June 26, 2008

CWS, Day 12: In Pictures

Fresno State is our 2008 National Champion in baseball. I'm still trying to wrap my head around that one, but it's for real. The Wunderdogs rebounded from a crushing 7-6 defeat on Monday night to blitz past Georgia in two straight games, 19-10 and 6-1. So now the big brass ring is taking up residence with the pride of the San Joaquin Valley.

In the meantime, shut off the lights on the old man on the hill for another 50 weeks as the stadium known as "Mecca" closes up shop for college baseball until next June. Here are some lasting images from the final day of the (long) College World Series.

(See you next June Johnny Rosenblatt. I'll miss you.)

(A couple of hours before the game the people at ESPN tried to get these two bulldog pups to pose with the national championship trophy you see in the background. But the old adage in advertising is, never work with children or animals. And it was true here, as all these guys wanted to do was look for shade and nip at each other.)

(According to this guy "preaching" on the sidewalk near Zesto, I'm going straight to hell.)

(Betcha can't guess which Georgia batting helmet belongs to Joey Lewis, can ya'?)

(These Fresno fans got their bods painted to support their 'Dogs. Only problem was, it turns out these guys are a group of students from Missouri State in Springfield. Whatever.)

(The total attendance for the CWS was a new record of 330,099. Man, just think what the attendance numbers would've been if fans actually showed up this week?)

(Georgia coach Dave Perno didn't have things go his way today. But props to him for doing his best coaching job in 2008. With basically the same exact players, Perno turned his team from a 23-33 unit in 2007 to the national championship round a year later.)

(There's one in every crowd. Sheriffs put the arm-bar hold on this unruly fan in the bleachers and lead him to the awaiting squad car.)

(A close-up shot of Fresno catcher Ryan Grubb going to the net to try to get a foul ball. Justin Wilson said that Grubb played "a great game" tonight. He kind of looks like Emile Hirsch if you ask me.)

(Steve Detwiler gets a hold of Dean Weaver's pitch and sends it screaming toward the scoreboard. This home run gave Fresno a 6-1 lead and took the air out of Georgia the rest of the way.)

(Detwiler on the last 90 feet of his home run trot)

(College World Series MVP Tommy Mendonca was nails all week long at third base.)

(Right before the final outs of the game, I happened to catch Joey Lewis and Erik Wetzel chatting it up during a pitching change.)

(Fresno players display the fruits of their labor, hoisting the national championship trophy. And by the way, I know the NCAA has improved the design of the trophy, but it's still a crappy looking piece of cherry wood if you ask me. Not exactly the equivalent to the Waterford Crystal of the football championship is it?)

(Georgia players watch as Fresno celebrates on the field. I'm sorry, but if I'm a Georgia player, I wouldn't be able to sit there and watch another team in euphoria... especially when you KNOW there are ESPN cameras just waiting for you to start tearing up or have a look of dejection.)

(Steve Detwiler is a sudden media celeb.)

(Erin Andrews and Mike Batesole fist-pound after the game. As a grad from a rival SEC school, do you think she really wanted Georgia to win? I don't know, she seems happy for coach Batesole here.)

(Reliever Kris Tomlinson got a black eye from getting head-butted in the dogpile after the game. No worries, it will kind of go good with his skullet hair cut anyway.)

(A lone Fresno player heads out toward the scoreboard to take a picture of the final totals.)

(Unlike the previous two days, it was warm and sunny today, so fans of all shapes and sizes could enjoy the weather.)

CWS, Day 12: It's Fresno!


... and that ONE is Fresno State!
(Bulldoggin' it. The Fresno players show the hardware on the pitcher's mound in Rosenblatt after beating Georgia 6-1 to win the school's first baseball national championship.)

And you thought Oregon State in 2006 was shocking.

What the bloody hell is going on in college baseball these days? Four seeds winning the brass ring? Guys that hit .256 slamming home six RBI? A starting pitcher actually going more than seven innings in the CWS? A guy that went 0-for-4 getting named the MVP?

But amidst all the chaos, let me just say this: This is Steve Detwiler's world, we're just living in it. The Sophomore from Forest Knolls, California turned this into his own main stage tonight, tearing the cover off everything the Georgia pitching staff had to offer to lead his fellow Dogs to a win on this humid, sticky night.

Oh and I guess he'd go ahead and share the world with Justin Wilson too, since the Bulldog starter threw 129 pitches, giving up just five hits and one run and striking out nine in a dominating role.

In other words, it's just one of those nights that makes legends out of student-athletes.

87 degrees, 61% humidity (though it felt much worse), Winds at 7mph out of the South.

Fresno - 020 103 000 - 6 8 4
Georgia-000 000 010 - 1 6 2

WP: Justin Wilson (9-5)
LP: Nathan Moreau (4-4)
Save: none

Top Hitters-
Steve Detwiler: 4-for-4, 6RBI, 2HRs, double.

Gordon Beckham: 2-for-4, RBI, HR

Let's talk about a guy who had a strained ligament in his thumb that will require surgery, a guy who went 2-for-22 in the Regionals and Super Regionals, a guy who was hitting .231 in Omaha and a guy who was considered nearly a sure out every time he strode to the dish.

His name is Steve Detwiler. And even with those cruddy credentials, this is a guy who put on a hitting clinic so complete tonight, I can't wait for the instructional DVD to come out.

All he did was single-handedly account for every one of Fresno State's six runs that crossed the plate. Check out this succession of at-bats:

- HR, 2RBI
- Double, RBI
- HR, 3RBI
- Single

What, no RBI on that last at-bat? That amounts to a huge slump for our boy now.

But really, I'm not pulling any punches when I say that this may have been the biggest clutch performance for a .256 hitter in the history of the College World Series.

(Steve Detwiler looked locked-in before his 6th inning at bat.)

(The play that changed the game. Detwiler launches a rocket toward his image on the outfield scoreboard. UGa third baseman Ryan Peisel never flinched, knowing that moon shot was gone from the get-go.)

(His bite is worse than his bark. Detwiler growls after hitting the bomb and being greeted by his teammates.)

And couple that with a gutsy performance from the aformentioned Justin Wilson on the rubber, who went 8.0 innings to get the win despite going on just three days rest.

"I knew from the minute he threw that first ball tonight that he was locked in." Coach Mike Batesole would say. "I knew he was going to be lights out, no matter who was in the other dugout."

Too bad somebody didn't tell Georgia about that locked-in look. Other than a Beckham home run in the 8th inning, the Southern Dogs didn't seem to be themselves at all.

Yet, they also weren't anywhere close to being out of this one. Down just 3-zip in through five, everybody in the stadium knew this was a team that had four come-from-behind wins in Omaha alone. You got the feeling that it was only a question of when for these guys.

But after Georgia reliever Dean Weaver got the first two outs of the 6th inning, he ran into a little trouble. He gave up a sharp double to Steve Susdorf and then walked Alan Ahmady. Then Detwiler went back up to the plate again. And once again, he delivered, this time cranking an absolute no-doubt, bet-the-mortgage blazer well into the left field stands. In fact, Georgia Third Baseman Ryan Peisel never even moved.

That three-run yard call made it 6-0 and you could see the collective shoulders of the Georgia players begin to slump. Their best swings were pop-ups. Mr. Detwilers best swings found the hands of the fans in the stands.

"It was just one of those things. Our balls died at the warning track. Theirs went over the fence." Said Georgia coach Dave Perno.

Needless to say, on offense, It was all about the Steves for Fresno tonight.

In the top of the second inning, Susdorf made it to first on a line shot that just tipped off the glove of UGa First Baseman Rich Poythress. Then, Detwiler started his stunning night with a two-run fence scraper that barely alluded the reach of Georgia Right Fielder Matt Olson, pitting FSU to a quick 2-0 lead after two innings.

A few innings later, Detweiler struck again with a thundering double to the wall that scored Susdorf once again, leading to a 3-0 advantage.

Meanwhile, the usually stout Fresno D was shaky, as frosh Shortstop Danny Muno committed a pair of errors in the second inning that led to a bases-loaded mess for Wilson to pitch his way out of. But that he did, enticing leadoff man Peisel to flyout harmlessly to center field.

In the end, the big Georgia push never came. Beckham got his 28th home run of the year in the 8th, but nobody else could even get the ball beyond an outfielder and there was no momentum to their swings.

Brandon Burke came on in the 9th to get the final three outs of the game and secure a rather unlikely national championship for Fresno State University. These Bulldogs proved to be the tougher Dogs tonight.

And that's just fine for Steve Detwiler's world.

(After Detwiler makes the catch for the last out of the game - in the background - the Fresno bench explodes onto the field for the awaiting dogpile celebration.)


- MVP.
Despite an 0-for-4 performance at the dish tonight and 6-for-24 overall in the Series, the Most Valuable Player of the CWS was 3Bman Tommy Mendonca, who flashed incredible leather all week and hit a trio of home runs along the way. Keep in mind, he's only a Sophomore too.

(Manning the hot corner, Mendonca was in the Dawgs heads all week long)

- Move over ladies.
Make room for a second national title in Fresno. Tonight's win was only the second national championship in Fresno State history. The other one being the ladies softball national title in 1998.

- Again.
For the fifth straight year the winner of the national championship is a team that was not a National seed.

- Again II.
For the seventh straight year the winner of the national championship is a team from West of the Mississippi River.

- Third time no charm.
For the third time since LSU's last national title an SEC team loses the national title round.

- Gotta Be the Bats.
Much like I heard from Ohio State players last year, the scuttlebutt around Rosenblatt is that Georgia players have been wholly disenchanted with the lack of jump that their Nike bats have given them. So much so that it's been said that their players have it in their heads that their bats aren't as powerful as the ones their opponents swung this year.

(Even Dave Perno said in the post-game press conference, everything Georgia hit just ended up dying on the warning track. Thank you Nike bats?)

I've heard in the past that the big complaint is that Nike puts all their research and development into football equipment and basketball shoes and doesn't put as much money into making the best equipment for baseball.

- On the other hand.
Gordon Beckham DID hit 28th home run of the year tonight, tying him with LSU's Matt Clark for the national lead.

- One last bat note.
In the post-game press conference, Ryan Peisel brought up an interesting quote about the bats that were used in this game. "The thing that scared me about Fresno State was that they played a lot like us. And the thing that scared me the most was that they swung Easton bats and we didn't."

- Gordon rules.
Along with tying the national home run mark this year, Beckham also finished the season with 113 hits, breaking UGa's previous mark of 111 by Joey Side in 2006.

- Freshman jitters.
You'd think by game No. 78 of the season, the Frosh jitters would be gone. But first-year SS Danny Muno had some early problems, committing a pair of errors in the second inning. One on a simple groundout to start Georgia's 2nd inning and another five batters later that helped load the bases.

- Key Play of the Night.
After those two blunders, the Junkyard Dogs had the bases loaded and were threatening to get right back into the game. But Justin Wilson was able to get Ryan Peisel to fly out to deep center to end the threat. Again, another warning track shot.

June 25, 2008

CWS, Day 11: In Pictures


It didn't look good early on - the weather that is. But once the rain began to taper off we were treated to one of the more bizarre games in this 2008 College World Series. Fresno comes roaring, and I mean ROARING, from behind to pull out a football-like, 19-10 win. So now we move on to a third and final game on Wednesday night.

(An hour before game time, the grounds crew was trying to soak up the lake that had formed on the warning track behind home plate.)

(ESPN's Erin Andrews and Mike Patrick put on their game faces while surveying the muck and the mire that was Rosenblatt Stadium.)

(Soon-to-be rich men walking. Josh Fields and Gordon Beckham, two first round picks in the recent MLB draft, stalk the dugout just before game time. But don't you think that in a few years both of them are going to look back at pictures of their College World Series experience and say to themselves, "What the hell was I thinking with that hair?!")

(Keep an eye on Georgia catcher Bryce Massanari in Game 3. He came up a little gimpy after jumping up to catch an errant throw to home, landing awkwardly on the small bit of astro-turf around home plate.)

(33rpm. Georgia's Rich Poythress makes sure to touch home plate as the Junkyard Dogs go up 3-0 in the first inning. Fresno's number 33, Justin Miller, can only watch.)

(Ummmm, somebody want to tell the stadium scoreboard graphics guy that Bob Gibson was a Creighton Bluejay and NOT a former Cornhusker!)

(Sign on the door of the Stadium View Sports Shop across from Rosenblatt Stadium.)

CWS, Day 11: Fresno bites back


In the words of John Candy from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, "Oh, these dogs are barkin'!"

Did I not say in my preview with Doug Kroll that there's no way you should count out the Fresno State Bulldogs? No way on Eddie Albert's Green Acre should you. These dogs are doing more than just barkin', they're bearing their teeth and frothing at the mouth now.

Late Night at Rosenblatt Stadium saw the most unlikely of teams make a rather most unlikely turnaround in game two tonight, plating six runs in the 3rd, five runs in the 4th and four runs in the 5th inning to turn what looked like a certain defeat into a laugher.

Then again, if we've learned anything from this CWS, it is that you should never count anyone out.

(Tommy Mendonca and Steven Susdorf were responsible for four hits, two home runs and seven RBI in tonight's series-tying win)

68 degrees, 87% humidity, Southeast winds at 10mph.

Georgia - 311 100 400 - 10 15 0
Fresno - 006 540 31x - 19 19 3

WP: Holden Sprague (6-2)
LP: Steven Dodson (5-5)
Save: Jake Hower (1)

Top Hitters-
Too many to list.


Biggest stat:
Fresno State went 10-for-19 with runner's in scoring position tonight. In last night's game one loss, the Bulldogs went 0-for-7.

(Unlike last night, Holden Sprague pitched effectively and was actually able to make a dent in the radar guns.)

Offenses running roughshod. Home runs booming out of the stadium. Double-digit run totals. What is this, USC-Arizona State from '98?

Change the bats. Raise the mound. Bring the foul lines in. Isn't that the way the baseball community reacted to the 1998 CWS? Well we saw another offensive onslaught tonight that allowed the Valley Dogs to stay alive in their stunning quest for a national championship.

They gathered 19 runs, 19 hits and 19 million foot-pounds of newfound confidence tonight.

But it certainly didn't look good for the West Coasters early on. The entire stadium had to be saying "Here we go" after three innings of play with Georgia taking a quick 5-zip lead.

The Dogs didn't waste any time in establishing this as their neighborhood as they sent all nine men in the order to the dish in the first inning. leadoff man Ryan Peisel sliced a single to left center with the fourth pitch of the game. After a Matt Olson K, Mr. Beckham and Mr. Poythress, the usual suspects, got back-to-back singles to put the first run on the board.

(It's no surprise that All American Gordon Beckham kept his UGa Bulldog mates in the game with his timely at-bats and defensive plays.)

Three batters later Joey Lewis smacked an RBI double scoring the two big lumberjacks from 2nd and 3rd. The next inning, Peisel did what any other good leadoff man would do, he got on and scored a run. Along the way, he also picked up a stolen base to keep himself in FSU starter Justin Miller's head.

The third inning saw nine-hole hitter David Thoms punch an RBI single into left scoring Bryce Massanari. Boom! Five runs to none. They might as well have held up a sign with a pen and clipboard below it saying, "Take a cruise to the national title with the Junkyard Dogs."

But then came trouble in the doghouse. Old Mo' put on a white jersey, got eye-bursting angry and transformed into the Hulk - because we warned you that you wouldn't like them when they're mad.

Fresno stormed back with a vengeance, outscoring the the Southern Dogs 15-1 over the next three innings. It got cranking with a Steve Susdorf two-run single, continued with a three-run jack by Tommy Mendonca, picked up more steam with a two-run double by Danny Muno and roared into overdrive with a two-run crush by Susdorf again. That was all the Valley Dogs needed, putting them up by a 15-6 count.

Just to make sure things stayed interesting and fans didn't fall asleep during the three hour, 55-minute game, Georgia loaded the bases in the 7th inning with one run already in and the top of the order coming to the dish. Reliever Jake Hower came in to relieve Holden Sprague and kept the damage to a (relative) minimum, but only allowing two unearned runs and also got a strikeout, a pop-up and a groundout to help keep the dangerous Georgia bats at bay.

Not that they needed any more, but FSU scored another three runs just after "Take me out to the ballgame" was sung, two coming on a single by Alan Ahmady.

(Reliever Jake Hower's gutsy performance saved not only the game, but also the Fresno pitching staff for tomorrow's deciding game. Strong work Jake)

But the big key was Hower on the mound late in the game. In total, the seldom-used righty (just 22 innings of work this year) gave up just one hit in three innings of work to pick up his only save of the season. And what a time to do it.

His pitching helps keep the Wonderdogs alive for another day. And believe what you've seen, 'coz these dogs are barkin'.


- The comeback series of '08 continues.
Tonight's win by Fresno marked the 10th comeback victory in 15 games of the CWS.

- Oh what a relief it is. (Groan! Now I'm bringing bad 70s advertising jingles into this)
Of the 15 games in the 2008 CWS, this is the 12th one that was won by a relief pitcher.

- Mendonca bombs.
Tommy Mendonca's third-inning yard call was his fourth home run of the series, tying a CWS record. Nine players have pulled the quad trick, including last year when Louisville's Logan Johnson did it in two games.

- Clutch in the post-season.
Fresno came into tonight's game 4-0 in elimination games during the NCAA tournament, beating three of the best pitches staffs in the country in San Diego, Arizona State and North Carolina along the way.

- Speaking of clutch.
All nine of Fresno State's post-season wins have come against teams ranked in the Top 15. The list of victims is impressive considering they only won two games vs. ranked opponents during the regular season.

- Bad luck.
There's been a number of times that FSU's week and a half here in Omaha has been a case of close-but-no-cigar? Consider the first at-bat of No. 9 hitter Jordan Ribera's. With eight-hole hitter Steven Detwiler on first and the Valley Dogs already behind 5-0, Ribera cranked a huge bomb that was looking to hit off the Desert Dome at the zoo. But alas, the monstrous shot was just foul. You could hear him say "Aaarrrrrgh!"

- Peisel up early and often.
Georgia's Ryan Peisel had three at-bats in today's game before Detwiler and Ribera of Fresno ever got up to bat.

- Batting around.
It happened three different times tonight. Georgia sent all nine guys to the dish in the first inning, scoring three runs and stranding three runners. Fresno returned the favor in the third inning by sending 10 guys up, scoring six runs and leaving just one runner on base. Georgia turned the nine-man trick in the 7th inning as well, scoring four and stranding two on the basepaths.

- Thank Lou
In the middle of the 8th inning, press box official scorer Lou Spry come on the intercom to announce to the writers upstairs, "Just in case you lost track, the pitchers of record are Dodson of Georgia and Sprague of Fresno State."

- Long game, small crowd.
All-day rain meant that the crowd was even smaller tonight than it had been in recent days, as only 17,223 showed up. And to make matters worse, they had to endure a three-hour, 55 minute marathon too. Haven't these fans in Omaha had enough this week?

- These champions are the biggest losers.
Regardless of tomorrow's outcome, we are assured that this year's national champion will set the record for most losses by a title-winning team. Fresno is now 46-31 and Georgia is now 45-24-1. The previous high-water mark for losses in a title team was 23. That was the Stanford team of 1988 which went 46-23.

Coach Batesole's opening comment:
What Justin Miller and Holden Sprague gave us with what's left in the tank was pretty huge. keeping it clean on defense was important. I wouldn't put too much stocki in ht e 19 runs, if they score 9 runs in the first tomorrow it'll still be 0-0 in our guys mind.

On his team being road warriors:
"This club has a lot of heart. I keep saying that 'coz it's true. Usually when you go on the road you look forward to getting home and sleeping in your own bed. But we past that point about four weeks ago and kept going and going and going and we're going for another nine innings tomorrow."

On having 9-hole hitter Jordan Ribera come through so big:
"He's a tough kid and his numbers weren't indicative in the way he approaches his at-bats. He's a freshman and with freshmen you keep hoping he gets better and better and better. And he has."

On staff ace Justin Wilson getting the ball tomorrow night:
"He's going to be on three days rest instead of six. But with the adrenaline flowing I'm hoping to get four or five innings out of him. Just having him out there will be good. But what we were able to do tonight was also give Brandon Burke a day off. And he REALLY needed a day off. You could see that yesterday. He's kind of like Spraguey, you saw what he did with a new day. He should be able to give us three outs tomorrow."

Steve Susdorf, on whether he thought FSU would be in this position after the WAC tournament:
"It was tough to think that far ahead, especially after losing two to Sac State. But throughout the season we knew we had the tools to do it. We started to take it one day at a time and one pitch at a time, instead of thinking about the CWS and Regionals at that point.

Erik Wetzel on the turnaround of their season:
That's when we started taking things as a team, not worrying about the number of hits each guy had or the web gems we could make. We started playing as a team and going pitch-by-pitch and game-by-game.

Georgia coach Dave Perno's opening statement:
"We got everything we wanted out of the gate and got off to a quick start. We had a tough time defending the post pattern across the middle (a couple of snickers in the press room). We mismanaged the third inning. It was my bad."

On tomorrow's pitchers:
You're going to see Moreau, Weaver, McCree and Fields. Those are the guys that got us here and this is for all the marbles."

Gordon Beckham on tomorrow's game three:
It'll be a battle of undefeated teams in elimination games. It's going to be a dogfight." (cue the drummer's rimshot here)

June 24, 2008

CWS, Day 10: In Pictures


You know it's a big event if luminaries like Warren Buffet, Nolan Ryan, Augie Garrido and Mark Richt are in attendance. So here's a handful of pics from the first day of the championship series (and what seems like the 27th day of the CWS in total):

(Warren Buffet and Nolan Ryan walk out of the hallway that leads from the press box. I think Nolan was actually there just to pick up the money trail that Warren was leaving as he walked.)

(Sing a Joy-full song! Fabulous babe Heidi Joy, just after she sang the national anthem. Apparently, Ms. Joy, with her hair befitting a Pantene commercial, is a regular at singing the anthem before Creighton basketball games as well.)

(Cool jazz band that played outside the gates at Rosenblatt today. I asked them if they knew any Gene Vincent and they just gave me that "get the hell outta here" look. So I sauntered off dejected.)

(Carry on you brave ticket scalper. This ubiquitous ducat dealer that you see outside Rosenblatt at every CWS told me that sales hadn't been as brisk as past years. He reasoned that the length of the new format was certainly a factor as well as some weather issues)

(Going Yarder Brody Logan couldn't wait to show me his new Fresno State hat he got today)

(Then, going for the shock factor, he revealed his new Friar Tuck hair cut. Apparently Fresno's Holden Sprague gave his dome the zero-setting zip cut after he doubted the Dogs would make the championship round. Hey, it's the Geoffrey Tambor-look. It's bitchin' man.)

(NCAA Director of Baseball Dennis Poppe talks with WAC commissioner Karl Benson before the game. Hopefully Poppe is explaining how the new format is just too damn long and there will be changes to the CWS brackets for next season. Like maybe a return to a more open layout, where teams aren't stuck in two four-team brackets and end up playing the same team three times. And of course, for everybody's sake, going old school and returning to a seven or eight day tournament.)

(Trevor Holder trying to shake off the pain of that wicked line drive off his shin. And is it just me, or does that trainer there look eerily similar to former Dog assistant football coach Erk Russell? Hmmm.)

(Georgia's Bryce Massanari slides in milli-seconds before the tag from Ryan Overland. It was another game of inches today, but Georgia always seemed to have that something extra.)

(Fresno State players take cover as a bat comes flying their way after slipping out of the hands of Georgia batter Matt Olson.)

(You think you've got pressure at your job? Try catching an unpredictable little piece of horse-hide in front of 20,000 people, including the Georgia on-deck batter, just knowing that if you drop it you'll be booed mercilessly. No worries, because the CWS ballgirl held on to this one and got cheered.)

("Brother can you spare a cool million?" Ernie, the press box security dude extraordinaire gets a signature from Warren Buffet.)

CWS, Day 10: Fresno blinks, Georgia one game from title


After struggling through injuries and back-to-back games, you just got the feeling that there were only so many quality throws from the mound that Fresno had in them tonight. In the eighth inning, that proved true as the well ran dry.

For the third time in the CWS, Georgia made another comeback win a reality. The never-say-die Junkyard Dogs plated four runs in the bottom of the 8th to counter the three runs FSU had scored a half-inning earlier to pull out a W in game one of the championship series.

- Conditions at game time:
78 degrees, 42% humidity, Winds from the East at 10mph

- Linescore:
Fresno - 001 020 030 - 6 7 0
Georgia- 100 100 04x - 7 10 1

WP: Will Harvil (2-1)
LP: Brandon Burke (4-6)
Save: Joshua Fields (18)

Top Hitters-
Steve Susdorf: 2-for-4, 1RBI. 2B, 3B
Steve Detwiler: 2-for-3, 3RBI, HR

Gordon Beckham: 2-for-4, 2RBI, HR
Matt Cerione: 2-for-3, 2RBI, 2B
Joey Lewis: 2-for-4, 2RBI,

(Coach Dave Perno is pushing all the right buttons as his 'Dogs are 27 outs away from a national title)

Both teams had a stare down and Fresno was the last to blink.

The cardiac Dawgs of Georgia pieced together a quadrant of runs in the 8th inning and Fresno had no answer for fireballing reliever Joshua Fields in the 9th as UGa gets the drop on game one, needing just one more win to secure its second national title.

The Southern Dawgs struck first with immediacy as leadoff man Ryan Peisel kept his piping-hot CWS streak alive, cranking out a double to the gap. Three batters later Rich Poythress brought him home with an RBI single.

Fresno countered Georgia with big blasts from the bottom of their lineup as nine-hole hitter Jordan Ribera sent a 3rd inning ball beyond the wall to tie things at one apiece. But the Earth shook when eight-hole hitter Steve Detwiler crushed a two-run yard call deep to Dingerville in the 5th to give FSU a 3-2 lead.

UGa piece-mealed single runs in the 4th and 6th, both with two out in the frames. No. 7 hitter Joey Lewis knocked in Bryce Massanari with an RBI single and two innings later Matt Cerione, coming off a terrible five K performance on Saturday, singled home Poythress to tie the game.

(Matt Cerione put his recent struggles behind him, going 2-for-3 and scoring the winning run tonight)

Georgia starter Trevor Holder was pulled at the beginning of the 8th inning and that's when the real trouble started. Six-foot-six hurler Alex McCree came in and struggled from the first pitch. The batters he faced went:
- Walk
- Double, RBI
- Hard-hit line-out to SS, Double Play
- Home Run
- Hit batsman

Justin Earls relieved McCree and immediately gave up an RBI double to the suddenly hot Steve Detwiler. The inning ended a batter later, but the damage had been done.

Georgia punched back without flinching as All American SS Gordon Beckham greeted the second pitch of Brandon Burke's tenure on the mound with a slicing home run that drove in a pair. A walk and a flyout followed, then Cerione came through again, this time sending Poythress around the bases with a double that hugged the left field line.

That proved to be enough to pull out the win, as Josh Fields added his 18th save of the season with a three-up, three-down 9th inning. Unlike the Stanford game, there were no theatrics involved. No fuss, no muss, nobody reached 1st base.

In other words, ballgame.


- Rag Arms.
Talking to some of the Fresno beat writers before the game, their consensus was the same: the Bulldogs barely have any arms left on the staff to win this thing. Getting No. 2 pitcher Clayton Allison back to win last night's Carolina game was huge. But there's not much chance he'll be effective enough to help here. No. 1 starter Justin Wilson threw on Saturday, so his availability will probably be limited as well.

Today's starter, Sean Bonesteele (cool name) was making just his fourth start of the season and lasted only three innings, giving up just two hits and a single run. Brandon Burke came on in the 8th inning, but just couldn't hold the dam burst. The Silver Britches scored four runs in the 8th, three off of Burke, to ice the game.

