ASU Baseball: All eyes on Omaha as postseason begins

The Sun Devils have not advanced to Omaha since 2010, this year's squad aims to change that.

Omaha, Nebraska.

For college baseball players it is the Holy Grail, the Fountain of Youth and the city of Atlantis all rolled into one.

This time each year, 64 college baseball teams begin postseason play with one goal in mind: to be one of eight teams that reach Omaha, and the chance to play for a national title.

The Arizona State baseball program is more familiar with Omaha than most. The Sun Devils have been to the College World Series 22 times in their storied history, the last time being in 2010. From 2007-10, Arizona State hosted four super regionals and made three trips to the College World Series.

However, no player on the current roster has been made it to Omaha. Arizona State fell in a super regional to Texas in 2011, in 2012 it was ineligible for the postseason and in 2013 it lost in regionals.

"Omaha is our number one goal, it has been ever since we got here, as freshman" junior shortstop Drew Stankiewicz said. "I feel like this is probably the best chance we have. Our team is so disciplined. We're hot right now."

The Sun Devils have won nine of their last ten games. They won their final three series of the year, including a sweep of Utah and taking two of three from Oregon.

"We've been playing really well as a team," said centerfielder Johnny Sewald. "Being a sophomore, we want to play better for these juniors and seniors, this might be their last chance to go to Omaha."

Not too long ago, Omaha seemed like an unattainable goal. On May 10, the Sun Devils sat just 25-21 and were 1-5 in their last six games. For Arizona State, the season changed after getting swept at the hands of Oklahoma State the first weekend in May.

"We had a team meeting, players only (following the Oklahoma State series)," said Stankiewicz. "We're playing for each other now. We just said 'let's go have some fun.'"

The Sun Devils dropped the series opener to Oregon on May 9, but the following day Ryan Kellogg fanned 12 batters over eight innings and Arizona State won 9-4. The Sun Devils have lost just one game since that players only meeting.

"Every team in the country goes through that, and you can either cower in the corner or you can fight through it," head coach Tim Esmay said. "As a team, this team is pretty close. When you hit a lull, or you lose fight straight you can start pointing fingers, but these guys wouldn't do that. They had each other's backs."

The Sun Devils will begin their road to Omaha in a familiar place: California. The Sun Devils played their regionals last year at Cal State Fullerton, eventually having their season come to an end at the hands of the Titans.

"Some guys got their feet wet last year in regionals," said Sewald. "It was a tough regional, this one is not going to be any easier. Pepperdine, we have them in the first game, they are going to be a really tough test. I think that getting your feet wet is the most important thing and we know what it takes to win."

Arizona State has its road cut out for it. In its regional are three conference champions and two top 25 teams. Cal Poly is tied for the second most wins in the country and Pepperdine's team-ERA of 2.52 ranks No. 11 in the nation.

History is also not on their side. The Sun Devils have not won an away regional in the 21st century and the last time they went to Omaha while having to go on the road was in 2003. However, Tim Esmay does not mind having the chips stacked against him.

"We've been knocked down, we've been put on the canvas," said Esmay. "I like the way they compete. This team has not gone away and that's why they are at where they are right now.'

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