College Weekend Preview: May 20-22




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THIS WEEK
Meaningful Matchup: Texas A&M vs. Texas
Marquee Mound Showdown: California's Justin Jones vs. UCLA's Adam Plutko
Under The Radar: Marietta (Ohio) College
Streakin': Grand Valley State (Mich.)
Slumpin': Louisville
Stat of the Week: Clemson's pitching
Scouting Report: Rice at Southern Mississippi
In The Dugout: Arizona State's Riccio Torrez


Meaningful Matchup
Texas A&M vs. Texas

The rivalry between Texas and Texas A&M dates back 107 years in baseball, and it never fails to stir up local passions. But there is even more hype than usual surrounding this weekend's showdown, which begins tonight in College Station before shifting to Austin for Friday and Saturday (all three games are already sold out). The Aggies have a one-game lead over the Longhorns in the standings, so whichever team wins this series will earn the Big 12 Conference title.

Top 25 Schedule
(1) Virginia at (17) North Carolina
Southern California at (2) Oregon State
(3) South Carolina at Alabama
(18) Clemson at (4) Florida State
(11) Texas A&M vs./at/at (5) Texas
Kentucky at (6) Florida
(7) Vanderbilt at Georgia
(8) Arizona State at Washington
(10) Texas Christian at New Mexico
(12) Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech
(13) Oklahoma at Baylor
(19) Rice at (14) Southern Mississippi
(15) Connecticut at Cincinnati
Duke at (16) Miami
(20) Fresno State vs./at/at Cal State Bakersfield
Belmont at (21) Stetson
(22) Oklahoma State at Texas Tech
Mississippi at (23) Arkansas
Florida Atlantic at (24) Florida International
(25) Texas State at Texas-Arlington
"Certainly a showdown between Texas and the Aggies creates a lot of excitement," Texas coach Augie Garrido said. "Whoever wins two out of three wins the championship. The buzz is much higher, and the excitement is much higher. The fans are more interested, and the media is providing the information through more outlets. This is a very aroused area right now for college baseball."

Adding to the intrigue are three tantalizing pitching matchups. These are two of the nation's very best pitching staffs, both living up to lofty preseason billings.

Texas A&M ace righthander John Stilson (5-1, 1.59 with 89 strikeouts and 22 walks in 85 innings) missed last weekend's Nebraska series with a slightly strained lat muscle in his back, but he returns to action Thursday against Texas ace righty Taylor Jungmann (11-0, 0.86 with 97 strikeouts and 21 walks in 105 innings). Jungmann is one of the very top candidates for national Player of the Year honors, one of just four players in the nation with 11 wins. Garrido compared Jungmann to former Long Beach State ace Jered Weaver as a lower-slot slinger with moxie and strike-throwing ability, an apt comparison.

One of the other four will pitch Saturday for Texas A&M: Junior righthander Ross Stripling (11-2, 2.09), who has won his last six starts. He's likely to face sophomore lefthander Hoby Milner (5-3, 2.63), because Garrido said the Longhorns have more confidence in his ability to pound the strike zone than junior lefty Sam Stafford (5-2, 1.79), who has split the No. 3 starter duties with Milner. Both have good stuff—low-90s fastballs and sharp breaking ball—but Milner also has the ability to work in relief, while Stafford needs the routine that comes along with starting. If the Longhorns use Milner in relief in one of the first two games, they could go with freshman righthander Nathan Thornhill (2-0, 0.74) in the third starter spot, as Garrido said the deceptive freshman has come on strong and figures to factor into the starting mix in the Big 12 tournament, at least.

In between those two matchups is a Friday showdown between A&M sophomore righty Michael Wacha (6-3, 2.33, 94 K/20 BB in 89 IP) and Texas senior righty Cole Green (6-3, 2.87, 80 K/16 SO in 78 IP). Wacha is a likely first-round pick a year from now, a physical flame-thrower with a plus fastball and a plus changeup. Green was an unsigned fourth-round pick a year ago, and he has recovered nicely from a slow start to the season. The fearless Green attacks hitters with three quality pitches in his average fastball, excellent changeup and slider.

"I think they're going to be outstanding," Aggies coach Rob Childress said of the three pitching matchups. "That's what you want. If you're a baseball purist, both teams pitch and play defense at a high level. On paper it should be three great, great matchups."

