May 31, 2008

Friday First Takes - Take the Bison off the endangered species list

I remember where I was for Southern in 1987. I remember where I was for Sam Houston State of 1996. I remember where I was for Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1999. I remember where I was for Texas Southern in 2004. But I never thought I'd have to remember where I was for Bucknell of 2008. But guess what? That's why we love the NCAA tournament, because there are going to be upsets.

And, occasionally they're of the axis-tilting kind. Like today's 7-0 win by Bucknell at Florida State.

Bison.jpg
(The American Bison, herbivore, most commonly found in the Great Plains)

The Bison were one of four 4-seeds to pull out stunning Ws today in the first day of action in the 2008 regionals.

- Lipscomb beat No. 8 national seed Georgia 10-7
- UC Davis beat No. 1 seed Stanford 4-2, though if you ask me it's not a big upset.
- Fresno State beat home host Long Beach State 7-3.

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CAN A COACH WITH 1,532 WINS BE WORRIED ABOUT HIS JOB?---
Bucknell - 7
Florida State - 0
Question No. 1: Is FSU headed for another Big Dance lump of coal?
Question No. 2: Is Mike Martin's job in trouble?

I know questioning a coach with this pedigree is crazy. This guy's got 1,532 wins, right? But his team came in ranked No. 3 in the country, hitting .350, winners of 48 games and part of the strongest group of conference teams college baseball has seen in years. Plus, considering FSU's feeble results in recent post-seasons, the Seminole nation may be getting restless. Especially with losing to a 4-seed at home. Aye-yaye-yaye! So what happened here?

Call it Mathew Wilson's War.

The Bison starter threw the game of his life. He allowed only six hits in all, struck out three and issued only two free passes in his 153 pitches on the night. "I might need some ice." Wilson quipped in the post-game.

He also stated the most important factor in the win: defense. "That's the best defense I've seen our team play. That was just an overall tremendous performance." The Bison committed not a single error. Yes, the Animals of Section B could yell, heckle and taunt all they want, Bucknell just didn't listen, nor let it affect them.

Dan Grandizio went 4-for-5 to pace the bats. Bucknell jumped on FSU starter Geoff Parker, sending eight batters to the dish in the second inning, plating three runs in all. Tonight marked the first ever NCAA tourney win for the Lewisburg, Pennsylvania school.


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AND THEN THERE'S THIS GROUP OF BISON---
Lipscomb - 10
Georgia - 7
With a 4-1 lead after one inning, no one would've batted an eye, shrugged a shoulder and kept on going. But LC kept fighting, scratching and forgetting who they were playing. A 4-run 5th inning put Lipscomb ahead for good. A Ryan Wilkins 2-run bomb put the game out of reach. Wilkins came into the game hitting .214 on the season.

And it wasn't like the Bison were doing it against a mid-week starter, since Stephen Dodson got the call. He went just 4.2 innings, getting smacked for nine hits and eight earned runs. The Dogs two best hitters, Gordon Beckham and Rich Poythress, combine to go 1-for-9, including Poytress' rally-killing double-play he hit into to end the 8th.

Lipscomb.jpg
("Lemme see your war face!" Lipscomb downs Georgia)


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THE SEC... TSK, TSK---
Did we not say the southern superconference didn't deserve nine stinkin' bids or what? I know the selection committee isn't supposed to consider past performance when coming up with the NCAA field of 64, but they MUST make an exception in some cases. When a conference has six of the last 10 0-2 teams in Omaha, you have to question how tough of a conference it is. Here's today's thunder-duds:

Ole Miss - 0
Missouri - 7
Rebs barely showed up for this one. More below.

Arkansas - 2
Pepperdine - 4
Hogs were given eight walks to go along with their six hits. Yet it was their own three errors that doomed them.

Tulane - 7
Florida - 4
Can you believe it will be the Gators and Seminoles in the elimination game tomorrow?

Oklahoma - 8
Vanderbilt - 5
Commodores are now 3-8 in last 11. The Sooners meanwhile, acquit themselves in fine fashion. You're off the hook for at least 24 hours, guys.

Kentucky - 1
Michigan - 5 (susp. 5th inning)
Wait, you guys aren't going to lose to a Northern team are you? UK may be kicked out of the conference if they don't come back tomorrow morning.


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THE SEC DONE WELL---
They did do some things right today too. Check out these football scores.

Alabama - 16
East Carolina - 3
Of all the SEC teams in action today, the Tide was probably the most impressive, actually playing better than their seeding in the rout of the Pirates.

Texas Southern - 1
LSU - 12
Did you see all those home runs? Blake Dean blasts another one to continue his tear from the SEC tourney. What is this, 1997 again? Gah!

Charlotte - 8
South Carolina - 15
See, this is a perfect example of how I think the Gamecocks could bash their way back to Omaha for the first time since 2005. They handed Joe Yermal just his second loss of the season, scoring six runs off him in 1.1 innings.


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WHAT I SAW DOWN AT BLAIR FIELD IN LONG BEACH TODAY---
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NOTHING WRONG WITH MATUSZ---
California - 0 3 1
San Diego - 5 10 0
So he lost the no-hit bid after the first pitch of the game, no biggie. Brian Matusz only allowed two more hits in the next 129 pitches as the Toreros squashed a potent Bear order in game one here at Blair Field this afternoon. He dealt ten Ks while issuing just a single walk on the day. Nice lock-down, no?

In fact, no one was more impressed with the Matusz masterpiece than coach Rich Hill himself, "I can't say enough about Brian Matusz. You know, he pitches in front of general managers and owners of Major League Baseball teams and the guy is totally locked in. He's got the ability to detach from all the things that are going on around him and deal. And today, in this type of environment and on this type of stage was pretty amazing."

USD-Matusz.jpg
(Brian Matusz had 10Ks and surrendered just three hits to improve to 12-2)

Considering the 6'6" lefty spun this yarn against a team that came in hitting .308 with 74 home runs, second-best in the Pac 10 in both categories, you can see why Coach Hill was so hyped.

"This was probably his best outing since he's been here at USD." Hill said in the post-game.

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BEST QUOTE---
Brian Matusz explaining his approach today with all the scouts and attention of the post-season stage, "It's kind of like that Kevin Costner movie 'For the Love of the Game' I just went out there and cleared the mechanism."


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THE 'OTHER' WILSON---
Fresno State - 7 10 0
Long Beach - 3 5 0
Justin Wilson, no not the cajun cook that is ubiquitous to South Louisiana, but the underrated Fresno State starter, pitched a solid 7.0 innings, striking out 11 Dirtbag batters to help make the Bulldogs look MUCH better than a No. 4 seed.

"He gave it his all, just like he has done all season long today." FSU coach Mike Batesole said. "He's been our rock when we've needed him."

Fresno-JustinWilson.jpg
(Not to be overshadowed - too much - Wilson improved to 7-4 with a solid outing)


Wilson finished with 11Ks, tossing just three walks and allowing only three hits and two earned runs. Holden Sprague threw the final two innings to shut things down.

Alan Ahmady and Steve Susdorf both had two hits and three of the seven RBI on the night. The only down side to the win was the mysterious injury to stud 3Bman Tommy Mendonca. While trying to field a huge Baltimore chop over his head, Mendonca came down awkwardly on his throwing hand and immediately began writhing in pain. He immediately left the game and was taken for evaluation to see if he will be able to come back for tomorrow's game.

Fresno-MendoncaPain.jpg
(Fresno's Tommy Mendonca writhes in pain after a freak accident in the 3rd inning)


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NOTES---
- With today's win, it marked the first time in five tries of the NCAA tournament that the Toreros have moved into the winner's bracket.
- Brian Matusz's fifth strikeout of the day moved him into 1st place on the USD career strikeout list.
- This was the first time all season that Josh Romanski played center field on the day before he took the mound as a starter. The Saturday mound chief usually just hits DH on Friday's to save his energy for his start on the mound.
- Kevin Muno started as the lead-off hitter for San Diego in game one. His brother Danny was the lead-off hitter for Fresno State in game two.
- This was the second year in a row that the Beach has lost as a No. 1 seed in their opening game of the regionals. Last year they lost to an inspired Illinois-Chicago team, 4-1.


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I'LL TRY NOT TO BRUISE MY HAND WHILE PATTING MYSELF ON THE BACK---
St. John's - 2
Texas - 1
I knew the Johnnies would spell trouble for the inconsistent Longhorns. Sure enough, the Big East regular season champs push Augie and Co. to within a single game of another regional round exit. Starter Scott Barnes gave up just four hits in 7.2 innings of work, though didn't get the W, because the game-winning run for the Red Storm came off the bat of Jeff Grantham in the top of the 9th. With the win, St. John's earns its 42nd win of the season, a new school record.

And get this... St. John's coach Ed Blankmeyer decided to hold off on using All Big East pitcher George Brown against the Longhorns and will have him available for the showdown with Rice tomorrow. Gutsy call, but Barnes came through huge to bolster the Johnnies regional title aspirations.

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THE CROW: "AS ADVERTISED"---
Ole Miss - 0 3 0
Missouri - 7 13 1
Aaron Crow is a freakin' man! The Tiger ace threw 124 pitches, hitting 94 on the guns into the 9th inning to become the first pitcher in the country to reach 13 wins, as Mizzou cruised over the Rebels. It was great to see him on the tube for the first time as he worked all different speeds and all over the plate, confounding Reb hitters all day. Ryan Lollis paced the Tigers with four hits, all singles. Trevor Coleman had a pair of hits, one a yard call, accounting for three RBI. For Ole Miss, Lance Lynn didn't do too bad himself, going 6.1 innings, but ending his outing giving up nine hits and six runs to an underrated Tiger offense.

Mizzou-Crow.jpg
(Aaron Crow, still with his game face on)


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THE BEST PART ABOUT THE CORAL GABLES REGIONAL BEING ON TV---
Being able to hear Miami P.A. man Jay Rokeach.
The best stadium announcer in college baseball has now been on the job at Mark Light Field since 1969, when he was an 18-year old freshman. He was recently honored before the Saturday game of the North Carolina series for his 40 years of service. It was great to hear him at the mic today too.

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ONE THING ABOUT THE ANNOUNCERS---
If I was an Ole Miss fan, I'd swear ESPNU announcers Dave Cohen and Brian Jordan were cheering for Missouri.
Just noticed that as the score mounted in Mizzou's 7-0 win, it seemed like Cohen and Jordan got more and more animated about the Tigers' lead.


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GAMBLE PAID OFF---
Arizona State beat Stony Brook, 9-7.
Cal State Fullerton beat Rider, 11-0.
Oklahoma State beat Western Kentucky, 5-3.
St. John's beat Texas, 2-1.
Nebraska beat Eastern Illinois, 13-10.
Coastal Carolina beat Columbia, 10-2.
LSU beat Texas Southern, 12-1.
All of the above teams went with a starter other than their ace and was able to pull out victories. Other than the aforementioned St. John's gamble, the other biggest surprise was Fullerton's Brian Wilson, who hadn't started a game all season, threw a complete game 6-hitter with 8Ks. That saves every pitcher in the Titan weekend rotation and just about every reliever they'll need.

UNCW-BHolt.jpg
(UNC-Wilmington's Bradley Holt - 25 - gets some props as he leaves the game today at the Cary Regional. Holt came within a single out of throwing a complete game 6-hitter in the 5-2 win over Elon to improve to 11-1 on the season.)


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FROM EARLY MORN TO LATE MORN---
First pitch of today's games:
9:09am Pacific time (Ole Miss-Missouri game in Coral Gables)

Last pitch of today's games:
2:00am Eastern time, Sunday (Cal State Fullerton 11-0 over Rider in Fullerton)


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WEATHER---
Highest temperature:
Tempe Regional, 95 degrees at 3pm

Lowest temperature:
Fullerton Regional, 61 degrees at 11pm

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BUNS IN THE SEATS---
Biggest crowd for the day for the home team:
Alex Box Stadium at LSU, 6,536.

Smallest crowd for the day for the home team:
Watson Stadium at Coastal Carolina, 1,620.


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I'm looking forward to what Day Two holds for our great sport tomorrow. Gotta go get some sleep, because the quicker I sleep, the sooner tomorrow will get here.

G'night.

May 30, 2008

Thursday Thoughts - It's Christmas Day for Stitch-head Nation

Okay, enough of the bitchin' and crabbin', the NCAA selection committee made its mistakes and we have to live with them.

Sure, we could sit here and complain about
- N.C. State getting a host site and Georgia Tech not getting one... wait, what was that Larry Templeton said about "spreading the regionals around" again?
- Also, Tech, a No. 7 RPI, has to travel to No. 17 Georgia, despite beating the Dawgs twice this season.
- Miami getting Bethune-Cookman as a No. 4 while LSU gets Texas Southern.
- Rice getting dangerous Sam Houston as a No. 4 and Texas as a viable No. 2 instead of A&M, who gets Illinois-Chicago and 29 RPI Dallas Baptist.
- Did I read that right? UCLA is a No. 45 RPI as a 2-seed and Virginia is a 3-seed with an RPI at No. 22?
- Arkansas getting in as a 9th place team and going just 1-6 in its most important non-conference games.
- Alabama playing tomato cans in pre-conference and still getting a dance card.
- And I know we ALL know this is a rip... Oklahoma gets in and Oregon State doesn't. Really now.

OSU-OUcompare.jpg
(Hey committee, not that OSU belonged in the Big Dance. But OU? Hmmm, not good boys)

Here's more quick hit, I've-thought-more-about-it thoughts on the field of 64 before tomorrow's games get kicked off.

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TOUGHEST REGIONAL---
*Long Beach State
Okay, I know I said Miami's regional was the toughest in my knee-jerk reaction column on Monday, but that WAS a knee-jerk reaction. Looking at it closer, we see that Ole Miss and Missouri have great potential, but haven't played up to snuff this season. And both cases befuddle me so. But at Blair Field, we're going to have the most balanced regional in the field, with RPI teams No. 23, 27 and 28. And as a 4-seed, Fresno, even without injured Tanner Scheppers, is still dangerous.

Runner-Up: Miami
Again, great potential in the UM's, and B-CU is one of the better No. 4s out there.


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EASIEST REGIONAL---
* LSU
A team this hot? Hell, it may not matter who they played anyway, they're going to win. But Southern Miss will have to throw Barry Bowden in game one against New Orleans. Beyond him, it becomes Arena Ball at the Box. UNO beat LSU twice this season, both before the streak and in mid-week games. And as I mentioned on Monday, how the Tigers got the easiest No. 4 seed in the tourney field, I don't know. You'd think Skip Bertman is back on the selection committee again.

Runner-Up: North Carolina
They'll breeze this weekend... and next weekend, now that I look at it. Cruise control until The O.


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NO. 1 SEED THAT COULD GO 0-2---
Texas A&M.
I've got three words for you: Tired arms syndrome.
As you all should realize, a frosh pitcher can have all the talent in the world, but his first college season is a long season. Most of the times, young arms hit a wall in May and June. That's what seems to have afflicted Texas A&M during its late-season swoon.

Other possibility: Stanford
Their No. 4 seed, UC Davis, has already beaten the Cardinal twice this year. There won't be a fear factor whatsoever.


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MOST DANGEROUS 4-SEED---
Bethune-Cookman.
Don't snicker. It's true. One of the things that struck me about the Wildcats when I saw them play UCLA at the Urban Invitational in Compton earlier this season was that starting pitcher Joe "Guido" Gautier more than held his own against the Bruins, giving up just two hits in 7.0 innings. Luckily for UCLA, Tim Murphy threw a slightly better game and beat B-C. But with Hiram Burgo (9-1, 1.20) and No. 2 starter Eric Thomas (9-0, 2.16), the 'Cats have some arms to give the Hurricane fans heart attacks.

GautierB-CC.jpg
(Joe Gautier and the BCU arm staff could give some UM's the heeby-jeebies)

Runner-Up: UC Davis
Post-season inexperience may be their downfall, but as stated above, they've beaten Stanford a couple of times and aren't going to be afraid of Pepperdine or Arkansas.


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BEST CHANCE FOR A THREE-SEED TO WIN A REGIONAL---
Houston.
I almost picked Louisville here because they did it last year as a three-seed, have been on a roll lately (22-5 since tax day) and have a rather chilly Georgia team as a No. 1. But if the Coogs can get by Jordan Meaker and the Patriots in game one, not-so-hot Texas A&M could be vulnerable. But will they be vulnerable twice?

Runner-Up: Oral Roberts
Hey, the Eagles did it in '06, it can be done again. Though UCI and Nebraska will be tougher to get through than Okie State and Arkansas were back then.


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BEST CHANCE FOR A SUPER REGIONAL TO BE HELD AT SOME PO-DUNK STADIUM---
Pepperdine vs. UCLA.
Let's suppose these two No. 2 seeds finally start to play up to their potential. You know, like if the Waves could pitch better than the 22 runs they gave up against San Diego in the WCC playoffs and if the Bruins could hit better than their .275 average. If that happened, Stanford and Cal State Fullerton could finally find themselves losing in the regional round at home for the first time this decade.


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OKAY, MY QUICK-HIT PICKS---
At the risk of losing all legitimacy, here are the 16 teams I see pulling through this weekend. Starting from the upper left portion of the bracket.

- Coral Gables: Miami.
Despite all the talk about how tough of a draw they got, you have to keep in mind that the Canes have the scarier lineup and play better defense (.975). And Ole Miss and Mizzou just haven't played well this season.

- Ann Arbor: Michigan.
I've seen Arizona play really well and rather awful at times this year. And besides, don't you figure the home team has been waiting for this moment for a long time? Oh, and this is the first time that a Pac 10 or SEC team has ever spent a weekend at Fisher Stadium. Terrible, people. Just terrible.

- Raleigh: South Carolina.
The thing I like about the Gamecocks? Bash power, of course, and also they can glove it pretty damn well too (2nd in NCAA with .978). Those two things are huge in the post-season when arms staffs get thin on Sunday and Monday.

- Athens: Louisville.
Yes, I'm calling my second mid-major shock shot here. The Ville has some legit arms with post-season experience in Justin Marks, Zach Pitts and Gavin Logsdon. B.J. Rosenburg's re-emergence (5-4, 9svs) has been the biggest story this season.

- Fullerton: Cal State Fullerton.
Have you noticed how many people are echoing the fact that the Titans own UCLA lately? Well, it's true. But keep in mind that UCLA's numerous injuries and cold bats may be healing in time. This is a shaky pic. Oh, and Virginia is just 5-10 in road games.

- Palo Alto: Stanford.
I know I said to watch out for the Aggies in this regional, but after all is said and done at 10pm West coast time on Monday, it'll be the Trees still standing. You don't win weekends against Nebraska, Fullerton and Arizona State with luck.

- Stillwater: Wichita State.
I love the arms corps of the Shockers enough to pull this one out at Allie Reynolds Stadium. The biggest key will be if they can beat TCU's Tyler Lockwood in game one. Another big factor: Does OSU burn ace Andrew Oliver in game one vs. Western Kentucky? Hmmmm.

- Tallahassee: Florida State.
No, I really don't see the Noles gagging at home again in the post-season. Well, at least not this week. But it will be interesting to see how Mike Martin's boys fare once they face some teams outside of their region.

- Cary: North Carolina.
Lay out the welcome mat here. I'll walk from L.A. to Chapel Hill, backward, if UNC fails to make it out of this one.

- Conway: East Carolina.
I know they've been inconsistent down the stretch (swept at home by Tulane), but the Pirates will put it together here. And then will enjoy it for five days before UNC crushes them.

- Lincoln: UC Irvine.
The Anteaters invade Huskerland and it will probably come down to those two teams. Very similar styles as NU has taken on a small ball approach this year, just like UCI plays. Only UCI plays that role better. Oh and don't sleep on Oral Roberts either. Seeing them in the championship round wouldn't be a shock.

- Baton Rouge: LSU
Easier than North Carolina's road? Maybe. Then again, if the Tigers don't get to wear those gold jerseys this weekend?...

Damn NCAA rules. What's Ron Polk's cell number?

- Houston: Rice
It will be awash in orange, sure, but Reckling Park will come in handy for the Owls. No missteps here, I've got Rice railroaded to Omaha. Then again, the Longhorns are on an uptick lately (sweep of Texas A&M), especially with the return to form of Kenn Kasparek. That ole post-season Augie magic could be back. But St. John's could be dangerous too, especially in game one with underrated George Brown on the mound.

- College Station: Texas A&M
Lots of chuck-holes in the Aggies road here. This pick defies all logic, I know. With the way the Ags have been playing and the surprise factor I'm giving to Dallas Baptist and all. Still, the home field and high stakes have to favor A&M in the end. But it'll be a 7-game dogfight.

- Long Beach: San Diego
Matusz, Romanski, Griffin. It's still hard to bet against this pitching staff. It's also still hard to believe the Toreros were not a No. 1 seed. Just goes to show you how shot-to-hell your RPI can get when playing seven games against Hawaii-Hilo and Harvard. Otherwise, we'd be seeing USD possibly hosting a regional again. Despite my pick for this regional, it's anybody's ballgame, to be honest.

- Tempe: Arizona State.
I don't figure anyone has a problem with this pick, right? Okay, let's just go ahead and move on then. Well, wait... let's say this, of all the No. 1 seeds, the one team that can ill-afford to fall into the loser's bracket is the Sun Devils. File that away for now.


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BEST WRONG PREDICTION I HAVE SEEN FROM A COACH---
According to the Tulsa World and Aaron Fitt at Baseball America, Oklahoma coach Sunny Galloway said after his team's loss to Texas last Saturday in the Big 12 tournament, "We will reload and look to next year. We have young arms and a bright future in the Oklahoma program."

Man, not only does it sound like Coach Galloway had thrown in the towel on the Sooners' post-season chances, it also sounds like he was defending his job too. No need coach, when you make the field of 64 you don't generally have to state your case about the job you've done with the program. Now, can OU do something about this added gift?


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WHILE WE'RE ON THE SUBJECT, HERE'S THE BEST "GUESS OUR SEASON IS OVER" STORY I CAN RECALL---
Back in 1992, Virginia Commonwealth was a new member of the Metro Conference and surprisingly won the Metro regular season title. But after going 0-2 in the conference tourney to finish the season 31-20, Coach Guzzo gave his team the old "Well, we got a nice trophy for winning the conference. We had a good season." With that, Coach Guzzo then had his team turn in their gear and released them for the summer.

Only problem was, when the NCAA selection show came on, the committee had included the Rams in the field of 64. So Coach Guzzo had to go and call all the players back. In fact, if I remember right, it was either rocket-gunned right fielder Jamie Brewington or 2B Kevin Jersey who was supposedly catching rays on a beach with some fellow VCU coeds when he got the call to return to campus as soon as possible to pack up for the trip to Austin.

As fate would have it, VCU was a 6th-seed (the lowest in the eight, 6-team regionals back then) and was beaten in game one by Texas 12-6. But the Rams rebounded - huge - to beat Southwestern Louisiana, Creighton, Long Beach State, then got revenge by beating Texas, forcing a deciding second championship game. The gutty Rams ran out of gas and fell in that game by a 13-2 count, sending the Longhorns to the CWS. But what a ride that '92 VCU team went on. Unreal.


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QUICK NOTE ABOUT THAT 1992 CENTRAL REGIONAL---
Check out some of the talent I saw on the Disch-Falk carpet that week:
Texas:
Tim Harkrider, Calvin Murray, Brooks Kieschnick, Stephen Larkin
Long Beach:
Jason Giambi, Gabe "The Blade" Gonzales, Chris Gomez
Creighton:
Kimera Bartee, Alan Benes, Brian O'Connor (now UVa coach)
Southwestern Louisiana:
Javi Dejesus (nation-best 18 wins)
Texas-Arlington:
Clay Gould (the late college baseball coach at UTA who succumbed to cancer after following the legendary Butch McBroom)
VCU:
Eric Sauve.


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TWO MORE THINGS ABOUT THAT 1992 CENTRAL REGIONAL---
- It was nearly 100 freakin' degrees each day.
- Had to drive north to the town of Temple, an hour-and-a-half away, to find a hotel to crash in because it was graduation weekend in Austin. Damn lack of hotels.


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HOW WE KNOW THE NCAA STILL LIKES ITS BIG-MONEY REGIONALS---
The lie that was the Oklahoma State-going-to-Arkansas Regionals assignment in 2006.
Remember that year? That was when Larry Templeton and the NCAA selection committee made OSU a No. 1 seed at Arkansas and not in Stillwater because they had to audacity to say "with the women's CWS going on in Oklahoma City, we didn't think there would be enough hotel rooms to have a regional in Stillwater."

(I can distinctly remember saying "poppycock" to Greg Amsinger while on the air when we discussed the OSU situation. I haven't used the word poppycock since that day.)

Guess what guys? Arkansas gets about 6,000 more fans through the gates than OSU does. THAT'S the real reason. See, the women's CWS is STILL in Oklahoma City. Nothing has changed there. So why did you guys give Okie State a home regional this year? What makes 2008 any different from 2006? I hate when men in suits lie like that.


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WILL WE SEE THE SPIRIT OF '04 AGAIN?
Remember the first round upsets that year? Texas Southern used the right arm of Issac Daniels to shock the college baseball world by beating Philip Humber and Rice 4-3. And Western Kentucky used Grady Hinchman to stun homestanding Ole Miss. Also, another below-.500 team pulled off a shocker when Pepperdine obliterated No. 1 seed Arizona State 15-5.

TSU may not be given a snowball's chance in hell at LSU (then again, they didn't have that vs. Rice in '04 either), but coach Candy Robinson was quick to point out that his team "had a lead on Texas until the 7th inning, so we aren't afraid of those bigger teams." Also, WKU will send out ace Matt Ridings (10-2, 3.63) in game one, so Okie State better not leave their fate to a No. 3 weekend starter.


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SPEAKING OF THE LOVABLE LOSERS---
There are a total of five sub-500 teams in the field this year.
- Eastern Michigan (25-32)
- Mount St. Mary's (21-32)
- Columbia (22-28)
- Eastern Illinois (27-28)
- Texas Southern (16-32)
These are the five teams that should be playing National Seeds Nos. 1-through-5. The selection committee tripped on this one. And by the way, isn't this the most losers we've had in the history of the NCAA baseball tournament? I'll try to get back to you on that.


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AHHHH, LAMBERT. YOU 'DA MAN!---
Check out the legendary Rosenblatt keyboardist - and personal hero of mine - in this short feature on the 100th anniversary of song "Take Me Out To The Ballgame":

http://www.cwsomaha.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=58381&phpMyAdmin=2573818938d4378ae74b2ed304c28d93


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JUST IN CASE YOU WERE EVER WONDERING WHAT IT LOOKED LIKE---
Whenever you see ESPN go to a single shot of John Clayton on camera with the Seattle skyline behind him or when Kurt Vonnegut is on that big screen TV on Bill Maher with the backdrop of downtown Boston behind him, do you ever wonder what exactly is going on there? (World record run-on sentence there).

Well, I did another one of those remotes from a studio in Los Angeles back on Sunday for CBS College Sports. I was on with Greg Amsinger who was in the New York studios. In these situations, Greg can see me, but I can't see him. I'm squashed into a tiny room with a huge camera and sitting in a chair staring at the piece of paper just below the camera eye that says, "Look here." Behind me, see that big, giant green screen? It's there so that the studio peeps can put up an image of the L.A. skyline so it looks like I'm sitting on top of a building with downtown Smogland behind me.

