Sunday, February 24, 2008

Weekend Update

It was a successful weekend for the Sun Devils. Both men's and women's basketball teams beat Washington this weekend and the #1 ranked baseball team opened the season by sweeping the DeMarini Invitational.

The men's basketball team won an impressive, if relatively unexciting, road game at Washington Saturday afternoon in which James Harden once again led the Devils with 25 points and 8 boards. Harden had a bunch of help on this occasion as ASU experienced a hot shooting night by finishing the game with a 52 percent shooting total, including 13-25 from 3-point territory. In all, six Sun Devils made a three point field goal during the game and the supporting cast executed throughout the game to seal the win. Ty Abbott supplied 11 points, Derek Glasser contributed 12 points and 7 assists, and the hard charging Rihards Kuksiks dropped 15 points. The quality play out of Kuksiks over the last couple of games has been a pleasant surprise as he is filling the scoring role that was expected out of Jerren Shipp. The Latvian has seemed to rediscover his shooting touch and will hopefully continue to supply the 10-15 points per game that we need from a third or fourth scoring option. ASU next plays UCLA at home on Thursday night at 8:30pm.

Meanwhile, back in Tempe the baseball team destroyed the competition this weekend in its season opening home series. The Devils beat their three opponents over the weekend by a combined score of 36-6. Friday night, ASU beat Miami (OH) 7-0, Saturday ASU took down #3 Vanderbilt 18-6, and Sunday the Devils defeated two-time defending national champion and #7 ranked Oregon State by a score of 11-0. ASU's pitching was stellar throughout the weekend, combining for two shutouts and starting the weekend off with 14.1 innings without allowing a run. As for the bats, well they were productive to say the least. The new players looked solid, with Jason Kipnis hitting two home runs and a triple over the weekend and shortstop Marcel Champagnie hitting a three run double on Sunday afternoon. As for the returning players, Pac-10 Player of the Year Brett Wallace is simply a beast. On Saturday afternoon, Wallace hit a grand slam in the fourth inning, then followed it up with a three-run homer in his next at bat. He then led off Sunday's game with a line drive solo shot to left field on Oregon State's second pitch of the game. That's right, 3 home runs in 3 straight at bats. ASU looked every bit as good as their #1 ranking implies this weekend and play next in the Coca-Cola Classic on Thursday through Sunday in Tempe and Surprise.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Baseball Season Kicks Off

With 18 new players, the Sun Devil Baseball team embarks on the 2008 season by hosting the DeMarini Invitational this weekend at Packard Stadium in Tempe. Despite all of the newcomers, the Devils are ranked #1 in the country by and the USA Today Coaches Poll. Tonight, ASU hosts Miami of Ohio at 7pm. Saturday afternoon the Devils host Vanderbilt at 1pm and Sunday ASU will face two-time defending national champion Oregon State at 3pm.

While there are plenty of new faces on this squad, the returning players are outstanding. Brett Wallace, Josh Satow, Petey Paramore, Mike Leake, Kiel Roling, and Ike Davis have all been named to various preseaon All-American teams. The pitching rotation may be thinner this year going in, but the bats should be as big as ever. Returning Pac-10 Player of the Year and Pac-10 Triple Crown winner Brett Wallace leads the charge at the plate and will be moving across the field to play third base this season.

If you've never been to a Sun Devil baseball game, you have been missing out. With one of the nicest college stadiums in the nation and five national championships--third most by any team in the country--ASU went 35-3 last year at home.

If you can't make it out to Packard this weekend, tonight's game is covered on and the weekend games can be heard on 1440 AM.

Up and Down

As high as ASU's hopes have gotten, you can't say this wasn't expected. In the season preview, I wrote the following:

"With all these new faces, we can expect to see an influx of talent and energy but a lack of experience. This will result in a season full of ups and downs and flashes of brilliance."

Well, we've seen all that and then some this year. Sweeping Arizona, beating top-10 ranked Stanford, overtime wins, close victories, then horrible shooting nights and inexplicable losses. Thursday night, Washington State's defense made the Sun Devils uncomfortable all night, holding ASU to just 33 percent shooting in a 59-47 loss. The 16-9 Devils will need a win on Saturday at Washington to keep postseason hopes alive as UCLA and USC come to town next week. Saturday's game can be seen on FSN and heard on 620 AM.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Look me in the eye and tell me you don't want what's in this picture.

We at Pitchfork Nation are proud to announce that we've teamed up with the great guys over at SandBox Creative on a tremendous project.

SandBox and Evolution Custom Cycles have collaborated to raffle off a custom-built chopper to honor former Sun Devil Pat Tillman. The motorcycle, valued at over $85,000, is completely one of a kind to honor the legacy of a great Sun Devil and great American.

Proceeds from the raffle, in which tickets cost $20, will go to the Pat Tillman Foundation.