Of course, both teams are very strong in the bullpen as well, with quality closers who entered the season unheralded. Freshman righthander Corey Knebel (2-1, 0.86 with 15 saves, 49 K/10 BB in 42 IP) has been a sensation for the Longhorns, dominating hitters with a lively 92-96 mph fastball. For A&M, senior righty Joaquin Hinojosa (2-1, 2.43 with eight saves, 27 K/8 BB in 30 IP) has done a fine job replacing Stilson at the back of the bullpen, pounding the strike zone from a low slot.

Offense was a significant question mark for both of these teams heading into the season, but both coaches like where their offenses are now. The Aggies have been riding a couple of hot hands lately, playing senior Gregg Alcazar at DH and in the No. 5 hole, where he's shown a knack for delivering big hits. They've also gotten a spark from senior second baseman Andrew Collazo in the No. 9 spot—he has started the last eight games, posting a .448 on-base percentage during that stretch.

"Our seniors have made a major impact for us," Childress said. "You start talking about our two catchers (Kevin Gonzalez and Alcazar). Andrew Collazo's found himself back in the lineup and is doing a great job turning the lineup over in the nine hole. Kenny Jackson's been a mainstay at shortstop; he's been a calming force for us in the infield. We're playing a lineup that's finding a way to win."

The Aggies rank third in the league with a .289 average, while Texas ranks eighth with a .267 mark. But they execute Garrido's small-ball style very well as usual, ranking fourth in the nation with 75 sacrifice bunts.

"We've had our moments offensively," Garrido said. "For periods of time—we went through one stretch of about 12 games where we hit over .330 as a team, so it's in there. It's been our weakness for sure. The pitching staff has been the cornerstone of the team, the defense behind the pitching staff has supported it to a very high level. The reason we don't separate ourselves in every game from the opponent is largely because of the offense. For us to be a contender, we'll have to get hot with the bats, execute and sustain rallies, make productive outs. We've got 10 home runs, man. Last year we had 81. Offensively, the home run is not the way we win the games. It's got to be sustaining rallies, quality at-bats, advancing runners with productive outs, and opportunistic baserunning, a combination of that. It's a lot harder to play that way because it only takes one or two mistakes in the framework of an inning and it can kill the rally. Everybody's got to perform consistently to make that kind of offense work."

One player certainly has performed very consistently all year for the Longhorns: freshman third baseman Erich Weiss, who leads the team in batting (.374), OBP (.514), slugging (.583), RBIs (35) and triples (seven). Weiss was not one of the most heralded members of Texas' recruiting class, but he quickly became the centerpiece of the lineup.

"For somebody to come in and perform at the level he's performed has been surprising and been very important to this team," Garrido said. "He's helped us a great deal. He doesn't get down on himself. He isn't playing on emotion. He really is a ballplayer that likes to play ball, and he's playing on an even keel. He doesn't let his outs arouse his fears. So he takes every at-bat with confidence and stays focused real well on the fundamentals of the performance and stays in the moment really well and does a great job with pitch selection. He's blessed with a pretty deep level of internal confidence, and it doesn't waver very much."

Confidence goes a long way, and both these teams have plenty of it. Now it comes down to execution, with the Big 12 title and likely a national seed on the line.

"That's what you hope for: that when this series is played at the end of the year there's something on the line for it, not just a rivalry series," Childress said. "This is a year it comes down to it, and that's exciting for the teams, exciting for the fans. It ought to be a great series."

Marquee Mound Showdown
California's Justin Jones vs. UCLA's Adam Plutko

Adam Plutko
Sunday pitching matchups don't get much better than Jones (a sophomore lefthander) against Plutko (a freshman righty). Both were blue-chip recruits who have delivered on their promise in the Pacific-10 Conference.

Jones went 10-6, 4.22 as a freshman last year and has been better as a sophomore, going 7-4, 3.05 with 60 strikeouts and 24 walks in 94 innings. He's coming off a complete game victory against No. 2 Oregon State followed by four innings of one-hit, shutout relief Wednesday against UC Davis, which is why he'll move from the Saturday starter spot to Sunday.