EricShow-greenscreen.jpg
(Getting fitted with an ear piece so I can hear Greg Amsinger and the show producer while on camera)

And here's what the finished product looks like.

MeOnRemote2.jpg
(Yes I know, I could use a tanning bed)


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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO...---
Rick Lawes?
This week is the one week of the season I always made sure to run to my nearest magazine stand as early as I could on a Wednesday, buy the Baseball Weekly and rip through this guys regional capsules leading up to Friday's first games.

BBW-RickLawes.jpg
(Looking more like a high school guidance counselor, Rick Lawes, the former national voice of college baseball)

Back in the pre-internet days, Lawes was THE national voice of college baseball. Dare I say, the ONLY voice of college baseball. I couldn't find any coverage of our beloved sport anywhere else. In 1997, he must've flown the coop, 'coz that was the year that Dana Heiss Grodin took over and continued his work. Then again, unfortunately for Dana and the rest of us, Baseball Weekly also started cutting their coverage of college baseball to less and less space. From two pages, to one, to 3/4s page, to just the Top 25 coaches poll, to - ghastly enough - nothing.

BBW-DanaHeissGrodin.jpg
(Dana Heiss Grodin, back before Baseball Weekly dropped our beloved sport. The idiots.)

Baseball Weekly eventually became "Sports Weekly" and stopped college baseball coverage altogether, picking up, amongst other things, Nascar. Freakin' Nascar for chrissakes! Blasphemy.

So getting back to the top, if anyone has any info on the whereabouts of Mr. Lawes, let us know... And ask him why the hell he abandoned our sport to begin with?


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A CLOSING NOTE---
Wanna know my goal in life? One of these days I'm hoping to become the answer to the "18 across" clue in the New York Times Friday Crossword puzzle. The clue would be, "Loser bald guy who made college baseball his addiction in life." That would satiate my existence.

And finally...

"10 down. Clue: Three letter acronym for 'worthless'?"
Answer: RPI.

Christmas Day starts in 10 hours. Bitchin'.

G'night.

May 27, 2008

Monday Stuff - The Knee-Jerk Reaction To The Field Of 64 Edition

Okay stitch-heads, the field is set for the 64 teams to play in the NCAA tournament beginning this Friday. You ready? Did you watch the announcement show with a keen eye like I did? Are you happy with the results? Tired of my incessant questioning?

Get this: Arkansas made it. Oregon State didn't. Miami's No. 1. UC Davis is a No. 4. Clemson didn't make it. St. John's did. The RPI was used. The RPI wasn't leaned upon. Go figure.

DaveVanHorn.jpg
(Dave Van Horn and his Bono-like specs will be playing for another weekend this season after all)

So enough of this babble, here's what struck me about the tournament field after it was announced this morning...

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KNEE-JERK REACTIONS---

- The neglected ones.
Here are the teams that didn't get into the Big Dance. Some of which have an argument, most don't. Either way, no dice.
* Oregon State.
Sure 28-24 isn't great. But they're better than the SEC champ Georgia and are the only team to beat Arizona State twice in Tempe this season. Shameful. Blame losses to Utah Valley State, Gonzaga, Portland and getting swept at USC hurt the most.
* Clemson.
It just doesn't seem right to have Jack Leggett's team out of the tourney. And by the way, at No. 26, this is the highest-rated RPI team not in the field. Again, no out of conference wins.
* Missouri State.
See, the MSU basketball team isn't the ONLY Bear team that gets the shaft from the NCAA selection committee. (In case you don't recall, the Bears basketball team was RPI No. 21 in 2006 and didn't get an at-large bid.)
* Baylor.
Turns out that sweep at Mississippi State wasn't so impressive after all. Losing two to ORU and going 11-16 in Big 12 play... tsk, tsk.
* College of Charleston.
I usually give credit to the mid-majors but going just 1-6 vs. Clemson, Coastal and South Carolina was an indication they didn't belong.
* Washington State.
The second highest RPI team not invited to the tournament, the Coogs finished at No. 43 but in last place in the Pac 10. Even if that IS the top conference in the country, still not nearly enough.


- Big West actually got some respect.
UC Davis got an at-large bid.
This was the 6th-place team in the Big West. Yes, 6th! But at 34-22 overall and some key wins speckled throughout, they deserve this one people. But you have to think that 3rd-place UC-Santa Barbara probably has a beef to get in as well. But it was the Ags that won two of three at UCSB back in April.

UCD-RexPeters.jpg
(Who would've thought that back in early April that UC Davis head coach Rex Peters would be shaking the hand of an NCAA snubbed-coach after they had beaten Bob Brontsema's UC Santa Barbara Gauchos in two of three games)


- Mid-major fans of the world unite!
* Coastal Carolina gets a No. 1 seed and a regional host spot.
I feel better about life because of it.
* Michigan gets home regional.
Northern baseball has hope. Now if only Ohio State would follow and become a year-to-year power again.
* USD and Pepperdine both are 2-seeds
I think both have legit shots at taking down Jeckyl and Hyde teams in Stanford and Long Beach State.


- You could almost argue that the No. 2 seeded-teams have the better pitching staffs.
Check out the arms on this list of 2-seeds:
* Missouri.
There is still life beyond Aaron Crow that needs to reach its peak this week.
* UC Irvine.
Gorgon, Bilbona, Stowell are all under 3.10ERA. Reliever Eric Pettis has 15 saves.
* Michigan.
All the pitchers from last year's Nashville Regional are all back. Putnam and Fetter are great one-two punch.
* UCLA.
If wunderkind No. 3 starter Charles Brewer can step up, they can beat anybody.
* Wichita State.
Musgrave, Shafer and Capra all have ERAs below 2.74. Like their chances.
* Texas.
C'mon, it's Augie. He always has arms. Will they give Rice fits? Keep in mind that they've already beaten the Owls this year.
* San Diego.
Matusz and Romanski - possibly the best one-two combo when they're on their game - could carry this team all the way to week two in Omaha.
* Vanderbilt.
Cotham, Minor and Christiani are a better threesome than ASU can throw out there. So there you go.


- Toughest regional:
Miami.
Ole Miss and Missouri both have arms capable of rising to the challenge and pulling out some road Ws. But it would've made much more sense for well-armed Bethune-Cookman to be sent to No. 8 national seed Georgia in trade for Lipscomb or to No. 7 national seed LSU in trade for Texas Southern. The No. 1 national seed should've received an easier No. 4.


- Easiest regional:
LSU.
Speaking of the BR Regional, TSU is the worst team in the tournament and No. 2 seed Southern Miss (No. 36 in RPI) is not even as good as their RPI thinks it is. UNO was a bubble team at best, but does have potential, going 6-2 in games against Alabama, LSU and Tulane.


- Coach Fox's thoughts on the Cary Regional.
Thanks to the good Doctor of college baseball, Dr. Kenny Cook, North Carolina head coach Mike Fox admitted at his coach's show tonight that the Cary Regional field wasn't as tough as he thought he might get and made the statement, "Put it this way, you never assume things are going to be easy in the post-season, but if we lose, we'll only have ourselves to blame."


- Hey, whaddya' know, the West has been spread out a bit.
For the first time since the "new" format took shape in 1999, the West will have teams represented in all four quadrants of the NCAA field. And believe it or not, Arizona State's regional has zero other West schools in it (must be the Pat Murphy effect there since he's on the committee).

Although, UC Irvine is the only Westerner in the upper right quadrant, playing as the No. 2 seed at Nebraska and Arizona is the only Westerner in the upper left quadrant, playing as the No. 1 seed in the Ann Arbor Regional. But there are six Western teams on the left side of the bracket and six teams on the right side of the bracket. Sure beats last year's bracket that saw all 12 Western teams on the left side.

Hooray for progress!


- And speaking of travel...
Looks like the SEC will indeed have to use those AAA Tripticks after all. Check this out:
* Vanderbilt will head to the desert and play at No. 3 national seed Arizona State.
* Arkansas, who shouldn't be a part of this whole process, will play at Stanford.
* Kentucky, who played NOBODY in the pre-conference, will play at Michigan.
* Ole Miss will play their past post-season nemesis Miami in Coral Gables.


- But I DID notice this, part I.
Back in February when I saw Arizona State destroy Vanderbilt by a rather-hideous 18-6 mark, Pat Murphy said after the game, "I hate playing against Tim Corbin. He's one of my best friends in the coaching profession and I hate competing against him. And I'll tell you this much, his team will be in Omaha at the end. No doubt about it, they'll be there and I hope we can be there too."

Well coach, it will be at your expense now if the Commodores do make it there. As stated above, Murph is on the selection committee, so I wonder how much influence he tried to levy against having Corbin and the 'Dores placed out in Tempe this weekend? Hmmm, ponderous.


- But I DID notice this, part II.
When I went to the Miami-Florida State series in Tallahassee back in April, I was in the airport with Hurricane center fielder Blake Tekotte's parents (the Tekotte's live in Columbia, Missouri) and I asked them if they were hoping Blake would've gone to nearby Missouri instead of all the way down to Miami for school. They said, with a long pause in there, they just want Blake to be happy. But you could tell they wouldn't have minded him playing for the hometown Tigers.

Interestingly, the committee saw fit to send Mizzou to Coral Gables this weekend as the No. 2 seed. And wouldn't you know Ms. Tekotte told me in the airport that day, "We know almost all those boys on the Missouri team. Blake played against a lot of them in high school and in summer ball, so we're good friends with a lot of their parents." That should make for an interesting flight from St. Louis to Miami and back this weekend, don'tcha think?

Miami-BlakeTekotte.jpg
(Miami leadoff man Blake Tekotte will see a lot of familiar faces when his mates from his home state of Missouri invade Coral Gables for the Regionals)


- As for the ESPN Announcement Show...
Kyle Peterson was his usual smooth, informative self. I like his moxie and even moreso, his knowledge of the college game. Again, he's quite possibly the best part of ESPN's college baseball coverage. And Will Kimmey looked a little more comfortable than I've seen him in the past, thought still a tad stiff. And it's not totally his fault either, due in part to ESPN's "suits only" requirement, 'coz I know Will has more personality than he is showing here.

I do wonder what they have done with John Manuel the last two years? The Baseball America guru used to be the commentator for the announcement show for three or four years, up until last year, when Will Kimmey took the gig. Both are knowledgeable, but I guess they just like Kimmey more. I don't know, what do you guys think? Drop me a line.


- Couple of interesting quotes from Selection Committee chairman Larry Templeton, the Mississippi State Athletic Director, during the media teleconference that took place 30 minutes after the ESPN announcement show ended:

* "Oklahoma got into the field on the strength of their 16 non-conference games against the Top 100 in the RPI - which they went 11-5 against."
* "ESPN's guys read more into the strength of the Coral Gables Regional field. There are plenty of good, balanced regionals out there and we're comfortable with the field's balance."
* "We struggled long and hard on Oregon State because they were the two-time national champions. And if they weren't the two-time champs, we might not have struggled so much with the decision. But at the end of the night, those 24 losses and who they were against were what worked against them."
* "The SEC's overall strength of schedules did improve from last year. And since all those teams were all bunched together, it was hard to separate the nine teams from each other."
* "I actually thought LSU should've gotten a higher seed than No. 7. But there are 10 members on this committee and they all voted to have them down at No. 7."
* "It wasn't just one certain thing that made Arkansas get a bid. Their RPI was in the middle of the pack in the SEC and they also were one rainout away from being the 7th-place team in the conference and I think the committee understood that and took it into consideration."


- Is it just me or am I hearing more and more rumblings that Oregon State's Pat Casey is looking to move on from Corvallis? Maybe today's snub was too much for him to take? But being an Oregon native and loving Corvallis as I heard he does, it would be a surprise to me if he does fly the coop. But first, I gotta quit hearing these rumblings.


- Okay, there is actually more to write, but I'm getting long-winded here. Tell you what, I'll go ahead and jot down some more notes during the week and begin to also break down the regional field a little bit more for a Wednesday or Thursday edition.

Don't worry, it'll be worth it. I'm pretty sure.

G'night.

May 26, 2008

Sunday Summations- The Home Sweet Home Regional Edition

"Just when things went right
doesn't mean they're always wrong
just take this song and you'll never feel left all alone
just one more night and i'm coming off this long and winding road."
- Motley Crue, "Home Sweet Home"

(Sorry, I don't usually quote sappy heavy metal ballads. I'll do better from now on)

NCStateStadium.jpg
(Surprise! North Carolina State was awarded a home regional and will play in their fairly new revamped confines this weekend in the NCAA tournament)

When the post-season comes around, this is the way teams across the country feel about being rewarded for playing well and having a good season. They love playing at home. And until college baseball becomes like college basketball and can make things more fair by playing neutral site regionals, I guess we're stuck with these lucky SOBs playing at home this coming weekend:

ACC:
- Miami
- Florida State
- North Carolina
- North Carolina State

Big 12:
- Nebraska
- Oklahoma State
- Texas A&M

Big West:
- Cal State Fullerton
- Long Beach State

Pac 10:
- Arizona State
- Stanford

SEC:
- Georgia
- LSU

Others:
- Coactal Carolina
- Michigan
- Rice

Those are your 16 regional sites for the 2008 NCAA tournament. Love 'em or leave 'em.


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BEFORE THE 64-TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT IS MADE IN THE MORNING---
A couple things to keep in mind before they announce the tournament field tomorrow:

1- The Selection Committee
Here are the guys deciding our happiness or anger following tomorrow's announcement:
John Anderson, Minnesota coach
Michael Cross, Princeton AD
John D'Argenio, Siena AD
Dave Heeke, Central Michigan AD
Pat Murphy, Arizona State coach
Brian Quinn, Cal State Fullerton AD
Bobby Staub, Louisiana-Monroe AD
Larry Templeton, Mississippi State AD
Lynn Thompson, Bethune-Cookman AD
Tim Weiser, Big 12 commissioner

Three things immediately come to mind:
- There are only two head coaches on the committee and both of those are long-time antagonists to the NCAA selection committee and their past ways and means. Will probably bode well for the Northern and Western teams. 'Course that's just my gut reaction.

- No ACC representation

- Mostly Northern locales represented here. Think they'll give better treatment to the mid-majors than those old Southern and SEC-heavy committees used to? We'll soon find out.

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2- North Carolina State was awarded a regional before Georgia Tech was.
Tech won the only head-to-head match between the two (10-9), has a (slightly) better RPI and for the love of Pete at LEAST tried to play a decent team over a weekend by beating Coastal Carolina two games to one. For the record, NC State lost to CCU. The Wolfpack's only decent non-conference game in pre-ACC play was a 3-1 loss to Louisville. Weak. Very weak.

And with UNC already hosting a regional in the Research Triangle area, it seemed more logical for Tech to serve as a regional host.

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3- Only two SEC teams playing at home.
I think this is the one time where the NCAA selection committee finally sees a chance to make the SEC teams do the majority of the traveling. And why not? They're the programs that have all the money in college baseball. Since they've been having the luxury of staying at home most of these years, it's their turn.

And I don't mean just playing at N.C. State or at Coastal. I'm talking do like they've done to Western and Northern teams for years. Send an SEC team to Michigan. Send one to Long Beach. Send one to Stanford. Get them playing teams out of their region.

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4- No. 2 seeds hosting?
Mr. Templeton wouldn't go so far as to say that there would be a No. 2 seed hosting a regional, but it looks like Michigan and maybe even Stanford may end up as 2-seeds.

In 1999, there were five two-seeds hosting. In 2000, there were four. Fast-froward to last year and there were no 2-seeds hosting. So if that holds true, maybe the 16 host sites are going to be No. 1 seeds after all.

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5- I hope the committee uses common sense more than the RPI
I know, I know, I crab about the RPI an awful lot. But stitch-heads, it's only because I care and because it sucks. But I can't imagine why it is that teams that have played mostly nobodies, nearly all at home, in the pre-conference are the ones that have been handsomely rewarded. You know who you are out there.

Also, are Georgia Tech and North Carolina State really Top 10 teams? I don't see it. They're both living huge off of their games with the ACC heavy monsters at the top of the polls.

There are so many whacked RPI rankings out there it's not even funny.


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PUTTING THE BOOB IN BOOB-TUBE---
Before CBS Sports College Sports Tonight went on hiatus for the summer (which is horribly ill-timed for stitched-ball freaks like you and I), they had me on one last time to digest the home regional announcements, the national seeds and day-before bubble teams.

OnWithAmsinger.jpg
(My ugly mug on with Greg Amsinger on the College Sports Tonight show. Greg is a real cool dude and, believe it or not, he actually knows a good bit about college baseball and is very enthusiastic about our beloved sport. He's always fun to work with. On another note, I could use a tanning booth.)

So with assurances that I'm going to be wrong on a count or two or three, here's who I listed as my expected national seeds:

- Miami
- North Carolina
- Florida State
- Arizona State
- Rice
- LSU
- Nebraska
- Cal State Fullerton

I realize the Titans are might not be a top five RPI team, but they deserve a No. 1 seed and host site for playing another great schedule and being the co-Big West champions.

They asked me who I was most-suprised about receiving a home regional and of course, I mentioned the N.C. State thing. I wasn't sure that the Research Triangle would be able to score two regionals, much less support them. But Templeton pointed out that "it didn't come down to two ACC teams. The committee felt that their overall record, finish in the conference and their financial bid was enough to put them over the edge to get the home bid over Georgia Tech." So there you go.

Finally, I was asked about a couple of bubble teams and their chances at getting into the NCAA tournament.
1- Alabama.
I said that they would be OUT in my book. Take away a win over Dallas Baptist and they haven't beaten anyone worth a flip in weekend non-conference games. They haven't played anyone worth a damn either.
2- Arkansas.
The Hogs SURE don't deserve a bid. Ninth place finish in the conference? That's bad enough, but a 1-6 record against teams like Texas A&M, Nebraska, Oral Roberts and Arizona State means they don't deserve a bid. But I DID make sure to give the Razorbacks credit for at least trying to play good teams outside the SEC. Wish their mates would follow suit.
3- New Orleans.
Yes, they deserve a bid. No doubt about it. The Privateers went 2-0 at Alabama. 'Nuff said.
4- Oregon State.
I said they should be in. Not just because they are defending national champs. But just too many quality wins (beat SEC champ Georgia twice, won twice at Arizona State, etc.). And plus there is always the fact that they get waaaaay underrated in the RPI. That's why they've won two national titles despite having RPIs in the 20s and 30s going into the post-season.
5- Tulane.
I've struggled with them. But in the end, at least they tried to play good teams, with wins over TCU and UC Irvine. They also got a pair of wins vs. Southern Miss and a sweep at East Carolina. They're in. to hell with their No. 48 RPI.


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SOME PEOPLE STILL DON'T GET IT---
During the teleconference with NCAA selection committee chairman Larry Templeton, Michigan's selection as a host site was questioned by one of the members of the national media (the name will remain anonymous to protect the guilty). This was by the same writer that said "Michigan had no business winning the regional at Vanderbilt." My God, people don't seem to want to believe that good baseball is played by teams in the North.

Just to remind you, but yes, Michigan is that team that went to Vanderbilt last June and eliminated David Price, Pedro Alvarez, Ryan Flaherty and company. Ummm, they're good. In fact, even though they can't play the greatest schedule because of their location, they still went to places like Arizona, North Carolina and South Carolina, looking for good teams to play. You can't say that about a lot of the top teams out there.

At least they're not scared.

If you want to hear Mr. Templeton's press conference and the questioning of Michigan's worthiness to be a post-season host (it's at the end), just dial this number for a replay of it. But do it quick because it goes away after 24 hours:

402.220.1017

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It's about nine hours away from announcement time. I should get my 40 winks. Hope you're happy with the results.

G'night

May 25, 2008

Saturday Statements - It was dogpile Saturday

Lots of celebrating out there in stitched-ball land. Of course, that also means lots of hearbreak too. But we're going to accentuate the positive here instead.

Texas Southern got the dogpile groove started earlier this week with it's improbable run through the SWAC tournament. This means the Tigers will be taking their dog and pony show to the Big Dance stage this coming week. More power to 'em.

NCAA-TxSouthern.jpg

Coach Candy Robinson said he realized his team was a "pretty good ball club" after they gave Texas a good run of it back during a 7-4 loss in early April. It was still a rough ride for TSU most of the season, as the 16-32 record indicates. But now, the maroons have a six-game win streak going and visions of another first round upset, like the one they pulled vs. No. 6 Rice back in 2004. I can't wait to find out what happens.

Now to the rest of the Saturday happenings.

THREE UP AND THREE DOWN---

Let's start with a FOURTEEN UP, instead of the usual measly THREE.

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MORE TUX FITTINGS FOR THE BIG DANCE---
Starting at the top of Jeremy Mills' website:

- Stony Brook (34-24).
The Seawolves beat the top-seed Binghamton 6-0 to earn their second AmEast title in five years. This is also their second 30-win season in a row. Expect coach Matt Senk to get more big-time offers in the off-season. Ironically, the Wolves went 6-0 vs. the Bearcats this season. Mike Errigo threw a complete-game five-hitter in today's win.

NCAA-StonyBrook.jpg
(The rather fluid America East always seems to give us a new champion. But this marks the Seawolves' second title team in five years)

- Charlotte (43-14)
beat Xavier 4-3 in 10 innings.
For the second year in a row the 49ers make the NCAAs as the A-10 tournament champs. They shared the regular season A-10 title with the Musketeers, but ended up getting today's win with the help of an XU error in the 11th.

NCAA-Charlotte.jpg
(Charlotte had to split the regular season title, but this trophy won't have to be shared)

- Michigan (45-12)
beat Purdue 3-2.
The Wolverines should get thank you cards from the last five teams that get into the NCAA tournament for this one. Although, to be honest, I think Purdue could've made a good showing in the Big Dance, just like Minnesota and Ohio State did last year. But with this sweep of the field, UMich has locked up a home regional, and will then hope to take the traveling show another step further this post-season.

NCAA-UMich.jpg
(Don't you figure commissioner Jim Delaney and the suits would've liked to have seen Purdue pull the upset so the Big 10 could get two teams into the Big Dance?)

- Louisville (41-19)
beat Cincinatti 6-3.
Despite this being their first-ever Big East tourney title, this will be the 'Ville's second straight visit to the NCAA tournament after coming in as the No. 4 seed in the Big East tournament. This may be a team nobody wants to play as the Big Red are 25-6 since mid-March. Five frosh dot the starting lineup, meaning it could be a tough road for Coach McDonnell to bring the Cards back to Omaha.

NCAA-L'ville.jpg
(The Ville punches its ticket. As a No. 4 seed in the Big East, this was the Cards' only chance at extending their season, but came through huge. Is another run to Omaha in the cards? They've got some moxie to them, so don't bet against it.)

- Coastal Carolina (47-12)
Beat Liberty 9-2.
For the ninth time and second straight year the Chanticleers win the Big South tourney and, with an RPI at No. 7, are in good shape to host a regional (or at least gain a No. 1 seed on the road). Tyler Bortnick earned the tourney MVP going 9-for-18 with eight RBI and two dongs on the week.

NCAA-Coastal.jpg
(Coastal hopes to be showcasing another trophy with a home regional. To legitimize this program, seems like the Chanticleers need to prove they can make it to at least the Super Regional round.)

- James Madison (38-17)
beat Towson 6-1.
I'm glad to see the Dukes make the NCAAs. I know their RPI is way down in the 65-67 range, but again, this is one of those teams that goes on the road for most of the early part of the season and has an ugly start. Today, Kurt Houck pitched a complete-game four-hitter to give JMU its first title in 23 years.

NCAA-JaMadison.jpg
(Strange. The year after Kellen Kulbacki leaves for pro ball, the Dukes make it to the NCAAs. Strong work.)

- Rider (29-26)
split with Siena, but won the MAAC title with game two's 12-5 rout.
The Broncos really blew game one, a 9-8 10-inning loss that saw them blow leads in both the 9th and 10th innings. But game two was much better, as they scored nine runs in the 5th-6th-and-7th innings combined. From 1984 to 1996, the Broncos competed in nine NCAA tournaments. This will be their first trip back since then.

(Sorry, I don't have a picture for the Broncos. Just imagine a team in red surrounding a trophy with index fingers in the air.)

- Eastern Michigan (25-32)
beat Kent State 12-4 at KSU.
The Hurons, er... sorry, I mean, the Eagles become yet another team that will go into the NCAA tournament with a losing record. My guess? Yep, they're headed eight miles away to play in the regionals in Ann Arbor. EMU scored early and often, blasting out 17 hits and getting the help of five Flashes errors to cruise to the win.

NCAA-EMich.jpg
(Right now EMU is channeling the spirit of Ron Oestrike and hoping it can guide the team to its first trip to Omaha since 1976. A stretch, yes I know. But we're talking the Huron-power of Ron Oestrike here people.)

- Oral Roberts (46-12)
beat Southern Utah 9-0.
This was as exciting as a funeral procession. Which is just what all those bubble teams were hoping for. With the win, the Eagles win their 11th straight conference tournament which is the third longest in NCAA baseball history. Jerry Sullivan tossed a complete game five-hitter with 12 Ks and Brian Van Kirk was named the tourney MVP.

ORU-BrianVanKirk.jpg
(Talk about teams that haven't been to Omaha since the 70s, how cool would it be to see Brian Van Kirk and the boys pull up in a bus in front of Rosenblatt?)

- Wichita State (44-15).
beat Missouri State 12-10.
The Shocker bats never quit hammering this week at Eck Stadium. WSU scores 44 runs in three games, taking down the Bears twice and Southern Illinois once. But give the Bears a fair shot at making the NCAA field, with a 40-17 mark and an RPI in the mid-50s as of last week. At least they should make it. Although close losses to Arkansas and Oklahoma State may come back to haunt them.

NCAA-Wichita.jpg
(The Shockers don't get too geeked about winning a conference tournament. Gene Stephenson's charges usually have bigger fish to fry. Let's just hope there's no UC Irvine in their draw this year.)

- TCU (43-17)
Beat New Mexico 15-2
For the second day in a row, the Frogs prove why they are the best team in the Mountain West by routing the Lobos. Granted, they lost to UNM on Thursday, marking their first MWC tourney loss This marks the third straight MWC tournament title for the Purple Pitcher Eaters. OF Clint Arnold has simply been a man among boys, going 6-for-6 with 5RBI in today's tilt.

NCAA-TCU.jpg
(While we're on the subject of anti-celebrations, this is about as animated as it got after the Horned Frogs won the Mountain West title. TCU is a team dead-set on bigger celebrations. Either that, or they're more reserved than a mortuary caretaker.)

- Mount St. Mary's (21-32)
beat top-seed Monmouth twice, 8-3 and 14-2.
The Mount scores four straight wins in a 26-hour period to advance to its first-ever NCAA tournament. The 4th-seeded Mountaineers went on elimination watch after dropping the first game of the tournament to Monmouth on Thursday. Beginning at 4:15 yesterday, the Mount beat Wagner (5-1), Central Connecticut (6-2) and then the two games today. Unreal.

NCAA-TheMount.jpg
(After their whirlwind four-game spree, I'm surprised the Mountaineers had enough energy left to have a mid-field celebration like this.)

