The Arizona State baseball team is one of the most storied programs in all of college baseball. With five National Championships, four trips to the College World Series in the past seven years and over 100 players to make it to "The Show," it was tough to see the Sun Devils' 12-year postseason streak come to an end last season due to NCAA sanctions.
Tougher still, to see their in-state rival Arizona Wildcats advance to the College World Series and dominate the tournament.
The pundits and sports writers were not kind to the Sun Devils, with only the USA Today Coaches Poll ranking them in their preseason poll—at No. 20.
Their opening weekend against tiny Bethune-Cookman didn't exactly go as head coach Tim Esmay had planned. They needed 11 innings to win the opener and dropped the final game 7-6 after a late rally came up short. There were many questions about all the new faces on the diamond for the Sun Devils and an issue with the No. 3 starter, Darin Gillies, who finished the 2012 season with a record of 1-4 and .503 ERA.
Esmay could ill-afford to run Gillies back out on the mound. With so much new talent in his bullpen, Gillies hasn't played since the opening weekend where he only lasted one inning. Freshmen Ryan Kellogg and Brent Lilek have started four games and are a perfect 4-0.
The Devils traveled to Knoxville, Tenn. the following week to take on the Volunteers and earned a series win, although pitcher Adam McCreery was roughed up in a 11-2 loss.
At 4-2, Arizona State returned home to host the Coca-Cola Classic in Surprise, Ariz. The Classic featured Arizona State playing Pacific University, Gonzaga and then No. 2 Arkansas directly after MLB Spring Training games.
The Sun Devils defeated Pacific and Arkansas twice, then went on to tie Gonzaga. The game was called due to a late start and pre-arranged travel plans to get the 'Zags back to Spokane that evening.
With two victories over a No. 2 team, the Devils were beginning to get noticed.
They were ranked in all four polls, ranging from No. 20 to No. 23 and things were clicking for Coach Esmay's squad. Next up for ASU was a three-game home stand against the always tough Dirtbags from Long Beach State.
Mother Nature had something to say about Friday's series opener and dumped rain in Tempe all day, forcing a doubleheader on Saturday. The pitching duo of Trevor Williams and Ryan Kellogg pitched back-to-back shutouts and surrendered only five hits and two walks on Saturday. Sunday saw a litany of hits and runs scored as seven different Sun Devil players knocked in runs in the nine-run fourth inning. The Dirtbags managed two runs in the sixth before falling 11-2.
It was an outright dominant performance by the Sun Devils holding LBSU scoreless for 26 of 27 innings and only giving up 11 total hits and six walks while outscoring the Dirtbags 21-2 over the three game series.
Arizona State ace Trevor Williams was named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week on Tuesday after consecutive complete games and his third career complete-game shutout. Williams ranks No. 3 in the conference with a 0.90 ERA and is the best in the Pac-12 in opposing batting average at .149.
Congrats to Trevor Williams on earning @pac12 POW! Back-to-back complete games and his third career complete game shutout— ASU_Baseball (@ASU_Baseball) March 12, 2013
A stellar pitching rotation isn't the only area where the Devils are excelling, they are also going gang-busters in the field and at the plate.
The weekend set against Long Beach State was error-free and they are averaging just over one per game. Outfielder Kasey Coffman leads the team with a .370 batting average followed by third baseman Michael Benjamin (.349), catcher Max Rossiter (.311), second baseman James McDonald (.300) and shortstop Drew Stankiewicz hitting .298.
Outfielder Trever Allen leads the team with four home runs and all starters with a .617 slugging percentage. Also of note, Michael Benjamin is in the midst of a career-high and team-high 12-game hitting streak.
The Sun Devils are now in second place in the Pac-12 with a record of 10-2-1 and are moving up the polls, here is the latest as of March 11:
NCBWA Rank: No. 19
Baseball America Rank: No. 14
Collegiate Baseball Rank: No. 15
USA Today Coaches Poll: No. 18
Wednesday is the final day of non-conference play as the Devils host the New Mexico Lobos at 6:30 p.m. PT with junior Zak Miller getting the start. They welcome the 9-6 Washington State Cougars this weekend and will go with the rotation of Williams, Kellogg and McCreery.
Next week will be a defining time for the Devils as they travel to Corvallis to take on the 15-0 Oregon State Beavers that are ranked as high as No. 2 by Collegiate Baseball, but we have all seen what Arizona State does to No. 2 teams.
If you are anywhere near Tempe, Ariz. over the next three months, do yourself a favor and head out to Packard Stadium to see a great baseball program and get a closer look at some of the games' best and brightest players.
David is the Featured Columnist of Arizona State Athletics for B/R. Follow him on Twitter at @asudave.
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