"He's been pretty solid. He goes seven-plus (innings) almost every time out there," Cal pitching coach Dan Hubbs said. "The curveball hadn't really been a factor for him the last couple weeks, but against Oregon State it was. He was struggling to find the release (point) on it, but he's got it back now. When he has it, it's that much better. It can create a lot of swings and misses, a lot of anxiety to give him easier outs on some of the other pitches."

Jones also works with an effective cutter, a changeup that can be excellent at times and a fastball that has jumped a bit from last year into the 87-91 range.

"Part of his issue is he's been a little up in the zone more than he should be when he hasn't had his best games," Hubbs said. "When he's down in the zone, he's hard to hit."

Plutko has been down in the zone all year, helping him emerge as one of the leading candidates for national Freshman of the Year honors. He's 5-3, 1.65 with 80 strikeouts and 18 walks in 87 innings.

"The command of the fastball is special," UCLA coach John Savage said of Plutko. "You talk about a guy pitching with his fastball, he can really do that. I would say the changeup is a good differential pitch. It has enough off, it has good arm speed, it's under the glove, he can throw it at any count. I would say his best secondary pitch is his change. He's got a good curveball—not a knockout pitch. I would say the slider is more a swing-and-miss pitch."

Like Jones, Plutko is coming off one of his best starts of the season—he struck out a career-high 12 batters over eight innings last week against Cal State Bakersfield. He has won three straight starts, but his win-loss record does not reflect how consistent he's been over the course of the season.

"He was a very high high-profile guy coming out of high school, so we knew he would be good," Savage said. "But as everyone knows, stepping into this league and this Western world, it's not an easy process. He's in a perfect role. Everybody looks at (Gerrit) Cole, everybody looks at (Trevor) Bauer. But here comes Plutko on Sunday, and he's kind of under the radar, but he's been very competitive in every game he's pitched in.

"We are in the league (race) because of Plutko. He's been beyond his years in terms of mentality and approach."

Under The Radar
Marietta (Ohio) College

Maybe Marietta is "under the radar" for Division I baseball fans, but nobody in D-III baseball circles would ever apply that label to the Pioneers. On the contrary, Marietta is a perennial powerhouse that has won four national championships and made 19 trips to the Division III World Series.

"There's a certain expectation level that goes along with being a part of this program," said Marietta coach Brian Brewer, who took over for legendary coach Don Schaly in 2003 and led the Pioneers to a national title in 2006. "Our goal every year is to win a national championship. It's not going to happen every year, but it's what we strive for—it's our pot of gold. Our alumni, our university, this city, we are expected to be a national-caliber program year in and year out, and that's a great draw. Kids like that. Everybody likes winning, so they want to be part of that."

Marietta has done plenty of winning in 2011. The Pioneers won their final 14 regular-season games to head into the NCAA tournament with a 38-3 record and the No. 1 ranking in the NCBWA/D3baseball.com poll. They opened Mideast Regional play with a 7-2 win over Frostburg (Md.) State on Wednesday.

Marietta is a very balanced team, with an offense that ranked 10th in D-III in batting (.344) and 24th in scoring (8.1 runs per game) heading into the postseason. But its pitching is downright dominant, leading the nation in both ERA (1.65) and fewest hits allowed per nine innings (5.91), and seventh in strikeouts per nine (8.8) and fewest walks per nine (2.35).

Marietta has a trio of aces in junior righthanders Brian Gasser (12-0, 1.07 after earning the win Wednesday) and Austin Blaski (9-2, 1.98) plus senior righty Mark Williams (6-1, 1.67). Gasser carves hitters up with a mid-80s fastball, and outstanding changeup and a decent curveball. Blaski and Williams have power arms for the D-III level, pitching at 87-90. Williams has slightly better fastball command but Blaski has a better changeup, Brewer said.

"We knew we were going to pitch well—we've got some older, established arms, so we felt good about that and our athleticism defensively," Brewer said. "Gasser's throwing in our No. 1 spot, but really we've got three guys that could be our No. 1. We feel real good when any of them are on the  mound, and it goes beyond that—our 4 and 5 guys, Casey Levens and Mike Mahaffey, those guys are pretty darn good, and Kyle Lindquist has been great at the back of the bullpen."