- Eastern Illinois (27-28).
Beat Southeast Missouri 7-4.
For the first time in the new millenium, Eastern will be going to the NCAA tournament. Jordan Tokarz had a trio of doubles and seven RBI on the day. Coach Jim Schmitz would say about his teams' four-day sweep of the field, "It's amazing how well we played. There were no fluke wins." EIU became the lowest seeded team (4th seed) since Murray State in 2003 to win the OVC.

NCAA-E.Ill.jpg
(No Jessica Simpson hex for Tony Romo U. this weekend as they blitzed through the Ohio Valley field and then did the mid-field flying circus act. To which I say, beauty.)

- Sam Houston State (36-23)
Pasted Lamar 15-7 to win the SLC for the second straight year. Last year, the Bearkats made it to the regional finals before losing at Ole Miss, so they've got a tough act to follow this season. Dallas Gallant, who picked up the opening round win over Northwestern State, earned his second win of the week with two innings of relief work.

NCAA-SamHous.jpg
(Mark Johnson keeps working his magic in Huntsville as the Bearkats earn their second trip to the NCAAs in two tries under the legendary skipper.)


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THREE DOWN---
1- Cal.
Was shut out by UCLA for the second straight day, 7-0.
The Bears are a lock for the NCAA tournament, but now have lost four straight games and 5-9 since April 22nd. The two losses to the up-and-coming Bruins has come by a combined 15-0 mark. The Bears, who share the same fight song with UCLA, have managed just eight hits so far in this series.

2- Purdue.
Lost the Big 10 championship title to Michigan.
The Boilers finish at 32-26 and just outside of the NCAA bubble, costing the Big 10 its only chance at having a second team in the field of 64. And personally, I thought PU was a few close games away from making it. Look, they went down to Waco in the first weekend of the season - having almost zero outside practices - and lost three straight 1-run games to Baylor. They also lost a pair of one-run white-knucklers at Kentucky. Oh well, maybe next year they'll actually pull out a W or two in those higher-profile games.

3- North Carolina.
For pitching to Buster Posey in the 9th inning with 1st base open, two men on and a two-run lead.
This is all self-explanatory, isn't it? It should be, 'coz sure enough Posey knocked in the two tying runs with a pinch-hit single. FSU ended up winning the game 9-6 in the end, which could cost UNC the overall No. 1 national seed.


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More champions will be crowned tomorrow. I've gotta catch some winks now.

G'night.

May 24, 2008

Friday First Takes - The Apocalyptic "Dogs and Cats Sleeping Together" Edition

"Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling. Forty years of darkness. The dead rising from the grave. Human sacrifice. Dogs and cats sleeping together!... Mass hysteria."

AlGoreInconvenientTruth.jpg

I don't remember if it was Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth or Bill Murray in Ghostbusters who said the above quote, but all I know is that I think we're seeing these End Of Days type of signs right now my fellow stitch-heads. Because we actually saw rain here in Southern California in the month of May. Yes, rain. Not an earthquake. Not a mudslide. Not that usual light mist stuff either. Freaking rain.

Here, take a look for yourself...

LBeachRainDelay.jpg
(This sign of the apocalypse is brought to you by Southern California rain)

In the 6th inning of tonight's game between Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State down at Blair Field, the skies opened and the game was in a major league rain delay. I can't even remember if I've ever seen rain in the month of May here in Smogland. Much less a gullywasher. And believe it or not, in my 10 years of living here, this may have been only the 4th or 5th time I've ever heard thunder here in SoCal.

Anyway, at the time of the rain delay, the Titans had put on a clinic of efficiency, racing out to a 4-0 lead with the help of good solid baseball and some uncharacteristic Dirtbag miscues. (Yikes, two errors by their middle infielders.)

A couple hours later, the game finally picked back up and, despite giving up a run, the Titans continued their clampdown, going on to a 4-1 win to beat their rivals in one of the best rivalries in all of college baseball.


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WHAT I SAW AT BLAIR FIELD TONIGHT---
Cal State Fullerton - 000 202 000 - 4 7 0
Long Beach State - 000 001 000 - 1 5 2
WP- Jeff Kaplan (11-1)
LP- Andrew Liebel (8-3)
Sv- Adam Jorgenson (10)

Fullerton got a pair of RBI doubles from strapping slugger Jared Clark in the 4th and 6th innings each and some of their patented error-free defense to put the game away for the Titans.

CSUF-JaredClark.jpg
(No, Jared Clark isn't imitating the Thompson Twins video for "Love On Your Side", he's actually signaling time out after another RBI double)

With the win, the Titans secure at least a tie for the Big West title, but will still need a win in one of the last two games against LB to get the automatic bid. Either way, the 7th-ranked Titans look pretty solid to get a home regional and a likely national seed as well.

Pretty impressed with super-Frosh SS Christian Colon as well. He only went a modest 1-for-2 in the game, but he played some lock-down D and also laid down a pair of textbook sac bunts to advance Josh Fellhauer, typifying the Titan mentality when it comes to station-to-station baseball. Man, he was just born to skip that 10th round selection by the Padres. Really, he was.

CSUF-Colon.jpg
(I found Christian Colon to be your prototypical Titan player)

Now on to some national type stuff...


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THREE UP---
1- New Orleans.
Beat Troy 7-6 (10inns) and South Alabama 14-4 (7inns).
After finishing the regular season on a 5-game skein, the Privateers put together a pair of solid wins today to right the pirate ship. Considering UNO's RPI went from 29 down to 43 last week, any Ws they can pick up will help their profile. This also marks the first 40-win season for the Privateers since 1996. The first game was actually a continuation of a Friday game that got stopped by rain in the 8th inning. UNO will now have to beat homestanding UL-Lafayette twice Saturday to make the Sunday title game.

2- Virginia.
Beat Florida State 5-3 for its second straight win over a Top 5 team.
Coupled with North Carolina's win over Wake tonight, the Cavs now find themselves in the title game for the ACC championship on the strength of this win tonight. Great pitching by starter Jacob Thompson (earned his school-best 27th win), ACC ERA-leader Matt Packer and ACC saves-leader Michael Schwimer. Not only that, but most importantly, the Wahoos finally - finally - have some quality wins to hang their hats on. Don't think it will be enough to pull a home regional, but at 38-19, they're at least gaining some confidence.

3- North Carolina pitching.
Beat Wake Forest, 2-0 to improve to 1-1 in the ACC tournament going into tomorrow's game with Florida State.
THIS is the reason I like UNC more than any other ACC team near the top of the RPI: lock-down pitching. The nations' best ERA team held Wake to two hits on the day and saw Matt Harvey, Rob Wooten and Brain Moran combine for 15Ks on the night. Tim Fedroff hit his 12th home run of the season to supply all the offense the Heels needed.

(Honorable Mention - Tim Murphy, UCLA.
The Bruin Friday ace struck out 10 and gave up just five hits to improve to a misleading 5-6 on the season as the Bruins beat Cal 8-0. With the win, go ahead and etch the Bruins into an NCAA tournament spot as they improve to 30-24 and 12-10 in the Pac 10. They're in.)

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THREE DOWN---
1- Canisius.
Was eliminated by Siena, 5-2.
The Griffins, clearly the best team in the MAAC all season long and sporting an RPI at No. 75, find themselves falling for the second time this week, ending their season at 41-13. Yes, because the MAAC insists on playing post-season tournaments, the best team from the conference will be sitting at home for the NCAAs. Siena starter Will Hassett allowed the best-hitting team in the conference to get just six hits and two runs. "That was probably the game of my life." Hassett said. With that, it's now the worst day of the Griffins' season.

2- Texas-San Antonio.
Lost for the second time in three days to Texas A&M-C.C., 12-10.
Is a 39-19 record and wins over Texas, Houston, Baylor and College of Charleston enough to get an at-large bid? How about an RPI in the low-60s? Well, that's what the Roadrunners are faced with as they go out in the always-competitve Southland tourney. UTSA finished the month of May with a 6-7 record, including four losses to the Islanders. Ouch.

3- LSU.
What? The Tigers couldn't pull out a win today? Uh-oh.


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THE BUBBLE BUSTER---

* UNC-Wilmington.
Lost 14-9 to George Mason.
Well, there goes another at-large spot into the abyss, because the Seahawks were going to get into the Big Dance if they had won the CAA or not. But now all the bubble teams are giving Coach Scalf's team the stink eye for not making the CAA a one-bid league. The Seahawks have made their bullpen a source of pride this year, but normal 'penner Larry Salefsky got the start and got roughed up for eight hits and five runs in 5.2 innings. The rest of the staff wasn't much better as the Patriots ripped 'em for 12 hits, including a combined three home runs and 10 RBI by Justin Bour and Scott Kreiger.


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BUBBLE HELPERS---
Oral Roberts - 15
Western Illinois - 9 (10inns)
Well, the Eagles made things interesting - and the bubble teams nervous. But with a 10th-inning onslaught ORU goes to 2-0 in the tournament that they should sweep through. Put the emphasis on the word "should."

Oklahoma State - 14
Baylor - 3
This win by OSU helps all the other bubble teams, knocking down this hot Bears team in run-rule fashion after seven innings. BU is now 32-25 after last night's win over Top 10 Nebraska, but the Pokes brought them back down to Earth after ace starter Andrew Oliver struck out 11 BU batters in 6.1 innings of work and Rebel Ridling earned six RBI on a pair of home runs.

Wichita State - 20
Missouri State - 3
The Shockers go into Saturday unbeaten in MVC tourney play and will await the winner of the MSU-Southern Illinois game Saturday afternoon. Tyler Weber had a pair of bombs, including a confidence-crushing grand slam as part of a 6RBI day.


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REMEMBER THE BIG EAST LAST YEAR?---
Saturday's title game matchup:
Cincinnati (39-19) vs. Louisville (40-19).

So what do we do with two of the hottest teams in the country NOT named the Bayou Bengals? Because right now Cincinnati and Louisville are both in the 40-win range and playing their best baseball of the season. One will get the auto bid after Saturday's game, of course. But what about the losing team? Do they deserve a bid? Do they deserve consideration?

My answer is yes, they deserve consideration. Hell, more than likely Cincy or L'ville would deserve a bid too. For three reasons: 1- Remember how good the Big East did in last year's post-season? 2- According to LSU coach Paul Maineiri in my interview with him back in January, "The Big East is full of good baseball teams and good coaches, with terrible weather and terrible facilities." And 3- We all know the RPI is horrible, so their rankings of 95 and 59 respectively is, most assuredly, misleading.

Plus, teams that travel and play road games in the early part of the season get more of the benefit of the doubt in my book.


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BESIDES NEW ORLEANS, WHO WERE THE OTHER IMPRESSIVE TWO-WINS-IN-A-DAY TEAMS FROM FRIDAY?---
- TCU.
Beat Utah 6-3 and New Mexico 9-2.
The Frogs won a pair of games in 90-degree heat today. And as Todd Christensen pointed out, who's idea was it for the Frogs to wear their black jerseys during the scorching afternoon game?

- Xavier.
Beat Duquesne 9-5 and Rhode Island 3-0.
The Musketeers now advance from the loser's bracket to face off with Charlotte on Saturday, but will have to beat the 49ers twice to advance to the Big Dance. Still, this is XU's first tournament final appearance since joining the A-10 conference.

- Indiana.
Beat Illinois 14-7 and Penn State 11-8.
More on this below, but the 6th seeded Hoosiers are finally starting to show some life in Big 10 play. Will have to beat Michigan twice, which is too tall an order, of course, but IU can take solace that they have now won 31 games on the season.

- Liberty.
Routed Radford 11-2 and Wintrop 15-3.
With the two black eyes the Flames issued today, they advance to their third straight Big South tournament finale. Hopefully this will be one of those third-time's-a-charm kind of things, but will have to beat top-seed (and 13th ranked) Coastal Carolina twice tomorrow.

- Mount St. Mary's.
The Mount beat Wagner 5-1 and Central Connecticut State 5-2.
For the first time in school history, the Mount will advance to the league's title round. Again, they'll have to win twice against top-seed Monmouth, which is a tall order.

- Southern Utah.
Beat Centenary 4-1 and Western Illinois 9-3.
The Thunderbirds take a school-record 31 season wins into the title round against Oral Roberts on Saturday. The interesting thing to note is that the T-birds split a four-game weekend vs. ORU back in late April, so even though they have to win twice on Saturday, it can be done.


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FORGOT TO MENTION THIS FROM A COUPLE DAYS AGO---
Speaking of the RPI, did you guys happen to notice that Oregon State dropped from No. 26 in the RPI to No. 53 after the sweep at the hands of USC? Gah! Of course, after seeing them get worked so bad on Monday at Long Beach, maybe there's some merit to that free-fall.


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WHY JOEPA RULES---
Joe Paterno, telling the Big 10 administrators that they are wrong to oppose a playoff in football:

"To be frank with you, I don't know what the reasons are NOT to have a playoff. You can talk about missing class and all that kind of stuff, yet you see basketball season go on forever. You have a lot of bogus excuses, but obviously the majority of people who have the say don't want it. I'm only going to be a head coach another 10 or 15 years, and I don't think it will happen by then."

How awesome is that quote, on SO many levels? "Only going to be a head coach for 10 or 15 years"? Too cool Joe. God love him.


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SPEAKING OF FOOTBALL, SINCE WHEN DID TODD CHRISTENSEN BECOME A COLLEGE BASEBALL ANALYST?---

Mtn.TVcrew.jpg
(Todd Christensen in a baseball broadcast booth is as odd as when Mark Schlereth used to work the ESPNU regional games. And is it just me, or does Roger Bailey look like a young Joe Torre?)

Christensen was in the booth during today's TCU-New Mexico game on The Mtn. network. I'm sorry... I don't get it. And now that I think of it, James Bates is a former Florida linebacker. C'mon people. Get some commentators with some baseball background.


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TRULY A GOAT-TO-HERO MOMENT---
Indiana's Tyler Cox:
In the top of the 9th inning, the Indiana shortstop kicked a routine ground ball with two outs that allowed Penn State to score a pair of go-ahead runs.

Ind-Error.jpg
(Cox pulls a Bill Buckner in the top of the 9th)

But in the bottom of the 9th, redemption would be his, as the light-hitting senior who came in with just three home runs all season, connected on a grand slam blast to left-center to give the Hoosiers an 11-8 win.

Ind-HRcelebration.jpg
(The ultimate redemption. Cox is welcomed to home plate after a bottom of the 9th grand slam)

With the win, IU moves on to Saturday in the Big 10 tournament and will face off with Purdue in an elimination game. The winner will go on to face unbeaten Michigan.

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Okay people. This has been another wicked-cool day in championship week here in college stitched-ball land.

Get some sleep.

G'night.

May 23, 2008

Thursday Thoughts - You Got Tournament Fever?

It's already been an interesting few days in this conference tournament week. Couple of questions have been raised right off the bat.

1- Has Georgia lost the final chance for the SEC to have a national seed? Or...

2- Will LSU's improbable run win its way to a Top 8 slot?

3- Has Texas A&M lost its national seed status?

4- And who, exactly, would be the team of the day? (Hint: it's a four-letter word)

SoCar-JustinSmoak.jpg
(You'd be smiling too if you just hit your 60th career home run like South Carolina's Justin Smoak did today)

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THE GREAT POLK SPEAKS---
Before I get to all that tournament stuff, I've gotta take a minute or two to talk about the great interview that I saw on College Sports Tonight with the retired Mississippi State mentor Ron Polk. CBS College Sports Tonight's Greg Amsinger gave the game's most important coach a sounding board that the ole coach took full advantage of.

Some of the topics coach ripped on were the fact that the NCAA puts more restrictions on baseball than any other sport, including being the only sport told how to distribute the scholarships, players must be eligible one semester prior to the semester they're competing in and how baseball is the only sport where walk-ons have to sit out a year if they transfer to another sport.

Amsinger:CoachPolk.jpg
(Greg Amsinger and Ron Polk, just before Coach said, "I just wish there were 250-to-300 coaches like me out there that have been doing what I've been doing for the last 25 years. Because if so, none of this stuff the NCAA is forcing on our sport would've happened.")

He was also quick to point out that it is the second biggest money-making sport for NCAA championships, yet it is also the least-funded sport, given just 11.7 scholarships and the worst coach-to-player ratio.

My favorite quote of the interview? "The NCAA has used college baseball as its whipping boy because they know we're not going to stand up and fight back. If this happened in football or basketball there'd be a huge fight."

Touche coach. And thanks.


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NOW SOME QUICK HITS ON THIS WEEK'S CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT GAMES SO FAR---
- The "We've Mailed It In" Teams:
Look, it's a long season. There are injuries, unlucky streaks and tired bodies out there on teams all across the country. You can't be "up" for every game. You just can't. And sometimes, there's no shame in being on this list, especially if your at-large status is secure. But there are exceptions, as you'll see.

* Rice.
Lost two straight, to UAB 8-5 and ECU 4-3.
Might as well. They're national seeding is secure and there's no reason not to go get some rest before the Big Dance. Besides, the C-USA tourney is still one of those "the winner of the loser's bracket will have to play 12 games" tourneys. No thank you.

* St. John's.
Lost in two straight to Villanova and Seton Hall by a combined 24-6.
Now, do you think the selection committee will use this against them as being a regional host? Probably. So the Johnnies may have really shot themselves in the foot. Then again... remember how desperate the NCAA is to put a regional in the New York area? Maybe they still will.

* Notre Dame.
Lost to South Florida and West Virginia in a 19-hour span.
Irish were just outside of at-large land anyway, so they would've needed to go on a hell of a spree to get the bid. This short, less-than-a-day period shows that the inconsistent Irish were young.

* Texas A&M.
Lost to Oklahoma and Texas in the first two days of Big 12 play.
The Aggies now see their losing streak stretch to eight games, having lost to the two Red River rivals by giving up a combined 19 runs. The national seed is gone, I'm sure. A home regional is still possible, but you never know.


- The Bubble Helpers:
These teams are doing what they can to get bubble teams into the NCAA field.

* Georgia.
Lost to Ole Miss and Alabama back-to-back.
Let's see, two weak hitting efforts? Check. Two weak pitching performances? Check. Two losses to two teams that sit squarely on the bubble? Check. This some kind of SEC "Let's get everybody in" conspiracy? Hmmm, check?

* Arizona State.
Beat rival Arizona 13-6 to wrap up the Pac 10 title.
Okay, this isn't anything any great shakes. I mean we ALL knew they'd be in the NCAA tournament and everything, but at least now we know that Washington won't make some miraculous run out of nowhere to win the Pac 10 and take away a spot from the bubble teams. (Then again, they still might).


- The Bubble Busters:
These teams are doing those nervous Nellies no favors.

* St. John's.
Yep, our second mention of the Red Storm in this column. But don't you figure that hushed cheering you just heard was the Big East front office suits knowing they just got another team in the NCAAs.

* Nebraska and Oklahoma State.
Other bubble teams around the country are madder than a wet hen over borderline Baylor being able to pick up wins over these two in the first two days of Big 12 tourney play. Now 33-24 and with wins over RPI Nos. 8 and 14. That's good news Bears. Bad news for everyone else.

* TCU.
The Frogs lost to New Mexico by a 3-2 count today, pushing themselves to the brink of elimination. They will face off with uprising Utah tomorrow and then would need to beat the Lobos in a pair of games on Friday night and Saturday afternoon after that to pull out the MWC title and automatic bid.


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MORE REASONS WHY CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS ARE A TERRIBLE IDEA---
Here's a sampling of games that prove these things are rather untimely.

South Florida - 9
Notre Dame - 3
Game started: 10:11pm
Game ended: 1:15am
Next game for ND: 2:10pm next day.
Result for that game: Lost 13-4 vs. West Virginia
The Irish go two-and-out in the Big East for the second straight year. They finish the season 33-21-1, which isn't back to their 40-win seasons of old, but a marked improvement from their 28-28 campaign of '07.

Virginia - 6
North Carolina - 5 (11inns)
Game started: 9:46pm
Game ended: 1:26am
Next game for UNC: vs. Wake Forest, Friday
Result for that game: We'll see
Luckily, the ACC was smart enough to go to the three game, round-robin pool play format where they give teams a day off. So they're smart. Er, well, sort of smart.

ChadFlackHR.jpg
(You could almost hear the crowd groan when Chad Flack trotted around the bases after hitting a game-tying home run in the 10th inning vs. UVa, at around 1:10am local time)

Alabama - 3
Kentucky - 9
Game started: 10:45pm
Game ended: 1:50am
Next game for Alabama: 1:10pm next day
Result for that game: Beat Georgia 5-2.
Okay, I guess the Up All Night with Rhonda Shear episode (free beer to whoever gets that one) didn't bother the red elephants too much, beating the No. 1 team in the SEC.

Elon - 16
Georgia Southern - 5
Game started: 10:02pm
Game ended: 1:45am
Next game for GSU:
Result for that game: We'll see.
I was keeping tabs on the Arizona-Arizona State game tonight and noticed there was still one game that went longer than that duel in the desert, this Elon-GSU game.

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The Conference USA and Sun Belt tournaments have been ridden by rain. Most of Thursday's action was left on the ledger. At Turchin Stadium in New Orleans, after top-seed Rice was eliminated by ECU, the rest of the day was washed out by thunderbumpers. Everything has been pushed back now as tomorrow's (Friday's) action will start at 9-freakin-am. The SBC nearly got a second game in today before the sky opened up. Now, they're going to try to get UNO and Troy to finish their game at 9am in the morning and then try to fit in four more games after that. Oh-mah-lowered!

Intermittent thunderstorms are forecast for both Friday and Saturday.


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MOST PAINFUL INNING OF THE WEEK (so far)---
Milwaukee - 20
Wright State - 3
As if a game that saw the Panthers hold a 9-1 lead after eight innings wasn't painful enough. Turns out that they then went out and pounded 11 more runs across in the top of the 9th inning. That half inning had to take at least 45 minutes to complete. And this for a game that was already well-decided. Hell, even parents and girlfriends start hitting the exits well before that.


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THURSDAY'S TEAM OF THE DAY---
Utah.
The Utes not only beat San Diego State, who trotted Stephen Strasburg out to the mound (a 1-0 win), they also took care of UNLV by a 7-4 count to win a pair of elimination games. Up until today, the Utes (now 26-27) had gone just 1-5 vs. the Aztecs this season, losing by a combined 34-9 in those five losses. But they were able to score the lone run off of Strasburg in the 3rd and got a complete game effort from John James, who held the Aztecs to four hits, striking out nine. Dustin Hennis was able to plate the lone run in game one and then slapped a two-run homer in game two.

Utah-JohnJames.jpg
(Utah's John James had the look on the mound and the magic in his arm today)

The Utes are 3-1 in the tourney and will still have to win two games tomorrow as well, since they face 1-seed TCU in an elimination game and would then have to face 2-seed New Mexico to stay alive.


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FILE THIS AWAY FOR LATER---
I'm not saying Miami is doomed to go 0-2 in the regionals or anything, but today's game may explain why there's room for caution.
Miami - 15
Georgia Tech - 12

The Canes used weekend starter Eric Erickson, who went 3.1 innings and gave up nine hits to the Jacket batters. But the bullpen wasn't much better, as all three ace relievers took part tonight, David Gutierrez, Kyle Bellamy and Carlos Guteirrez. Together they gave up an additional eight hits and six earned runs in 5.2 innings.

Granted, the Canes offense went off the charts again with Yonder Alonso and Dave DiNatale each hitting a pair of yard calls and Blake Tekotte pacing the team with four hits. That's one thing the U fans can come close to counting.


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ARE WE SURE THESE GUYS AREN'T GOING TO LOSE AGAIN?---
LSU - 8
Vandy - 2
I think the spirit of 2004 Cal State Fullerton has gotten into these guys. This makes 18 in a row now. After the doctor of college baseball, Dr. Kenny Cook, told us about how horrible, uninspired and "Smoke-like" the Tigers looked when he went to the Georgia series back in April, the bayou boys have yet to lose. Looks like Dr. Kenny's synopsis of the Tigers was, well... mis-diagnosed. I sense a malpractice suit coming.


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THE MONTGOMERY BURNS "IT'S ALL GOING ACCORDING TO PLAN" TOURNAMENT---
The MAC.
Through two days and eight games of the MAC tournament, there hasn't been one upset the entire time. All the higher seeds have won and the two lowest seeds, Western Michigan and Central Michigan, have already been eliminated. No. 1 seed Kent State and No. 2 seed Eastern Michigan will both have to be beaten twice to not make the title game. That contest will be Saturday at 1pm central time at the home field of the Flashes.


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WORST NAME EVER---
In case you guys didn't know, the name of the Southern Conference tournament is officially listed as:

The Bennett Hofford Family of Hotels Southern Conference Baseball Championship.

Quick, how many syllables is that? Huh? Huh?... times up.

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Okay on that horrible note, I'm hitting the bunks now. More tomorrow when this baseball nirvana continues. Or wait... lemme go make sure there's not another tournament game still going on at 1am Pacific time.

G'night.

May 21, 2008

Tuesday Stuff - How Lucky Do You Feel?

The conference tournaments are here. And there aren't a whole lot of teams who feel good about their chances at making the NCAA tournament. And even those that are feeling good, are still trying to squirm into a national seed or a home regional. There aren't a lot comfy seats out there.

So if you're the coach of a team vying for a berth in the NCAA tournament, you've gotta ask yourself, "Do I feel lucky? Do I feel we're going to make the NCAAs even if we don't win our conference tournament?" Well, do ya' punk?

DirtyHarry-Punk.jpg

Good luck to everyone out there. I'm pulling for each and every one of you. No really, I am.

Let's start today's entry with how the hopes of so many dangle in the balance.

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THE UNLUCKY 10 THAT ARE ON THE BUBBLE---
Last week we dissected the teams that were on that Don Ho "tiny bubbles" list for getting an at-large NCAA tournament bid. Let's start with a quick updating of the list, since it can change by the day.

First off, I'd take Kentucky and Alabama off the bubble list from last week with the help of their series wins over Ole Miss and Georgia respectively. I also think that Clemson may have just climbed onto the bubble with its modest five-game win streak. But teams like UC Davis and Washington State may have seen their bubble burst since then. So now here are the new nervous Nelly's:
- Clemson (30-25-1, RPI-24)
- Arkansas (34-22, RPI-29)
- Dallas Baptist (34-17, RPI-34)
- UCLA (29-23, RPI- 40)
- Baylor (30-24, RPI-41)
- Ole Miss (34-22, RPI-42)
- Elon (39-16, RPI-43)
- Houston (34-21, RPI-45)
- Oregon State (25-24, RPI- 50)
- Washington (31-20, RPI-85)


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THE LUCKY SEVEN THEY'RE COUNTING ON---
These seven teams hold the key to the hopes of all the bubble teams everywhere. If they win, the bubble teams win too. (The RPI's are according to my home boy Boyd Nation, because the NCAA was too lazy to post theirs today)

- St. John's (41-12, RPI-51)
The Red Storm go into the Big East tourney knowing their status for the NCAA tournament is pretty safe (they'll get the benefit of the doubt from the committee, I'm telling you). Of course, they're also possibly playing for a shot to host a post-season regional too. Only problem is...
Check out Game 1 of the Big East tournament from earlier today:
Villanova - 12
St. John's - 0
Talk about mailing it in! Hey Johnnies, you might wanna go ahead and win a game or two in the tournament now, just in case. Ya' dig?

- Michigan (42-12, RPI-37)
Ohio State didn't step up, Minnesota finished (gulp!) last and Purdue never could get the RPI up high enough. The Big 10 had a down year, and that was unexpected. Especially after last year's three-bid season. Now it will be totally unexpected if the Wolverines don't sweep the field here. Only malaise could stop them. Besides, they've got a host spot in the regionals to play for.

