Sun Devil postseason primer: ASU spring sports prepare for NCAAs
TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona State athletics don’t end when the football and basketball seasons are over. The postseason is at hand for seven Sun Devil spring teams, and although the ASU baseball team won’t be going to the NCAA Tournament, freshman Spencer Torkelson’s assault on the Sun Devils’ home run record is still good theater.
Torkelson broke the Pac-12 freshman home run record with his 22nd homer of the season in a 4-3 victory over Washington on Friday at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Torkelson’s 22 home runs lead the nation and are tied for the most by any freshman in the NCAA during the BBCOR batting technology era (circa 2011). The 22 home runs are tied for the 13th most by any player since 2011.
He is five home runs short of the ASU school record of 27 set by Mitch Jones in 2000 and four short of Todd Greene’s NCAA freshman home run mark of 26 set at Georgia Southern in 1990.
Here is a look at the Sun Devils’ other spring teams as they prepare for postseason.
WOMEN’S & MEN’s TRACK & FIELD
National ranking: Women, No. 13; Men, N/R
NCAA prognosis: The Sun Devil women will rely on a handful of talented athletes to improve on last season’s 10th-place finish. The men are hoping to score at the national meet.
The one to watch: Maggie Ewen (throws). The 2017 Bowerman finalist and Sun Devil senior enters the Pac-12 Championships in Palo Alto, Calif., from May 12-13 as the NCAA record holder in the hammer (74.53 meters/244-6 feet) and the shot put (19.46m/63-10.25 feet). She owns the second best throw in the discus this season (62.47m/204-11) behind Stanford’s Valarie Allman (62.83m/206-1).
Ewen won the 2017 NCAA outdoor hammer title last season. She added the NCAA indoor shot put title in March. Ewen is seeking an unprecedented trifecta before she begins training for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Other notables: Samantha Noennig (throws), Alethia Marrero (middle distance), Shaunie Morrison (hurdles), Cole Riddle (pole vault), Khalil Parris (400-meter hurdles), Elijah Hughes (high jump), Bianca Tinoco (800 meters).
Record: 42-9 (15-6 Pac-12)
National ranking: No. 6
Season recap: Coach Trisha Ford has the Sun Devils back among the nation’s elite, and it came a year ahead of schedule. ASU enters a weekend series at No. 1 UCLA in third place in the Pac-12 (No. 2 Oregon is in second place). The Devils are a lock to host a regional and perhaps a super-regional when the NCAA Tournament begins on May 18.
NCAA prognosis: The rankings reflect the obvious: the Pac-12 is the toughest conference in the nation with four teams (Washington is No. 5) among the nation’s top six. The Sun Devils may be a year away from challenging the real heavyweights, but ASU is young and talented and can’t be counted out.
The one to watch: Sophomore pitcher Giselle “G” Juarez. Juarez, from Glendale Mountain Ridge High, is seventh in the nation with a 0.92 ERA and 10th in strikeouts with 259.
Other notables: Freshman Danielle Gibson leads the team with a .374 batting average, 39 RBIs and 12 home runs. Sophomore Kindra Hackbarth leads the team with 63 hits and eight stolen bases.
National ranking: No. 13
Season recap: Coach Missy-Farr Kaye had an enormous challenge, getting the defending NCAA champs back to the dance after NCAA individual champion Monica Vaughn graduated and junior Linnea Strom unexpectedly turned pro in December, leaving ASU with just five players under scholarship. ASU clinched a spot in the tournament field with a 1-under performance at the regional in Verona, Wisc., on Wednesday.
NCAA prognosis: It’s likely too much to ask for the Sun Devils to repeat, given their dearth of depth. Had Strom returned, they would have been in contention. They’ll need big performances from seniors Roberta Liti and Sophia Zeeb
The one to watch: Sophomore Olivia Mehaffey is ranked 20th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. She had an off-tournament at the NCAA regional, but she finished tied for fifth at the Pac-12 Championships this week. She has been the Sun Devils’ most consistent player and has a legitimate chance to challenge for the title.
Other notables: Freshman Raquel Olmos bears watching after top-20 performances at the Pac-12 Championships and the NCAA regional. She and Mehaffey will form the strength of the team next season.
National ranking: No. 20
Season recap: The youth-laden Sun Devils just finished third at the Pac-12 Championships despite an off-performance from sophomore Chun An Yu. The Devils were led by a sixth-place finish from freshman Koichiro Ishika, a 16th-place finish (tie) from sophomore Alex del Rey and a 27th-place tie between freshman Mason Andersen and junior Jino Sohn. The fact that none of those players is a senior gives you a sense of the direction of the program.
NCAA prognosis: Coach Matt Thurmond has said all season that he believes his team is a top-10 to top-15 team. That would be a worthy goal for the Sun Devils at the NCAA Championships, but they’ll have to earn a team spot at a regional in Raleigh, N.C., from Monday to Wednesday.
The one to watch: Chun An Yu is ranked No. 40 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He owns top-20 finishes in six of his past seven tournaments, including a title at the Bandon Dunes Championship in March.
Other notables: Ishika tied for second at the National Invitational Tournament in Tucson in February, tied for 13th at Bandon Dunes in March and finished tops among Sun Devil golfers at the Pac-12 Championship at Rolling Hills Country Club (Par 71, 7,130 yards) in Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., with an 11-under 273 (69-69-66-69).
Record: 16-7 (7-3 Pac-12)
National ranking: No. 37
Season recap: Despite a remade and young roster, the Sun Devils advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the 31st straight season in coach Sheila McInerney’s 34-year tenure.
NCAA prognosis: The Sun Devils will face Wake Forest in Athens, Ga., on Friday in the first round of the team tournament. If they advance past that round, No. 7 Georgia likely awaits.
The ones to watch: Doubles partners Lauryn John-Baptiste, a freshman and sophomore Ilze Hattingh own the nation’s No. 17 ranking, making them the co-youngest doubles duo in the top 20. They are 17-1 this season and have earned a spot at the NCAA Doubles Championships.
Other notables: John-Baptiste is also the 66th-ranked singles player in the country, but the true freshman is listed as an alternate for the 64-person NCAA Singles Championships in Winston-Salem, N.C., later this month.
Record: 14-10 (3-4 Pac-12)
National ranking: No. 36
Season recap: Coach Matt Hill did a remarkable job of constructing a competitive team in the program’s first year of existence after a decade-long hiatus due to budget constraints.
NCAA prognosis: The Sun Devils face Baylor in the first round in College Station, Texas, on Friday. If they get past that round, No. 5 Texas A&M awaits. The Aggies beat the Sun Devils, 6-1, in Tempe in January.
The one to watch: No. 1 singles player Michaël Geerts is ranked No. 20 in the nation. Geerts defeated UCLA’s Martin Redlicki on April 13 in straight sets, 7-5, 6-4. Redlicki is the top-ranked player in the ITA collegiate singles rankings. Geerts also beat Ohio State’s Mikael Torpegaard in March. Torpegaard is ranked No. 6 and was No. 2 at the time. Geerts was up a break in the third set against No. 11 Brandon Holt of USC on April 15 when the match was halted because the Trojans had clinched the team victory.
Other notables: Doubles partners Andrea Bolla and Makey Rakotomalala own the No. 48 ranking in the nation.