Offensively, Marietta doesn't have a ton of punch, with just 14 home runs through 42 games. But the lineup has a dangerous anchor in senior outfielder John Snyder (.451/.519/.673 with four homers, 52 RBIs and 13 steals)—a physical, hardnosed player who plays the game like Lenny Dykstra, according to Brewer. Snyder leads an athletic offense that doesn't give away outs.

"Move the ball—that's our goal," Brewer said. "We don't like hitting the ball in the air, we don't like swinging and missing. We try to apply some pressure. We're not really a big basestealing club, but we've got a couple of guys that can swipe them. We try to bunt for hits, hit-and-run some, but our goal is to move the ball with authority.

"So far, so good. We've pitched well all year, we've caught the ball, and our offense has continued to improve throughout the season."

Streakin'
Grand Valley State (Mich.)

The Division II regionals also get underway this week, and the nation's top-ranked D-II team has an even longer winning streak than Marietta's. Grand Valley State carries a 28-game winning streak into Thursday's Midwest Regional opener against Wayne State (Mich.).

"It's kind of hard to believe, actually," Grand Valley coach Steve Lyon said. "We try not to talk about it or think about it too much, but we've won a lot in a row, and not a lot of things have gone wrong. We're hoping the law of averages doesn't catch up with us."

Lyon is doing his best to quash any streak-related superstitious behavior.

"We had a streak a few years ago and they really got into that, and it kind of ticked me off," Lyon said. "This year, we're changing things up all the time. I won't allow them to wear the same uniform or do the same things. It's not going to make any difference. We're just going to play the game and not worry about superstitions. I don't know if they change their underwear every day or anything, but we're not going to make sure the bats are lined up in the same order or whatever.

"I know the streak is continuing, but that's kind of a regular-season thing. We're starting fresh. We'll see if we can get win No. 1 here this Thursday."

At 48-3 overall, the Lakers currently boast a .941 winning percentage; the NCAA record is .939, set by the 2000 Savannah State team that went 46-3.

But those 48 wins don't mean anything now—the Lakers start fresh in the postseason, like everyone else. But you've got to like their chances to finally break through and win a national championship in Lyon's 13th season, after notching four trips to the D-II World Series and one runner-up finish in his tenure. Grand Valley State ranks fourth in Division II in batting (.343) and seventh in ERA (2.49).

"Our starting pitching has been good, our bullpen has been strong, and we've gotten good production out of our whole lineup," Lyon said.

The Lakers have three quality starters with markedly different styles. Junior-college transfer Ryan Garman (9-1, 1.23), who will start Thursday's opener, succeeds by throwing his sharp, late-breaking slider 40 to 50 percent of the time. Game two starter Kyle Schepel (10-0, 2.08) has more velocity, working at 88-90 and mixing in a good hard slider. And fifth-year senior Kyle Jablonski (6-1, 3.32), the third starter, is a finesse pitcher who keeps hitters off balance and really relies on his changeup. Closer Brad Zambron (1.69 ERA, 10 saves) is an unflappable, strike-throwing lefthander who gets a lot of weak contact with his changeup.

In the lineup, outfielders Cody Grice (.397/.490/.609 with four homers and 55 RBIs), Steve Anderson (.376/.450/.611 with seven homers and 59 RBIs) and Paul Young (.374/.453/.561 with four homers and 38 RBIs) set the tone.

"Our three outfielders are the best three outfielders I've ever had here, both offensively and defensively," Lyon said. "They cover a lot of ground, they all have strong arms, they're aggressive, and they're everything you want in an outfielder at the college level. That's probably our strength offensively and defensively, our outfield. But there's just no holes in the lineup. We've got guys batting sixth, seventh, eighth that can really drive the ball, which is such an advantage because I don't think there's any way you can pitch around people in our lineup. We haven't had many bad days this year because we're so deep. We can hurt you one through nine."

Slumpin'
Louisville

Heading into their final regular-season series against Notre Dame, the Cardinals find themselves in an unusual position: fighting for a berth in the Big East tournament. Over the last few years, Louisville has grown accustomed to fighting for a national seed or regional hosting spot at this time of year. During coach Dan McDonnell's four-year tenure, Louisville has won more Big East games than any other team, plus the last two regular-season championships.

