CWS Can Add to Great Season of ASU Athletics

Based on the fashion by which the Sun Devils have steamed through all postseason opponents this year, perhaps the dominance can be chalked up to the pendulum in Arizona State athletics is making yet another significant swing.

ASU's basketball team, a program that had earned NCAA tournament berths only once since the 1994-95 season, fell mere seconds from a Pac-10 Conference Tournament championship and maintained national notoriety all year. The Sun Devil football team is banking on a dominant defense -- not a high power passing attack -- to ascend up the conference rankings in 2009. To top it all, ASU's baseball team rides the momentum of amazing pitching performances, supplemented by timely offense, to punch its ticket to Omaha for the 2009 College World Series.

There is absolutely no doubt that the heart-and-soul of this squad is found in the nearly unstoppable one-two pitching punch of Mike Leake and Josh Spence, with a combined record of 25-2 with over 250 strikeouts, a virtual paradigm shift from the College World Series Sun Devil squads of recent years passed, built on offensive firepower from the likes of Jeff Larish, Travis Buck, Brett Wallace and Ike Davis, followed by quality pitching.

Sun Devil head coach Pat Murphy has often commented that his squad may not always play well, but it has shown an acute tendency to win well. To translate, this team rolls with the punches and collectively finds a way to succeed.

The offense certainly is no slouch, with 2009 Pac-10 Player of the Year Jason Kipnis fearlessly roaming centerfield and leading a squad that as a team finished in the Pac-10's top two in every major offensive category; however there simply aren't the fearsome batting presences similar to the aforementioned hitters.

However, the tradeoff is one that although can lead to nail biters if the hitting stumbles, is more equipped for postseason glory. As even the most casual baseball fan has seen -- at virtually any level -- a gritty, organized club such as the Sun Devils, if led by firepower on the mound, can stretch a season out longer than some may expect.

A major component at play outside the diamond are the implications this year's postseason run can have at future Sun Devil baseball success; many first-year players saw ample action this year and generally speaking, this week's MLB Draft figures not to have wiped out much of ASU's position player depth. For such a cast of underclassmen to earn this experience prepares them not only for their future roles at ASU, but proves that Murphy has the ability to replenish his program and "play the hand he's dealt" and keep ASU as the elite baseball program in the Pac-10 Conference and a premier program on a national level.

The expectations certainly have risen with what this year's team has shown; there was a palpable feeling at last weekend's Super Regional that defeating Clemson and qualifying to play in Omaha was entirely an expectation and not a fortunate outcome.

Although the Devils dog piled near the pitcher's mound after the final out was recorded against the Tigers, amid the pride and joy was a sense of business, as that victory was a step in the process and not the ultimate goal. Now that the Devils have accomplished that first step, their trip to Nebraska is far from simply a summer vacation, Murphy and company carry a desire and expectation to be the last team standing.

"Murph" and ASU baseball's united ability to replenish the talent lost from 2008 -- to the tune of a school record 15 players taken in the MLB Draft last year -- proves that the program and the staff is capable of creating great success, despite a lack of player experience.

Not only has success been achieved in the short-term, but the perpetual development and advancement of the program has been strengthened by another highly successful year.

The end result provides a compelling entity for any sports fan and a sense of tremendous pride and hope for ASU's opportunity to elevate back to National Championship level of play.

Joe Healey is a 2006 graduate of Arizona State University and a guest contributor to Devils Digest. He is also a feature writer each month in Maroon and Gold Illustrated and has contributed to ASU media guides, press releases and other official athletic publications. He can be contacted by email at josephwhealey@hotmail.com.


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