May 28, 2003
By Brian Gomez
Sun Devil fans had valid reasons to question why Arizona State's baseball team was snubbed by the NCAA selection committee for a top seed, but that is all in the past as the team gets ready to host regional play this weekend at Diablo Stadium in Tempe.
When huddled around several big-screen TVs at McDuffy's Sports Bar in Tempe, optimism was suddenly transformed into perplexity for the No. 4-ranked Sun Devils, who weren't awarded one of eight national No. 1 seeds in this weekend's NCAA Tournament.
"It's a bigger challenge," said Murphy, whose team will most likely have to travel to Cal State Fullerton for the Super Regional should it advance from an NCAA Regional at Tempe Diablo Stadium that includes Nevada-Las Vegas, New Mexico State and Central Connecticut State.
Many college baseball analysts thought the Sun Devils (50-12, 16-8 Pac-10) were almost guaranteed a national No. 1 seed, especially after an impressive weekend in which they outscored No. 15 Arizona 36-4 in a three-game sweep at Packard Stadium. ASU certainly had more than enough credentials on its resume:
But none of that apparently mattered to the NCAA selection committee. Some speculated that the committee's picks were based largely on the Ratings Percentage Index, a formula that takes into account a team's record and strength of schedule.
Coincidentally, the teams with the top eight RPIs heading into last weekend all earned national No. 1 seeds. The Sun Devils had the country's 21st-best RPI before sweeping the Wildcats.
"The way I had it figured, there were a couple other teams more deserving than some of the teams that got it," Murphy said.
As the regular-season conference champions, Florida State (Atlantic Coast Conference), Louisiana State (Southeastern Conference), Rice (Western Athletic Conference) and Stanford (Pac-10) were all worthy of a national No. 1 seed.
Georgia Tech stated its case last weekend by winning three games in one day to capture the ACC Tournament title. Fullerton also made a strong point despite finishing behind Long Beach State in the Big West Conference.
ASU could have been awarded a national No. 1 seed in place of Auburn or Miami, both of which weren't ranked in the top 10 in any of the three national polls heading into last weekend.
The Tigers finished second in the Southeastern Conference's Western Division, before falling to Alabama in the SEC Tournament semifinals. As an independent, the Hurricanes beat several good teams, like Georgia Tech and Long Beach State, but they also lost to a few non-NCAA Tournament, such as Campbell, The Citadel, Florida A&M and Jacksonville.
"We can't change it, so we've just got to move on and play our game," Sun Devil sophomore first baseman Jeff Larish said. "It doesn't really matter. We've got to still win to get there."
Some people think ASU didn't receive a national No. 1 seed because of its perceived "weak" non-conference schedule and second-place conference finish. The Sun Devils were 11-5 against six ranked teams, five of which advanced to the NCAA Tournament, and they finished two games behind Pac-10 champion Stanford.
"We played Long Beach State on the road and we beat them two out of three," ASU sophomore shortstop Dustin Pedroia said. "We played well in the Pac-10. Stanford just got on a roll and won more games than we did."
History proves that being a national No. 1 seed isn't necessarily all its cracked up to be. In 1998, ASU advanced to the national championship game as a No. 3 seed from the Midwest Regional. The 1994 Sun Devils made the journey to Omaha as a No. 3 seed out of the Mideast Regional.
"If you want to be the best, you've got to go through whoever you've got to go through," Murphy said. "Maybe it's a little tougher now, but the reward would be greater in the end. You've got to beat all sorts of teams."
Regardless of where the Sun Devils are seeded, they'll continue to rely on their stingy pitching in the postseason. Senior right-handers Beau Vaughan (9-5, 4.66 ERA), Ben Thurmond (6-0, 2.87 ERA) and Jered Liebeck (7-0, 2.64 ERA) and freshman southpaw Erik Averill (8-1, 3.48 ERA) anchor one of the Pac-10's most efficient rotations. Junior right-hander Ryan Schroyer has established himself as a very formidable closer, boasting a 5-2 record, eight saves and a 1.45 ERA.
ASU has gotten the pop in its lineup from a multitude of sources, including Pedroia (.418), Larish (.377), junior designated hitter Jeremy West (.366) and junior outfielder Andre Ethier, who was named the Pac-10 Player of the Week and the Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Week on Monday. Ethier went 8-for-17 (.471) last weekend against UA with six runs scored, four home runs, two doubles, two triples and eight RBIs. NCAA Regional ticket information:
All-session passes for the NCAA Regional are on sale at the Sun Devil Ticket Office. Single-game tickets for Friday's two games also are on sale.
Prices for the all-session passes are as follows: $60 for adult reserved; $50 for junior and senior reserved; $40 for adult general admission; and $30 for junior and senior general admission. General admission seating is located on the bleachers down the lines and on the grass along the third-base line and behind the left-field wall.
Tickets may be picked up at the Sun Devil Ticket Office as early as 9 a.m. Wednesday. Tempe Diablo Stadium's Will Call (located at the South end ticket office) is scheduled to open at 11:30 a.m. Friday.
For more information, please contact the Sun Devil Ticket Office at (480) 965-2381. Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.