So it's a bit jarring to see Louisville sitting at 12-12 in the Big East, eight games out of first place and just a game ahead of Seton Hall and South Florida, who are tied for the eighth and final spot in the conference tournament. The Cardinals lost eight straight games to fall below .500 on the season before salvaging the final game of last weekend's series at Connecticut, then climbing back to 27-26 with a midweek win at Indiana.

"It's been a real challenge, but like I tell our coaches, no one is going to feel sorry for us," McDonnell told the (Louisville) Courier-Journal last week. "We've been the bully for the past four years or so. Now the bully is getting picked on. It doesn't seem like there is a whole lot we can do about it other than learn from our mistakes and make adjustments in the future."

Louisville was expected to take a step back after winning 50 games and earning the No. 7 national seed last year. Many mainstays from the physical offense departed after last season, including Andrew Clark, Phil Wunderlich, Adam Duval and Jeff Arnold. As many as six freshman position players have started at times this spring, and many of them have struggled offensively. In fact, Louisville's .246 team batting average is its second-lowest since the 1961 Cardinals hit .243, according to the Courier-Journal.

"There was a swagger, an attitude, a scariness to our offense," McDonnell told the paper. "Well, we lost it completely. We replaced older, physically mature, proven hitters with several young guys, but even the returners couldn't go about it the way we go about it."

The pitching has been better, even though the Cardinals miss departed stalwarts like ace Thomas Royse and closer Neil Holland. Justin Amlung (8-2, 2.06) has been a bright spot all season, and Derek Self (2-2, 1.99) has thrived since moving into the No. 1 starter spot, though he gave up six runs on 12 hits last week against UConn. As a staff, Louisville has a 3.02 ERA—24th-best in the nation.

Of course, the Cardinals rank 261st nationally in scoring (4.3 runs per game) and in the middle of the pack in fielding percentage (.965, 147th in the nation).

"We're not what good baseball is all about," McDonnell said. "It's about pitching, defense and timely hits. We can do all three of them. We just can't do all three of them on a consistent basis."

Stat of the Week
2.20

Clemson's staff ERA over its last 27 games, since it was swept by North Carolina. On April 3, when UNC completed the sweep to drop Clemson to 14-12 on the season, the Tigers owned a 3.87 ERA. Now their season ERA sits at 3.01 heading into a pivotal showdown series at Florida State.

Clemson pitchers have allowed three runs or fewer in 10 straight games. Its opponents are averaging just 1.5 runs per game during that span.

Clemson's pitching turnaround coincided with the installation of Dominic Leone as the Friday starter on April 8 against Maryland. The sophomore righthander has blossomed into a reliable ace, posting a 1.78 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 35 innings over his last five starts—all victories.

The man Leone displaced as Friday starter, junior righty Scott Weismann, has flourished since moving into the closer role. In his last nine relief outings (spanning 9 2/3 innings), Weismann has allowed just three singles (.100 opponents' batting average), no runs and no walks while striking out 17.

The rest of the weekend rotation has stabilized since sophomore righty Jonathan Meyer (5-2, 2.89 on the season) and senior righty Justin Sarratt (6-1, 1.95) moved into starting roles. And Tuesday against Davidson, Clemson's staff got another boost when its best arm—redshirt sophomore righthander Kevin Brady—returned from a forearm strain with a scoreless inning of relief. It was Brady's first appearance since March 6.

It's no coincidence that Clemson has gotten hot since its pitching came together. The Tigers are 23-4 since the UNC series, and they have a chance to claim the ACC Atlantic Division title if they can sweep FSU this weekend. That won't be easy, but given the state of its pitching a month and a half ago, Clemson must be pleased just to have a shot to compete for the division crown and fight to host a regional.

Scouting Report
Rice at Southern Mississippi

The Conference USA regular-season title will be decided this weekend in Hattiesburg, and a regional hosting spot could be on the line as well. Southern Miss carries a one-game lead over Rice into the showdown, which runs from Thursday through Saturday. The series pits the conference's best offense (Southern Miss is tied for the league lead in batting at .307 and ranks second with 41 homers) against its second-best pitching staff (Rice's 3.20 ERA trails only East Carolina's 2.60 mark). One C-USA coach whose team has faced the Owls and the Eagles offered his thoughts on the matchup.

