After two straight losing seasons, it’s no secret that Tracy Smith‘s job as Arizona State‘s head baseball coach is on the line.
His team is keenly aware of that and, so far, the Sun Devils are doing what’s needed to help him keep his job. ASU baseball is the only team in the Pac-12 that is still undefeated, posting an 11-0 record through the first three weeks of the 2019 season.
It’s been almost a decade since an ASU team has started a season on that kind of a roll, the longest season-opening win streak since the 2010 team jumped out to a 24-0 start.
And here’s how they’re doing it: This team is an offensive juggernaut that has piled up 124 runs over those 11 games, well ahead of last year’s pace. ASU batters have combined for 149 hits, 118 runs batted in, and 16 home runs.
Over the weekend, they hosted Big Ten foe, Michigan State, in a three-game series at Phoenix Municipal Stadium and sent the Spartans home to Lansing without a single win. The Devils routed MSU by a combined score of 29-7 over the three outings.
In the first game, Hunter Bishop broke a scoreless tie in the third inning with a three-run home run over the scoreboard in right-center, and the Devils went on to an 8-0 shutout. Bishop finished the game with two hits and four RBIs as the ASU offense piled up 14 hits in the contest. Alex Marsh pitched seven shutout innings, giving up five hits and striking out six Spartan batters, to give him his third win in as many starts.
The second victory took a lot more effort, with the game going into extra innings before Spencer Torkelson‘s walk-off home run in the 11th inning gave the Sun Devils a 8-5 win and put them in position for a series sweep on Sunday. The sophomore infielder from California, who led the nation last year with 25 round trips, also poked out a double and contributed four RBIs on the night.
It was a combined effort from the ASU pitching staff that kept the Devils in the game, as lefty Eric Tolman and right-hander Blake Burzell worked together to put up five scoreless innings after the starter, Boyd Vander Kooi, left after five innings in which he posted six strikeouts and gave up just two earned runs. An imposing figure on the mound, Vander Kooi is a 6’5″, 220-pound sophomore from Skyline High School in Mesa.
Sunday’s final leg of the sweep was all about power at the plate. This time it was sophomore outfielder Trevor Hauver that brought the big bat. Hauver, another local athlete, from Perry High School in Chandler, hit a pair of homers that included a shot to right-center to start the scoring in the first inning.
Bishop followed with another solo blast and ASU finished the inning with a 4-0 lead. But the Devils weren’t finished with the aerial barrage. Carter Aldrete added a fourth home run in the fourth inning and Hauver come back in the seventh to open that inning with another homer, which led to a five-run inning in which the Devils batted through the order as they coasted to a 13-2 win.
While the pitching has been pretty solid so far, it’s the hitting this season that may pull ASU out of arguably its worst slump in program history. The 2017 season was the first time in 55 years that an ASU team finished a season with fewer than 30 victories. Last year was the first time in school history that an ASU baseball team had back-to-back losing seasons. The Devils posted identical 23-32 records both seasons.
Smith probably has to get this squad through the season with a winning record and then advance at least into the super regionals to assure himself of another season. Winning the super regional and punching a ticket to the College World Series (CWS) would be a really big help.
In four seasons under Smith, a coaching veteran who enjoyed considerable success at Indiana University where he led that program to a couple of Big 10 conference titles, postseason results have been disappointing, to say the least. During his first two years, ASU lost in the regionals, and the last two years didn’t even make it into the postseason.
This is a program that had gone to the CWS four of the five years prior to 2010 – but has not made an appearance since then. Smith was hired to get the Devils back to Omaha.
And eventually bring home a national title. The school has won five, but it’s been 38 years since the last one.
This team just might be capable of breaking that very long drought.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)