ASU baseball’s road to Omaha hits a few early speed bumps

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                </div>  This was supposed to be the start on the road to a farewell tour for Packard Stadium, the home for Arizona State baseball for the past 40 years that […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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This was supposed to be the start on the road to a farewell tour for Packard Stadium, the home for Arizona State baseball for the past 40 years that is destined for demolition after the Sun Devils move to their new home at Phoenix Municipal Stadium next season.

But the road has not been smooth so far.  After dropping two of the three games in the weekend road series, it took a win yesterday against Santa Clara to pull the Devils up to a .500 start.

Those losses in California dropped the No. 18 team in the country to a No. 29 national ranking.

ASU opened the three-game weekend series with a stunning 11-0 loss to Long Beach State in which the Devil pitchers gave up seven hits, and then followed that up by giving UC Irvine an early 3-0 lead they couldn’t overcome as Irvine rolled to a 5-2 win.

So, how do you not drop in the rankings when you lose a pair of games to teams called the Anteaters ((UC Irvine) and the Dirtbags?

By Sunday, they had righted the ship as four players each contributed a pair of hits and the Devils stretched a 4-0 lead in the first inning to a 7-2 victory over Wright State to even their season record to 4-4.

ASU returned home for the first of four games they will play in the College Baseball Classic being held this week at Surprise Stadium.  And the winning continued with yesterday’s opening game in the Classic as the Devils downed Santa Clara, 9-6, behind a six-inning pitching performance by right-handed starter, Darin Gillies, and a pair of RBIs each from three different players: shortstop Drew Stankiewicz, catcher RJ Ybarra, and second baseman Tucker Esmay.

Stankiewicz and Esmay are local products, Stankiewicz from Gilbert High School and Esmay from Casa Grande High.

This year’s squad came into the season ready to shake off a couple of frustrating seasons.  In 2012, they finished the regular season 36-20 but were ineligible for post-season play due to some NCAA sanctions that had been a lingering issue for several years.  And last year they made it to regionals, only to lose to the No. 5 national seed, Cal State Fullerton, in an elimination game that ruined a chance to get into the College World Series (CWS) and try for a 20th national title.

And this team has decided that a trip to Omaha for the CWS would be the only fitting tribute acceptable for their last year at Packard.  The Devils haven’t been to the World Series since 2010.

Last season, they won six of their first eight games, so this year’s start is not too far behind.  But they will need to begin proving they are better than a .500 team, and even better than the team that couldn’t get past the Fullerton Regional last season and managed just a 16-14 mark in Pac-12 play (tied for fourth place).

They are expected to get their 30+ wins, but that’s not too significant for ASU’s storied program (have finished the last 18 seasons nationally-ranked) that has enjoyed 51 consecutive seasons with 30 or more wins.  Still plenty of time to get that done and keep the string going.

This year’s bunch isn’t a power team at the plate, but these Devils do have solid pitching with a three-man starting rotation, an improved defense, and good depth after seasoning a dozen freshmen last year.

Maybe now, with back-to-back wins, they’re out of the ditch and back on the road to Omaha.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)