- Getting the jump.
I thought that if Fresno had any chance at all, getting on top of Georgia would be of paramount importance. But it was the Junkyard Dogs that got the first run of the game on Rich Poythress' RBI single. Fresno fought back to take a 6-3 lead after 7.5 innings, but what they didn't have was enough fresh arms to clamp down that potent Georgia offense in the bottom of the 8th.

- Squandering opportunities.
Fresno wasn't without its chances early on, as they got men in scoring position in both the first and second innings, but couldn't get a foot to tap the plate in either frame. They also squandered a pair of base-runners in the 6th inning.

- Seven minute delay.
When Trevor Holder took a Danny Muno shot off his shin (which just sounds painful to write), his recovery time took seven minutes. He tried throwing twice before finally being able to actually release a ball.

(Trevor Holder took a stinging line-drive off the shin early in the game but hung tough to throw seven innings of four-hit ball)

- Finally a "short" game
For the first time in this year's CWS we got to experience a relatively short game as the time elapsed was just 2:55. It marks the first time all week that a game went less than three hours.

I have to admit, I was down on the field shooting a video segment with Doug Kroll after the game, so I didn't hear any of the comments from FSU's Mike Batesole in the post-game press conference. But here are some Georgia quotes you might find interesting.

Georgia coach Dave Perno's opening statement:
It was a great college baseball game, fortunately we've got Gordon (Beckham) and Josh (Fields) in our dugout and in big games it's good to get big performances from those guys.

Coach Perno on coming back despite being down three runs in the 8th:
That ' s how you find out about people. Not when things are going well, but when things are going wrong. That's how our team has done all year, coming through as they did.

Gordon Beckham, on his home run in the 8th:
It jump-started us. It got us going a little bit and we got guys like Cerione and Lewis coming through for us behind me, so I'm real proud of them.

Coach Perno discussing Gordon Beckham, his star attraction:
He's a pretty special player, he's called a bunch of shots during his career. Guys were on him, asking him "When you gonna hit another home run?" And he just said, "When we need it most." And that's exactly what he did.

Josh Fields on his recent struggles:
I tried not to think too much. it just seemed like I thought too much in my previous outings up here. I just got back to what was working. Last year really helped me with that because it seemed like every outing there was something going wrong. I just stayed focused on what was positive for me.

Coach Perno on Trevor Holder staying in the game despite the line-drive to the leg in the 3rd inning:
To take that shot off the shin and come back from that was huge. He pitched like he was in mid-season form. It was good on our bullpen and we're fresh now. It was so early in the game, if he couldn't go, we could pull him at that time and save him for Wednesday. It wasn't a panic situation, he just needed a little bit of time to work through it.

Game two is less than 20 hours away. Only question is, does that mean the 2008 college baseball season less than 23 hours away? If you ask me right now and point a gun to my head, my answer is, "Yes. Georgia will win in two."

But keep in mind the mental toughness of this Fresno team. It's like Cold War tough.

There will be much more tomorrow.


June 23, 2008

CWS, Day 9: In Pictures

Do you ever wonder why, when a team gets eliminated and their season comes to an end, you always see so many pictures like this?...

It's because of scenes like this...

It might be hard to tell, but there are eight photographers in this picture surrounding the North Carolina dugout at the end of the game just looking for that teary player picture they so crave.

Here are some more pics from Game 13 at Rosenblatt.

(Come on down, there are plenty of good seats... no, plenty of good sections available)

(People have been blaming the format change, the rain and the length of the CWS for attendance being down this year. But I still truly believe it is more about the malaise-ridden reaction to the new stadium issue. Still haven't heard any media types talking about that fact yet. Either way, 15,000? That's below par for Omaha.)

(Big Brother is watching. Even if the President of Mozambique isn't here to throw out the first pitch, there is still a handful of police and security types up on the roof of Rosenblatt watching everything that is going on... or checkin' out hot chicks with their binoculars.)

(Fresno State's Steve Susdorf slides into home plate behind UNC catcher Tim Federowicz.)

(There have been a College World Series record 22 wild pitches this week.)

(Gutty Kyle Shelton reacts after slamming into the wall down the left field line. Most impressively was the fact that he held onto the ball. That is one tough dude.)

(Fresno celebrates the win as Dustin Ackley sees his season end. Ackley hit .522 in the CWS, going 12-for-23, and even FSU's Clayton Allison said in the post-game, "I couldn't get him out. He's incredible.")

(To the victor go the cameras. Kyle Peterson interviews Mike Batesole, the Fresno head coach. Ever wonder why, with these modern high-powered cameras, do they find it necessary to get so in-your-face-close to the person being interviewed?)

(Going Yarder Jason Kerepesi catches Doug Kroll interviewing Tommy Mendonca. The Fresno 3Bman came into the game having only two hits in the CWS, but both were home runs. Tonight Mendonca went 3-for-4 with a double and 4RBI.)

CWS, Day 9: Fresno wins. Let the bad Dog cliches begin!

Fresno State howls into the championship round with a convincing win.

(Alan Ahmady is pumped after sliding into home)

You can see the bad puns coming from a mile away. After Fresno's win over UNC tonight, you can just imagine all the horrible headlines with their awful puns that papers and websites will be running tomorrow.

So in that spirit, here is my top five worst Dog vs. Dog championship headline cliches you'll probably see on Monday:

1- It's Dogs vs. Dawgs.

2- It's a dog eat dog world.

3- Best in show: Dogs vs. Dogs.

4- CWS going to the Dogs.

5- It's one Dog-gone good finale.

Dishonorable Mention:
Welcome to the Michael Vick Invitational.

Let me just say that it's amazing that Fresno is sitting where it is now. After spending the entire final month of the season (five weekends) on the road, they've built up quite a callus for tough games and tough situations. Look closely people, we may be looking at one of the toughest-minded teams that's ever been in Omaha. And here's how they got there tonight.

Weather conditions at game time:
83 degrees, clear skies (finally), 5mph winds out of the East and 33% humidity

No. Carolina - 000 100 000 - 1 10 1
Fresno State - 002 112 00x - 6 10 0

WP: Clayton Allison (4-5)
LP: Brian Moran (1-2)
Save: none

Top Hitters-
Dustin Ackley: 3-for-5
Tim Fedroff: 3-for-4

Tommy Mendonca: 3-for-4, 4RBI
Steve Susdorf: 2-for-4, HBP, on base three times.
Jordan Ribera: 1-for-1, 2BBs. on base three times. (And then they pulled him?)

The Fresno State Bulldogs have been on the road 37 straight days. Thirty-seven. And here I was thinking being here in Omaha for eight days has been a strain. Pfffft! Wimp.

Today, the road-weary... er, make that road-warrior Bulldogs put on a clinic of pitching, defense and, yes, mental toughness.

"That was a gutsy performance when we needed one the most. That was a mental win." Mike Batesole opened his press conference by saying. "What Clayton Allison did on the mound was really special. It didn't have much to do with what he had physically. It was all about a mental battle that he won."

He is of course referring to starter Clayton Allison, who had missed the last two weeks with a shoulder injury he suffered in the Super Regionals. But tonight, he was nails, going six innings and holding a big-play team like North Carolina to a single run on a bases loaded walk.

When closer Brandon Burke was asked about when it started to set in that this game was won, he pointed to Allison as well.

"It was all about Allison's entire composure and how he went about his business. We really didn't know what to expect or what we were going to get. For him to come out and give us six innings, that was when it really set in that we have a chance to win this game."

Burke wasn't done glossing on his wounded mate. "For him to come out and throw strikes, keep it down in the zone and keep those guys from putting runs up on the board, it's just an awesome performance. It's one of the most gutsiest things I've ever seen."

And in case you're wondering, coach Batesole was nodding along to that statement. And rightfully so. Along with the guts to step on the rubber tonight, he also struck out six along the way in throwing 90 pitches on the night. His availability for the title series may be in question, but his major league cajones can't be.

And the few times that Allison or relievers Holden Sprague or Burke DID get in a bind, it was all about the defense for the Dogs. Committing no errors, FSU went about it's business in spectacular fashion. Around the horn, 3B Tommy Mendonca, SS Danny Muno and 2B Erik Wetzel all had a jaw-dropping moment or two in the infield.

Burke was the spokesman again. "Our entire infield was incredible. They were flying around and making plays. It's a real comfort to go on the mound and know these guys are going to make a play behind you. It gives you a lot of confidence."

Allison was relieved by Sprague in the 7th, who got hit pretty hard, but still held UNC without a run in the 7th. Then Brandon Burke stepped up to the rubber.

And that's when Fresno turned things over to their underrated defense, as 2B Erik Wetzel and Frosh SS Danny Muno both showed great range in making a pair of big league plays to subdue the Heels in the 8th inning. As you probably saw on the telecast, it brought huge smiles to the faces of Witzel and Burke when they turned an unorthodox 4-to-1 play at the beginning of the eighth. That's when you knew this Fresno team was playing loose.

The game ended, appropriately enough, on a double play.

Oh wait... I've written 700-some odd words and have yet to even mention the offense. Look no further than Mendonca, who went 3-for-4 on the night, going walk, 2RBI single, RBI double, RBI single and finally, finally succumbing to a pop-up. His two-run single in the third inning came on a 10-pitch at-bat and it also put FSU up for good at 2-0.

From there, the Bulldogs picked apart the North Carolina pitching, bit-by-bit. No big blasts, but they didn't need one either. Even when normal No. 1 UNC starter Alex White came in, they bumped him for a pair of runs on three hits. It was pretty obvious Alex White wasn't quite Alex White.

"We probably asked a little too much of these guys." Coach Fox said about his pitchers. "You wanna run the guys out there that got you to this point. But I struggle a lot with those type of decisions. All the kids want the ball. I tip my hat to them for going out and being competitive, but as you saw, Alex just wasn't himself tonight."

As a result, Fresno equaled UNC's hit total of 10, but they also benefitted from eight walks on the night. Eight!... wow. That's a lot of free passes. Alan Ahmady, one of the Dogs biggest power sources, was the main beneficiary, getting four base-on-balls to go with his RBI fielder's choice in the 6th inning that put Fresno up 5-1.

A four-run lead, with the way Fresno pitchers were winging it, meant the game was all but over. Same goes for UNC's prolific stretch of championship round appearances, which is still an impressive feat in this day and age.

Just goes to show how tough it is to get back to the promised land. But now Fresno, a 4-seed, gets to show what it can do. And with their mental toughness, my guess is that it'll be a lot.

At least they're doggedly determined.

Pause to groan, I know.


- Trying to strike early.
Both teams got a runner to third base in their initial at-bats, but neither scored. UNC even had a leadoff double from Dustin Ackley that went awry after he made it to third. Fresno got a leadoff walk from SuperFrosh Danny Muno. He was sac'd over to second and made it to third on a wild pitch. But both Erik Wetzel and Steve Susdorf K'd behind him.

- Full counts.
Adam Warren had his struggles from the get-go. He ended up pitching to all nine batters in the FSU lineup once and went to a full count on four of them. To his credit two of those went for strikeouts looking. But two of them also went for part of his four walks.

- Squandering their chances early, then making amends.
Despite stranding two men in scoring position in the 1st and 2nd inning, Fresno's first hit didn't come until Erik Wetzel's clean single in the 3rd inning. But then the Dogs broke through when Tommy Mendonca hit his first non-home run hit of the CWS, a two-run single to left.

- Cleared to play
Coming into tonight's game, FSU starting pitcher Clayton Allison and UNC's *new* ace reliever Alex White were both question marks for tonight's game. Allison because his lingering injury he suffered in the Supers at Arizona State and he also missed his last scheduled start in the Dogs' earlier game against UNC. But the "game time" decision was apparently a go. White, on the other hand, has been used back-to-back-to-back in the Heels' last three games and his availability was going to be evaluated after "soaking" it following last night's game.

Allison looked like the dominant arm I saw at the Long Beach Regional. White only went 1.2 innings, giving up three hits and two runs in his 18 pitches. And just generally looking like he's been used a lot lately.

- A new record
There have been 22 wild pitches in this year's CWS. C'mon pitchers! Get your act together.

- Game of inches, personified.
Just think how close Carolina came to a big inning in the 7th. FSU reliever Holden Sprague came in for relief of Allison at that time and immediately UNC started hittig the ball on the nose. The first batter was Dustin Ackley and he sliced a hard shot to center field that was caught. Then, Garrett Gore hit a screamer right at 3Bman Tommy Mendonca. Finally, the last out of the inning was a deep fly out to the 408 sign in center field. Such went the night for Carolina.

- Even Fresno has a sense of wonderment.
Brandon Burke on the Bulldogs' wild finish: "If you look at where we're at now compared to how we started the season, it's almost inconceivable. It's just been an amazing season."

More pictures and comments later.


June 22, 2008

CWS, Day 8: In Pictures

Georgia wins and waits. While Fresno and Carolina play another great game. In the meantime, I had the shudderbug thing biting me, so here are a few more pictures from Saturday's double-header at Rosenblatt.

(Gotcha! Everytime I pointed my camera toward this little kid, he would immediately duck down behind his father. Finally, I held up a piece of candy and he emerged from his hiding place... snap! Got the picture I wanted of the young Miami fan.)

(The NCAA loves these girls. Decked out in Jack Daniels tank-tops, these servers at the beer garden next to Zesto will become a thing of the past once the new stadium comes around. You know how the NCAA wants to control the six block area around the championship site and all.)

(Georgia's Dave Perno - number 4 - seems to be pushing all the right buttons for Georgia as they head to the title round awaiting the winner of Fresno and North Carolina)

(At 8:37pm, UNC's Rob Wooten was replaced by Brian Moran. Wooten - seen tossing the ball in the air here - didn't seem all that happy with Coach Fox's decision.)

(At 8:38pm, UNC's Brian Moran was replaced by Alex White. Moran threw two pitches in his appearance, a passed ball on a 2-0 count and an intentional walk pitch when it got to 3-0.)

(ESPN announcer Mike Patrick, one of my faves, joins a long line of on-air personalities that wear a pink shirt or a pink tie or - most egregiously - a combination of both. I just want it to stop right now, okay people?)

(The ESPN cameraman on the platform right next to the right field foul pole. Note how he's secured into position by a harness attached to his belt. Is that put there in case he falls? Or if the 20-foot high platform collapses? Hmmm. Add this to the World's Most Dangerous Jobs show.)

(Mr. We'll Play You Anytime, Anywhere himself, FSU football coach Pat Hill, made the trek from the raisin valley to cheer on the Fresno State Bulldogs)

(Meanwhile, poor Roy Williams, this guy can't get a rest. In between each half inning, the man is hounded by autograph seekers. Maybe there IS an upside to sitting up in those luxury suites. I mean, I understand him signing autographs and all, that's really cool of him. But when I tell you it's like this every half inning, I mean it.)

(Before the double header I was able to get into the Qwest Center where the Olympic Swimming Trials are going to be held next week. Pretty freaky lookin'. The pool is set right there on the floor of the place and has a raised "stage" surrounding it. The first row of seats is essentially about the 10th row up off the ground.)

CWS, Day 8: Bulldogs win. Bulldogs lose.

One Bulldog wins. One Bulldog plays again.

In Day eight of the 2008 College World Series, Georgia got the W. Fresno got the lump of coal. We now go to Sunday with another Fresno State-North Carolina matchup to decide who will play the Junkyard Dogs for the national title.

(Along with this home run trot, Ryan Pielsel also scored the run that put Georgia up for good earlier in the win over Stanford.)

Georgia beat Stanford 10-8 and North Carolina beat upstart Fresno State 4-3. Here's a quick run-through of what happened at Rosenblatt Stadium today.

Conditions at gametime:
83 degrees, 41% humidity, winds calm.

Georgia - 013 230 010 - 10 15 2
Stanford - 001 210 004 - 8 11 0

WP: Dean Weaver (6-1)
LP: Jeremy Bleich (3-3)
Save: none

Top Hitters:
Rich Poythress: 4-for-5, 4RBI, tied CWS record for most doubles in a game (3).
Ryan Peisel: 3-for-5, 3RBI, HR
Gordon Beckham: 2-for-4
Joey Lewis: 2-for-5, 3RBI

Cord Phelps: 2-for-5, 1RBI
Ben Clowe: 1-for-1, 3RBI, HR

Dogs dominate at the dish early and lock down the Stanford offense when they have to. That's the dime tour of what happened in game one today.

The top of the UGa lineup did its usual trick, as the 1-through-4 hitters went a combined 10-for-19 with seven RBI and seven runs scored. Rich Poythress was a man possessed, getting four hits and four RBI. He couldn't be stopped, going double, RBI double, 2RBI single, fly out and RBI double in his five at-bats.

"I wanted to help take the pressure off the top of the lineup and I was able to sneak a couple of balls through." Poythress was quoted as saying. Sneak a couple through? How about he pounded the Stanford pitching mercilessly? His hits weren't exactly seeing-eye singles or Baltimore chops.

(Rich Poythress was breathing through his eyes today, including avoiding the tag here by Jason Castro of Stanford)

Poythress set the tone and the rest of those hot bats helped the Bulldogs race out to a 9-4 lead after five innings as the outcome was never (much) in doubt after that. But yes, I did see that freaky 9th inning where Joshua Fields once again looked pretty shoddy. More on that in a bit.

Looking at the big picture, the pitching, though not exactly an A+ tonight, was sufficient, as starter Nathan Moreau and reliever Alex McRee combined for six Ks in just 4.1 innings of work. It was more a case of Bulldog pitchers bearing down when they had to as SU stranded 11 baserunners in the game, including six in scoring position.

Reliever Dean Weaver got the win with 3.2 innings of 3-run pitching. Not great numbers, sure, but he seemed to come up with the big pitch when necessary, including giving up just one run in a bases-loaded jam that he inherited when he entered the game in the 3rd inning. With the win, Weaver improves to 6-1 on the season.

"Our bullpen was phenomenal in the middle innings." Coach Dave Perno said. "It's who we are." Indeed. And now, "who they are" is national championship contenders who are moving on to the title round for the second time in school history.

Maybe Coach Dave Perno can awaken the spirit of that 1990 team he played on, and won it all with.


- Georgia head coach Dave Perno on Josh Fields' poor showing.
"He's never blown a save. It just seems that it happens in non-save situations. But we needed to get him out there to get some work."

- Thoughts on the top of his lineup.
"They've been doing it all year. I'm very confident of our first five hitters."

- Stanford coach Mark Marquess on Georgia.
"They're a great team. They were too much for us today, we couldn't stop them. This game belongs to a stronger team in Georgia."

(Oh boy... judging by the darker-than-the-Raiders-Black-Hole cheering section, looks like we're in for another long rain delay on the way. I'll go build the ark.)

Conditions at game time:
64 degrees (yes, a full 19 degrees cooler than the first game), clearing skies. Northeast winds at 12mph. All this after a 48 minute rain delay though.

Fresno State - 100 200 000 - 3 7 0
No. Carolina - 000 200 02x - 4 8 0

WP: Alex White (13-3)
LP: Justin MIller (6-4)
Save: none

Top Hitters-
Alan Ahmady: 2-for-4
Tommy Mendonca: 1-for-4, 2RBI, HR

Chad Flack: 2-for-3, 2RBI, HR
Dustin Ackley: 2-for-4, 1RBI

The Tuscaloosa Super Regional, 2006.
The Chapel Hill Super Regional, 2007.
Game 12, College World Series, 2008.

Chad Flack is used to this. He's been the hero so many times he knows his way around a telephone booth. In each of the above instances he's provided the game-winning home run that keeps their post-season hopes alive. I.e., without Chad Flack, North Carolina is not in the national championship best-of-three the last two years.

In the 8th inning of tonight's Bracket 2 game between Fresno State and North Carolina, Chad Flack strode to the plate in the 8th inning with No. 5 hitter Kyle Seager standing on second base, and jacked a Justin Miller slider nearly to Council Bluffs.

(The Carolina bench explodes after Chad Flack's no-doubter home run won it in the 8th inning.)

That horsehide ride put the Heels up to stay for good at 4-3. The ensuing celebration swarmed Flack at the plate, giving him another heroes welcome.

When asked if this was the biggest home run of his career, he said, "It has to be, because we are here another day. It's No. 1, especially right now, because it gives us another day to play baseball."

The other big key to the game? The "new" closer for North Carolina, Alex White. Yes, the normal Friday starter got his fourth relief appearance of the season and made it count. With the bases loaded and one out in the 7th, White came in and got a pair of strikeouts to Gavin Hedstrom and Erik Wetzel to allow Mike Fox's charges to escape unharmed and keep the game at a single run.

That set the stage for another legendary Flack moment in the 8th. "Coach had given me the bunt sign at first." Flack explained. "But then I didn't get it down on the first pitch. Then coach gave me the green light to swing. And I think he (Miller) happened to leave one over the plate for me."

The impact was instantaneous. Flack had crushed that one. And who knows, maybe the impact will be felt well into the history pages of Carolina baseball.

("Let's hug it out Bee-yotch!" Alex White gives Fedex a post-game hug after beating Fresno tonight)

- Fresno State coach Mike Batesole:
"An extremely well played game by both teams. Both teams made some big, big pitches when they had to. There was a lot of good pitching and a lot of good defense. I like the way all the guys attacked the mitt. Proud of the way they played. Tonight didn't hurt us and we get to go out again tomorrow."

- On going with Justin Miller the rest of the way in the 8th and 9th.
"He was throwing the ball exceptionally well. He made a good pitch on the home run he gave up, it was a 3-2 slider, which is what he does really well. And give Flack credit for hitting it well. That was a good pitch."

- On his pitching situation involving Clayton Allison, who has been the No. 2 starter but has been hurt:
It will be a gametime decision. If he feels well, we'll go with him. It might be a last minute thing. I like where we're at. If Allison can get it going, we still have Sprague coming back, we didn't use Burke. We're okay.

- FSU's Erik Wetzel on whether the team is demoralized after this game:
"We don't have anything to be demoralized about. That was a really good team in the other dugout. So we just have to shake it off and get ready for tomorrow. We were in this situation at San Diego too and we came back to win that one. That's the advantage of being in the winner's bracket."

- North Carolina coach Mike Fox:
I don't really know what to say. Chad Flack is the clutchest player I may ever know. But our pitching is the story of this game. Matt gave us five innings and we didn't have to go to our bullpen. He just made one bad pitch out there. And I haven't told him yet but we may have a new role for Alex after tonight. He did outstanding.

- Alex White, on coming into a bases-loaded situation:
"It's fun. Bases loaded, you just have to have a different mentality. I don't mind coming out of the pen. I threw a lot of fastballs and maybe just one slider all night. It was mostly fastballs."

- On whether he felt more tired after pitching last night as well.
"I felt better tonight than yesterday, had better stuff and was throwing harder. I'll get in the pool tonight and see how I feel tomorrow."


- More new ballpark malaise.
Today's attendance for game one: 15,828.
That's the smallest crowd since June 18, 2004 when Georgia beat Arizona State 8-7 before 14,697. Here are three reasons why:
1- I still think it has a lot to do with people disenchanted with that whole new downtown ballpark issue.
2- The threat of rain.
3- People had planned on seeing just one game today, but they changed it to two games, so they stayed away from the day game.

(Note that these extremely empty outfield bleachers were pictured during the second inning of today's first game.)

- Make my shot a Double.
UGa's Rich Poythress tied the CWS record for doubles in a single game, set seven other times in the past. It's the first time since Florida's Jeff Corsoletti did it against Nebraska on June 19, 2005.

- Red flag this
Ace reliever Joshua Fields is not on his A-game. Leading up to today he had given up five runs in his last 4.1 innings of work. Today, more shaky stuff, as he gave up four runs on three hits in his lone inning of work.

June 21, 2008

CWS, Day 7: Ladies & Gents, Billionaire Warren Buffet's house

Here's Day 7 in pictures from Omaha. And since it was a single game that didn't start until 6pm, I was able to spend the day finding out where billionaire Warren Buffet lived. Here you go...


Kind of non-descript, huh? I was expecting something like Montgomery Burns on The Simpsons, replete with 30-foot fences, ravenous guard dogs and constantly ominous skies. Nope.

Instead, it's totally open, no fence, no guards, no nothing. Hell, if I was one of those Mormon missionaries, I could walk right up and knock on his door.

Now for more Day 7 pictures...

(I'm the bald one here, talking with Doug Kroll as we shoot another game-day preview on the field. Doug has done a good job with the mic this week as you saw from my pics of him interviewing Game 10 hero Tim Federowicz in my previous post.)

(Rice's Cole St. Clair in full suit and tie after getting honored for some kind of an athletic/academic honor from Lowe's. He was caught here by Dr. Kenny Cook, the doctor of college baseball, as he was walking back into the stands. Ladies, isn't he dreamy?)

(UNC's Alex White made just his third relief appearance of the season in shutting the door on LSU, as he faced eight batters in 2.0 innings of work, giving up just one hit to improve to 12-3 on the year. And was that a major run-on sentence I just typed there or what?)

(Somewhere in that mass of humanity is Tim Federowicz getting mobbed by his teammates after hitting the game-winning grand slam.)

(LSU's Michael Hollander reels away despondent from the post-game team meeting after the 7-3 loss to North Carolina. Apparently, Hollander took his frustrations out on a water cooler in the LSU clubhouse, before succumbing to his emotions.)

(UNC's No. 1 fan, basketball guru Roy Williams takes in the post-game celebration. It's pretty cool to see a high-brow big-wig that likes to sit in the stands and be part of the crowd like Roy does. Wait... is that a Kansas under-shirt he's wearing?)

("Don't taze me bro!... Owww!" One last shot of the streaker as he's got the Omaha police descending on him. Wonder if he's got bruises from the security dude's tackle on him at mid-field.)

CWS, Day 7: The Streaker and Grand Slam Streaks are Broken, so is LSU'S Dreams.

The long lost streaker has returned.

It's been since the championship game of 1974 that the CWS has seen a streaker interrupt a game during the College World Series. But it happened tonight. Right before Matt Clark's at-bat in the 8th inning, with two men on, the mad naked dasher jumped out of the outfield bleachers and made his pose in short center field, much to the crowd's snickers and squeals. He was soon pummeled by a security man and closely apprehended by the police. But while it lasted, it brought back many memories of another streaker, along with much laughter from the record-setting crowd.

(The streaker from tonight's game pauses in center field to strike "The Thinker" pose)

(He then gets pummeled by stadium security and taken down to the ground Brian Urlacher-style)

(The hippy guy with the small willy is then led away by stadium police and sent directly to the sex offenders file)

A few minutes after that whole streaker episode transpired, a pair of 9th inning intentional walks to Dustin Ackley and Tim Fedroff set the stage for junior hero-man Tim Federowicz to pump out a game-winning grand slam that iced things. The place went crazy and the LSU fans, for the first time all weekend, fell silent. That death-knell sounded the end of LSU's magical season.

1974 championship game.
I was there with my dad. USC would win the game by a 7-3 count over Miami. But what I would remember most from that game was the streaker that ran right in front of us on the mid-stadium walkway and down through the ballgirls hovel down behind home plate and onto the field.

With two outs in the 9th inning, the streaker burst out onto the field and went up to home plate. He was carrying one of those over-sized novelty pink plastic baseball bats and went up to the batter's box faking some practice swings. Then, after playing like he belted an imaginary ball, the naked Casey-at-the-bat ran down the third base line (since security cops were running down the 1st base line toward him), he rounded third and started toward second. Once there, he kept running straight toward the right field corner. Once there, he hopped the fence with the cops in pursuit.

Rumor had it that the guy got away, but my brother was apparently friends with the streakers' younger brother and according to him, he got caught by the police and taken downtown. Nothing serious, he was fined and released. That's how things were in those days. According to some people I talked to in the press box tonight, nowadays, any streaker is automatically given "sex offender" status. Yikes.

Now, back to tonight's elimination game...

Conditions at game time:
84 degrees, 39% humidity, sunny with threatening skies all around.

