This week’s ASU is not last week’s ASU, that much is certain. In fact, the ASU’s are polar opposites. As a team, the Arkansas State Indians have struggled at the plate and in the field. Approaching the century mark for errors, this Indian team has kicked the ball around in 2007, averaging more than two errors per game. In recent conference weekends, the Indians have committed six and seven errors against Troy and Western Kentucky respectively. As such, Coach Keith Kessinger is working hard to provide a solution to address the woes in the field. Meanwhile, run production has also been a challenge at times this season. Not that 2006 1st Team All-Sun Belt and 3rd Team All-American Josh Yates has not been pulling his weight. The senior DH is hitting a cool .350 with 10 HRs and is slugging over .700, down just a bit from his .376 performance in ‘06. But overall, the Indians are mustering just over five runs per game and scored a mere five runs total against Troy last weekend. Complementing Yates is junior shortstop Ryan Hudgins (.325, 9 HR, 33 RBI), sophomore first baseman Brandon Eller (.324, 3 HR, 21 RBI), and sophomore catcher Drew Rogers (.311, 6 HR, 21 RBI).
The Indians do have some starting pitching and have the ability to make a game or two over the weekend a relatively low scoring affair, despite losing senior ace Joe Boeschen early in the season after failing to recover from a torn labrum suffered in 2006. Senior right-hander Nathan Gates (2-6, 4.48, .297 OBA) was the #2 starter in 2006 and has been the Friday night starter this season. However, Coach Kessinger has decided to go with senior right-hander T.J. Brewer (4-3, 2.48, .250 OBA), who has been filling the Saturday slot in the rotation, Friday night. Brewer, a two-time Sun Belt Pitcher of the Week selection that shutout South Alabama, has solved his control problems from a year ago when he averaged more than a walk an inning in 33 innings of action. The Sunday slot in the rotation has been sophomore left-hander Jett Jones (1-3, 5.40, .290 OBA), but he will move to Saturday leaving Gates in the Sunday slot of the rotation. While the bullpen is not deep, it is led by a senior that has been successful in the closer role over the past two seasons, right-hander Tim Egart (2-3, 4.02, .241 OBA, 5 Saves). The first guys out of the pen are workhorse sophomore right-hander Nick Lambert (5-1, 4.76, .254 OBA, 28 appearances) and junior right-hander Jacob Maggard (2-2, 3.43, .282 OBA).
If you are wondering how some of the arms in this series stacked up against each other last season, Gates and Brewer were knocked around by the Cajuns while Glass, Moody, and Farquhar had solid outings against the Indians, save Moody’s appearance against the Indians in the Sun Belt Conference tournament opener. Moody pitched a complete game win in game #1 last season, while Brewer was touched for six runs in 2.1 innings of middle relief. Glass recorded the win in game #2 while Gates was knocked out of the game after a start that lasted 3.2 innings. Farquhar earned the win in game #3 in late relief while Egart took the loss after being pounded for four runs in 2.1 innings. Moody earned the win in the conference tournament, despite yielding eleven hits and seven runs in five innings. Gates was pounded again in taking the loss, yielding six runs in a start that lasted only 1.1 innings. Farquhar hurled 6.1 innings of shutout ball against the Indians last season as a freshman, yielding only four hits.
The Indians are battling for a spot in the Sun Belt Tournament and would be out of the tournament if the season ended today due to a head-to-head tiebreaker with Florida Atlantic. This makes Arkansas State dangerous. Meanwhile, anything less than a sweep will damage the Cajuns’ RPI and allow New Orleans the chance to pull into a tie for first place in the league standings. With four weekends remaining in the regular season, crunch time is here.