From center field, Jason Kipnis has a primo view of Mike Leake, and since he didn’t have much action, Kipnis could mostly watch.
Leake, the Pac-10 pitcher of the year for a second consecutive season, is likely a first-round pick in the upcoming major league baseball draft, and for the umpteenth time, the Arizona State senior showed why with a complete-game gem in a 4-1 victory against Oral Roberts on Saturday night in the NCAA regional at Packard Stadium.
ASU (46-12) advances to Sunday's regional championship at 6 p.m. and awaits the winner of Sunday's matinee matchup between Oral Roberts and Kent State. The winner will advance to next weekend's super regional.
At one point, Leake struck out five consecutive Eagles in the middle innings. That was after he threw four perfect innings (five no-hit innings) to begin the game.
For the first eight innings, Oral Roberts managed two hits and two other balls that reached the outfield, including a diving catch by Kipnis in the eighth.
“I get the SportsCenter view of him,” Kipnis said of Leake. “… It’s pretty much the same thing every outing. No one has gotten to him yet. He’s been lights out.”
Leake tied his season high with 15 strikeouts while he allowed five hits and two walks. He has 39 strikeouts in his past three starts, all complete games.
“He may not be the first pick in the country, but there is not a better athlete or competitor in the last 10 years,” Oral Roberts coach Rob Walton said. “I haven’t seen one.
“He’s a special kid. He’s a pleasure to watch, except when you’re on the other side.”
A ninth-inning double followed by a two-out blooper that bounced on the left-field line chalk scored the Eagles’ lone run. It snapped Leake’s string of 33 consecutive innings pitched without allowing an earned run, which dates back to Oregon State five starts ago.
P.J. Sequeira followed with a fister down the right-field line for a double, but Leake struck out Johnny Roberts on a 3-2 curve to complete his masterpiece.
Asked about his scoreless streak ending, Leake shrugged.
“We have one goal, and it’s do whatever it takes to get there,” he said.
The Eagles (32-14) had a pretty good stopper of their own in Summit League pitcher of the year Mark Serrano. The tough-luck Serrano (9-1) struck out 13 Sun Devils and allowed eight hits and three earned runs in eight innings, an old fashioned pitchers’ duel that drew Leake-esque praise from both Walton and ASU coach Pat Murphy.
A matchup of aces played out as such for most of the night, but a couple of Eagles miscues and a couple of hits were enough for Leake. An RBI single by Johnny Ruettiger in the second and another single by catcher Carlos Ramirez in the third made it 2-0 after three innings. The Sun Devils added an unearned run in the sixth and ninth innings and fared better defensively than in Friday night’s 17-6 win over Kent State.
Despite losing his start earlier in the NCAA tournament, San Diego State phenom Stephen Strasberg is expected to be the top pitcher taken by the pro teams, but after watching his ace dazzle again, Murphy’s No. 1 pick wouldn’t be so obvious.
“(Strasberg) deserves all the accolades he gets,” Murphy said. “He ain’t better than Mike Leake. That’s a fact.”