(And just in case you're wondering, it was completely sunny, with an occasional high, fluffy cloud passing by at 1pm, the other suggested re-start time for this game.)

UNC - 200 010 004 - 7 9 2
LSU - 010 002 000 - 3 4 0

WP: Alex White (12-3)
LP: Louis Coleman (8-1)
Save: None

Top Hitters:
Matt Clark: 1-for-2, 2RBI, HR, 2BBs

Dustin Ackley: 4-for-4
Tim Federowicz: 1-for-4, 5RBI, HR (as if you didn't know this part already)

(Game 10 hero Tim Federowicz is interviewed by fellow CBS College Sports colleague Doug Kroll and filmed by Going Yard honk Jason Kerepesi, who I am extremely jealous of because of his impressive hair.)

- Key play:
Well, no suprise here, it's Tim Federowicz's grand salami in the top of the 9th inning. Most importantly, it crushed the mental hopes of the Tigers in the bottom of the inning, who are used to making big comebacks, but not on the heels of a grand slam. Ole Mo' was wearing Carolina blue and there was no miracle finish for the Bayou Bashers here. Just too much to overcome.

- Best personnel move:
Bringing in Jared Bradford to re-start the game.
Carolina got a head start in this game with yesterday's 2-0 lead and bases loaded, one-out scenario when the skies broke open like a WWE cut to the forehead. But when play resumed, Jared Bradford came on to replace Blake Martin and threw just two pitches, inducing Garrett Gore into a 5-4-3 double play and got out of the jam.

- Worst decision:
In the 6th inning and his team clinging to a 3-1 lead, Carolina's Brian Moran had LSU slugger Matt Clark swinging out of his shoes on two straight off-speed pitches. But with a 2-2 count, the Heel reliever decided to feed the nation's home run leader a low fastball and it was crushed like a pop can. Clark's stitched-ball ride tied the score at threes and pushed his home run total to 28.

(Matt Clark hit his nation-leading 28th home run and is welcomed home by Micah Gibbs in the 6th inning of tonight's game. The dinger helped tie things up with eventual winner North Carolina)

- You knew Carolina was serious when...
They brought in All American Alex White in the 8th inning. This was just the third relief appearance on the year for the Friday night ace. He inherited a man-on-first situation with Blake Dean at the dish.

He got Dean to go down swinging, walked Gibbs, got interrupted by a streaker from the stands, walked Clark, got LeMahieu to pop out and forced Landry to ground out. I.e., the bases were loaded with one out for LSU and they got el zippo. Usually this team scores four or five at a minimum.


- Two pitches.
When asked by ESPN's Ryan McGee why he decided to make the change to Jared Bradford to resume today's game, Coach Paul Mainieri responded with, "The guy they have at-bat (Garrett Gore) doesn't strike out much and with the bases loaded we needed a ground ball pitcher in there. So we went with Jared." Guess what happened two Bradford pitches into his stint? Ground ball that led to a double play.

- The last CWS grand slam.
After 280 bases-loaded situations had come and gone in CWS play, Tim Federowicz finally broke a seven-year string where there were no grand slams with his 9th inning bases-juiced yard call. The last time it happened? On June 11, 2001 by David Coffey of Georgia vs. Tennessee. According to ESPN researcher Jeremy Mills, the average number of batters to come through and hit a bases-loaded home run is usually once-every-45 times or so.

- The Lowe's Senior Achievement Award.
After suffering a crushing loss to LSU, Rice pitcher Cole St. Clair didn't like his Omaha experience very much. But he had to like the fact that he was presented with the Lowe's Senior Achievement Award on the field before the game today.

(Rice's Cole St. Clair is under the media spotlight as he is presented with the Senior Achievement Award for his athletic and academic excellence this school year. I think he should get it for giving the greatest post-game press conference answer to a dumb question, when he told former Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Glenn Gilbeau that the Blake Dean game-winning double bounced off the wall so hard because, "It was a hard-hit ball. So... it's just physics." Beauty.)

- Rain delay inspiration.
During today's rain delay, the video board in right field showed highlights of LSU's 2000 national title game against Stanford, where they came back from a 5-2 deficit with three runs in the 8th and one run in the 9th to win the game.

They also showed 1993 CWS highlights, another LSU title team.

- All-time crowd?
You're kidding me, right? Well the "official attendance" total was 30,422, but there were a huge amount of open spaces in the stands for tonight's game. As official scorer Lou Spry said to the media, "This record needs some explanation."

It turns out that since this was a game played over two days, tickets used for reserved and general admission were counted for both.

It turns out that it was the second-highest attended game in college baseball history and the biggest since the 40,106 fans that showed up on March 11, 2004 at Petco Park in San Diego for a game between San Diego State and Houston. (Which was also Tony Gwynn Night at the park)

- Some post-game quotes:
LSU coach Paul Mainieri:
My most overwhelming emotion is that I hurt very badly for my kids. we left it all on the field and came up short. I guess we ran out of miracles. Right now it hurts. These kids really competed. I just hurt so bad for them right now.

On pitcher Jared Bradford:
Not only is Jared Bradford one of the greatest competitors I've ever met, he's one of the best people I've ever known. His influence is going to go far beyond the playing field.

(Coach Paul Mainieri had high praise for senior hurler Jared Bradford in the post-game press conference tonight)

On the Carolina pitching:
I'd like to congratulate North Carolina on a great win. They deserve it. They were a little better than we are. I mean, I can't even remember the last time we only had four hits in a game. I thought their pitching was really outstanding and they really shut us down.

On giving up two intentional walks in the 9th to a pair of lefty hitters:
Right handed hitters are probably hitting under .100 against Louis Coleman this year. And the kid that hit it out (Federowicz), it was a great hit. You have to give him credit. But if I had to do the two intentional walks in the 9th 1000 times over again, I'd do the same thing every time.

On his players and the fans reaction to coming up short:
I've heard so many good things from the fans about these kids this season and I hope they appreciate the effort they gave. We had so many come-from-behind victories tonight.

Jared Bradford, on starting the re-start after just two days rest:
I thought that double play in the 1st inning really ignited a fire. I felt good. Coach really wanted me to go out and get a double play ball and then see how I felt from inning to inning. And then my shoulder started getting tired and that's just what happens when you thrown back-to-back games.

Coach Fox:
We were very fortunate to have beaten them twice in the tournament. Their two pitchers were really outstanding for them. But tonight you saw why we led the nation in ERA, we ran our five best guys out there. You also saw why we think Dustin Ackley is the best player in the country. He's amazing.

We've got a lot of heart, we hung in there and we finally hit a mistake. They didn't make many mistakes against us tonight, but Timmy got a good one on that one.
He's just kind of a big teddy bear. He's got an unbelievable temperment to play this game and to catch. I have him in the 4-hole for a reason. I'm happy for Tim, he's been a big leader for our program the last four years.

Tim Federowicz on his grand slam:
First of all it was a great feeling to go up with the bases loaded in the CWS. I knew he was going to bring his slider and I caught a bad one. I struggled a little bit early on but I was confident going up there with the bases loaded. It was a lot of fun.

More from Day 8 at Rosenblatt tomorrow.


June 20, 2008

CWS, Day 7: Anatomy of a rain delay

Again, to re-iterate, this game should've been re-started at 1pm today. It was clear, beautiful skies all the way up until about 6pm tonight. Instead, at 6:09pm, the game was re-started. At 6:38pm, the game was stopped for lightning and then for the torrential downpour. The people in charge of this thing should've checked the weather forecast.

You know, they show an hour-by-hour forecast on weather.com.

So here's how things went at the stadium today, during the rain episodes:

(the game re-started with Jared Bradford and his sunny day shadow throwing out the first pitch)

(Soon after the first pitch was thrown, the rains across the river in Iowa were evident)

(The skies begin to darken around Rosenblatt again. Like a setting out of The Omen or something.)

(The lightning is spotted and the grounds crew springs into action again. According to NCAA.com blogger Lenli Corbett, last night's grounds crew put the tarp out in 4:24. Tonight, they did it in 4:18. Guess they get better with practice.)

(These fans are resourceful, as they began to use the shroud of the tarp to cover themselves from the torrent of rain. I'm sure that's some kind of NCAA violation.)

(After the rains began to trickle, Paul Mainieri took some time to sign some autographs for the fans)

(The grounds crew begins to pull the tarp off the field, making a huge lake just beyond the infield dirt.)

(Head groundskeeper Jesse Cuevas explains to ESPN field reporter Kyle Peterson and the NCAA officials what is going on with the saturated field and drainage system. Still no explanation as to why the entire CWS schedule was pushed back 24 hours.)

CWS, Day 6: UNC takes early lead after seven batters.

It only lasted seven batters, but then it got ugly. And I mean ugly in two ways. LSU's Blake Martin couldn't find the plate, giving up two runs, plunking two batters and walking another on four pitches. And secondly, the weather turned nasty and the hammering thunderstorms halted the game with UNC up 2-0.

(Tonight, Nebraska was definitely a red state, as you can tell by the smothering storms that blanketed the Omaha area, knocking out the LSU-UNC game with only one out in the game)

(Kyle Seager took a nasty pitch off the elbow. But he got up and made it to first base... where he'll be tomorrow when the game resumes)

(The scoreboard totals are correct. And so is the "Rain Delay" graphic)

(Hey, what better way to spend time during a rain delay? UNC pitcher Brian Moran had all of us in the press box crackin' up with his pants on his arms and his legs through the jersey sleeves. If you want to judge which team is more loose, give the edge to Carolina. Or maybe it's because of their early lead.)

(NCAA officials confer with both coaches and head groundskeeper Jesse Cuevas - far left - before calling tonight's game after seven batters.)

So get this, the NCAA people decide that the entire CWS should just be pushed back 24 hours, instead of going ahead and playing the LSU-North Carolina game AND the Georgia-Stanford game. What's the sense in that?

That means that the expected "day off" on Sunday could now be filled with one or two games, depending on if Stanford beats Georgia or Fresno State loses. Damn! There goes my idea to go down to the Negro Baseball Hall of Fame in Kansas City for a quick road trip to get out of Omaha for a while.

Now, give a big advantage to Fresno State. They're slightly thinner pitching gets a huge boost, especially if they beat either LSU or North Carolina on Saturday night. Though, if they lose - and still make the championship round - their pitching staff will be thin.

Also, this LSU-UNC game could go either way. If UNC comes up to bat with the bases loaded and starts spraying the ball all over the field, the Tigers could really be sunk. But then again, if a new pitcher (maybe Jared Bradford?) comes in and induces a double play or something. Advantage LSU. Because two runs ain't squat for THAT team to make up.

Favorite quote from the impromptu press conference with the head coaches after the .1 inning game tonight? Paul Mainieri opened with this statement:

"I'd like to announce that Mike Fox has agreed to give us a mulligan and start the game all over tomorrow." Much to the yucks of the media gathering there.

Both coaches admitted that they didn't know what direction their pitching situation would go when the game resumes tomorrow. LSU's Mainieri admitted that he was ready to pull struggling starter Blake Martin anyway and yet is still open to possibly keeping him in the game when things get cranked back up. Mike Fox has freshman wunderkind Matt Harvey slated to start still, but theoretically can still save him if his Heels get a couple more runs out of this first inning and start to pile it on.

And by the way, both coaches were asked if they preferred playing at 1pm or 6pm tomorrow and both said it made no difference to them. So the NCAA committee decided to push the schedule back 24 hours instead of a DH tomorrow. Idgits.

Because, what if it rains hard again tomorrow? Then the rest of the CWS schedule is REALLY screwed.

Wonder if the NCAA boys thought about that.

June 19, 2008

CWS, Day5: In pictures

Stanford eliminated Miami with an 8-3 clampdown, putting the Cardinal into the bracket 1 finals against unbeaten Georgia. The Hurricanes see their promising season come up just short. That and other goings-ons in and around Rosenblatt were captured here.

(Erik Davis replaces Danny Sandbrink on the mound in the 5th inning. Both pitchers did a good job of clamping down on a potent Miami batting order and also set up their rotation nicely for the upcoming Georgia series, where normal Friday starter Jeremy Bleich will pitch on Friday)

(This is Collegiate Baseball big-wig Lou Pavlovich in his usual spot in the photographer's well on the 1st base line. When it comes to college baseball history, he's the man.)

(Miami players do some kind of fist-pumping thing to a song between innings. Inside the press box, I couldn't hear what song they were playing at the time. Anyone know? And on another note, are the Rosenblatt people supposed to play songs that are identified with a particular team?)

(When Enrique Garcia was caught off-balance all night long, I knew Miami was in some trouble against the Trees)

(No Bartman's here. The fans at the outfield wall let UofM's Dennis Raben make this wicked-cool grab at the wall early in the game.)

(The Rosenblatt ballgirls have been cheered and booed all week long when the foul balls roll up onto the netting. I asked one of them if they felt any pressure to catch the ball as it comes off the netting, knowing they'll be booed mercilessly if they don't, and she said, "Oh no indeed. We are so over that.")

(Here's a look at what the ESPN cameramen are seeing as they are capturing the action for those of us in TV land. On the left is the monitor that shows what the ESPN feed is showing. The black and white monitor to the right reflects what that cameraman is shooting.)

(After Miami scored, these guys decided to do some body presses with their buddy from way up high. I kept waiting for them to drop him.)

(And of course, no picture book would be complete without the gratuitous pic of Erin Andrews again. Hi Erin... Call me.)

CWS, Day5: Miami couldn't see the forest for the Trees

This was a rude way to end a great season. Miami had it all in '08; a boatload of talent, a No. 1 ranking, a diverse team with few holes and a murderous batting order. Tonight the Stanford Trees cut them down hard with a stunning 8-3 win.

(Sean Ratliff, left, gets a hero's welcome at home plate after his crushing home run dimmed Miami's hopes)

It's not too stunning that the Cardinal won the game, they're obviously a good team. But it's how they did it. I'm not sure anyone expected a rather comfortable win like this.

Conditions at game time:
82 degrees, 47% humidity, winds from the Northwest at 3mph.
An hour or so later it was 75 degrees with a light drizzle and winds out of the Southeast at 8mph.

Miami U. - 100 000 110 - 3 9 2
Stanford - 002 141 00x- 8 11 0

WP: Erik Davis (8-3)
LP: Enrique Garcia (7-3)
Save: none

Top Hitters:
Blake Tekotte: 1-for-3, 2BBs.
Yonder Alonso: 2-for-5, 2B
Yasmani Grandal: 1-for-4, RBI, HR

Cord Phelps: 3-for-5, 2RBI
Sean Ratliff: 1-for-3, 2RBI, HR, 2BBs

Key stat: 21.

Stanford gave up two hits in the first two at-bats of the game to Blake Tekotte and Jemile Weeks, but after that, it would be 21 consecutive batters before the powerful Hurricane offense would muster another hit. And even that hit was nullified by an inning-ending double play.

By the time the U got another meaningful hit (a 7th inning home run from Yasmani Grandal), Stanford had built up a hearty 8-1 lead. Except for a few hairy moments in the 8th where Erik Davis loaded the bases with three pitches, but ended up giving up only one run, the Cardinal cruised.

(The bespectacled Erik Davis returned to form by going four innings, striking out four and getting the win tonight)

The biggest blows came in the 5th inning after Stanford had built up a 3-1 lead. A two-run crusher to right by Sean Ratliff was followed by a two-run triple from the bat of Cord Phelps, that just eluded the glove of a diving Blake Tekotte in center field. With the help of that four-run inning, Stanford moves on to face Georgia, needing a pair of wins over the Dogs to advance to the title round.

Cord Phelps got things started from the top of the lineup getting a single, double and triple with two RBI to set the table.

(Miami CF - and all-around good guy - Blake Tekotte narrowly missed this laser shot to center field by Cord Phelps. Stanford scored two runs on the play.)

Miami countered with a lot of unfamiliar arms, trotting out Anthony Nalepa (18.1 innings pitched), Iden Nazario (10.2 innings) and Rene Guerra (7.2 innings), all of whom hadn't pitched in the last three weeks of NCAA tournament play. Either way, it didn't appear that super-arms Kyle Bellamy or Chris Gutierrez were going to throw tonight.

And Miami could've used them too. Then again, you could also argue that their bats could've shown up better as well.

(Joey August slides into home to put the Cardinal up for good in the 3rd inning of tonight's game)


- 267.
When Miami loaded the bases on three straight singles in the 8th inning and got worked into a fly out to right field, that made for the 267th bases-loaded situation. in the CWS since the last time there was a grand slam. That feat was accomplished by Georgias

- Speaking of streaks, Jerry Kindall's streak continues.
The former Minnesota Gopher (and Arizona head coach) was the last player to hit for the cycle in the College World Series. That was in 1956. Tonight, Cord Phelps had a chance to do that as he went single, double, strikeout and triple in his first four at-bats. But his last at-bat in the 8th saw him meekly fly out to right field.

- You sure you wanna say that?
I usually give Stanford the label of having the best fans, as far as being knowledgeable, courteous and well-mannered. But today the SU section chanted "over-rated" every time Yonder Alonso struck out, which was in his first three at-bats. Besides, don't they know Yonder could've just as easily broken their hearts with a wicked-huge home run tonight?

- Birthday wishes.
Just a day after Paul Mainieri gave his wife a win over Rice for her birthday present (Yes, he admitted that he didn't get her a gift), we hear the same thing from Stanford coach Mark Marquess. "Well this was obviously a huge win for us and especially because it was my wife's birthday today and I didn't get her a gift, so I'm in trouble. Susan, this is your gift. I'll be sure to get something later. It's also Jeremy Bleich's birthday, so it was a good birthday gift as far as getting a win."

- Jim Morris on his team's play vs. Stanford today.
"They out-played us tonight in every phase of the game. We left too many men on base, especially late in the game. But this club has been an explosive club, so you never want to give up on them. You just think they're gonna get it going. But we haven't been swinging the bats like we were before. In the middle of the season I thought we could beat anybody out there."

June 18, 2008

CWS, Day4: In Pictures

Just thought I'd let you guys know that there is no pluralization in the name Zesto, one of the most mis-pronounced burger stands in the world.

(It's not "Zestos", but it doesn't mean they don't make some wicked milkshakes)

(ESPN's Karl Ravech putting on his tie before the game. HIs hair is perfect too.)

(Pet Peeve #284: When players wear their shades on their hats despite a blinding sun beaming down)

(Former LSU Tiger J.P. Padron had a tough day against his old mates, going 0-for-5 at the dish and committing two errors... sorry for the over-sized picture. My bad.)

(Ever wonder what a coach says at this point after his team just ripped the heart out of his opponents?)

(Tuesday saw some of the most riveting action fans have seen at the CWS this year. Everyone was on the edge of their seats.)

(Again, I ask, are these cupcakes necessary in college baseball? Not that I'm arguing it, just trying to get a general consensus.)

(Speaking of batgirls, Jason and Brody of the Going Yard crew take some time to hang with the LSU batgirls while filming a segment with them)

(This is a T-shirt hanging in the Stadium View Shop across the street from Rosenblatt. Notice anything fishy? Yes, Wichita State did NOT win the 1993 national championship. This was one of those shirts they hand out to the championship team immediately after winning the final game. This one somehow escaped the NCAA's incinerator.)

(Can anyone explain the outfits yesterday's color guard was wearing? Ahoy matey!)

(Good to see longime CWS official scorer Lou Spry back in the press box. He had been in San Diego attending a friends funeral. He drove all the way back from Southern California to make it to yesterday's games. Can't you just picture Lou riding in his '57 Chevy, cruising the interstate with the wind through his sideburns and Gene Vincent blaring on the a.m. radio? Sweet.)

June 17, 2008

CWS, Day4: Tigers take us to the ICU, Fresno takes Carolina

LSU... lemme tell you something. You guys are freaks!

Maybe the most freakish team I've ever seen in my 30+ years of following college baseball. And of course, I mean freaks in a good way.

(Jared Mitchell screams for vengeance as he heads toward home)

Today's heart-wrenching win was another microcosm of the Tiger season. They looked pretty damn awful early on. Getting picked off bases. Not coming close on attempted steals. Playing with no energy. Then, a switch is turned on and it's as if those guys went into a phone booth and put on tights and a cape.

Now that I think of it, isn't that the way your football team played last season too? We all know how that ended up. Hmmm, ponder that people.

But let's not get too geeked about the Tigers alone. Is everybody ready to talk about Fresno State for the national title now? It's time. This team is the cockroach that survives the nuclear winter. And no FSU fans, I'm not calling your team a bunch of grotesque pests... you're just so never-say-die man. It's killin' me. And that's in a good way too.


As a good way to sum up the feeling here in Omaha today, when the working press got down to the press conference room here in Rosenblatt Stadium tonight, my good bud Mark Etheridge of SEBaseball.com turned to me and said, "You know. this was great. This is the reason you and I do this." So true.

Conditions at gametime:
75 degrees, 38% humidity and winds out of the SSE at 7mph

Rice - 020 011 100 - 5 10 3
LSU - 000 000 114 - 6 11 0

WP: Louis Coleman (8-0)
LP: Cole St. Clair (10-3)
Save: none

Top Hitters:
Aaron Luna, 2-for-3, 1RBI, HR
Chad Mozingo, 2-for-4
Rick Hague, 2-for-3, 2RBI

Jared Mitchell, 1-for-5, 2runs scored
Blake Dean, 2-for-4, 3RBI, game-winning double
Derek Helenihi, 3-for-4

Mainieri Magic does in the Owls again.

Six years to the day that his Notre Dame Fighting Irish stunned the Southern college baseball culture with a jog-off, two-run bomb to beat Rice 5-4 in the 2002 CWS elimination game, his Tigers turn mean and pull the heart out of the Owls again with today's stunning come-from-behind win.

Blake Dean provided the fireworks with a bases-loades laser-shot double off the wall to send home the three winning runs.

(The winning runs come home for LSU. Note the vertical jump on Coach Godwin in the 3rd base coach's box. White men CAN jump.)

Once again, it just seems like the entire Earth tilted in LSU's favor in another fateful 9th inning. Suddenly, ground balls became seeing eye hits, easy bouncers became odd-bouncing adventures and near-strikeouts became free bases with a plunking.

Next thing you know, LSU has bases-loaded, one out and momentum the size of an elephant. Rice Coach Wayne Graham decided to stick with his hoss lefty Cole St. Clair, who had been on the hill since the last out of the 6th inning.

Then, Blake Dean, a notorious free-swinging hitter, stepped in. Cole seemed to do what most pitchers have done this year and threw a pitch away from Dean. But the hero of the game went with the pitch, slicing a mean screamer off the wall in left field. All three runners on the basepaths came around to score, including Jared Mitchell who never seemed to stop on his way from 1st base.

That sent the Tiger nation into eruption. And it sent Rice Catcher Adam Zornes screaming with anger into his glove.

(LSU's mob scene of Blake Dean after his game-winning hit)

Odd thing is, just an inning earlier it looked like the Owls had stemmed the momentum rush as the bottom of the 8th inning ended with an impressive throw out of Tiger runner Micah Gibbs at home plate. That kept the score at a three-run deficit and it kept the Rice players thinking this was their day against the Tigers again.

"I was thinking that game was ours after that." Said Zornes. "Chad (Mozingo) made a great throw. And Cole's been our guy all year. It's unfortunate."

(Adam Zornes makes LSU's Micah Gibbs a sitting duck at home plate in the 8th)

But the Owls can only blame themselves for letting the Tigers back into this one. Cole St. Clair had a two-strike count on pinch hitter Sean Ochinko. But with one out and one on, St. Clair threw a fast ball inside to Ochinko, nailing him on the hand.

Then the error bug came back to bite Rice in the 9th as well, which is something the Owl faithful have been bemoaning in this post-season. Coming into the CWS, Rice defenders had committed 17 errors in five games. Today, add three more to that, including a crucial bobble by frosh SS Rick Hague. That error on a Jared Mitchell grounder, gave LSU added life. It also led to Blake Dean's heroics a batter later.

"All we need is a small door of opportunity." Dean said. "Like when Ochinko got hit, it left the door open and that's all we needed. We all knew we were gonna come back."

And what did St. Clair throw him? "He owned me with fast balls during my first at-bat, and made me look ugly." Dean admitted. That last at-bat he came at me and put a fastball right there and I went with it."

So the Tigers take their rabbit's feet with them as they move on to send their fans to another elimination game on Thursday.

"I was thinking maybe we ran out of our good fortune." Coach Mainieri admitted. "But i shouldn't have had any second thoughts about these guys. They just keep doing it. It's an amazing thing."

Don't worry coach, the Earth is still tilting your way.

Conditions at game time:
80 degrees, calm winds, 38% humidity

North Carolina- 000 300 000 - 3 11 1
Fresno State - 010 120 01x - 5 12 1

WP: Jason Breckley (3-2)
LP: Adam Warren (9-2)
Save: Brandon Burke (13)

Top Hitters:
Kyle Shelton, 2-for-3, HBP
Tim Fedroff, 1-for-4, RBI 3B
Chad Flack, 3-for-4, RBI

Danny Muno, 3-for-3, Walk, HBP, 5-for-5 on-base
Gavin Hedstrom, 2-for-4
Erik Wetzel, 2-for-5, RBI, 2B
Alan Ahmady, 2-for-5, 2RBI
Ryan Overland, 2-for-2, RBI, HR

This just isn't right is it? Fresno? We're talking about the team with an RPI of 89 going into the post-season?

Guess what? Believe it. Before this game, I went on record as saying that I wasn't going to doubt them any more. I guess my actual quote was, "I've been bitten by that snake enough times already." If you're just now coming around to knowing this team is legit, you're still too late for that common sense bandwagon.

The 4th-seeded Bulldogs are getting that Oregon State-kind of feeling. There hasen't been any one guy in particular getting the glory. Today it was leadoff man Danny Muno, who went 5-for-5 on-base. They also got huge home runs from Ryan Overland and Steve Susdorf, who helped stake out an early lead.

(The Dogs take the lead on Ryan Overland's dinger. Steve Detwiler welcomes him home)

And don't forget the defensive play of SS Muno and 3rd baseman Tommy Mendonca, who flashed a handful of gold glove moments, despite going 0-for at the dish. They are the ones that kept the ship steady as Carolina got its offense going.

The post-game press conference was all about the full lot of contributions that every player has made this season, particularly the vast number of guys making the trek to the mound. Coach Batesole had high praise for his elder statesmen on the arms corps today. "Tomlinson, Breckley and Burke doing their piece was really big for us. It could be real easy for them to sit back and say they should get the start or pitch so many innings. But they didn't. They decided a long time ago to play together and not worry about that kind of stuff from here on out. That's the kind of guys they are as experienced players."

The Bulldogs took the lead for good by answering UNC's 3-run 4th inning with a 2-run 5th inning. After loading the bases with no outs, a force out at home was followed by Alan Ahmady's two-run single into center field that allowed Gavin Hedstrom and Erik Wetzel to score - Wetzel narrowly avoiding Tim Federowicz's tag. That pushed them out to a 4-3 lead. A lead they never relinquished.

In all, Mike Batesole chose to use five pitchers in all. And in typical off-beat Fresno form, a hurler who threw only three pitches on the night, got the win. That was Jason Breckley, who got Chad Flack to pop up to end the 5th inning with the bases juiced.

"I'm really proud of our seniors. They've been doing everything right for a long time. And they've set a good example for our younger guys, who have been doing the right things for the last six weeks."

That's why Fresno joins Georgia in the unbeaten Bulldog ranks here in Omaha. Go figure.

(Freshman Kevin Muno did just about everything for Fresno tonight, including help the umpire clean off second base)

- This is getting ridiculous.
LSU has now won 30 games this season in come-from-behind fashion. That includes 19 of their last 26 games. Is anybody really going to ever leave another LSU game before the last pitch is thrown? They shouldn't.