"You've got one team that can really pitch in Rice, and one team that can really hit in Southern Miss. Southern Miss is very physical offensively, and they played real good defense against us. The back end of their bullpen's really good. They're playing with a lot of swagger, a lot of swagger. Coach Berry's done a tremendous job getting that team ready. One through nine, those guys can hurt you. They've played really well at home this season, and the only chink in the armor seems to be when they go on the road a little bit. But they're a really good team.

"The guy at the back end, the closer, he was nasty. Southern Miss always has that sidearm guy coming out of the bullpen. (Collin) Cargill comes in and just pounds the strike zone. None of their starters have anything stuff-wise that blows you out of the water, but they can all really pitch. That's what they do—they pitch. Nobody has the breaking ball that you can't hit, they might not have the fastball to blow by you, but they can really pitch, which to me is what you want, especially with these new bats. They force you to make good contact and do a good job staying in the zone.

"(Third baseman B.A.) Vollmuth is a prospect-looking kid. He's big and strong, hits third for them. He made some really solid plays against us, and he's a really solid player. He's as good-looking a prospect as I've seen all year. They're really solid up the middle, which is another trait Southern Miss has always had—they're always really strong in the middle of the field. (Outfielders Marc) Bourgeois and (Tyler) Koelling are scrappy. They're hard to strike out, they're going to put the ball in play. With Vollmuth and Bourgeois, it's like everybody's 3-4 hitters—if you've got a few guys around them, those guys get on base, they can distract the pitching a little bit, and all of a sudden you give up a pitch and those guys in the middle of the lineup will hit it out on you.

"Rice can really pitch. Those two freshman pitchers (Austin Kubitza and John Simms) are tough, and they've got the big lefty (Tony Cingrani) down there in the bullpen, he's running it up there 94-96 against us—he's tough as nails. So if you're going to beat Rice, you'd better get to them early. His secondary stuff is good, but his fastball makes his secondary stuff better. All he's got to do is show changeup, show breaking ball, and blow you away with his fastball. As long as you have those two pitches in the back of your mind, he's tough.

"Simms and Kubitza are well beyond their years for freshman pitchers. They have a lot of mound presence to them, and they absolutely come right at you with their stuff. Kubitza just keeps getting better—I don't know that he's really had a lot of lapses this year. He's big, strong, physical. In high school he'd be really good one day, not as polished the next day. Consistency is probably the biggest tool he's gained since he's been at Rice. When Simms came out of high school, he was my favorite guy in that class. He can throw three pitches for strikes, in and out, and he pitches with a ton of confidence. (Matthew) Reckling is sandwiched in the middle of those two guys. The whole Rice pitching staff, it's hard to get them to make back-to-back mistakes so you can generate runs. When things start to go bad for them, they're always able to make a pitch. Reckling was like that against us. I thought his breaking ball was just OK that day, but he was able to pitch around the zone with his fastball and get us out.

"When they get ahead in the count, they're going to bury that breaking ball. Over the years, Rice catchers have done as good a job as any in the country of blocking that breaking ball in the dirt, and (Craig) Manuel's right there with them. As far as a receiver, he's exactly what they've always had over there—a guy that can catch the ball.

"(Michael) Ratterree's on fire right now, he's playing really well. The whole lineup does a good job of knowing their role. You've got Ratterree and (Anthony) Rendon sitting right there in the middle that can hurt you. The thing you have to do is control the guys that hit around them, because those two can burn you. Coach (Wayne) Graham, I think he's one of the best college baseball coaches ever. He does a tremendous job of maximizing what he gets out of each player. Those guys are playing hard every time out, and I think he's getting a lot out of them, more than a lot of people expected. They're just hard-nosed players that buy into his system over there, and they're really athletic kids. And they play good defense; that's always a hallmark of a Rice team, they're going to play good defense.

"Both those teams, to me, are really Omaha-caliber teams. They're going to make a lot of noise in the postseason. If you're making me pick this weekend, you've got to go Southern Miss at home. What have they lost, three games at home all year? (Editor's note: USM is 22-3 at home.) That crowd gets going over there, it's a short porch. They play really, really well at home and they always have. That place is going to be jammed this weekend."

