OMAHA, Neb. – College baseball coaches aren't real big on new things. They typically prefer players who are broken in – especially when a national title is on the line.
Arizona State is the exception to the rule.
Compared to the other seven teams assembled here for the College World Series, the Sun Devils are arguably the least experienced. But coach Pat Murphy didn't think it was an issue coming into Sunday's opener against a North Carolina team full of Omaha veterans.
Turns out, Murphy was right.
His team walked into Rosenblatt Stadium looking calm and confident – laughing, smiling and soaking in the moment.
That attitude spilled onto the field. Arizona State didn't exactly knock around North Carolina starting pitcher Alex White. It did, however, string together some clutch hits in the 10th inning to put away the Tar Heels, 5-2.
And it was the Omaha newcomers leading the way.
Tied 1-1 in the top of the 10th, junior Carlos Ramirez cracked an RBI single. Then Kole Calhoun hit a three-run home run to left field to give the Sun Devils a 5-1 lead.
"I think we've been saying this all year long, but our way of playing, we just come out and try not to take the circumstances and atmosphere to heart," Calhoun said. "The young guys could've used [inexperience] as a crutch this season, but as a team we decided not to."
Pitchers Josh Spence and Mitchell Lambson also had fabulous performances in their first visit to Omaha.
Spence, who started, certainly could've had butterflies. Before this season, he had never played big-time college baseball. Living in Victoria, Australia, he rarely had the chance to play an actual game of baseball. In front of 24,273 fans, you would've thought Spence – a third-round pick of the Los Angeles Angels earlier this week – was a seasoned veteran.
"Spence's mental toughness, demeanor and ability to stay poised under pressure is just uncanny," Murphy said. "He's just a really special player."
As for Lambson, a year ago he dreamed of making it to Omaha, having just finished his senior year of high school in Tualitin, Ore. On Sunday, the Sun Devils called on the left-handed pitcher to shut down a North Carolina lineup that included two of the nation's best in first baseman Dustin Ackley and third baseman Kyle Seager.
Lambson struck out five batters and allowed one run and three hits in three innings on the way to his ninth victory.
"All year we've talked about how we're not going to let our youth affect how we play on the diamond," Lambson said. "Everyone gets jittery on a stage like this, but it takes some time to get settled in. We definitely settled in."
With an important win under their belts, the Sun Devils appear to be in the driver's seat. All-America pitcher Mike Leake – a guy who has been here before – is slated to start the winner's bracket game Tuesday.
But for the Sun Devils to get through a tough bracket and win a national title, the young players must keep it up all week.
"I'm not sure I buy into the whole experience thing, especially once you get here," North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. "Arizona State has grown up and they were ready to play. Certainly didn't see much inexperience out there."
The Sun Devils would like to keep it that way.
- North Carolina
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