- Smoke Laval recruit vs. Smoke Laval recruit.
When LSU pitcher Jared Bradford faced off with Rice's J.P. Padron, it was a face off between two players that were brought out of high school by then-LSU coach Smoke Laval. Padron ended up leaving LSU after his frosh season and went to San Jacinto JC for a year before transferring in to Rice for two seasons.

- Finally, 1-for-6.
LSU has gone goose-eggs in the five CWS games since Skip Bertman left his post as head coach. In 2003, the Tigers lost to Cal State Fullerton (8-2) and South Carolina (11-10). In 2004, they lost to Miami (9-5) and South Carolina (15-3). Today, they finally exorcised those ghosts with the comeback win.

- Can sports be a metaphor for life?
Coach Paul Mainieri hopes so. In the post-game press conference, Coach Mainieri said, "I think sports is very much a metaphor for lives. I tell my players all the time to never give up. Who knows, maybe someone out there watching on TV today saw our game and can believe that anything is possible, no matter how bad things are stacked against you."

- The Tiger nemesis no more.
LSU had been eliminated by Rice in the NCAA tournament three times.
In the 1995 Regionals in Baton Rouge, the Owls beat LSU 15-7 and 16-9 behind Jose Cruz Jr. and crew. In 2002 over in Houston, the Tigers were skunked 6-0 and 3-0 in the Super Regional round. And in 2005, the Owls pulled the trick in the Baton Rouge Regionals again, beating LSU 9-7 and 5-4.

- Kept pressure on.
Biggest key to the win for FSU tonight? They never took the foot off the pedal. The Dogs got their leadoff hitter on AND runners in scoring position in all of their last five innings at the dish.

Even Carolina coach Mike Fox agreed that was a key component to the game. "That was a big thing. We just couldn't get their leadoff man on and we don't play from behind very well."

- No relish.
Coach Fox, when asked in the post-game his feelings toward facing LSU once again. "I tell ya'. I don't look forward to playing them again (laughs). As you saw today, you've got to play all 27 outs against them."

(Steve Susdorf, Danny Muno and Erik Wetzel ham it up for the camera after the win over UNC tonight)

CWS, Day3 in pictures

Day three at the College World Series saw us say goodbye to our first team (Florida State) and also saw some of the best weather we've experienced in a while. And better yet, it's not supposed to change too much.

(The forecast for the next few days is a beauty. No 90s. No rain. No prob. Now, let's just hope the damn weather man is right.)

Here's some more pics from yesterday's day at Rosenblatt.

(Coach Martin and Coach Morris not saying "good luck" to each other as they walk away from the pre-game meeting)

(The biggest question mark for Miami the rest of this week is whether Carlos Gutierrez can get back on track. He's been roped pretty good in the 9th innings of both games he's been in.)

(Dennis Raben shoots home plate umpire Jack Cox a cross look after getting called out on strikes.)

(The last out of the Florida State season. Note how Ryan Jackson and Jemile Weeks are already fist-pumping as Buster Posey slides into 2nd. After nearly blowing this game, the feeling of relief was palpable.)

(Miami's David Gutierrez wasn't the only one to get plunked in the arm with a hard hit ball. This fan took a foul ball on the wing too.)

(The attendance at the CWS has been slightly down this year, but it's hard to tell because as you see, there are fans standing on tables in the outfield bleachers.)

(The world's slowest elevator - the press box lift at Rosenblatt - got serviced yesterday. Let's hope for better results from this awful thing today.)

June 16, 2008

CWS, Day3: Seminoles take trail of tears home, Dogs hunker down 'til Friday

Hard to believe we're sending Florida State home already. It's day three of the CWS and I'm not sure there are many people out there who would've put their money on another 0-and-2 finish. Not THIS team. This one the one that was going to put them over the edge. Now it's not.

(Joshua Fields. This reliever is, well... relieved)

Meanwhile, the biggest win so far this series comes from the arms of the Georgia Bulldogs. They get to avoid the determined Miami Hurricanes in the loser's bracket by beating Stanford in come-from-behind fashion, 4-3. As a bonus to that, they also get a three-day rest. And the Bulldog fans hearts may need it after the two games they've put up so far.

Conditions at game time:
71 degrees, 42% humidity, winds from the Northeast at 10-12mph.

Florida State- 100 100 003 - 5 18 0
Miami (Fla) - 004 000 21x - 7 11 2

WP: Eric Erickson (9-1)
LP: Elih Villanueva (7-4)
Save: none

Top Hitters:
Tyler Holt, 3-for-6, 1RBI
Buster Posey, 4-for-5, 1RBI
Dennis Guinn, 3-for-4, 1RBI
Tommy Oravetz, 3-for-4

Blake Tekotte, 1-for-3, 1RBI, HR
Ryan Jackson, 3-for-4, 2runs scored

Florida State stranded 17 runners on the day and that inversely led to their being stranded winless in Omaha for the fourth time in 13 years. Somehow, the Seminoles found a way to outhit Miami 18-to-11, yet still only get five runs out of it. They were also the beneficiaries of five walks and committed no errors on defense. So how did they lose this one?

"If you had told me that we would have 18 hits and no errors, I would've like my chances." Said Coach Mike Martin afterward. Indeed. So would I.

But Miami had the timeliness that FSU didn't. Making the right pitch at the right time, getting the right guy out and playing with confidence. They also made their hits count, getting home runs from Blake Tekotte and Jemile Weeks and getting a pair of two-RBI hits with two outs to stake the Canes to a 7-2 lead.

(Raise your hand if you want to send FSU home. Ryan Jackson was able to slide past Mr. Posey to put Miami up 4-0 in the 3rd)

"I don't think we're swinging the bat all that well." Dennis Raben said. "But we had a couple of two-out RBI hits today. We got some clutch hits and that's what made the difference."

But if you want to talk about an area of concern, look no further than relief ace Carlos Gutierrez. After his meltdown on Saturday night against Georgia, he was up to his high-risk high-wire act again. FSU got a pair of singles, then a pair of groundouts to cut the lead to 7-3. Then a walk loaded the bases and Tyler Holt drove in another run with a single. Jaston Stidham got another RBI single a batter later, setting the stage for the most anticipated one-on-one of the game.

National Player of the Year Buster Posey strode to the plate and the entire stadium knew THIS was going to be big. But rather anti-climaticly, Posey drew a walk to load the bases again.

"Buster's last at-bat showed what kind of player he is." Martin boasted of his best player. "Some guys would want to be the hero, but Buster put together a great at-bat and turned it over to the next guy."

That guy was Jack Rye, who had hit the ball hard all day. But Rye was coaxed into a fielder's choice as Jemile Weeks handled a wicked hop and retired the final out of the Florida State season.

"Jemile made a nice play to end the game." Martin said. "But that last inning was a credit to our young men."

And Coach Martin wasn't done glossing on his team either. "This was one of thebest years of my career to coach. They all competed and competed hard all year. In my 29 years of coaching I've never - NEVER - had a better group of young men in my career."

Sure the Canes won. But when is Carlos Gutierrez going to go back to being Carlos Gutierrez again? The saves specialist has now given up seven runs on seven hits with two walks in two innings of work in the CWS.

His return to form is the most important key to the Canes chances from this point on. But unfortunately for Florida State, their hopes have gone South from Omaha. Again.

Conditions at game time:
75 degrees, winds out of the Northwest at 8-10mph. Chamber of Commerce-like, boys and girls.

Stanford - 003 000 000 - 3 6 0
Georgia - 000 101 20x - 4 9 0

WP: Alex McCree (7-1)
LP: Austin Yount (6-4)
Save: Joshua Fields (17)

Top Hitters:
Joey August, 2-for-4
Jason Castro, 2-for-3, 2RBI, HR

Gordon Beckham, 2-for-4
Matt Cerione, 2-for-3, 4RBI
David Thoms, 2-for-4

The term "effectively wild" is not always a term of endearment. We found that out tonight. When All American closer Joshua Fields jogged out to the mound in the 9th inning of tonight's game two. He looked good early, getting the first out on a harmless groundout. But then, a bean-ball to the dome of Toby Gerhart and a walk to Austin Yount, put Fields behind the 8-ball.

That's when the 'pen stud, still throwing just wild enough, enticed Cardinal frosh Colin Walsh into a game-ending 6-4-3 double play. And that loud rush of sound you heard was the Georgia fans and staff letting out a gigantic steam of relief.

It doesn't take much. All Georgia coach Dave Perno asks is that his team get to the 8th inning with a lead. It doesn't even have to be a big lead. One run will do. That's where Stephen Dodson and Joshua Fields unleash their wrath.

Tonight was another example of their M.O. But getting that slight lead was a bit of an adventure too.

With the Bulldogs trailing by a run in the 7th inning, Bryce Massanari came to the dish with men on first and second. He cranked out a booming shot that right fielder Toby Gerhart couldn't quite get to. But the ball hit the yellow part of the tape at the top of the wall and, more importantly, to the right of the foul pole. Close, but no dice.

(Dave Perno has a few words for home plate ump Tony Walsh after that near-miss home run call went against his Dogs. And they're not exactly sentiments you'll see on a Hallmark Christmas card.)

After Bryce Massanari's near-miss, Yount plunked him to load the bases. Two pitches later Matt Cerione made him pay with a two-run single up the middle. That sequence all came after the first two batters got out in the inning and also put the Dogs up for good at 4-3.

"You can't dwell on the ump's decision. You have to put it behind you and bear down." Said game-winning hero Matt Cierone, concerning coming back from the disappointment of not getting the home run call. "After Bryce got hit, I knew it was my turn. I was just turned on it and got a good piece of the ball."

That led to Fields toss-and-turn 9th inning that eventually subdued SU for good. But the best part? The Bulldogs get to rest until Friday. Hey, let a sleeping dog lie.


- Nope. No handshake again.
I'll be damned if Mike Martin and Jim Morris went handshake-less again before and after game one today. These two don't like each other much, that's pretty obvious. When I was at the Miami-FSU series in Tallahassee, these two never even made eye contact all weekend long. And as you may recall, there was even a near-brawl in the post-game because of it. Well that hatred continued today.

(Notice on the left side of this pic that Coach Morris and the Miami staff are looking into the FSU dugout to see if Mike Martin and company are going to come out to shake hands after the game. I'll give his staff credit for at least going halfway on this. And note once again, stand up guy Blake Tekotte is leading the handshake line for The U.)

- But there were encouraging signs.
When Miami's Blake Tekotte went up to bat to open the Canes' half of the 1st inning, he cave FSU catcher Buster Posey a tap on the back as he went to the batter's box. Then, after the game, once again it was Tekotte being the first guy in line as these two teams shook hands this time. Well, at least the players did.

- Familiarity breeds contempt.
(Well, not that these two need any more contempt for each other) Today's game marked the eighth year in a row that two conference mates have faced off with each other in the CWS. The last time that didn't happen was back in 2000.

- Ouch.
Hurricane starter David Gutierrez had to exit the game after seven batters when he got a line drive slam into his throwing shoulder. Coach Morris said he was taken to a nearby hospital, was released and should be available in a few days if the Canes win another game or two.

(Cane starter David Gutierrez comes out after getting dotted on the shoulder with a line drive seven batters into the game.)

- 'Nole proof.
Eric Erickson, who replaced the injured starter, improves to 4-0 against FSU in his Miami career. In total, he has gone 23 innings against the Noles and allowed eight earned runs on 26 hits while striking out 16.

- Left on base records.
FSU's 17 stranded men is the most in CWS play since 1951 when Springfield College did the trick against Oklahoma. There have been only six games previously where a team has stranded 17 or more on base.

- No triple crown for Posey.
The best player in the country won't be winning the national triple crown this year. While he ends his season with a nation's best .463 average, he was stuck on 26 home runs. LSU's Matt Clark surpassed that mark last night with his 27th of the year.

- Put this guy to a music soundtrack.
I've always noticed that when Stanford is on defense, coach Mark Marquess rarely stands still. In fact, he's a ball of energy. With the whole team lined up against the railing, giving free range for Marquess to move, coach usually paces behind the team, checks his charts, then paces again and finally ends up at either end of the bench to watch the pitch. After the pitch, the process starts all over again. And the whole time he's doing it, he's holding a pen in his left hand and a white towel bundled up in his right hand.

(Coach Marquess doing his game-time pacing routine)

- Coach Marquess on the Georgia pitching. "They really shut us down tonight. We got that triple from Zach Jones and the home run from Jason Castro, but that was about it. Their pitching really shut us down after that."

- When asked about the possibility of walking Jason Castro with an open base in the third inning, instead of pitching to him and allowing him to hit the go-ahead home run, UGa coach Perno came clean. "You're right. That was my bad. I made a couple of mistakes tonight and that was one of them. Fortunately, we got some great relief pitching and got a great hit from Matt to pull out the win."

- Gordon Beckham on his approach to his 7th inning at-bat. "I was honestly trying to hit it over the fence, to be honest. But after I got two strikes on me I thought I better just try to get on the best I can and I was fortunate to get a hit. And then the guys behind me were able to get us some hits."

CWS, Day2: In Pictures

A couple more pictures from Day Two at Rosenblatt and the College World Series.

(Another angle of the play at the plate between Fresno's Danny Muno and Rice's Adam Zornes. Note the ball at his elbow that got knocked loose. Special thanks to Dr. Kenny Cook, the doctor of college baseball)

(Close up look at one of the Fresno State batting helmets with the Bulldog paw stickers and the ubiquitous "V" sticker, signifying their pride in the San Joaquin Valley)

(Don't let that scowl fool you, the only thing head groundskeeper Jesse Cuevas hates is weeds on his field. Otherwise, he's been a fixture at the CWS for years.)

(Tough day for Rice's Adam Zornes, as he crumbled to the ground after taking a curveball off his face late in the game against Fresno)

(Fresno's Justin Wilson spun another gem in the win over Rice)

(Maybe that new stadium isn't such a bad idea. Here's a view of one of the narrow walkways - yes, there's a walkway amoungst this mass of people - during a break between innings. Please walk faster people!)

(Don't plan on talking on a cell phone around this guy. LSU's cheerleader keeps the Tiger crowd in the game with a booming voice.)

(You really can't beat a picture of Erin Andrews, the most photographed person - players included - at the College World Series. With her is my bud, Dr. Karin True, one of the greatest female college baseball fans in the world.)

(I'm not too proud to admit this, I got the award for awkward silence at the UNC post-game press conference last night. After asking Coach Mike Fox whether the specter of an LSU-UC Irvine rehashing ever crept into his mind during last night's game, Coach answered with a simple, "No."... then all you could hear was crickets chirping.)

CWS, Day2: Carolina throws a wet blanket on the upset-fest

North Carolina wasn't going to have any of that lower seeded-upset thing continuing through all four first round games. The Tar Heels didn't even want to hear about LSU's vaunted comeback ability. They just went out there and threw bee-bees at the Tiger bats and finally allowed one team NOT to pull the upset in this College World Series.

Meanwhile, Fresno State keeps on playing like they're from another planet, routing the CWS-experienced Owls in an ugly manner.

(Kevin Muno slides around the tag of Rice catcher Adam Zornes)

Day two brings more surprises from Omaha.

Conditions at game time:
78 degrees, 52% humidity and winds from the Southeast at 8mph, which is blowing across the field from the right field foul pole to the left field foul pole.

Fresno St. - 040 705 010 - 17 13 2
Rice Univ. - 000 011 030 - 5 10 1

WP: Justin Wilson (8-5)
LP: Ryan Berry (8-5)
Save: you kiddin'?

Top hitters:
Danny Muno, 2-for-6, 5RBI, HR
Erik Wetzel, 3-for-5, 1RBI
Alan Ahmady, 2-for-4, 3RBI, HR
Jordan Ribera, 2-for-4, 3RBI, HR

Jordan Gayheart, 2-for-4, 1RBI
Diego Seastrunk, 2-for-4, 3RBI, HR
Jordan Dodson, 2-for-3, 1RBI

It was as if the ravenous spirit of the Bulldog left Georgia after last night's 9th inning and leapt into the bodies of these Bulldogs, because they scored runs in bunches all game long to make this a laugher nearly from the word go.

The Dogs from the Valley scored four runs in the second inning, getting a pair of walks, a fielding error and then two-RBI base knocks from Danny Muno and Gavin Hedstrom to stake out an early lead.

The floodgates opened up in the 4th inning as Fresno got seven runs to put this one out to pasture. Danny Muno provided the ultimate punch again, blasting a three-run dong and that was followed by Alan Ahmady's three-run yard call four batters later. 11-zip. Done. Ballgame. Over.

Justin Wilson, no not the famous Cajun chef and TV personality, went 7.0 innings, scattering eight hits, striking out five and getting a heavy dose of groundouts and popouts as well. He also gave up only two earned runs, making up for a rough go of it at Arizona State last weekend, where he gave up eight runs and nine hits in 4.1 innings of work.

"I felt strong out there." Said Wilson. "Arizona State was tough, so I knew I had to come out here and throw a stronger game. And having the guys behind me making plays gave me confidence."

But the real story was the hitting of FSU, who came in as the worst-hitting team in the field at .297. Today, it was a 13-hit barrage, that was capped by the four power shots beyond the outfield fence.

(Kevin Muno and Steve Detwiler get handshakes on another of many Fresno State home run trots)

"Fresno did an incredible job of hitting today." Rice coach Wayne Graham would lament. "It's hard to hit that good in batting practice."

According to FSU coach Mike Batesole, the key was staying getting on top of the Rice arms and keeping a foot on the throat. "We played aggressive." Batesole commented. "The last thing we wanted to do was sit back and let the action come to us. We had to be aggressive and not let up.,"

And correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Gorilla Ball patented by the teams from the deep South? Well these Bulldogs looked an awful like one of those teams today.

In fact, they looked an awful lot like those 9th inning Bulldogs of Georgia from last night.

Conditions at game time:
85 degrees, with 30% humidity and winds out of the North blowing in at 7-10mph.

LSU - 110 000 020 - 4 8 1
UNC - 302 110 10x - 8 17 0

WP: Alex White (11-3)
LP: Ryan Verdugo (9-4)
Save: Rob Wooten (5)

Top hitters:
Michael Hollander, 3-for-5, 1RBI, HR
Matt Clark, 1-for-3, 1RBI, HR

Seth Williams, 3-for-4, 3RBI
Ryan Graepel, 3-for-4, 1RBI
Tim Fedroff, 3-for-5, 2runs scored

Let get this right. LSU was down 7-2, going into the 7th inning against a school that plays (gulp!) a West coast style. Sound familiar? Care to talk about a team called the Anteaters right about now?

Well two guys that wanted to hear none of it were UNC starter Alex White and reliever Rob Wooten. White sent the Tigers down 1-2-3 in the 7th, before getting pulled in the 8th and Wooten came in to a bases-loaded jam, but held LSU to two runs, instead of the kind of landslide comeback that the Tigers have become famous for.

But let me say this... I saw what most of you probably did in the two blown calls that may not have decided the game, but certainly decided momentum in the 8th inning.

A bases loaded walk that scored a run, was followed by an infield single, where UNC 3Bman Chad Flack double-pumped on the play, then threw to first to get the speedy D.J. LeMahieu. I thought it was a very close out, bang-bang play and all. But an out none-the-less. However, he was ruled safe on the play, scoring a run and pulling LSU within a grand slam of tying it.

Then, on a Baltimore chop to second, SS Ryan Graepel touched second and threw late to first, as Leon Landry beat out the throw by a half-step. Despite the obvious replay that showed Landry safe, he was surprisingly called out on the play.

(It wasn't Leon Landry's day. Called out at first after he out-legged a double play ball, but was wrongly ruled out by 1st base ump Jack Cox. Then here, he dove and missed this pop fly in short Center Field. Ouch)

So if you're keeping score at home, first base umpire Jack Cox just blew two calls in that 8th inning. (Cut to angry reaction of LSU fans fully expecting their boys to score more than just two runs that inning.)

"The umps do the best job they can. They're human." Coach Paul Mainieri claimed afterward. "But it was pretty obvious to me that he was safe, I'm sure the replays showed that, and it was a big momentum breaker for us."

(Though LSU coach Paul Mainieri was being cordial in the post-game press conference, you could tell he wasn't all that crash-hot with the umpiring today in the loss to North Carolina.)

After that, the 9th inning went:
* Flyout.
* Strike out.
* Double.
* Walk.
* Ground Out.

Not exactly going to go down into the LSU lore like last week at home against UC Irvine. Then again, this IS North Carolina, the ACC champions that hung around the top of the polls all season AND had made Omaha a second home the last few years. It's an experienced, cool-under-pressure, national title contending team. Not a 4th place team from the Big West.

So that's how it went for the Tigers tonight. Not the same magic. Especially with the pitching of Alex White. The Heel starter went 7.0 innings, giving up just four hits (okay, granted, two of them were home runs), three runs, striking out six and walking two. He threw 109 pitches in all, 63 of those were strikes.

Rob Wooten had a few hairy moments, like the bases-loaded jam he inherited in the 8th, but still put the clamps on the Tiger attack to pick up his 5th save of the year.

The biggest key to the game? The UNC response unit. The Tar Heels kept the pressure on by getting the leadoff batter on base in each of the first five innings and building up an 8-2 lead with six outs to go.

Seth Williams would say afterward, "We know we're not going to go get beat by one run. And that was obvious from the way we responded in the bottom of the first inning."

UNC coach Mike Fox admitted it was still nervous time until the Heels defense got out No. 27. "We had 17 hits and they had six and yet we're still holding our breath. That's how good they are on offense."

So now LSU, with their fans vocal chords in ribbons again, will try to stave off elimination on Tuesday against post-season nemesis Rice.

(Paul Bertuccini threw a wild pitch, sending Tiger catcher Micah Gibbs scrambling for the ball and allowing UNC to score its 6th run of the day)

"Every team here is tough and each one is so tough to beat." Mainieri said. "We can't tell our kids that we have to come back and win four games. We just have to take it one game and one pitch at a time. It makes it seem much less daunting of a task."

True. And still, with this offense, it's possible.


- Two-strike hitters.
At the Long Beach Regional two weeks ago, Fresno coach Mike Batesole said he's never had a team hit better with two strikes against them in his coaching career. Today, the Dogs got 11 of their 13 hits with two strikes against them, including three of the home runs.

- The Beaver spirit in them?
Wayne Graham commented after the game about his team's chances for coming back and winning it all, despite the opening game loss. "Oregon State did in in 2006 after getting beaten 11-0 in the first game and we also did it in the JC state tournament in 1986 after losing the first game 16-2 after five innings. So it can be done. We've got plenty of pitching to get it done. We just gotta play better baseball."

- Old mates.
Coming into today's game as former rivals in the WAC from 1997 to 2005, Rice had beaten Fresno State 29 of the 45 times they had played. The biggest win for FSU in that time span was a 15-1 shellacking in 2000. Other than that, the Bulldogs hadn't beaten Rice by more than six runs in those 16 wins.

- Mike isn't comfy.
When told in the post-game presser that he looked relaxed in the dugout tonight, Fresno coach Mike Batesole quickly quipped, "Who's relaxed?... I wasn't relaxed until the last out. I think you guys remember last week in Arizona." (Where FSU nearly blew an 11-4 lead in the 9th.)

- Mock applause.
After several long innings that saw FSU score four, seven and five runs, the fans in Rosenblatt clapped vigorously when the Bulldogs went three-up, three-down in the 7th inning.

- The difference between LSU and other teams.
LSU's first hit of the game travelled 380-feet (a home run from Michael Hollander). UNC's first hit of the game went about 75-feet (a chopper that Dustin Ackley beat out).

- Another difference.
LSU's first inning lasted six minutes. UNC's first frame lasted 18 minutes.

- With his 2nd inning home run, LSU's Matt Clark took over the national lead with 27 home runs on the year.

(Matt Clark in mid-national-home-run-leading swing)

- Coach Mainieri explained Jered Mitchell's botched pop fly in the 7th like this in the post-game press conference. "He raced back because he thought the ball was hit pretty well. He took his eye off the ball and ran back, but when he went to look for it again, he just lost it in the high sky."

- Alex White, on what worked so well for him tonight. "It was definitely my splitter. It was a big key for me tonight, especially with their left handed batters. I went to it when I needed a big pitch."

Another great day at Rosenblatt. Hope to see you out there tomorrow when either Miami or Florida State will non-handshake its way on home to Florida in an elimination game.


June 15, 2008

CWS, Day1: In Pictures

Thought I'd throw up a few more pictures that I took from the first day at Rosenblatt. You know, because no other blog site out there in college baseball land uses pictures like I do. I.e.: They're boring. Sorry, just a small personal note there. My bad.

Anyway, here you go...

(A hazy shot of Rosenblatt from my flight into Omaha. I know, I really need to get a life.)

(Jason Stidham gets tagged out at 3rd by Stanford's Zach Jones on an attempted steal in the 1st inning. FSU also had a runner picked off of first base a couple innings later. Just a few more mistakes that cost the Seminoles a chance at winning the game.)

(ESPN was working on that big sweeping crane camera that they have set up down the 3rd base line all day long, it seems. They never did get the thing working. And by the way, the wires that the crowd down the 3rd base line has to look through is pretty bothersome too. Can't they just get one of those remote control drones to fly a camera around the stadium instead?)

Jason Castro, the 10th overall pick of last week's MLB draft, gets congrats after scoring vs. FSU.)

(This is what you get when the powers-that-be decide to empty the stadium between games and push the start time of the second game only 40 minutes after the conclusion of game one. The stadium is nearly completely empty as the large throng of fans are stuck outside in insanely long lines waiting to get into Rosenblatt. C'mon NCAA, I know it's a money thing but just go back to having doubleheader tickets for the first two days, at least.)

(The greatest human alive, Rosenblatt organist Lambert Bartak. He's been at the ivories ever since I can remember when I would come to games as a kid. Now, having met him two years ago, I've decided he's also one of the nicest humans in the world.)

(Surprisingly, Gordon Beckham had a rather quiet day for Georgia vs. Miami, but he'll make his presence known before too long. Great talent.)

(I like this new feature that they have on the scoreboard here at Rosenblatt where they show graphics of the current batter's previous at-bats.)

More pictures tomorrow. And of course, look for my write-up of day two here tonight.


CWS, Day1: Top of the 9th magic and ugly baseball

Don't know why, but the top of the 9th inning of both games today will become known for two things: 1- Game-deciding plays. And 2- Ugly baseball.

(Mark Marquess, "When I got to the park today and saw the wind blowing out I knew it could be a long game.")

Stanford went nuts, with the help of two errors, to score 11 runs in the top of the 9th of game one, beating Florida State 16-5. And Georgia made a big comeback, with the help of a dropped third strike and an error, of course, to beat Miami 7-4.

Another ugly factor? The vaunted ACC starts Omaha 0-2 so far.

Conditions at game time:
84 degrees, winds out of the South at 20-30mph. In other words, wind howling straight out to center field.

Stanford - 000 102 20(11)- 16 15 1
Florida State- 000 002 030- 5 16 3

WP: Drew Storen (5-3)
LP: John Gast (0-1)

Top Hitters:
Cord Phelps: 2-for-5, 2RBI, 4runs scored.
Toby Gerhart: 3-for-4, 1RBI, 3runs scored.
Brent Milleville: 1-for-4, 4RBI, 1run scored.
Sean Ratliff: 2-for-5, 3RBI, 1run scored.

Jason Stidham: 2-for-3, 3RBI, 1run scored.
Dennis Guinn: 2-for-5, 1RBI, 1run scored
Tommy Oravetz: 3-for-4, 1RBI, 1run scored.

For five innings of this game, there wasn't a lot of drama. I mean, there were the flags beyond center field, blowing straight out due to vicious South winds. Just aching for Arena Ball 101 to start.

Then, just as the winds started to die down significantly, the great primate busted through the underbrush and made its presence felt. Four home runs and five doubles later, Stanford rode a blitzkrieg of a 9th inning to paste Florida State by a 16-5 count.

