ASU, UCLA seem fated to meet in College World Series

The stars seem to be aligning this year for an ASU-UCLA face-off in the College World Series.

The two Pac-10 teams have been practically joined at the hip in their progress to the Super Regionals, which are being played this weekend.

Eight teams will emerge from those three-game series to play in the CWS in Omaha.  Arizona State takes on Alabama in Tempe and the Bruins host Cal State Fullerton.

CS Fullerton won the first game of the UCLA series last night, 4-3, so the Bruins have their work cut out for them, forced to win the next two to move on.  ASU plays their first game today.

The Bruins left a lot of runners on base and had multiple opportunities to take the game back.  But pitcher Noe Ramirez managed to get out of trouble, inning after inning.  The right-hander finished with 13 strikeouts.

So the Bruins just need to do a better job today of pushing runners around.  If they don’t, we may see a seismic shift in the stars as they fall out of the orbit that was set from the beginning of this season.

ASU started out this season with 24 straight wins, a school record.  UCLA started out this season with 22 straight, a school record.

ASU finished the season ranked No. 1 in the nation by the major polls.  UCLA finished at No. 6, but in mid-April was also ranked No. 1 by both Baseball America and Yahoo! Sports/Rivals.com.

ASU has a record of 50-8.  UCLA is just four games off that pace, with a 46-14 mark.  The Sun Devils hit the 50-win mark two years in a row; the Bruins’ 46 wins sets a new school record.

And now we look at the results of this week’s Major League Baseball draft.  The Pac-10 had a total of 54 players selected in the draft.  Two schools had the lion’s share, with 10 players drafted from each.

Yep, ASU and UCLA.

The 10 selections weren’t the most from ASU in any one year, but it was four more than last year.  The record is 15, set in the bumper-crop year of 2008 when the Devils had two first-round selections, Brett Wallace and Ike Davis.

Seth Blair,  the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year, was the first Sun Devil to go in the 2010 draft.  He was picked 46th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals.  The junior right-hander with a 12-0 record this year was the fourth first-round selection coming out of ASU in the past two years.

Not far behind Blair was his teammate, Jordan Swagerty – who will continue to be a teammate as he was also picked to play for St. Louis.  Swagerty is a draft-eligible sophomore who led the Devil pitching staff in saves this year with 14.  He went in the second round as the 75th overall pick.

Outfielder Kole Calhoun (Angels) and pitcher Merrill Kelly (Rays) went in the eigth round and Josh Spence, ASU’s ace leftywho was forced to sit out this year with an elbow injury, went in the ninth round to the San Diego Padres.

The Padres weren’t picking blindly in the choice of Spence.  They had an inside track since former ASU coach Pat Murphy works now in the Padres organization.  Murphy, who recruited Spence out of Central Arizona College, knows what the first team All Pac-10 selection will be able to do at the pro level.

Sophomore shortstop Drew Maggi went in Round 15, pitcher Jimmy Patterson in Round 18, sophomore pitcher Jake Borup in Round 23, and catcher Xorge Carrillo in Round 23.

Third baseman Raoul Torrez will get to stay at home.  The Diamondbacks selected him in Round 21.

Among those plucked from the local high schools were several ASU signees.  Taylor Lindsey from Desert Mountain HS in Scottsdale was the only Arizona player selected on the first day of the draft; he goes to the Angels.  On the second day, ASU signee James McDonald from Chaparral HS in Scottsdale was the first Arizona high school player selected, the pick of the White Sox in Round 11.  And Travis Flores from Desert Ridge HS in Mesa went to Tampa Bay, also in Round 11.

But right now, ASU coach Tim Esmay is focused on the Arkansas Razorbacks, their Super Regionals opponent.  The Devils are playing at home, but Arkansas isn’t likely to let that bother them.  They won last year’s Super Regional on the road against Florida.

The Razorbacks come into Tempe with an impressive 43-19 record and a team batting average of .308 and team ERA of 3.92.  The Sun Devils counter with a .341 batting average and 3.10 ERA.

Both teams can hit the ball, but ASU should control the outcome with its pitching.  Its top three pitchers have lost a combined three games this year.  Seth Blair is 12-0, Merrill Kelly is 10-2, and Jake Borup is 11-1.

They should win this one at home.

But somewhere down the road, UCLA may still be waiting.

Stay tuned.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)