In The Dugout
Riccio Torrez, 3b, Arizona State

Riccio Torres
Torrez has been a mainstay in the Arizona State infield for three years, playing his first two seasons at first base before moving across the diamond to third after his brother, Raoul, graduated last year. He hit .393 with 10 homers a year ago, and though he has not been as productive as a junior, he still anchors the middle of the Arizona State lineup, hitting .317/.373/.489 and leading the team in doubles (16) and RBIs (41, tied with Zach Wilson). Torrez missed four games a week ago with a hamstring injury, and the Sun Devils missed his presence.

"We're a really good team with him in the lineup, and it doesn't have to show up in the box score or whatever, it's just what he does: the way he runs the bases, the way he attacks people," ASU coach Tim Esmay said. "He doesn't give in, he lights a fire—all that stuff. He's a heck of a leader, man, a heck of a Sun Devil. A heck of a Sun Devil."

We caught up with Torrez after Saturday's win at Southern California, which came on the heels of a visit from injured teammates Cory Hahn. Hahn led the pregame unity circle and watched the first few innings from his wheelchair in the ASU dugout, before moving to the stands.

I saw you getting your hamstring taped up, and now your hand is taped up. How are you feeling?

A little banged up, but you've got to play through injuries. It feels like every second step it kind of gives out a little bit, but it's fine. I jammed my hand diving into second base—I'm dinged up a little bit, but got to play on.

Do you like where the team is at right now?

Sometimes you need a punch in the face to wake you up. You don't like losing, but sometimes you need a wakeup call to shore everything up and get refocused. But you hope you don't get too many losses toward this end of the season.

You're still right there near the top of the Pac-10. To be within striking distance of Oregon State with all that you guys have had to overcome this year—you've got to feel pretty good about that, right?

You want to stay as close as you possibly can. You've got to hope to win and hopefully someone knocks them off. They're playing good baseball right now, and it seems like they just keep on winning. We've just got to take care of our side.

How good was it to see Cory here at USC?

Oh, it was real good. Sometimes baseball can be a grind. You don't get your hits in a day, you kind of feel bad for yourself and wonder what's going wrong. But then you see Cory and you realize, it's just a game. This kid's battling something that's bigger than the game.

What did he say in the pregame unity circle you guys did?

He was just in there yelling and giving us energy. It's just great seeing him out here, seeing his face, because he's one of us.

That fits his personality right—he's always been a high-energy guy, hasn't he?

Yeah, from the moment he walked in here, he had that energy and that cockiness. He showed it on the field—he's a great player. That's just who he is, he's that kid.

It's amazing how much adversity you guys have had to overcome over the last few years. Cory's situation is obviously No. 1, probably the biggest thing for any team to overcome. But you had the coaching turmoil, you've got the NCAA stuff looming over you, and you still don't know what your postseason situation will be. How have you guys been able to keep on playing through all that?

It's been a ride for our junior class and the guys left over who are seniors. You've just got take care of things in between the lines. You can't get worried about what's been going on off the field. It's us on the field, that's all we can worry about.

How tight-knight is this clubhouse?

There's a whole bunch of juniors who came in together. We've got a variety of veterans and new guys; we mesh really well together.

You've got a lot of big names in this offense, a bunch of you guys were preseason All-Americans, and then Joey DeMichele comes seemingly out of nowhere and tears the cover off the ball all season. What can you say about that guy?

That's our program; it seems like there's a new guy every year who comes out of the woodwork, with (Jason) Kipnis and guys like that. He's taken his opportunities and he's ran with it.

You got to play with your brother Raoul here for a couple of years. What was that experience like for you?

Not too many people get to play with their brother at a Division I college, so that was special. Being our hometown in Arizona, having our parents be able to go out and see both of us, it was no longer drop one of us off and then have to drive halfway across the state to see the other. It's just special being able to play with your brother and have it be in your hometown.

Now you've moved across the diamond to take his position. Tell me: who's the better defensive third baseman?

Ah, man. He's a great defender. I'll give it to him on that one. Any time they hit the ball there, I knew it was out. I'm just trying to fill the shoes.

One final question that I always like to ask guys: In your eyes, who is the most fun player to watch in the league?

Right now I'd say Joey. Everything is hit, you know? In the back of your mind you're like, man, I need to get some of those. He's a hitting machine right now. So I'm going to say Joey.