2006 ASU Baseball Season Outlook
Jan. 26, 2006
TEMPE, Ariz. -
To get so close to your goal only to come up short would devastate some people. But for Arizona State University baseball, it only serves as motivation to go out and accomplish what you set out to do.
What the Sun Devils have set out to do is bring a sixth National Championship home to Tempe. 2005 brought ASU their 19th College World Series appearance, and their 3rd place finish cemented the program's place on the national scene. But the goals for 12th-year Head Coach Pat Murphy go beyond an impressive showing in Omaha, they are to win the ultimate prize in college baseball, a College World Series Championship.
'Getting back to the College World Series was a great experience and a wonderful accomplishment for this program,' said Head Coach Pat Murphy. 'But our goal is not just to get to Omaha, our goal is to win the National Championship. Every year, we set out with the objective to win that championship ring, to bring that trophy back to Tempe. Those are high expectations, but I think they are reasonable for the type of program that we have.'
ASU enters 2006 with experienced talent returning, 20 letter winners from last season's CWS squad will be back, and also will see an influx of gifted newcomers ready to make their mark on Sun Devil baseball. They all have their sights set on one common goal, a return trip to Omaha and the College World Series.
'The guys we have back have now gotten a taste, and I know they are going to want to return to finish the job,' said Murphy. 'If the veterans can instill some of that 'unfinished business' mentality into our youngsters, we could have a very successful season.'
Arizona State will begin this season like every other year, ranked highly in the polls and expected to compete for a conference title. The Sun Devils begin the season ranked #12 by Collegiate Baseball and #16 by Baseball America.
As is to be expected when you are a top-flight program, you have to reload for the talent you have lost. The Sun Devils lost nine letter winners from last year's team, including six starters. ASU continued their trend of sending players to the pros, as seven Sun Devils were drafted in the 2005 MLB draft, led by First Rounder Travis Buck (Oakland A's). However, five Sun Devil recruits who were drafted in the 2005 draft opted to attend school, putting the ASU in the position of being loaded with young talent.
'Any time you have the type of success we have had as a program, you are going to lose some players to the pros,' said Murphy. 'With that being said, we have a great combination of returners and youngsters who are ready to go out and represent Arizona State University to the absolute best of their abilities. Our goals are the same this year as they have been in the past: compete for the Pac-10 title and win the national championship.'
To go with the 19 returning letter winners, Murphy and his staff have added the second ranked recruiting class in the nation. Several impact players will make their Sun Devil debuts in 2006, and the man who has led ASU to the postseason in eight of the last nine years couldn't be more excited about the possibilities.
'Coach Sferra has once again done an exceptional job of bringing top flight talent to ASU. There are some freshmen coming in who could potentially be major contributors very early on in the season,' added Murphy. 'The talented group of newcomers we have assembled for 2006 will experience growing pains, just like all young players, but I think the experience they will gain by playing in January and February will really help us come May and hopefully on into June.'
The 2006 Sun Devils feature a 34-man roster, with five seniors, ten juniors, eleven sophomores and eight freshman. The Sun Devils will be led by the combination of junior outfielder Colin Curtis, junior Zechry Zinicola, junior righty Pat Bresnehan and senior lefty Brett Bordes. The incoming class of players features both high school players and transfers who can have an immediate impact. The group includes six high school players, four junior college transfers, an NAIA transfer and two Division I transfers.
'We are fortunate to have guys like Colin Curtis, Pat Bresnehan and Zech Zinicola back for us this season,' said Murphy. 'The leadership they can bring to our team will be an invaluable asset. They have two seasons with the program under their belts, and they are familiar with what the Sun Devil way is. Hopefully their leadership and experience will rub off on some of our new guys.'
The 2006 team will once again be indicative of a Pat Murphy coached team: hit for average, play solid defense and approach every game with a playoff mentality.
'We have a very clear-cut goal, and that is to be the best team in the nation,' commented the 1998 Baseball America Coach of the Year and 2000 Pac-10 Coach of the Year. 'We have a lot of youth blended with experience, but we also have a singular focus. There are ups and downs in every season, our goal is to weather whatever storms may come our way and accomplish the goal that we set each and every year.'
A LOOK BACK
The 2005 season was certainly a memorable one, as the Sun Devils returned to Omaha and the College World Series for the first time since 1998. ASU finished the season with a 42-25 record and ended the year ranked as high as third in the national polls.