And as you might imagine, it was one ugly game. FSU SS Tony Delmonica kicked a trio of ground balls, two in the 9th inning alone, helping the Trees to plate 11 mind-numbing runs in the frame. Nasty stuff man.

"This game will humble you." Coach Martin would say afterward. "It just wasn't our day. Tony has been great for us all season, but it just wasn't our day. Those things happen."

Nothing seemed to go right for the Noles after they tied the game in the 8th at five apiece. SU put up 11 runs on just six hits and got the help of two errors and three walks to turn this hard-fought game of eight innings into a laugher. FSU used four pitchers in the inning. In fact, things got so bad, Coach Mike Martin quit making the walk to the mound, giving way to assistant coach Jamey Shouppe to do the honors.

The biggest blows came from Sean Ratliff, who laced a two-run single to center field, Cord Phelps, who knocked in a pair on a double down the line, and a Brent Milleville 3-run bomb. The first two of those hits coming off of National Player of the Year Buster Posey, who came on after Cord Phelps had started the inning with a single off of John Gast.

Commenting on his big hit off of Posey, Ratliff countered with, "I think Buster just missed his spot because he came inside twice before that. But the next pitch he left one out and up in the zone and I was lucky enough to place it over the infield and drive in a few runs."

The Trees move on to the winner's bracket game on Monday, while, for the third round in a row, FSU immediately falls into the loser's bracket after game one. But really, who here is going to sell the lot on FSU? They've lost the first game of every round of post-season play so far.

"Anybody you play here is tough." Coach Martin asserted. "We've got our backs to the wall again. But I'm never going to count these guys out, that's for sure."

(Mark Marquess is pleading his case on that awful foul ball call that first base umpire Mike Conlin REALLY screwed the pooch on.)

Conditions at game time:
86 degrees, 35% humidity, winds West/Southwest at 10mph.

Georgia- 001 002 004- 7 11 1
Miami - 102 000 100 - 4 7 1

WP: Joshua Fields (3-2)
LP: Carlos Gutierrez (5-4)

Top Hitters:
Ryan Piesel, 3-for-4, 4RBI
Lyle Allen, 2-for-3, 1RBI, game-tying hit.

Blake Tekotte, 1-for-5, HR, 2RBI
Yonder Alonso, 1-for-2, HR, 1RBI, 2BBs
Ryan Jackson, 2-for-4

Just like the Regionals and Super Regionals, it was ugly, but to Georgia fans, it was an ugly kind of beautiful.

With the help of a dropped third strike and a bad throw from relief ace Carlos Gutierrez, who fielded a sac bunt and threw wild to first, the 'Dogs were able to overcome a 4-3 lead in the top of the 9th and pull out a 7-4 win. And the strange thing is, no, Gordon Beckham had nothing to do with this 9th inning magic.

From the get-go, you got the feeling Georgia was never going to go away in this one. The Bulldogs just kept hanging on by a thread the whole game. Especially early on when the Hurricane hitters were pounding 'Dog starter Trevor Holder pretty hard, but mostly right at people.

(I admit, after Blake Tekotte hit his two-run bomb in the 3rd inning, I thought Miami would cruise)

Living on the edge as they were, UGa stayed in the game with an opportunistic defense and good middle relief work from Alex McCree and Dean Weaver. But they immediately got back into things with a crushing homer from leadoff hitter Ryan Piesel in the 6th inning to knot the game at three.

"The big key was just keeping it close." Said Coach Dave Perno in the post-game. "We battled. We knew that if we could just hang in there and do what we do, we had a chance."

But Yonder Alonso put The U back ahead in the 7th with a yard call of his own. And that seemed to put the Canes on their way to the expected opening round win.

"I told myself today that Yonder Alonso wasn't going to beat us. And after he hit that home run I was kicking myself." Coach Perno lamented.

But then came the 9th. When Bryce Massanari singled to start the inning, you could sense a little bit of "oh no" from the Cane fans. You almost got the feeling it had turned into an LSU game. A sac bunt was followed by a dropped third strike that allowed Robbie O'Bryan to reach first and pinch runner Adam Fuller to go to third.

That's when the theatrics really got serious. Lyle Allen slapped an RBI single into left to tie the game at four. Then, in a rare moment of pressure-drop, reliever Carlos Gutierrez fielded a sac bunt from David Thoms and chucked the ball all the way down the right field line, allowing two more Dog runs to score, cementing the game.

"Miami is the best team we've played all year." Coach Perno would say. "But this is also the toughest game we've ever been in. Our kids fought hard and stayed within their identity to get the win."

Ryan Piesel, who was the unlikely offensive star tonight, added, "This was probably the biggest win I've been a part of. They were everything that we expected and more. For us to come out here and get the first one under our belt, it's huge. Sweet redemption for going 2-and-Q the last time we were here."

"We've got to swing the bat better, but they had great pitching and that was the difference." Coach Jim Morris opened the post-game with. "We had our backs against the wall last week against Arizona, if we keep swinging the bat we'll be able to do that again."

(This picture says it all, Lyle Allen is pumped as he gives Georgia the lead for good in the 9th)

Morris also said this about his ace reliever Carlos Gutierrez's 9th inning implosion, "We had 'em right where we wanted them, but that first batter gets on and that changes everything. But I've seen something like this from every reliever I've ever had. But we didn't score enough runs or get enough hits. We've got to do a better job of taking advantage of things we have. But again, they had great pitching."


I said it first. I said it first.
As I stated in my CWS preview, weather in Omaha determines a lot in style of play. Mike Martin and Mark Marquess both mentioned that very thing in the pre-CWS press conference yesterday. Despite the brusque winds, the early score didn't indicate an offensive explosion like people were expecting. It wasn't until the winds went calm that the bats went nuts.

- No Lou Spry?
I was bummed to see that longtime CWS stat king Lou Spry, who has been the official scorer since I went to games as a 4-year old, was not in the booth next to the press box today. Not to fear though, Nebraska baseball SID Shamus McDonough, who filled in for Big Lou, told me that Mr. Spry is attending the funeral of a friend in San Diego and will be making the long drive back to Omaha and back to his scoring duties on Monday.

- Roles reversal early on.
FSU, the worst defense in the field of eight at .960, had the good gloves early on, with SS Tony Delmonico and 3B Stuart Tapley making a pair of sweet plays on groundouts in the first two inning. Stanford, usually one of the most stout defenses around had a pair of flubs, one an either-way hit-or-error call on 2B Cord Phelps and a straight-up E on 3B Zach Jones. Of course, that got changed around in quick order as the game went on.

- Posey NOT the pitcher of the year.
As wildly talented as FSU's Buster Posey is, his fateful 9th inning appearance on the mound couldn't have gone much worse. Granted, it didn't help that he had two errors occur on his watch, but the seven batters he faced went:
* single
* E6
* Sac Fly RBI
* intentional BB
* 2RBI single
* BB
* E6 (2 unearned runs scored)

(The wildly talented Posey didn't have luck on his side as his defense let him down when he hit the mound in the 9th)

- Coach Martin remarking on bringing Posey in to pitch in the 9th. "He was the guy I wanted on the mound at that time. It's that time of game where you put the guy you're most comfortable with on the mound, and that was Buster."

- Rockin' to Free.
The Rosenblatt P.A. plays the school fight song when a team scores a run here. For Stanford - those smart, off-beat types in NoCal - they play a recording of the school's marching band performing "All Right Now" by the 70s band Free.

- The 4-hour, 11-minute contest turned out to be the 3rd longest game in CWS history, timewise.

- SU's 11-run 9th inning tied the record for runs in an inning by a CWS team. The previous mark was held by Cal State Fullerton, who turned the 11-run trick on LSU in the 1994 series.

- Holder not holding.
Georgia starter Trever Holder had another dubious start tonight. Although he did have an 8.2inning, 7-hitter in his last start against N. C. State, but prior to that his lines looked like this:
May 31, at Louisville: 4.0inns, 8H, 3ER, 0Ks, 1BB - no decision
May 16, vs. Alabama: 1.2inns, 7H, 6ER, 1K, 1BB - loss
May 9, at Vanderbilt: 6.0inns, 12H, 10ER, 2Ks, 2BBs - loss
May 2, vs. Ole Miss: 5.1inns, 8H, 4ER, 7Ks, 1BB - win

Tonight's line for Holder:
4.0inns, 4H, 3ER, 5Ks, 4BBs - no decision

- Jemile Weeks on the prospects of playing arch-rival Florida State in the loser's bracket game on Monday. "It's always an intense game. But this one is going to mean a lot more. But our goal is to win the whole thing, so we plan on being here for the long haul."

- Lyle Allen on his game-tying hit in the 9th inning, "Coach just said to put a good swing on it and let the ball travel. And fortunately I put a good swing on it."

- Ryan Piesel, asking what he thought about going up to the plate before his big hits. "I was thinking about the text messages I was going to get. Either 'way to go' or 'you blew it out there.'"

- Coach Dave Perno on his game plan vs. Miami today. "We pulled out everything we had today, hit and run early, slash and run, we even had some early sacrifices. We were just able to pull this win out by doing a little bit of everything."

June 12, 2008

Thursday Thoughts - An Expedition Into Gorilla Ball

Get ready for an offensive CWS. And yes, that could be a dual meaning of the word "offensive."

Welcome back Gorilla Ball. Where ya' been?

Enough of this bunting business. Who cares about stealing a base? No more run-and-hit offenses. This is old school mash-and-jog, junior. Where hot, humid days lead to baseballs flying out like a hole in the aviary. Hell, we may not even care about pitching and defense this week at the College World Series.

And sacrifices? Phhewwww! we'd rather see Fay Wray, Jessica Lange or Naomi Watts tied up in ritual fashion for our Gorilla Ball gods to come storming through the home run jungle to snap them up. THAT kind of sacrifice. Not a freakin' squeeze bunt!

Seven of the eight teams come to Omaha with offenses that score over seven runs per game, led by Florida State, who steamrolls to 9.9 runs per game. In fact, Fresno State is the only team under seven runs (6.8 per game) and under .300 for a team average (.297). Pfft, softies.

In the Super Regionals, 12 of the 20 games saw the winning team score double digits and there wasn't a single shutout on the weekend. It got even more ridiculous when it came to series-clinching games, where five of the eight series-winners scored double digits, led by LSU's 21-run barrage over UC Irvine.

Six of the nation's top 10 hit-producers will be in Omaha this weekend, with Florida State's Buster Posey topping that list (114 hits), followed by Tim Fedroff (105) and Dustin Ackley (104) of North Carolina and Alan Ahmady and Erik Wetzel of Fresno State being tied with Gordon Beckham of Georgia, all with 101 hits.

And just what about this expected home run barrage? Get this. Posey, Beckham and LSU's Matt Clark are all tied for the national lead in home runs at 26. Welcome to Home Run Derby college baseball style. Rosenblatt Stadium is the proving grounds once again. I keep having to pinch myself, is this 1996 all over again? Where's Eddie Furniss? Doug Mientkiewicz? Pat Burrell? Or for that matter, where's the tee that they used to hit off of?

If you like pitching and defense, this may not be the CWS for you. But don't worry, there will probably be a lot of 15-12 games with multiple home runs that gets a lot of negative national attention and who knows, maybe there'll be more calls for bat restrictions again.

Just don't look for any restraint coming in the next week or so.

And a little word or two about their chances of bringing home the big prize.

* Bracket One *

- FLORIDA STATE: 53-12, No. 3 RPI

Team Batting: .354, 101HRs, 66SBs
Team Pitching: 4.10ERA, 495Ks, 255BBs
Team Fielding: .960
The "Don't Forget" Stat: 424.
Patience. Patience. Patience. They've drawn an amazing 424 walks as a team this year.

Three reasons they could win it all:
1- Buster Posey. Buster Posey. Buster Posey.
It's true. This guy is the prime mover here. (And by the way, don't you hate when writers repeat something three times for emphasis? Sorry 'bout that.)
2- When backed into a corner, they hit on all cylinders.
FSU lost both opening games in the Regionals (to Bucknell? Gah!) and Super Regionals (to Wichita State), but was nearly unstoppable after each loss, scoring 99 runs in six elimination games.
3- Tired of being bride's maids.
FSU has been in the CWS more times than anyone else (19) without winning a title. The odds have to even out sometime. Why not now?

Three reasons they could go belly-up:
1- That defense is BAD, and we're not talking "bad" in a Huggy Bear-kind of way.
You'll probably hear this a lot this week, but the 'Noles defense is pretty awful, an ACC 2nd-to-last fielding percentage. And remember, SS Tony Delmonico got injured vs. Wichita and didn't play the last two games. His being 100% or not will play big.
2- Jekyll & Hyde pitching.
All of their starters are capable, no doubt. But when I saw them vs. Miami and during the Supers vs. the Shockers, FSU's pitchers had some hairy moments. If that continues in Omaha, it's not a good sign.
3- Really now, when's the last time a national player of the year won it all?
Maybe Mark Kotsay of Fullerton in '95? Then again, consider this, the winner of the Dick Howser Award has NEVER been on the national championship team.

- STANFORD: 39-22-2, No. 20 RPI

Team Batting: .299, 76HRs, 47SBs
Team Pitching: 4.37ERA, 402Ks, 232BBs
Team Fielding: .974
The "Don't Forget" Stat: 1.64.
That's the number of points that Stanford lowered its team ERA from last year's school worst 6.01.

Three reasons they could win it all:
1- The hurlers are healthy again.
The return of Jeremy Bleich (who threw 10 innings of 5-hit ball the last two weeks) and the good recent starts of Danny Sandbrink (complete-game five hitter vs. Pepperdine) mean the SU mound corps may be the best they've been this season.
2- They have the most intimidating lineup at the CWS.
And I mean in stature, not stats. But really, the middle of their lineup looks like an NFL defensive front four going up to the plate. And they're skilled. Castro, Milleville, Molina and Ratliff are mean mothers to get out.
3- It's Stanford. They're smarter than everybody else.
It's the Harvard of the West. 'Nuff said.

Three reasons they could go belly-up:
1- Inconsistency.
The Cardinal went just 7-8-2 in mid-week games. Probably more a sign of their lack of pitching depth and injuries. So if their arms aren't quite up to snuff, you'll notice it in game three or four.
2- Too much offense.
It just so happens that SU got placed in the same bracket with FSU, Miami and Georgia, possibly the three best offenses in the field of eight. The pressure could eventually wear them down here.
3- Coach Marquess has lost his mojo.
Since the '87-'88 back-to-backers, the Trees have been the Buffalo Bills of college baseball, getting the runners-up tags three different times.

- MIAMI: 51-9, No. 1 RPI

Team Batting: .322, 100HRs, 99SBs
Team Pitching: 3.93ERA, 532Ks, 175BBs
Team Fielding: .975
The "Don't Forget" Stat: 74.
The much-feared Yonder Alonso has an insane total of 74 walks on the year, the national high.

Three reasons they could win it all:
1- They're the best balanced team here.
Despite the game one loss to Arizona, this team is still awesome in all areas of the game. They have the best defense in the field of eight, the 2nd-best Ks-per-9-innings, the 2nd-best offense and the 2nd-best coach (winning percentage wise) in CWS games.
2- Just too much offense.
There are no breaks in the lineup. Blake Tekotte, Jemile Weeks, Yonder Alonso, Mark Sobolewski, Dennis Raben... somewhere along the way a pitcher is going to make a mistake. It just happens. And nobody in their bracket can pitch like Arizona did most of the weekend.

(Dennis Raben and his mates will make life hell on any pitching staff)

3- The pitching has improved.
After I saw them play at Florida State in April, I thought there were some questions about the arms staff, but after what I've seen the last two weeks, I think their pitching has started to come around. Scary to think about.

Three reasons they could go belly-up:
1- Not playing on an uptick.
The Canes may have gone 5-1 in the Regional and Super Regional rounds, but most of those wins were tight games. So unlike a lot of teams here in Omaha, they haven't been absolute runaway wins.
2- Because, despite what the stats say, their offense can be held in check.
I'm sure every team in their bracket is watching the tapes of games one and three of the Arizona Super Regional. And for good reason.
3- Because a No. 1 seed NEVER wins the pot of gold.
C'mon, it's been since way back in 1999 since a No. 1 seed won it all. And that was done by... ummmm... well, by Miami. So never mind.

- GEORGIA: 40-23-1, No. 17 RPI

Team Batting: .309, 92HRs, 71SBs
Team Pitching: 4.82ERA, 486Ks, 222BBs
Team Fielding: .971
The "Don't Forget" Stat: 77
That's the number of runs the Bulldogs scored in their six wins over the past two weeks.

Three reasons they could win it all:
1- Gordon Beckham. Gordon Beckham. Gordon Beckham.
Just like Posey above, he's a menacing force. But it's not a one-man show as he's got some mashing mates with him too. Rich Poythress (a name I find awkward to say), Bryce Massanari and Ryan Piesel are capable long-ballers too.
2- Joshua Fields.
"Effectively wild" is a good way to describe his early-season work. But now he's been even more locked-in and is a certain W if the Dogs take a lead into the 8th.
3- The emergence of Nick Montgomery.
Though he rarely started during the season, Montgomery came on to win a pair of post-season games and give coach Dave Perno another option in what has been an inconsistent rotation of starters.

Three reasons they could go belly-up:
1- Messin' with fire.
Like FSU, the Bulldogs lost the opening game of both the Regionals and Super Regionals. Do that here and, in the words of Al McGuire, it's Taps City.
2- Starting pitching.
Despite some talented arms in the rotation, UGa has been hither-and-yon in the starting arms department almost all season.
3- Florida State, Miami and Stanford.
Being matched up with those three teams assures there are no breaks in their bracket (I know, at this time of the season there never are, right? Well I disagree, but you get the gist here.)

* Bracket Two *
- RICE: 47-13, No. 5 RPI

Team Batting: .307, 52HRs, 58SBs
Team Pitching: 3.63ERA, 538Ks, 202BBs
Team Fielding: .963
The "Don't Forget" Stat: 5
It's Rice. It's about pitching with a deep pen. Five different guys had saves this year.

Three reasons they could win it all:
1- The 'Pen.
Bobby Bell's Super Regional performance officially gave notice that he's back and that is a huge shot in the arm. Cole St. Clair is still a MAN, at 10-2, 2.61, 5svs.
2- Wise ol' Owls.
They don't have the most intimidating offense, but names like Padron, Seastrunk, Luna, Zornes, Dodson and Buenger have made playing in Rosenblatt old hat. That's an immeasurable advantage. They won't be freaked out on the big stage.
3- The Owls never disappoint anymore.
After going 1-6 in their first three appearances ('97, '99, '02), the Owls have gone 9-5 since and have won the title, then finished third the last two times ('03, '06, '07). Wayne Graham has done a better job once here in The O.

Three reasons they could go belly-up:
1- That damn Sky Blue team is here again.
After starting out 2-0 last year in Omaha, UNC was the team that held the Owls to just four runs in two games and eliminated them. They're back in their bracket again.
2- Starting pitching.
Hard to believe we're saying this about Rice, but the starters haven't gone into the 7th inning yet in the post-season. Only one has gone beyond the fifth.
3- That defense is far from error-free.
The second-worst defense in the field of eight has to allow for better infield play. Poor defense has plagued this team in the post-season (17 errors), so this is a change from the rock-solid club we usually see in The O.

- FRESNO STATE: 42-29, No. 89 RPI

Team Batting: .298, 72HRs, 56BBs
Team Pitching: 4.69ERA, 517Ks, 273BBs
Team Fielding: .970
The "Don't Forget" Stat: Two-and-two.
With this team it's all about being clutch. Coach Batesole says he's never had a team hit better with two strikes and two outs. Timing people.

Three reasons they could win it all:
1- Because they don't care.
Unlike the teams above, they could give a rat's arse if you think they deserve respect or if they're viewed as a national power. They're just going to go out there, give you a beat-down and take your lunch money.
2- They're mentally tough.
In the Regionals, 3B Tommy Mendonca separated some fingers and Steve Detwiler pulled a ligament in his thumb. A few weeks before that they lost their 1st round draftee ace on the mound, Tanner Scheppers, and yet this team keeps on winning.
3- They're road ready.
Fresno hasn't been in the comfy confines of Beiden Field since May 11th. So unlike all these pansy teams here, they don't need no stinkin' home field advantage to play their best ball.

(Mike Batesole, right, was named the National Coach of the Year by the NCBWA)

Three reasons they could go belly-up:
1- Obviously, the pitching.
They lost ace Scheppers six weeks ago and to be honest, they've gotten by the last two weeks on inspired performances. What if Clayton Allison and Justin Wilson finally go South? And is Brandon Burke out of gas? That 9th inning at ASU didn't look so hot.
2- The wide-eyed factor.
The other seven teams are post-season vets, especially on the big stage in Omaha. Fresno is making its first appearance since 1991 and it's also the first time for head coach Mike Batesole.
3- Because that's what 4-seeds from mid-major conferences normally do.
No one would be shocked to see this 29-loss team go out in two. Sure they're good, but their rabbit's foot factor can only play a part for so long.

- NORTH CAROLINA: 51-12, No. 2 RPI

Team Batting: .324, 56HRs, 66SBs
Team Pitching: 2.83ERA, 640Ks, 275BBs
Team Fielding: .972
The "Don't Forget" Stat: 24.
That's the number of games that Tim Federowicz, Chad Flack, Garrett Gore, Seth Williams, Alex White, Adam Warren and Rob Wooten have played in the CWS.

Three reasons they could win it all:
1- Been there, done that vs. the best.
UNC already owns weekend series wins over both Miami and Florida State. So they have already beaten the two other top three teams in the field. Confidence won't be a problem if they play one of those two.
2- The pitching is mean. Like, Jake "The Snake" Roberts-mean.
Unlike everybody else in the field, UNC only allowed a team more than four runs once in the Regional and Super Regional rounds. They're still leading the nation in ERA and that's immeasurably important once on this grand stage.
3- They're due, man. They're due.
Two times to the brink and no title yet? Ouch. That's motivation enough. And I even said in my "64 Things" column from before the season, if they make it to the title round, I have to cheer for them. Every red blooded American should.

Three reasons they could go belly-up:
1- If their pitching rehashes last year's CWS performance.
Heel pitchers had a rough go in their three CWS losses (24 runs). And Alex White, though a frosh, was hit pretty hard all week. They can't let that happen again.
2- The Rice Revenge factor.
The last two trips to Omaha has seen Rice get eliminated after starting out 2-0, last year to UNC. The Owls are angry and looking to make amends. And it's not like there's a large talent gap between the two. This should be good.
3- C'mon, Carolina ALWAYS comes up short, right?
Now that I think of it, that's a pretty stupid reason, so disregard that I wrote that and let's just move on.

(Considering the 100-degree temps in Cary, I don't think Coach Fox minded this water cooler dumping)

- LSU: 48-17-1, No. 9 RPI

Team Batting: .309, 97HRs, 92SBs
Team Pitching: 4.02ERA, 524Ks, 193BBs
Team Fielding: .972
The "Don't Forget" Stat: 28
Not all Gorilla ball here. Tigers led the SEC in triples with 28, including seven by Ryan Schimpf and five by Leon Landry.

Three reasons they could win it all:
1- Old Mo'
Obviously, no team is on a bigger tear than these Tigers, having won 25 of 26 coming in. And as Oregon State has proven, it's all about timing. Not having the best team, per se.
2- Dare I say, pitching and defense?
With Louis Coleman, Blake Martin and Jared Bradford having a solid Super Regional and Leon Landry, Jared Mitchell and D.J. LeMahieu all having highlight-worthy plays on defense, that bodes well for the Bengal Tigers.
3- "Home" field advantage.
When LSU makes the CWS, the purple and gold nation makes the trek and turns Rosenblatt into a home away from home. Nobody travels better to The O than do LSU fans.

Three reasons they could go belly-up:
1- UCI did prove one thing here.
The Anteaters shut LSU down for 17 innings with great pitching and incredibly smart defense. It was only after starters Scott Gorgen and Daniel Bibona exited that the bats broke out. UNC, Rice and Fresno all have Gorgon/Bibon-type arms.
2- No dominant pitcher.
LSU is obviously offense-based, but it's mostly because they have no dominant go-to guy on the mound that can shut people down completely.
3- The SEC has a bad habit they're trying to break.
Six of the last 10 to be sent home in two games from Omaha have been SECers. Although that may have more to do with the fact that pitching and defense have been so heavy the last five-to-six years, so if this becomes Arena-ball again...


- Weather is a big issue.
Perhaps no stadium in the country plays to weather more than Rosenblatt. It sits on a hill and is very susceptible to the winds. If it's hot and humid, and the winds are blowing from the South, it pushes baseballs over the wall with ease. I.e.: Gorilla Ball weather.

If it's a cooler day, with winds coming in from the outfield, the park plays big and tends to knock everything down in the outfield. I.e.: pitching and defense.

Right now, the forecast is mid-80s temps on Saturday and Sunday and then with highs dipping into the upper 70s for Monday and Tuesday. So there won't be any scorchers forecast for now. But if you know Omaha weather, it never stays the same for long. So keep an eye on that.

(At least there are no triple digits in the forecast... yet.)

- Big Money Dudes
This may be one of the more talented CWS fields in years as seven 1st round draft picks will be taking part (not to mention the numerous players that will be 1st rounders in the next two years). Here are the soon-to-be rich boys:
* Buster Posey, Florida State (5th pick, San Francisco)
* Yonder Alonso, Miami (7th pick, Cincinnati)
* Gordon Beckham, Georgia (8th pick, White Sox)
* Jason Castro, Stanford (10th pick, Houston)
* Jemile Weeks, Miami (12th pick, Oakland)
* Joshua Fields, Georgia (20th pick, Seattle)
* Carlos Gutierrez, Miami (27th pick, Minnesota)

- Old WAC mates.
Fresno State and Rice hook up in round one and the two used to be really familiar foes, playing six games a year in the WAC's old home-and-home format. But the Owls administration had them bolt for Conference-USA three years ago. The Owls owned the Dogs, going 18-6 against them in their last four years of WAC play.

- Two road warriors.
Of the eight teams still alive in this NCAA tournament, only two of them had to go on the road in the post-season. Fresno won a regional at Long Beach (beating the Dirtbags and San Diego along the way) and of course taking out Arizona State in Tempe. Also out West, Stanford came back from an opening round loss to UC Davis to win their home regional, but then beat another Big West team, Cal State Fullerton, at Goodwin Field.

- Not going to question these two.
While most everyone can agree that nine teams from one conference is way too many, and their performance proved it, I'm not going to question LSU and Georgia's abilities now. I made it known that if these two won their Super Regional rounds vs. two of the best pitching staffs in the country (UC Irvine and N.C. State respectively), they deserved their trip to Omaha. And they bludgeoned those arms too. No fluke.

- Georgia at home. Arizona on the road.
On the other side of the coin, Georgia got a pretty nice gift in getting assigned a national seeding and home field. If I'm Arizona, I've still got some cross words for the selection committee in not giving the Cats the last national seeding. Georgia's RPI was No. 17 going into the NCAA tournament, UofA's was No. 10. And on top of that, the more important factor should've been that the Cats beat Georgia two out of three in Athens already this season.

- Sports Weekly gives college baseball some pub again.
Thanks to fellow stitch-head Andrew for letting me know that college baseball actually made the front cover of this week's Sports Weekly, the very publication that once gave our beloved sport (and it's great writer Dana Heiss Grodin) the axe. There's a spread inside discussing the ACC's chances of winning a title and capsules on all eight teams. It was all written by USAToday sports writer Andy Gardiner, who is a regular in Omaha for the CWS.


Unfortunately, just to prove they still don't have a total grasp on things, they put Jack Rye on the cover instead of Buster Posey for Florida State and they put Eric Erickson on the cover instead of Yonder Alonso or Jemile Weeks for Miami. Use the star power of the 1st round draft picks guys.

