Sometimes in a college baseball regional, Arizona State is able to plan past its first opponent and even set up its pitching to prepare for a tougher second-round game.
Not this time.
ASU is on the road as a No. 2 seed today, opening against the nation's hitting leader New Mexico, which fully believes it's ready to take down the Sun Devils despite losing six of seven meetings since 2011.
"We're as good as Arizona State," New Mexico coach Ray Birmingham said when NCAA tournament pairings put his No. 3-seeded Lobos against ASU in a double-elimination regional at Cal State Fullerton.
He has a case considering his team comes into postseason having won 20 of its last 24 games.
But New Mexico dropped its last two games and the Mountain West tournament title to San Diego State and lost 4-3 in 11 innings at ASU on March 13. And the Sun Devils, back in the postseason after a year out due to NCAA sanctions, are properly motivated to make a run at their first College World Series appearance since 2010.
"Just having the opportunity to be back in the hunt and be able to make things happen feels really good," said ASU's leading hitter Michael Benjamin, one of just four Sun Devils with postseason experience.
Junior pitcher Trevor Williams knows playoff baseball best and likely will start against the Lobos, who hit .336 collectively, including a .411 mark by D.J. Peteson, the nation's No. 3 hitter.
"You can't give your opponents too much credit," Williams said. "You've just got to attack hitters. You can't deviate from the plan you've had all year. Don't try and do too much. I'm not going to try and be Nolan Ryan out there. Just pound strikes."
Peterson, with 18 home runs, 70 RBIs and an .823 slugging percentage, is projected as a top-15 pick in next week's major league draft. He has ample offensive support especially from Mitch Garver (.387) and Luke Campbell (.382).
Williams (5-6, 4.17 ERA) has not had the success he expected as ASU's No. 1 starter but still is expected to a late second- or third-round draft pick.
"Pitching and defense is what gets you deep in this tournament," ASU coach Tim Esmay said. "It's playing good routine baseball and getting outs when they're there."
The Sun Devils have the lowest fielding percentage in the regional field and can be run on, allowing a Pac-12 high 89 stolen bases. On the plus side, they hit with power (No. 15 nationally in slugging percentage) and have an undefeated No. 2 starting pitcher in Ryan Kellogg (11-0).
• Who: Arizona State (35-20-1) vs. New Mexico (37-20)
• When: 4 p.m.
• Where: Fullerton, Calif.
• TV: ESPNU