(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)
Another year, another postseason appearance for Arizona State baseball. Making their second trip to the NCAA Tournament in two years under head coach Tracy Smith and their fourth consecutive overall, the Sun Devils head to Fort Worth, Texas as the second seed in a Regional hosted by the Texas Christian Horned Frogs. Rounded out by the Gonzaga Bulldogs (3) and the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (4), advancing to the Super Regionals will be no easy task for any team.
With the first game of the Regional between ASU and Gonzaga starting Friday at noon PT, let’s take a look at each team in the regional.
TCU Horned Frogs
A perennial Big-12 powerhouse with eight consecutive regular season conference titles from 2004-2011 and conference tournament championships two out of the last three years, Jim Schlossnagle’s group has to be the favorite to advance on paper. The offense boasts five players batting .300 or better, led by freshman infielder Luken Baker (.376). Elliot Barzilli (.374/.452/.583, 43 RBI, 12-13 in stolen bases), Dane Steinhagen (.314, seven home runs and 49 RBI) and sophomore catching sensation Evan Skoug round out the major offensive threats. The team as a whole can be a terror on the base paths, swiping 87 bases out of 106 attempts (82 percent). The pitching staff is led by starters Dalton Horton (8-0, 2.58 ERA, .215 batting average against) and Brian Howard (7-2, 3.81 ERA, 1.19 WHIP). The Horned Frogs’ bullpen has four pitchers with an ERA of 2.56 or under, meaning pitching and defense will be at a premium for any opponent if it hopes to stay in the game for the full nine innings.
Arizona State Sun Devils
The postseason hopes for the Sun Devils looked very bleak at the beginning of conference play, but winning six of their last seven weekend series’s to close out the season left them finishing third in the Pac-12 and securing their 54th straight 30-win season. The pitching staff will be crucial for success, and it is led by junior ace Seth Martinez. Finishing with a 9-3 record coupled with an .207 batting average against in 108 1/3 innings pitched, the Sun Devils will need to secure a victory in any game Martinez starts to give them a legitimate chance of advancing. The offense, paced by junior David Greer (.344/.436/.585, 23 doubles), can be explosive at times with the likes of MLB Draft hopeful Colby Woodmansee (who has a team leading 43 RBI), freshman outfielder Gage Canning (.284, team leading nine stolen bases) and designated hitter Sebastian Zawada (tied for team lead with eight home runs). If the Sun Devils can get their power hitters going, coupled with Canning and center fielder Andrew Shaps setting the table, they can be a very dangerous team.
Making their first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2009, the Bulldogs reached the final of the West Coast Conference tournament and lost to St. Mary’s 13-4. With a 33-16 regular season record, head coach Mark Machtolf has some quality offensive weapons at his disposal, with the biggest threat being Jeffrey Bohling (.297 batting average, 45 RBI, 10-for-13 in stolen bases, 23 doubles. The Bulldogs’ starting staff could pose big problems for ASU in the first game and beyond, with ace Brandon Bailey holding a 9-3 record with a 2.51 ERA in 93 1/3 innings. The bullpen could be their downfall, however, as it includes four relievers with 12 or more appearances with ERA’s of 4.97 or higher.
Oral Roberts Golden Eagles
While they have drawn the toughest matchup in the Regional by opening up against TCU, head coach Ryan Folmar’s crew has the offensive firepower to possibly play spoiler. With a team batting average of .306 and 41 home runs collectively, they will provide a tough matchup to anyone in this Regional. Senior Nick Wood leads the starting staff and will most likely draw the start in the first game against TCU. He holds a 2.86 ERA to go along with a 6-2 record in 72 1/3 innings.
Bobby Kraus is a baseball beat writer for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network. You can follow him on Twitter @bobbykraus22