May 21, 2001
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Road to Omaha for the 2001 Arizona State Sun Devil baseball starts this Friday and it runs right through Fullerton, Calif. The No. 17 Sun Devils learned today they were awarded an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament and will begin their quest for a sixth national championship Friday with a 3 p.m. game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Goodwin Field. Under the guidance of Head coach Pat Murphy, the Sun Devils have now advanced to postseason play in four of the past five years.
Finishing hot with wins in seven of their last nine Pac-10 games and 14 of their last 20 overall, the Sun Devils will travel to familiar territory having already played two games this year at Goodwin Field. ASU was 1-1 vs. the No. 1 National Seed Titans, winning 5-3 on Feb. 23 and losing 13-6 on April 9. The No. 2 seeded Sun Devils will take on Big 12 Conference member Texas Tech (40-18-1) in the first game of the regional hosted by Cal State Fullerton. The Titans (41-15) will host Temple (27-29) at 7 p.m. Friday night at Goodwin Field. ASU is 12-2 all-time vs. Texas Tech.
"It is always exciting when you find out that your season is going to go that much farther and that you made it to postseason," said ASU All-American catcher Casey Myers. "No matter where you go you are going to have to face tough teams, so it wasn't a shock to hear we are going to play in a regional with teams like Texas Tech and Fullerton. It will be nice to have some familiarity with the field since we already played in Fullerton twice this year. Stuff like that helps."
The Sun Devils finished the 2001 regular season with a 36-18-1 record and ranked third in the Pac-10 with a 14-10 mark in conference play. ASU completed the regular season with a three-game series against UCLA, taking two of three from the Bruins to secure the school's 25th NCAA Tournament appearance.
"I am a little surprised by the selection, but what can you do, you have to play good teams no matter where you go to get to the end goal (Omaha)," said ASU head coach Pat Murphy who will be taking on his sixth No. 1 National Seed in seven career NCAA Regionals on the road. "We have a tall task on hand, but this is a team of fighters with a lot of heart and I am very confident in their abilities."
Being sent to a National No. 1 seed is no surprise to Murphy, having endured the tough task in six of his eight postseason appearances. Going 21-14 in his career in postseason play, Murphy was sent to Miami, Florida State and Clemson, all who were the No. 1 seed at the time, during his Notre Dame career and came up with a win over the host school each time. The trend continued when Murphy overtook the helm in Tempe, leading ASU to within one win of a College World Series berth at Miami in 1997 and in 1998 advanced to the CWS by winning a regional over No. 1 seed Wichita State on their home field.
Led by Myers and freshman Rod Allen, the Devils are the leading hitting team in the Pac-10 this year. Allen, who is a likely candidate for Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year, leads the team with a .387 batting average and has 47 RBI, 12 doubles and five home runs in his freshman campaign. Myers trails Allen by one point, hitting .386 on the year and ranking second in the Pac-10 with 66 RBI. The senior catcher is just 11 RBI short of the ASU and Pac-10 career record of 283 and recently became only the third Sun Devil baseball player in history to record 300 hits in a career. With a mix of veterans and rookies on this year's squad, Myers believes the freshman will have no problem competing at the NCAA level.
"Our freshman class has proven they can hang with the big boys all year long and they have tremendous talent," said Myers, who is one of four Sun Devils who were with the 1998 team when it finished second in the College World Series. "It is more pressure packed and there is more media attention, but it is still the same game and as a team we need to just concentrate on what got us to this level."
On the mound the Devils feature three strong starting pitchers and a potent bullpen. Redshirt freshman Mike Esposito has emerged as ASU's Friday night starter after battling back from Tommy John surgery last year and is 5-2 on the year with a 4.10 ERA. Junior left-hander Jon Switzer is second in the Pac-10 with 124 strikeouts and is a hard-luck 5-5 on the year. Switzer has been the culprit of low run support, with the Devils scoring only one run in four of his five loses. Senior Eric Doble has come back from injury and has given up his normal closer role to become ASU's third starter. Doble is 3-0 in his four starts this year, combining for a 5.08 ERA.
"We have played tough teams all year and this is just another one of those games," said Esposito who will most likely get the nod in Friday's opening round game. "Playing a tough schedule prepares you for this opportunity (to play in the NCAA Tournament) and it really shows you what championship baseball is all about."
The storied Arizona State program has maintained a career 121-47 record in NCAA Tournament games. Winning National Championships in 1965, 1967, 1969, 1977 and 1981, the Devils have made 18 career appearances at the College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb.
"This is what it is all about and this is what you practice for all year," said freshman outfielder Ryan McKenna. "I was playing high school baseball last spring and now I get the chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. I don't know if it gets any better than this."
Copy By Jeff R. Evans
ASU Media Relations