In early March, in Auburn, Ala., in weather that was as gloomy as the stretch his Arizona State baseball team was about to hit, Pat Murphy confidently told a listener that a day like Sunday was very possible.
On a dark, lightning-filled Alabama afternoon, Murphy said, “I’ll tell you, I have a feeling about this team. These guys, they get it.”
The Sun Devils were to begin a stretch in which they lost four of six games, but Murphy’s private confidence never wavered, and in the brilliant sunshine at Packard Stadium, it was realized:
A 7-1 victory against Mississippi for the Tempe super regional championship, which clinched the 20th College World Series appearance in school history, the third in Murphy’s 13 seasons.
“Every year, you feel that getting to the College World Series is possible,” Murphy said. “A big part of it is playing good at the right time. The last two weekends, we didn’t play great, but we still won games.”
ASU (48-13), which makes the trip to Omaha, Neb., for the second time in three years, opens play against UC Irvine (45-15-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Rosenblatt Stadium.
The Sun Devils, the No. 5 national seed in the NCAA tournament, are one of just three top-eight seeds to make it to Omaha. No. 2 Rice and No. 3 North Carolina are the others.
“This trip has been something I have wanted my whole life,” said ASU third baseman C.J. Retherford, who hit a home run on Sunday. “To go with a team I’ve wanted to play for my whole life is amazing. I don’t know if it has set in.”
Conventional wisdom dictated that the best-of-three series was over after the Sun Devils scored three ninth-inning runs to stun Mississippi (40-25) for a 4-3 victory in Game 1. ASU parlayed that momentum into a big-hitting day against ace righthander Lance Lynn.
On Saturday, Murphy said his team did not make Ole Miss starter Will Kline work. ASU rectified that on Sunday, taking more of Lynn’s offerings during the first two frames.
In the third inning, ASU was ready to pounce.
“They started putting big hits together when they needed to, and I couldn’t stop them,” Lynn said.
Retherford started the scoring with a solo homer, and first baseman Brett Wallace added an RBI double.
Retherford’s homer was his third of the NCAA tournament. He had none during the regular season.
“I don’t know what it is,” Retherford said. “I wish I knew. Maybe (Wallace) is rubbing off on me. I’ve been seeing the ball well, and when I come up, I’m thinking about getting the team started.”
The biggest blow came in the fourth after a Tim Smith single and Andrew Romine double plated two runs. Up stepped Wallace, who drilled Lynn’s first pitch onto Rural Road — his first home run since May 20 — to make it 6-0.
“This game was a lot tougher than I thought, coming back after (Saturday’s) game,” Mississippi coach Mike Bianco said. “After they put that four-run inning together, we didn’t have much left in the tank. (Josh) Satow didn’t let us get much started.”
With Satow, a mesmerizing left-hander, on the mound for the Sun Devils, the rest of the contest was a coronation.
The Rebels had their chances, with five hits and four walks against Satow, but timely pitching and defense limited their progress on the basepaths. Only one Ole Miss runner reached third base against Satow, in the fifth inning.
“I didn’t have great stuff, but I got timely outs,” said Satow (13-3). “The defense did an amazing job behind me. I can’t tell you how many big plays they made in the last two days.”
With two outs in the eighth, Satow gave way to closer Jason Jarvis, who allowed a run in the ninth but registered the last four outs to send the Sun Devils and a crowd of 4,037 at Packard into a celebration.
“All year, we wanted to get to Omaha and win the national title,” Wallace said. “When the game was over, I really didn’t know what to do. I looked at Romine, who has been through this before, and he jumped up and down and gave me a hug.
“I was so focused on winning, I didn’t know how to react.”
If ASU has another celebration to end a best-of-three series this summer, chances are that Wallace will know what to do — because that will mean that the Sun Devils have achieved their ultimate goal.
“To me, Omaha is the greatest championship there is,” Murphy said. “It’s amateur sports at its finest.”