- Oral Roberts (43-12, RPI-38)
Is there EVER a year where the NCAA bubble teams aren't pulling for the Eagles? And conversely, has there ever been a year where they didn't come through? The answer to both is "no." ORU is heavily favored to win another conference tourney title in going-away fashion. Man, could you imagine if they ever actually lost here?

- Stanford (31-20, RPI-19)
The Cardinal travel up to Seattle to try to knock Washington down a few rungs in the Pac 10 standings. As of now, Udub is in a three-way tie for 5th place at 10-11 in conference play. The general feeling is that if they finish in the top four of the Pac, the Huskies will get a bid, despite their terrible RPI. So the rest of bubble nation is saying, "Go Trees!"

- UNC-Wilmington (41-13, RPI-20)
Far and away the best team in the Colonial, having won the conference by five games, while having gone 13-2 against the other five teams in the field. Good news to the bubbliers around the country is that the Seahawks are playing at home, so they have that going for them.

- Wichita State (41-15, RPI-35)
The Missouri Valley tourney has been a minefield the last few years, where the champion rarely wins the it. And though the Shockers are good and playing at home, this isn't your typical dominant WSU squad. Of all the teams on this list, I might even label them as the most L-prone.

- TCU (39-16, RPI-36)
People may be putting their fears to rest after this past weekend. In a showdown at then-co-No.-1 New Mexico, the Frogs swept in three straight games. Now, they return home to host the Mountain West tourney and should be able to sweep through with confidence. Well... as long as they can avoid having to face off with San Diego State's Stephen Strasburg.


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DO YOU THINK THEY'LL GIVE US A REPEAT OF 2004?---
Congrats to Texas Southern.
The Tigers are the very, very unlikely 2008 SWAC tournament champions after beating Prairie View 12-11 on Monday in Baton Rouge. TSU now enters the NCAA tournament with a record of 16-32. I'll have to check to see if that's the worst winning percentage of any team to make the Big Dance.

But the inclusion of TSU into the tournament brings back memories of their last entry - the 2004 outfit that upset No. 1 Rice in the first round of the Houston Regional at Reckling Park. As you might recall from my Top 5 Post-Season Upsets list, the Tigers got career games out of starting pitcher Issac Daniels and normal No. 2 weekend starter (but used as a reliever here) Brandon Strickland to go along with three 8th inning runs off of Rice's Phillip Humber to pull out a stunning 4-3 win.


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OREGON STATE FINALLY FLATLINES---
I'm harsher than most people. Like I've stated before, I believe in the Dick Vitale philosophy when it comes to teams getting into the Big Dance, I think you HAVE to finish in the top five of your conference. Otherwise, sorry, you didn't prove your worthiness during the regular season to get a bid. And yes, I realize that means OSU wouldn't have gotten into last year's tournament if it was up to me.

But this season is turning out much worse for the Beavers than I ever thought it would. Here's a picture that tells a thousand words from Monday's game at Long Beach:

OSUgettingBeat.jpg
(The scoreboard says it all at Blair Field on Monday night. OSU is reeling.)

After seeing them drop the Sunday game at USC, I thought that the Beavers needed to beat Long Beach at Blair Field to help their case. But man! a 10-0 skunking was NOT what I was expecting. Even with a sweep of Pacific this weekend, the Beavers may be hard pressed to make the field of 64.


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ONE OF THE GREATS OF COLLEGE BASEBALL---
(Forgot to mention this during the weekend)
I've always been a big Jerry Kindall fan. The former Minnesota Gopher player and longtime former Arizona head coach is now a Hall of Famer and also a color commentator for college games on Fox Sports, the Big Ten Network and ESPNU. He was at last Friday's Washington State-UCLA game at Jackie Robinson Stadium scouting out the two teams for the following days telecast of the game.

So in-between innings, I decided to make my way to the press box and hand him my 1976 College World Series program for him to sign. He was, of course, more than happy to do that - he's a terribly nice man, probably too nice to be a baseball coach. He was also kind of freaked out that someone actually owned a 1976 program still. "Wow. You've been holding on to this one a long time." he remarked. (Now that I think of it, was he showing sympathy to me for not having a life?).

JerryKindall.jpg
(Coach Kindall as he appeared in my '76 CWS program, now adorned with his signature)

Two quick things about Jerry Kindall you may not have known:

1- He was the last player to have hit for the cycle in a College World Series game, which he did in 1956 for Minnesota.

2- He is given credit for first coining the phrase "the friendly confines of Wrigley Field." He remarked that upon seeing the old ballyard back in his pro days.


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Alright stitch-heads, 12 bells. Time to hit the rack.

More tomorrow from the world of conference tournament-land as the post-season starts to kick in a little bit more.

G'night.

May 19, 2008

Sunday Summations- A Day Only Spencer Tracy Could Love

Remember that movie Bad Day at Black Rock?

I saw it personally today. That famous Molotov cocktail has been aimed at a lot of teams this week, but perhaps no team went up in flames more than Oregon State, with their three losses at USC.

And this may be a totally crazy, out-of-left-field question: But could USC actually be within the grasp of an NCAA tournament at-large bid?

I know that's absurd, right? I know. I know.

But after seeing the Trojans complete a highly-unlikely weekend sweep of defending national champion Oregon State, that light at the end of the tunnel is still slightly glistening. In today's clincher, USC's Hector Rabago collected three RBI, including the game-winner with two out in the 9th.

USC-Rabago.jpg
(Hector Rabago and USC are all smiles after his game-winning hit)

Besides, the Trojan RPI is only six spots below UCLA's. And last I checked, there was no agent-driven, high-paid athlete on the team. That makes this team much more likable. (Well, actually that's why we ALL like college baseball better than anything else). But really, at 27-26 overall and 10-11 in Pac 10 play, the Men of Troy still have three more games at Washington State to get to 30 wins and above the Mendoza Line in conference play.

Unfortunately for the Beavers, they lost a 5-run lead to the Trojans and dropped their third straight game by a 6-5 count. OSU is now just 25-23 on the season and will surely see their No. 26 RPI take a fall. I know pain. I've seen it first-hand today. And it's an ugly monster when it rears it's head.

OSU-Casey.jpg
(First Coach Casey got tossed from today's game, then afterward,
he was left wandering the campus streets in his frustration)

As for the rest of the painful weekend. Well... let's start with the good news, then move on to the other stuff.


.
THREE UP---
1- Bethune-Cookman.
Beat Norfolk State 13-2 to earn the MEAC title and an NCAA tournament bid.
Not sure I should give this a No. 1 in the Three Up department, considering this is usually BCU's domain year-in, year-out. With today's easy pasting of the Spartans, the Wildcats earn their 11th MEAC title in 13 years, including three in a row. Eric Thomas improved to 9-0 with the 10K, 6-hit performance. Jose Lozada earned the MOP for the tournament as B-CU improves to 36-20 and awaits the NCAA tournament.

BCU-MervylMelendez.jpg
(B-CU coach Melendez has his team in the NCAAs again. So, what else is new?)

2- Pepperdine.
Won 6-5 at Santa Clara to earn the playoff spot opposite San Diego.
As it turns out, the winner of today's game at Schott Stadium would get the No. 2 slot in the WCC playoffs. Enter the Waves. Nate Simon deservedly got mobbed after his 8th inning solo shot put today's game away. The Waves are probably in good shape for the Big Dance, even if they fall to USD next week. Especially since their RPI stood at No. 27 going into the weekend.

3- UC Santa Barbara.
Beat UC Riverside 14-8 to complete the three-game sweep.
The Gauchos really helped themselves this weekend taking down the former 2nd-place Highlanders. With the sweep, UCSB is now 13-8 and just two games behind Fullerton in the Big West title chase. Of course, the Gauchos now will have to go to UC Irvine next weekend. That series could decide the 2nd place slot... and don't you think the NCAA committee will shine on that?


.
THREE DOWN---
1- Southern.
Lost a pair of games to Prairie View, 5-4 and 15-14, and was eliminated from the SWAC tournament.
Going into today's fourth day of SWAC tourney action, the Jags took a 6-1 mark against the Panthers into the day. All they needed was one win today, but PV had the Jags number, edging by SU by one run each. And all on its home field too.

2- Oklahoma State.
Lost 10-4 vs. OU in OKC in the Bedlam Series.
With today's loss, Okie State lost a chance to take the No. 1 seeding in the Big 12 tournament, also improving their stock for a possible National seed. It also marked the Pokes first loss to their rival Sooners in eight regular season games. OSU also allowed OU to go 9-for-19 with runners in scoring position on the day.

3- MEAC Administrators.
Have to say, I've never heard of a post-season tournament awarding a Coach of the Tournament, but that's what the MEAC does. Only problem is, they shouldn't have given it to B-CU's Mervyl Melendez, though he obviously did a good job. But 5th seeded Norfolk State was the story of the tournament, going all the way to the title game before succumbing to the 'Cats.

My vote for the Coach of the Tournament? NSU's Claudell Clark.


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THE OUCH LIST---
This time, it hits much closer to home.
- Arkansas
Result:
lost two of three at Mississippi State
Why it hurts:
The Hogs lose out on the SEC tourney altogether as the No. 9 finisher in the conference. And you already know my feelings on their NCAA tournament chances. But they'll probably get one anyway.

- Washington State
Result:
Got swept at UCLA.
Why it hurts:
As if everybody didn't already wonder if the Coogs' No. 28 RPI was legit to begin with. Now this. At 6-16 in the Pac 10, their NCAA chances have been sunk for sure now. That's pain man.

- Nebraska
Result:
Swept at Missouri
Why it hurts:
With A&M tanking it this weekend, this was NU's chance to take over the No. 1 spot in the Big 12 tournament and a National Seed. It may be all gone now.

NU-Pribanic.jpg
(NU pitching coach Eric Newman was caught reading the Riot Act to Aaron
Pribanic on the mound today, typifying the Huskers' frustrating weekend)


- Texas A&M
Result:
Swept in three games vs. suddenly hot Texas
Why it hurts:
This makes five straight Big 12 losses in a row for the Aggies. But shouldn't we give the Longhorns the bull's worth of credit here? Of course. Are we looking at a serious dip in the RPI and possible loss of a national seeding too?

- Washington
Result:
Swept in three straight down at Arizona State
Why it hurts:
Like the Coogs, the Huskies needed a weekend win over a high-profile opponent to legitimize their NCAA at-large profile. Even one win would've helped. But everybody can probably agree that Tempe, Arizona is no place to try to build confidence and prove points.

- Oregon State
Result:
Swept at USC this weekend.
Why it hurts:
What's in the water in the Pacific Northwest lately? OSU has been given a lot of credit for their tough schedule, good wins and past performance. But nobody saw this sweep at the hands of the 8th place Trojans. Now, at 25-23, the Beavers look to be joining Arkansas as another team that doesn't deserve the at-large consideration.

- Ole Miss
Result:
Lost two of three at Kentucky
Why it hurts:
If not for Louisiana Tech, it might be the Rebels who win the Award for under-achieving season. And this weekend brought more fuel to that fire, especially after losing the first two games by a combined 21-4. With the losses, Ole Miss now stands at 34-22 and just 9-13 in road games.

- Tulane
Result:
Lost all three games vs. No. 5 Rice.
Why it hurts:
After getting all that positive flow for the sweep at East Carolina last week, I guess we might've expected more from the Wave in this one. But again, the Owls are considered the bullies of the C-USA for a reason. Now the Greenies have to worry about their RPI of No. 38 coming back to bite them in the under-tow. Though it shouldn't.

- Southern Miss
Result:
Lost two of three at Alabama-Birminghan
Why it hurts:
Their No. 13 RPI looked legit, but this assures the Eagles won't be playing a home regional at Pete Taylor Field. Coupled with the mid-week loss to South Alabama, it's evident this team has hit a cold spell. They even lost game one in the series with Barry Bowden on the mound, falling to 7-3 on the season.

.
There are plenty more that I could add to the Ouch List (I'm looking your way UC Davis, Baylor and Jackson State), but I've gotta hand this thing in at some point. So here you go.

More to come in the days ahead.

G'night

May 18, 2008

Saturday Statements - It's a Crowded House for those trying to make the post-season

The mad crush for conference tourney positioning is not for the meek of heart. A lot of teams are making their last mad dashes toward that with today's pivotal games.

But before we get to that post-season stuff, let's address the biggest storyline in college baseball today: Mr. Ron Polk

RonPolkLastGm.jpg
(Ron Polk's last game didn't turn out as he hoped, but he's still a hero in my book)

In case you're wondering, no, I'm not happy with Ron Polk having his last game today. We - the college baseball community - need this guy. Who else is going to talk sense to the NCAA about the foibles of our sport and it's many rules and stipulations that we know are bad for the sport?

No other coach in the country has been more important for the prosperity of college baseball. Nobody else speaks their mind like Polk does on the things that every coach is concerned with. He's like the one guy in a room full of stuffed shirts that is not afraid to discuss the gorilla in the room.

His career came to an end today with a 15-10 loss vs. Arkansas, closing out the Dogs long season with a record of 23-33. It was the only losing season of his career. Polk announced his retirement effective at the end of the season at about the midpoint of their schedule. The scuttlebutt seems to be that when his epic 18-page open letter to college baseball that he released last summer fell mostly on deaf ears, it crushed his passion for fighting for the good and the right.

The game will miss you coach. Even if nobody else will come out and say the real reason why.


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THREE UP---
The good part of college baseball on Saturday.

1- Reese Havens, South Carolina.
This was really freakin' clutch. The Vols had just forged extra innings with three runs in the top of the 9th on a Jeff Lockwood homer. But Havens responded with another clutch yard call in jog-off fashion to help Carolina pull out a 12-10 win against Tennessee in 10 innings. Despite their under-achieving season, the W helped solidify the Gamecocks position in the SEC tournament. So in essence, he could very well have extended their season in the process all on his own.


2- Oklahoma State.
Beat Bedlam rival Oklahoma 11-1 to improve to 18-8 in Big 12 play.
Shhhh! Keep quiet. Don't tell Texas A&M and Nebraska that the Pokes are now within a game of Texas A&M of the Big 12 title with today's win. After beating OU by a combined 18-2 score, the Cowboys still need another win over OU and a Texas win over the Ags to take the No. 1 seed for the Big 12 title. In case you're wondering, OSU beat A&M two of three early in the conference play.


3- Bucknell.
Beat Navy in Annapolis in two straight to win the Patriot League.
Bucknell - 8
Navy - 7
The Bison return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003 and the league-best fourth time after beating Navy today. Jason Buurma not only scored the winning run on an Ed Rubbo single in the bottom of the 9th, but also picked up the W on the mound with an inning of work to shut down the Middies bats. Buurma also was one of the main reasons BU is on to the NCAAs after going 4-0 in the PL tournament.


.
THREE DOWN---
The bad part of college baseball on Saturday.

1- The fact that Arkansas won't make the SEC tournament, but will probably make the NCAA tournament.
I saw a good bit of today's Hog win at Mississippi State and I've got to admit, that was simply a game between two bad teams. With South Carolina's jog-off win over Tennessee, the Razorbacks are left on the outside of SEC post-season play. But at 33-22 and an RPI at No. 19 (going into the weekend), it's possible that this 9th place team makes the field of 64. No way, no freakin' way.

How do I know Arkansas shouldn't go to the Big Dance? In their seven games against good non-conference competition (Texas A&M, Arizona State, Nebraska and Oral Roberts), the Hogs went just 1-6.


2- Nebraska and Texas A&M.
Just because you guys put on one of the best three-game weekends this season is no reason to go out and lay a big fat egg the following weekend.

NU got obliterated by Missouri for the second day in a row, 22-8.
What happened to the Big 12-leading pitching and defense of the Huskers? For the second day in a row they were routed in ugly fashion down in Columbia.

A&M meanwhile, was able to score a pair of runs off of Austin Wood in the 1st inning, but was held to just two hits the rest of the day as Wood tossed his first career complete game. With Kenn Kasparek coming on so strong the last two weeks and Austin Wood adding in today's effort, could UT be ready to make a post-season run? Stay tuned.

Let me bottom line this thing for you guys: The performances of Nebraska and Texas A&M this weekend is not the stuff that a national seed is made of.


3- North Carolina and Miami pitching.
Hate to be picky here, but file this away until Omaha, these two teams didn't do a whole lot of good pitching against each other. And as you know, the last few years have been very pitching and defense dominated in the CWS. But in the three games combined, UNC hurlers issued 23 walks and gave up 29 runs. Miami was pretty giving as well, allowing 24 runs and 36 hits on the weekend.

C'mon guys. As wildly talented as you are, you're going to need to be better to make it to Omaha. No two ways about it.


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THE ALONSO SHIFT---
Check out the way North Carolina played Miami slugger Yonder Alonso in the field today, especially where the black dots are, those are the four infielders:

AlonsoShift.jpg
(This shift of infielders didn't seem to help stymie Yonder Alonso's offensive production)

Note where UNC 2Bman Kyle Seager is playing in short right field. It all didn't seem to help as Alonso went 4-for-5 with three RBI, including his 19th home run of the season.

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JUST CANCEL THE POST-SEASON TOURNAMENT---
The Atlantic Sun.
With four of the top five teams in the conference being reclassifying teams to Division I, the A-Sun tournament will feature 3rd place Lipscomb as the No. 1 seed and teams six through 12 comprising the rest of the field. All seven of those other teams have sub-.500 records too.

Just bite the bullet and make LU the NCAA automatic bid. The league has been a disaster enough this season.


.
JUST MOVE THE POST-SEASON TOURNAMENT---
The WAC will send six of their seven teams to the post-season tournament. The problem with that is the tournament is slated to be played at Louisiana Tech's Love Field. And of course, the under-under-under-acheiving Bulldogs are the saps that finished in 7th place. So the home team won't be be participating. Get ready for 100 people in attendance.


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HO-HUM, TITLE NO. 7 IN A ROW---
Illinois-Chicago.
The Flames won their 7th straight regular season Horizon League title today after completing a pair of DH wins vs. Valparaiso to eek out the title by a half a game over Wright State. And get this, going into this week, the Flames needed five straight wins to pull out the title and that's just what they did, winning twice vs. Clevelnad State and three straight over the Crusaders.

Today's two wins both came by a single run, 8-7 and 7-6.

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THE CROWDED HOUSE GIG---
Had the chance to go downtown to the ornate, stately Orpheum Theater to see that Australian/New Zealand supergroup Crowded House on the last night of their North American tour tonight. Neil Finn and the boys played a two-hour show with 23 songs in all and showed remarkable musical acumen all night long. Each and every member of the band played multiple instruments, including French horns, slide guitars, keyboards and various percussion to form a rich, eclectic sound that goes great with their numerous radio successes over the years.

NeilFinn.jpg
(Neil Finn and Crowded House put on a great performance at the Orpheum Theatre tonight)

Great show. Great music. No sampled music tracks or over-dubbed vocals. These guys simply had a lot of musical talent. A Crowded House-ful, if you'll excuse the pun.

Okay, it's almost 3am. I'm a freak.

G'night.

May 17, 2008

Friday First Takes - The Rollercoaster Seasons continue in college baseball

So what's more impressive sounding, beating the last place team in the conference or routing the No. 28 RPI team in the country? UCLA did both of those things tonight in beating Washington State by a 10-zip count at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Westwood. The Cougars, otherwise known as the biggest anomaly in college baseball, drop to 6-13 in Pac 10 play and won't improve on their impressive RPI.

Wazzu-DonnieMarbut.jpg
(WSU coach Donnie Marbut can't be encouraged by his teams' recent play)

Wazzu - 000 000 000 - 0 4 1
UCLA - 100 017 01x - 10 8 1

WP- Tim Murphy (4-6)
LP- Matt Way (3-4)
Key play: A Cody Decker grand slam pushed the UCLA out to 9-0 in the 6th inning, essentially sealing the Cougar fate.

Meanwhile, the Bruins may very well be figuring out their roller-coaster season after all. In the last 14 days they've added Ws against No. 28 Wazzu, No. 21 UC Irvine, No. 26 Oregon State and No. 4 Arizona State. At 27-23 overall and 9-10 in the Pac, things are looking a little bit better for their view into at-large land.

UCLA-CodyDecker.jpg
(Bruin slugger Cody Decker eyes his favorite Easton right before he hits a deflating grand slam as part of a 7-run 6th inning)

But don't jump the gun here either, the Bruins are sitting at No. 54 in the RPI and have games with Fullerton and three at Cal. Though if they keep playing like they did tonight, they could easily slide right off that bubble after all. But there's still a lot of work to do.

Meanwhile, as for the teams that are trying to gussy up their image for the NCAA selection committee, here's tonight's Three Up-and-Three Down. I have to keep it abbreviated because I have friends in town. So bear with me -


.
THREE UP---
Here's the best I could find for Friday's games...

1- North Carolina.
Recovered from that 12-2 spanking to oblivion to win game two at Miami, 10-6.
Unlike the Doctor of college baseball, Dr. Kenny Cook, I don't think there's a chance in Hades the Blue Rams will lose a national seeding. None-the-less, UNC made real sure of that with tonight's win at Mark Light. Despite the great effort, the U's Mark Sobolewski hit a grand slam, the second night in a row for that feat after Alonso went Yonder with a salami last night.

2- Missouri.
Beat No. 6 Nebraska 8-1 in game one of their series.
Not surprisingly, Tiger ace Aaron Crow picked up another high-profile win, going 8.1 innings, striking out (only?) eight and allowing four hits. The light-hitting Huskers got a run in the first inning off a Jake Mort dinger along with a Jake Opitz double. But other than the two Jake's, NU was swinging with a wet noodle. Mizzou's No. 46 RPI is a bit puzzling, but tonight they played more like their No. 15 ranking.

3- UC Davis
Beat UCI 3-1.
Davis needed this. And still need more like it. With an RPI at No. 51 and the Big West's knack of getting screwed for at-large bids. But Eddie Gamboa went 7.1 innings, giving up seven hits and no earned runs. Also, Justin Fitzgerald, a highly under-publicized reliever, picked up save No. 13 on the season. And for UCD to get the W on a night when Scott Gorgon was on the mound (though he didn't get the loss), that's huge.


.
THREE DOWN---
Here's three of the heartbreakers I found for Friday's games...

1- Ole Miss.
Lost at Kentucky 9-0.
How does this happen? How does a team with THAT much talent (particularly on the mound) tank so bad? They've now lost to the Bat Cats by a combined 21-4 in two games and are 8-11 since April 13th. And with the RPI sitting at No. 45?... Hmmm.

2- New Orleans.
Lost 11-8 at Louisiana-Lafayette.
With the loss of tonight's game at Tigue Moore Field, the once-hot Privateers have now lost three straight games, and also are now officially out of the running for the Sun Belt title. At 18-10, there is no chance for them to catch Louisiana-Monroe, who is sitting in the clubhouse at 20-10. Damn that rainout at Middle Tennessee. Well, actually, damn this loss at UL-L. The Cajuns got two home runs and seven RBI from Matt Goulas to key the win.

3- New Mexico.
Lost at home to TCU 8-3 and 14-11.
The Lobos came into the series with the Frogs tied atop the Mountain West standings at 16-5. But this is a pretty bad tank job in the comfy confines of Isotopes Park. The losses gives the Horned Frogs their third straight MWC title. Of course, with an RPI in the low 70s, the Lobos will still need to win the MWC tournament in Ft. Worth to get to the Big Dance anyway. Still, not good.


.
SOME PROPS FOR RICE---
(to please our good friend Jeremy Mills)
With their two wins today over Tulane (8-4 and 6-2), Rice has now won 41 games on the 2008 season. This marks the 14th straight 40-win season. And also, this marks the 14th straight season where they've won either a regular or tournament title or both. As Carter Blackburn pointed out on the broadcast of the game tonight, it's all pretty impressive considering the Owls had never even made the regionals before the 1995 season.


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AND FOR THOSE OF YOU KEEPING TRACK---
LSU - 15
Auburn - 4
The Bayou Bashers have now won 15 straight games, 11 in the SEC, improving to 38-16-1 and 17-11-1 in conference play. When will it end?

Alright stitch-heads, more tomorrow. Have a great Saturday in college baseball.

G'night.

May 16, 2008

Thursday Thoughts - Ladies and Gentlemen, the Dallas Baptist Patriots

Last week when the boys over at CBS College Sports Tonight had me on and asked me to give my top five Coach of the Year candidates, I quickly put together my list. The first four are pretty expected names: Perno, Gillespie, Maineiri and Childress. But the fifth name isn't. Even studio host Adam Zucker commented, "Eric, you've really dug deep for this one: Daniel Heefner of Dallas Baptist."

Yep, let's give it up for the first year coach of an independent that has his team currently at 35-17 and No. 37 in the RPI. In other words, the Patriots are on the verge of doing what hasn't been done since 1992; they're very close to becoming the first Independent team (not named Miami) to make the NCAA tournament.

DBU-CoachHeefner.jpg
(Coach Heefner has everything going his way, except the national publicity)

So I did what I could in these $4-dollar per gallon gas price days to make my way up to San Francisco today to do an actual face-to-face with what could be the most under-appreciated coach in the country.

After he threw batting practice to his team at USF's Benedetti Diamond (just for the record, he didn't strike out a single player... but I digress), Heefner walked over and we got things underway.

Me:
Hi coach, I'm Eric Sorenson from CSTV.com.

Coach Heefner:
Hi. Good to see you. Thanks for coming out.

Me:
No prob. Let me start with an obvious, dumb question, I'm guessing you like your team so far this year, right?

Coach Heefner:
Oh, they've been great all year. Obviously from winning all those big games and from an offensive standpoint... (he interrupts himself) it's just been a really balanced team to tell you the truth. As a coach you really gotta like that when you can play solid defense and get a great bullpen and the pitching has been good. It's just a great group of guys. The chemistry of our team has been really unbelievable. They stick together. It's truly a team-first mentality.

Me:
I'm guessing that their work ethic is good too?

Coach Heefner:
Oh yeah, they've been unbelievable. And that's half the battle right there.

Me:
Talk a little bit about making the transition from assistant coach to head coach. What's that been like? Harder/easier than you expected?

Coach Heefner:
It's actually just been "different." I think what helped was that I'd been here at DBU the previous three years as an assistant. And being the recruiting coordinator has been important because I've had a hand in getting the kids that we have. So that's made a big difference, not just myself being here the last three years, but one of our assistants, Nate Frieling, has also been here the last three years. So the players and coaches were all familiar with each other, so it wasn't a huge adjustment for everybody. Obviously, there are some changes, but not really big ones.

Me:
I was curious about the team itself, you guys went 30-26 last year but what are the main things that have made this team play so much better this year? Or is it just a year's experience?

Coach Heefner:
Yeah, it's been experience for sure. But I think the biggest difference has been our pitching. Especially our bullpen. Our bullpen has been outstanding this year.
We've got two guys back there that, if we get to the 6th-7th inning with a lead, we feel real confident we're going to win the game. I think that's been one of the biggest turnarounds for us is the pitching staff.

DBU-Bagley.jpg
(Saves specialist Tyson Bagley earned his 11th save today)

Me:
You guys are in a pretty good position right now at No. 37 in the RPI. Have you talked to your team about the post-season at all? Has that crept up into the conversation?