Travis Buck earned All-American accolades thanks to his .382 batting average, on his way to being drafted in the first round by the Oakland Athletics. Buck also earned First Team All-Pac-10 honors, where he was joined by Jeff Larish, who belted 23 homers and hit .324 for the season. Larish was a fifth round pick of the Detroit Tigers. Nine other Sun Devils earned All-Pac-10 Honorable Mentions. Larish and Buck also earned All-CWS Team honors, along with Colin Curtis and Joey Hooft.
On the mound, ASU was led by lefty Erik Averill, who went 11-4 with a 3.39 ERA. Jason Urquidez was equally as impressive, posting a 10-4 record. Averill was drafted by the Tigers, while Urquidez was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The 2005 postseason was certainly one for the books. The Sun Devils hosted a regional at Packard Stadium, welcoming in East Carolina, UNLV and #24 Coastal Carolina. ASU rolled through the regional, knocking off ECU 9-6, then beating Coastal Carolina twice, 11-3 and 9-5, to advance to the Super Regional. Waiting for Arizona State in the Super Regional was their longtime nemesis and defending National Champion Cal-State Fullerton. The Titans eliminated the Sun Devils in 2004 at Goodwin Field in Fullerton on their way to the national title, and now Arizona State was looking for revenge. The Titans hosted the Super Regional as the #6 seed in the country, and took the opening game of the series on a controversial balk in the ninth inning that allowed the winning run to score. Arizona State would not be denied, as they came storming back to take the next two games, earning their 19th trip to Omaha with a 9-8 victory.
The 2005 College World Series was certainly a memorable affair for anyone who is a fan of the Maroon and Gold, as the Sun Devils took home a third place finish. After falling to Nebraska in the opening game of the CWS, ASU would face Tennessee in a loser out battle. The Sun Devils trailed 2-1 entering the eighth inning, but after RBI hits by Travis Buck and Joey Hooft pulled the Sun Devils even, Seth Dhaenens gave ASU their first lead of the game with his RBI double to put the Sun Devils up 3-2. ASU would add an insurance run to lead 4-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth. A two run lead was all Pat Bresnehan would need, as the righty shut down the Volunteers to lead ASU to a 4-2 victory. Bresnehan threw 3.1 scoreless innings to earn his fifth win of the season and help ASU advance.
Waiting for the Sun Devils was Nebraska, who knocked off Arizona State 5-3 in the CWS opener. The Sun Devils would jump out to an early 1-0 on Jeff Larish solo homer, and then extended it to 2-0 after another Larish blast. The Huskers would answer back, scoring three in the fourth to pull ahead 3-2. ASU would add three more runs to take a 5-3 lead heading into the ninth. Nebraska's Andy Gerch would quickly erase that deficit, blasting a three-run shot to give the Cornhuskers the lead. All told, they would score four runs in the ninth to take a 7-5 lead into the bottom of the inning. ASU would cut it to 7-6, but were down to their final out when Jeff Larish once again stepped to the plate. Larish would sock the first pitch thrown to him over the wall for his CWS and ASU record-tying third home run of the day, sending the game into extra innings. In the eleventh inning, freshman outfielder J.J. Sferra etched his name into Sun Devil lore as his bloop single scored Joey Hooft to send the Sun Devils to an epic 11-inning victory. After the game, ESPN would deem the game an 'instant classic'.
After eliminating the Huskers, ASU would face Florida in yet another elimination game for the Sun Devils. With their backs to the wall, Erik Averill threw a complete game gem, allowing only five hits in a 6-1 victory over the Gators. The Sun Devils magical Omaha ride would end the next day however, as Florida would erase an early 3-0 deficit and eliminate the Sun Devils 6-3.
'It was a heck of a run, and I couldn't be more proud of this group of guys,' said Murphy. 'I think it is a testament to the kind of season we had when you look at the seven guys we had drafted, including a first rounder.'
With six straight NCAA tournament berths, eight straight Top 10 recruiting classes and once again one of the toughest schedules in the entire country, there is no doubt that the Sun Devils have one of the most elite baseball programs in the nation. To remain in the upper echelon of college baseball, ASU has scheduled one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the country for 2006. The Sun Devils will travel to Texas for a total of eight games, including match-ups with defending champion Texas and meetings with Rice and TCU.
'We want to be a road tested team, and our match-ups in Texas will help us become one,' commented Murphy. 'We play some of the top teams in the nation, and we wouldn't want it any other way.'
Of ASU's 56 games, 27 will be against teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season, and eight will be against College World Series participants. The Sun Devils will face 11 teams ranked in the preseason Top 40 rankings, including five ranked Pac-10 teams. Annually one of the toughest conferences in the nation, the Pac-10 will once again feature some talented schools.
