For the first time since 1985, Arizona State begins a baseball season knowing its exact ending date.

ASU is ineligible for the postseason for the second time in its history due to NCAA probation, so its 56th game at Arizona on May 27 will be its last. That leaves the Sun Devils with one attainable goal: to win the inaugural Pac-12 championship.

“That’s our College World Series,” junior shortstop Deven Marrero said Tuesday. “That’s what we always play for, but that’s as far as we’re going to go. We’re definitely going to win that. That’s on everybody’s mind and what we’re striving for.”

ASU won the Pac-10 championship from 2007 to 2010, although it forfeited the first of those four titles due to NCAA sanctions that include this year’s postseason ban. Last season, the Sun Devils tied for second in the Pac-10, one game behind UCLA, and fell one win short of reaching the College World Series with a 43-18 overall record.

Five Pac-12 teams are ranked in the Baseball America preseason Top 25, including Stanford at No. 2 and Arizona at No. 5. That means a conference championship won’t come easy for No. 17 ASU or anyone else.

“The team chemistry and our attitude is still the same (without a postseason chance),” junior pitcher Brady Rodgers said. “It’s still super high. We can focus even harder on the conference. It’s going to be tough, but everybody is kind of overlooking us. They’re looking at Stanford because they have a bunch of returners and we have a bunch of new guys. That leaves a chip on our shoulder. I think we’re going to make some noise.”

Marrero and infielder Joey DeMichele were All-Pac-10 selections last season, and pitchers Rodgers, Trevor Williams and Alex Blackford earned honorable mention. That core combined with improved sophomores, talented freshman pitchers and a junior-college transfer catcher could ease the transition that goes with losing eight key position players and three contributing pitchers.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that are going to play their first games, and that’s always fun to watch,” third-year coach Tim Esmay said. “Then we’ve got some guys that have been in the fire, played in the College World Series and won (conference) championships. We’re going to try to continue the tradition we’ve established here of playing hard-nosed, aggressive, quality baseball. Nothing has changed as far as who we are.”

DeMichele led the Pac-10 last year in batting average (.368) and slugging percentage (.663) primarily as a designated hitter. He’ll be in the field this season at second or third base. Senior Abe Ruiz could be the main first baseman with James McDonald, Michael Benjamin, Drew Stankiewicz, Tucker Esmay and Rouric Bridgewater also infield candidates.

Junior Andrew Aplin will anchor the outfield in center. Trever Allen, Kasey Coffman, Jake Peevyhouse and McDonald also figure into the outfield plans.

Max Rossiter from Central Arizona College and Beau Maggi are expected to rotate at catcher.

Rodgers (9-4, 2.75 ERA in 2011) again will be the No. 1 starter, with Williams expected to shift from setup man to the starting rotation. That could leave Jake Barrett, who started as a sophomore, as the closer provided one of the freshman left-handers — Brandon Bonilla or Adam McCreery — emerges as a starter.

ASU plays its first six games at Packard Stadium starting Feb. 17 against Western Michigan.

Read the original article: www.azcentral.com/sports/asu/articles/2012/02/07/20120207asu-baseball-swinging-pac-title.html

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