And Arizona State goes one more year without a Super Regionals berth. 2011 never seemed this far.
The Sun Devils once again are booted out of postseason in the Regionals round, loosing to host TCU (8-1) in the regional finals. But surprisingly, ASU did not come short of expectations. Their overall record was better than last year (36-23, 16-14 in Pac-12 play) and they reached post-season, an unthinkable goal back in March.
It was supposed to be a sort of reloading season after most of last year's team left to accomplish their dreams of MLB career. The experience was gone, as the outfield and the vast majority of the pitching staff.
Odds were stacked against the Devils, but they made it work. Tracy Smith made it work, should we say.
"The way we started, we viewed it as a little bit of a transition year," Smith said according to the AZ Central. "We lost a lot of guys from last year and got smacked with injuries pretty heavily, particularly on the mound. There was a low point in our season when it looked like it could go in one of two directions."
"I will think about this team a lot and for me in 20-plus years of coaching, I got as much out of them as a team as any. They came together when it very easily could have gone south."
"I didn't see this (season) coming. Maybe that's not what people want to hear but I'm very proud of this group. They accomplished a lot. It may not be the lofty standards that people set at Arizona State, but given our circumstances I'm very proud of this group."
We were wondering last week if ASU had any fuel left in the tank for the post-season. Yes, they still had something to give after the historic debacle against USC to end the regular season. But on the other hand, they did not find a clear solution to their pitching issues.
ASU fell in the loser's bracket on Friday following a opening loss to Gonzaga, where junior pitcher Seth Martinez struggled mightily despite a successful season. The Devils could have given up, but yet again, they showed resilience, fought back through adversity and kept on believing in themselves.
The leitmotiv of a season.
Senior swiss-knife Jordan Aboites threw his first career complete game against Oral Roberts. Freshman Zach Dixon displayed an incredible performance to avenge the Devils in a rematch against Gonzaga. Junior Eder Erives was not perfect in the regional finals, but he kept ASU in the game until crunch time with a 3-0 deficit.
But in today's baseball, you live and die by pitching success.
Seth Martinez was thrown on the mound in the eighth inning against the Horned Frogs, the season and a potential Super Regionals berth on the line. In a replay of Friday's game, he could not close the game in ASU's favor.
Martinez gave up four earned runs in two-third on an inning, and it was over. This is such an undeserved, unwarranted ending for a pitcher that powered the Sun Devils to success all season long (9-3 record and a 2.08 ERA).
"We talk about not making excuses, I don't know if [the quick turnaround] affected us tonight," Smith added. "Sometimes your hits find the green and sometimes they don't and they did for TCU tonight. That's baseball."
Make no mistake: 2016 is just the beginning of the Tracy Smith era in Tempe.
This team was incredibly young but the two-year head baseball head coach is just building the program in his own way, with a blue-collar and tough-minded culture that embodies Tracy Smith himself. The results will come in the near future, depending on how many players will leave ASU next week (the MLB Draft takes place on June 9-11) to start their professional career.
21 players of the 34-men roster were recruited and/or supervised by Tracy Smith, and 2016 showed that many bought into their coach's philosophy. They were not as experienced or talented as their opponents. They never gave up and bounced back many, many times.
This is a great difference maker, but it's not enough when the adversity rises. One-seed TCU proved it.
The Sun Devils experienced a successful trial by fire in 2016. Now it's on to next year with updated expectations. Improvements will be eagerly awaited by the fan base and national media to finally come back to the Super Regionals.
Until proven otherwise, Tracy Smith is the man for the job.