May 30, 2003
By Brian Gomez
Although Arizona State plowed its way down a strikingly familiar path Friday night, head coach Pat Murphy's team isn't Omaha dreamin' just yet.
The Sun Devils must find a way to advance from a spot they've been in time and time again. It's an uneasy position that has seen brightening seasons transformed into dark endings with the blink of an eye. It's one that has caused great players, like Mitch Jones, Casey Myers and Mike Esposito, to go home empty-handed.
For the third year in a row, the Sun Devils won their opener in the NCAA Tournament. And for the third year in a row, they'll try to get past the first round.
"I'm not looking back," said Murphy, whose team last emerged from the NCAA Regional in 1998 during a memorable ride that didn't stop until the final game of the College World Series. "I just think about this year and what this team is capable of. I'm not worried about our chances."
Buoyed by a pitching staff that runs deeper than in previous years, No. 1-seeded ASU should be able to move on to the next round, which would likely result in a return trip to Cal State Fullerton. Then again, what is supposed to happen doesn't always hold true, especially in college baseball.
"We've been through it before and we realize we're good enough to win," Sun Devil junior left fielder Nick Walsh said. "We can't be looking ahead. We just have to play the first pitch, then hammer it out."
ASU beat San Diego last year in an NCAA Regional opener at HoHoKam Park, before losing twice to Houston. The 2001 Sun Devils slaughtered Texas Tech at Fullerton, but their season ended the following day with two losses -- an 11-3 setback against Fullerton and a 9-8 loss to Texas Tech.
In 2000, ASU appeared to have nearly locked up a Super Regional berth by beating Miami (Ohio) and Texas in consecutive days. The Sun Devils were eliminated after losing twice to Texas in a Sunday doubleheader.
This year's team isn't as vulnerable to inconsistencies that plagued last year's group, which finished tied for third place in the Pac-10 with Washington. The Sun Devils have sometimes shown a tendency to play down to the level of their competition, however, they've always managed to bounce back, like they did last weekend when they swept then-No. 15 Arizona after dropping two of three at Washington.
"We realize now that it's just a game," Walsh said. "It's not who we're playing or who we've got in the Super Regional if we win. We've just got to play it pitch by pitch."
West moved his to a career-long 19 games with a two-out single to center field in the first inning that scored Walsh. He later scored himself on Central Connecticut State sophomore first baseman Phil Rothkugel's fielding error.
Ethier ran his hitting streak to 18 games, also a career high, with a second-inning single to center field that brought home Walsh. He was left stranded when Central Connecticut State junior right-hander Lews Pappariella retired the next three batters.
TUFFY CONTINUES TEAR:
A change in scenery didn't affect Sun Devil sophomore catcher Tuffy Gosewisch, who continued his stellar play, both as a hitter and as a fielder.
In the top of the first inning, Gosewisch threw out his 11th base runner of the season with a crisp strike to junior second baseman Steve Garrabrants. He also went 2-for-3 from the plate with one RBI and two runs scored.
PEDRO UPS PAC-10 RECORD:
Just because the regular season is over doesn't mean ASU sophomore shortstop Dustin Pedroia is going to stop hitting doubles.
Sporting a shaved head, courtesy of Sun Devil reliever Carlos Arguello, Pedroia smacked his Pac-10-record 33rd double in the second inning, giving him two more than any other player in conference history. He also reached on a single in the third for his 39th multihit game of the season.
AGGIES BEAT REBELS IN BARNBURNER:
It wasn't the type of game New Mexico State head coach Rocky Ward was hoping for in the opening round of the NCAA West Regional, but his team will get a shot against ASU.
After blowing a six-run lead in the eighth inning, the No. 3 Aggies broke through with three runs in the top of the 11th and hung on for a 14-12 win over No. 2 Nevada-Las Vegas. Having fallen into the loser's bracket, the Rebels will play No. 4 Central Connecticut State in an elimination game at 10 a.m. Saturday at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
"It was an exhausting game, but it was pretty important to this program," Ward said. "The first regional victory is very difficult to get, and we got it -- the hard way."
The floodgates opened with two outs in the 11th when UNLV junior shortstop Peter White's fielding error allowed senior infielder Hal Bisnett to score from third. White was in position to turn a double play that would have ended the game, but the ball ricocheted off his shoulder and all runners were safe.
"I played myself into a bad hop," White said. "I deal with making errors really well. I've made a lot this year, so I'm getting used to it."
New Mexico State capitalized when junior second baseman Brad Ditter's sacrifice fly to left field brought home junior outfielder Chris Ewen. Junior third baseman Billy Becher then ripped a single up the middle, allowing senior center fielder Alex Borgo to score the inning's third run.
The Rebels looked as if they were surely going to push the Aggies to another frame after loading the bases with no outs in their half of the 11th. But senior catcher Robert VanKirk grounded into a 5-2 double play and senior left-hander Andrew Garretson fanned junior first baseman Fernando Valenzuela to end the game.
"I tried to mix in some slide-step pitches for my fastball and curveball," said Garretson of his game-ending strikeout. "I didn't think he would be chasing high, so I had to work it in really well and try to stretch the zone, and the umpire gave us the call."
NMSU SCOUTING REPORT:
Most teams' bullpens would probably be depleted after an 11-inning game that lasted 4 hours and 20 minutes, but New Mexico State has plenty of arms to last through the weekend.
The Aggies used only three pitchers Friday, mainly because senior starter Jason Williams lasted seven innings. Garretson closed the game after entering in the last of the eighth for closer Mike Smith, who imploded for six runs and five walks.
Ward said he won't decide upon his starter for the ASU game until Saturday morning, but he's pretty sure Garretson won't be available until Sunday. Junior right-hander Dustin Cameron (8-3, 5.12 ERA) will likely get the nod against the Sun Devils, making senior southpaw Christian Jackson (5-1, 7.65) available for New Mexico State's third game.
"I'm not a big proponent of mixing your rotation," Ward said. "There were a few people out there who felt like maybe we should have gone with a left-hander today, but when you change your rotation, you change feel and rest time. You have to look at it a little bit differently because you have to play two more to win it or you may have to play three or four more."
TICKETS STILL AVAILABLE:
Single-game tickets for Saturday's NCAA West Regional games are on sale at the Tempe Diablo Stadium box office. Prices are as follows: $10 for adult reserved; $6 for child/senior reserved; $8 for adult general admission; and $5 for child/senior general admission.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.