Coach Heefner:
You know, for the majority of the year we haven't had that as a focus for our team. Our focus has always been one-game-at-a-time and on the moment. But you know, in the last couple weeks we have talked about it a little bit. You know, one of the hard things is... we don't really know what it's going to take. I mean, is it the RPI they're going to consider? Is it your record? Your record down the stretch? They talk a lot about conference finish and obviously we don't have that. So yeah, we do talk about it, but only in terms of what we think we have to do in terms of getting that opportunity. But we don't know for sure, so we talk more about going out and playing well.

Me:
Do you have any kind of bead on how much being an independent hurts your chances for an NCAA bid?

Coach Heefner:
That's really hard to say, because it's been, what?... I don't remember how many years it's been since an independent has gotten a bid.

Me:
Since 1992 for teams... (he says it with me)

Coach Heefner:
... other than Miami (laughs)

Me:
Yeah, it was Cal State Northridge in 1992 to be exact.

Coach Heefner:
Sure. So actually it's going to make it tougher on us so that's why we schedule the way we do and play the teams we play. I mean, we play a good schedule and play a lot of good teams on the road. So we think that's going to be our best opportunity to get a berth is to go in and beat those teams, which we've been able to do.

Me:
That leads me to my next question. How tough is it to put together a schedule as an independent? Especially this time of year where conference play is so huge.

Coach Heefner:
Well yeah, it's especially hard at this time of year. Or really anytime conference play kicks in. But as far as being an independent, we're probably in the best place to be, geographically, to still play good teams. There's top 25 teams all over the place. Baylor. TCU. The Oklahoma schools. Oral Roberts. Rice. Houston. So we've got a lot of options to make scheduling a little easier. But as far as the weekends go, it's still tough once the conference play begins.

Me:
Are those teams receptive to playing you guys? Do you have good relationships with them?

Coach Heefner:
Yeah, the one positive is that we've always been willing to play them at their place and now we're beginning to get them to play us home-and-home.

Me:
Oh really? That's cool.

Coach Heefner:
This year we had Baylor at our place. And TCU. And Texas Tech. We got Rice to play us at a neutral field in Frisco too. So it's getting better.

Me:
Now, you talked a little bit about your bullpen, but tell me about your ace Jordan Meeker. What has he meant to this team's success?

Coach Heefner:
Oh he's meant everything to us. And he's got everything you'd want. He's a 6'6" righty who can throw 90-94 with a good slider. And some of his best outings have been in the games we really needed him, like Texas A&M, two games with Oral Roberts, Louisiana-Monroe. And the good thing is those have been his best starts of the year. He obviously gives us a great opportunity to win.

DBU-JordanMeaker.jpg
(Staff ace Jordan Meaker is an imposing talent at 6'6")

Me:
Okay, last thing. Act like I'm an NCAA committee member. What would you say to me? Sell your team to me.

Coach Heefner:
Well I think we belong in the tournament because we've played a great schedule and been successful at it and beat some of the best teams in the country on the road and in neutral environments. I think it is a little bit tougher for us, being an independent, just from a motivational standpoint. We don't have that conference race to play up to. For us, it's every single game we play. We have to be up for every game because it may be a must-win. And just from a coaching standpoint, to see what our guys have done for getting themselves up for every single game is pretty impressive. Frankly, I feel like we're one of the best 64 teams in the country and we look forward to being able to prove that. I think we deserve that shot.

Me:
Coach, you DO realize that after this successful season you've had, you're probably going to get some offers from other schools in the off-season, ya' know?

Coach Heefner:
It's okay, DBU has taken good care of me.

Me:
Well, good. 'Coz they should.


.
NOW, ABOUT THAT GAME AT BENEDETTI DIAMOND---
Dallas Baptist - 000 000 031 - 4 7 2
San Francisco - 000 000 200 - 2 9 1

WP- Jordan Meaker (7-1)
LP- Mitchell Bialosky (5-6)
Save - Tyson Bagley (11)

Coach Heefner told me in the above interview that if his team had a lead at the 6th or 7th inning, he feels confident that the Patriots are going to win. Well, he forgot to tell me that even if his team is within two runs going into the 8th inning, he probably felt confident too. Because that's the scenario that followed today's game at the cramped confines of Benedetti Diamond.

The Dons seemed to be in slight control of the game, out-hitting DBU while taking a 2-zip lead just after the 7th inning stretch. Then, the Patriots grabbed their bats with a little more gusto. Ryan Goins reached base on that awful "dropped third strike" rule. Evan Bigley, DBU's RBI machine, knocked Goins in with a screaming double.

Two batters later, Trevor Head, the Pats' home run leader, laser'd a shot off the netting in left field to put Dallas up for good at 3-2.

DBU-TrevorHeadHR.jpg
(Trevor Head gets his props after hitting the go-ahead home run in the 8th inning)

In the bottom of the 8th, Bagley strode to the mound and put the clamps on the USF hopes, setting the Dons down seven-up, six-down for his 11th save of the season.

So this is another plus-side win for Dallas Baptist. Wanna know who else the Patriots have beaten this year? How 'bout this roster of victims: Rice, Oral Roberts, Rice (again), UL-Monroe, Baylor, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. Not bad, eh? Now, just imagine if they didn't have to be saddled with weekend series against Northern Colorado, Houston Baptist, Northern Illinois and (again) Northern Colorado, because they have such trouble getting quality opponents all season long?

THAT'S another reason the RPI is a pile of junk.


.
TOP TEN PLACES I'D WANT TO BE THIS WEEKEND---
Well, considering most of these series have already begun on Thursday, I'll keep this brief. Here's where I'd wanna be if I could wrestle that damned CSTV Lear Jet from Hangar 19...

1- Bucknell at Navy
I'm sorry, I just love championship baseball. And this weekend, Annapolis, Maryland is THE place to be.

2- SWAC tournament, Baton Rouge
Southern gets home field advantage. Will it help?

3- MEAC tournament, Norfolk, Virginia
Also known as the Bethune-Cookman Invitational.

4- No. 2 North Carolina at No. 1 Miami.
They've both sewn up national seeds, so no pressure. But still fun.

5- No. 28 Texas vs./at No. 7 Texas A&M
The student section is warming up their vocal chords.

6- No. 6 Nebraska at No. 15 Missouri
Two questions: Is NU really No. 6 in the country? And 2- Is Mizzou's RPI really No. 46?

7- Washington at No. 4 Arizona State.
This series means everything to the Huskies. Legitimacy. RPI points. At-large hopes.

8- No. 8 Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma.
Two words: Bedlam. Series.
I love this rivalry. One of these years I'll make it by to see it in person too.

9- Ole Miss at No. 20 Kentucky.
Can a team ranked in the top 20 actually be a bubble team? I have UK down as one. And believe it or not, Ole Miss is on the cusp as well (RPI in the 40s).

10- San Diego State at No. 11 Cal State Fullerton
After Stephen Strausberg throws in game one, the Titans will win in a pair of routs.


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AND YOU THOUGHT THE DIVISION I SELECTION COMMITTEE WAS BAD ABOUT FUNNELING TEAMS FROM THE SAME REGION?---

Check out the Division II regional pairings below. Note that other than a few scant details here and there, it's almost completely a truly "regional" format. There's very little sending of teams to outside their immediate areas. Take away Nebraska-Kearney's trip to Chico and Abeline Christian and Texas A&M-Kingsville going to Cleveland, Mississippi, it looks to me that rest of the field is destined for bus rides, not airline fights. (Then again, I have to admit that I'm not so sure of the locations of schools such as Caldwell, Dowling, Stillman and Erskine, so maybe they're far away from their regional sites too. But you get my drift.) Here's how the regionals for D-2 look:


Central Regional at Emporia, Kansas

1. *Emporia State 48-8. 
2. Nebraska-Omaha 42-11. 
3. Wayne State (Nebraska) 40-11. 
4. Central Missouri 41-15. 
5. Minnesota State Mankato 27-23. 
6. Concordia-St. Paul 27-14

North Atlantic Regional at Johnstown, Pennsylvania

1. West Chester 41-14
. 2. West Virginia State 36-12. 
3. Concord 35-13. 
4. *Pittsburgh-Johnstown 35-17-1. 
5. Shippensburg 34-23
. 6. Kutztown 30-24

North Central Regional at Rensselaer, Indiana

1. Grand Valley State 34-11. 
2. *Saint Joseph’s (Indiana) 44-16. 
3. Bellarmine 35-19. 
4. Ashland 35-15
. 5. Wayne State (Michigan) 31-17. 
6. Northern Kentucky 37-22

Northeast Regional at Rindge, New Hampshire

1. *Franklin Pierce 38-12. 
2. Bryant 38-17. 
3. Southern Connecticut State 33-15
. 4. Caldwell 32-17. 
5. Dowling 28-17. 
6. C.W. Post 29-25
 


South Regional at Tampa, Florida

1. *Tampa 38-9-1
. 2. Tusculum 40-13
. 3. Catawba 40-16
. 4. Florida Tech 35-18-1
. 5. Carson-Newman 41-16
. 6. Stillman 26-24
 


South Atlantic Regional at Mount Olive, North Carolina

1. *Mount Olive 49-5. 
2. Columbus State 39-15. 
3. South Carolina-Aiken 43-13. 
4. North Georgia 37-19
. 5. Belmont Abbey 40-20. 
6. Erskine 44-11

South Central Regional at Cleveland, Mississippi

1. *Delta State 45-9
. 2. Southern Arkansas 44-9
. 3. West Alabama 45-11
. 4. Abilene Christian 43-15
. 5. Ouachita Baptist 43-14. 
6. Texas A&M-Kingsville 31-29

West Regional at Chico, California

1. Sonoma State 46-13. 
2. UC San Diego 41-16. 
3. *Cal State Chico 39-15. 
4. Cal State Stanislaus 37-21. 
5. Western Oregon 39-17
. 6. Nebraska-Kearney 33-25

.
Interesting, huh? Well, considering I just drove back from San Francisco tonight, I'm quite punchy at this point. So anything will just pretty much glaze over me now. See you tomorrow.

Now consider yourself Dallas Baptized.

G'night.

May 15, 2008

Wednesday Stuff - The Don Ho "Tiny Bubbles" Edition

It's that time of year again stitch-heads. It's the time that our good friend from the Islands, the venerable Don Ho, shows up to provide us with the teams that are on the "tiny bubbles" list. I.e., those teams that are 50-50 for making it into the NCAA tournament as an at-large team if they don't win their conference tourneys.

DonHo.jpg

I know, Don is a very lovable figure from Hawaii with a soft heart and even softer voice. But in reality, his list is one harsh son-of-a-bastige. It's ruthless (look at those dark, evil eyes... don't let them fool you). If the teams on this list below don't get their schtick together, they'll find themselves sitting at home in the month of June.

.
THE DREADED "DON HO TINY BUBBLE" LIST---
Here are the teams that need to win to make it to the NCAAs. And that right soon.

- Washington State (28-22, #28RPI)
Good News:
Great RPI for a Northwest team. Series wins over teams like Creighton, Oklahoma, Oregon State and UC Davis helps. As we've seen from Oregon State the last two years, teams from the Northwest are usually better than their RPI.
Bad News:
At 6-12, a last place standing in the Pac 10 isn't too sexy. They lost a series to rival Washington, another bubble team. Tough road trip to hungry UCLA awaits.
What they must do:
Win this weekend's UCLA series. That's Job One. Also get a series win over USC next weekend, that will at least take them out of last place. Hope for a UCLA slide at the end, that will help their cause.

- Kentucky (39-14, #35RPI)
Good News:
Lead the SEC in hitting and pitching, that's gotta curry some favor. Series wins over Florida and Vanderbilt. The teams they're tied with in the SEC are Alabama and Florida, teams they've won series from. Plus, the SEC IS the SEC, it deserves more NCAA bids than anyone, right?
Bad News:
Zero non-conference wins of note. History isn't on their side after starting out 19-0 just as they did last year and getting shut out of the NCAAs.
What they must do:
Beat fellow bubble team Ole Miss at home this weekend. No doubt about it. Then, go a good ways in the SEC tournament. If the Cats meet up with either Ole Miss or Alabama, they have to win.

- Dallas Baptist (33-16, #37RPI)
Good News:
The win over Texas A&M (and near series win) brought a lot of attention to them. The Pats also own wins over Baylor, Oral Roberts and Rice (2 wins). Played a lot of good teams, which isn't usually the case for an independent.
Bad News:
They're an independent, so they get little publicity. Plus, there's no post-season tourney to lean on. Game with Texas was rained out - that would've helped win or lose. An independent not named Miami hasn't gotten an NCAA bid since 1992's Cal State Northridge team.
What they must do:
Win the series at San Francisco this weekend, because the Dons are in a fight for a post-season spot too. Hope, hope, hope for very few conference tournament upsets.

- Oral Roberts (39-12, #38RPI)
Good News:
ORU has a good reputation, including a Super Regional appearance in 2006. That has to play well with the committee. List of non-conference victims is pretty good: Baylor, Pepperdine, Arkansas, Wichita State, etc.
Bad News:
Unlike most years, the Eagles have actually lost four games in conference play. Oh that conference? Yeah, that's the Summit conference, which sits at No. 23 in Boyd Nation's conference RPI. Talk about an "anchor effect."
What they must do:
Just go ahead and sweep through your conference tournament. But if you don't, wow, I don't know. Can't remember the last time ORU did NOT win it's conference. Well, I guess hold out for few conference upsets then.

ORU-BrianVanKirk.jpg
(For the first time in modern memory there's a chance that Brian Van Kirk and the Eagles will need to win their conference post-season tournament or risk staying home in June)


- Baylor (29-22, #44RPI)
Good News:
Wins over traditional powers like Texas, Mississippi State (3), Oklahoma State (2) and Nebraska has to look pretty good to the committee. A 6th place team from the Big 12 usually gets in. That's a given.
Bad News:
The wins over Okie State made for the only series win of note for the Bears. They also lost twice to Oral Roberts, another bubble team. Not a lot of high-quality non-conference wins and the series at Texas Tech won't help them pick up any RPI points.
What they must do:
Sweep Tech and then make a LOT of noise in the Big 12 tournament. A lot. That's pretty much it. Oh, and ignore all that talk about Steve Smith being interested in the Mississippi State gig.

- Ole Miss (33-20, #45RPI)
Good News:
Tied for second in the SEC West. That's usually a good sign. Swept Vanderbilt. Got wins over Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, etc. Plus, don't you figure their pre-season Top 10 ranking has to carry some top-of-mind bonus points, even if they didn't live up to them?
Bad News:
An SEC team with an RPI in the 40s doesn't usually make it in. Their quality out of conference wins is exceedingly light (one each over Southern Miss and TCU, a series they lost in Ft. Worth). Must now travel to Kentucky to end the season and the Rebs are just 8-10 in road games.
What they must do:
Hard to believe this Super Regional regular is in this position. But here we are. Now, beat Kentucky. First and foremost. By all means, don't get swept. And then make the title round of the SEC tourney. Anything short of that and you're in peril.

- UC Davis (31-19, #51RPI)
Good News:
Tied for 4th in the Big West. Have two wins each over the likes of Stanford, Washington State and Fresno State. Beat Cal on Tuesday. Also have series wins over Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara.
Bad News:
Being a mystery team isn't an advantage when it comes to the NCAA committee. Sorry, I know it shouldn't matter, but the name "UC Davis" doesn't carry a lot of weight in college baseball circles. Ask Cal Poly, the Big West doesn't get many favors in the post-season to begin with.
What they must do:
This week's series with UC Irvine is their last chance to make national waves. And winning that series is probably the only hope.

- Alabama (30-23, #53RPI)
Good News:
The committee always likes teams on an uptick, and Bama has series wins over Florida, Arkansas, Auburn and Mississippi State in the last four weeks. Have series wins over Vandy and Ole Miss as well.
Bad News:
Single wins over both Troy and Dallas Baptist - that's about all they have to show in the non-conference. (What is with the SEC? Didn't they learn from last year?) That 53 RPI is probably way too high for an SEC team. The committee has shunned SECers like this as recent as 2007.
What they must do:
Don't get swept at Georgia. Just don't. Hope teams like Ole Miss, Kentucky and Florida - who are also 14-13 in conference - really crash and burn down the stretch. And yes, make Hoover your home. Win there. Win there a lot next week.

- UCLA (26-23, #54RPI)
Good News:
Well, the record isn't pretty, but their remaining games with Washington State, Fullerton and Cal will significantly bump their RPI. Their last three wins have come against UC Irvine, Oregon State and Arizona State. They're tied in the Pac 10 standings with the No. 12 RPI team (Arizona) - a team they beat in a best-of-three.
Bad News:
Man alive, that is one ugly won-loss mark. Shew! Early season non-conference wins over Oklahoma, USC and Cal Poly aren't so impressive now. Unfortunately, the Bruins are top-of-mind when you ask people who has underachieved this season.
What they must do:
Well, that No. 16 ranked strength of schedule will only get stronger in the next two weeks, so just go better than .500 the rest of the way and you could be in the post-season. Of course, with those teams remaining, that's easier said than done.

- Washington (31-17, #93RPI)
Good News:
Hey, 3rd place in the Pac 10. No prob, right? When was the last time a 3rd place team didn't get a bid? Never? Probably. That series win over Washington State last week was pretty solid. Also beat Arizona in weekend series last month as well.
Bad News:
Lawdy, lawdy! That strength of schedule at No. 165 just ain't right. Probably regretting non-conference 3-gamers with the likes of Holy Cross, Utah Valley State and Hawaii-Hilo, aren't ya'? Games with Arizona State and Stanford will help the RPI, but may not help the won-loss mark.
What they must do:
At least go .500 in the six games with the Devils and Cardinal. Going 4-2 wouldn't hurt either. And by all means, don't lose the mid-weeker to Lewis-Clark State, even if they are an NAIA power. Trust in the notion that the Northwest gets the shaft in the RPI, so hope the selection committee uses common sense instead. Oh, and Pat Murphy is on the committee, so put up a good showing this weekend.

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THE NEW ROSENBLATT---
Yes stitch-heads, it's all but a done deal. The College World Series will have a new destination starting in 2011. The new downtown ballpark has been green-lighted, the NCAA contract has been signed and the countdown on the grand old Rosenblatt has begun.

Want a quick look at the new Mecca of college baseball? Here are a few animated views of the layout of the new stadium that will sit next to the Qwest Center in downtown Omaha:

NewRosenblatt-LF.jpg
(Here's the view of the new 'Blatt from beyond left field)


NewRosenblatt-RF.jpg
(... and here's the view over the scoreboard/videoboard in right field)


And here are a few pertinent stats about the joint:

- Will be located on parking lots C and E next to the Quest Center
- 24,000 seats
- 14,000 reserved
- 4,708 box seats
- 5,292 gen ad seats
- 28 luxury suites
- Wider seats, more legroom (I'm 6'2", I'll be the judge of that)
- A 360-degree open concourse
Party decks, dining terraces and picnic tables surround the outfield and concourse

Just from eye-balling the layout and animation, here are a few goods and bads.

First, my kneejerk reaction good points:
- Lots of shade. Lots. That's very good. Note the heavy amount of overhang on the upper deck, which of course, covers the concourse and stands below.
- For adverse weather, there is going to be about 50,000% more cover than the current stadium.
- Bathrooms. Many, many bathrooms. Which is one of the complaints of the current stadium. Ladies?... You agree?
- Lots of concourses for people to walk around. No more close, cramped walkways stuck behind somebody who is walking slow enough to be timed with a sundial.

Now, my kneejerk reaction bad points:
- What? No blue, yellow and red patterned seating sections like the old Rosenblatt? I think that's one of the eye-catching features of our beloved, dated park. Even from 35,000 feet above on a clear day (yes, I once picked out Rosenblatt far, far below on a flight to New York).
- With all the green seats and the circular formation of the park, doesn't it look like Oakland Alameda Coliseum? (Or whatever corporate name it is now.)
- Probably a little too much foul area in front of the dugouts for my liking. But to each his own.
- Okay, I see the celebrating players statue on the back of the scoreboard. Is the REAL statue not going to make it over from the old park?


.
Alright stitch-heads, I'm actually in San Francisco tonight in anticipation of tomorrow's Dallas Baptist-USF game. And get this... tomorrow's high temperature in the city by the bay is projected to be 92 degrees. In other words, the hottest day of the year. How the hell did I get so lucky?

I hate heat. I'm Scandanavian.

G'night.

May 14, 2008

Tuesday Stuff - Proof that college baseball CAN be a revenue sport

It was a big night in college baseball tonight. As in big crowds in big stadiums. And thus, it made for some big games in the stitched-ball nation tonight.

'Blatt.NU-CU.jpg
(As you see, the Mecca of college baseball saw a big crowd tonight)

Here's a few of them from Tuesday's schedule.

.
I LOVE TO GO TO GAMES AT A PRO BALLPARK---
... when there are college games played in them. Here are the Tuesday results of games played where the play-for-pay guys usually roam:

- Rosenblatt Stadium
Nebraska - 8
Creighton - 1
Attendance: 14,650
Northern baseball is alive and well (then again, if you've been paying attention the last two years, Oregon State makes that statement loud and clear enough). Another good win for the Huskers. The 9th inning hero of the Texas A&M game, Mitch Abeita, got things rolling for NU again here, rocketing his 8th home run of the run over the right field wall to put the Huskers up 3-0 after an inning. And nice job of recovering from that emotional series win over Texas A&M. Strong work Huskers.

- Turner Field, Atlanta
Georgia - 3
Georgia Tech - 2
Attendance: 22,599
I hate to say this about a mid-week game, but Georgia really needed this W. They had been blown out twice by the Jackets this season already, so their national image was at stake here. But the Dogs got it done tonight as first-time starter Nick Montgomery went five innings, holding GT to a run on two hits. Then, Joshua Fields did what Joshua Fields does, he slammed the door for his school-record 16th save of the season.

- Fifth Third Ballpark, Comstock Park, Mich.
Notre Dame - 12
Michigan - 15
Attendance: Stupid box scores on both teams' websites didn't list the attendance. Thanks people.
The Wolverines slammed out 22 hits on the night, 13 of which came with two outs. Leif Mahler had a 4-for-6, 4RBI night and Nate Recknagel went 3-for-6, 3RBI, 2HR night. And really... is there a better name out there than Recknagel? He sounds like he should be playing middle linebacker. Not a great loss for Notre Dame, considering their RPI is in the 70s and the Irish don't have a boat-load of high profile non-conference wins. ND drops to 33-16-1 overall. Michigan is a stoic 39-11.


- Zephyr Stadium, Metairie, La.
New Orleans - 6
Louisiana State - 7 (15inns)
Attendance: 5,626
Time of game: 5:14 (ouch, it's beddy-bye time kids)
Something had to give here, both teams have been red hot. And wouldn't you know it, it still took 15 innings to decide it. A Michael Hollander double started off the bottom of the 15th (and why was LSU the home team here?... I digress) and he was eventually knocked in by a Sean Ochinko single. LSU is now 36-16-1, while UNO has its 13-game win streak snapped, dropping the Privateers to 38-14. But really, only 5,626? I woulda thought there'd be more.

UNO-N'awlins.jpg
(Okay, this might be the jersey of the year in college baseball, UNO's "N'awlins" jersey. Just too cool)


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SPEAKING OF BIG CROWDS, HOW 'BOUT THIS ONE---
Buffalo - 13
Ohio State - 14
The Bucks come back from an 11-0 deficit to get win No. 28 on the season. Best part? The actual attendance (not just "tickets sold" there people) was 3,503 fans. That's for a mid-week afternoon game in the Big 10 too. And you guys doubt the support of Northern baseball? Sheesh.


.
MOST IMPORTANT WIN OF THE NIGHT---
UCLA - 6
UC Irvine - 4
How important was this win for the Bruins tonight? They brought in Friday night starter Tim Murphy to close out the game to get the final two outs to pick up his first save of the season. With the win UCLA improved to 26-23. UCI falls to 33-14.


.
GUESS THEY WERE MAD---
Sacred Heart - 12
Army - 27
The Black Knights won the Patriot League championship, but were eliminated in the first round of PL playoffs by Bucknell. So what do they do for a season finale? They beat the tar out of Sacred Heart, that's what. J.P. Polchinski homered twice in the first inning alone and Cole White became Army's career leader in home runs as the Knights put up 15 runs in the opening frame alone. Army finishes the season 25-25, its fifth straight 25+ winning season.


.
WHERE HAS THIS PITCHING BEEN FOR MARYLAND ALL SEASON?---
Maryland - 4
Delaware - 0
Two words: No. Hitter.

Last week, I spent some time checkin' out the performance of Kevin Biringer as he held North Carolina State to two runs in the Terps 6-2 win over the Pack. Then today, Scott Swinson pulled the unlikely no-hitter against the Blue Hens. Wow. It's not often you see a mid-week no hitter, Kenn Kasparek not-withstanding. Swinson also struck out a career-high 10 batters.

Another historical note:
Today's win improves the Terrapins to 30-26 on the season. This marks just the second 30-win season in school history. Terry Rupp is warming to the chore in University Park.


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THE LAMEST "ACCOMPLISHMENT" IN BASEBALL---
When a player plays all nine positions in one game.
That's what Florida State head coach Mike Martin had versatile All American catcher Buster Posey do on Monday night during the series-embarrassing, er... I mean, series-ending win over Savannah State.

Sorry Buster, I love your talent and was impressed as hell when I saw you play that weekender vs. Miami, but when a coach does this, it's just something to put down in the scorebook. I don't think it's really all that newsworthy.

Awkward note about it: Since FSU run-ruled the Tigers in seven innings for the 4th straight game, it necessitated shifting Posey to different positions in the middle of innings on two occasions. C'mon guys, just have him do this 9-position thing during a real 9-inning game.


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O.J. MAYO RECEIVED CASH AND GIFTS WHILE AT USC? NO!
Okay, as if college basketball couldn't get any more seedier. Now we see that this kid (allegedly) was being given gifts and cash well before his USC days, even while in high school. Hell, looks to me like USC was almost just collateral damage 'coz this kid was (allegedly) being given the goods from well before he ever stepped on campus. None-the-less, should we really be all that surprised at this new investigation? C'mon, it's college basketball.

(And no, I'm not saying college baseball is a totally clean sport either, but there is certainly not as much big time money riding on the line as there is in basketball)


.
Let me just say this real quick - I love this time of the season. We're talking about college baseball with meaningful games every day. Nice.

More tomorrow people.

G'night.

May 12, 2008

Sunday Summations- A Mother Of A Day in College Baseball

The Big 12 title. The National seeding. The regional hosting. The bickering back and forth about who has the better farmer mascot image. There was a lot on the line this weekend in Lincoln.

In the end, Nebraska and Texas A&M gave college baseball a great series. What, with Friday's 16-inning white-knuckler, a rain day to recoup our senses and then a pair of improbable Husker comebacks today... what a panic this series was.

In the end, Nebraska got the drop, pulling out comeback wins number 18 and 19 on the season to down the Aggies 9-8 and 13-10 at Haymarket Park today.

NU-celebrates.jpg
(The Cornhusker Nation explodes after Mitch Abeita's winning RBI in game one)

But even with the losses, A&M still controls the Big 12, with a game-and-a-half lead on NU and the rest of the pack. But if you were in that Aggie dugout, would you feel comfortable with a half-game lead and your bitter rival Texas up next on the docket? I didn't think so.

