ASU Baseball Sets Sights On Omaha

Jan. 25, 2005

Joey Hooft has been where his new Arizona State teammates are longing to get: Omaha, Neb., hallowed ground for college baseball, home to the College World Series.

Hooft played there in 2003 and 2004, hitting a home run on his first trip to Rosenblatt Stadium with Miami (Fla.), where he could have returned as a senior.

But he wanted more than to be a utility player for the Hurricanes, who agreed to release him. And it just so happens that Hooft's buddy is Dustin Pedroia, ASU's former All-America shortstop. Though Pedroia is off to the pros, Hooft is here to play second base and maybe help to end the school-record six-year absence from the College World Series.

The Sun Devils were 41-18 last season and lost in a regional at Cal State Fullerton, eventual College World Series champion.

'My last three years were on really talented teams, and Arizona State is no different,' Hooft said. 'I can tell the older guys' main goal is to get to Omaha more so than personal stats, and that's pleasant to be around. It takes veteran guys as well as (new) people stepping in to have that hunger.'

Jeff Larish, moving back from a year in the outfield to third base, and Hooft will surround freshman shortstop Andrew Romine. Likewise freshman center fielder J.J. Sferra will be flanked by sophomore Colin Curtis and junior Travis Buck.

The ninth-ranked Sun Devils, who open their season Friday, also feature third-year starting catcher Tuffy Gosewisch and a pitching staff that returns its ace and two others with starting experience.

That's plenty of power to take on another daunting schedule: 23 of 56 games against teams ranked in the Sports Weekly/ESPN preseason coaches top 25. 'We have a lot more speed and we're going to play that game when we have to,' 11th-year ASU head coach Pat Murphy said. 'Our idea is to try to beat people in more than one way. We've got solid pitching, we've got the ability to go deep, we've got the ability to be great base runners, to play the little game and run. Hopefully we can take the pressure off the pitching staff so they can give up five or six runs.'

Jason Urquidez, an 11th-round draft pick, is coming off a 12-3 season. The senior right-hander will start on Saturday against No. 16 Long Beach State. Junior left-handers Erik Averill and Brett Bordes will get the first shot at filling the other spots in the starting rotation.

'I obviously didn't have the year I wanted last year,' said Averill, who was 4-4 with a 5.19 ERA. 'The three of us are much stronger this year, much more complete pitchers. We understand not to blow it all early in the game, to be consistent and even keel throughout the game.'

Pitching in the Cape Cod League last summer, Averill learned to better locate his fastball and added a cutter. Bordes, pitching in the Alaskan League, improved his control by dropping his arm angle and adding a change-up.

Both are working with new pitching coach Jack Krawczyk, whose final career save at Southern California was over ASU in the 1998 College World Series title game.

'The fact Jack is from 'SC is horrible, and I really dislike him for that,' Murphy said, half-jokingly, of one of ASU's more bitter rivals. 'But I still hired him because I thought he could help us in certain areas.'

Murphy also added a former Sun Devil, Tim Esmay, as his new hitting coach. Esmay played at ASU in 1986-87 then was an assistant for four years under the late Jim Brock. He was head coach at Utah for the past eight years.

'It's almost like I never left,' Esmay said. 'It's exactly how it always has been. It's Arizona State baseball, no matter how you slice it. The tradition is still alive, the kids are still very good, they still expect to go to Omaha, they still expect to win a national championship. Nothing's changed. It's just tougher now.'

Preseason questions

  • Can Jeff Larish, moving to third base for his senior year, bounce back from a disappointing season and take some pressure off junior Travis Buck in the heart of the lineup?

  • Can pitcher/first baseman Zechry Zinicola get in good enough shape to get back in good graces with the coaches and contribute like he did as a freshman All-American?

  • Can transfer Tony Barnette from Central Arizona emerge as a quality closer?
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