'It's no secret that the Pac-10 is one of the strongest conferences in the country. Oregon State was in Omaha last year, Stanford and USC are perennial powers and you can't overlook Washington, Cal or Arizona either,' said Murphy. ' Those teams are vying for the postseason every year, and Washington State and UCLA will be much improved also. There are no free passes in the Pac-10, you have to be ready to play day in and day out. Every game will be a dogfight.'
The 2006 Sun Devils will feature 20 players who have suited up for the Maroon and Gold before. Headlining these returners is junior outfielder Colin Curtis. Curtis, a preseason First Team All-American selection, had a stellar season in 2005. He hit .342 last season, including .400 during the NCAA Tournament, en route to being named to the All-Tempe Regional Team and the All-College World Series Team. Curtis was named to the Wallace Award Watch list for the upcoming season.
'Colin has a chance to have a very special year,' said Murphy. 'He has a lot of talent, but more than that, he is a great competitor. Colin will lead us this year.'
Zechry Zinicola comes into 2006 hoping to build off his 2005 campaign that saw him win four games and save four games on the mound as well as hit .276 with 15 RBI. Righty Pat Bresnehan looks to continue his success on the mound, after striking out 79 batters in 88.1 innings and winning five games. Brett Bordes returns for his senior season after being drafted by the Detroit Tigers in last year's MLB Draft.
'Our pitching staff is going to lean heavily on the experience of Zinicola, Bresnehan and Bordes,' offered Murphy. 'Those guys have gone through tough regular season schedules and now a deep postseason run, and they know what it takes to be successful at this level.'
Infielders Seth Dhaenens, Jeff Landry, Joe Persichina and Eric Sogard all return as well for the Sun Devils. Dhaenens hit .312 , knocked in 31 RBIs and stole 11 bases for ASU in 2005, and will look to be a major contributor to the 2006 team. Catchers Greg Bordes and Austin Stickfisch also return for 2006.
Playing in the outfield along side Curtis will be J.J. Sferra, who had an impressive debut season a year ago, hit .311 last season and ad the unforgettable game winning single in the 11th inning of the CWS match-up with Nebraska. Sferra will be joined by Willy Fox, Rocky Laguna and DJ Butler to make up the returning outfielders.
The pitching staff will see a lot of familiar faces, but will also feature some untested arms. Frank Mesa, Kevin Dryanski, Tony Barnette and Josh Satow round out the returning arms for the Sun Devils.
Being the #2 ranked recruiting class in the nation brings with it a level of expectations. Sun Devil fans hope that the incoming crop of 14 student-athletes will be able to live up to the hype.
Lefthander Ike Davis, a freshman from Scottsdale's Chaparral High School, will compete immediately for a spot in the weekend rotation and should find himself getting plenty of at bats when not on the mound. Davis had an outstanding high school career, helping lead the Firebirds to three straight Arizona 4A titles, losing only 8 games during his sophomore through senior seasons.
'Ike has a chance to come in and contribute immediately,' said Murphy. 'He was an outstanding high school player locally, and hopefully his impact will be felt here.'
Another highly touted newcomer is Matt Hall, a shortstop from Scottsdale's Horizon High School. Hall is one of four freshmen projected to be in the starting lineup on opening night, joining Davis, Preston Paramore and Brett Wallace.
Perhaps no new Sun Devils has credentials like Ryan Sontag, a transfer from Michigan State. Sontag was the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year in 2005, and was also named a Freshman All-American by Baseball America and Second Team All-Big Ten. Sontag is projected be the starting leftfielder for 2006.
Another transfer who could see significant playing time is CJ Retherford, the local product who came to ASU from South Mountain Community College. Retherford will see time at third base as well as out of the bullpen.
Todd Wells, Ben Bando, Daryl Arreola, Brady Martinez, Brett Bruneel and Matt Trink join the program as JC transfers while Brett Wallace, Jeff Urlaub, Drew Bowman, and Jake Borup make up the freshmen newcomers.
With the type of schedule the Sun Devils have in 2006, Coach Murphy expects to see some growing pains from his relatively young squad. But when the dust settles, the 12th year Head Coach also expects the Sun Devils to once again be in Omaha competing for the national title.
'I expect a trip to Omaha every season, and I will be disappointed if it doesn't happen,' said Murpy. 'As a program, we make it our goal to contend for the national championship every season. Our goals also include developing people to understand team and academic importance and to respect the game of baseball and your opponent.'
'We work everyday to make our dream of another national title come true, and I know everyone in our program from top to bottom badly wants that sixth championship ring.'
