ASU opens play in Omaha on Sunday against Clemson. This last CWS at Rosenblatt will bring back many memories for ASU coach Tim Esmay, via Omaha World Herald:
The Sun Devils’ return to Omaha marks the first time since 1993 and 1994 that they have made back-to-back CWS trips. It also brings Esmay back to Rosenblatt Stadium for the seventh time.
His first trip came in 1987, when he was an infielder with the Sun Devils. He also made visits in 1988 and 1994 as a member of Brock’s staff. After serving as Utah’s head coach from 1997 to 2004, he returned to the CWS in 2005, 2007 and last season on Murphy’s ASU staff.
“To have the opportunity to play and coach in Rosenblatt is a special thing," said Esmay, the 14th man to participate in the event as both a player and head coach. “There have been so many storied games played there. There have been so many storied players who played there. It’s awe-inspiring.
“It means so much to me to be able to get this program, which has done so many great things in that stadium, back there for this final year at Rosenblatt. It’s a great statement for us to be a part of this last year."
ASU hopes to make a deep run this year, after their early dismissal at the hands of Texas last year (see, Texas does ruin everything). Strong pitching has helped the Sun Devils all year, from The Arizona Republic:
ASU is third nationally in ERA (3.14), one spot behind UCLA (2.97), and in the top 10 in strikeouts, hits allowed and walks allowed. But the Sun Devils finished first nationally in ERA last year (2.90) and couldn’t get past Texas in its College World Series bracket, even with Mike Leake, now in the majors, and Josh Spence.
Still, Esmay knows that “the more pitching you have makes you feel a lot better going into this thing.”
Pitching coach Ken Knutson gets a lot of credit from the staff and players, again from The Arizona Republic:
The Sun Devils’ confidence couldn’t be higher in Knutson, who was at Washington for 26 years as a player, assistant coach and head coach without reaching Omaha. His 1994 and ’97 Huskies teams fell one win short of reaching the CWS.
Former ASU coach Pat Murphy hired Knutson after the Sun Devils finished third at the 2009 College World Series. Esmay retained him after replacing Murphy and said Knutson has done “one of the better pitching coaching jobs I’ve seen in a long time.”
“He (Knutson) brought in a whole bunch of new ideas and different concepts of pitching,” said Blair, the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year with a 12-0 record. "At the end of the fall, he sat down with every pitcher and said, ‘This is the type of pitch plan I want for you.’ He got everyone’s arm stronger.
“He gave us the confidence to understand how to pitch and what was going to make each individual successful. I couldn’t be more proud of the way he’s put this pitching staff together.”