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ASU Baseball: Reflecting on the first half of the Pac-12 conference slate

The Sun Devils sit in second place with a month left to play.

Head Coach Tracy Smith Has Arizona State Off To A Fantastic Start In Pac-12 Play
Head Coach Tracy Smith Has Arizona State Off To A Fantastic Start In Pac-12 Play
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

One month ago, Arizona State entered Pac-12 play with a record of 10-5 and a top 15 ranking. The team is now approaching the home stretch of the season, and with just a month remaining until Selection Monday they find themselves with a consensus top five ranking and a 26-11 record.

"It's a really good feeling," said junior Jordan Aboites. "I don't think we have been this high in the three years that I have been here. We just want to keep it rolling."

The Sun Devils have rose to the top of the national polls after putting a heavy emphasis on winning each series week in and week out. Only ASU and UCLA are a perfect 6-0 in Pac-12 series this year. Twice have the Maroon and Gold bounced back to win consecutive games after losing the first of a three game set, and the team has one sweep under their belts thus far.

"It is pretty cool in this new era of Sun Devil baseball," said center fielder Johnny Sewald. "With the new field and new coach, it's exciting to come out here and play in front of a great fanbase. Obviously, we want to be No. 1, but top five is pretty good."

Pac-12 action began back in mid-March against defending conference champion Oregon State, and Tracy Smith's club was put behind the eight ball after falling 1-0 in game one. They would bounce back nicely, however, getting a pair of great pitching performances on Saturday and Sunday to clinch the three game set.

ASU then embarked on its first road trip of the season, outlasting Oregon on a rainy Friday night for a 7-6 win in 10 innings. The Sun Devils won the next day as well, but the Ducks managed to avoid a sweep thanks to a lackluster all around performance in game three.

The team responded well after they were called out by coach Smith for not competing all the way through the trip to Eugene. A sweep of Stanford followed, and a week after that they earned two extra inning victories in Salt Lake City against Utah.

Freshman Andrew Snow got the shot he was looking for against the Cardinal and Utes, and the second baseman delivered in a big way. He had two RBIs in a 14-6 win over Stanford, and one game later Snow jacked a game-winning home run in the 12th inning against the Utes. He is now the team's everyday second baseman, a job that used to belong to Jordan Aboites.

Aboites' role has diminished as the junior is now used mainly as a relief pitcher and pinch-hitter in late game situations. He currently has a 2-2 record and an ERA of 4.50.

"I just want to help the team out any way I can," said Aboites. "I'm keeping my head up and will be ready wherever coach puts me."

ASU's most exciting series came two weeks ago against rival Arizona. In a weekend filled with high drama, the Sun Devils came away with two wins against the Wildcats. A sweep appeared to be in the cards late in game three, but a six-run ninth inning turned a 2-1 lead into a shocking, 7-2 deficit. Usually reliable closer Ryan Burr ended up being charged with all six of the runs, a low point for the program's all-time leader in saves.

Burr's struggles continued last week in Seattle as the fireballer gave up back to back run-scoring singles to break a 5-5 tie against Washington. He also allowed a single run on Sunday against the Huskies and on Wednesday down in Tucson against Arizona, but the Maroon and Gold survived for wins in both of those outings.

ASU currently sits in second place in the Pac-12, just one game behind UCLA. The second half of the schedule figures to be much tougher as three of the final four conference series will be against likely NCAA Tournament teams. Before that, however, the team will step out of conference for a three game reprieve against Tennessee Tech this weekend.

"We can't take any team lightly at this point," said Aboites. "Anyone can win on any given day in this game. We're going to attack them like they are a top team, just like us."

Every game now is crucial as the Sun Devils try and lock down a top eight national seed and the home field advantage throughout the postseason that comes with it. But as the past month has shown, this team is more than willing to rise to the challenge.