To get yourself a ticket and support a fantastic charity, get on over to You can buy tickets online or at many upcoming Valley events. Do it now. You know you love Pat as much as we do here at the Nation.

When you buy your ticket, select the Pitchfork Nation option under the "How you heard about us?" pull-down menu.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Devils' Magic Continues

For anyone who has ever had any doubts about the hiring of Herb Sendek or the job he has done in his two years as head coach, let this quote from the AP recap of the win over Stanford sink in:

"It's the Sun Devils' third victory over a ranked team in two seasons under Herb Sendek -- one more than they managed from 1995-2006."

That's eleven years of ineptitude fading into the past as Herb Sendek leads this squad toward the light at the end of the tunnel. Sure they lost five straight games, but that was after winning 10 straight -- two more than last year's season win total. Since that losing streak, the Devils have gone on to win in dramatic fashion on the road against archrival Arizona and at home against the #7-ranked Stanford Cardinal.

Thursday night's win over Stanford could prove to be a benchmark victory for the Sun Devils. ASU finally got the role player support that has been mostly missing over the last six games as Rihards Kuksiks played the best game of his career and Eric Boateng (!) came up big in overtime with two crucial rebounds and the free throw that sealed the victory.

This was a game that the Devils sorely needed to win and the perseverance shown by these young players was remarkable. Trailing by nine points with three minutes to play and still down seven with only 1:49 to go, ASU somehow pulled out the win over a top-10 team.

Jeff Pendergraph had another great game with 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks before fouling out just before the end of regulation. James Harden took over from there, scoring 8 points in overtime by repeatedly driving the lane and drawing fouls. James Harden had a relatively quiet game until late and then you look at the box score and find 23 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals. He does so many things so well that he can impact a game without scoring, then turn it on whenever needed. Plain and simple: the guy is a stud.

Kuksiks came up big during the final push to tie the game with a dunk while drawing a foul and a huge 3-pointer to cut the Cardinal lead. Ty Abbott then chose the best possible time to make his first and only basket of the game on a 3-pointer from the left corner. Going into overtime, things looked tough as ASU's only real post defender, Pendergraph, was out of the game. Into the game came Boateng and Sun Devil fans held their collective breath. Who knew that he would make several big plays to preserve the ASU lead built by Harden? Boateng made a huge offensive rebound, knocked a ball away from Brook Lopez, and grabbed the final defensive rebound before being fouled. Up by three, ASU needed Boateng to convert just one of two free throws. Boateng had been shooting about 35% from the line for the year. 35 percent?! While he was at the line, I knew the first one wasn't going in. He was way too excited, his face scrunched in determination and fire. You could tell before he even let go that he was going to shoot it too hard. Thankfully he calmed down and sunk the second free throw to clinch the game.

Of all people, Eric Boateng came through in the clutch and the Devils awarded the Valentine's Day fans with a big win. The Sun Devils are now 7-1 in games decided by 10 points or less. Last year's team was 4-17 in games decided by the same margin. ASU next faces California on Saturday at 4:00pm at Wells Fargo Arena. The game will be televised on FSN and broadcast on 620AM.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Devils Sweep the Wildcats!

The Sun Devils desperately needed a win to break out of a 5-game slump, and they got that and more on Sunday afternoon in Tucson. ASU went into the notoriously unfriendly McKale Center to face the Wildcats and it looked from the onset like it would be a long day and an even longer ride back home to Tempe. Jerryd Bayless, who did not play in the two teams' first matchup, was on fire from the beginning of the game, hitting his first seven shots, including four 3-pointers. Behind Bayless, the Wildcats jumped out to a 22-6 lead. Then Jeff Pendergraph and Derek Glasser decided that it was time for the losing to stop.

Pendergraph went 12-of-16 from the floor for a career high 29 points and was the heart and soul of ASU's momentous comeback. As much credit is due to Pendergraph, he could not have had the game he had without the help of Glasser. The point guard who has had to fight for the starting spot all year long constantly set up Pendergraph for easy looks at the basket and was the floor general that ASU has been looking for during their recent skid. Pass after pass found their targets and left the Sun Devils open in the lane after back door screens and cuts confused Wildcat defenders. The offense looked fluid and the players looked confident the whole time.

This all happened with leading scorer James Harden battling a week long illness. What looked like a huge roadblock for the Devils, considering the integral role Harden played in the first victory, ended up being a blessing in disguise for the team that has been offensively challenged as of late. With Harden's play limited, the rest of the team had to step up and none did this in bigger fashion than Pendergraph. With Harden ailing, Pendergraph reasserted his alpha dog status and showed the mental toughness that the Devils have needed. Trailing by 16, Pendergraph went to work in the paint and took his teammates on his back to climb back into the game. This was by far the best game of Pendergraph's career at ASU. Not just because of his new career high in points but because of the toughness, leadership, and determination he showed and the implications of the victory. Sunday marked the first time that ASU has swept Arizona during the regular season in basketball since the '94-'95 season.