THREE UP---
1- Navy and Bucknell.
Those two beat Holy Cross (9-5) and Army (1-0) respectively to advance to the Patriot League championship playoff next week.
The Bison got a combined 2-hit effort from Jason Buursma and Eric Jarrett to subdue the Black Knight bats. The two BU flingers also set down 11 batters via the strike out.

The Midshipmen, meanwhile, rallied twice from deficits to the Crusaders to nail down the series win and will host Bucknell next week. What's the best part of Navy hosting the Bison next week? Well, as you know I tend to like teams with winning records taking small conference titles and Navy is currently a Patriot-best 32-23-1 overall. So, not to show favoritism here, but... go Navy.

2- Mike Dufek, Michigan.
Hit two home runs, knocking in seven runs and even picked up the first save of his career on the mound in the DH sweep of Minnesota.
The strapping soph came into the day with one home run and 16RBI on the entire season. In the two Wolverine wins today, Dufek doubled his home run total and added 50% more production to his RBI total.

UMich-Dufek.jpg
(Dufek watches his grand slam sail as Minnesota pitcher Kyle Carr despairs)

With the two wins, the Big Blue clinched the Big 10 title and thus, will host the post-season conference tournament at revamped Fisher Stadium.

3- North Carolina-Wilmington.
Beat James Madison 23-4 today to complete the three-game sweep.
Speaking of the number 23 (cue that lame as hell Jim Carrey movie of the same name), The Seahawks just put the CAA way, way in the rear-view mirror with this dominant three-gamer by a combined 41-12. It also marked the most dominant season in CAA history with their 23rd win. Heavy slugging Mark Carver set the single season RBI mark at UNCW with his 76th career run-knock.


.
THREE DOWN---
1- Florida's bullpen.
Lost at Alabama 8-7 to lose two of three this weekend.
For the second time this weekend, the Gator bullpen allowed Alabama to rally for a late-game win and take the series. Today, the Tide scored six runs in the 8th and 9th innings to get the win. Facing one of those God-awful curfews, Bama got a deep, deep sac fly from Matt Bentley, that somehow scored Jeff Texada from 2nd base. Florida could've taken over 3rd place all on its own had it held on to win, but now there's a four-way tie for 4th with the Gators, Tide, Ole Miss and Kentucky.

2- Minnesota.
Lost a pair of games vs. Michigan, 11-5 and 12-9.
Been a weird season in Minneapolis. In fact, unlike any season they've had in decades. With today's two losses, it assures the Gophers of two things, they won't make the Big 10 post-season tournament. And biggest of all?... this is officially going to be the first losing season in 45 YEARS!

Holy freakin' cow.

3- Texas A&M's defense.
The blunders were a large part of A&M's 9-8 and 13-10 losses today.
The Aggies played hard, showed resiliency and were motivated all weekend at Nebraska. Only problem was, they appeared out of their Olsen Field comfort zone. They got the heeby-jeebies in the bottom of the 9th of game one, suffering two crucial errors that allowed NU a "floodgates" frame that pulled out the unlikely win. Then they were stricken with six errors in game two, dooming their series-winning hopes.

A&Merror.jpg
(A&M's 9th inning defense went South on them when 2B Blake Stouffer and 1B Luke Anders, here botching a gimme grounder, committed a pair of errors)

Hmmm, while we're on the subject of A&M-NU, let's give an honorable mention 4TH DOWN---
- Nebraska coach Mike Anderson...
For not playing superfrosh David Stewart on Friday night.
The freshman vs. freshman matchup with Texas A&M's high-profile hurler Barrett Loux was a no-contest as the seldom used Stewart went 2-for-3 against the frosh wunderkind, including a two-run home run and a two-run double in his first two at-bats. Then, in game two of the double-header, Stewart was 2-for-5 with two more runs batted in. For the day, he went 4-for-9 with 7RBI.

But the "down" part is that Stewart probably could've helped NU's horrid 1-for-23 performance with men in scoring position in Friday night's 16-inning 6-3 loss.


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THE OUCH LIST FOR SUNDAY, MAY 11TH---
We'll feel your pain, people.

- East Carolina
Result:
Got swept at home vs. Tulane
Why it hurts:
With an RPI in the Top 15 coming into the weekend, the Pirates and their spectacular Clark-LeClair Stadium were looking to be in good shape to host a post-season regional. That should probably be out the window now, especially considering their 4th standing in the C-USA, seven games behind Rice.

- Houston
Result:
Lost the Silver Glove Series vs. Rice, losing all three games.
Why it hurts:
Their RPI of No. 50 will probably improve to tell you the truth, but boy, even a single win vs. the No. 5 Owls would've helped. Now, the Coogs will still look to be on nervous time come Memorial Day. Especially after getting run out of town by a combined 33-13.

- South Carolina
Result:
Swept in three straight at Arkansas, including today's 4-2 loss.
Why it hurts:
The Gamecocks have taken a number of shots to the ego this year, mostly on the road, and this is another. I think college baseball fans everywhere are probably wondering if this team can win at home. And it goes without saying now, that it's not as likely that Sarge-Frye Field will host a post-season regional.

- Stanford
Result:
Lost two of three vs. Cal this weekend.
Why it hurts:
Remember all that talk I did about the Cardinal having a chance at being a national seed? This weekend is starting to put that out to pasture on The Farm. Barring a complete collapse by Arizona State, Stanford probably won't win the Pac 10, especially since the Trees have to travel to Arizona and Washington the next two weeks. Hell, they're looking more likely to be traveling for the post-season as well.

- Furman
Result:
Swept in three straight games at Appalachian State
Why it hurts:
It's not often when you see the Paladins in the 1st place slot of the Southern Conference. Well, it happened at the start of this week, but it didn't last long. Furman was outscored 23-5 in Boone this weekend and see their SoCon mark fall to 15-9 as they now dip to a tie for third place.

- Vanderbilt
Result:
Lost two in a row at home to Georgia.
Why it hurts:
Today's 12-10 loss assured the Bulldogs will win their 6th SEC title. It also means that Vanderbilt could very well be hurting for a host slot in the NCAA post-season. C'mon people, they came in with an RPI at No. 24. But you gotta love the Bulldogs though, as this marked the third time this season that they've lost game one on Friday, only to come back and win the next two games to take the series.

And of course...

- Texas A&M.
Result:
Swept in both ends of a double-header at Nebraska on Sunday
Why it hurts:
Sure, the Aggies may still win the Big 12, but if it comes down to them and Nebraska for the 8th and final National seed, guess who gets it?

Plus, I'm starting to wonder about A&M's mental makeup and defense now.


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IS A MEA CULPA IN ORDER?---
N.C. State - 17
Maryland - 8
So after I bagged on the Wolf Pack yesterday for looking beyond average in their 6-2 loss on TV at Maryland, they turn around and beat UMd in two straight by a combined 29-9. Nice recovery. Hot-diggity, there might just be some fire in that locomotive after all. Don't worry NCSU, I'm still keeping a close watch.


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AND FINALLY, A LITTLE HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY HONOR---
In case you didn't know, who are the greatest mothers in the world?... The Mothers of Invention.

MothersOfInvention.jpg
(The Mothers of Invention album cover for "We're Only In It For The Money" which lampooned the Beatles "Sergeant Pepper" cover)

Fronted by the legendary rock iconoclast Frank Zappa (front right above), the musical talent in this band flooded a rather bland record industry in the late 60s and early 70s with amazing whit and biting social satire. Zappa would soon strike out on his own and become a visionary musician and composer. He also went on to be the face of the music industry in the mid-80s when bored housewife Tipper Gore decided to try to censor the recording industry as he testified on Capitol Hill on behalf of musical artists everywhere.

Being Frank here, Zappa is a Mother.

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On that note (pun only slightly intended), G'night.

May 11, 2008

Saturday Statements - A Saturday of Miracles

"Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"

1980UShockey.jpg

Okay, so maybe it wasn't exactly Lake Placid and the Ruskies in 1980 (my sincere apologies to Al Michaels here). But it was certainly another upset Saturday in college baseball. Make no mistake, the pressure is getting to teams all around the country. You'll see what I mean as you read on.

So here with the good and bad of today's action is our usual Three Up-Three Down list.

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THREE UP---
The good news surrounding college baseball on this Saturday.
1- The top 10 upsets of the day.
Here they are:
1-
(1) Miami - 6
Virginia Tech - 7
C'mon, it's a long season. You can't expect a No. 1 team to play at the top of its game all season. Right? But this marked the first ever win for the Hokies over the Hurricanes in their program's history. And it looks like Tech celebrated too much, because they lost game two 9-2 after getting just four hits.

2-
(13) Wichita State - 3
Evansville - 6
A languid season by the Aces gets a shot in the arm today. With just their 14th win of the season, the Aces also won in MVC play for just the 4th time. WSU's RPI, already getting dragged down this weekend, just got a little worse by suffering the unexpected loss.

3-
Pacific - 10
(10) UC Irvine - 9 (10inns)
The Anteaters get five runs in the bottom of the 9th to send the game to extras, only to allow the Tigers to score a run in the 10th and gather just their 4th win of the season in Big West play. They are now 11-36 on the season.

4-
(21) N. C. State - 2
Maryland - 6
Terps win means they are assured of their first winning season since 2002. One more W and we're talking about just the second 30-win season in school history. More on this below.

5-
Pittsburgh - 5
Notre Dame - 3
The 10th-place Panthers are giving some misery to the Irish, who entered the day a half-game back of 1st place St. John's. Starting pitcher Rob Brant and reliever Ricky Breymeir, who both came into the game with 7+ ERAs for the Panthers, combined to hold ND to just five hits.

6-
(9) San Diego - 3
San Francisco - 6
The Dons still have a chance at making this rematch in the WCC playoffs (which matches up the top two teams in the standings), so this win was really, really big. Plus, getting a W with Josh Romanski on the mound for the Toreros is pretty freakin' clutch.

7-
Tulane - 10 10
(24) East Carolina - 8 8
That the Green Wave would beat ECU isn't such a huge upset, but that they would do so in two consecutive games in one day at Clark-LeClair Stadium, is stunning. The Greenies stay boiling hot as cleanup hitter Rob Segedin garners 9RBI on the day, including a home run.

Tulane-OFcollision.jpg
(Anthony Scelfo and Warren McFadden did a slam dance on a fly ball at ECU today, but Scelfo was able to make the catch)


8-
Cal Poly - 11
(15) Cal State Fullerton - 4
Oh what could've been. Maybe THIS was the team that Larry Lee was expecting to have this season. With injuries and plain bad luck taken into consideration, the baseball Gods haven't been shining down on the Mustangs this year, but this was one of their better performances. This was CP's first win at Goodwin Field since 2002.

9-
(12) South Carolina - 3
Arkansas - 6
The Hogs win their second game in a row vs. the visiting Gamecocks, thus improving their stock for a berth in the SEC tournament (they're still on the outside looking in) and for an at-large berth to the NCAAs. Man, what has happened to South Carolina? They're 3-7 in the last 10 SEC matches.

10-
Auburn - 11
Ole Miss - 1
Can the Tigers actually reach the post-season? They're giving it the old college try, especially after this rout today. They still stand at 11-15, tied with Tennessee just outside the top eight in the SEC. Keep in mind the RPI is in the mid-60s for now, but this will help in gaining some RPI points, no doubt.

And now the rest of the Three Up list...

2- Georgia.
Beat Vanderbilt 4-2 by rallying for two runs in the 9th and two in the 10th.
Up until today's unlikely win, UGa had been 0-15 when trailing after eight innings. But today, the Dogs rallied in the 9th, with the help of a Pedro Alvarez error (the one weakness to his game, from what I've seen) and a Ryan Peisel game-tying RBI single. Then in the 10th, Ryan Poythress knocked in the game-winning RBI single. Georgia now has a three game lead in the SEC with four to play.

3- St. John's.
Won both ends of a double header at South Florida 8-1 and 4-3.
With Notre Dame losing to 10th-place Pitt, the Redmen, er... I mean, Red Storm (which begs the question, what IS a Red Storm?) now take a two-game lead on the Irish with just four games to play. SS Jeff Grantham went 3-for-4 in both games, hitting the game-winning homer in the 10th inning of game two. SJU is now 39-10 on the season.


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THREE DOWN---
The bad news surrounding college baseball on this Saturday.
1- Texas Tech.
Lost 13-3 at Oklahoma State.
Today's loss by the Red Raiders assures them of a losing season, the first time they've been on the South side of the ledger in a season since 1987.

2- The Sunshine Network's choice of games to televise.
Can anyone explain to me the reason why the 19-2, mercy-ruled win by Florida State over Savannah State was on TV today? OOOF!

SSU-CoachWheeler.jpg
(Savannah pitching coach Emmanuel Wheeler shows his frustration in another big loss at FSU. Yes, that does show that it was the 3rd inning on the header above.)


3- Louisiana-Monroe
Lost at home to Troy for the second day in a row, 24-6.
The Red Hawks have now given up 35 runs in two games to the Trojans, both losses. Troy got grand slams from both Charley Williams and Brock Kelley in the white-washing. Coupled with New Orleans' win over Arkansas-Little Rock, UL-M is now tied atop the Sun Belt standings (though percentage points behind). But when you consider Monroe is 3-7 in its last 10 and UNO is 10-0, you can see that the light at the end of the UL-M tunnel is an oncoming train.

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MAYBE I CAUGHT THEM ON A BAD DAY---
N. C. State - 2
Maryland - 6
Last week, when I did my "Surprise Teams" for 2008 for the boys at College Sports Tonight, the second team I mentioned was the Wolf Pack, who at the time were sitting at No. 8 in the RPI. But I also said, "I don't know too much about them, I hope to see them down the stretch." Well, today, with the help of Fox Sports Florida, I saw them. And I evidently saw them at their worst.

Should this game reaffirm my thoughts that there is certainly something horribly, horribly wrong with the RPI if this team is near the top 10? Today, their offense was handcuffed by an inspired performance from Terp senior Kevin Biringer, who went 8.0 innings, giving up just two runs and scattering eight hits in what is his last home game at UMd.

NC State ace Clayton Shunick, on the other hand, gave up 11 hits in 6.0 innings of work and dropped to 6-5 on the season. Man, this team could really use Eric Surkamp and Eryk McConnell back to their old selves.


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WHAT I SAW ON FOX SPORTS SOUTH---
Miss. State - 4
LSU - 16
I have to admit, after seeing MSU's Grant Hogue easily steal third and then run home on the errant throw by Tiger starter Blake Martin, followed by a listless error at 3rd by Michael Hollander that allowed Tyler Moore to reach first, images of their malaise-ridden Smoke Laval days crept back in my mind.

Not only that, but three of the first six outs of LSU's lineup were out on the first swing of their at-bats and two of the first six outs came by way of looking at the third strike. I was getting bad vibes man. Bad vibes.

But from that point on, LSU went all 90s-like on the Dogs, smashing four screaming homers into the hot, humid jet stream and cruising from there to another easy W. Blake Dean hit a three-run shot to get things started in the 3rd, Leon Landry added a two-run shot and Ryan Schrimpf hit a bomb over the tall centerfield wall and another yard call later in the game.

Gotta give some props to once-struggling SS DJ LeMahieu as he made a handful of great backhand stops and did not commit an error on the day.

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BERTMAN'S FIRST REQUEST
During the game, color commentator Larry Conley asked ex-coach Skip Bertman what his first thing he wanted changed when he came to the LSU campus as head coach. Skip said, "The first thing I told the guys here was to expand and paint the women's bathrooms and add baby changing tables. They couldn't believe what I was saying but my point was 'Guys, if the women don't come to the games, the men won't be allowed to go either.'"

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THUMBS DOWN TO THE ANNOUNCER
Play by play announcer Dan Neal for opening the broadcast by saying it was a "glorious day" in Baton Rouge for the game. Then, in the first inning, after noticing the already soaked jerseys of the players and the fans behind home plate in constantly fanning themselves, Neal said, "Today's easily the hottest day of the year with temperatures well into the 90s and reaching triple digits on the field." My Scandanavian blood wouldn't find that so glorious.

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IS IT JUST ME, OR ARE THERE TRAIN TRACKS NEXT TO JUST ABOUT EVERY COLLEGE BASEBALL STADIUM?

LSU-Train.jpg

Here's the tracks next to Alex Box. And Dan Neal also said during the contest, "That's one thing I'm not going to miss about Alex Box, the railroad tracks going right behind the stadium." Blasphemy.


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ONE LAST CLOSING SHOT---
Just thought I'd say at this point that My Morning Jacket's performance on Saturday Night Live was pretty damn cool.

SNL-MyMorningJacket.jpg
(My Morning Jacket jamming out to "I'm Amazed" on SNL tonight)

Besides, when was the last time you saw one of those "Flying V" 80s-style guitars like the Hair Metal bands used to use? Bitchin' man.


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Okay, now I'm going to go and finish watching my Netflix rental of The Descent. Hope it's as good as this Saturday of college baseball, but I doubt it.

The Ouch List is just 24 hours away.

G'night.

May 09, 2008

Thursday Thoughts - Talkin' RPI, writin' RPI, thinkin' RPI, RPI'ing about the RPI.

... and wishing that ranking system would go the way of the buffalo at the same time.

RIP.jpg
(We could only wish...)

I predict I will type the letters "RPI" about 100 times in this column. But you can't help but have RPI on the brain with just two weekends of regular season play remaining for most conferences. (Of course, the smart ones don't play conference tournaments, so they've got three weekends of conference play left.). I just wonder how much the RPI is on the minds of the NCAA selection committee. There have been years where it's been too much. Let's see how 2008 turns out.

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COUPLE OF QUICK HITS FIRST---
- The big gainers in the RPI? Head toward the state of Louisiana.
* LSU jumped from No. 37 up to 22 after sweeping Kentucky.
* New Orleans jumped from No. 53, into the at-large picture at No. 33.
* Tulane, though modest by those standards, leapt from No. 56 to 51 with a series win vs. UCF.

- The big losers? Obviously...
* Oregon State, going from regional host-land at No. 14 down to No. 26 after dropping a pair at Wazzu.
* Kentucky, off the heels of getting kicked by LSU, went from No. 28 to No. 40.
* College of Charleston was quietly the biggest loser, dropping three to UNC-Greensboro and moving from No. 41 to out of the conversation at No. 56.

- And then there's these two...
* UC Irvine went 2-1 at Cal State Northridge, but dropped out of the hosting range of No. 9 down to No. 19.
* Oklahoma State was the biggest loser that won, going from No. 5 to No. 14 after beating Utah Valley State three games to one.


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WHAT THE PALM SAYS---
I got an Email from my good bud Jerry Palm last week. (For those that don't know, he's the RPI and BCS guru for college basketball and football that I have worked with in the last two Final Fours, since we were both roundball writers for CSTV.). He read my column last week that was going over all the over-the-top changes that were taking place in the RPI rankings. Well here's what he wrote to me to help explain things about college baseball rankings to thick-headed fans (and that includes me), so that they understand...

- "One important thing to remember is that rankings are relative.  A team's movement up and down is not based only on its own successes or failures, but also those of the teams around them in the rankings.  In the RPI (and other ranking systems), it is possible to win, have your raw RPI number go up, but still have your ranking go down because of what other teams around them in the rankings do.  Another factor in team movement is the performance of that team's previous opponents (future opponents are not included in rankings).
 
Let's use Rice as an example.  You noted they went 3-0 vs ECU and jumped from 24 to 7.  Obvioulsy, the fact that ECU is highly rated as well helped the climb, but what did Rice's previous opponents do?  If their previous opponents had a great week collectively, they would move up even farther.  If not, it could stunt their growth.
 
Perhaps that's what happened with Wichita St.  Also, with WSU, the Tabor game does not count in the RPI because the RPI only counts games against D-I opponents.
 
Also, if the baseball RPI is anything like the basketball one, the closer you get to the top, the harder it is to move up because the raw rating difference between the teams gets bigger."
 
- Jerry also commented to me, "I didn't know the baseball RPI generated as much vitriol as the basketball one does."

Oh my! I assured Jerry that there was a lot MORE vitriol to the RPI for baseball because of factors like weather, geographic isolation and national powers playing home-heavy schedules. I made sure to point out to Jerry that if he wanted to see what a sham the RPI was for baseball he should just look at Oregon State, the two-time national champion. The Beavers haven't been near the Top 10 of the RPI after either of the last two regular seasons. In fact, they've been more toward the 20s or 30s. Yet there they are dominating the last two College World Series. It's definitely NOT like basketball at all. It's much more vitriolic.


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HERE'S THE RPI PLUMMET WATCH FOR THIS WEEKEND---
Won't anybody learn from Oklahoma State's mistake last weekend? Sigh.

Here are this week's teams that are on Plummet Watch, regardless of wins or losses:
- Savannah State at No. 4 Florida State.
FSU is in a weird spot. Having lost both series to ACC rivals Miami and North Carolina, yet still at No. 2 in the RPI. Will this weekend drag them to the cusp of losing a national seeding? Probably not. But the Animals of Section B still have cause to be nervous. They still have a lot to prove.

- Utah Valley State at No. 19 Arizona.
The Wildcats already had their RPI dip from No. 11 down to No. 16 with last weekend's series loss at Cal. So this will make things even worse.

- Loyola Marymount at No. 3 Arizona State.
This one won't be as bad as the two above, I mean, LMU's RPI is at No. 73, so it's not a killer. But I still think ASU has (uncharacteristically) played way too many home games and not done all that crash-hot when on the road (just 7-6).

- Pacific at No. 10 UC Irvine.
Irvine again? Damn. And I know the Anteaters can't help it, since the Tigers are a conference foe, but at just 9-34 and No. 212 in the RPI, Pacific is doing its Big West mates no favors this year.

- No. 13 Wichita State at Evansville.
Gah! I can't figure out how EU's season has gone THIS bad. They sit at 13-36 and 3-15 for now and won't help the Shocks cause for getting a home regional. And despite all the losses to Big 12 teams, I know it sounds weird when I say that I still like WSU as a sleeper for the NCAA tournament. Just love the arms of Musgrave, Shafer and Capra.


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THE TOP 10 PLACES TO BE THIS WEEKEND---
Lord, just split me in ten and let me be on my ways...

1- The place where a national seed could be decided.
No. 6 Texas A&M (41-8, 18-3) at No. 7 Nebraska (36-8, 15-5)
Not to be mellow-dramatic here, but just about everything is at stake in Lincoln this weekend. But let's face it, A&M has a 2.5 game lead going in, so even getting just one victory will keep the Ags in first place. But a Top 8 seeding, or a No. 1 seeding and home field advantage is on the line for the two Big 12 powers. I think Aaron Fitt made an important point earlier this week, it will be the senior starting arms of the Huskers playing at home that should prevail over the frosh starting arms of the Aggies. Only question is, will NU win two games? Or all three? My bet is on two... but I'm not driving to Vegas to place the bets in person or anything.

A&M-RobChildress.jpg
(How will Rob Childress and Co. handle the national attention this weekend?)


2- The place where a home regional could be decided.
No. 14 Georgia (31-16, 17-6) at No.11 Vanderbilt (36-13, 14-9)
Okay, I'm probably wrong here because Georgia has a home regional all but wrapped up I'm sure, but they're still playing for a national seed as well. Vandy, on the other hand, has hopes to play at home in the post-season still dangling in front of it. And they seem to be turning things around too, sweeping Tennessee last weekend and going 17-3 in their last 20.

3- The places where great generals are made and the Patriot League champion will be decided.
No. 4-seed Bucknell at No. 1-seed Army.
No. 3-seed Holy Cross at No. 2-seed Navy.
I love small conference post-season baseball. I wish I could see more of it. There's nothing like seeing a team reach the apex of its season. Because more than likely the champion in these leagues will be grist for the mill of the big boy major conferences. (Although I love when they pull first round NCAA tournament upsets too). And Patriot League is doing this the right way now. Long gone is the three-team playoff decided in two days time. Now, these four teams will play a best-of-three series this weekend and the winners meet in another best-of-three next weekend.

4- The place where the most freakish RPIs in the country reside.
Washington State (26-20, 5-10) at Washington (29-16, 8-7).
Have you seen a bigger poster child for the "RPI is a Croc" than this matchup? Get this, Wazzu is in last place in the Pac 10. Last, at 5-10. Yet their RPI is at No. 21. Meanwhile, Udub is catching fire and sitting at 3rd in the Pac 10. 3rd, at 8-7. Yet their RPI is down at No. 101. What the?...

Should be a fun series with interesting contrasts. I was impressed with the Husky arms last week in the sweep at USC. And the Coogs are swingin' some mighty sticks right now, having just plastered the defending national champions for 30 runs in three games. Oooh! Where's the College Gameday crew when we need them?

5- Tulane (33-15, 10-6) at No. 24 East Carolina (36-13, 11-7)
Post-season jockeying is all the rage here as these two teams are coming in on hot streaks and playing some of their best baseball of the season. Shooter Hunt seems to be a certain Friday W for the Green Wave. And CF/football team QB Anthony Scelfo got some national pub for making that slam-into-the-wall catch in Tuesday's New Orleans game. It showed up on ESPN's Top 10 Plays of the Day at No. 2.

Tulane-AntScelfo.jpg
(Obviously, Anthony Scelfo has been a main cog in the Wave attack)

6- No. 20 Cal (30-15, 9-9) at No. 18 Stanford (28-16-2, 10-5).
Finally, this series means more than a bunch of smart people in the Bay area having bragging rights over another bunch of smart people in the Bay area. Both could use the boost for the post-season, but the Trees are still within striking distance of league-leading Arizona State, sitting a half-game back. If they pull through and win the Pac 10, I'm predicting a national seed is still not out of the question (although could you guys start winning some mid-week games right about now?).

7- Houston (30-18, 11-7) at No. 5 Rice (36-11, 15-3)
I love this cross-town rivalry. The Coogs are still smarting from that three-game sweep at the hands of Southern Miss two weeks ago. But they are within striking distance of the big dance at No. 50 and a good schedule the rest of the way. In the 11 years of the Silver Glove Series, UofH has won only once, in 2000. Going into this weekend, the season series is tied 1-1. Wes Musick (7-3, 4.04) gives the Cougars their best chance at a W on Friday. Rice is still on cruise control, having gone 17-2 since April Fool's Day.

8- UNC-Wilmington (36-11-1, 20-3-1) at James Madison (31-13, 18-5)
So if you're the commissioner of the CAA, who do you cheer for here? Right now, UNCW is in pretty solid shape to make an at-large appearance in the NCAAs (currently a No. 29 RPI), but JMU is still fighting tooth-and-nail to get there (at No. 69), and still has an outside shot, especially with a series win here. Do you hope UNCW improves its resume with a dominant conference performance? Or do you put the Seahawks at-large status in peril in hopes that the Dukes can improve theirs?

Either way, look for a lot of offense as these two teams hit .314 and .320 respectively. And the pitching staffs, though still two of the best in the CAA, sport rather high 4.82 and 5.28 ERAs.

9- No. 9 San Diego (38-13, 15-3) at San Francisco (29-22, 10-8)
With an RPI down at No. 84, I realize the Dons have slim hopes for an at-large bid to the Big Dance. But think of it this way... USF is in a dog fight for 2nd place in the WCC, bunched up with Pepperdine and Santa Clara. Both of those teams play lower-tier teams in Portland and St. Mary's this weekend. So the Dons need to win to stay within striking distance of the WCC playoffs, which match up only the top two teams.

