Nov. 6, 2003
TEMPE, Ariz. (www.TheSunDevils.com) -- Another challenging season awaits the Arizona State Baseball program, as 10th year head coach Pat Murphy released the 2004 season schedule that includes 30 games against NCAA Tournament teams from 2003. The 56-game regular season slate includes 24 Pac-10 contests and 32 non-conference tilts, including a renewal of a two-game non-conference series against rival Arizona.
A season-opening three-game series against last year's NCAA Tournament national No. 1 seed, Florida State, and a tournament in Houston, Texas, that includes 2003 NCAA National Champion Rice highlight the non-conference portion of the schedule. Non-conference tilts against perennial national powers Tulane, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Wichita State, Oral Roberts and East Carolina will also help make the 2004 schedule one of the nation's toughest.
"There is no easy weekend on the schedule, bar none," said Murphy. "To be the best you have to play the best week in and week out. That's the way we want it. The Pac-10 is always one of the toughest conferences in the nation and we start with a very demanding non-conference schedule. It should bring out the best in our young team."
Coming off a stellar 2003 season in which the Devils finished with a 54-14 record and fell one game short of the College World Series, ASU has solidified itself as one of the top collegiate programs in recent years. Earning top-12 rankings in four of the last seven seasons, combined with an NCAA record 501 game consecutive games scoring streak and a span of 78 straight weeks in the national polls, Sun Devil baseball has solidified its spot among the nation's elite.
Last year was no exception, as the Devils were the only team in the nation to finish in the top 10 in the four major NCAA statistical categories (batting average, ERA, runs scored and fielding percentage) and broke the NCAA single-season record with 14 grand slams.
After having a school record 12 players drafted (most among all NCAA schools) and three more sign free agent contracts after the 2003 season, the Devils are left with a young, but very talented team for 2004. The squad is led by returning All-Americans Dustin Pedroia and Jeff Larish, both of whom helped the USA Baseball National Team to a silver medal in the Pan Am games last summer. Pedroia, a junior shortstop who has started every game of his Sun Devil career, hit .404 with 34 doubles in 2003 while being named the Pac-10 Co-Player of the Year. Larish, a junior who will play outfield and first base in 2004, hit .372 with 18 home runs and 95 RBI as a sophomore, while earning numerous All-American honors.
ASU returns 12 letterwinners and nine starters from last year, while adding the No. 3 ranked recruiting class (Baseball America) in the nation. Highlighted by a solid class of freshman and junior college transfers that are expected to step right in and contribute, the 2004 Devils feature 22 newcomers on the roster.
Due to the NCAA pushing back the postseason another week (regional play is June 4-6), ASU will feature it latest opening to a season since 1978 with a three-game set against Florida State (Feb. 6-8).
After the FSU series, ASU will again make the cross-town trip to Surprise, Ariz., for the Coca-Cola Spring Training Classic. ASU will be part of a tournament field that includes Oregon State, Utah, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Cal State Northridge and Gonzaga. All games will be played at Surprise Stadium, the spring training home of the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals.
"We are once again excited to bring an exciting brand of college baseball to the West Valley and love our working relationship with the City of Surprise," commented Murphy. "The facilities and staff are first class and they do a great job hosting the tournament."
The Devils will then make a trip to Houston, Texas, for the Coca-Cola Classic at Reckling Park. ASU opens tournament play with NCAA tournament participant Lamar (Feb. 20) and Memphis (Feb. 21). ASU will then face defending national champion Rice to conclude the tournament.
"Any time you get a chance to go on the road early in the season against outstanding competition, it will help your team," said Murphy. "We are excited to go down there and play some great teams at a great college baseball facility."
Upon returning from Texas, ASU will get comfortable with the friendly confines of Packard Stadium, embarking on an unparalleled 25-game homestand, covering the entire month of March and the early part of April. The Devils open the stretch with a non-conference game against rival Arizona (Feb. 24), before hosting UConn (Feb. 27-29), East Carolina (Mar. 5-7), Tulane (Mar. 12-14) and Oklahoma State (Mar. 16-17).
The Sun Devils homestand continues with three consecutive conference series to open the Pac-10 slate. ASU hosts conference foes California (Mar. 19-21), Washington (Mar. 26-28) and USC (Apr. 2-4) at Packard Stadium. ASU's four conference road trips include going to UCLA (Apr. 16-18), Washington State (Apr. 23-25), Arizona (May 21-23) and Stanford (May 28-30).
Following the WSU road trip, the Sun Devils will travel to Wichita, Kan., for a two-game set with Wichita State, marking ASU's first return to Eck Stadium since capturing the regional championship in 1998 to advance to the College World Series. ASU will also host New Mexico State (May 3-4) for a pair of games preceding final exams.
After hosting Oregon State, the Devils will end the season with eight straight road games, including a tour of the Southwest that includes games at New Mexico (May 18), New Mexico State (May 19) and a three-game showdown with Arizona at Sancet-Kindall Field in Tucson (May 21-23). The Devils end the regular season with a three-game series against 2003 national runner-up Stanford (May 28-30) at Sunken Diamond.
The 2004 NCAA Tournament begins with 16, four-team regionals at campus sites (June 4-6). Eight two-team super regionals (June 11-13) will determine the eight-team field for the annual College World Series (June 18-28) to be held at Rosenblatt Stadium, in Omaha, Neb. The CWS will once again feature a three-game championship series to determine the national champion.
2004 Schedule Highlights:
? 54% of games (30 of 56) against teams that played in 2003 NCAA Tournament.
? 71% of games (40 of 56) against teams that have played in NCAA Tournament in last two years.
? May 18 game at Albuquerque's Isotopes Stadium, home of the Triple-A affiliate of Florida Marlins.
? Season-opening three-game series against Florida State (Feb. 6-8).
? Latest start to a season since 1978, when ASU opened Feb. 11 against Cal State Northridge.
? 33 home games at Packard Stadium.
? Games scheduled against first-time opponents East Carolina and UConn.
? Games against national champion Rice and national runner-up Stanford.
? Renewal of non-conference games with University of Arizona.