Kelly Dominant in Regional Win over UWM

ASU head coach Tim Esmay didn't tip his hand as to who would get the ball for his team's NCAA Tournament opener on Friday night. He decided to save Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year Seth Blair and instead turned the ball over to junior Merrill Kelly. His decision turned to gold.

Kelly tossed eight innings and only allowed three hits and one earned run to lead No. 1 ASU to a 6-2 victory over UW-Milwaukee in the Tempe Regional in front of a sold out Packard Stadium.

It wasn't a pretty win, ASU (48-8) made mistakes on the base paths and in the field that cost them runs, but thanks to Kelly and some timely hitting, it didn't cost them.

Two of those mistakes came right away in the first inning, allowing the Panthers to jump out to a 1-0 lead.

Shaun Wegner singled with one away and he moved up to second on an error by shortstop Deven Marrero that allowed Dan Buchholz to reach.

Kelly then had an error of his own that loaded the bases with just one out. Paul Hoenecke brought home Wegner with a groundout to first and Kelly got the final out of the inning with no further damage.

"It was first playoff jitters, kind of excited a little too much," Kelly said. "I had to slow the game down and take one pitch at a time."

He did just that and was nearly unhittable the rest of the way.

His offense got him the lead in the second inning. With one out, Zach Wilson doubled and Johnny Ruettiger drew a walk. That set up the freshman Marrero for his first career postseason at bat, he promptly responded with a double to center that scored both runners.

"It kind of gave us a relaxed feel," ASU senior Kole Calhoun said of Marrero's double. "Even though it is playoffs, it is the same game we have been playing all year. We slowed down and kind of took it from there."

Drew Maggi and Zack MacPhee started the third inning with back-to-back hits and Calhoun followed by taking a changeup from UWM starter Chad Pierce onto Rural Road to give ASU a 5-1 advantage.

"It was a changeup belt high," Pierce said of the pitch Calhoun hit out. "Usually when those things happen, it is going to be a long home run."

It also didn't help Pierce's cause that Calhoun was anticipating a changeup.

"My first at-bat, he threw me four change-ups. I've seen it six times already." Calhoun said. "I just got one that I can get a barrel on."

An RBI double from Riccio Torrez made it 6-1 ASU in the seventh and that was plenty for Kelly.

The Panthers (33-25) did get an earned run against Kelly in the eighth inning on an RBI double by Buchholz, but it was too little and too late against the righty.

Kelly retired 11 straight Panthers at one point and he helped his team settle down after a bit of an anxious start.

"He did a real nice job of pitching to both sides of the plate," UWM head coach Scott Doffek said. "Kelly did an excellent job of pitching off of his changeup and throwing his fastball in."

The Panthers had a chance to get to him and the jittery Sun Devils right away in the first inning, but only could muster up one run after loading the bases.

"Against teams like this you have to take advantage of opportunities and we didn't do a great job of that," Doffek said. "To his credit, he beared down and made a pitch when he needed to, to get out of the inning."

As for the mistakes on the bases, Esmay credited UWM for making quality defensive plays.

"We played very relaxed on defense," Doffek said. "That is what kept us in the game, I think they made three or four outs on the bases."

ASU will now take on third-seeded Hawaii Saturday night at 7PM. The Rainbows moved into the winner's bracket by knocking off second-seeded San Diego 4-3 earlier in the day in Tempe.

Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year Seth Blair (11-0, 3.20 ERA) will get the call for ASU and will be opposed by UH ace Josh Slaats (5-3, 3.22). Like ASU, UH elected to not throw its top starter in the first game.

UWM and USD will play in an elimination game tomorrow afternoon at 2PM.

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