ASU's Talented Trio From Mountain Pointe
April 14, 2005
Sun Devil Country is starting to expand into Pride baseball country.
'I have a lot or maroon and gold in my closet,' said Arizona State University infielder Seth Dhaenens, one of three former Mountain Pointe High School players on the Sun Devils baseball team this spring.
Kevin Dryanski, a junior right-handed relief pitcher, and J.J. Sferra, a freshman outfielder, also wore the maroon and gold at Mountain Pointe where the colors were adapted from ASU when the high school opened in 1991.
Three Arizona players on an ASU baseball team used to be rare, but now even three players from one high school is in keeping with baseball coach Pat Murphy's recruiting philosophy. Scottsdale Desert Mountain also has three freshmen among 14, including redshirts, on the Sun Devil roster. Tempe McClintock, Yuma Kofa, Phoenix Thunderbird, Scottsdale Horizon and Glendale Cactus are also represented at ASU this season.
'We're an Arizona state school and that's what it's all about,' Murphy said. 'We're a national program and a Top 10 program, but we want to branch out and give these kids a good experience. They know we're committed to recruiting in-state kids, and they look forward to it.'
Murphy, an Ahwatukee Foothills resident, is familiar with the baseball programs in the area.
'There's no doubt about it.' Murphy said. 'It has great baseball, great coaching and great youth programs.
Family ties Sferra to ASU
Sferra is one of those homegrown products. Attending ASU is a bit like a homecoming for him. He was the Sun Devils' batboy for six years before he started playing baseball at Mountain Pointe. His father, Jay, is an assistant coach on Murphy's staff.
'It's neat after being around here (as a batboy), so I'm used to that,' Sferra said, 'And having my dad coach gave me a bit of a heads up, so it was an advantage for me. But it's a lot different playing. It's a huge jump.'
That transition, his father explained, can be made more difficult for J.J. than other players because of his familiarity and expectations.
'People don't realize the dynamics of the transition of him coming into a program where I'm a coach,' Jay explained. 'Things are much more complex and complicated than the normal pressure, and the normal pressure is huge. Being able to fit into the team with his teammates, having me around, being a former batboy and the expectations of being an all-everything in high school and not playing at the highest level as a freshman are a huge transition.'
The presence of former Pride teammate Dhaenens has helped, Jay Sferra said. Dhaenens was a senior at Mountain Pointe when J.J. was a sophomore.
'I know that Seth has been quietly helping J.J. make that transition behind the scenes and not taking any credit for it,' Jay said.
As a college coach, conflicting baseball schedules and NCAA rules did not permit Sferra to see his son play in most of his high school games.
'After four years, it's a treat for me to see him every day,' Jay said.
Since he moved to Ahwatukee Foothills area in 1998, the elder Sferra has been familiar with the Mountain Pointe baseball program and Pride coach Roger LeBlanc.
'Coach LeBlanc is a tremendous man and a great coach,' he said. 'We appreciate what he and his staff have done because obviously these guys know how to play.'
Even with three players on the Sun Devils squad in addition several others who have graced college rosters, such as Ryan McCally (Stanford) and Justin Sandberg (Pepperdine), LeBlanc said Mountain Pointe isn't a baseball factory.
'We've been lucky,' LeBlanc said. 'ASU likes our kids, so I guess we must be doing something right if they want our kids to play for them. But that isn't our goal. Our goal is to play hard and develop boys into men. If they end up being college players, great, but we don't try to make them college players. If you do the little things, it leads to that. And then, there's that little thing called talent. That helps.'
Dhaenens learns from redshirt season
While Sferra jumped into a starting outfielder's spot as a freshman and was hitting .292 going into the University of California series at Berkeley last weekend, Dhaenens redshirted his first year at ASU.
He used that redshirt year to accelerate his schoolwork and is a little more than a year from graduation even though as an athlete, he is a sophomore this spring.
An engineering major before he switched to business, he picked up the nickname of 'The Professor' as a testament to his academic skills.
'My first year, Coach Murphy was doing some sort of physics lesson on hitting and asked me if I could throw some things out there,' Dhaenens explained. 'I went over some of my physics knowledge and everyone starting calling me 'The Professor,' and it stuck.'
When he made the lineup last season, Dhaenens started 27 of the 47 games he played at second base and batted .250 with three doubles and eight RBIs. He began this season in a batting slump, but rebounded and was hitting .340 or fourth best on the team going into the California series.
'I wasn't really that confident at the plate and didn't have good at-bats,' Dhaenens remarked. 'Finally, the last couple of weeks I've felt a lot more confident. It came down to making a decision that I had been there before, and it was all a matter of going out and doing it and it didn't matter what happened before. It was a huge difference going to the next level.'
Dhaenens grew up watching ASU baseball and made a goal to become a Sun Devil. He said sitting out his first year gave him an appreciation for the past two seasons.
'It helped me realize how special this really is,' Dhaenens said. 'I won't take anything for that experience, then coming out and helping the team. I hope to continue to do that this year.'
Murphy didn't give up on Dhaenens and neither did Jay Sferra.
'I saw Seth when J.J. was at Mountain Pointe, and I thought his best baseball was still ahead of him,' Sferra said. 'He has great character, is very intelligent and when he got in that little slump we made some adjustments. The bottom line is that it was a confidence thing. I still think his best baseball is ahead of him.'
Dryanski overcomes rough start to sport
Dryanski's career almost ended after his freshman season at Mountain Pointe.
He pitched in the annual Tempe Corona del Sol spring tournament as a freshman and impressed the Pride coaching staff.
'We thought he was going to be unbelievable,' LeBlanc said.
Then in the summer between his freshman and sophomore seasons, he played on a club team in Tucson and pitched two, seven-inning games back-to-back without any rest.
'It just blew his arm out,' LeBlanc said. 'We had to sit him his sophomore year and sit him as a pitcher his junior year. He just started to reach his potential at the end of his senior year, and started throwing like we thought he could. He had a long road and worked hard to get back.'
Dryanski intended to attend Central Arizona College in Coolidge, then changed his mind and headed for Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.
'I knew I would get more playing time than I would have at Central,' Dryanski said, 'and it was a better situation for me because I wanted to get out on my own a little bit. It was a good experience.'
Dryanski started at Hutchinson for two seasons and was 6-0 as a freshman in 2003, striking out 29 batters in 39 innings. As a sophomore, he was 5-3 with a save and 2.45 earned run average. He struck out 48 batters in 57 innings.
'Kevin wanted to come here,' Jay Sferra said, 'but he wasn't quite ready yet. We stayed in contact with him because we want to keep Arizona guys.'
Dryanski has found his niche at ASU as a reliever where he posted a team-best 2.92 ERA in seven appearances going into the California series.
'I went to Hutchinson knowing I wanted to go on to a Division I school,' Dryanski said. 'I wanted come back to ASU if I could, but somewhere else would have been awesome, too.'
LeBlanc isn't surprised his trio would continue a successful career in college.
'J.J., Seth and Kevin are baseball junkies,' LeBlanc said, 'or what we call lifers.'
The reporter can be reached at (480) 898-7915 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.