June 6, 2009

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Ramirez Secures Game 1 Win for Arizona State

By Steve Heath

Special to CollegeBaseballInsider.com


Steve Heath is a 20-plus year veteran sports writer that has covered everything from junior high basketball to the Super Bowl. He has seen some of today’s top baseball prospects at their early stages, including following Tampa Bay’s David Price when he was a high school baseball and basketball star at Murfreesboro Blackman High School. Heath was part of the radio broadcast team as a student at Indiana State.


TEMPE, Ariz. — For Arizona State, one stressful eighth-inning at-bat led to a much less stressful ninth inning and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series with Clemson in the NCAA Super Regional at Packard Stadium Saturday.


Sun Devils junior catcher Carlos Ramirez (right), with a 3-2 count, bases loaded and a one-run lead, laced a two-run single to left field. It was the breathing room needed for Arizona State in a 7-4 win.


“I just stepped out [of the box] and took a deep breath,” said Ramirez. “I wasn’t thinking, ‘Am I going to get a hit? Or, we need that run.’ It was just see the ball and hit the ball. You can’t control what the ball does when it comes off the bat. I was fortunate enough to get a hit.”


Ramirez’s hit secured the 16th win of the season for Arizona State ace Mike Leake, who went eight innings, gave up eight hits, struck out seven and walked one. He gave up three earned runs.


Leake, a junior, leads the nation in victories and is a Golden Spikes finalist. He’s expected to be a first-round choice in next week’s Major League Baseball Draft. Saturday’s win was his 13th, and he hasn’t lost since a 6-2 defeat at the hands of Kansas State on March 10.


He had thrown three straight complete games prior to Saturday’s eight-inning outing.


“I got too amped up and too emotional too early,” said Leake (left), who admitted he didn’t have his best stuff. “I kept giving up the lead and they kept getting it [back] for me. [The offense] won the game for us.”


Clemson tied the game twice (1-1 and 4-4) and had a 2-1 lead. ASU had three one-run leads (1-0, 3-2, 5-4) in the see-saw, stress-packed game.


Sophomore right-fielder Mike Newman had a two-out, seventh-inning double to give ASU a 5-4 advantage. The last six Sun Devils runs all came with two outs.


Tigers designated hitter Chris Epps picked up at the plate where he left off in the Regional. After hitting .526 last weekend, Epps went 2 for 5 and drove in three of his team’s four runs.


“We wanted to look for the ball up and capitalize on [Leake’s mistakes] and he rarely makes mistakes,” said Epps.


Epps’s two-run, seventh-inning single tied the game at 4. It was the lone inning when Leake was unable to thwart off a potential big inning, but he still got out of the frame with a little less than what could have been.


In the third with one run in and two runners on base, Leake got Mike Freeman to ground into a double play. In the sixth, with runners on the corners and one out, Leake got help from centerfielder Jason Kipnis, who made a diving catch in right-center field to keep at least one and possibly two runs from scoring.


“He’s been doing that all year for us,” said Leake of Kipnis’ catch. “I was expecting it.”


Kipnis (left), the Pac-10 Player of the Year, got the Sun Devils off on a good start with a first-inning solo homer. It was his 16th of the season.


In the seventh, after Epps’ two-run hit, ASU third baseman Raoul Torres made a nice grab on a Freeman smash that forced Epps at second. Another groundout ended the inning.


“We’ve been in this situation before,” said Clemson coach Jack Leggett, whose team lost the opener in last week’s Regional. “We have to collect ourselves and try and win two ballgames.”


The Sun Devils have, too. They won the opener over Fresno State, at home, in last year’s Super Regional before losing the next two to the eventual national champions.


NOTES: ASU junior Jared McDonald got the start at first base in place of Riccio Torres, who suffered a hand injury in last week’s Regional. McDonald got the call just five minutes before the start of the game and had a double in his first at-bat … Clemson’s Freeman had his modest six-game hitting streak come to an end, though he hit a couple balls very hard. He lined out to Kipnis in the first prior to the seventh-inning dart to Raoul Torres … Epps, at six games, has the longest current hitting streak for either team heading into Sunday’s 7 p.m. second game … ASU will start junior left-hander Josh Spence (8-1, 2.47) and the Tigers will counter with freshman lefty Chris Dwyer (5-5, 4.85) … Saturday’s game was the first meeting between the two programs since 1977 when the Sun Devils beat the Tigers and eventually went on to win the College World Series.


(photos courtesy of Arizona State Media Relations Office)