- Take heart, it's in a cheap place.
With $4.00+ gas out there, the one thing that people attending this year's College World Series can take heart in knowing is that at least this event is held in a rather inexpensive place. According to AAA Travel, Nebraska is the second-cheapest state to travel in, considering it costs an average of $160-a-day for lodging and meals. Here are the 10 cheapest states to travel in:
1- North Dakota
2- Nebraska
3- Kansas
4- Iowa
5- South Dakota
6- Oklahoma
7- Alabama
8- Arkansas
9- Mississippi
10- Kentucky.

According to the study, these are the most expensive states to travel in:
1- Hawai'i (average of $792-a-day for lodging and meals)
2- Washington D.C.
3- New York
4- Nevada
5- Florida
6- Massachusetts
7- Rhode Island
8- California
9- Delaware
10- New Jersey.

Hope you all have a blast in college baseball nirvana. And for those of you who aren't planning to make the trek to Mecca with us, contact your nearest travel agent and meet us up there.


June 10, 2008

Monday Stuff - The Field of Eight Is Set With Unlikely Teams

Fresno State and LSU sent shockwaves through college baseball on Monday. But in reality, maybe we shouldn't be so stunned.

Two football-type scores provided these two traditional baseball powers a return to the promised land. One has been there plenty of times, winning numerous titles and its return has been, well... expected. Maybe even overdue. The other? It's been since the 1991 season that it has visited Omaha and its rabid fan base has been foaming at the mouth to get back. Want to know who to thank? Paul Mainieri and Mike Batesole, respectively.

(Mike Batesole has his Bulldogs playing like everyone expected at the beginning of the year)

(Quiet, unassuming Paul Mainieri has his Tigers playing loud as they enter Omaha this weekend)

LSU and Fresno State are two programs that have been left on the "to be sold by" shelf in recent years. But the two head honchos who have long been respected in their profession, both earned their way to Omaha tonight, but under vastly different circumstances.

It was a stunning, monumental day in college baseball. One with grand goodbyes and with unexpected hellos. But thanks to these two, we'll see Tigers and Bulldogs in The O, not Anteaters and Sun Devils.

What a rush this Monday was. Here's how it came about.

Fresno State - 12
Arizona State - 9

You gotta be kiddin' me. No freakin' way. This is almost as shocking as last year's Michigan upset of Vanderbilt. (Vandy had more pitching than ASU). But Mike Batesole's program is finally back to where it used to be way long time ago in the early 90s of the Bob Bennett era.

You already heard this one I'm sure, but Fresno's ascension to Omaha is the equivalent to a team in the NCAA basketball tournament going to the Elite Eight as a 13-seed. But don't be too taken by this stat, because again, Fresno wasn't exactly a Stony Brook or Texas Southern-kind of 4-seed. The Bulldogs started the season in the Top 25. They just didn't play like it all year. Now, with a spiked collar and fangs showing, the 'Dogs have never been meaner.

Today, it was a wicked-clutch six-run 7th inning that was the crushing blow. Eric Wetzel sliced a bases-clearing double down the right field line and that was followed by a two-run jack by Steve Susdorf, effectively shoveling the dirt on the grave of the Desert Devils.

It's hard to believe the Sun Devils aren't going to be in Omaha. But I think we've been warned all along about the injuries and attrition of Pat Murphy's pitching staff. The big blow was the loss of Jason Jarvis due to some weird academic issue and also the loss of expected heavy contributor Reyes Dorado, who didn't throw a lick.

UC Irvine - 7
LSU - 21

This is a mirage. An apparition. Like Harvey the rabbit. The 9th inning from last night never ended. And I don't care what Coach Paul Mainieri says, the Tigers didn't want to "put yesterday behind them," instead they wanted to keep that energy in their back pocket and release it after the first pitch tonight. And when today's 1st inning started like this:
- Walk
- Wild Pitch
- Single
- Balk
- Home Run
- Home Run
- Home Run
- Groundout
- Error on 2B
- Pop Up
- Double
- Error on CF
- Fly Out

... everybody in stitch-ball land knew, this one was over. And out.

And it wasn't all the home runs, doubles to the wall or free-wheeling hit-em-where-they-ain'ts that tipped me off to the fact that this game was over after a few pitches in. It was the fact that LSU and its fans did what they used to do best in their 90s heyday, they turned a good team into mush.

When UCI started out from the word go by getting behind in counts, making uncharacteristic errors on routine plays and generally looking like a shaky leaf, you knew they were done with. I'd seen Irvine play on four or five occasions this season and never did I see them implode like this.

I.e., the magic of the last night of the Box worked. Although I think it had more to do with LSU players just being keyed in. But that's me, I don't believe in hoodoo, magic or jinxes. Just good gorilla ball will do.

And gorilla ball is what we got tonight in the Box's last stand.


- Who I feel the most sorry for right about now.
The vendors that are printing up all those thousands and thousands of College World Series T-shirts, posters, cups, banners and odds and ends.
Can you imagine how much these people are having to hustle to find Fresno State logos and mascot pictures instead of Arizona State gear? They now officially have until Friday at 9am to get the thousands of items ready for sale on 13th Street. I hope they work round-the-clock.

- An "actual" attendance record.
The "tickets sold" figure on the LSU box score tonight shows 8,348. But the "actual attendance" figure shows a school record of 8,173. So who are the 175 "actual no-shows" that were too lazy to make it to see the Box host its last game. Way to go people. It's not like you can see another performance like THIS again.

Oh and on another note, look LSU, quit the fuzzy math and just go ahead and show the "attendance" figure as the number of people actually in the stadium, okay?

- Did you notice this too?
When that pivotal 7th inning came around and Friday starter Mike Leake had been reinserted into the lineup, you saw Pat Murphy in the dugout at one point saying "one more batter" when Leake was facing off with FSU's Eric Wetzel and with the bases loaded. After Wetzel had unloaded a bases-clearing double, the ESPN camera cut back to Murph and he was gritting his teeth, before saying "God Dammit!" in frustration.

That was indication No. 1 that you knew ASU's bullpen was a tad on the thin side. Coach Murphy had no choice but to stay with his beleaguered ace.

- Uneasiness avoided.
Want to hear a strange side note to ASU not making the field of eight in Omaha? Student Assistant Coach Derik Olvey probably would've had the most unique, socially awkward impending situation had the Devils made it to The O. See, Olvey was a highly regarded pitcher coming out of high school in Mobile, Alabama. He signed with Paul Maineiri when he was with Notre Dame. After either not getting to see the mound as much as he wanted, or not getting along with Coach, he decided to transfer to LSU.

Then, lo and behold, Maineiri gets named the coach at LSU, so Olvey decides to high-tail it to Tempe, where former LSU assistant Turtle Thomas became the assistant to Pat Murphy.

Then, his arm injuries caught up with him and he became the student assistant this season, instead of using his final season of eligibility. Well, had ASU won tonight, could you imagine seeing Olvey and Maineiri in the same circles at some point? Not comfy.

(This is about as excited as the Cardinal got after their Super Regional win over Fullerton)

- On the subject of dogpiles.
Since the subject of dogpiling is so popular at this time of year, here are a few more notes on the matter:

1- In reference to Buford T's comment about how dangerous dogpiles can be.
If you guys recall, another terrible dogpile injury happened in 1999 when Florida State hurler Blair Varnes tore knee ligaments at the bottom of the Seminole dogpile when they beat Auburn to advance to Omaha. Varnes didn't pitch the entire 10 days of the CWS until the final game, when Mike Martin had run out of starters. Wearing a huge brace on his leg, Varnes pitched into the 7th inning, giving up eight hits and four walks. But he did keep his team in it until the end, Miami ended up winning the game 6-5. Varnes would go on to say, "I didn't want to be old and gray and regret not pitching in the national championship game."

2- Oregon State's Mitch Canham, the team captain from last year's national championship team, told his teammates at the Charlottesville Regional that "we aren't dogpiling until we get to Omaha." Sure enough, OSU didn't dogpile after winning the Regional or Super Regional, just as they didn't do the year before. Now, refreshingly, the eventual national champion hasn't dogpiled in the last three years after winning the Super Regionals. (Texas also didn't dogpile after winning at Ole Miss in 2005).

3- In reference to Commenter Guy, yes I did notice that Florida State didn't dogpile per se, after beating Wichita State. Instead they just all gathered in a group hug and started jumping around in unison. So technically, add the Seminoles to the list of teams that didn't dogpile. But they did group-hug pile.

- C'mon ESPN, stagger these start times a little.
With only two games being played today, was there really a reason to have them start at the same time? A little flexibility would've been appreciated by stitch-heads like us. How about a 7pm (Eastern) start time for the LSU-UCI game and a 9pm (Eastern) start time for the ASU-Fresno game?

Besides, that would've made it a 6pm local time start for both games. (Arizona is in Mountain time but the state doesn't observe Daylight Saving Time, so it's essentially on Pacific Time March through November). Then again, the LSU game was over with after 20 pitches, so it wasn't a problem to switch over.

- In the words of The Cure, "Fight. Fight. Fight."
What the bloody hell? Two teammates fighting before the biggest game of the season? That's what happened when ESPN cameras caught ASU first-rounder Ike Davis and Brett Wallace duking it out about 20 minutes before game time. What could that have been about? Who's going to make more money from their signing bonus?

(Brett Wallace and Ike Davis, during happier times)

I like what color commentator Barry Larkin said about it during the game. "If ASU wins, it was a uniting thing. If they lose, it was a divisive thing." Turns out it was the latter.

- Joining Kevin Costner in the VIP seating.
Long Beach State's Danny Espinosa.
Forgot to mention this yesterday. At Saturday's Stanford-Fullerton game, the Dirtbag All American and 3rd round draft pick of the Nationals was sitting right in front of me for the last few innings. He didn't get as many autograph requests as Costner did. But give it a few years, the roles will be reversed.

(I wonder if the bleached blond next to Espy knows how much money he's about to make soon?)

More on the eight team field headed for Omaha in a day or two.


June 09, 2008

Sunday Summations- Buster Posey, YOUR Player of the Year

(Word of warning: Today's column will most certainly be the one that makes you say I am such an ACC homer it's not even funny. Feel free to do so, I can take it.)

Ladies and gentlemen, it's Buster Posey's world. But he gratefully allows us all to live in it.

(Buster Posey, the FSU catcher, has done everything but sell personal in-stadium air conditioners at Dick Howser Stadium this year)

The National Player of the Year - in case you didn't know, yes, he IS the best player out there - officially took over the national triple crown lead with today's 7th inning monster slam off the scoreboard in left field. After today's CWS-clinching win, BP's offensive numbers are staggering:

.460 batting average.
92 runs batted in.
26 home runs.

Those are all national bests (or tied-for the national best) as he heads to the Mecca of College Baseball. So we could be looking at a triple crown winner going to play for a national championship next week.

But it's not just his offense that shone today, he also threw out an attempted base-stealer and managed a good game from behind the dish. In other words, he did his usual lead-by-example play between the lines.

This guy's a MAN... well, with a boyish face and soon to be a lot of money.

Posey's prowess has been the main reason that the Seminole nation is now making its plans for Omaha for the first time since 2000. And why they've got a legit shot at the first ever national title in the Mike Martin era.

Meanwhile, FSU and two other ACC teams lived up to the hype and are now headed off to Omaha.


- From yesterday:
Stanford (39-22-2)

- From today:
North Carolina (51-12)
Florida State (53-12)
Georgia (40-23-1)
Miami (51-9)
Rice (47-13)

Florida State - 11
Wichita State - 4

WP: Ryan Struass (10-1) 6.0inns, 1H, 0R, 0ER, 2Ks, 2BBs
LP: Anthony Capra (9-1). 0.2inns, 3H, 6R, 6ER, 2Ks, 3BBs

The Seminoles warpath their way to Omaha for the first time since 2000.

Today's rout got started early with a six-run first inning by Florida State that saw 11 'Noles step up to the dish. The big blows came from Jack Rye, who blasted a three-run home run, and Tommy Oravetz, who knocked in three runs on a bases-loaded double.

All those runs came off of Shocker stud Anthony Capra, who came into the game with a 9-0 record. Though they didn't need the help, Florida State got the benefit of nine Shocker walks, two wild pitches and two errors.

One of the things I was questioning about the Seminoles was their quality pitching depth. It's been a little up and down at times, but not today, as Ryan Strauss came to the mound in the 4th inning and gave up just a single hit the rest of the way. If that kind of pitching continues next week, we could be seeing the Noles in the title round of Omaha.

North Carolina - 12
Coastal Carolina - 4

WP: Adam Warren (9-1). 2H, 0R, 0ER, 3Ks, 4BBs
LP: Nick McCully (10-3). 7H, 6R, 6ER, 0K, 1BB

Heels barely break a sweat in sweeping two straight from the Chanticleers. (Well, the triple digit temperatures made sure they broke plenty of sweat, but you know what I mean.). Some reliable names came through again at the dish as post-season vets Dustin Ackley (3-for-5, 3RBI) and Tim Federowicz (3-for-5, 3RBI) led a 17 hit batting practice attack.

Adam Warren had a no-hitter going into the 6th for the Heels, losing that bid on a sun-blinded pop up just beyond second base. Wooten put a cap on any hopes the Chants had, stymieing their once-potent offense. The only way I thought CCU had a legit shot was with an inspired showing from starter Nick McCully, but they didn't get that. McCully went just 2.0 innings, surrendering seven hits and six earned runs. So you knew there was no magic in that horse.

(Isn't winning Super Regionals old hat for this team? Then why the dogpile? And the bigger question is... Is that camera man really wearing heavy-leather hiking boots on a 100 degree day?)

N.C. State - 8
Georgia - 17

WP: Nick Montgomery (4-2). 6.0inns, 4H, 3R, 3ER, 3Ks, 1BB
LP: Eric Surkamp (5-3). 0.0inns, 2H, 5R, 5ER, 0Ks, 2BBs

This was ugly. Well, kind of like UGa the bulldog himself, Georgia fans think he's beautiful. And that's the way this game looked to the Bulldog faithful too. Man, when the Dogs have to win a game, they tend to go off on people. Particularly Gordon Beckham. Ummm, make that Mister Gordon Beckam. The meanest Dog in the pack sent two shots beyond the outfield wall (tied with Posey for national lead with 26), collecting four RBI and a walk along the way.

Catcher Bryce Massanari added another yard call and four addition RBI to help stoke the fires even more. The Dogs went wild for 18 hits off of six Pack pitchers for the game. In fact, they got things cooking soon after the opening bell, plating nine runs in the first inning, including two hits and five runs off starter Eric Surkamp, who never even registered an out.

In their six post-season wins, UGa has scored 77 runs. Talk about a dog that has its ears pinned back.

(Georgia has now gone to Omaha in even-numbered years 2004, 2006 and 2008. Perno is doing a big-time job)

Miami - 4
Arizona - 2

WP: Enrique Garcia (7-2). 6.0inns, 7H, 1R, 1ER, 4Ks, 1BBs
LP: Eric Berger (8-4). 7.2inns, 6H, 3R, 3ER, 4Ks, 2BBs
Save: Carlos Gutierrez (13). 1.1inns, 0R, 0ER, 1K, 0BB

What a great series this was. It was like a pro wrestling match. With heroes and hype and injuries and, thanks to Arizona's John Gaston, complete with a crowd-angering villain. Three close games between two evenly-matched teams.

Tonight, the big stars were Yonder Alonso (just try to act surprised by that news) who hit a three-run bomb in the first inning that ended up being all the offense the Canes would need. On the season, the U has now hit 100 home runs in all, the third most in school history.

Garcia had a solid outing, going six innings and scattering those seven hits effectively. Kyle Bellamy, Chris Hernandez (the Friday starter) and Carlos Gutierrez gave up just a single hit in the last three innings. Improved pitching like this could be the one good omen heading their date in Omaha.

(Don't know if he's yelling out of excitement or out of relief in finally putting Arizona away with the last out, but Yonder is happy either way)

Rice - 6
Texas A&M - 5

WP: Bryan Price (4-4). 2.1inns, 1H, 0R, 0ER, 3Ks, 0BB
LP: Travis Starling (8-2). 3.0inns, 3H, 2R, 2ER, 1K, 2BBs
Save: Bobby Bell (3), 2.0inns, 0H, 0R, 0ER, 2Ks, 2BBs

Where have you gone Bobby Bell, Bobby Bell?

The strapping Owl reliever who sat out last season came on in relief to get his marquee moment for 2008, shutting down the Aggies offense for the final three frames and send his team to Omaha.

Same old, same old. Rice has done it again. And it came at the expense of Texas A&M again. (C'mon committee, give us a different Super Regional matchup)

Catcher Adam Zornes was the hero here, sending a two-run laser shot scraping over the wall in the top half of the 8th inning.

(With efforts like this, it's no wonder Rice's Adam Zornes is such a huge talent)

Then Mr. Bell came on to put a cork in the A&M hopes in the 8th and 9th innings.

With the win, Rice's Wayne Graham steers his Owls to the college baseball promised land for the seventh time and third year in a row. A&M falls short in the Super Regionals for the third time since the format change in 1999.


LSU - 9
UCI - 7

WP: Louis Coleman (7-0). 3.0inns, 1H, 0R, 0ER, 1K, 0BB.
LP: Eric Pettis (4-3). 1.0inns, 5H, 5R, 5ER, 0Ks, 3BBs (1 intentional)

UC Irvine played picture perfect, fundamental baseball for the most part of eight innings. Then came those eerie ghosts in the ninth.

Play-by-play man Clay Matvick said it best during what was a riveting 9th inning today. "This is what Alex Box Stadium is all about." So true. So freakin' true. The unexplainable magic of the old lady was back today, because for the 29th time this season, the LSU Tigers provided a come from behind win to extend this Super Regional another day. And send it's fans to the ICU with heart palpitations.

Down by three runs going into the 9th, LSU went:
Infield single
RBI fielder's choice
RBI single
Intentional walk
RBI sac fly

SOMETHING must've shifted in the Earth's core, because all the sudden LSU started getting the breaks, bounces and big plays. If it wasn't some kind of cajun mojo, perhaps the relief work of LSU's Louis Coleman was the other huge factor. Coming in at the start of the 7th, he put everything on lock-down and gave up just a single hit and offered no hope to the 'Eaters offense.

Also, gotta love the highlight reel catches that LSU outfielders Leon Landry and Jared Mitchell have been providing as well. Another key was the lack of a catch of a Matt Clark hit to the wall that UCI's Sean Madigan could not come down with in the 2-run 8th inning. Did you notice that Ollie Linton almost caught the carom off of Madigan's glove? A game of inches man, a game of inches.

Is it 4pm Monday yet?

Arizona State - 6
Fresno State - 8

WP: Holden Sprague (5-2). 1.1inns, 3H, 1R, 1ER, 0Ks, 0BBs
LP: Josh Satow (9-4). 3.2inns, 5H, 6R, 6ER, 3Ks, 2BBs
Save: Brandon Burke (12). 3.2inns, 2H, 0R, 0ER, 4Ks, 3BBs

Holy cow. Holy freakin' cow! I don't use exclamation points often either. But I will here because Mike Batsole's charges are just like that cockroach that starts to feed off the Raid, get stronger and just ain't gonna die. And I'll tell you this much, after watching them at Long Beach last weekend and then after tonight's win in the desert, this team is about as worthy of their 4-seed status as I am worthy of being a hair model for a shampoo commercial.

This team is NOT the same one we've been seeing for 13 weeks this season.

First, the Bulldogs chased ASU starter Josh Satow in the bottom of the 4th inning by loading the bases with two outs. Then, after Stephen Sauer came in to try to quell the uprising, Gavin Hedstrom, who had hit only six dingers on the year sent a salvo deep into the desert night, igniting the Bulldogs and putting them up 7-5. A lead they'd never relinquish.

Wow. Just... wow. Five hits and five runs, all with two outs. I'm not sure if I've seen a team hit better with two strikes or two outs as I have the last two weeks in FSU.

Holden Sprague and Brandon Burke repeated their clampdown performance from last Sunday's win over San Diego and choked off the Sun Devils from that point on to salt away the stunning win. The biggest stat being that the Devils left the bases loaded twice down the stretch and stranding 12 runners in all. Game three is tomorrow. And I can't wait.

- Stupidest fan in college baseball.
This FSU fan who reached over the fence in foul territory down the third base line and robbed a two-out pop-up from 3Bman Stuart Tapley in the third inning of today's game with Wichita State:

(The guy in the FSU jersey sporting the cool porn 'stache felt this foul ball was way more important than letting the game be decided on the field)

Because instead of it being the third out of the inning, Andy Dirks drove the very next pitch well over the wall in right center field, cutting the FSU lead to 6-4:

(Because of the college version of Bartman there, Andy Dirks was able to celebrate a two-run bomb with his Shocker mates on the next pitch)

- Just an obscure "Did you know?" here.
Did you know that Arizona State's original nickname was "Bulldogs"? Yep, they had that name up until the mid-50s or so. As usually happens, some sports writer at the Arizona Republic changed the name by writing once that the football team came back to win a game "like a bunch of mad devils." (I'm paraphrasing here).

- Dogpiling.
I've noticed so far that Stanford and Rice have both NOT dogpiled after winning Super Regional title games this weekend, rather just getting together and slapping fives in a line instead. Why is this significant? Because I've also noticed that the last three national champions (Oregon State, Oregon State and Texas) have not dogpiled until after they won it all. Just something to file away.

- Who here is as tired of seeing those Vonage commercials as I am?


This damn split screen spot has been in constant rotation during this weekend's games on ESPN. And because of that, I'm beginning to dislike Vonage a lot. See, there's a diminishing returns factor at work here. So ease off on the baseball-heavy media buy guys.

- Call this my newest pet peeve.
Have you noticed that game announcers on TV this week have been saying a short promo with the "NCAA.com" logo up on the screen, which starts with them saying "The College World Series returns to Omaha as the action gets started on Saturday June 14th..."

Should be worded differently, don'tcha think? Because the CWS never has left Omaha since it moved there in 1950. So you can't "return" to someplace you never left left. Dear NCAA, whoever writes your info interstitials... fire them now. And then hire me.

- It's "run-and-hit"
I'm going to try my best to get a national moratorium on the phrase "hit-and-run." The correct phrasing really should be "run-and-hit" because that's what you are really doing when you're playing the aggressive running game. So there you go. Spread the word stitch-heads.

- I'm taking suggestions.
During the two or three days in between the CWS bracket play and the title series, I'm trying to decide what I should do to bide my time. (You can only see so much in Omaha for 11-12 days, ya' know?). So here's a few things I was thinking of doing:
* Driving up to see Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota.
* Driving to Kansas City and seeing the Negro League Hall of Fame
* Driving to see the Field of Dreams field in Dyersville, Iowa (Sitting behind Kevin Costner at the Fullerton game on Friday night has inspired me)
* Driving to Lebanon, Kansas to see the geographic center of the lower 48 states.
* Drive to Texarkana with Jerry Reed, fill up an 18-wheeler full of Coors beer and bring it back to Omaha within 48 hours for $80,000.

Six down, two to go. Will the Golden State be golden with UCI and Fresno State? Or will the mega-powers of LSU and Arizona State beef up what looks to be the strongest CWS field in years?

More tomorrow.


June 08, 2008

Saturday Statements - The Agony of Defeat strikes Fullerton

There will be only one thing missing from this year's big party in Omaha. The lights of the Fullerton house across the street from Rosenblatt.

It's ironic that on the day that the venerable Jim McCay passes on to that great announcer's booth in the sky, Cal State Fullerton is the only Super Regional team to experience the ultimate Agony Of Defeat: being the only team to go 0-and-2 in the Supers.

Now Titan fans know how Yugoslavian ski jumper Vinko Bogataj felt on that fateful aborted jump that graced the Wide World of Sports opening all those years.

("Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport. The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition. This is ABC's Wide World of Sports.")

The Titans dropped their second straight loss to Pac 10 power Stanford at Goodwin Field tonight, 8-5, to end their season at 41-22.

Elsewhere, the survivor rate was impressive. All three ACC teams that lost yesterday, came roaring back today with brutal offenses as Miami, Florida State and North Carolina State all rebounded with big wins, pushing their weekends to a third day.

The biggest news was that two streaks came to an end tonight. 1- LSU's 23-game win streak was stymied with UC Irvine's 11-5 whitewashing at Alex Box Stadium. And 2- To satiate Jeff the Commentor... the West Coast teams' dominance finally took a shot to the ego. It turns out that Arizona buys the next round of beers after becoming the first Occidental team to lose to a team East of the Mississippi River in this NCAA tournament in 18 games, dropping a 14-10 decision at Miami.


Georgia - 6
NC State - 10
Well leave it to the Pack to lose the games I think they're going to win and win the games I think they'll lose. Nonetheless, this one will go to game three now as NC State got 12 hits and, get this, nine free passes, to blitz past Georgia in game two. Ryan Peisel started things for the Silver britches with a leadoff home run. But NCSU countered with a tying run of their own in the bottom of the first and also got 5.1 innings of solid work by Frosh starter Jake Buchanan, who improved to 3-2.

"That's something we've done well all year, come back after the other team has scored." is what head coach Elliot Avent would say afterward, and rightly so. The Pack got three runs with two outs in the bottom of the 3rd to go ahead for good. Jeremy Synan, Russell Wilson and Tommy Foschi each had RBI singles to get things cookin'. After that 3-1 start, the Pack never trailed.

Florida State - 14
Wichita State - 4
Here we go again people. Are we looking at another offensive blitz to dig the 'Noles out of another post-season hole? Don't bet against it. Wichita's Aaron Shafer - a righty - just didn't have the answers today as FSU roped him for eight runs, chasing him after three innings. Meanwhile Matt Fairel went a career-high 8.0 innings, striking out six and setting down 21 of the last 26 batters to shut down a potent Shocker offense, who only had one extra base hit on the day.

(Aaron Shafer just wasn't right from the beginning, including this wild pitch that helped FSU pad its lead)

Miami - 14
Arizona - 10
Willis MaGahee ran for 210 yards and two touchdowns to off-set a 325 yard performance by Willie Tuitama. Okay, that's football, but it DOES match the score, right? Actually, Miami had four different players hit full-on dingers, including a pair of three-run bombs by Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal as the Canes exacted revenge on the Desert Cats today.

Mark Sobolewski provided the go-ahead run with a 6th inning solo shot to put the Hurrincanes up for good. In addition, Dennis Raben induced six walks, tying an NCAA record that was previously set by Josh Holliday of Oklahoma State in 1999. Arizona issued a staggering 16 walks in the game. You're not going to beat these guys with that. Hell, you're not going to beat a team going to Williamsport like that.

Cal State Fullerton - 5
Stanford - 8
The Trees were stuck in a back-and-forth struggle until their top 10 draft pick Jason Castro proved why he was a top 10 draft pick, by ripping a bases-loaded double that scored three runs. That big blast was the difference as Stanford goes to the College World Series for the first time since 2003. There was nothing overwhelming to the Cardinal modus operandi. Starter Erik Davis only went 2.1 innings and Austin Yount came in to throw 5.1 innings of 7-hit ball.

Castro ended the night with four RBI and got two RBI from No. 2 hitter Joey August to supply all the runs SU would need.

(Stanford 1Bman Brent Milleville cradles the game's final out, setting off a non-dogpiling Cardinal celebration at Goodwin Field tonight.)


Coastal Carolina - 4
North Carolina - 9
The Sky Blue Heels don't sweat too much as they put a good pasting on the Chanticleers. But CCU helped out incrementally with a handful... make that a large handful of mistakes in the field and on the basepaths. In the first two innings alone, the Chantacleers committed three errors in helping to stake the Heels to a 3-zip lead. A Seth Williams solo shot and a Kyle Seager RBI single brought the UNC lead to 6-1 after six innings. That made this game a boat race.