Murphy knows the kind of pressure that is being put on himself and the student-athletes, but he also knows that's what it takes to build an elite program.
'Some people may think that having our goal be the national title every year is unrealistic, but that's what we do,' said Murphy. 'I know that every single player on our roster is entering this season expecting to go to Omaha and will be upset if that doesn't happen. That's the kind of attitude we like on a baseball team. We have a group of student-athletes that represent Arizona State University with pride and class and I know they want to be on that field at Rosenblatt Stadium celebrating come the end of June.'
Quotes about the 2006 ASU Baseball Season
LHP Brett Bordes
On the 2006 Baseball Team...
'The new class that we have is great. We have a lot of solid incoming freshmen and transfers that can contribute a lot. These guys are going to be a huge part of our team this year. We lost a lot of big hitters from last year, but they aren't shying away from anything. They have stepped up.'
On the biggest change from last year...
'The biggest change is the new faces on the team. I think our style is going to be similar to last year. Once people see [the new Sun Devils] perform its going to be very exciting.'
On preparing for the season...
'We go about our business the same way, we prepare the same way. I'm comfortable with everyone and we are really excited.'
RHP Pat Bresnehan
On preparing for the season...
'We go about every season the same way. [The College World Series] was great, we love it. I'll remember it the rest of my life but it's not going to change the way we do things this year. We excited to get rolling.'
On being a freshman...
'It's my first year here. I'm trying to learn and see how these guys do it. I'm taking it all in stride.'
SS/3B Matt Hall
On the switch to Short Stop...
'I've played outfield my whole life and occasionally I've played third base. We were looking at me playing third base and [Andrew] Romine playing shortstop. But what happened to him was an awful thing. It gave me an opportunity to move over to shortstop. I'm definitely going to have to fill the role as best as I can. He has big shoes to fill because he had and amazing freshman year. I'm going to do it to my best ability.'
On choosing ASU...
'I wanted to come here my whole life. The first day they offered me a scholarship here I accepted it. The college world series didn't make my decision to come here but it greatly influenced it.'
'We're expected to win. We definitely have a great reputation to win. There isn't too much pressure.'
On Coach Murphy...
'I don't think [Coach] has worked us too hard. I came into the college level not knowing what to expect. I know it was going to be a lot of hard work and it definitely has been a lot of work. He expect a lot out of you. It helps you to be a better player.'
On choosing ASU...
'I've always wanted to go to ASU since I was a little. I had a Sun Devil Poster in my room. The College World Series made even more excited to come.'
On Coach Murphy...
'I really feel like the Coach knows what he's doing. The whole coaching staff works well together. He has tough love. He knows how to nurture the player and he knows when to be strict with a player and hard on a player.'
Head Coach Pat Murphy
On the 2006 Baseball Team...
'Every year is different. It's a new experience and a year later. I'm every bit excited as I was at the end of last year. I feel the same about every season. I'm just excited. I don't really put much meaning in the rankings. It's a new year and a new opportunity. Young people. And our expectations are always the same. We have never made excuses about youth. I just want to go out and play a great schedule and give a great opportunity to learn and try to be the very best at the end.'
On ASU being a post-season contender...
'Every year I can remember, the last weekend of the season, ASU baseball has been in position to win a national championship. Now we've messed that up here and there. Not that it's an easy task, but we've done something to screw that up here or there. But that's neat, that you are in the heart of the competition. I'm just excited to be here and part of this group. We have unbelievable guys.'
On losing players...
'People say `Boy you lost everybody.' But I don't look at it that way. It's time for some people to move on. Sometimes it's not appropriate for seniors to come back. And it's also time for other guys to step up.'
On playing the game...
'Baseball is a funny game, its not talent. It's about playing the game the right way in a long stretch. Who plays the right way at the right time. Playing a great schedule is the right way to go.'
On Colin Curtis...
'I like the players and who they are as people. They are fun to be around everyday. I just love the people. I love [Colin Curtis]. He is a warrior and he's a talented kid. He is going to be the next inline of all our first or second round pick of left handed hitting outfielders, and I think we've had a string of them. He'll do anything to win. He gave his scholarship back this year so he can help the team. That's huge. It helps us to be able to have another kid or two. He's unselfish, he's a ball player, he's a competitor. You can't keep him down for long.'
OF Colin Curtis
On stepping up as a leader...
'I don't think I need to do anything more than the style of play that I play and I don't need to produce extra. The young kids are in the line up because they can play. There is no reason for me to do more or do something that I can't. I think they are all able to do everything. I think that the leadership I need to have is about how to go about playing the game not trying to do more on the field.'