The Sun Devils are back in the College World Series after Tim Esmay's squad posted a stellar 52-8 campaign.
Arizona State, perennial favorites boasting an alumni list including the likes of Barry Bonds, Reggie Jackson, Andre Ethier, and Bob Horner (and for you trivia folks, Ian Kinsler before he transferred to Mizzou), is ready to capture its first national championship in two decades and believes it can win it all this year.
Although success by the Sun Devils has somewhat become a given, this year's team faced a lot of adversity in the preseason.
Former long-time head coach Pat Murphy resigned unexpectedly before recruiting violations surfaced, and athletic director Lisa Love was forced to slap self-imposed sanction on the program to save face. Arizona State's season almost looked to be a disaster, but it definitely wasn't.
Credit manager Tim Esmay-- who finally earned the permanent manager job after holding interim status for most of this season-- for keeping the ship straight and steered towards Omaha. He has rendered the Sun Devils' last off-season moot with his team's stellar player, and his team will be looking to capture the elusive title in Rosenblatt Stadium's last year.
That said, ten more reasons Arizona State can win it all...
(Images courtesy of ASU Media Relations)
Although Arizona State has comfortably beaten opponents for most of the season, they've also shown a penchant for winning close games. The Sun Devils squeaked by Arkansas in Super Regionals, winning two games that both lasted more than four hours.
Their ability to win close games, a testament to their very reliable and shut-down bullpen, is important for the Sun Devils' chances in Omaha.
The teams that have made it this far are no slouches and will be the best teams Arizona State face all season. They won't dispatch UCLA as easily as they did in Los Angeles (during Pac-10 season) should the two teams meet in the final.
Arguably the most important factor that typifies Omaha teams is streakiness. Arizona State, like its dominant counterpart Virginia, has maintained an unparalleled level of consistency throughout the season.
However, unlike Virginia, the Sun Devil bats have not gone collectively cold.
Bats such as Maggi's have been cold of recent, but teammates have stepped up their production and scored runs when most crucial.
And Maggi parted with his slump in grand fashion with the game-winning home-run to send Arizona State to Omaha.
As the Lisa Love/Pat Murphy/sanctions got uglier, the hopes for Arizona State baseball faded.
Coach Esmay righted the ship, however, and went on a blazing 24-game winning streak to start the season.
This Sun Devils team has met and exceeded expectations, and stood firm on its feet while holding the top ranking for most of the season.
When the Texas' and Virginia's of the world have come and gone, it just provides a greater testament to Arizona State's ability to make it to Omaha-- which is really difficult in itself-- and perhaps close out Rosenblatt in style.
This team won its first 24 games, won 23 more games during the season, and more resoundingly lost only eight games all season.
The schedule was no slouch either, as the Sun Devils played and easily took care of tough Auburn, San Diego, and Cal State Fullerton teams (albeit each team when they were not in their best form, for the most part) and played in a tough Pac-10 conference.
Arizona State has won comfortably and won close, but they have more importantly won. At this stage, that's all a manager and fan base can hope for.
Seth Blair has an electric arm that leads Arizona State. A live arm that offers 90-93 and two potentially plus off-speed pitches (curve and change), Blair can be one of the best pitchers in college baseball should he be able to pinpoint his pitches.
Nonetheless, control notwithstanding, Blair's a winner and has garnered his lofty 12-0 record and 104 Ks for a reason. Sometimes talent, as the 46th overall pick in the draft would epitomize, comes through.
Merrill Kelley and Jake Borup round out a superb weekend rotation. These two pitchers offer a good amount of savvy and breaking pitches that should keep Arizona State in games.
Jordan Swagerty is a very fitting name for a closer with the stuff and swag Swaggerty possesses. Although he does not have dominating stuff, Swaggerty possesses a good fastball in the low-mid 90s and a nasty curve that hits the 80s and has plenty of movement. Athletic as well, Swaggerty sets the tone in the Sun Devil bullpen.
Mitchell Lambson and Brady Rodgers provide Coach Emsay with another pair of reliable arms in the bullpen. Arizona State can feel fairly comfortable after the sixth with their bullpen arms.
In the grueling pitching schedule that typifies Omaha, the arms will be crucial to the Sun Devils' success.
This lineup is balanced 1-9, a lineup only paralleled by the likes of Virginia's (minus their post-season form), Georgia Tech's, and Oklahoma's.
The Sun Devils hit for a team batting average of .338, and more importantly possess a .436 team on-base percentage. Most of Arizona State's lineup bats over .300, and all of their players just know how to play.
Each player in the Sun Devils' lineup is a unique threat, and that could go a long way in Omaha.
Riccio Torrez-- arguably Arizona State's best player-- Zack MacPhee, and Kole Calhoun all provide big threats in the Sun Devils' lineup. Torrez and MacPhee is a ballplayer who makes things happen, while Calhoun could be due for a power spark like Reine showed for Oklahoma over the past week.
Arizona State may lack the statistical star-power in terms of individual stats, but they make in up in talent and game.
Tim Esmay, a long-time and loyal assistant with Arizona State, went through an unnecessary interview process by Lisa Love.
Arizona State's powerhouse program was looking in shambles after allegations about impropriety from former renowned manager Pat Murphy "resigned" unexpectedly.
Esmay only responded by being an extremely-liked player by the players, an affable man to the fans, and a reliable and steady manager for a program that needed straightening. Esmay's made the most of his team and has a good staff around him.
Game ball goes to Esmay, no matter how far the Sun Devils go. But he is definitely a plus for the team.
Arizona State is finally the consensus No. 1 team in the nation, after Virginia and Texas lost in super regional play. The Sun Devils have been a model of consistency, and the team has taken care of business. They beat the teams they had to beat, toughed out hard games, and won two enduring Super Regional games against Arkansas.
Good teams make their own good luck, and that will carry over to Omaha. This team is ready to win a championship for a program, coach, and fans that deserve one.
These players have the opportunity to surpass the legacies of the like of Pedroia and Ethier by winning a college championship-- they'll be up for that challenge.