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A picture on the front page of the Tucson Citizen sports page detailing the June 18, 1976, showdown between arch-rivals ASU and Arizona in the College World Series.
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In relation to its sport, the Arizona-Arizona State baseball rivalry has as much magnitude as Alabama-Auburn in football and Duke-North Carolina in basketball.
Seven baseball programs have at least four national titles. ASU has five. Arizona has four. They are the only teams among those seven that are traditional rivals from the same conference.
The historic series that Bobby Winkles and Frank Sancet started and Jim Brock and Jerry Kindall elevated, takes place this weekend with new Arizona coach Jay Johnson experiencing the rivalry in Tucson for the first time. Johnson will match wits against ASU coach Tracy Smith in the series at Hi Corbett Field Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 3. The teams split their two games in Phoenix earlier this season.
Arizona is 31-16 overall and 14-10 in the Pac-12. The Wildcats have won 11 of their last 14 games behind the pitching of starters Nathan Bannister (7-1, 2.74 ERA) and J.C. Cloney (4-3, 2.64). ASU is 29-16 and 11-10. The Sun Devils, behind ace Seth Martinez (7-3, 1.99), have won nine of their last 11 games, including a 4-0 mark on the road in that span with a sweep of Stanford and a 6-4 win at UNLV on Tuesday.
Only three weekends, including this one, remain in the regular season which means the three-game series is pivotal for Arizona and ASU in regards to the Pac-12 standings. Washington and Utah, each 13-8, are the only other conference teams with winning records.
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MOST NCAA BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
1. Southern California 12
2. Texas 6
4. Arizona State 5
5. Arizona 4
Cal State Fullerton 4
Our @UACoachJ, Bannister and Gibbons preview this weekend's series. #PackHiC #BearDown https://t.co/2cpiyqcxzf pic.twitter.com/Z0b05BsrIg
— Arizona Baseball (@ArizonaBaseball) May 12, 2016
Who's ready to #PackHiC? INF @sawyergieseke gets you ready for our big series this weekend: https://t.co/8VURuBgig7 pic.twitter.com/Gojm5wfkG3
— Arizona Baseball (@ArizonaBaseball) May 12, 2016
With this weekend series so important, the possibility exists for memorable outcomes.
The following is a look at some of Arizona’s most historic baseball meetings with the Sun Devils (from a Wildcat perspective):
Arizona 5, ASU 1, June 18, 1976
Quotable: “It was like a death in the family.” — ASU coach Jim Brock after the Wildcats ended the Sun Devils’ 65-10 season in the College World Series semifinals
The headline in the Arizona Republic the day after Arizona beat ASU in the CWS semifinals in 1976
Arizona started 0-7 against ASU in 1976, including a controversial 10-inning 7-6 loss against the Sun Devils in Omaha. In that defeat, after ASU scored three runs with two outs in the ninth inning to tie the game, Arizona’s Ron Hassey was called out at third base in the 10th inning, quelling the Wildcats’ rally.
In the first six games between the rivals, ASU won the WAC Southern Division title beating the Wildcats by two runs or less in three of those games.
Facing the Sun Devils for the eighth time, Kindall was confident with ace Steve Powers on the mound although the Wildcats had to wait an extra day because of a rainout. Powers still faced ASU’s No. 2 pitcher Don Hanna, a Rincon High School graduate, despite the extra day that could have allowed Sun Devils’ ace Floyd Bannister the opportunity to pitch after going nine innings three days previously against Eastern Michigan. Hanna entered the game against Arizona with a 15-0 record.
Powers pitched a complete game, allowing only four hits and a lone unearned run in the bottom of the ninth for a 5-1 win and a berth in what was the fourth title-game in school history. Arizona defeated Eastern Michigan for the title, the school’s first in any sport, the next day. Powers, also the designated hitter, was named the World Series MVP after completing the six games 8-for-22 (.364) with six RBIs and two home runs, including a two-run shot in the championship game.
