Thursday Thoughts - Greetings from the future location of home plate for the CWS

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I'm cheating on you. I'm cheating on all of you. I have decided to keep my usual affair with college basketball's post-season alive for another year. See, CSTV has this habit of sending me to cover the NCAA tournament at this time of year. So even though I love college baseball, I have to admit, I've been seeing another love of mine for a long time.

And sure, it makes me feel as fake as Britney Spears' new British accent. No, make that as fake as Britney Spears period. Abandoning college baseball like that. For shame!

Well no worries. Because the good part is that I'm in Omaha to cover those regional games on Thursday and Saturday. While up here, of course, I'm also breaking my probation officers demands and going to a few Nebraska baseball games at Haymarket Park. So you see, it's not a total lost weekend for the horse-hide.


Yes, I'm dealing mostly with the roundball stuff this weekend, but lemme spend some time right now to give you a couple of thoughts on the college baseball weekend to come. I mean, I gotta keep my finger in the pie of college baseball too.


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COUPLE OF QUICK HITS FIRST---
- We dig into the "Props To You" department.
Mike Martin won his 1,500th game at Florida State back on Sunday with the 17-8 rout vs. Georgia Tech. Good job Cap. Now let's get to work on getting that elusive first national title for ya'. You've still got a lot of people pulling for you on that one.

- Double whammy of honors to Central Florida.
Not only did Mitch Hauk and Austin Hudson combine to no-hit Wagner on Tuesday in a 6-0 win, they also combined for 18Ks. And and in the bonus fact that it also marked win No. 1,200 for long-time skipper Jay Bergman. The Knights also improved to 18-1 on the season. (And the best the pollsters and rankers can do is put them at No. 30?)

- Arizona State wins the 1-vs-2 showdown over in-state rival Arizona, 6-5.
Ike Davis not only puts ASU on the board early with an RBI double, but he also closes out the 9th inning to pick up the save on the mound. You no man, you a monstah!

- My vote for the worst conference performance so far would have to be the Northeast Conference. All combined, the eight teams are 17-75 i. The worst part is that the team with the most wins so far is Wagner. Re-read two entries above.


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- HOG HEAVEN IN LINCOLN---
I decided to fly up here a day early and got to see Arkansas take on the Huskers on a clear, but cool afternoon at Haymarket Park. And as it turns out, the Hogs came out ahead and looked impressive doing it.

Arkansas - 000 110 160 - 9 10 0
Nebraska - 002 100 010 - 4 7 2

WP- Stephen Richards (1-0)
LP- Mike Nesseth (2-1)

NU looked like it was in control of this game for most of the first seven innings. They worked their way through a couple of pitchers, one of which was Arkansas closer Travis Hill, who started the game. But the Razorbacks kept picking away at them. Finally, the damn burst in the 8th inning as the Hogs went on to pick up the 9-4 win, salvaging a split in the two games (NU won Tuesday 6-1)

The big blow came off the bat of catcher Ryan Cisterna, who put the Pigs up for good with a two-run blast to left, scoring himself and the wickedly named Ben Tschepikow (I mean the Tschepikow part is cool, not the Ben part). UofA poured on another four runs to ice the Huskers.

I was impressed with the Razorbacks' lack of quit. They looked a little heavy-footed and defeated early in the game - so I thought this was going to be another mid-week sweep at the hands of another ranked team, like last week's trip to No. 1 Arizona State. But they kept fighting and started figuring out NU starter Erik Bird and the other four relievers that followed.

Still a lot of concern about the Arkansas pitching staff though. The UofA writer I talked with yesterday told me there are two or three decent pitchers and then the drop-off is pronounced. The missing talents of Nick Schmidt, Jess Todd and Duke Welker will be noticeable come the SEC grind of May.

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(#4 Tim Smalling and catcher Ryan Cisterna both homered for the Razorbacks vs. Nebraska)


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SURPRISE TEAMS SO FAR FOR 2008---
The On-The-Radar teams:
- UC Irvine (14-1, No. 9)
Only loss has been a 2-0 pitching duel between Scott Gorgen and Tulane's Shooter Hunt.

- Kentucky (18-0, No. 12)
I'm... slowly... starting... to... believe. (Well, let's wait and see what the Bat Cats do at South Carolina in two weeks).

