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ASU's season comes to an end at the College World Series

June 23, 2010

Editor's Note: This article first ran in the

Time and time again, the game of baseball has proved it doesn't care much about hype or expectations, oblivious to the predictions and outlooks of pundits.

Its case was made again on a humid Tuesday afternoon in Omaha, Neb., as the ASU baseball team, the top national seed at the College World Series, was eliminated from the tournament after an 11-4 loss to South Carolina at Rosenblatt Stadium.

The Sun Devils were punched in the gut early by an eight-run second inning, keyed by a pair of home runs that drove in five off ASU junior starter Merrill Kelly.

“Obviously, you can't have the kind of start we did against a quality team like South Carolina,” said ASU coach Tim Esmay. “They did a good job of putting us on our heels, and I think you have to do that in a game like this.”

USC used eight hits in the back-breaking second, highlighted by a pair of dingers by Jackie Bradley Jr. and Adrian Morales, the latter hitting the top of the foul pole in left field.

The Gamecocks seemed able to smash everything thrown across the plate by Kelly, who exited after just 1 2/3 innings, by far his shortest outing of the season.

“Big players show up in big games, and their players took some good swings and finished of some [at-bats],” Esmay said. “Merrill Kelly has been great all year, and Merrill Kelly was a big part of us being in this game today and getting us here. I felt like he was pitching his tail off. We had a couple of [hits] get through and then, boom. They were able to take advantage of it [with the home runs]. As cliché as they say, that's baseball.

The huge USC inning left the Sun Devils a hill of Everest proportions to climb. The summit got steeper in the third when a pair of walks and a pair of hit batters by sophomore reliever Mitchell Lambson led to two more Gamecock runs and a 10-0 deficit for ASU, which finished its season with a record of 52-10.

Pitching with the comfort of a huge lead, USC starter Sam Dyson frustrated ASU hitters for much of the afternoon, keeping the Sun Devils off the board until run-scoring singles from sophomores Austin Barnes and Drew Maggi made it 10-2.

“Talk about grinding one out,” Esmay said of the opposing pitcher's start. “I felt like we had opportunities every inning, and I didn't feel like he breezed through any inning, but you look up and some 100-something pitches later he's still battling and making pitches like he needed to. … He was a warrior out there today.”

ASU's biggest chance to cut into the lead came in the eighth.

After back-to-back singles by Marrero — one of ASU's few bright spots with a 3-for-4 performance — and Newman made it 10-4, the Sun Devils had the bases loaded with one out.

But USC reliever Matt Price recorded back-to-back strikeouts of sophomore Austin Barnes and Maggi to quell the momentum and effectively end ASU's bid for a sixth national championship.

Senior Kole Calhoun said the team, like many of its fans, was stunned to be trailing by such a large margin early.

“For the most part, we've had great quality starts by our starting pitchers all year long,” he said. “But when you're on your heels down eight runs, it's tough; it'll get to you and make you think. You try not to chase the scoreboard, but an eight-run deficit is hard to overcome, especially against a quality team like South Carolina.”

ASU became the first No. 1 national seed to go 0-2 at the CWS since the NCAA began its current seeding format in 1999.

The Sun Devils said since the beginning of the season that their eyes were on not just making to Omaha but capturing the ultimate prize that has eluded the proud program for 29 years. But Esmay said it didn't take away from the experience he shared with the team in his first year as the head coach of the program he has been a part of since playing at ASU in the late '80s.

“I've never been so proud of putting on a Sun Devil uniform than with these kids,” Esmay said. “These kids get it. They know what it's about and they live with that expectation every day of coming here and playing here and they've responded to it.

“They made it a lot of fun and they made it easy because they way they approach it and the way they play, it's incredible. They have everything to be proud of.”

By Nick Kosmider