10- UC Santa Barbara (30-17, 9-6) at No. 25 Long Beach State (28-17, 9-6)
Well it's either sink or swim for the Gauchos. Sure, they're tied with the Dirtbags and UC Davis at third in the Big West, but with an RPI at No. 65 and the fact that it's not likely the NCAA committee will take five Big Westerners, this is a do-or-die series. Meanwhile, the Beach is still looking for that magic touch that had them playing better than anyone in the country in its first 20 games. Andrew Liebel and Vance Worley give them that chance to recapture the early season glory on Fridays and Saturdays.


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IDEA FOR A NEW SHOW CALLED "40SOMETHING"---
Take the most promising teams in the country, dress them up as supposed-to-be-successful yuppies and watch them whine about their lives the whole show long.

Okay, not really. But if you want to see the most disappointing teams in the country this year, just look in the 40s of this week's RPI rankings.

40- Kentucky
Pre-season: No. 25 nationally, 3rd in SEC East
Currently: 35-14, 11-13, 8th in the SEC.
The problem is: Just like last year, a Downy-soft early slate put up a smokescreen to all of us. The Cats started out 19-0, but now they're playing people that can do damage.

45- Baylor
Pre-season: Picked 3rd in the Big 12 pre-season coach's poll.
Currently: 28-22, 10-14, 6th in the Big 12.
The problem is: Weak hitting and control problems on the mound. BU is second to last in the Big 12 in both offense (.284) and walks issued (198). And could there really be something to this Steve Smith to his alma mater Mississippi State thing?

46- UCLA
Pre-season: Ranked No. 1 by Baseball America
Currently: 24-21, 7-8, 6th in the Pac 10
The problem is: Pitching inconsistency and a bit of the injury bug. But the bottom line is once you get down, Pac 10 play is no place to try to regain your confidence.

47- Ole Miss
Pre-season: No. 7 nationally and 1st in the SEC
Currently: 31-19, 12-12, 6th in the SEC.
The problem is: ... a complete mystery. In SEC games, the Rebs are second-to-last in scoring and defense. Power arms like Cody Satterwhite and Lance Lynn need to ratchet it up a notch.

48- Missouri
Pre-season: No. 6 in Baseball America and 2nd in the Big 12 coach's poll.
Currently: 32-16, 11-10, 4th in Big 12.
The problem is: There is no cloning device to replicate another Aaron Crow and Jacob Priday.


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30 DAYS IN THE HOLE---
Forgot to mention this last week, but I heard a new phrase at the Pepperdine-San Diego game last Sunday. USD's Rich Hill came out to make a point of contention with home plate umpire Ruben Chavira about some balls-and-strikes calls. Of course, you know umps have no tolerance for that, so Chavira kept yelling to Coach Hill, "Get back in the hole! I don't want to hear anything about my strike zone, get back in the hole!"

I've never heard a dugout referred to as a "hole" before. So there you go, make it catch on people.

USD-RichHillvsUmp.jpg
(WCC umpire Ruben Chavira didn't like Coach Hill's tactics too much)


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THIS WEEK'S YOU TUBE MOMENT, SOUTHERN STYLE---
Check out this short clip from The Roger Cador Show as we see a jog-off home run by Southern's Brian McDavid in a game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on April 13th:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3WGGkEodjc

After seeing the Jags play out at the Urban Invitational earlier this year, I have to say they're a whole lot of fun to watch. With their dugout chants, spirited play and the easily affable Cador as head coach, this is another prime example here as we listen to coach's comments during the highlight show. The Jags won the Western Division of the SWAC with an 18-6 mark and will play Alabama State in an opening round game of the SWAC tournament on May 14th.


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THIS WEEK'S TRIVIA QUESTION---
(Oh crap, that reminds me, I still owe Oklahoma pitcher Andrew Doyle five bucks. My bad.) Name the All American pitcher that unfortunately also holds the record for most losses in the College World Series?

Need a hint? He was the top draftee in his class and also played basketball on a Final Four team.

Whoever gets it right gets a free cold one from me in Omaha.


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Okay people, enjoy your second-to-last weekend of college baseball. It's that cruel crunch time of the season, so I hope your hearts don't break this weekend. But if they do, well, that's the RPI for ya'.

G'night.

May 08, 2008

Wednesday Stuff - Columbia gets first dibs on the Dance

People, the first tuxedo fitting for the Big Dance is a Columbia blue one.

BabyBlueTux.jpg
(Ahhh, you've gotta love a Columbia blue tuxedo.
Now the CU Lions are ready to dance.)

Well, we've got one down and 63 to go as Columbia takes down Dartmouth for the Ivy League title today to make its reservations for the tournament.

Elsewhere, we've got more breaking hearts and waning chances for national seeds and post-season hosting slots. Here's the rundown of what happened on this Wednesday full of college baseball action.

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COLUMBIA WINS THE ANCIENT EIGHT TITLE, GETS FIRST TUX FITTING FOR THE BIG DANCE---
Columbia - 7
Dartmouth - 5
The once-lowly Lions roar into the NCAA tournament by beating the Big Green today in Hanover.

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WHY I'M GLAD COLUMBIA WON THE IVY LEAGUE TITLE---
- Unlike a lot of seasons, it wasn't a case where a team got hot and won its way to the NCAA bid. CU actually played well all season long, going 17-6 in Ivy League play.
- Always good to see new blood in the post-season. For the first time since, I don't know, maybe the dawn of mankind, it won't be Princeton or Harvard going to the NCAA tournament.
- Coach Brett Boretti is a good guy.

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WHY I'M NOT GLAD COLUMBIA WON THE IVY LEAGUE TITLE---
- I never like to see team's with a losing record get in the NCAA tournament (CU is now 22-25). And yes, it's usually slim pickins to find a team that doesn't have a losing mark in the Ivy, but Dartmouth at least had a winning overall mark (finishing at 25-17).
- Now that Coach Brett Boretti has led his Lions to the NCAA tournament in just his third year, he'll probably bolt for a better gig. Let's see... not from New York? Check. Not a Columbia alum? Check. Not at the University long? Check. Make that check mate.

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THE BATTLE FOR THE NATIONAL SEED GAME---
Oklahoma State - 2
Rice - 4
While Rice now sits at No. 5 in the RPI, this game meant a lot more to Okie State, that's for sure. The Pokes dropped anchor from No. 5 down to No. 14 after going 3-1 vs. Utah Valley State last weekend. So a win here could've healed those wounds a bit, but the Owls were too staunch. Matt Evers, Bobby Bell and Cole St. Clair combined to give up just one hit in the last 3.2 innings of the game.

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DO YOU THINK THIS PROVES THE ACC IS BETTER THAN THE SEC?---
Georgia Tech - 11
Georgia - 1
Ouch! This is win No. 2 for the ACC's 6th-place Jackets over the SEC-leading Bulldogs this season. And both times have been quite the decisive wins too. On April 9th, Tech won 9-4. Tonight, starting pitcher Deck McGuire, one of six frosh starters for the Techsters, went 7.0 innings, giving up just four hits and striking out nine 'Dogs. But it was a couple of upperclassmen that made the difference offensively as senior Brad Feltes went 2-for-5 with 4RBI and junior Luke Murton went 3-for-4 with 2RBI, both of whom homered on the night.

Dave Perno's charges also found out that stellar 2B Michael Demperio, a transfer from Texas, will be lost for the rest of the season to a knee injury. Damn.

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THEN AGAIN, ALL IS NOT ROSEY FOR THE ACC TONIGHT---
North Carolina State - 2
UNC- Wilmington - 3 (11inns)
Great win for the Seahawks as they down the Pack with a Rhett Miller walk and a Jes Snyder RBI double to end the game. And again, I've still got my doubts about NCSU and their here's-why-the-RPI-is-horrible ranking of No. 12.

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THE POST-SEASON HOST-KILLING LOSS---
Arizona State - 6
Wichita State - 1
Not that their hopes were completely pinned on a win over the No. 3-ranked Devils tonight, but this is yet another mid-week loss for the Shockers. In fact, this makes them 2-6 over the last four weeks. With an RPI that has dipped down to No. 27, things didn't look too positive in that department anyway. Mike Leake, a weekend starter on the mound, got his first save of the season tonight (boy, do they need Ike Davis to return to health) and also knocked in a pair of runs on two hits tonight.

ASU, always looking for some more pitching in its thin staff, got 6.2 innings of great 5-hit, one-run work from Matt Newman, who was making his first career start.

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THE UNDER-APPRECIATED THAT I'M KEEPING AN EYE ON---
Texas Tech - 7
Dallas Baptist - 16
It appears as if the Patriots have a legit shot at an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament. With an RPI currently at No. 38, you could say that this win over a Big 12 team is actually not much of an RPI helper (Tech is No. 84). Either way, DBU picks up another decent W in a season where they need as many good Ws as possible. C'mon, don't you want an independent not named Miami to make the at-large field for the first time since 1992?

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THEY SAY IF YOU WATCH THIS GAME LONG ENOUGH YOU WILL EVENTUALLY SEE EVERYTHING---
So your team needs you to slam the door and close out the game and you get the call from the bullpen. There you are on national TV jogging in to gain the trust of your coaches that you'll close the door. Little do you know, your own barn door is wide open...

Tulane-XYZ.jpg
(C'mon dude, can't one of your
teammates tell you to XYZ ?)

This unidentified Tulane reliever not only ran out with his fly open, but it stayed that way for all four batters that he faced in his only inning of work. All for everybody on CBS College Sports to see.

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THE UAB BLACK EYE SEEPS OVER TO BASEBALL TOO---
Jacksonville State - 3 17
Ala.-Birmingham - 17 8
What's worse, losing two of three mid-week games to the Gamecocks to drop your record to 20-29, or realizing that your athletics program just saw its football team lose nine scholarships and its basketball team lose two scholarships to the NCAA's APR police? That's the indignity that UAB suffered as both totals were the most scholarships lost in each sport in the country.

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More tomorrow boys and girls.

G'night.

May 07, 2008

Tuesday Stuff - Pressure Mounts, Games Starting To Mean More

I know, I know, it's not a Thursday Thoughts night or a Sunday Summations Ouch List night, but this is May (the cruelest month in college baseball). So that means it's time to post a little bit more info from time to time. So here we are on an RPI Tuesday. Let's take a quick whirl around the nation from today's action.

GeneStephenson.jpg
(Wichita's Gene Stephenson was hoping for better results tonight to enhance his team's post-season hopes)

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BIG DANCE TUX FITTING PUT OFF FOR A DAY---
Columbia - 11 15
Dartmouth - 7 16
The Big Green scored the winning run in the 9th inning to send the Ivy League playoffs to a third and final deciding game on Wednesday. In a game that featured 35 hits, it was a non-hit that finally decided the second game in the 9th as DU's Jason Bladell hit a groundout to second that scored Damon Wright from 3rd. Game three is in Hanover tomorrow. The winner takes all.


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BEST RPI-BASED WIN---
New Orleans - 9
Tulane - 8
This cross-town rivalry takes on extra meaning with the fact that both of these Crescent City teams are probably going to be on the bubble for the NCAA tournament at-large field. The Privateers are red-hot, having now won 10 straight and 13 of their last 14. The 10 wins matches UNO's longest win streak since 1987.

UNO is now 35-13 and Tulane drops to 32-15-1. The two teams are ranked 43 and 53 in the latest Warren Nolan RPI rankings. The NCAA was slow afoot to put their RPI rankings out for this week.


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WORST RPI-BASED LOSS---
Central Arkansas - 10
Wichita State - 9
The Shockers are still holding out regional hosting hopes. But this... this was pretty bad. I mean, it's bad enough that this game with the Bears would hurt the Shocks' RPI to begin with, but losing to them just makes it worse. Two weeks ago WSU's RPI was No. 20, now they sit at 36-12 overall at down at No. 25 in the RPI.


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SWEET AND SOUR 16s---
Pepperdine - 1
Cal State Fullerton - 9
Both teams now sit at 16 losses on the season as the Titans, behind - who else - Eric Komatsu's 3-for-5, 1 home run, 2RBI performance tonight. With a 13-5 mark in the Big West and adding non-conference Ws like this can only help out the Titans' hopes of hosting a post-season regional.


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MOST PAINFUL LOSS---
Creighton - 4
Missouri - 5
Ambidextrous hurler Pat Venditte gives up four runs on three hits in the final 1.1 innings allowing the Tigers to get past the Bluejays, despite holding 4-1 lead when "Sweet Caroline" was played in the middle of the 8th. With their weak non-conference slate, the 30-17 Jays will certainly need to win the Missouri Valley tourney to get to the big dance once again.


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SECOND MOST PAINFUL LOSS---
Stanford - 9
San Francisco - 13
Man! If only the Cardinal could win a mid-week game. The Trees are sucking air on days other than Friday, Saturday and Sunday. With tonight's loss at Bendetti Diamond, SU falls to 6-8-2 in mid-week games. Their RPI sits at No. 20 as of now, still within striking distance of hosting a regional in Palo Alto.


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THIS MUST'VE SET THE HIGH MARK FOR PITCHERS USED THIS SEASON---
Fresno State - 1
Long Beach State - 2
The Bulldogs and Dirtbags combined to use 15 pitchers on the night. Yet, all of them were very effective as there were only eight hits on the night. Just to show you the quality of the two pitching staffs, there were 19 strikeouts and just two walks on the whole night.


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GUESS THEY GOT MAD---
Wright State - 3
Kentucky - 21
Sorry WSU, you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. A UK team that just got done getting swept by once-lowly LSU took their frustrations out on the Raiders tonight. Get this, switch-hitting Ryan Wilkes went 5-for-6 with 8RBI and also hit a dinger from both sides of the plate. That's no fluke. Neither is the fact that Wilkes is errorless in 204 chances this year as the everyday second baseman.


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COUPLE OF NOTES---
- Have you guys noticed how bad "Gamewatcher" is? (Not to be confused with "Gametracker" which is still awesome.). When you click on a "live stats" icon and get sent to the Gamewatcher, powered by JumpTV, update of the game, be prepared to sit and wait for a while. It takes a while for the gerbils to kick in. Then, you first get sent to a "setup" page that asks you your preferred way of viewing the game. Then, you click on "Go" and then have to sit through another waiting period (though this one has a message that says "usually takes 10 seconds" and features an hour glass... how cute). Then the game stats finally come up.

Just give me the Gametracker page with its easy graphics, quick speed and constant update of other games from around the country too.

- Couple of things I forgot from this past weekend.
1- Although I didn't notice him, Barry Bonds was actually at last Friday's Arizona State-UCLA game I was at. In fact, the Going Yard guys asked him for a short interview for their road-log camera, but his press agent/handler he was with said "No. He doesn't want to be bothered."

Since I didn't get a pic of him, here's a picture supplied by some website called bustedcoverage.com. Yes, I'm trying to say that with a straight face:

ASU-Bonds@UCLA.jpg
(Barry Bonds, here watching Brett Wallace at the dish, was at the Arizona State-UCLA game on Friday night)

ASU-Bonds@UCLA2.jpg
(Did you know Bonds' head allegedly grew three hat sizes in the 90s?)

2- The Going Yard guys also told me that Eddie Murray snubbed them for an interview and was pretty stern about it. But as you might've seen in the video clips, Orel Hershiser was great to talk to. Jason and Brody also were able to talk to Orel's son, Jordan, who pitched in Saturday's 10-2 loss to Washington.

3- I got a chance to talk to USD ace Brian Matusz's father, Mike, after the Sunday game at Pepperdine. He said Brian has been a lot more relaxed this season and it has shown in his play this year (Friday was his first loss since the season opener vs. San Diego State). I also told him I was interested in getting Brian in a poker match in about a month or so since, according to a lot of projections, he may end up the No. 1 pick of the Devil Rays in the June draft.

- The Kevin Costner/George Horton connection in Oregon.
Considering the history between the two good friends, it should come as no big surprise that Kevin Costner's band (yes, he does more than make baseball movies, he also plays in a band) will be playing a fundraiser for Oregon baseball this coming May 30-31. The school is trying to raise $20 million for its new stadium and other program amenities. But that does bring up an interesting question, doesn't Nike have enough money for this program? Oh well, the rich get richer.


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'Nuf for tonight. More tomorrow.

G'night.

May 05, 2008

Sunday Summations- A painful month of May begins

Spent the day out at the unparalleled confines of Eddy D. Field Stadium to see San Diego put some distance between itself and the rest of the West Coast Conference with a solid, typically pitching-heavy 2-0 win over the Waves at Pepperdine.

Frosh fireballer Kyle Blair went 7.2 innings, giving up just two hits and striking out seven to pace the Toreros to the victory and weekend series win. It also means that USD is very nearly assured of being in the WCC playoffs and, barring a big tank job, should go in as the regular season champions and host the best-of-three vs. the No. 2 team.

USD-KyleBlair.jpg
(Kyle Blair 2-hit performance proves USD has a helluva third starter)

Overall, it was both a surprising and painful Sunday for many of the teams around the country. So we'll start with the good and bad of things from all over Division I.

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THREE UP---
1- LSU.
Swept Kentucky in Lexington.
Allow me to type that again, swept Kentucky in Lexington. The Tigers are on a track all their own now. Nine wins in a row? Nine? Whoa. Today, the planets-are-in-line Tigers got a two-run home run from Matt Clark to complete a 6-run comeback and pull LSU's first back-to-back SEC sweeps since 1998. Jared Bradford continued his hot streak on the mound, saving his second game of the weekend.

The Bayou bashers now find themselves in first place in the wacky, disfunctional SEC West with a 12-11-1 record. Are Paul Maineiri's young charges starting to believe or what?

2- The teams that could bash their way to Omaha.
- South Carolina hit three home runs to beat Florida 9-6. (Smoak, Darnell and Disher now have 19, 15 and 16 respectively)
- Arizona State went yard six times in its 11-8 win at UCLA. (Brett Wallace hit two, Jason Kipnis added his 3rd of the weekend)

For all of you who miss the Gorilla Ball era of mid-90s LSU or late-90s USC, here are the teams that you can rekindle your primate/aluminum love. I fully believe these two teams are a little bit thin in the pitching department - though the Devils have to love the emergence of Tommy Rafferty, who picked up both wins at UCLA this weekend. But these two offenses have so much confidence in over-coming any deficit, which each team did this weekend, bashing their way and over-shadowing their pitching could become a reality.

ASU-WallaceHR.jpg
(We're getting used to seeing Brett Wallace on home run trots)

3- Georgia Tech.
Beat No. 15 Coastal Carolina, 11-4.
With today's win the Jackets get their best non-conference series W in a schedule that isn't so full of those opportunities. Derek Dietrich continues his play for top freshman in the country as he gathered three hits and 5RBI on the day to pace the Tech attack. For the season, Dietrich is hitting .339 this season and just hit his 14th home run in today's win, which is second on the team.

Tech improves to 33-14 and still hold out hope to a home regional, considering it the Jackets entered the weekend with a No. 21 RPI. Of course, when you go just 1-8 vs. the big three of Miami, North Carolina and Florida State a weekend like this will help immensely.


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THREE DOWN---
1- UCLA's late inning lack of luck.
Lost 11-8 to Arizona State by giving up four runs in the 9th inning.
If you take today's loss and add it to Friday's 10-5 loss, where ASU scored five runs in the 9th inning to win, the Bruins came within a few outs of sweeping the Sun Devils. Can you imagine the momentum swing from that? Gah! Instead, UCLA folds the tents in the 9th for the second time this weekend and now drops to 24-20 and 7-8.

2- Oregon State.
Lost 11-4 at Washington State.
Just as I started bragging that the Beavers are back and are one of my darkhorse favorites to make it back to Omaha, they go and lose their fourth straight and their sixth in their last eight games. As good as Tanner Robles looked vs. Arizona last week, he showed his freshman shivers by getting roped today in 1.1 innings of work where he gave up five hits, nine runs, four walks and not a single strikeout. Great gosh aw-mighty!

OSU is now looking at an overall mark of 20-18 and 8-9 in Pac 10 play. Welcome back to the bubble Beaver boys.

3- Purdue.
Lost 5-4 and 18-8 at Indiana.
The Boilers were the last remaining hope for the little nine to unrest Michigan from its impending Big 10 championship and hosting slot for the post-season tournament. But losing twice to the 8th-place Hoosiers is a bad way to go. Especially when PU allowed IU to score three runs in the final inning of game one and 11 runs in the first inning of game two, cementing both losses. The Black and gold now fall two and a half games behind the Wolverines.


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THE OUCH LIST FOR SUNDAY, MAY 4TH---
We'll start with a trio of off-the-beaten-path teams that really stepped in it this weekend.

- Prairie View
Results:
Lost all three games at Southern
Why it hurts:
The defending SWAC champs won't be defending their title now. With the three losses to the Jags, PV now has a --- record against their West division rival. And, this may sound crazy, but the Panthers are also in jeopardy of missing the 6-team SWAC tournament

- Rider
Results:
Lost three straight games at home against Siena.
Why it hurts:
The Broncs now go from a game behind first place Canisius entering the weekend plummeting to 5th place after the three Ls on their home field. And in case you didn't know, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference has only four slots for their post-season tournament. So RU now has a LOT of work to do after this meltdown.

- Louisiana Tech.
Results:
Lost three of four to Nevada.
Why it hurts:
With another underachieving weekend in a season full of them, the Techsters fall to 5-21 in the WAC. But the worst part is that the Dogs are now assured of NOT finishing in the top six in the conference standings, which means, even though they host the WAC post-season tournament, they won't be participating in it. Good luck getting more that 200 people in attendance at this event.

- Coastal Carolina.
Results:
Lost two of three at Georgia Tech.
Why it hurts:
To be honest, the Chanticleers were THISCLOSE to going 0-3 on the big stage against an ACC opponent, since the Techsters left two men on base in the 9th inning of Saturday's 10-9 loss. This was a series CCU really could've used if it was hoping to get another home regional.

- Kentucky.
Results:
Lost all three at home to LSU this weekend.
Why it hurts:
Well if that 19-0 start against a weak non-conference schedule caused some raised eyebrows, then this weekend sweep at the hands of the formerly limping Tigers ranks right up there with those Bank of Nigeria Email scams. Not sure if many people are going to believe in this Wildcat teams now. Lots to prove here as they fall into a last place tie in the SEC East.

- Long Beach State
Lost two of three at UC Davis, including today's 3-2 loss.
Why it hurts:
The Dirtbags have now won just five of their last 17 road games. That doesn't bode well for their post-season chances, considering this series loss also puts a major crimp in their regional hosting hopes. The Beach is now 27-17 overall and tied for third in the Big West at 9-6.

The Beach lost both Saturday (5-4) and Sunday (3-2) by giving up big innings and losing late leads in the 7th and 8th innings respectively.

- Northern Iowa.
Results:
Lost all three at Wichita State.
Why it hurts:
Well people, this was their chance. This was where the Panthers needed to plant a flag and say they were for real. After all, two weeks ago the Panthers held down the first place slot in the Missouri Valley standings. But in the past two weekends they've gone 1-5, including the three losses to the Shockers here, 6-1, 5-3 and 6-5. Now they find themselves in fourth place at 11-8 in conference play and 25-18 overall.

May 04, 2008

Saturday Statements - When TV calls, you answer

In my attempt to look at college baseball teams from all four corners of the country (I'm still working on getting up to Maine), I turned my attention to the team that is housed in the farthest Northwest corner in Division I: The Washington Huskies.

UW-AaronRussellHurt2.jpg
(UW 1Bman Aaron Russell had a bloody scary moment after taking a pitch to the dome)

Actually, the boys over at CBS College Sports Tonight, the nightly two-hour wrap-up of college athletics, contacted me on Friday about doing some more quick-hit snippets for features to run on the show in the next few days. So since the Going Yard guys, Brody and Jason, were out at today's USC-Washington game at Dedeaux Field and have some video equipment to shoot with, I was sent there to make a trio of videos for the show after today's game was over.

Here are the three subject matters they wanted me to touch on:
1- My prediction on the national seeds for the upcoming NCAA tournament.
2- My surprise teams in college baseball.
3- The most important upcoming games in the last few weeks of the season.

Not to ruin the features when they air or anything, but here were my answers:

1- How I think the National Seeds will shake out.
Here are the five locks:
- Miami
- Florida State
- North Carolina
- Arizona State
- Rice
And here are the three that I think will move into the last few slots:
- Georgia
- Texas A&M
- Stanford
I made this pick on the last three under the stipulation of "If they go on to win their respective conferences, these three teams will make the top eight." I think this season is as wide-open as it has ever been, so that makes me think that winning those big three conferences will curry more favor to the selection committee than some runner-up teams from other conferences.

But with that said, I also stated that Oklahoma State, UC Irvine and Nebraska were also in line to move into the top eight if those other three fell short.

2- My surprise teams heading into the last three weeks:
- UC Irvine.
Again, any team that can lose its top two pitchers, top four hitters and its head coach off a College World Series team and still find a way to make it into the Top 10 in both the polls and the RPI, I think that's an amazing coaching job. Credit coaching vet Mike Gillespie with keeping this team playing at a high level.
- North Carolina State.
I even admitted on air that this was a bit of a mystery team to me. I haven't seen them yet this season, though I hope to before all is said and done. They have two pitchers that are expected to be high-round draft picks, Eryk McConnell and Eric Surkamp, have both been decent, but not as outstanding as they were expected to be. But other players have stepped up and currently have the Pack sitting at No. 8 in the RPI - though after today's loss to High Point, it may not last.
- Georgia and Stanford.
I lumped these two together because they seem to be following similar paths, horrible last year, but a completely new team this season. The Bulldogs were 23-33 last season and the Trees were 28-28-1. Thanks to great pitching, particularly the Dogs Trevor Holder and Joshua Fields and SU's Erik Davis and Jeffery Inman, have helped make the turnaround. Now both could be in line for home regionals... and super regionals.

UGA-GordonBeckham.jpg
(Gordon Beckham's defense has been an under-stated facet of Georgia's success)

3- Most important series remaining.
- North Carolina at Miami.
I made sure to mention that this series probably isn't as big as it seems since both of these teams are near-locks to be National seeds.
- Texas A&M at Nebraska.
This series could be for the Big 12 regular season title and - more importantly - a possible national seeding spot. In the very least, the winning is playing at home in the regionals.
- Cal State Fullerton at Long Beach State.
The Big West usually comes down to these two teams and sure enough, as of press time, they were 1-and-2 in the standings. The West might get four or five regional host sites and the winner here could be that last spot.
- LSU at Auburn.
Luckily I saw that LSU had beaten Kentucky twice today, so I was able to say, "It looks like LSU may have really helped itself with a series win at Kentucky today, but Auburn may still be on the bubble and may need this weekend win." Auburn's plight got a lot tougher with today's loss to lowly Mississippi State. LSU is now 31-16-1 and sure to improve on it's No. 37 RPI ranking.


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AS FOR THAT WASHINGTON-USC GAME---
The Diamond Dawgs take the second game of the three-game series with today's impressive win.

