Baseball set for marquee showdown

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3-31-09 Baseball
Junior outfielder Jason Kipnis takes off towards third base during a game against UA at Packard Stadium earlier in the season. (Matt Pavelek | The State Press)
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If the championship banners don’t catch your attention, maybe their current rankings will.

The No. 2 ASU (19-4, 5-1 Pac-10) and No. 3 Cal State Fullerton (18-4, 2-1 Big West) baseball teams, the winners of a combined nine College World Series championships since 1965, will meet at Packard Stadium tonight for the start of a two-game series.

The two college baseball behemoths have met 50 times in their histories with ASU winning 26.

Last year, the teams split a two-game series at CSF’s Goodwin Field.

“[CSF] have been up there with ASU as a top tier program over the years,” said ASU junior outfielder Jason Kipnis. “The rankings only add to it from an outside perspective. Both of us could be unranked and it would be a good game.”

ASU will give the Titans an entirely new look with it’s assortment of transfers and freshman.

The Sun Devils will showcase a dominant top of the rotation and a lineup that has yet to produce like past teams. Cal State Fullerton, the winners of two straight against UC Riverside, return seven starters and feature two top-100 Baseball America prospects, junior outfielder Josh Fellhauer and junior pitcher Michael Morrison.

Fellhauer enters the series hitting .429 with three home runs and six stolen bases. Morrison, CSF’s closer, has three saves on the season.

CSF offers up a balanced attack of speed, contact, power and pitching depth. The Titans come into the set hitting over .330 as a team with 36 stolen bases and 25 home runs. CSF’s pitching staff has two starters in freshman Derrick Dengman and sophomore Daniel Renken, with an ERA under 3.00. The Titans have a team ERA of 3.69.

ASU is coming off a loss to USC in which they went hitless with runners in scoring position. While juniors Josh Spence and Mike Leake both dominated in their starts, ASU’s offense scored only two runs on Friday and Sunday in support of its staff.

Kipnis has been the lone constant in the ASU offense of late. Dating back to the last game of the UA series, Kipnis is nine for 13 with three home runs, 12 RBIs and five walks. Kipnis’ recent hot streak has raised his average to .469 on the season with an OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) of 1.483.

“I pride myself on covering all aspects of the game,” Kipnis said. “[On] being able to bunt, being able to base-run and being able to deliver the blow at the same time — to be a [No. 3] hitter in a [No. 1] hitter’s body.”

The first pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. on both Tuesday and Wednesday.

Reach the reporter at nick.ruland@asu.edu.