PHOENIX – Arizona State baseball travels just a few miles north to Scottsdale Stadium Tuesday morning for the first game of the Pac-12 tournament.
The No. 5 seed Sun Devils open the tournament against No. 8 seed Arizona at 10 a.m. MST. ASU won three of four against the Wildcats this season, but its one loss – and most recent – was the worst: a 20-0 defeat in Tucson on Apr. 19.
“We turned the page on that,” ASU baseball coach Willie Bloomquist said Monday. “That was a month-and-a-half ago. It was obviously a tough game for us down there. We didn’t show up and didn’t play very well. … We’ve just got to show up and play baseball. That game (in Tuscon) matters as much as the sweep of them earlier in the year matters. So it’s part of the past. We just got to focus on tomorrow’s game and come ready to play.”
The 12-game tournament expanded to nine teams this year. Teams will compete in round-robin pool play Tuesday through Thursday. Each day will feature three games and all teams will have competed against each team in their pool by the end of Thursday.
After the Sun Devils play Arizona in pool play, they will face No. 2 seed Oregon State at 10 a.m. Thursday to round out pool play.
The three pool winners will play in a single-elimination semifinal Friday with the best non-qualifying team that posted the best record. The tiebreaker is simple: The highest seeded team advances.
The semifinal will feature the highest-seeded team against the lowest-seeded team. This means that teams from the same pool cannot compete against each other until the final game.
The Sun Devils were still looking at a run for the top seed in the Pac-12 tournament in April.
They had just scored 34 runs in three games against Top 25 team Oregon State, the most runs the Beavers allowed in a three-game series in the last 20 seasons.
Then just two days later, ASU beat Cal State Fullerton 9-1 convincingly in a two-game midweek series. The next day, it lost the second game to Cal State Fullerton and lost two of three games at Oregon that same weekend.
There remained a sensible hype around the team despite losing three of its last four games. The Sun Devils were still a half-game out of first place in the Pac-12, with leader Stanford coming to Phoenix Municipal Stadium for a three-game series.
The hype slowly dissipated after the sweep, which saw the pitching staff give up a combined 29 runs in the series. Though the Sun Devils soon disappeared from the national rankings, hope remained throughout the clubhouse.
“It’s always important not to let the highs get too high and the lows get too low,” junior second baseman Luke Keaschall said. “So just showing up, staying loose and playing with the same kind of intensity every game is really important. So just staying level-headed no matter the situation.”
After four days rest, the Sun Devils made the trip to Southern California before getting swept by USC. This time it was the ASU bats that went quiet. Despite the pitching staff allowing just 11 runs in the three-game series, they combined for just 10 hits. Before the series, they averaged 10.7 hits per game.
And the success on the mound continued as the team wrapped up its regular season at Phoenix Municipal Stadium against UCLA. The Sun Devils allowed four or fewer runs in eight conference games this season, and two of them came in the final series of the regular season versus the Bruins.
“I think the huge thing is our starters have been doing a great job,” junior pitcher Owen Stevenson said. “They’ve been getting a lot deeper into ballgames than they were all year, which is helping the bullpen out a lot. If we can get it to a point where me and (Blake) Pivaroff can take that back end and save some more arms for the rest of the tournament, I think that would be ideal.”
The approach to the Pac-12 tournament from last year to this year is different and Bloomquist will be the first one to admit that. There’s a confidence in the resume the team has established with the roster that was built. There’s still an urgency to win the tournament, but unlike last year, there’s a sense of confidence of what this team can accomplish.
“Last year it was it was desperation,” Bloomquist said. “We had to win the conference tournament if we wanted to continue playing. … The bottom line is we feel that we have a team that’s equipped to take on a tournament like this and try and win it. And I think that’s the mindset of these guys is trying to win this tournament.”