With a supreme lack of timing, Coastal committed a season high six errors on the day. With the win, Carolina is now nine innings away from its third straight berth in the College World Series. And I will personally be pulling for them if they make it to the championship round again.

* Is this series over?
Yeah, for the most part. That 11-4 loss back in March where CCU jumped all over Matt Harvey to breeze to the win is the only thing that's making me pause for thought. So even if SuperFrosh Nick McCully can pull out the game of his life, it would just put off the inevitable by a day.

(After stealing 105 bases this season, CCU only attempted one steal vs. UNC, getting caught at that. It seems like Coastal should've utilized its speed against a more powerful opponent today.)

Texas A&M - 7
Rice - 9
The Owls got to A&M's Br. Raley early and often and built a 6-3 lead after three innings, only to see A&M come back and tie things up in the fifth. That's when senior Jordan Dodson stepped up to the main stage, smacking a two-run double to put the Owls up for good. Super reliever Cole St. Clair came on to put the clamps on the Ag offense from there. The big strapper threw the final 4.1 innings of two-hit ball to pick up the win and improve to 10-2 on the season.

* Is this series over?
No. But you have to like the Owl chances with the experience on the mound they still haven't used. But keep in mind the Rice propensity to give away errors at bad times. If that hideous monster raises its head like it did in the Regionals, this could go three and maybe even extras on Monday.

UC Irvine - 11
LSU - 5
Nope. Typo. That's a freakin' typo. No way.

* Is this series over?
Can't be. Not after 23 straight wins prior to this. But I guess you've gotta say that the Anteaters are in their heads.

Fresno State - 4
Arizona State - 12
It seems like everybody gets their chance to be the offensive catalyst for ASU. Tonight, after patiently waiting his turn, it was Ryan Sontag's night. The Michigan State transfer hit a pair of yard calls and had four RBI, pacing the Devils attack. But don't worry, Brett Wallace and Jason Kipnis each added three hits to help him out. Mike Leake was effective enough to go 7.2 innings and improve to 11-2. At one point, he set down 10 in a row.

* Is this series over?
Almost. I thought if Fresno didn't win game one it would be a real mountain to climb. But the 'Dogs have some capable arms and have been hitting fairly well enough to pull a W here somewhere.


- Whatever happened to all that talk of "hit by pitch" rules change?
Remember how rampant the plunking was in Omaha last June? To tell you the truth, I haven't seen any change in that ruling or interpretation this season. As an example, when Ryan Berry plunked Kyle Colligan in the shoulder in the 3rd inning, it marked the 99th time an Aggie batter had been hit this season. As play-by-play man Dave Barnett pointed out, that's 24 more HBP's than A&M's previous school record for a season.

- Oh my! Don't cross Ron Polk.
Wanna see what Ron Polk (allegedly) thinks about John Cohen being named as the next coach at Mississippi State, instead of his suggested replacement Tommy Raffo? It's not pretty.


(Special thanks to CSTV contributor and college baseball extraordinaire Glenn Tanner for this link)

- Youngin's.
I feared that Texas A&M's Frosh pitcher Brandon Raley might have a tough outing in his first start of an NCAA post-season game. Sure enough, the wily Rice batters got to him early and he looked a little shaky, going just 3.1 innings, giving up a devilish six hits, six runs and six earned runs. The wise ol' Owls never were quite out of the woods though, having to get three runs off of Ag vet Kyle Thebeau to go ahead for good in the game.

- Hidden ball again? You're kidding, right?
Well, first off, D.J. LeMehieu was safe. No doubt. The umps got caught up in the moment and the Irvine players were smart enough to sell the call right off the bat. (I love the description by Coach Gillespie saying that his Anteater team has the highest baseball I.Q. of any team he's coached.)

(You tell me, is D.J. LeMehieu safe here or what? Once again, it was the ineptness of the men in blue and the timing of the play that did in the Tigers)

But wrong call or not... C'mon people. Is there ever a reason for a team to fall to this trick? Especially after all the notoriety UCLA got for pulling it off against Virginia? Now LSU blows a bases-loaded, open-the-floodgates opportunity by having UCI pull it on them. Just call that typical Mike Gillespie trickery. The old war horse has been doing stuff like that for years (remember the steal of home in the title game vs. Arizona State?). I mean, even though he was safe at second, why on EARTH would anybody venture off second base with the pitcher standing on the grass? Jeez.

- Stepping on the throat.
One thing that UC Irvine did that none of the other teams seemed to do in that 23-game winning streak LSU owned, was they didn't wilt like soggy Corn Flakes man. When Paul Maineiri and the Javi Sanchez got the crowd fired up by howling ruthlessly that wrongly-called out on the hidden ball trick, Irvine didn't give in to the angry energy of the Box. Instead, they immediately scored two more runs in the next half inning and got a two-run bomb from Brock Bardeen in the 8th to keep the pressure on LSU... and to keep the Tiger fans howling mad at the umpiring crew.

(Paul Maineiri and Javi Sanchez argued long and hard after that wrongly-called hidden ball trick. Sanchez ended up getting the boot from the game for throwing his hat at the feet of the umpire that made the call.)

(Guess the quote, get a free brew on me)
Is it just me or have the temperatures been much more steamy this year than most in Regional and Super Regional play? Here's today's AlGoreian numbers.

95 degrees at game time.

95 degrees. Heat index of 99 degrees.
(Although, from what I heard, it was even worse than it showed.)

94 degrees with 50% humidity.

91 degrees in the 3rd inning with 55% humidity. Heat index of 100 degrees.

Baton Rouge:
92 degrees at game time. (Then the general dispositions got even more heated.)
High of 96 degrees with 55% humidity

Coral Gables:
85 degrees. Can't imagine the humidity was anything less that 65% though.

83 degrees at game time.
64 degrees at game's end.

98 degrees at first pitch.

(Look at all the 90+ temps on this map! The Cauldron of Hades was hard at work making it miserable for us all out there today)

Day three of the Super Regionals is about to begin in five hours. I really should get some sleep, shouldn't I? Okay, more tomorrow from Day Three.


June 07, 2008

Friday First Takes - The Home Team Blues Edition

It was Georgia on our minds today in Stitched-ball land. All hail the Dogs.

(Hey Costner. Down in front, you're blocking my view of the game!)

Georgia, you're our only hope for the home teams. With three of the four homers going down to defeat today, you could call this "Upset Friday" in Super Regional action.

The most impressive team of the day was the only home team to please its home crowd as the Bulldogs cruised to an easy 11-2 whitewashing of the North Carolina State Wolf Pack. Their hot-hitting from last week's regional round never got slowed down as they pegged the Pack for big hit after big hit on Friday, putting the Dogs just 27 outs away from another return trip to Omaha.

Tell you what, check out the full rundown of the day's action below.

The Super Regional results for Friday...

North Carolina State - 2
Georgia - 11
Mistakes kill.

And I'm talkin' about two biggies here that started the landslide in Athens. 1- In the 3rd inning, when Clayton Shunick left a fastball high to pitching-destroyer Gordon Beckham, who belted a two-run double in the third to put UGa up for good. And 2- In the 6th inning, when State RF Dominic Rogers tried to make a Roberto Clemente throw to 3rd on a runner he wasn't going to throw out at all. The ball bounded wildly beyond third and allowed the Dogs to pad its lead.

After that, a pair of line-hugging doubles, followed by a kill shot to left field by Joey Lewis, putting UGa up 9-2 and leaving me to switch to the Wichita State-Florida State game. And by the way, the two-run jack given up by Drew Taylor in that fateful 6th inning was the first runs the Wolf Pack bullpen had given up in five games.

- Is this series over?
I'm saying yes. In my preview I thought that Clayton Shunick was the Pack's best chance for a W. Now that he's been run off the mound, and with the way the Georgia offense is scoring pell-mell, the curtain is coming down. And the Dogs will move on.

Wichita State - 10
Florida State - 5

One of the things I mentioned about this Wichita State team was that early in the year, coach Gene Stephenson wasn't happy with the toughness of his team. You can scratch that statement now. These guys looked tough, played tough and stayed mentally tough all game long.

Sure, there was some hairy moments at the end, including Buster Posey's little brother Jack, coming to bat as the tying run before the last out. But most teams might've crumbled under these conditions, under this pressure and under this heat. Not the '08 Shockers. They got a two-run home run from Tyler Weber to go up for good in the 4th and then a three-run bomb from Conor Gillaspie in the 6th to put the game on ice.

Rob Musgrave did a decent job as the starter, going 5.2 innings while picking up his 12th win of the year. But even more important was the work of reliever Clinton McKeever, the grand slam hero of the Stillwater Regional who came into the game with only 6.1 innings of work on the entire year. But the seldom-used arm went 2.1 innings of no-hit ball, keeping the Shockers in the lead and the WSU bullpen fresh. Sunday starter Anthony Capra came in to pick up his first save of the season by striking out the younger Posey, who had an electric crowd behind him.

- Is this series over?
Of course not. It's FSU man. The best hitting team in the country isn't going to go quietly. You remember last weekend right? But heed this, the Shockers have some pretty damn good arms. Better than Bucknell, Tulane or Florida could throw at them, that's for sure. So be wary 'Nole fan. Your boys have an awful lot of work to do.

Arizona - 6
Miami - 3 (10inns)
First off, this is a game that easily could've gone either way. I'm not bringing down any Berlin Wall's with that statement. In fact, I've never seen a 9th inning like that. Miami, under any other conditions, would've won that game on a couple of occasions. Yasmani Grandal's shot to dead center should have gone out. Maybe even Yonder Alonso's shot should've gone out too. But that head-wind toward home plate was pretty nasty. More on that in a bit.

Either way, don't be too shocked. The 'Cats were the pre-season No. 1 in Baseball America's rankings for a reason, they've got some players. They've just had a rollercoaster ride this season. Maybe they're now starting to put things together. But with that said, I still have to admit that seeing the Hurricane's lineup get just three runs is pretty stunning. Seeing them earlier this season at Florida State was pretty awe-inspiring. But Preston Guilmet, Ryan Perry and Jason Stoffel held them to just five (yes, that's 5) hits and off-kilter most of the day.

The game went back and forth, with Arizona scoring a run in the 7th to tie things up at three apiece on a T.J. Steele single. Then 'Zona won it in the 11th on a three-run blast by John Gaston off of Miami reliever Carlos Guitierrez, another 1st round draft pick for the Canes. With that dinger and Stoffel's three-up, three-down in the bottom half of the frame, the Wildcats take an unlikely 1-0 lead in the series.

Play Miami will be kicking itself about:
With one out in the 9th and Hurricane runners at 1st and 2nd, Yonder Alonso appeared to hit a rocket shot to deep right center. But T.J. Steele, on his horse from the get-go, ran the ball down and made a shoestring catch in stride. But the runners, both thought the ball was going to either get out of the stadium or slam off the wall in the gap. But after the catch, Steele turned and threw to second to get the force out. So instead, no man on third and two outs. What happened next was that UofA went to work in the 11th, getting the three winning runs, completely turning this game around.

Second biggest key sequence of the night:
No. 1 vs. No. 1.
Ryan Perry, a middle reliever for UofA that was a 1st round draft pick (21st) came on in relief in the bottom of the 5th inning, inheriting a 1st and 3rd with one out situation. Facing off with No. 1 pick Jemile Weeks (12th pick), he got the Cane wunderkind to strike out swinging. Then, after intentionally walking No. 1 pick Yonder Alonso (7th pick), Perry got Mark Sobolewski to strike out swinging as well. That was a huge sequence that, essentially, saved the game for Arizona.

- Is this series over?
Of all the teams that lost today, you have to feel most comfortable about the Hurricane's situation. Stoffel put in some serious innings of work and may not be effective or well-rested enough the rest of the series. The UofA still has some arms they can use, but Weeks, Alonso, Sobolewski and the like won't be held down for long. This series is not even close to being over. You could even argue that the Hurricanes are still favored to win out.

Stanford - 4
Cal State Fullerton - 3
In this age of Arena Ball and winning games on three errors in the bottom of the 9th, it's refreshing to see a well-played game with good, fundamental play and, yes, even a dinger or two thrown in. That's what we were treated to in Fullerton tonight.

(A season-high 3,343 fans packed Goodwin Field tonight in Fullerton)

It was simply a case of Stanford making one or two key plays more than the Titans did. Even coach Dave Serrano said as much in the post-game. "It came down to the little things you've gotta do." he lamented. "In the 5th we had a runner on third with less than two outs, and we didn't put the ball in play. Small things like that are what wins and loses games."

That and some damn fine pitching by the Ivy League West boys. Huge props to starter Jeremy Bleich, who went 6.0 innings, giving up just three hits along way in earning just his third win of the season. Drew Storen came on in the 9th to get the final two outs and pick up his 7th save of the season.

"Jeremy didn't pitch for eight weeks during the season." Coach Marquess said in the press tent that is strangely erected on the Titan softball field. "He finally pitched a bit in the Washington series a couple of weeks ago and is just now getting back to his old self, throwing a lot of innings. But he did a great job tonight. It was a great pitching performance by Jeremy."

Jason Castro, another one of those big strappers that wields a wicked bat, sounded the big siren with a two-run, no-doubt yard call that put the Trees up for good in the 5th at 3-0.

(Jason Castro, fresh from being the 10th pick overall by the Astros, celebrates his two-run bomb)

"They're a sound team and a good team." Coach Serrano assured the gathered media. "I have all the faith in the world in this team. We've had our backs to the wall before and that's usually when we play our best. We'll be back tomorrow and make this thing exciting."

I have no doubt about that.

- Is this series over?
Nah. Not even close. As witnessed by tonight's game, this one could still go either way. These NoCal-SoCal rivals know each other too well. This thing will go three games.


- At-bat walk up music.
Maybe I was just hearing things, but I noticed that Georgia played "Your Love" by The Outfield every time Gordon Beckham came to bat. I thought there was a restriction on walk up music in NCAA tournament games? I know they didn't play

- Elliot Avent up to his antics.
The NC State coach had home plate umpire Mike Coulin check Georgia pitcher Trevor Holder's hat for any foreign substance under the bill. The search for pine tar, vasaline, an emory board, Sasquatch, or whatever, found nothing and really only seemed to further rile up the Bulldog crowd. Coach Avent even admitted he knew it would stir things up with the UGa faithful when Dave Ryan and Brian Jordan did that between-innings interview thing.

(Checking for signs of cheating under the hat of Trevor Holder. None were found.)

- Speaking of Holder's performance, one of my pet peeves.
The Georgia starter ended up going 8.2 innings, giving up seven hits and striking out five. But for some reason, even with a 9-run lead, Coach Perno decided to take him out of the game. C'mon coach, he wasn't going to lose the lead, just let him throw to one more batter. (Unless he was injured of course.)

- He's no primadonna like Pierce.
Florida State's Tony Delmonico got a gash on his shin (which is even painful to type) during a collision at second base with Wichita's Ryan Jones 11 pitches into the game. The two players collided shins as Delmonico was trying to turn a double play. Delmonico exited the field and went to get four stitches put into his leg. After a 15-minute delay, Delmonico returned, noticeably limping. Now, see Paul Pierce, that's a REAL injury and return. Take notes.

(Tony Delmonico limping off the field with a gash on his leg. Four stitches later, he would return)

- Angering up the Delmonico blood.
Speaking of that collision play, as Tony D. lay writhing in pain on the ground, the ESPN cameras were fixated on Delmonico's father, an assistant for FSU. You could see and even hear him saying, "That's bleeping horse-bleep!" But replays appeared to show Jones sliding into the bag. Color commentator Eduardo Perez even mentioned that it wasn't an illegal slide.

- Feeling a draft.
Both Trevor Holder of Georgia and Elih Villanueva of Florida State learned during their games today that they had been drafted by Major League teams (Holder in the 10th round and Villanueva in the 27th round both by the Mariners). According to color commentator Perez also mentioned that Wichita State starter Rob Musgrave found out about an hour before today's game that he had been taken as the 17th pick of the Padres draft.

- Posey no poseur.
FSU's Buster Posey came in to today's game hitting .466 (that's just illegal man.). And to prove he is no fluke, he blasted a Rob Musgrave 4th-inning offering over the massive scoreboard in left field. The key here is, have you seen how big that scoreboard is in left field? Think the Great Wall of China-high.

- THIS is why I hate big money schools that don't play good schedules.
You heard it. I heard it. Pam Ward said it. In the 8th inning of today's game Pam Ward mentioned that she asked Wichita coach Gene Stephenson if he would want to play Florida State in non-conference play. He said he would love to, but he would want a home-and-home agreement (naturally, like anybody else would). So because of that, Florida State wouldn't agree to it. If that's true, that's disheartening for stitch-heads everywhere. Instead, we'll get more matchups of the Seminoles with Duquesne instead. Great.

- Any player that does this should be kicked out for the remainder of the weekend.
Hate this. Just not cool, no matter if you did just hit the game-winning three run home run at another team's stadium.

(Jon Gaston gives the Miami crowd the "Shhh" sign. He's sure to see a bean-ball between the shoulder blades in his next at-bat for this one)

- Costner a bad omen?
Mr. Clear The Mechanism himself made another appearance out at Goodwin Field tonight to support his alma mater. But you have to wonder if anybody really wants him there. See, the last time Crash Davis showed up for Super Regional games, Fullerton lost two of three to Arizona State in 2005. And that was even after winning game one on that infamous bases-loaded balk call. Then, tonight, well... hate to say it, but the Titans lost again in his return. Hmmm.

(Kevin Costner made his not-so-triumphant return to Goodwin Field again tonight. I will say, the bloke did a pretty good job of being a great guy and signing autographs for the kids that approached him.)

- Just thought I'd throw this out there.
Stanford has to be the biggest team I may have seen in my years of covering... no, watching college baseball. Even bigger than those behemoth Gorilla Ball teams of LSU in the mid-90s. Their murderer's row of 3-through-6 hitters Jason Castro, Brent Milleville, Randy Molina and Sean Ratliff are all in the 6'3"-6'4" range and look like they could rival the Steel Curtain front four of the Steelers. And I know what you're thinking, but the answer is no, I don't mean in a freakish, steroided-out kind of way. Just tall trees man.

First pitch of the day: 9:06am (Pacific time) in Athens.

Last pitch of the day: 1:56am (Eastern time) in Fullerton

Yes, I use the opposite coast time reference for a dramatic effect.

The game time conditions for today's Super Regional games.
- Athens, Georgia (Noon Eastern start):
94 degrees and 65% humidity. Heat index of 101.

- Tallahassee, Florida (2pm Eastern start):
98 degrees and 48% humidity. Heat index at 104 degrees.

- Coral Gables, Florida (7pm Eastern start):
89 degrees and 55% humidity at game time. Heat index at 96 degrees.

- Fullerton, California (7:30pm Pacific time):
75 degrees and they've never heard of humidity.
66 degrees at game's end,

More tomorrow. I gotta get.


June 06, 2008

Thursday Thoughts - Weeding Out The Weak

Natural Selection rules! The elimination process has begun and the weak-links of the pack are being exposed one by one and those hungry enough to make it to Omaha are going to be the ones who prosper among the wild.

("Hmmm, which one is the weak link here? Which one? You!... You look lame.)

So we begin another weekend of paring down the contenders from the pretenders. Only the strong - or those that got favorable seedings - will survive the road to Rosenblatt Stadium.

Now that we have perspective and hindsight as our guide, let's take a quick look back at what we've gained in knowledge before we go full-bore into what we look for in our crystal ball for the weekend ahead.

And remember, in the words of Henry Rollins, it's okay to disagree with me, but you're wrong.

Here are the top 10 things that the elimination of 48 teams this past weekend told us about the college baseball landscape this post-season. Go ahead, I'll wait while you grab a pen and paper... Okay, follow along.

1- Dare I say, the NCAA selection committee got it mostly right at the top?
Yep, the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament went 13-3 in getting to the Supers.
The only interlopers into this party were Wichita State (who's pitching is a lot better than most of the No. 1 seeds anyway), Fresno State (playing better than any 4-seed ever has) and UC Irvine (No. 2 ERA in the country? Fuggetaboutit!). Despite some obvious hiccups sprinkled throughout the tournament brackets, the committee can still be commended.

2- Even the greatest upsets in the NCAA baseball tournament, don't mean a lot in the grand scheme of things.
It's not like the March Madness upsets. Because, despite their respective Bison stampedes they suffered, Georgia and Florida State are still moving on to the Supers. No muss. No fuss. Kinda leaves ya' flat though, doesn't it? Maybe they should make a new rule, any national seed that loses to a 4-seed deserves to be eliminated. And if you lose to a team with a losing record? You get banished from the NCAA tournament for the following year.

3- Despite the compacted schedule and five-game weeks this season, offense still rules the regionals.
Still not enough quality pitching is being developed out there. Though, it's not as bad as it used to be in the old 6-team regional format (thank God), you still saw an unhealthy dose of football-type scores in the Game 6's and Game 7's this weekend. Coastal Carolina gets the award for most gluttonous offense of the weekend.

4- The West is good.
See, toldja. I made it widely known that the last two years, the West wasn't that strong (I know, I know, Oregon State still won it all, so sue me). But I gave fair warning that this would be a better year for the occidental types. Sure enough, in games they played against other regions of the country, we're talkin' 14-0 so far in the NCAA tournament. And, taking some fuzzy geography into account, if you consider the Mississippi River the dividing line, the three non-No. 1 seeds to advance all came from Pony Express Land.

5- Until further notice, the ACC is still the Kingpin.
Other than Georgia Tech not being able to close out Georgia when they needed just one win, the ACC looked pretty good this weekend. Miami, North Carolina and N.C. State made it through without a scratch. FSU came out of its funk to look monstrous at the dish again. Leaving all of us to wonder, did that whole Bucknell thing really happen? Wow.

6- SEC? Ummmm, not so much.
One of the things I've always maintained is that, sure, the southern superconference gets a lot of preferential treatment (especially with that whole RPI-favoring thing), but they rarely get sent out of their own region. This time, I paid close attention to how Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Kentucky did on their far-flung adventures. Well, they came home goose-egged. The Cats did make the title round as a 3-seed up in Ann Arbor, but collectively the three went just 3-6 in all. In fact, the conference as a whole, was 0-for-7 on the road in making the Supers. Only the home team Bulldogs and Tigers are still alive. Now, will this change the committees view on the SEC when it comes to awarding NCAA bids in 2009? Hell no. At some point past performance has to come into the selection process, because it's just common sense.

7- 8pm start times for baseball games really sucks.
Going to the Fullerton games this weekend was painful. The 8pm start time meant the earliest the games would end was 11pm. Then the cooling off period. Then the press conference. Then the 45 minute drive home. Then, the writing of the column. Then sleep. You get the idea. C'mon ESPNU, you've got to have better time slots.

8- Guess what? Both Oklahoma AND Oregon State belonged in the field of 64.
OU did a great job, vanquishing Vanderbilt in a pair of games to make the championship round in Tempe. Judging by how the Pac 10 did overall (other than Cal, every Pac 10er made the Regional title round or the Supers), OSU probably deserved a bid after all. Hell, maybe even Washington State, considering they won a series AT Oklahoma this season.

9- Arkansas, Florida, Cal and (gulp) Dallas Baptist didn't belong.
The Gators and Patriots were the only No. 2 seeds to go 0-2 (and that hurts, considering I thought the Gators were better and that I was on the Patriot bandwagon after seeing them win at San Francisco two weeks ago). Arkansas and Cal were barely competitive in their games. And again, I don't know HOW to pound this into the thick skulls of committeemen everywhere (and this includes basketball) but a team that finishes 9th in its conference has no business being in the NCAAs. Just stop it now people.

And 10- The RPI still sucks.
No need for explanation here.

It's 16 up and just eight to go after this weekend's games in the Super Regionals. Again, couldn't the powers-that-be come up with something better than "Super Regionals"? It's sounds so much like a 10-year old came up with it. I digress, here's the matchups and what to watch for.


- North Carolina State (41-20) at Georgia (39-22-1)
This is the SEC champion vs. the 4th place team from the ACC, shouldn't this be a rout? Not in this ACC-heavy season. Both teams come in having capable offenses with a lot of diversity. Obviously, Georgia has the more intimidating bats, led by All American Gordon Beckham and the power planks of Rich Poythress and Bryce Massanari. Their scowl begins when they get off the bus. State's offense has slowly, but surely, gotten better as the year went on. Though I admit, the one time I saw them this year, they struggled mightily against Maryland. Let's see how they do on a much bigger stage.

Key Matchup:
Georgia starters Stephen Dodson and Nathan Moreau vs. the Pack bats.
My guess is that Clayton Shunick gets the W on Friday, so the Dogs comeback ability will be tested again. Dodson and Moreau must pitch well on Saturday and Sunday. No two-ways about it.

The "Don't Forget" factor:
Georgia Tech doesn't have the pitching depth that State does. If it becomes a war of attrition, I give the edge to State. I mean, Joshua Fields can only carry the Dogs so far.

The you-won't-find-this-on-a-scouting-report factoid:
To be fair, when they've played the best teams on their schedule, Geogia has lost three-game weekends against almost all the good teams they've faced. Sure you could argue Ole Miss and Kentucky as good teams, but the big exception was their winning at LSU. And that was before LSU became LSU ifyouknowwhatImeanandIthinkyoudo.

- Wichita State (47-15) at Florida State (52-11)
FSU got it's John Travolta-with-a-paint-can stride back about it after the debacle that was the Bucknell game. Posey, Guinn, Stidham, Delmonico and the like are ready to punch and jab the 'Noles way back to Omaha for the first time since 2000 and are more than capable of turning games into Arena Ball, even against WSU. But don't fall asleep on these Shockers. Like Georgia above, FSU made a big comeback last weekend against pretty weak pitching staffs. The Seminoles can't afford to do that against the Shockers, they've got the arms to shut people down. Rob Musgrave, Aaron Shafer and Anthony Capra are going to be the best threesome FSU has seen all season. All three are under 3.00 ERA. Also, keep an eye on that Seminole defense. When I saw them vs. Miami, it had a lot of shaky moments, as witnessed by the .958 fielding percentage (2nd-worst in the ACC).

Key Matchup:
FSU's No. 2 and 3 starters Elih Villanueva and Ryan Strauss vs. the left-handed heavy WSU bats.
Guys like leadoff man Andy Dirks and 3B Conor Gillaspie will see that short porch in right field at Dick Howser Stadium and start to salivate. Especially with FSU's right-hand hurlers.

(Elih Villanueva will be a huge cog in the Seminole machine this weekend.)

The "Don't Forget" factor:
Florida State hasn't been the best home team in the post-season. They lost Super Regionals in both 2002 and 2005 at Dick Howser Stadium and also lost to Mississippi State in the Regional round last season. Sometime soon, the worm has to turn, right?

The you-won't-find-this-on-a-scouting-report factoid:
Despite making it this far in the post-season, Gene Stephenson told me earlier in the season that this team wasn't as mentally tough as some of the great Shocker teams he's commandeered to Omaha. If that's still true, there's no way they beat the 'Noles on the road.

- Arizona (41-17) at Miami (50-8)
So if you'd had told me at the beginning of the season that these two would be facing off with each other in the post-season, I'd have thought that'd be an awesome championship round in Omaha. But here we are. And don't feel sorry for the Cats going into the Mark Light humidor, they have what Oregon State coach Pat Casey called "the best 1-to-6 pitching staff in the country." Now, will Preston Guilmet and David Coulon pitch deep into games here? They'll need to. But in deference to that, with Ryan Perry, Daniel Schlereth and Jason Stoffel, Arizona also has possibly the best bullpen in college baseball, including two of which were taken as first round picks (Perry and Schlereth). But again, they're going up against names like Alonso, Weeks, Sobolewski and Tekotte. C'mon, you don't think Miami is going to stop hitting now, do you? One word of warning Hurricanes: Don't fool around with nip-and-tuck games here like you did in the Regionals.