He also worked 17 1/3 innings on the mound, including the four-hitter against Arizona State in the semifinal game. He struck out 10 in two appearances
ASU 9, Arizona 1, April 18, 1975
Quotable: “The night belonged to Bannister. If he can strikeout 17 of the hitters I’ve seen in 40-some games this season, then he deserves all the credit he gets.” — Arizona coach Jerry Kindall regarding ASU starter Floyd Bannister’s performance in the first night game at Wildcat Field in 1975
Tucson Citizen photo of the first night game at Wildcat Field (later named Sancet Field), a game in which ASU’s Floyd Bannister came close to throwing a no-hitter in front of a record crowd
The first night game at Wildcat Field was played on this date. Arizona State defeated the Wildcats before a record crowd of 9,118 fans. On that night, ASU’s Bannister struck out 17 and had a no-hitter going until one out in the eighth inning when Arizona pinch hitter Scott Russell doubled.
Ironic isn’t it that Arizona’s ace now goes by the name of Bannister (no relation).
Arizona 6, ASU 1, May 14, 1966
Quotable: “There isn’t a hair’s length difference between the two teams. We just got the breaks.” — Arizona coach Frank Sancet after the Wildcats clinched the 1966 WAC South title over ASU and Reggie Jackson in front of record crowds at Hi Corbett
Photo in the Arizona Republic of ASU’s Reggie Jackson sliding successfully into home plate past Arizona catcher Lorry Gershon in the first game of a pivotal season-ending doubleheader in 1966 at Hi Corbett Field.
With the WAC Southern Division title in the balance, Arizona rallied to win the second game of a doubleheader at Hi Corbett Field to earn the championship. After Arizona won the first game 1-0 and ASU behind Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson rallied the next day to win the first game of the doubleheader 5-4, the rubber match later in the evening included a crowd of 5,368. The attendance for the series at Hi Corbett was a record 14,181.
The Sun Devils took a 1-0 lead in the second inning, but Arizona starter Mike Paul shut down the rivals the rest of his way as he went the distance for one of his five complete games of the season. The Wildcats’ offense broke through for four runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth to pull away with the 6-1 series-clinching victory.
Eddie Leon smashed a three-run 405-foot triple to deep left center field and Nyal Leslie later hit a two-run home run.
Arizona improved to 35-13 overall and 8-4 in conference play while ASU, the defending national champs, dropped to 41-11 and 7-5.
Arizona 7, ASU 0, April 21, 1956
Quotable: “The 6-5, 230-pound Thomas appeared to be serving up moth balls to the frustrated ASU batters.” — Arizona Republic sportswriter Dean Smith about the Arizona pitcher’s no-hit effort 60 years ago
Arizona right-hander Carl Thomas pitched the Wildcats’ first no-hitter in school history with the victory over ASU. Six days later, he achieved the feat again against UCLA.
The masterful start against the Sun Devils occurred at Mesa’s Rendezvous Park, the nightcap of a doubleheader sweep over the arch-rivals. Thomas was so efficient — with 12 strikeouts — Arizona’s left side of the defense (third base, shortstop and left field) never had a ball hit their way in the game.
Thomas also hit a double and single to help fuel Arizona’s offense against ASU’s Rex Brewster, who struck out 14 and did not allow an earned run until the fifth inning.
Arizona 22, ASU 4, May 10, 1980
Quotable: “It’s a tremendous series. It’s the one the other baseball people around the country talk about. And this one was very typical. What more can you ask than these two rivals going down to the final game of the season?” — Arizona coach Jerry Kindall
In the final series of the season, against Arizona State at Wildcat Field, the Cats faced their instate rival with a 31-14-3 record. With Arizona needing only one win to capture its first Pac-10 Southern Division title and qualify for the NCAA tournament, the Sun Devils — also in need of win to make the postseason — pushed the Wildcats to the final regular season game before succumbing in a rout.