Along with Pendergraph, Derek Glasser also played the best game of his Sun Devil career on Sunday afternoon. While he didn't have the scoring outburst that Pendergraph did, he led the team with 8 assists and hit a number of key shots, including pull-ups in the paint and from three that were very Nash-like. Glasser could have had double digit assists in this game had it not been for a number of turnovers in the beginning of the game that were a result of teammates fumbling a Glasser pass in the lane. His play in this game was simply phenomenal.

ASU also received a quality game from Jerren Shipp, who quietly added 11 points off of smart looks in the paint. In addition, even though Harden was sick, he still had a solid game with five points, five boards, three assists, and three steals. While Harden's sickness forced other Devils to play better, Bayless' huge scoring day actually hurt his team as no other Wildcat was able to get into the game offensively early in the game. By the time ASU caught up in scoring, Arizona's offensive flow was completely disrupted by a combination of Bayless' early scoring, Chase Budinger's awful shooting day, Jordan Hill's first half foul trouble, and ASU's aggressive defense.

Arizona actually looked they took a page out the Sun Devil book from ASU's 5-game losing streak. The Wildcats built a lead then threw it away after one of their best players had to sit because of foul trouble. They depended way too much on their leading scorer and no one else on the offense was able to make an impact. One of their best three point shooters couldn't the wet part of the ocean. Any of this sound familiar? Luckily, ASU was able to get back into the win column with an improbable victory on the road against their usually dominant rival.

The pieces fell together in this game as Pendergraph was able to play 39 minutes without foul trouble and the offense had some flow for the first time in six games. The defense stood up to the challenge as only three other Wildcats were able to score besides Bayless and none of them made more than one field goal.

Next up for the Sun Devils is two home games against Stanford and California and both are definitely winnable games. ASU faces Stanford at Wells Fargo Arena at 8:30pm on Thursday night. Looks like my Valentine is Mr. Herb Sendek. See you there and go Devils!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Pitchfork Podcast

It's been a while but the podcast is back and this time I brought two guests with me to cover what's going on with the Sun Devil Men's basketball team. Here's the link:

Pitchfork Podcast - Episode 3

Special thanks to guests Chris Geesling and Bobby for coming on and giving their insight. Check it out!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Gift and The Curse

All season long James Harden has looked like the savior of Arizona State basketball. Harden has been the reliable scoring option that ASU has needed since Ike Diogu left. Harden has been the freshman phenom that has carried ASU back to respectability in college basketball. He's been so good that the team now relies entirely too much on him.

Jeff Pendergraph is still victim to double teams in the post and Harden is the only other scoring option at this point. When he is out of the game, like on Saturday against USC, the Sun Devil offense sputters, to say the least. When Harden left the USC game early in the second half with foul trouble, ASU watched the Trojans make a 15-2 run and put the game out of reach for good.

The disappearance of Ty Abbott and Jerren Shipp on offense during this five game skid has been epic. The two have combined to average just 12.2 points per game during the losing streak, culminating in Saturday's game where they combined for just one point. Add to this that Christian Polk has lost his scoring touch from last year, whether it's through a lack of confidence or complacency, Polk has not been the scorer off the bench that the Sun Devils need. Herb Sendek has resorted to injecting Rihards Kuksiks back into the lineup to try to find anyone who can put the ball in the hole besides Harden.

Three of Harden's four fouls in the second half were offensive with the USC defenders realizing that with Harden's affinity for driving the lane, instead of leaving their feet to contest his shot, they could simply take a charge and get ASU's star out of the game. Give Pendergraph credit for making a couple of shots after Harden went out but it wasn't enough. Then ASU went three straight possessions with a shot clock violation. The Devils have gotten so comfortable giving the ball to Harden when the shot clock is running down that when he isn't in the game, his teammates forget how to score.

The defense that has been the hallmark of Sendek's Devils hasn't been able to make the stops when needed to keep themselves in these games. The UCLA game was a nightmare as the ASU offense was completely shut down and the Bruins seemingly haven't missed a shot in over a week, winning their last three games by an average of 26 points. That game was an expected loss; the USC game was one the Devils should have taken.

ASU now has the whole week to regain confidence - and hopefully a shooting touch - before hitting the road again to play Arizona in Tucson. To break this losing streak, ASU needs scoring from more than just Harden. The freshman has been amazing this year but he's been so good that the rest of the team is letting him do all the offensive work. ASU must get back to the basics and lock down on defense and regain focus on the boards. The combo of Abbott and Shipp are desperately needed to make an impact because they are both players that can affect the game on both ends but we have not seen that for a while. This team can get back to winning but it's going to take a lot of determination and hard work because there are no gimmes in the Pac-10 which ASU has quickly realized.