The Rebels have succeeded in big-time road tests, and the mercury does skyrocket in Mississippi as well during the summer months. The crowd and heat may not be terribly important but controlling Arizona State's lineup will be.
Ole Miss has the pitching to play with anyone, and will need stellar outings from the starters in an attempt to limit big innings. Facing a national seed on the road is a challenge, but the Rebels are embracing the opportunity.
"We have won at Arkansas and played in front of enormous crowds that didn't like us," Lance Lynn said. "It is all about playing well and winning two games. They are a dangerous team but so are we. The number one schedule in the country prepares you for something like this. It's exciting, and we all know that it will take our best effort. That is what makes it fun."
Lynn and opening starter Will Kline have thrived on the big stage this season, and the upcoming weekend will be another test against a potent Arizona State order. First baseman Brett Wallace highlights the hitters with a .420 average, but he is just one of ten players to start more than a dozen games and hit at or above .300.
The home-field advantage may have less to do with the crowd and more with the environment. Packard Stadium routinely features a steady breeze out to right field, and the Sun Devils will place no fewer than six or seven left-handed sticks in the lineup. Power offense is a trademark of the Pac-10 member as ASU has connected for 72 home runs this season.
"They have a lot of left-handers so our change-ups will be really important," Lynn said. "You can't let them get comfortable and key in on the fastball. We can be successful by changing speeds and mixing it up. SEC teams hit the ball well, and we have experience with how to pitch them so it is all about executing."
The Rebel hurlers will need to limit the Arizona State offense, but Ole Miss must be able to generate runs as well. Extra-base hits and successful small ball must each be implemented because ASU doesn't allow many extra chances. Hitting has been the main talk when concerning the Sun Devils, but Arizona State isn't shabby with pitching and defense.
The host team fields at a .978 clip and contains offenses with a 4.15 ERA.
"They are just very solid," Mike Bianco said. "Defense is outstanding as they field almost .980. That is really good. Out of 100 attempts, that is making less than two and a half errors. They pitch solid with a good ERA, and everyone talks about their offense, but they are well rounded and do a lot of good things."
The Sun Devils have a mobile middle infield much like the Rebels and are led by Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year Eric Sogard at second base. Sogard has a .976 fielding percentage to go along with shortstop Andrew Romine's .962. By comparison, Zack Cozart and Zach Miller field at .967 and .939 respectively. The stat gives a glimpse into both team's capability up the middle but having more range could lower a more productive player's fielding percentage. Concerning outfield defense, the Rebels appear to have an edge in speed depending on if Packard is a tough park to adjust to.
The Sun Devils haven't announced their pitching rotation, but it should be some combination of LHP Brian Flores, RHP Mike Leake and LHP Josh Satow. All three have double-digit wins and sub-four ERAs and are control guys. Satow's 112 strikeouts in 123 innings pitched are a team high. Leake is a freshman all-American and a good sign on the mound for ASU. The Devils are 11-0 when Leake is the starting pitcher. Out of the bullpen, closer Jason Jarvis is the name that stands out. Jarvis has a 3.86 ERA and11 saves in 2007.
Arizona State is a formidable opponent and a favorite to win the national title, but Ole Miss has dominant arms and a sound defense on the other side. Capitalizing on offensive opportunities and limiting ASU will be the Rebels' ticket to Omaha.
Sun Devils tout a balanced attack
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