facing a new look pitching rotation from Arizona this weekend. Junior right-hander Cody Hamlin will remain the ace of the staff and throw on Saturday, while weekday starter Xavier Borde will move into the number two role. The Wildcats will then start normal closer Bobby Dalbec in game three on Monday.
Arizona is not a team that is going to come into Phoenix Muni easily intimidated. But with home field advantage and the fact that Arizona State typically plays up to its competition, the Sun Devils should be able to win at least two games this weekend.
Game 1 will start at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and will be televised by ESPNU. The two teams will be back at it at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, and the series will wind down on Monday with a 7:00 p.m. first pitch.