Resilient ASU baseball looks to sustain success heading into NCAA regional

The Sun Devils will kick off their postseason against Fairfield University on Friday

ASU baseball will head to Austin, Texas, this weekend to begin its postseason at the NCAA regionals and continue what has been a whirlwind of a season.

The Sun Devils (32-20) finished the season in fifth place in the Pac-12 despite multiple players missing time due to injuries. 

In the early portion of the season, ASU's pitching rotation lost three starters in Boyd Vander Kooi, Erik Tolman and Cooper Benson to season-ending injuries requiring Tommy John surgeries. The Sun Devils pieced together pitching from others while receiving solid production from its freshman-heavy lineup, which has them as the youngest team in the entire College World Series field.

"I'm proud of what this group has been able to do and overcome to put ourselves in a position to continue the season," ASU baseball head coach Tracy Smith said in a press conference Tuesday. "In spite of all the injuries, we still control our destiny. We and everyone else in the country are sitting 0 and 0 right now."

The regional includes four teams and will be double elimination. No. 2-seeded ASU will face No. 3 Fairfield University on Friday, with the winner of that matchup playing the winner of the game between No. 1 University of Texas and No. 4 Southern University.

If ASU wants to advance to super regionals, it will likely have to go through Texas, who finished the regular season 40-13 and ranked No. 2 in the nation. But ASU will be focusing on one game at a time, Smith said, even with Texas looming large.

"Honestly, it's not about Texas. It's about winning that first game on Friday because that's so key in a regional, so we got to put all of our attention and energy into that," Smith said. "And if we're fortunate enough to do that, that will focus on, you know, whomever that is the next day."

In the school's last appearance in the regionals in 2019, ASU was blown out in its opening game, something current redshirt junior shortstop Drew Swift said was due to the team looking ahead prematurely.

"We can’t overlook that first game," Swift said. "My sophomore year, we got too ahead of ourselves and talked about LSU and couldn't get past Southern Miss. That first game is huge, and we've gotta have that one."

ASU pitching coach Jason Kelly said the coaching staff is prepared for some players to be nervous and for some "uncharacteristic" issues to occur in the first three innings of its first postseason game.

But Smith said the adversity the team faced throughout the season should help it remain ready for whatever it faces this postseason, adding "there's not gonna be a lot that's gonna rattle this team. This is a pretty mentally tough team."

As one of the few players on the team with postseason experience, redshirt junior pitcher Brady Corrigan said it's imperative the Sun Devils treat this upcoming weekend like any other game despite the increased importance of each game.

"At the end of the day, it's still the same game we've been playing all year and not letting one moment dictate the whole weekend," Corrigan said. "And take it pitch by pitch and inning by inning, and then we'll move on to the next game and kind of keep it at that."

The COVID-19 pandemic ended the Sun Devils' 2020 season prematurely before the postseason, so Smith has made sure to drill in the value of the team soaking in the experience this weekend.

"Having last season taken away from us, I think we had a pretty good club and we've got to embrace this and don't underestimate just how unique of an experience this is, and don't take it for granted," Smith said. "This is what it's all about and we are excited to be a part of it."

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