College : : Story
Monday, March 26, 2012

Sun Devils keep battling

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Arizona State

TEMPE, Ariz. – Outside observers may look at the Arizona State baseball program as one operating in a constant state of limbo, at least through the completion of the 2012 season.

Tim Esmay isn’t an outsider; in fact, he’s about as much of an insider as you can get. And despite what those outside the program may feel, the Sun Devils’ third-year head coach isn’t about to wish away a season in which his team has been banned by the NCAA from participating in postseason play.

Esmay recruits players to one of college baseball’s most storied programs that come to Tempe wanting to win College World Series championships. But Esmay thinks the players he brings to campus have other goals, as well.

“The goal is to play at Arizona State,” Esmay told Perfect Game after the Sun Devils beat Pac-12 rival California last Friday (March 23) in the first of a three-game series at ASU’s Packard Stadium. “I say this all the time, but everybody takes it for granted that you’re going to the postseason. Well, there are a lot of programs that are trying to figure out how to get there.

“The postseason to me is the end of the process and it’s the byproduct of what we do here,” he continued. “As long as we keep true to what we do and how we prepare, we’ve always had good success at the end because the guys have trusted in that, and we’re going to stay pretty true to that as far as what we do day-to-day.”

ASU was slapped with the one year postseason ban and three years of probation due to what the NCAA deemed a “lack of institutional control” by former coach Pat Murphy and the school’s athletic department.

“Obviously we are disappointed that we will not be able to participate in the postseason in 2012,” Esmay in a statement when the sanctions were announced in November of 2011. “The goals for this program will not and have not changed. We will take the same approach towards every practice and every game, non-conference and Pac-12, that we have always taken. Our goal to be the best team in the Pac-12 remains our focus.”

Arizona State has competed for conference championships – and national championships, as far as that goes – ever since the school created its varsity program in 1959. Sun Devil teams won 11 Western Athletic Conference championships and nine Pac-10 titles, and will do everything in their power to win the first Pac-12 championship this season.

Arizona State has advanced to 21 College World Series, most recently in 2010, and won five national championships, the most recent in 1981. Older fans will remember former ASU and MLB standouts like Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Rick Monday, Floyd Bannister, Ken Landreaux and Bob Horner. Younger fans can look to Dustin Pedroia, Paul Lo Duca, Barry Bonds, Ian Kinsler, Andre Ethier, Ike Davis and Brett Wallace.

Eleven Sun Devils were selected in the 2011 MLB amateur draft, and there’s a good chance quite a few guys on this year’s roster will be selected in June’s draft. Fifteen of them are draft-eligible.

ASU stood 15-8 overall and 3-3 in the Pac-12 after taking two-of-three from Cal over the weekend.

The PG 17th-ranked Sun Devils have been getting terrific pitching from right-handers Brady Rodgers and Trevor Williams, Esmay’s Friday and Saturday starters. Rodgers, a junior, is 5-1 with a 1.11 ERA with two complete games, and has 39 strikeouts in 48 innings. Williams, a sophomore, worked out the bullpen last year but has made six starts this season and is 4-0 with a 1.31 ERA.

Williams attended 11 Perfect Game events between 2006 and 2009 while attending Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego, including the 2009 PG National Showcase in Minneapolis. He made 32 appearances in middle relief as an ASU freshman and posted a 2.50 ERA in 39 2/3 innings.

“I was a starter in high school, and it was more difficult to go from starting to relieving, because I had never done it before. Throwing back-to-back-to-back days was tough,” he said Friday. “Making the adjustment back from relieving to starting has been a lot easier because it feels more natural and I’m used to it.”

Offensively, the Sun Devils are led by everyday starters Joey DeMichele (second base), Trever Allen (right field), Abe Ruiz (first) and Deven Marrero (shortstop).  DeMichele was hitting .381 with four home runs, 26 RBI and six stolen bases after the Cal series, followed by Allen (.355, 2 HRs, 17 RBI), Ruiz (.325, 7 HRs, 25 RBI) and Marerro (.300, 2 HRs, 12 RBI, 6 SBs). Marerro, a junior, was last year’s Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year.

“It’s a good group, and it’s one of those groups that will cause you to scratch your head and go, ‘What?’” Esmay said. “But then you remember that a lot of them are in their first (year) of playing Division I baseball, and playing at a place like Arizona State is not easy for anybody.

“But then you also see signs of them growing up and you see the guys that are coming along, and it’s like, ‘OK, good,’” he continued. “I like this team in the fact that they’re not afraid to go out and work and get better, and that’s always fun as a coach, to have a group like that – you don’t have to pull their teeth to get them to come to the yard every day.”

Perfect Game has increased its presence in Arizona over the last two years and will hold eight events in the Phoenix area this calendar year. PG WWBA 14u, 16u and 18u Memorial Day Classic tournaments will be held May 25-28 at the Camelback Ranch Complex in Phoenix, and the first prestigious 17u Perfect Game World Series is scheduled for July 24-28 at the Peoria Sports Complex.

The annual Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Upper class) is slated for Sept. 14-17 at Camelback, with the PG/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) to follow Sept. 21-24 at a Phoenix-area site to be determined.

Finally, the 2012 National Underclass Showcase-Session 1 and the 2012 West Uncommitted Showcase are scheduled for Dec. 1-2 at Camelback.

Those events are a must-see for Esmay and his staff, provided NCAA recruiting guidelines and “dead periods” allow them to attend.

“What Perfect Game has done is put us in a spot where we have to be at the showcases that (PG) puts on because they’re providing very good recruiting (opportunities). They’re providing the best of the best,” Esmay said. “As college coaches, we always know when we do a Perfect Game showcase, it’s going to be a positive as far as what we’re going to see.

“There are always good players at those events and it’s a very important recruiting tool for us to be at; we trust them.“

Esmay will continue to bring the nation’s top prospects into his program, one that is sure to be competing for a national championship again in 2013. The players on this year’s team, many who will not be back next season, will continue to fight for a Pac-12 conference championship, which, for this season anyway, is the only plum on their tree.

“We need to keep getting wins like tonight, and keep battling,” the right-hander Williams said after Friday’s victory over Cal. “We have to keep getting wins and winning series, so we can win the Pac-12 championship.”

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