NCAA pairings greeted with practical reaction

While it is the first time that Arizona State has been selected as the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Baseball Tournament, the Sun Devils are certainly acting like they have been there before. Monday morning's announcement drew no high fives or cheers from the maroon and gold squad watching the selection show, because being the top seed was never the ultimate goal for this group.

"Fortunately for us we came in here today knowing that we're in the post-season," said ASU skipper Tim Esmay about his team's pragmatic response. "It was more about the unknown, who's coming here and who we are playing."

"I think being an overall number one national seed is something that we heard might happen," outfielder Kole Calhoun said, "and finally seeing our names up there was a big deal and something that I think we earned. But this is business like usual so we will handle it like men like we have been all year."

Arizona State (47-8), who captured their fourth consecutive Pac-10 championship on Saturday, begins play Friday against Horizon League champion Milwaukee (33-24). Hawaii (33-26) and San Diego (36-20) make up the rest of the Tempe regional bracket.

"They are four (league) champions in this bracket," Esmay commented. "If you've done that, you have pretty good idea on how to win when it matters. That stood out to me more than anything. Each club is going to have that ‘it' factor.

"We played San Diego this year. We played Hawaii in the past; we played Milwaukee in the past. So for them it's not an unknown of not being in Packard before. So that will be a plus for them. As usual this time of year, it will be fun. It will be intense and it's something that we have been looking forward to."

"Every bracket is tough this time of year," said infielder Raoul Torrez. "It's not necessarily who has the best seeding, but who's hottest and who's in the right mental state at the time. You really can't underestimate anybody. It's going to be a grind every game, same way we attacked every game this year.

"In a regional no lead is safe. Just when you think you got a team that's down, they are fighting for their season. Those teams are going to play their best games of the season. We're going to go with the mentality that they are going to play their perfect game and that we are going to match it."

If ASU wins its regional it will host the winner of the Arkansas regional which aside from the Razorbacks includes also Grambling, Kansas State, and Washington State. That best-of-three super regional will be played on June 11-14. Yet, there is no mistake where the team's focus lies in.

"Right now it's just looking at Milwaukee," Esmay noted," seeing what Milwaukee will bring. Everybody is a good team this time of year. Everybody has something special. As soon as that (bracket) was put up everybody was back in our war room starting to grind out and see what information we can find on Milwaukee and see what happens on Friday night."

Esmay added that his pitching rotation will be determined later this week after gathering more information on the team's regional opponents.

The Pac-10 landed a record eight teams in the post-season, which can indicate the magnitude of the Sun Devils' feat of winning a fourth consecutive league championship two days ago. Esmay believes that the last few weeks of regular season play's atmosphere were no different than what they can expect this weekend.

"Guys like Raoul Torrez and Kole Calhoun already have an idea," Esmay stated. "They know what we are about to get involved with. But a Deven Marrero or a (Brady) Rodgers – they don't. So it's good that the Pac-10 was as tough as it was last year. It allowed those guys to get the idea of what it felt like.

"On Saturday (when ASU clinched against Stanford) was as close as a regional type feeling. It was just back and forth and every little thing mattered. We've been kind of playing that way the last couple of weeks. So I think that has been great for those guys to have that sense of what it is all about."

"Stanford made it into the tournament," Calhoun said, "and that's how they are going to play for the rest of the year – play their hearts out. When they played against us that was a physically draining, emotionally draining game and that what's the Pac-10 championship comes down to. If you are going to win it outright, it's going to take a hard battle just like it took on Saturday. Something like that definitely gets us prepared coming into a regional."

Then again, the success a team enjoys during the regular season can only take you so far during your games in June.

"Momentum is dictated during a game," Esmay explained. "So in my opinion there really is no momentum leading up to it (the post-season). It's how you handle the momentum of the game. That part is going to take care of itself.

"There is a reason why you are in this position. There doesn't have to be suddenly a total change - now because it's the post-season we have to do this or that. It's more like stay the course and believe in what you are doing. Let's have that same driven focus we've had since that first pitch back in January."

"What you have done until now can only serve you in the post-season," said pitcher Seth Blair. "You know what you have to do to prepare yourself to pitch well or play well. This is a beginning. This is something new. We have to go out and battle every game and hopefully come up on top every game."

The national seeding was implemented by the NCAA in 1999. Miami, who earned the No. 1 spot that year, captured the national championship but every top seed to follow failed to return from Omaha with the coveted trophy. In Esmay's mind, negative streaks are meant to be broken and he doesn't mind at all carrying the top seed distinction into the post-season.

"We haven't won a series in Stanford since 1997," Esmay recalled. "So at some point it's your time. So you look at it (the streak) and say: ‘all right…whatever.' I think what it's showing is that at one point it all goes out the window. At some point you still have to catch the ground ball and make some pitches. There are a lot of things that have to go your way to go deep into the tournament."

The Sun Devils' path to Omaha will never require them to leave Tempe and Esmay is cognizant of what the home field advantage can mean this time of year.

"It's home cooking," Esmay said. "You're familiar. Even though you're hitting in the cages, it's your cages. You have been there. The unknown sometimes is what can put you a little off-kilter. We all know this weekend, at some point; it is going to get hairy. That's just the way it is and that's when it's nice to have the fans that are there to pick you up or get you over the top.

"I always say that but at the end of the day the grass and the bases are always the same. So, at some point the fans aren't on the field and you have to win the game. Play the game like how we want to play it and that's the whole key. We have to play the way we have been playing all year and that's just play good Sun Devil baseball."


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