- California (13-3-1, No. 24)
Keep a close eye as the Bears travel to Wazzu this weekend. Cal has lost two of three going in.

- Central Florida (19-1, No. 30)
If the Knights pick up two or three wins at Southern Miss this weekend, I'm thinking it may be time to make room in the Top 20 for them.


The Off-The-Radar teams:
- Nebraska (15-3)
Wins over Stanford, UC Riverside, Kansas State and Arkansas. The Hogs just broke their 14-game win streak.

- Duke (18-3)
What can you say, they've beaten North Carolina and won a series vs. Virginia. No one expected this. One hitch... first road trip is this weekend at Georgia Tech.

- Canisius (11-1)
Unfortunately, their DH with West Virginia was rained out on Tuesday.

- James Madison (14-4)
Wins against BCS schools Tennessee and Virginia Tech are kind of soured by today's 16-2 loss to Stony Brook.

- Charlotte (14-2)
This is a team that won 11-2 at South Carolina. Not even Vanderbilt could do that.

- Florida Gulf Coast (15-5)
Sure the name sounds like something from a Gabe Kaplan movie, but this team is playing some ball.


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TEAMS THAT SHOULDN'T BE RANKED AT THIS TIME---
Even though we all agree that the rankings are the work of the devil, here are the teams that, if there HAS to be rankings, shouldn't be ranked.
- Michigan (8-6, No. 25 BA)
Keep in mind the "at this time" part of this complaint. They'll be better as the year goes on, but really guys... you CAN'T rank this team right now.

- Cal State Fullerton (9-7, No. 23 NCBWA and No.28 CB)
They have a few good wins, yes. Not going to argue that. I'm thinking it's still not sensical to put this team in right now. But as we saw in 2004 and 2007, drop them for now... it only motivates them for later.

- Oregon State (7-6, No. 25 NCBWA)
Like a lot of last season's regular season, the Beavs are too rollercoaster-like. I know, I know, they'll be there at the end. But they better get their Beavers in a row before the Pac 10 demoralizes them.

- Texas A&M (16-4, No. 23 CB and No. 19 NCBWA)
Sorry, that Northern Colorado debacle keeps hanging heavy on my mind. And wins over Ohio State, Arkansas and Texas Tech are mildly impressive.


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10 PLACES I'D BE IF IT WEREN'T FOR THIS MARCH MADNESS ASSIGNMENT---
Since my time is limited, here's a quick look without a lot of chit-chat on the subject.

1- No. 16 Baylor at No. 11 Missouri
Kendall Volz vs. Aaron Crow. Ah! There's that endorphin rush that college baseball gives me on matchups like this.

2- The Bob Scheafer Memorial Tournament, Tempe.
(Florida International, UC Irvine, Northern Colorado and Arizona State)
Really just waiting around for Sunday when that Anteater-Sun Devil rematch from last year's upset in Omaha takes place.

3- No. 17 UCLA at No. 7 Long Beach State
Great pitching. Solid defense. Big bat potential. And big props to both coaches who love to schedule up before league play kicks in. Who's afraid of a non-conference bruise?

4- Florida at No. 14 Ole Miss
These two should swap places, have the 15-3 Gators ranked and the inconsistent Rebels out of the rankings.

5- No. 24 Cal at Washington State.
The Bears are the surprise of the Pac 10, though with talents like David Cooper and Tyson Ross, it shouldn't be too shocking. Wazzu is coming off a quietly impressive series win at Oklahoma.

6- No. 29 Pepperdine at No. 25 Oregon State
While the national champs continue to play up-and-down, the Waves are setting themselves up as legit threats to USD's WCC title. (didn't get the score of Thursday's game as I went to press)

7- St. John's at Rutgers
What a great start to Big East play. These two will probably be the top two in the conference when all is said and done. (SJU won game one 12-5 today)

8- James Madison at Old Dominion
The battle of royalty - Dukes vs. Monarchs. How droll. JMU comes in 14-4 and 8-1. This series at the pre-season favorites will be a great litmus test.

9- Louisiana-Monroe at Arkansas State.
The Indians have cooled just a tad since that stunning three-game sweep of UL-L in week one, hoving gone 3-3 in their last six. Here they host the SBC leaders.

