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2015 NCAA Baseball Tournament: Fullerton Regional Q&A

Clemson kicks off regional play this afternoon with a game against 2 seed Arizona State. Ahead of what is certainly a winnable region, we had a chance to talk to Connor from SB Nation's Arizona State site, House of Sparky. You can follow him @ConnorPelton28. A big thanks to Connor for taking some time to answer our questions, and you can check out Elaine's answers to their questions later today.

STS: Coming into the season what were expectations for Arizona State? And so far has the team managed to meet them?

HOS: I pegged the Sun Devils to finish third in the Pac-12 back in February, and sure enough, the maroon and gold ended up in a tie for third. So by that measure, they definitely met my expectations. But I do not think many expected this team to be in regional hosting contention up until the last week of the season, or win nine of their first ten weekend series, for that matter. Arizona State definitely surprised some along the way, and with the surprises brought new expectations. So when the team dropped five of their final eight games, I think it was more of a regression back to the mean more than a shocking disappointment. The Sun Devils came into the season with the talent of a No. 2 seed on paper, and that's where they sit more than three months later.

STS: The Sun Devils were 24-11 at home while only 9-10 on the road? Was there anything specific causing this difference in record?

HOS: Playing your first 19 games in the friendly confines of your own ballpark can create a strong sense of familiarity, and I think it is tough to go out and play on the road after that. With that being said, they did win their first three conference series outside of Phoenix, and the two they lost to close out the season both came against tournament teams that were getting hot at the right time. Where the record really took a dip was in midweek contests. They held a three run lead in Las Vegas against UNLV before an electrical problem forced the game to be suspended until the next morning, killing the team's momentum and leading to a 7-6 loss. Later in the month the bullpen completely fell apart in a 17-6 defeat against rival Arizona, and pitching was again a problem a couple of weeks ago in a crucial loss at New Mexico. So I do not think playing away from home this weekend will hurt Arizona State as much as having to play a possible fourth or fifth game would, when the coaching staff will be forced to rely on pitchers that have been inconsistent.

STS: Who are a couple players to keep an eye on this weekend for Arizona State?

HOS: Even though he will probably not pitch against Clemson, any conversation about who to watch on the Sun Devil roster has to start with Ryan Kellogg. The junior starter owns a 3.67 ERA that will not blow anyone away, but he does a tremendous job of pitching to the score and buckling down when needed. His eight wins is the most of any starting pitcher this season. Offensively, you will want to keep an eye on shortstop Colby Woodmansee. While just a sophomore, the hometown kid hit a walkoff home run in the first game of the season against Oklahoma State. His 43 RBIs leads the team by a wide margin, and he is one of seven everyday starters hitting above .300.

STS: Y'all have some talented batters, what does Clemson need to do to keep these guys off the bases?

HOS: The key will be locating pitches correctly. The entire Arizona State lineup has the talent to hit the ball hard with pitches in the strike zone, but as head coach Tracy Smith freely admits, the team has a bad habit of consistently trying to go after balls that they have no chance of hitting. Knowing this, you would think they should have been able to break the habit (or at least limit the problem) throughout the season, but the Sun Devils have had three games this month in which they were limited to one or zero runs. Like I said before though, this club will put the ball in play. Play solid defense and you should be fine, but the maroon and gold do an excellent job of manufacturing runs after a mistake or two is made.

STS: Arguably your best pitcher in Ryan Kellog is likely to start game 2 of the regional, who should Clemson expect to see Friday night?

HOS: If it is not Kellogg, left-hander Brett Lilek will be getting the start against the Tigers. He has been the team's Friday night starter for the majority of the season, and while he has only won four games, the junior is a very solid choice to open a regional with. He will be eager to throw after leaving in the opening inning of last year's postseason with an injury. Out of the bullpen, there are really only four relievers that Smith trusts in close games. The first three are Darin Gillies, Eder Erives, and Jordan Aboites, who are all solid arms but have struggled at times throughout the season. Finally, there is fireballing closer Ryan Burr, who has saved 13 games and also recorded eight wins for Arizona State.

STS: Finally, what are your predictions for the Fullerton Regional? Do you think Arizona State advances out of this one?

HOS: I do have the Sun Devils advancing, but I could truly see any of the top three seeds getting out of Fullerton. Even Pepperdine should be competitive in the games it plays. With the loss of starting pitcher Justin Garza for Cal State Fullerton, and the Titans having to burn ace Thomas Eshelman in their opener, I think it is most likely the winner of Arizona State-Clemson makes their way through the winner's bracket and takes the whole thing.