Despite strong finish to season, UA baseball gets no respect

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                </div>What could be worse than getting word your team, the defending national baseball champion, didn’t even get selected for a berth in this year’s  NCAA Tournament? How about knowing that […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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What could be worse than getting word your team, the defending national baseball champion, didn’t even get selected for a berth in this year’s  NCAA Tournament?

How about knowing that your hated in-state rival did make it into the post-season – after you just beat them in one of the final series of the regular season?

The University of Arizona not only took two of the three games from Arizona State two weekends ago, but they followed that up by sweeping the final series from USC.  These Wildcats made a strong showing down the stretch in hopes of earning a berth in the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship that begins this week, winning five of their final six games and six of the last 10.  ASU, on the other hand, lost eight of its final 14 games.

In the final six games, the Cats hit .344 as a team and outscored their opponents 49-27.  Their junior third baseman, Brandon Dixon, won the Pac-12 batting title by closing out the season with a .369 average.

But a 34-21 overall record and .500 in conference play (15-15) showed an overall body of work that didn’t impress the committee enough to include them in the 64-team field.  It’s the first time in four years the Wildcats won’t be packing up for post-season play.

Last year about this time, they were getting ready to host the Tucson Regional at Hi Corbett Field after posting a 37-17 record overall and a 19-10 conference mark – good enough for a share of the Pac-12 Championship.  It was the first conference title in 20 years for then-No. 13 Arizona.

And, oh yeah, they also won the national title.

But this year, the Arizona State Sun Devils will get the opportunity to make a run to the College World Series in Omaha.  Last year was frustrating for the Devils, who probably would have gone to the NCAA Tournament but were ineligible for post-season play due to lingering NCAA sanctions on the program.  This year they will make their 30th appearance in Regional play, with a chance to win their 20th regional title.

ASU finished the 2012 regular season 36-20, the 50th straight year of 30 wins or more, and posted an 18-12 conference record.  Only two other Pac-12 teams made it to Omaha – UCLA and Arizona – and ASU beat them both during the regular season.

This time around, the Devils are 35-20-1 and finished the regular season tied for fourth in the conference, which entitled them to an at-large berth in the tourney.  They are the No. 2 seed in the double-elimination Fullerton Regional and will open Friday afternoon against third-seeded New Mexico (37-20) at Cal State Fullerton’s Goodwin Field.  Each game is being televised by ESPNU/ESPN3.

It’s been a  productive year so far.  ASU finished the regular season ranked first in the Pac-12 in slugging percentage (.450), hits (581), RBIs (335), doubles (115), home runs (46), and total bases (884).

The winner of the Fullerton Regional will take on the winner of the UCLA Regional in a best-of-three Super Regional that determines who moves on to Omaha to play for the national championship.

The Sun Devils have fared well against tourney-calibre teams.  They are a combined 12-5 against the seven teams they’ve met in the regular season that did qualify for the NCAA Tournament.  They beat Arkansas and Wichita State twice; won series against Oregon, UCLA, and Valparaiso; and lost a 1-2 series to Oregon State.

And they beat New Mexico, Friday’s opponent, the one time they played them in mid-March.  That game went to 11 innings before the Devils prevailed in a 4-3 win.

Now the Lobos present the first step on the tricky path back to the World Series – and a chance to win a sixth national championship.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)