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ASU Baseball: With one game left in 2018, Sun Devils remain optimistic despite losing season

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The Sun Devils surrender two runs in the ninth and fall to Cal.

Blaine McCormick/House of Sparky

One more game.

Most ASU fans are rejoicing that the worst two-year stretch in the history of the program is nine innings away from being over, excited to stop watching the team make mistake after mistake while reading the same tweet referring to different game.

That anxiousness to move on, though, is something the team feels, too.

Once postseason play trickles out of the realm of possibility — as it did for ASU a few weeks ago — players and coaches alike are just waiting to get another crack at it. 2018 was a disappointment, there’s no sugar-coating it.

The team that head coach Tracy Smith said was special at the beginning of the year, vowing that they would eventually turn the corner, didn’t come together. Behind a young roster, the Devils committed a profusion of errors and didn’t get any help from one of the more inconsistent bullpens in college baseball.

On Saturday, in ASU’s ( 23-31, 13-16 Pac-12) 6-4 loss to Cal (31-22, 15-14) in front of 2,174 fans at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, both deficiencies occurred again. It’s far too late for things to change this season, a predicament that makes 2019 that light at the end of the tunnel for the program.

Some will say that every losing team looks forward to next season, and that’s probably true. But ASU is very excited about it, practically licking there lips when talking about the possibilities of 2019.

“I remember talking to Skip last year in the dugout at Utah and it was like. ‘thank god this year’s over,” sophomore right fielder Hunter Bishop said Tuesday. “This year, it’s a totally different feel. I’m really excited to have everyone back next year, I think it could be a special year next year.”

Smith said he and the coaching staff committed to rolling out a freshman-heavy lineup in 2018 three years ago. At times, four or five of them are starting any given game. They show loads of talent and tremendous promise, but it’s often overshadowed by dumb mistakes.

Spencer Torkelson leads the NCAA with 25 home runs, Hunter Jump is hitting .385 and pitcher Boyd Vander Kooi was a solid Sunday starter before he got injured in March.

But all that seems to come to mind when thinking about ASU baseball is its inconsistency — in every facet, too. Throughout the season, the Devils gave themselves, and the fans, hope that a big winning streak or a solidified bullpen had arrived only to disprove that the next night.

2018 is chalk-full of blunders and losses for ASU. But with each came experience, a teaching moment or learning lesson gained with each missed opportunity — that’s the optimistic way the team is looking at it, anyway.

“I think we’ve seen improvement throughout the season, we’re just not getting those wins yet,” Bishop said. “When we’re in those situations next year, it sets us up for the wins because we’ve been in so many close games ... so I think next year, instead of losing those games we’re going to win them.”

Added Torkelson on Tuesday: “We’re really young and we have a lot of returners. We’re right there, we’ll defiantly turn it around soon.”

But turning it around takes two parts. First, the Devils need to bring in pitching talent, and hope that some of their commits don’t go to the MLB Draft.

“I’ve been doing this 22 years, this draft, on the pitching side, . . . this one has as much impact on a program that I’ve coached then probably any draft coming up,” Smith said Tuesday, “because we clearly have a need on the mound but we feel like we’ve done a pretty good job of identifying kids that are professional caliber kids.”

The second part of the puzzle is ASU will have to trust that 2018 was the developmental year that it’s freshman needed. The youth excuse cannot be used next season, a continuation of errors will just show bad players not those still growing.

But the youth has gained some advice and knowledge this season.

Smith said after Saturday’s game that the younger guys have been learning from some of the upperclassmen like center fielder Gage Canning and pitcher Eli Lingos who have served as a model in the dugout and on the field.

“The type of person and people they are, it’s very easy to point to them,” Smith said of Canning and catcher Lyle Lin.