It was just a short time ago that Spence was supposed to be out for the season, but the lefty fought through the pain and relearned how to grip his pitches around a finger injury to try and return and give ASU whatever he had. On Sunday he had a complete game, sending the Devils to an 8-2 victory over Clemson and their 21st berth in the College World Series.
For the first time since his injury, Spence looked like his old self and had Clemson batters completely off balance and looking foolish at the plate with his wide array of off speed pitches that even featured his newly invented epheus pitch, the "Choo Choo."
"That performance today was as good as I've seen all year," said ASU Head Coach Pat Murphy, "I didn't expect it, but I'm not surprised by it."
"It was recommended that he didn't pitch until July. He was just determined to help his team."
The Tigers did strike first against Spence in the Devils in the bottom of the fourth inning when Jeff Schaus ended Spence's streak of 11 straight set down to start the game with a two-out line drive home run over the right field fence to put Clemson up 1-0.
That lead wouldn't last very long. Just as fast as the home run left Packard Stadium, ASU's offense struck. It looked like Clemson's starter Chris Dwyer could make that 1-0 lead stand up, but that was until the fifth inning. Johnny Ruettiger sparked the big fifth inning with a leadoff single to left and then stole second base. Zack MacPhee then drew a walk, before Drew Maggi sacrificed the runners to second and third. Jason Kipnis then stepped to the plate and delivered yet again for the Devils. The Pac 10 Player of the Year singled back up the middle that gave the Devils the lead for good at 2-1.
ASU (49-12) wasn't done after that and Clemson (44-22) began to fall apart. Dwyer had Kipnis picked off of first base, but his throw sailed into right field and Kipnis went all the way to third base. That led Clemson manager Jack Leggett to pull the freshman Dwyer in favor of senior captain Matt Vaughn..
Carlos Ramirez was intentionally walked by Vaughn to set up the double play, but Kole Calhoun instead doubled into the right center gap that brought in Kipnis and Ramirez to make it 4-1 ASU. After Riccio Torrez was retired, Matt Newman continued ASU's deadly approach with two outs in the series with a roped double to right center to score Calhoun and just like that the Devils had control of the game at 5-1. The five runs would have been plenty, because Josh Spence was rolling. He allowed just two base runners between the fifth and the ninth innings, one on a single and one on a walk. "It was a mental thing as well, being convicted to throw the same way. It feels good now," said Spence, "They're a good-hitting lineup. I was able to get strike one."
"With a left-handed lineup, the slider was working, but on a different day, it might be a different pitch, I guess tonight I was able to keep them off balance and sneak a few fastballs threw here and there."
ASU got their pitcher some insurance runs to all but seal the trip to Omaha in the ninth inning. Drew Maggi started the inning with a double to right center and Jason Kipnis followed with a pop up that fell between the confused Clemson short stop Brad Miller and the left fielder Jeff Schaus. A miscommunication left runners at first and second, but Carlos Ramirez moved the runners to second and third with a perfect sacrifice bunt.
Clemson then went to the bullpen and called upon left hander Will Lamb to face the left handed hitting Kole Calhoun. The Tigers also drew in the infield and Calhoun hit one right to second baseman Mike Freeman who's throw to the plate was low and dropped by catcher John Nester allowing Maggi to slide in safely for the sixth run of the game.
Tomas Cruz then replaced Lamb and Riccio Torrez dropped down a safety squeeze that was fielded by Cruz, but his throw to Nester was just late as Kipnis slid in safely to make it 7-1 Devils. Matt Newman added an RBI single to right and the Devils took an 8-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth.
Pat Murphy elected to run Spence back out on the mound at 89 pitches, despite a long top half of the ninth. That move turned out to pay off. Chris Epps led off the inning with a single, was allowed to take second with no throw and scored on a two-out single by Ben Paulsen, but Spence got Kyle Parker to ground out softly to Carlos Ramirez to complete the super regional sweep of the Tigers and picked up his first win in 51 days.
ASU entered the super regional with the best ERA in the NCAA and Clemson certainly found out why. Mike Leake and Josh Spence helped lower the team ERA from 2.79 to 2.76 and ASU will take a dynamite 1-2 punch into Omaha. The duo gives the Sun Devils the first teammates to strike out more than 100 batters each since 1992. "This isn't your normal powerhouse team," said Kipnis, "We have a bunch of freshmen who don't know you are supposed to lose more games than we have this year. We're growing playoff beards with freshmen who don't have any facial hair." The Devils will face North Carolina (46-19) in the opening game of the World Series. The Tar Heels are the #4 national seed and the ASU/UNC matchup will be the only one of the first round of the World Series that pairs two national seeds. The double elimination tournament gets under way on Saturday in Omaha, with LSU, Cal State Fullerton, North Carolina, Virginia, Southern Mississippi, and Arkansas joining ASU in the field. Texas and TCU will battle it out for the final spot in the World Series in a decisive game three tomorrow.