The New Mexico baseball team took a tumble in the Mountain West tournament as they fell to San Diego State over the final two game, but the Lobos managed to secure an at-larger berth for the NCAA tournament and will take on Arizona State.
The two teams will play in the Fullerton, Calif., Regional on Friday, New Mexico is seeded third while Arizona State is a second seed. To get to know Arizona State better we reached out to SB Nation's Arizona State site, House of Sparky to see what the Lobos are up against.
1. New Mexico's offense is very good with a team .336 batting average which is led by DJ Petersen who hit .411, 46 extra base hits including 18 home runs. So, how does Arizona State's pitching stand up to that offense?
Well, ASU certainly didn't throw their best pitching at them back in March yet they still walked away with a 4-3 victory in 11 innings. Yes, Arizona State's staff has been mighty inconsistent this season but the talent is still there. Trevor Williams and Ryan Kellogg are capable of shutting down any lineup when they're on. A lot of it is just going to depend on the defense that is played behind whoever is on the mound.
2. Is there any extra motivation that Arizona State has since they were not able to take part of the NCAA tournament last year due to being on probation?
Certainly. That was a reoccurring question to many of the players at the beginning of the season and they answered honestly. It did eat away at them having to watch the Wildcats win a national title from their couches and not being able to do anything about it.
Of course, there was a fair amount of turnover from last year's team but I believe the players that remain have instilled that hunger in the newcomers. The best part is they're battle-tested too. ASU had the 12th most difficult strength of schedule in the country and are 12-5 against NCAA qualifying teams this season. That's a scary proposition for opponents. Confidence plus hunger can be a dangerous combination.
3. Who are the key offensive players that have been leading Arizona State all season.
It's all about Michael Benjamin, Kasey Coffman, and Trever Allen. When all else fails, they seem to just keep going about their business. For that reason, the key offensive players in my mind would be the rest of the lineup. Too many times this season, it has seemed that No. 4-9 in this lineup has gone M.I.A. That can't afford to happen against an offense of this caliber.
4. How has Arizona State changed as a team since these two teams met earlier in the year?
If anything, I'd say they've gotten worse. Not significantly but that's certainly when they were looking most promising. Now they've come back down to reality a bit and their flaws have been flaring up on a consistent basis. Lately, they've been playing like anything but a championship caliber contender. Their defensive inconsistencies are going to give them a hard time on the big stage. It also doesn't help that lots of folks seem to be losing confidence in Tim Esmay as well.
5. What will be the main reason(s) that Arizona State could win, and also what would be a reason to how they could come up short against New Mexico?
This is a scrappy ball club. The Sun Devils sport a "never say die attitude" and their young roster has certainly surprised me with their resiliency. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, ASU has rarely been able to put the finishing touches on the most of their comebacks this season (and a lot of that blame lands on their manager).
The Devils are 4-15 when trailing after 5 innings this season, which is a scary statistic when high-scoring offenses are on deck. While they may never take their foot off the gas, they still have a hard time closing out games. To their credit, they don't blow many games once they do get that edge so it's going to be all about jumping out to an early lead. I just have a hard time believing that they will be capable of that on consistent basis. Don't be surprised to see that Game 1 when the juices are flowing but only four players on this roster saw action the last time ASU was in the postseason (2011). That's usually not a recipe for success for a team that already has such little margin for error.
6. What is your prediction in this game?
I'm gonna have to give it to New Mexico. Sure, ASU knows they can beat them but this team is trending in the wrong direction, losing eight of their final 14. On the flip side, the Lobos are one of the hottest teams in the nation and far better than their 2-4 record on neutral sites suggests. As long as New Mexico puts up seven or more runs, they should be sitting pretty. ASU simply isn't built to compete in high scoring affairs. Sure, I won't be surprised if the Devils pull it out in the end. This is just an extremely unfavorable matchup on paper even with history being on Arizona State's side.
New Mexico has the offense to get past nearly any team in the country, but they will need to shake off their two loses against San Diego State that occurred at the Mountain West tournament. Arizona State is a dangerous team since they played a tough schedule, but if the New Mexico offense can come alive they should be able to win this game.