10- William & Mary at UNC-Wilmington
One is trying to prove a point. One is trying to stay at the point. UNCW just got a nice 5-2 win over No. 18 Coastal Carolina on Wednesday to boost its profile.


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BEST UMPIRE EVER: DALE WILLIAMS---
I spent last Sunday at the Hawaii-UCI game sitting next to the legendary Dale Williams. If you don't know his name, you probably know his calls. Dale was a long-time umpire that worked the College World Series eight times and was an umpire out on the West coast for the Pac 10 and Big West for 41 years. He told me his first CWS was in 1978 and his last one was when he worked the national championship game between Fullerton and USC in 1995. His favorite moment? The phantom tag trick play that Miami pulled on Wichita State in the 1982 CWS.

As you might recall, WSU had Phil Stephenson on first and Hurricane pitcher Mike Kasprazak and 1Bman Steve Lusby both acted like his toss to first was way overthrown in an attempt at a pick off. But then everyone reacted like the ball was over-thrown, the first baseman, right fielder, and even two of Miami's bat girls sitting near the bullpen reacted like the ball was rolling around under their feet. Stephenson, looking nervously over his shoulder starts running toward second.

Then, Kasprazak takes the ball out of his glove and flips it over the second to easily tag the confused runner. The play has gone down as one of the most memorable in CWS history. Miami ended up winning the game 4-3.

Funny thing is, Dale was the umpire at first base on that play and told me that the Hurricane coaches almost screwed up royally by not notifying the umpiring crew before the game.

"Usually, a head coach will tell an umpiring crew that they are planning on doing a trick play, so the crew knows to look for it." Dale told me. "When Miami ran the play and everybody was wondering where the ball went, I came real close to raising my hands and calling time out. I thought my eyes were deceiving me. I didn't see where the hell the ball went. I kept looking for it under the Miami bat girls feet, but I didn't see it. But then, just before I called time out, there's the Miami pitcher taking the ball out of his hand and throwing the guy out at second."

Williams also told me that Rod Dedeaux and Augie Garrido are the two greatest psychologists of all the coaches he's dealt with. "I always respected how neither of those guys ever berserk. They would work you and you'd think they were playing a game with you. But I never saw either one of them get out of control with the umpires."

He's known Mike Gillespie, long-time successor to Dedeaux at SC and now the new head coach at UC Irivine, for over 30 years. Even as far back as when he knew Gillespie as a high school and college basketball referee. Williams said Gillespie has mellowed out a lot as the years have gone on. "He mostly just goes out to talk to an umpire now. But back in the old days... (shaking his head)... he was pretty rough on some of our crews."


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FILE THIS UNDER "NEVER SEEN THIS BEFORE"---
With Arkansas in the middle of putting up six runs in the 8th inning, the Hog pitching coach Dave Jorn was apparently barking at the second base umpire about some balk-type motion from the Husker pitcher. Well, Jorn calmly walked out to talk with umpire Jeff Henrichs. Dave Van Horn joined him out there and after a minute and a half, Jorn calmly started walking toward the gate out in left field and walked out. So, I supposed he was thrown out of the game, and without any kind of dramatic "yer outta here" motion from Henrichs.

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(Dave Jorn and Dave Van Horn confront umpire Jeff Henrichs)


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Okay, I gotta get motoring here. I'll give you some kind of quick look at the Oklahoma-Nebraska game I go to on Friday. In the meantime, feel free to check in on some of my basketball stuff too. Because I'm going to dream about the bouncing pumpkin for a while too. Oh my cheatin' heart.

G'night.

Comments

Thanks for not completely forsaking us baseball fans this weekend.

As a UNC fan I hate to admit it, but I think Duke may be for real this year (don't tell my fellow Tar Heels I've been over to see Duke play several games). The Blue Devils play solid defense and really hit the ball well. Alex Hassan is a great do-it-all player for Duke who not only is hitting over .400 and closing out games on the mound, but also plays fine defense in CF and gets a great jump on balls. I questioned whether they would have good enough pitching to deal with the ACC but so far they've held up pretty well against UNC and UVa, who were expected to be two of the best teams in the conference. We'll see...

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Eric Sorenson Eric Sorenson
Eric Sorenson is CSTV.com's National Baseball Columnist, and also appears on CSTV as a baseball expert