ASU hope to capitalize on adversity for playoff success
By the time the regular season came to an end, Arizona State had faced adversity every step of the way.
After the program lost three starters to late-season injuries just weeks after the start of its schedule, the Sun Devils were forced to award more than 200 innings to other pitchers, several of whom were originally scheduled to play. much less important roles.
Meanwhile, the majority of ASU’s offensive players had little or no college experience under their belt as the second youngest roster in Division I.
Still, ASU still found a way to win 32 of its 52 games and secure a playoff spot for the fourth time in six occasions under head coach Tracy Smith. After solving many of their own issues, the Sun Devils now want to cause everyone trouble.
“It hasn’t been conventional from the start,” Smith said. “We plan to throw keys into people’s plans.”
The Sun Devils have a lot of work to do if they want to play the spoiler role against some of the most successful teams in the country.
The second-seeded team in an Austin Regional double-elimination hosted by Texas, No.2 Sun Devils will face Fairfield (37-3) in their playoff opener Friday at 4 p.m. on ESPN3 . A win in this game will likely see ASU face Texas a day later, which should be ASU’s toughest game of the season.
The team maintains that they are not thinking too much about this possibility at this time. Dealing with Fairfield should be the only task they can think of, ASU players said of a goal that seemed to be missing in 2019 as the No.2 seed in the Baton Rouge area when the Sun Devils were eliminated with two losses to third seed Southern Mississippi. .
“We kind of got too ahead of ourselves in talking about LSU and we couldn’t get past Southern Miss,” said ASU fourth-year junior shortstop Drew Swift. “I think that’s one of the great things this year that we’ve preached and learned.”
The Sun Devils will have to overcome a lack of experience to reach the program’s first Super Regional since 2011. Three-quarters of the team’s roster have never been to an NCAA tournament before, and they won’t have any players on the field this weekend that have passed the regional stage.
“It starts in the locker room and having [veterans] do it organically in the locker room and talk about it when it’s not just a coach telling you over and over again what it’s going to be, that’s pretty meaningful, ”said Smith. “These guys did a really good job talking about how special this time is, the tournament time.”
That was only part of the talk around the ASU clubhouse, however.
Swift said the team used a mental coach once a week, which he said was helpful in keeping attacking players focused on team goals without trying to overdo it on the pitch.
Likewise, ASU junior reliever Brady Corrigan said the pitchers have focused on maintaining the same mental approach for the playoffs that they have been doing all year. He thinks that being too excited about a playoff appearance could be detrimental.
“It will be similar to what we’ve been doing all year,” Corrigan said. “These are guys who bounce around roles and do things unconventionally and put them together game by game and set by set and try to win one game at a time.”
For pitchers in particular, the playoffs represent an opportunity to make a fresh start after a difficult year. The Sun Devils’ regular-season 5.12 ERA ranked 9th in the Pac-12 and third among teams in their region.
Considering the challenges ASU faced, pitching coach Jason Kelly appreciated what his players accomplished to make it to the playoffs.
“I think these guys have a professional demeanor and everyone on deck,” Kelly said. “People play different roles at different times on consecutive days, haven’t pitched for two weeks. Everyone really took the opportunity and I’m proud of it.
Smith said he believes resilience extends to the entire list. Instead of withering this year, they’ve weathered storm after storm. They won’t be favorites in Austin. But again, they can’t be counted.
“It’s just interesting to listen to everyone talking about our regional games and then intriguing super-regions and they don’t say Arizona State in those sentences,” Smith said. “We are paying attention to this. “