Arizona State has not made the Super Regionals since 2011, eliminated three consecutive times in the Regionals. The baseball powerhouse needs to advance further but the fate of the Sun Devils does not seem to be bright, once again.
Second-year head coach Tracy Smith brought the best out of his guys for the last couple months, and it was beautiful. But did he wear them down, shall we say, too early?
Will the 31-9 loss at home against USC be an outlier or a premise of an empty fuel tank?
The NCAA Regionals will give an answer very soon. Arizona State will face three-seed Gonzaga on June 3rd in what should be an interesting matchup. If the Devils manage to get past the co-West Coast Conference champion, they would face the regional host and Big 12 Tournament champions, TCU.
To be fair, this bracket is more than manageable considering what ASU showed lately. But durability should be a huge concern despite the results.
Pitching has been far from a success along the season, and the outfield was caught off guard many times. Batting saved the Devils on many occasions, but if you can stop opponents from piling runs, it does not bode well for ASU.
Tracy Smith's boys climbed their way through the standings thanks to an unfailing morale. They were confident and believed anything was doable. It led to six consecutive series wins and the Sun Devils became one of the hottest team in the nation while the regular season neared the end. The streak culminated to 14 wins in 19 games between mid-April to mid-May, while clinching the Territorial Cup over the Wildcats.
However, only one setback can destroy the momentum and the 31-9 loss to USC comes back to mind. Does that mean there is no gas left in the tank?
The biggest loss in ASU Baseball's history is something that is going to leave marks.
It could actually go both ways. This total collapse could lit a fire of rebellion through the team or it could demoralize the whole squad. There is no middle grounds in this kind of situation.
And when it comes to post-season play in general, morale and mental toughness play a big part in the results. It is usually what set apart a loosing team from a winning team, and this will most likely decide whether ASU is able to make a post-season run.
It is quite hard to criticize ASU's year and what they accomplish after loosing to the MLB three starting pitchers, an entire outfield and most importantly a bunch of leaders.
The Sun Devils end the regular season with the same overall record (34-21) as in 2015, despite a huge shake-up of players. Tracy Smith is the main reason why ASU has qualified to the NCAA Regionals, and he is developing a culture of warriors in the meantime.
Now is time to get a final word about the 2016 season.
Will it be considered as a complete success with an unbelievable Super Regionals berth, which was only a distant dream a few months ago, or will it be viewed as a great regular season that, once again, died when it matters most? Will the Sun Devils fight back and show the historic debacle against USC was a (huge) mistake or will they keep drowning and postpone their hopes, once again, until next year?
If Tracy Smith is able to keep his roster together, under the same spirits, ASU Baseball could keep their hot streak alive. Otherwise, it would be the same ol' Devils: falling apart when the stakes are the highest.