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ASU Baseball: Confidence remains high after shaky first half

The Sun Devils head into the second half of the year with plenty of confidence despite some recent setbacks.

Jeremy McCuin (pictured) likes the direction Arizona State is headed in
Jeremy McCuin (pictured) likes the direction Arizona State is headed in
Ryan Bafaloukos

Just under a month ago, the Arizona State baseball team was riding high. Tracy Smith's club had just completed sweeps of Cal State Fullerton and UC Davis, and the Sun Devils were looking good with a record of 13-3.

Fast forward four weeks, and the outlook is a much different one.

The Maroon and Gold are just 3-7 in their last 10 game ballgames, and six of those contests were against the traditional Pac-12 bottom-feeders in Utah and Washington State.

To add to the frustration, it has been a mix of poor pitching and a lack of strong defensive play behind the mound that has doomed the team. Save for a pair of wins against Washington State last weekend, very little has gone right for the club recently.

"Like Skip says, it's pitching and defense," says third baseman Jeremy McCuin. "We have really been slacking with both of those."

Arizona State has made 34 fielding errors in 26 games so far this season - a number that will need to drop significantly if it wants to return to the NCAA Tournament for a fourth consecutive season. Washington State is the only team in the Pac-12 that has made more errors than the Sun Devils at this point in the year.

The year is a long one, of course, as all baseball seasons tend to be. So there is plenty of time for this team to turn things around and start playing again like they were at the beginning of March.

"It has been a rough first half because of all the young freshmen we have in the lineup," sophomore Andrew Snow says. "It's hard to start out mature and do everything the right way, but I think we are starting to hit our stride."

Since the Pac-12 is filled with so many quality teams, the schedule doesn't exactly ease up from here on out. But there are some opportunities to string some wins together, and that will start this weekend as the team begins an eight-game homestand.

The league's schedule-makers didn't do the Sun Devils any favors, sending them to No. 3 Oregon State to start conference play. They then returned home for a three-game set against the Utes, which, out of nowhere, have started to play as well as anyone in the country.

That kind of stretch can quickly bury a young team which is struggling both at the plate and in the field, and Smith's bunch has learned that lesson first hand. Still, Snow has plenty of confidence that he and his teammates can turn things around.

"We have a steady lineup out there," says Snow. "We are heading into the heart of conference play now, and I think we'll rise up."

If they are to rise up, the old adage of "freshmen not really being freshmen this late in the season" will need to apply to this team's young core. They will have a chance this weekend to regain some confidence and get back into the Pac-12 race as Washington comes to Phoenix for a three game series.

The Huskies have posted a record of 14-10 (5-4, Pac-12) so far in 2016 and are led by sophomore catcher Joey Morgan. The Sisters, OR product is hitting at a .333 average with 10 RBIs through 24 games, and is one of four players on head coach Lindsay Meggs' roster batting above .300.

This weekend's series will get started tonight with a 7:00 p.m. first pitch, while both Saturday and Sunday's games will be afternoon affairs at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. For fans unable to get out to the ballpark, all three contests will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.

When asked about the team's goal for this weekend and the rest of the season, the freshman McCuin responded simply and promptly: "Win out."

Even though there have been some dark days as of late, Arizona State still heads into the second half of the year with plenty of confidence. And with a young team, that's half the battle.