Time To Find A Way To Advance

May 30, 2003

By Brian Gomez

Although Arizona State plowed its way down a strikingly familiar path Fridaynight, head coach Pat Murphy's team isn't Omaha dreamin' just yet.

The Sun Devils must find a way to advance from a spot they've been in timeand time again. It's an uneasy position that has seen brightening seasonstransformed into dark endings with the blink of an eye. It's one that has causedgreat players, like Mitch Jones, Casey Myers and Mike Esposito, to go homeempty-handed.

For the third year in a row, the Sun Devils won their opener in the NCAATournament. And for the third year in a row, they'll try to get past the firstround.

'I'm not looking back,' said Murphy, whose team last emerged from the NCAARegional in 1998 during a memorable ride that didn't stop until the final gameof the College World Series. 'I just think about this year and what this teamis capable of. I'm not worried about our chances.'

Buoyed by a pitching staff that runs deeper than in previous years, No.1-seeded ASU should be able to move on to the next round, which would likely resultin a return trip to Cal State Fullerton. Then again, what is supposed tohappen doesn't always hold true, especially in college baseball.

'We've been through it before and we realize we're good enough to win,' SunDevil junior left fielder Nick Walsh said. 'We can't be looking ahead. We justhave to play the first pitch, then hammer it out.'

ASU beat San Diego last year in an NCAA Regional opener at HoHoKam Park,before losing twice to Houston. The 2001 Sun Devils slaughtered Texas Tech atFullerton, but their season ended the following day with two losses -- an 11-3setback against Fullerton and a 9-8 loss to Texas Tech.

In 2000, ASU appeared to have nearly locked up a Super Regional berth bybeating Miami (Ohio) and Texas in consecutive days. The Sun Devils were eliminatedafter losing twice to Texas in a Sunday doubleheader.

This year's team isn't as vulnerable to inconsistencies that plagued lastyear's group, which finished tied for third place in the Pac-10 with Washington.The Sun Devils have sometimes shown a tendency to play down to the level oftheir competition, however, they've always managed to bounce back, like they didlast weekend when they swept then-No. 15 Arizona after dropping two of threeat Washington.

'We realize now that it's just a game,' Walsh said. 'It's not who we'replaying or who we've got in the Super Regional if we win. We've just got to play itpitch by pitch.'

Juniors Jeremy West and Andre Ethier wasted little time extending theirhitting streaks Friday.

West moved his to a career-long 19 games with a two-out single to centerfield in the first inning that scored Walsh. He later scored himself on CentralConnecticut State sophomore first baseman Phil Rothkugel's fielding error.

Ethier ran his hitting streak to 18 games, also a career high, with asecond-inning single to center field that brought home Walsh. He was left strandedwhen Central Connecticut State junior right-hander Lews Pappariella retired thenext three batters.

A change in scenery didn't affect Sun Devil sophomore catcher TuffyGosewisch, who continued his stellar play, both as a hitter and as a fielder.

In the top of the first inning, Gosewisch threw out his 11th base runner ofthe season with a crisp strike to junior second baseman Steve Garrabrants. Healso went 2-for-3 from the plate with one RBI and two runs scored.

Just because the regular season is over doesn't mean ASU sophomore shortstopDustin Pedroia is going to stop hitting doubles.

Sporting a shaved head, courtesy of Sun Devil reliever Carlos Arguello,Pedroia smacked his Pac-10-record 33rd double in the second inning, giving him twomore than any other player in conference history. He also reached on a singlein the third for his 39th multihit game of the season.

It wasn't the type of game New Mexico State head coach Rocky Ward was hopingfor in the opening round of the NCAA West Regional, but his team will get ashot against ASU.

After blowing a six-run lead in the eighth inning, the No. 3 Aggies brokethrough with three runs in the top of the 11th and hung on for a 14-12 win overNo. 2 Nevada-Las Vegas. Having fallen into the loser's bracket, the Rebels willplay No. 4 Central Connecticut State in an elimination game at 10 a.m.Saturday at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

'It was an exhausting game, but it was pretty important to this program,'Ward said. 'The first regional victory is very difficult to get, and we got it --the hard way.'

The floodgates opened with two outs in the 11th when UNLV junior shortstopPeter White's fielding error allowed senior infielder Hal Bisnett to score fromthird. White was in position to turn a double play that would have ended thegame, but the ball ricocheted off his shoulder and all runners were safe.

'I played myself into a bad hop,' White said. 'I deal with making errorsreally well. I've made a lot this year, so I'm getting used to it.'

New Mexico State capitalized when junior second baseman Brad Ditter'ssacrifice fly to left field brought home junior outfielder Chris Ewen. Junior thirdbaseman Billy Becher then ripped a single up the middle, allowing senior centerfielder Alex Borgo to score the inning's third run.

The Rebels looked as if they were surely going to push the Aggies to anotherframe after loading the bases with no outs in their half of the 11th. Butsenior catcher Robert VanKirk grounded into a 5-2 double play and seniorleft-hander Andrew Garretson fanned junior first baseman Fernando Valenzuela to end thegame.

'I tried to mix in some slide-step pitches for my fastball and curveball,'said Garretson of his game-ending strikeout. 'I didn't think he would be chasinghigh, so I had to work it in really well and try to stretch the zone, and theumpire gave us the call.'

Most teams' bullpens would probably be depleted after an 11-inning game thatlasted 4 hours and 20 minutes, but New Mexico State has plenty of arms to lastthrough the weekend.

The Aggies used only three pitchers Friday, mainly because senior starterJason Williams lasted seven innings. Garretson closed the game after entering inthe last of the eighth for closer Mike Smith, who imploded for six runs andfive walks.

Ward said he won't decide upon his starter for the ASU game until Saturdaymorning, but he's pretty sure Garretson won't be available until Sunday. Juniorright-hander Dustin Cameron (8-3, 5.12 ERA) will likely get the nod againstthe Sun Devils, making senior southpaw Christian Jackson (5-1, 7.65) availablefor New Mexico State's third game.

'I'm not a big proponent of mixing your rotation,' Ward said. 'There were afew people out there who felt like maybe we should have gone with a left-handertoday, but when you change your rotation, you change feel and rest time. Youhave to look at it a little bit differently because you have to play two moreto win it or you may have to play three or four more.'

Single-game tickets for Saturday's NCAA West Regional games are on sale atthe Tempe Diablo Stadium box office. Prices are as follows: $10 for adultreserved; $6 for child/senior reserved; $8 for adult general admission; and $5 forchild/senior general admission.

Reach the reporter at brian.gomez@asu.edu.

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