May 24, 2003
By Brian Gomez
There wasn't the glamour and pageantry that encompasses the football and men's basketball rivalries between Arizona and Arizona State, but the competitive flair that burns among these intrastate schools looked brighter than ever on the baseball diamond Friday night.
A near-capacity crowd at Packard Stadium was treated to everything you would expect from two teams fighting for second place in the Pac-10 and a chance to host an NCAA Regional. The 3,500-plus fans in attendance didn't need two weeks of hype, like during football season, or seven days of anticipation, like during basketball season, to get ready for this one.
They got what they bargained for and more, especially in the bottom of the eighth inning when senior third baseman Dennis Wyrick lined a two-out RBI single to left field and sophomore catcher Tuffy Gosewisch followed with a two-run single down the left-field line. The back-to-back hits lifted the No. 4-ranked Sun Devils to a 5-2 win over the Wildcats.
"Every game is big, and I think every game is going to be like this," Wyrick said. "It's going to help us a lot going into the playoffs. This is an important series and it's good for momentum."
The rivalry has never gotten the attention of its larger-sport counterparts, partly because of the vast difference in talent between the programs. Dating back to 1993, the last time both schools were in the postseason, ASU has made seven NCAA Tournament appearances and UA has made only two.
Since winning their last national championship 17 years ago, the Wildcats haven't been able to put the pieces together for a return trip to the College World Series. The Sun Devils have gone to Omaha five times during that same span, taking runner-up honors twice (1993 and 1988).
ASU has won two of three games in the annual Pac-10 series in each of the last three years. Although UA leads the all-time series 219-182, ASU holds a 159-102 advantage in varsity play and the Sun Devils are 28-15 against their archrivals since head coach Pat Murphy came to Tempe in 1995.
"They've have a great new coach (Andy Lopez) and they have a really young lineup," Gosewisch said. "I think they're only going to get better."
The gap may never shrink to the point where both schools are routinely competing for conference titles, as long as ASU continues to attract the nation's premier high school prospects. It could, however, be reduced so much that the Sun Devils begin viewing the Wildcats as a viable Pac-10 contender, along with Stanford and USC.
"They're becoming a much more consistent program," Wyrick said. "They've been getting better every year I've been here and they always play us tough. I hope they don't get much better, but it's good for college baseball, it's good for the rivalry and it's good for the fans."
GOSEWISCH GUNS 'EM DOWN:
The Wildcats got on the board in the third inning when freshman catcher Nick Hundley scored on freshman infielder Chris Frey's bunt single, but the damage could have been a lot worse.
Gosewisch freed ASU senior right-hander Ben Thurmond from trouble by throwing out a pair of base runners who were attempting to steal second. He nailed Frey, before gunning down sophomore infielder John Hardy. Sun Devil sophomore shortstop Dustin Pedroia applied the tag on both outs.
"We knew they were a base-running team, but I didn't try to do anything different," Gosewisch said. "As soon as I got the ball, I just got it to second as fast as I could, and it just worked out. Ben pitches real quick to the plate, so that gives me a lot of time to get the ball down to second."
In what was a somewhat routine display of fielding brilliance, Pedroia made yet another slick defensive stop in the fifth. He snared Hundley's line drive and fired across the diamond to sophomore first baseman Jeff Larish, who stepped on the bag to get sophomore right fielder Jeff Van Houten for an inning-ending double play.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com.