The attendance at Wildcat Field was 9,772. Including the West Regional, hosted by Arizona, a school record 113,951 fans attended games that season (one in which the Wildcats won their second national title). The attendance for the three-game series was a record 25,440, topping the mark of 23,090 in 1978.
After leading 4-3 heading to the bottom of the second, the Wildcats’ first nine batters reached base and scored as that half of the inning lasted 35 minutes. Arizona scored 10 runs that inning and cruised to the win.
Arizona first baseman Wes Clements singled twice, doubled and hit his 12th home run of the season. He scored four times and had three RBIs. Terry Francona, the All-American left fielder, went 3-for-5 with three RBIs.
Season-ending sweep over ASU in 1986
Quotable: “Actually, the Sun Devils weren’t swept. They were vacuumed.” — Arizona Republic sports writer Bob Eger’s account of the Wildcats outscoring ASU 49-17 in a three-game sweep
Arizona catcher Steve Strong improved his batting average to .455 after going 4-for-4 with five RBIs in a 22-11 win over ASU in 1986.
The Cats went on a roll in the second half of the 1986 regular season, finishing 10-3 in their final 13 games,
including a resounding sweep over Arizona State in the regular-season series finale that propelled them to the NCAA tournament and a national title.
Arizona defeated ASU by scores of 9-4, 18-2 and 22-11 in the sweep at Sancet Field to improve to 41-18 overall and 18-12 in the Pac-12 Southern Division. In the second game, Arizona scored 10 runs in the third inning. In the series finale, the Wildcats erupted for 12 first-inning runs.
Arizona catcher/designated hitter Steve Strong went 4-for-4 in the final game, finishing the regular season with a .455 average. He led the conference with an .832 slugging percentage that season and was an All-Pac-10 South selection along with pitcher Gil Heredia, first baseman Todd Trafton and outfielder Mike Senne.
Arizona 11, ASU 10, May 15, 1993
Quotable: “All I can say is I’ve been in coaching 40 years and I’ve never seen it (a catcher’s balk) called.” — ASU coach Jim Brock about the controversial call late in the Sun Devils’ loss
The headline in the Arizona Republic of Arizona’s wild comeback in 1993
ASU was two outs away from its first Pac-10 Southern Division title in five years before Arizona rallied for four runs in the ninth, a rally that included a rare catcher’s balk call on ASU’s Paul LoDuca. The victory was in front of 5,572 fans at Sancet Field.
With one out in the ninth and Arizona trailing 10-7, John Tejcek walked off ASU reliever Noah Peery after he struck out his three previous times at the plate. Robbie Moen singled Tejcek to second base and Peery walked Jason Thompson to load the bases.
George Arias, who struck out against Peery with two runners on in the seventh, then hit a single to center field, scoring Tejcek. Moen also scored when the ball got away from center fielder Jacob Cruz. The error enabled pinch-runner Dave Peruzzaro to take third and Arias to advance to second.
With first base open, Brock called on Doug Newstrom to come in and issue an intentional walk against Willie Morales. On what appeared to be ball four on Morales, plate umpire Ray Desmond called a catcher’s balk on LoDuca, who according to Desmond, stepped out of the catcher’s box before the ball left Newstrom’s hand.
That allowed Peruzzaro to score to tie the game at 10 and move Arias to third. Brock argued vehemently and was ejected by Desmond. After Morales walked, Newstrom intentionally walked slugger Todd Landry to load the bases. Newstrom’s first pitch to Richard Lemons got bast LoDuca for a passed ball, allowing Arias to score the winning run.
Arizona traveled to Tempe the next day to play the last two games of the series and lost both, but the Wildcats’ wild win in the first game likely got them into the postseason with a 35-26 overall record. They eventually lost at Oklahoma State in the final game of the regional, one game away from the College World Series.
That team hit an amazing school-record 115 home runs. The No. 2 team on the list is the 1998 team that finished with 87.
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.