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.

Comments

Did you notice that west coast teams (meaning those from Calif. and Ariz.) were undefeated, except when playing other west coast teams? (in the LB regional, it's unavoidable) They went 6-0 when playing non-westerners. Meanwhile, the SEC performed as you noted.

When, oh when, will the selection committee wake up?

Not so fast there Jeff. Among those 6 victories over the non-Westerners were Arizona beating a 25-32 Eastern Michigan team, Cal State Fullerton beating 4 seed Rider at home, and Arizona State doing the same with Stony Brook.

If the West Coast teams are so superior, then why doesn't the team that plays its way through the western regionals dominate the supposedly lesser talent every year in Omaha? Simple answer- there are good teams all over the country. No conference or region can lay claim to superiority, and every team has the chance at this time of year to get hot and take it all like Oregon State did last year (and LSU may be on the verge of doing this year).

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