June 7, 2009

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Spence Pitches ASU to College World Series

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. – The question was rusty or rested?


The answer was rested … and ready.


Arizona State junior left-hander Josh Spence had thrown only seven innings in the last 43 days. Against Clemson in the NCAA Super Regional at Packard Stadium Sunday, the Australian was dominant, leading ASU to the College World Series for the 21st time and third time in the last five years.


Spence went the distance in the 8-2 win. He struck out 10, walked one and gave up four hits.


He was hit in the face by a line drive early in the season, tore a tendon in his finger and was recommended not to throw until July, then suffered a back injury last week in the regional against Kent State.


“He made it all look easy the way the Clemson batters were hitting, or their lack of hitting,” said ASU junior center fielder Jason Kipnis (left).


Spence’s first eight pitches went for strikes. He had 0-2 counts on five of the first six Tiger hitters and retired the first 11.


In the fourth inning, Clemson’s Jeff Schaus broke up Spence’s perfect game, no-hitter and shutout with a solo homer, a line drive over the right field fence.


“I thought (after Schaus’s homer) we had him figured out and we could keep it rolling,” said Clemson first baseman Ben Paulsen, who had one of the four Tiger hits. “He didn’t let us have a big inning. My hat’s off to him.”


As they did Saturday in the series opener, the Sun Devils had an answer for the Tigers’ scoring.


All the runs ASU needed came in a five-run fifth.


Kipnis had the big hit with a two-run single. Junior left fielder Kole Calhoun had a two-run double later in the frame and the fifth run scored on a Matt Newman double.


“(Kipnis) got the big hit that took the pressure off everybody,” said ASU coach Pat Murphy.


Five runs were more than enough for Spence, who after the Schaus home run, retired 13 of the next 15. Neither Tiger base-runner got into scoring position.


“With a predominantly left-handed lineup, the slider was working, it kept them off-balanced and I snuck a few fastballs in here and there,” said Spence. “They’re a good hitting lineup, but I was able to get strike-one and put them down in the count early.”


It was 8-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth, but Murphy had no plans of resting Spence.


“I went down and told my bullpen to be ready. I walked back (and said to myself), ‘I shouldn’t lie to those guys,’” said Murphy.


His only thought of pulling Spence came in the second inning when the ASU trainer informed him the lefty’s back was tightening up.


“I didn’t expect it, but I’m not surprised by it,” Murphy said of Spence’s complete-game victory. “There’s a reason he’s 9-1.


“That performance today was as good as I’ve been around.”


NOTES: Clemson didn’t have the success of two of its Atlantic Coast Conference brethren Sunday. North Carolina, which will face Arizona State in its opener, and Virginia advanced to the College World Series.


“We have two good (clubs) going to Omaha and we wanted to be the third,” said Clemson coach Jack Leggett. “I think both will do well and have good pitching. Virginia has played well late and both are battle-tested from playing (in the ACC).” … Newman had three doubles in the two Super Regional games. He had two Sunday. His two-bagger on Saturday gave the Sun Devils the lead for good … ASU freshman designated hitter Johnny Ruettiger is the nephew of Rudy Ruettiger, the former Notre Dame football player who had a movie about his life made.


(photos courtesy of Arizona State Media Relations Office)