Washington- 10 13 1
So. California- 2 7 0
WP- Cam Nobles (4-3)
LP- Brad Boxberger (2-4)
Sv- Paul Dickey (5)

Hershiser:Murray.jpg
(Orel Hershiser, in striped shirt, and Eddie Murray, in the row behind, took in today's Washington-USC game at Dedeaux Field)

I know there are so many worthy teams in the Pac 10 already, but be sure to keep an eye on the Huskies. Their RPI was last listed way down at No. 116. Not good. True. But look a little closer here, they are currently at 7-7 in Pac 10 play and are in 4th place for the time being. If - and I realize this is a big if - the Dawgs can win out at USC on Sunday and then go 5-4 in Pac 10 games remaining with Washington State (at home), Arizona State (in Tempe) and Stanford (at home), that would mean having a winning record against three teams inside the Top 23 in the RPI and would also mean a winning mark in Pac 10 play.

Could 3rd or 4th-place Huskies team be passed over a Pac 10 team below them? I'm not sure. Of course, the problem is that they are geographically challenged (why else is Oregon State always, always undervalued in the RPI as well?) and they also played some pretty weak non-conference games in February and March.

I will say this much, Udub looked incredibly impressive today, disposing rather easily of the Trojans today. So we'll see where things end up.

THREE UP---
1- Kyle Conley, Washington
While we're on the subject, the Udub slugger hit a pair of Dedeaux Field bombs today.
Somebody throw a pail of water on this guy. To say he's "on fire" may be putting it lightly. Get this, including yesterday's 4-for-4 game, the soph left fielder has gone 6-for-7 with two home runs, two doubles and a triple, helping the Dawgs win the first two games of the Pac 10 series in Troy.

UW-KyleConley.jpg
(Kyle Conley continued to wield a hot bat today with two home runs)

Special thanks to fellow UW bat Brett Wilcox, who went 3-for-5 with 6RBI, having hit a 3-run home run and a 2-run double as part of that.

2- Jared Bradford, LSU.
The Tiger slinger was a main cog in helping the sweep of Kentucky today.
Bradford got the win on the mound in game one, tossing two innings of 0-hit ball in the 3-1, 10-inning W. Then, in the game two 12-5 rout, JB went 4.0 innings while surrendering just two hits and striking out four.

LSUJaredBradford.jpg
(Jared Bradford was a busy man today, getting a save and a win at Kentucky)

Since our very own Doctor of College Baseball, Kenny Cook, went to see the Tigers get out-classed by Georgia in Baton Rouge two weeks ago (where he reported that LSU looked very Smoke-like in listlessness), Paul Maineiri's charges have now gone 8-0, including wins over Tulane, South Carolina (3), Louisiana-Lafayette and now UK (2). LSU has also improved to 31-16-1 overall and that No. 37 RPI will surely improve, not matter what the outcome is in tomorrow's getaway game.

3- Jacksonville State's offense.
The Ohio Valley leaders beat Morehead State 22-10 and 18-5 in a DH.
I thought using fungo bats in a game was illegal. But that's what JSU must've been using today, rapping out 11 home runs in the two games. Brian Piazza looked more like Mike, blasting four bombs on his own. Clay Whittemore cashed in with three himself as well.

In the two games, the Cocks knocked out 43 hits on the day and have now won 13 of their last 15 games in the OVC and take a two-game lead on second place Samford.

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THREE DOWN---
1- The Home-town UofA's.
Arkansas. Lost 11-6 vs. Alabama.
Auburn. Lost 4-3 vs. Mississippi State.
Both teams lost at home and are looking more and more shaky.

It was tougher on the Hogs, having lost their second straight game to the new SEC West leaders, dropping them to 27-20 and 9-13. Their No. 25 RPI ranking is in jeopardy of course as the Razorbacks are still one of the most unpredictable teams in the country.

Auburn, meanwhile, has hit some trouble spots as well, needing every decent win it can use since the RPI rating of No. 55 means it must make the SEC tourney and make a run there. As of now, the Plainsmen are 25-23 and way down at 9-14 in conference play.

2- Fresno State.
Lost twice at home to New Mexico State, 8-4 and 9-2.
The Bulldogs once comfy lead in the WAC is now down to just a game and a half over the hard-charging Wolfpack of Nevada. This team has gone cold, after dropping three of four last week to the 2nd place Pack, the two losses to next-to-last-place NMSU was inexcusable. The Aggies got three home runs from Marcus Quade to pace the offense in game two.

3- Mike Stutes, Oregon State.
Dropped to 2-6 in today's loss at Washington State.
This senior season just hasn't turned out as expected for the dynamic Friday ace of the Beavers. Nobody said making the trip to Pullman was easy, but Stutes gave up 10 hits, nine runs and gave up four walks to the Cougs. Granted, it's probably easy to say that Wazzu is the best last place team n the country, sitting there with an RPI ranking of 23rd.

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More tomorrow, as we get down to our 4th-to-last Sunday of the regular season.

G'night.

May 03, 2008

Friday First Takes - Bruins see a hellish ending

There's a reason why I still think Arizona State will make it to Omaha, even with all their injuries, suspensions, grades, investigations and seemingly shallow pitching staff. Tonight's 9th inning at UCLA is Exhibit A.

The Devils score five runs in their last at-bat and break the Bruin spirit with a 10-5 win in Westwood. And make no mistake, it's a win UCLA could've used for their RPI.

ASU-KipnisHR.jpg
(Jason Kipnis gets another handshake after his second home run tonight)

The Devils looked pretty dead in the water. When he wasn't jawing back and forth with Sun Devil head coach Pat Murphy, Bruin starter Tim Murphy (oh heaven's no, there's no relation) was doing a pretty good job of squashing the ASU attack, holding the Devs to just two runs on six hits.

Then, ASU started to wake up. Murphy gave up a single to start the 8th inning and then got tagged for a home run by Jason Kipnis, the normal lead-off hitter who was in the 2-slot tonight.

Murphy would exit the game after that pitch, and three batters later State would tie the game on an RBI single by Marcel Champagnie. That set the stage for the 9th inning heroics of - once again - Jason Kipnis. After going down looking at strike three in his previous two at-bats, the Kentucky transfer hit home run bombs in his last two at-bats, the second of which put the Sun Devils up to stay in the 9th. ASU went on to score five runs in the inning to make this a no-brainer in the end.

The only mystery left in the game was whether ASU first base coach Tim Esmay was going to go for the throat on UCLA head coach John Savage. Seems as though Esmay took exception - a LOT of exception - to reliever Brendan Lafferty nailing Mike Leake (who started the game on the mound and moved to right field) square in the noggin on a 9th inning pitch.

After the post-game handshake between the coaches, Esmay got in the grill of Savage about it, before Pat Murphy actually played peacemaker here and separated the two.

UCLA has the pitching to win the next two games in this series. And considering the Bruins entered the weekend way down at No. 52 in the RPI and will definitely gain some ground win or lose. But just imagine what a win tonight, and another W or two this weekend would've meant to their at-large chances.

UCLA-ASUargue.jpg
(Assistant coach Tim Esmay - #10 - and UCLA's John Savage are separated after the post-game handshake)


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THREE UP AND THREE DOWN---
I have a confession to make here. First, I experienced computer problems this afternoon, so I couldn't keep up with all the games that were going on. Then, tonight's UCLA game went a little on the long side as well. Plus some buds of mine wanted to grab a brew or two after the game. So I didn't have much time to check out all on the national front.

So, here's today's three up and three down, if I happen to miss a no-hitter or three-homer game along the way, my bad. I'll make up for it later on this weekend. But these are the things that stuck out to me the most.

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THREE UP---
1- St. John's.
The Redmen struck out a season-high 18 West Virginia batters in a 2-1 win.
Keep in mind, a week ago, the Mountaineers had four regulars that hit .400+. But today, starter Scott Barnes struck out 12 'Neers and relievers Miguel Valcarcel and Colin Lynch combined for six more Ks. SJU improved to 33-10 and, coupled with Notre Dame's surprising loss at UConn, take over the Big East lead at 14-5.

2- Texas pitching.
Beat Baylor 12-1 in Waco tonight.
Maybe everyone has written the Longhorns off too early. Not only did Kenn Kasparak toss a no-hitter on Wednesday vs. Texas State, but today Chance Ruffin went the distance giving up just seven hits and getting 11 Ks against a talented - though underachieving - Bear lineup. Talk of "Texas is Back" isn't out of the question now.

3- Florida.
Won at South Carolina 9-3.
This was the Gators first Friday win in a three-game road series. And to do this at Sarge-Frye is pretty damn impressive. It also marked the fifth game in a row that the Gators didn't commit an error. Plus, I really like the UofF's chances on Saturday with Stephen Locke (3-2, 3.21) on the mound. This could be a big weekend for the Gators as a No. 1 seed isn't out of the question.


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THREE DOWN---
1- Central Florida.
Lost at Tulane 5-2.
But that's not the reason the Black Knights are included here - although the listless bats were held to just four runs. But UCF really sucks eggs today for letting the legendary Jay Bergman go to the unemployment line. In 26 seasons, Bergman 994 of his 1,210 total career wins as a head coach. On top of all that, UCF went into this weekend with a record of 27-19 and rated at No. 51 in the RPI. In other words, they were still within striking distance. Probably not now. An ignominious end to a Hall of Fame career.

2- Brian Matusz, San Diego.
How can I really bag on a guy that hasn't lost a game since the first day of the season? I know, pull my socks up on this one. But the national player of the year candidate had his first bad outing since February 22nd, and on national TV at that too. In the 5-2 loss to the rival Waves of Pepperdine, the hulking lefty went just 6.0 innings, giving up 10 hits and five runs, all earned with two outs. Matusz falls to 9-2 on the season and gives college baseball writers everywhere a reason to name Aaron Crow as the top pitcher.

Then again, Crow went just 5.1innings, giving up 8 hits and six runs to K-State today.

3- No help for Guido, man!
Northern Iowa's Guido Fonseca lost his first game of the season, a 6-1 loss at Wichita State, to drop to 7-1 on the season. But he didn't get any help, as the Panthers were boxed in with just five hits and struck out 12 times to WSU ace Rob Musgrave.


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SORRY SO SHORT---
But it's time to hit the hay. More later.

G'night.

May 02, 2008

Thursday Thoughts - A little bit of good and a whole lot of bad

Two things happened on Wednesday that made the lead stories on CBS College Sports Tonight.

1- The NCAA announced that it will hold the College World Series in Omaha for another 20 years, through the 2030 series, which is of course, the good part.

But that also means that the new stadium in downtown Omaha has been given the complete green light for sure now. Apparently, 2010 will be the last year of the CWS in Rosenblatt Stadium. Which begs the question...

WrongWrosenblatt?.jpg

And 2- And in the further bad news department, the NCAA proved it is still weak when it comes to its own biggest revenue sport by having the Division I conference commissioners reject a plan for a 4-team football playoff using the existing bowl structure. The bowl committees and chamber of commerce's win again. The college football fans lose again.

Could you imagine if college baseball's post-season was owned by a bunch of men in suits from large, money-grubbing corporations and instead of the College World Series, they just matched up regionally-based teams that would bring in big crowds, big bucks and good TV ratings and played a single game against each other?

2014 is the next time the possibility of the playoff is up on the board for the conference commissioners to vote on it. And it's not likely to happen then either.

I'll actually give it up to Mike Slive, the SEC commissioner who went to great lengths to propose this 4-team playoff, even so far as a 2-hour power point presentation. Unlike that evil-looking Roy Kramer, the former SEC commish who helped implement this horrible "system."

And by the way people, it's still partially the fans fault. When are we just going to stay away from bowl games in droves and not watch the worthless ones, costing the corporate sponsors a whole mess of money and making the bowl games eventually go away? Wake me when it gets to that point.


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TOP TEN COLLEGE BASEBALL STADIUMS---
I had almost forgotten about this list of college stuff, including the "top 10" stadiums here. Check this out:

http://cstv.collegesports.com/bestof/category.php?cid=13


Now, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1- I didn't have anything to do with this list. In fact, I'm not even sure who put it together and voted on it.
2- The list of good places to watch college baseball games is - luckily - getting better and better. There are a LOT of new stadiums and new stadium plans going forward, so a simple Top 10 is pretty tough to come up with.
3- There is also a difference in "best stadiums" and "best places to watch a game". I made that distinction two years ago when I came out with my "Best Of" list. For instance, you wouldn't mistake Pepperdine's Eddy D. Field Stadium as a "best stadium" in the nation, but there are many factors that make it a "best place to watch a game". I.e., weather, scenery, seating, sightlines, coeds, etc.
4- No list is ever absolutely correct. So take it with a large grain of salt.

Here's a few of my own Best Stadium notations - some re-hashed from my column from 2006.

- Best place to watch a game: Pepperdine.
For all the reasons listed above. Pacific Ocean views, always good weather, tucked into the side of a mountain, comfy seats, always good non-conference teams to watch, etc. However, new netting that replaced the horrible chain link fence, covers the entire grandstand. You used to get net-free sight lines over each dugout. And they also no longer allow dogs at their games. Hmmm, makes me wonder if this is still my No. 1 pick... then I go to a game there and I remember how cool of a place to watch good baseball it is.

- Best weather: San Diego State.
My apologies to "Jason" on the comment list to the "Top 10" article, but Tallahassee weather is "unbeatable"? I was there two weeks ago and it was already close to being too hot. That place is a broiler in June 'coz no amount of shade can protect you from mid-90s temps AND mid-90s humidity (sorry, I'm Scandanavian. That makes me a heat wimp, I admit it). San Diego may have the best weather in America, period. Sure, it's slightly cool in February and early March, but that's why you can sit in the sun. And sure, it's slightly warm (not hot) at times in May, but that's why you can sit in the ample shade.

- Best setting and design: BYU.
The snow-capped peaks of the surrounding mountains are breathtaking, the stadium layout is extremely comfortable and the Miller Park complex itself is an awesome design. The giant tensile roof that acts as the grandstand cover for both the baseball and softball stadium resembles the surrounding mountains. You'd think Frank Lloyd Wright and God got together and played a part in its design.

BYUmillerPark.jpg
(Snow bound peaks and a great stadium make BYU a college baseball lover's dream)


- Best place for a big-time game: Mississippi State.
Last year's decision to have the Clemson-MSU Super Regional in Starkville came as no surprise at all. It's a no-brainer that the Left Field Lounge and the 12,000+ rabid fans made for a great, memorable post-season atmosphere. Been a long time since I've been there, maybe it's time I get back.

- Best place to sit right on top of the action: TCU and Tulane
I was taken at how close to the game you are at both Lupton and Turchin. In fact, Turchin feels a little on the chlosterphobic because of how wedged-in that stadium is to the back of the campus. But that's only to the gain of the fan in attendance.

- Best student section: Texas A&M.
Just ask Missouri about that.

- Best fans (non-student section): Stanford.
Must be the general happiness of those in rich people in Silicon Valley, because these are the most respectful and easy-going fans in college baseball.

- Best concessions: LSU
Can't beat cajun food. Sorry, try as you might. You just can't. Hope they bring that with them over to the new Alex Box Stadium.


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ALL HAIL THE MID-MAJORS! HERE'S THE TOP TEN PLACES I'D LIKE TO BE THIS WEEKEND---
The under-appreciated take to the top step in college baseball this weekend.


1- Red Rolfe Field. Hanover, New Hampshire.
Dartmouth (24-14) vs. Columbia (20-24)
It's the Ivy League playoffs between the Rolfe Division champions (the Big Green) against the Gehrig Division champions (the Lions). Both of these teams are feel-good stories. Dartmouth went just 8-29-1 last year and CU went 16-28. The Triple R attack of starters Russell Young (5-3, 3.43), Robert Young (4-2, 4.97) and stud reliever Ryan Smith (1-2, 2.13, 7svs) give the Big Green the edge toward their first Big Dance gig since 1987.

2- Dallas Baptist (30-13) at No. 6 Texas A&M (38-8)
Obviously, this series means everything to the Patriots, who are hanging in at No. 39 in the RPI and still holding a candle for us stitch-heads who really would like to see an independent team actually make the NCAA field. But the bad news is that they plummeted from No. 27 after going 2-1 at Northern Colorado. This is their best chance for an RPI shot in the arm.

And here's the Thursday night update from game one (it's a Thursday-to-Saturday series):
Dallas Baptist - 12
Texas A&M - 6
20 hits. Is that enough, ya' think? 20? That's how many pock-marks Dallas Baptist put on the Aggie arms tonight at Olsen Field. It also slammed the Ags 8-game win streak in the dirt. DBU starter Jordan Meaker was clamping down big time, giving up just five hits and two runs through the first six innings. He ended up going 7.1 innings and giving up five earned runs and nine hits. Of course, by the time Meaker started to tire, the Pats had already built up a 12-2 lead and muted the student section.

3- No. 8 San Diego (35-12) at Pepperdine (27-13)
Quickly becoming one of the better rivalries in college baseball. Unlike most seasons, the Toreros have the better pitching staff and should win the series. Besides, while Rich Hill's charges have won 16 of their last 17 (having just lost at Fullerton on Wednesday), while the 'Dine just picked up a pair of mid-week wins over UCLA and UCSB. Before that, the Waves were on a 9-day break for exams. It's interesting to note that PU coach Steve Rodriguez told me last year that this post-exams portion of the season is usually when the Waves catch fire because they're out of class and have no other distractions to deal with. This weekend in Malibu should be interesting. (And just for the hell of it, I hope the surf is good too)

Catch Friday and Saturday's games on CBS College Sports

USD-P'DinePromo.jpg
(Here's the promo for Friday's game in Malibu, featuring Eric Thames, who's hitting .403 for the Waves)


4- No. 15 Coastal Carolina (37-9) at Georgia Tech (31-13)
This is the Chanticleers chance to further enhance their NCAA resume. Depending on the outcome here, CCU could curry enough favor for a home regional like last year, or could still fall down to a No. 2 or No. 3 seed as well. Tech could use some impressive non-conference wins, which they don't have a modicum of.

5- Northern Iowa (25-15) at No. Wichita State (33-10)
The Panthers have been the surprise of the Valley so far as they sit tied for 2nd place with the Shocks, a half-game behind MIssouri State. But we may be seeing the end of UNI's run, as the Panthers been beaten in four of their last five. But a series win here and a season-ending win over MSU could have UNI in uncharted championship territory. I still like the arms of the Shockers to pull them through

6- Ole Miss (30-17) at No. 17 Georgia (29-14)
This is the matchup of the two division leaders in the SEC. Hard to believe that that the Rebels aren't ranked at this point. Hell, at 11-10, they're the only SEC West team that actually has a winning record in conference play. But the Rebs are still potentially dangerous, having the No. 2 pitching staff in the conference at 3.53 ERA and striking out an SEC best 445 batters. Amazing.

7- Ohio State (23-18) at No. 28 Michigan (31-10)
Originally, when the season began, I had this series circled as one of the college baseball treks I wanted to make this spring. But thanks to some Buckeye arms not living up to billing and the Nike bats that are still punchless (sure they're hitting .325, but a Big 10-worst 13 home runs is what I'm referring to), OSU sits 6.5 games in back of the maize and blue. I'd still like to be in Ann Arbor this weekend to see the new Ray Fisher Stadium.

8- Florida (27-16) at No. 12 South Carolina (31-14)
Even though the Cocks are ranked and the Gators aren't, it's Carolina that is looking up at the UofF in the SEC ranks, a game behind them, yet still 3.5 games behind Georgia. But the big news is how SoCar plummeted from No. 5 to No. 17 in the RPI after the Gamecocks got swept at LSU. That takes them from national seed to No. 2 seed. The right coast USC could use this one.

9- No. 19 Cal State Fullerton (27-15) at UC Santa Barbara (29-14)
Yep, the Big West is an m-e-s-s pig stye! This is the battle between 1st and 2nd place this weekend in picturesque Cesar Uyesaka Stadium. To be honest, UCSB has two chances to make the NCAA tournament, either pull out an unlikely Big West title, or win a weekend or two like this one and improve on its No. 57 RPI. Actually, the Gauchos were at No. 42 last week before losing games to Northridge and Cal Poly. UCSB still has plenty of opportunities, with the Titans here, and then trips to Long Beach and UC Irvine remaining.

10- Oral Roberts (31-13) at South Dakota State (19-19)
Believe it or not people, this series could be for the Summit Conference championship. Both teams have just three losses in the L column and making the trek to Brookings is an arduous one. Plus, two more things to consider: 1- The Jackrabbits have beaten some decent teams, including a pair of wins over Minnesota. And 2- ORU is actually coming off a weekend where it didn't win a conference weekend, splitting four games at Southern Utah.

ORU-BrianVanKirk.jpg
(Brian Van Kirk leads the Eagles with a .400 average and 10 home runs)

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BIGGEST MID-WEEK RPI WIN IN AT-LARGE LAND---
Wichita State - 11
Oklahoma - 12 (10inns)
The Sooners are sitting down at No. 43 in the RPI as of now, but look for a jump soon, especially if they can win this week's series at Kansas as well. Give it to the Sooners for moxie, coming back from deficits in both the 9th and 10th innings to beat the Shocks. The Big Red was three runs down in the bottom of the 9th when lumberjack swinging Aaron Baker jacked a three-run bomb. Mike Gosse won the game with a two-run single an inning later.

OU is now 29-17-1 and has KU, KSU and the bedlam series vs. Oklahoma State remaining. So there's still time to pick up both Ws and more RPI points. But this win over the No. 10 Shockers is a big boost.

OU-AaronBaker.jpg
(Aaron Baker's three-run yard call sent the WSU game into extras)


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SECOND BIGGEST MID-WEEK RPI WIN IN AT-LARGE LAND---
UT-San Antonio - 11
Houston - 9 (12inns)
Currently, these two teams are the Nos. 49 and 48 respectively, but are going opposite directions. The Road Runners jumped from way down at No. 77 up to the top 50 off the strength of a weekend sweep of Sam Houston State and have also gone 15-2 in April. Houston is 11-8 in that same span, having just lost all three games at Southern Miss last weekend.

In this game, UTSA fought back from a 7-3 deficit and, with the help of six Cougar errors, won the game on a two-run double by Tyler Carpenter - his only hit in seven at-bats. UTSA is now 33-12, and in the driver's seat in the Southland at 17-4. Houston (27-19) still can rebound with series against Memphis and Rice up next.


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WORST RPI-BUSTING PERFORMANCE---
Appalachian St. - 9 26
Elon University - 3 10
This isn't exactly a football win in the Big House, but Appy State taking two from Elon on Thursday could be a big problem for the Phoenix. ASU came in with a decent RPI of No. 89, so it's not an absolute disaster, but Elon's RPI of 29 could use every win possible to solidify a post-season spot - be it at-large or not. You know how the NCAA selection committee loves a team on a hot streak, right? Well, with the two losses, Elon is now on a 6-8 skid.

And thumbs down to EU for pulling starter Steven Hensley in game one. The Phoenix hurler was throwing a one-hitter through eight innings in game one as they raced out to a 3-1 lead. After pulling Hensley, Elon relievers gave up eight runs in the top of the 9th to lose game one by a six run margin.


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HOW DO YOU GAUGE THE CARDINAL?---
Stanford has to be the most curious team in the country. Here are a few facts that show both an upside and a downside. The Cardinal:
- Have won weekend series against Nebraska, Cal State Fullerton, Texas, Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA and USC.
- Have also lost games to Pacific, Sacramento State, St. Mary's, Hawaii and Santa Clara.
- Have a weekend record of 19-8.
- Have a mid-week record of 6-7-2.
- Have a No. 2 national ranking by Baseball America.
- Have a No. 18 national ranking by the NCBWA.
- Have played the 2nd-best strength of schedule in the country according to Boyd Nation.
- Have played the 11th-best strength of schedule in the country according to Warren Nolan.

Remaining schedule:
vs./at San Jose State (2 games)
vs. Pacific
at San Francisco
vs. Cal (3)
vs. Santa Clara
at Arizona (3)
at Washington (3)


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ARE WE SURE THEY'RE THE BEST CONFERENCE?---
Speaking of Pac 10 foibles, look at what the nation's "best" conference (at least top-to-bottom, ACC fans) did in mid-week roadies:
- Monday:
Stanford - 9
Santa Clara - 10

- Tuesday:
UCLA - 2
Pepperdine - 6

USC - 4
Cal Poly - 3

Oregon State - 6
Gonzaga - 10

- Wednesday:
Stanford - 8
UC Davis - 10

California - 2
Cal Poly - 8

Oregon State - 2
Gonzaga - 4

That's a record of 1-6 in road games. Okay, I know, mid-week games aren't a true indicator of the strength of a team, sure. But then again, doesn't it expose a team's pitching depth too? If a team can't win a mid-week game, doesn't that bode trouble for when they get to the loser's bracket in the Regionals? File that away for the time being.


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TEXAS BACK TO TURNING HORNS UP---
Last week when I was on T.J. Rives College Sports show on XM radio channel 144, he asked me my "Three down" for the weekend. I told him that Texas getting swept at home by Oklahoma State, the first Big 12 team to ever do that at Disch-Falk Field. "But," I warned. "Things aren't ALL bad for Texas because pitcher Kenn Kasparek, a College World Series hero his freshman year, is back from injury and pitching really well."

Sure enough, Kasparek went out on Tuesday and threw a complete game no-hitter against Texas State. He didn't walk a single batter, the defense committed zero errors and he came within a hit batsman in the 6th of tossing a perfect game. If Kasparek's effort can infect the whole UT staff even a little bitty bit, the Longhorns could become a factor in the post-season after all.


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FOUR!---
Just thought I'd take this minute to mention that Coppin State has now won its fourth game this season after beating Georgetown 10-8 in the first game of a double header. CSU is now 4-45 on the season.

Two quick hits from the win;
1- According to the box score, there were a total of 10 people in attendance.
2- Georgetown's leadoff hitter is named Tommy Lee. Wonder if he's a Crue fan?


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WHAT DO YOU THINK?---
Apparently the University of Miami isn't so crash-hot over the logo that the University of Nebraska-Omaha uses on its athletic teams. They are threatening litigation over what they think is copyright infringement over The O's use of a two-colored "O" that has a similar font to The U's "U".

UNO:MiamiHelmets.jpg

UNO is a division II school in all sports, except for its D-1 status in hockey. The University registered the "O" as a state trademark, hoping to capitalize on its growing popularity. So of course, when making money came to the fore, so did the Miami athletic department. Hmmm. No official paperwork has been filed yet however.

I think deep down Miami is just jealous because for years UNO has played in a better football facility. I mean, 10,000 seat Caniglia Field is sweet for D-II.


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WHAT, YOUR WIFE OR GIRLFRIEND WASN'T ROMANTICALLY INVOLVED WITH ROGER CLEMENS TOO?---
Just thought I'd ask.


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MOST CURIOUS ADVERTISEMENT IN PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE HISTORY---
Here's a an ad for PETA featuring NBA thug Ron Artest and his pit bull...

RonArtestPetaAd.jpg
(This seems more like one of those MAD Magazine spoof ads to me)

To make an equivocation here, why don't they leave Andrew Dice Clay in charge of an anti-smoking ad? Or maybe Kim Jung Il in charge of an Amnesty International ad? Or a prevent forest fire ad featuring our good friend Mr. Molitov Cocktail?

Really... shouldn't Ron Artest be doing PETP ads (People for Ethical Treatment of People)? I'm really confused now. This IS the same guy that went into the crowd and attacked a fan in the stands in Detroit? I mean, Great King Rat!

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Alright, I see that half of you are waving a white flag here. Fair enough. It's now May people. It's getting to be crunch time nationwide. Enjoy the stitched ball this weekend guys. There aren't many of them left, you know?

G'night.

 


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