Key Matchup:
The big bats of Ziegler, Glenn and Steele vs. UofM's frosh sensation Chris Hernandez.
The experienced sticks will need to jump on young Hernadez early for this to become a competitive series. The Cats' offense has been a little hither-and-yon lately, so they can't afford a slow start in this environment.

The "Don't Forget" factor:
Arizona's done it before. This team reminds me of the 2004 UofA outfit that stunned the heavily-favored Jared Weaver-led Long Beach State team that year. Plus, coach Andy Lopez was at Florida before moving on to Tucson and knows the lay of the land in Coral Gables. His team will be well-versed in the ways to beat the Canes.

The you-won't-find-this-on-a-scouting-report factoid:
In Baseball America's Top 50 lists for Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors in their pre-season issue, Arizona had just as many prospects listed (5) as did the Canes. So in the scouts eyes, they're pretty evenly matched teams.

- Stanford (37-22-2) at Cal State Fullerton (41-20)
These two again. Being the two best programs on the West coast, I don't know if they'll ever completely go away. Stanford missed the Regionals last year, but will be making its second Super Regional appearance in three years. Fullerton is, well, Fullerton. When I saw them last week it was as if I was seeing their 1999 team or 2001 team or 2004 team all over again. Same style. Same solid defense. Only the names have changed. Stanford has a junior-heavy lineup that features some lumberjacks. Jason Castro (.372-12-63 and 10th pick in today's draft), Sean Ratliff (.298-20-65) and Cord Phelps (.352-13-53) are heavy hitters in the John Gall-Carlos Quinton-Ryan Garko mold. The Fullerton rotation of Jeff Kaplan, Cory Arbiso and Daniel Renken is the one thing that isn't so Coke Classic about the Titans. They've been good, but not dominant, like we're used to seeing from Fullerton teams of yore. Yet, they'll battle all the way and beat you with smarts and that incredibly fast defense behind him.

Key Matchup:
The Shortstops.
They don't go head-to-head or anything, but SU's Jake Schlander could be the best defensive SS since Jay Pecci and CSUF's Christian Colon is a stud in the making. Schlander only hits .232, but he'll improve. Colon is the kind that likes to get dirty and make plays. He may have a few errors here and there, but he'll be an All-American in the years to come.

(With his aggressive play in the field and on the basepaths, it's obvious that Christian Colon doesn't mind getting dirty for his team)

The "Don't Forget" factor:
The Trees swept three straight from the Titans back in the second week of the season, 12-5, 11-7 and 6-5.

The you-won't-find-this-on-a-scouting-report factoid:
In 1999, 2001, 2004 and 2006, Fullerton lost the season series to Stanford, but still made it to Omaha. Looks like 2008 is a Fullerton-to-Omaha year again.


- Coastal Carolina (50-12) at North Carolina (49-12)
In the last 10 years we've had Dirtbags, Ragin Cajuns, Irish, Titans Owls, Tar Heels and Anteaters in Omaha. Wouldn't it be cool to add Chanticleers to that unique nickname list? Well, don't bet on it. At least not with North Carolina standing in the way. But give the Chants a punchers chance here. Because the two things they have going for them are 1- Confidence and 2- A different style of play. I'm not sure UNC has seen a team quite like CCU this year, exhibiting perhaps the most diverse offense in the country. Scott Woodward is a perfect example of this unique combo, hitting seven home runs and with 42 stolen bases on the season. Dock Doyle (.366-16-72) and David Sappelt (.355-18-67) are also potent weapons. The Chants scored 47 runs in their three wins at the Conway Regional. But this IS the Heels we're talking about here. They're post-season vets and can trot out the arms that led the nation in ERA (2.79). Hard to bet against that. See you in Omaha, Heels.

Key Matchup:
The fast-twitch legs of the Chants (105 steals) vs. Tim Federowicz and Mark Fluery.
Not sure if the Heels catching combo has come across a team that has this much speed on the basepaths. So pressure, and first batter walks will play a huge part in how things turn out.

The "Don't Forget" factor:
Coastal beat North Carolina by an ugly 11-4 score back in March. In fact, the Chants did it by knocking Matt Harvey (now the No. 3 starter for UNC) out before he could register three outs, as part of a six-run top of the first.

The you-won't-find-this-on-a-scouting-report factoid:
Experts in post-season ways.
In the last two years, UNC has won 18 post-season games and made it to the national championship round. That's value in experience, people.

(With temps expected to be in the mid-90s in Cary and 100+ in Tempe, I hope more teams start to incorporate those "Big Fogg" machines like they use on the football sidelines.)

- Fresno State (40-28) at Arizona State (48-11)
After coming up just short the last two years, the Dogs broke through this year, beating San Diego two of three games and generally looking pretty inspired in doing so (you saw some of my pictures, right?). But this will be an entirely different kind of animal this weekend. ASU has one of the most bludgeoning attacks in the country. The Toreros couldn't throw these kind of bats at FSU. So even with repeat inspired performances from Justin Wilson and Clayton Allison, it may not be enough. Big sticks like Brett Wallace (the 13th overall pick in today's draft) and Ike Davis (the 18th pick) will get to any pitcher eventually. As long as Mike Leake and Josh Satow don't tank it in their two starts, the Devils will go to The O once mo'.

Key Matchup:
Clayton Allison (3-5, 3.74) vs. Josh Satow (9-3, 4.58)
If Allison has another game like he did back on Saturday vs. San Diego (complete game, 5-hitter), this could give the Bulldogs a fighting chance. To the Bulldogs' advantage, they also have Brandon Burke as an effective closer. Something ASU lacks with its pitching attrition.

The "Don't Forget" factor:
Fresno ace Tanner Scheppers, who was the 48th overall pick in today's MLB draft, has been out of the lineup for the last six weeks, and still the 'Dogs are on a 9-1 tear. Only if, only if...

The you-won't-find-this-on-a-scouting-report factoid:
Home Hades advantage.
Not only will the temperatures be in the 100s, but keep in mind that Fresno went just 10-18 in road games this year. Meanwhile, ASU lost only three times at Brock Ballpark all season.

- Texas A&M (46-17) at Rice (45-13)
Wait a minute, didn't we already do this one a year ago? Yep, and is there any hope for a different outcome, where Rice won in two quick games? Sure there is. As long as A&M's young arms continue to play up. And don't forget the fact that the Ags have a junior-senior-heavy lineup. That's invaluable this time of year. But home field advantage and over all big game smarts is what should propel the Owls to Omaha again.

Key Matchup:
The young Aggie arms vs. the experienced Owl bats.
This is more of a mental game this weekend. If Loux and Raley play beyond their years, this is a nip-and-tuck series that goes three games.

The "Don't Forget" factor:
If the Owls commit errors like they're handing out free ice cream once again, the Aggies offense is much more capable of making it pay than any of the Owls' regional opponents did.

The you-won't-find-this-on-a-scouting-report factoid:
Reckling Wreckin' Machine.
Rice has gone 27-5 in post-season games at Reckling Park. However, their only post-season elimination at home? In 2004 to Texas A&M.

- UC Irvine (41-16) at LSU (46-16-1)
Probably the most intriguing Super Regional matchup out there. This is one of those oil and water comparisons. LSU has channeled it's primate past and is back to Gorilla Balling its way through the current 23 game win streak. UCI, meanwhile, will use its West-coast style of bunting, running, stealing, pitching and selling popcorn on its way to wins. Can't wait to see how this turns out. How good is LSU's offense? Ryan Schimpf, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup has hit 10 home runs on the season. Not a single UCI player has double digit dinger totals. Twenty-three straight? Man, this LSU team has its cajun hoodoo magic working.

Key Matchup:
UCI relief ace Eric Pettis (17svs) vs. the LSU order.
I'm relatively certain that Irvine will have to replace its starters at some point in every game this weekend. LSU's late inning magic has been as ridiculous as Oklahoma's football mojo back in the late 70s and early 80s. If Pettis can quell that rising purple emotion monster, the 'Eaters have a shot. If he can't? Katy bar the door.

The "Don't Forget" factor:
Even though he's been a giant killer in the post-season, winning games at Texas, at Wichita State and against Arizona State in Omaha, Scott Gorgen had an off-day last week vs. ORU. Can't afford that here or these purple 'Eater eaters will make you pay.

The you-won't-find-this-on-a-scouting-report factoid:
The last blast at the Box.
With LSU moving into a new Alex Box Stadium next season, there's no way the Bayou Gods will allow LSU to lose its last home series, right? Methinks not. But then again, this is Irvine. They've been known to not give a rat's arse about what a raucous crowd might want.

(The "Intimidator" will need some extra mojo workin' for it to get a pair of Ws against the likes of UC Irvine this weekend in the last hurrah at old Alex Box Stadium.)

Hope you have a hot one where you're at. And I hope your team stays away from the hungry cheetahs that are stalking to weed out the pack.


June 03, 2008

Monday Stuff - Going 270.2 miles in the name of college baseball

See the gas receipt below? This is from Friday when I filled up with gas before driving down to Long Beach for the first two games of the regional down there at Blair Field. Yeah, I know. Laugh at me because I spend about a buck and a half a gallon more than you probably do.

(71 bucks for a tankful. Wait... is my credit card number on here?)

Through the weekend, between the Long Beach and the Fullerton Regionals, I ended up driving 270.2 miles from Friday afternoon to Monday night. Two hundred seventy point two freakin' miles! All in the name of college baseball. Ten years ago, I could've flown to a Regional in Austin for as much as I spent in gas this weekend, right?

Oh well, I love college baseball almost more than some politicians love seeing their rich oil company brethren make a killing off us common Americans. But I digress.

Unlike most of this Game 7 Monday out there in stitch-ball land that was wrought full of football scores in worn-out rag-arm-fests, I was able to see a pair of games that were good, fairly well-played nail-biters here in Smogland.

U. San Diego - 000 010 000 - 1 6 1
Fresno State - 000 020 03x - 5 7 3

WP- Holden Sprague (4-2)
LP- Sammy Solis (3-2)
SV- Brandon Burke (11)

Top hitter-
FSU's Gavin Hedstrom, 3-for-3, 2RBI

Fresno State makes its first ever appearance in the Super Regional. In fact, other than back when Rice was a part of the configuration, current WAC members have yet to win their way to the Supers stage. Until today. The Bulldogs have the Toreros number, beating them for the fifth time in the last three years of regional play. This also marks the first time a 4-seed has ever advanced to the Supers. But really now, who here considers the Bulldogs to be a 4-seed? As Rich Hill stated the other day, these guys and NOT a 4-seed.

(Then I did the 25 minute drive from Blair to Goodwin)

UCLA - 000 210 100 - 4 9 0
CSUF - 002 210 00x - 5 9 1

WP- Brian Wilson (3-2)
LP- Rob Rasmussen (0-2)
SV- Jeff Kaplan (1)

Top Hitter-
Fullerton's Brian Wilson, 2-for-4, 2 runs scored

Mr. Wilson, fresh off a complete game win on Friday over Rider, turned around tonight and threw four innings of four-hit ball to go along with three strikeouts and also a pair of hits at the dish to pace the Titans to another regional title. For a guy who didn't have a start on the mound all season coming into this weekend, that's not bad.

Going into today's games, a couple of Super Regional-bound teams had a chance to add to the long list of NCAA tournament teams that had to come out of the loser's bracket to win three games to earn their way to the Super Regional round. Here's the breakdown of those early-round losers since the new format took hold in 1999:

Rice, LSU, Oklahoma State, Clemson, Texas A&M
Penn State, Texas, Florida State
Rice, Stanford, Georgia, South Carolina
Florida State, Houston
Arkansas, Cal State Fullerton
Texas, Cal State Fullerton
Missouri, Oklahoma, Georgia
Oregon State, Wichita State, Texas A&M, Louisville

(Special thanks to the San Diego Tribune's Kirk Kenney for doing the math on this one for me. I'm ain't so good at math and stuff.)

Now add a couple more teams to that growing number...

Unfortunately, other than the two L.A. area games, it was a pretty boring day of college baseball Game 7s. No real drama, as you can tell by the scores. But if you were on the winning side of things, well, it was a good day. Here's how the carnage laid out.

Georgia - 18
Georgia Tech - 6
Would you call me a geek if I stated the obvious by saying, "The Dogs win the one that really matters." Too late, I'm already a geek. Anyway, yes, Georgia wins the season series 3-2, including today's bludgeoning. The 2-through-5 hitters combine to go 12-for-20 with 10RBI, including Matt Olson's 5-for-6 day. The Dogs are now 15-0 in elimination games at Foley Field.

Florida State - 16
Tulane - 7
This should probably come as the least surprising score of the day. It was manifest destiny for the Seminoles to come all the way back from the game one loss to Bucknell. In fact, it's been three days now, how the hell did that happen again? Anyway, the Green Wave starting Shooter Hunt was supposed to be just the tonic to pull out an upset, but after just three innings, he started to tire quickly and his defense failed him. Hunt gets the loss by giving up six hits and six runs, only two of which were earned.

This will be FSU's eighth Super Regional appearance, but the first one at home since 2002.

Houston - 5
Texas A&M - 13
The Coogs may have been running on fumes after yesterday's clutch pair of wins in 90+ heat. This was an instant snoozer, with A&M scoring seven runs in the second inning to put this one out to pasture quickly. A Kyle Colligan two-run bomb and a bases-clearing double by Darby Brown were all the Aggies needed in the second. UofH trotted out seven arms on the day, but most were ineffective as the deficit was way to big to overcome. Though they've won four other regionals before, this is the first back-to-back regional titles for the Maroons.

Stanford - 9
Pepperdine - 7
Things looked good for the Waves early on as they scored four runs to start the first inning. But just like most of the games above, the ragged arm staff just couldn't hold it together long enough. A 6-run fifth inning propelled the Trees into their second ever road Super Regional. Jason Castro doubled to left, scoring two, and then Sean Ratliff blasted a four-run bomb into the shrubs beyond right-center.

Wish I could've gone to all six games today (sorry, you know how much gas prices are, there's only so far I could feasibly drive). Here are a few pics from the two that I did make it to...

(Josh Romanski gets thrown out at 2nd trying to nab a 1st inning steal)

(USD had one of the more entertaining dugouts in college baseball this year. But I remember one of the five things that coach Rich Hill told us at the press conference on Friday is that his team needs "hitting, pitching, defense, fundamentals and energy in the dugout." So there you have it.)

(Ladies and Gents, here's Diego the Torero. If I remember correctly, USD is also the only school I've seen that has had a mascot at a game this year)

(Fresno's Easton batting helmets are like the football ones, with paw stickers and the ubiquitous green V symbolizing their pride in the San Joaquin Valley)

(Dogs are howlin'. Steve Susdorf and Steve Detwiler celebrate touching the dish.)

(Mission accomplished... so far. Coach Batesole's Bulldogs will head to the desert and take on Arizona State this coming weekend)

(Usual Friday starter Jeff Kaplan came in to pick up his first save of the season with three innings of work on the mound.)

(When UCLA was rallying late in the game, Cody Decker thought it would be good luck to go down the dugout and tap all the cleanly-shaven heads of his fellow players before a big pitch)

(Fullerton wins another Regional title with a hard-fought 5-4 win that coach Dave Serrano called "a great college baseball game between two evenly-matched teams". The scoreboard totals bear this out too.)

(Veni, Vidi, Vici! Jared Clark gives the crowd the thumb's up before shaking hands with the UCLA players.)

(Dave Serrano in post-game mode. And let me say, I know this may be stating the obvious here, but this guy's been wicked-good the last few years. Coach is just two wins away from becoming the first coach to lead two different teams to the College World Series in consecutive years.)

Once again the subject of regional assignments came up after tonight's game. UCLA coach John Savage was surrounded by a few reporters and was asked about being paired up with Fullerton in the post-season again. He was quick to respond with, "Well, we know out here you have to beat the Pepperdine's, Long Beach's and Fullerton's to make it to Omaha, and regardless of where we got placed, I felt like we had an Omaha-type team this year. So we're not going to make any excuses."

Then I asked him about if he was hoping to get sent out of the West for the regionals, he conceded, "Again, we had the team to make it to Omaha either way. But, I mean, just look at the brackets. You can do the math. Arizona gets sent out and makes it to the Super Regionals. UC Irvine gets sent out and makes it too. Look at the regionals that went to Monday games, six of the teams playing in them were West coast teams facing off with each other, so we had more of the competitive regionals too. I think that says a lot."

Quick note and R.I.P. here.
If there was ever a Mount Rushmore of rock-and-roll, Ellas Otha Bates, better known to us as Bo Diddley, would be in the running for one of those four spots on the Black Hills mountain. The McComb, Mississippi-born/Chicago-raised blues guitarist with his signature square box guitar was one of the giants of early rock-and-roll and rhythm and blues. And yes people, he did more than just star in the "Bo Knows" Nike commercials and George Thouroughgood "Bad to the Bone" video.

(Bo Diddley, in the early days, still with his signature square-box guitar.)

My favorite part of the Bo Diddley story? His mother's cousin who raised him bought him violin lessons as a youngster. But the minute Bo stumbled upon John Lee Hooker playing his guitar at a smokey Chicago blues club, his instrument of choice quickly became a no-brainer.

Bo Diddley died today at the age of 79.

I would like to take this time to thank ESPN for having the Fullerton Regional's final games of each day start at 8-freakin-PM West coast time. After I got home from tonight's/last night's game, I finally gave into exhaustion and hit the rack. So that's why I'm just now getting around to posting this here this morning. Mea culpa. But don't blame it on me.

G'night. Or rather, G'day.

June 02, 2008

Sunday Summations- 42 down. 22 to go.

I'm one of the lucky ones. There aren't many of you out there in Stitch-ball Nation that get to have two different regionals within driving distance of each other.

That's just what I did tonight, catching the San Diego win over Long Beach at Blair Field, then making the 22 minute drive over to Fullerton to see the Titans end Virginia's season with a 4-1 win.

With gas up in the $4.58 range here in SoCal (probably double what you're paying, right?), maybe it wasn't the smartest idea. But I'm a junkie, so I couldn't help myself. Across the L.A. basin I went in the name of stitch-ball's post-season. I'm sure there were plenty of people with similar frames of mind today at other regionals as well. We're all addicts.

(How important is college baseball? Even Roy Williams stuck out a rain delay to take in the North Carolina game in Cary today)

So after seeing what I saw today, what's my synopsis as these two regionals head to Monday finales? I like the momentum and depth of both San Diego and Cal State Fullerton, who both had to come back from the loser's bracket and now will play one of six regional game sevens.

Here's the slate for Monday:

Pepperdine at Stanford, 4pm
Georgia Tech at Georgia, 7pm
Tulane at Florida State, 7pm
Houston at Texas A&M, 7:30pm
Fresno State vs. San Diego (at Long Beach), 9pm
UCLA at Cal State Fullerton, 11pm

All times Eastern.

Now, here's what happened on Sunday, along with a few thoughts and notes:

Missouri - 6
Ole Miss - 9
Rebs come back from a 4-0 deficit to eliminate the Tigers. Got to see Ole Miss closer Scott Bittle for the first time this year as he struck out just about everybody that Mizzou dared to bring to bat. Logan Power-ered grand slam does the trick in the 8th. A no-doubter.

(Ole Miss stud hurler Scott Bittle shows us how he holds "The Thing" pitch. But I'm not so certain that Kurt Russell would approve... nor would it survive in the Antarctic)

Miami - 11
Ole Miss - 2
No surprise here. Sure, there were some hairy moments in the three game sweep, but today wasn't one of them. Ole Miss had to be totally out of energy. That heat and the pressure made it look like they were mailing it in here. Three errors really killed the Reb chances as the U raced out to a 7-2 lead after three innings. Eric Erickson, Kyle Bellamy and Carlos Gutierrez combined on the seven-hitter for the Canes.

Michigan - 6
Kentucky - 12
Bat Cats exact some revenge on the slightly weakened Wolverines from Friday's 2-run loss. UK blitzed out to a 7-1 lead after an inning and never really looked back after that. Sawyer Carroll and Collin Cowgill scored five of the 12 runs and knocked in four RBI between them. Michigan can only kick itself for leaving 17 men on base during the game.

Arizona - 5
Kentucky - 3
I predicted the Wildcats would win!... wait, you already knew that. My bad. But UofA did come out and 3-zip the field in Ann Arbor. Shades of the 2004 outfit that stunned its way to Omaha. The Cats were far and away the best team. Eric Berger picked up win No. 8 on the year. But UK tried to counter with using eight different pitchers today, but to no avail. Bobby Coyle's first home run of the year put Arizona up to stay at 2-0 in the 2nd inning.

James Madison - 5
South Carolina - 7
The Dukes weren't content with just showing up here. But the Gamecocks, who have been stymied a tad (that is of course, if you consider seven runs being stymied) had just enough offense to outlast JMU.

No. Carolina State - 2
South Carolina - 1
Guess what? And be ready to put this in big 72-point type headlines... Good pitching beats good hitting. The Pack ends the Cocks' season in a pitcher's duel. Yes, the words "pitcher's duel" and "Gamecocks" in the same sentence. But it was the Pack that lived up to its billing here, holding SC to three hits on the night. State has now gone 15.1 innings without having its bullpen give up a run.

Georgia - 14
Lipscomb - 3
Again, the Bison fall victim to one of those one-hit wonder type of things. No way the Dogs were going to lose this game. They get all the scoring they need with four runs in the first, with Gordon Beckham starting things with an RBI single and Rich Poythress knocking in two more runs on another single. Kind of wonder why Nathan Moreau was kept in the game all the way until the 7th. After a 6-0 lead after two, that lead was safe.

Georgia Tech - 0
Georgia - 8
Bulldogs don't just rebound. They rebound with a menace tougher than anything Glenn Danzig could throw out there. Nick Montgomery, a not-so-well-known senior arm, threw his first complete game on the mound, holding the Techsters to four hits and striking out nine along the way. This means the two rivals are tied in their season series at two games a piece. Tie-breaker comes tomorrow. Who's your money on?

Virginia - 1
Cal State Fullerton - 4
A tough season for UVa ends in a tough fashion. I'm not saying that this would've won the game for the Cavs, but in the 6th inning, and with the bases loaded and NO outs, the Wahoos hit into a potential 4-6-3 double play, but Greg Miclat was ruled out at second base AND a runner's interference for "rolling into the fielder." So instead, the Cavs had two outs, and the man on third had to return to his base.

Obviously, Wahoo coach Brian O'Connor was livid. It wasn't a blatant call. It wasn't even a "roll" by the runner. As you guys probably saw on TV, it was just slight contact. Bad call. And despite what Coach O'Connor says, it easily cost UVa a chance at picking up a W tonight. Huge call. Huge wrong call.

(Virginia coach Brian O'Connor had good reason to be hacked at 2nd base umpire Marc Lewis since it was his "runner's interference" call that shot the Cavs chances at a comeback.)

UCLA - 8
CSUF - 11
You heard ESPN announcers Clay Matvick and Kyle Peterson say it, UCLA was its own worst enemy tonight. Walks, HBP's, fielding gaffes, mental errors, etc. Unfortunately, the Bruins did it all tonight. Can you believe how different of a team this was from the one that beat the Titans the night before? That's why there will be a seventh and deciding game in the cool air of Fullerton tomorrow night.

The Titans played like the post-season veterans they are. Stealing bases, sacrificing, taking the extra base, playing good defense, making few mental errors and supplying the pressure. Let's see how that shakes out tomorrow. My money is on the Titans.

Stanford - 8
UC Davis - 4
See. The Cardinal just wanted to wait until it was REALLY important before they beat the Aggies. But it was also the WAY they did it that hurts. The Trees score five runs in the top of the 9th, two on a Brett Milleville home run and RBI singles from Zach Jones, Jake Schlander and Cord Phelps. Good season for Rex Peters and UCD. At 35-23, the Ags surpassed any and all expectations.

Pepperdine - 1
Stanford - 13
Ouch. The Cardinal came back with a mean demeanor tonight. And they never took the foot off the neck of the Waves. Cord Phelps and Toby Gerhart, the top two bats in the lineup, both went yard and combined for six hits, six runs and four RBI. Mound starter Danny Sandbrink threw a complete-game six hitter. And considering he had LONG waits between mound duties while the offense went off on PU, that's doing yeoman's work.

TCU - 8
Oklahoma State - 9
Little surprised the Pokes laid an L on Andrew Cashner, who is a really good reliever with nasty stuff. But then again, the IS Gary Ward U. Great back-and-forth game I wish I was at. TCU scores five in the 8th and one in the 9th to tie the game at eight. But Jordy Mercer jacked the first offering of the 9th from Cashner over the center field wall.

Wichita State - 11
Oklahoma State - 7
For the Shockers, it was pretty easy: just rely on your talented arms, right? Well, somehow that plan backfired to an extent, as tonight it took WSU's potent bats to score two runs in the 9th and four in the 10th to account for the regional-sealing win in Stillwater. clinton McKeever smashed a grand slam to account for the four run margin. That's so like the Shockers of the 90s if you ask me.

Florida State - 24
Bucknell - 9
You knew this would happen. I mean, nobody gets revenge quite like Mike Martin when he has the horses.

Tulane - 8
Florida State - 17
Buster Posey slams four home runs on the day as the 'Noles keep putting up football-like numbers since that inexplicable loss to Bucknell.. Ho-hum. Now... who here is going to bet against the Seminoles in tomorrow's second championship game? I didn't think there were any takers to that one. Good luck Greenies. I'm not sure if anyone here thinks you can do it.

UNC-Wilmington - 15
Elon - 11
At first I was impressed with Elon's six-run 6th inning. But that was the kidding pool compared to the Seahawks' tidal wave of a 9th inning which saw them score 11 runs. Eleven!! (And I don't use exclamation points often). Right fielder Bobby Leaper went 4-for-5 with three ribs to pace a 14-hit attack. Then again, the winner here was just fodder for the Heels to toy with. Right?

UNC-Wilmington - 3
North Carolina - 7
Hmmm. Did we really expect anything different? UNC rolls fairly easily in this regional. A very dangerous Coastal Carolina team comes calling this coming weekend. Be careful UNC. Or better yet, be concerned.

(Back-up catcher Mark Fleury was a triple short of hitting for the cycle and had three RBI on the day to help beat the Seahawks)

East Carolina - 16
Alabama - 1
Guess the Pirates didn't like the rude treatment they got from the Tide on Friday. Too many offensive stars to mention, but Justin Bristow goes 7.0 innings, giving up just four hits and two walks. Improves to 9-2. Like they have most of the season, Bama ran out of quality arms.

Coastal Carolina - 24
East Carolina - 10
Jeez. Looks like Gorilla Ball doesn't just live in Baton Rouge. A 13-run 2nd inning put things out of reach and take all the drama out of it. But it didn't mean the fireworks were done with. CCU hit five dingers, including a pair by David Anderson, who also knocked in five Chanticleer runs. With the win, Coastal ends the regional round with a record of 50-12. Sweet!

Nebraska - 0
Oral Roberts - 8
Well, tickets for the College World Series just got a whole lot easier for those going to The O without them (like me and my buds). Can't say I'm shocked by this one, I saw ORU play at Pepperdine earlier this season and they looked legit to me. But even with the light-hitting Huskers I wouldn't have guessed a two-hit shutout. Kelly Minisale went 8.1, giving up the two hits and Michael Jarman getting the final two outs (C'mon coach, you're up by eight. Just let Minisale polish things off. He wasn't going to give up two grand slams.)

UC Irvine - 8
Oral Roberts - 0
Tonight, Bryce Stowell struck out a career-high 13 Eagle hitters and Sean Madigan had a career-high five RPI to pace the Anteaters to a breezy rout of ORU. Think of the notches of victims in the UCI bullet belt: Texas, Wichita State and now, Nebraska. They've won in some tough places the last two years. With the W, Irvine moves on to Baton Rouge. Is this a great Super matchup or what?

Special props to Oral Roberts. If not for a team that is fundamentally sound and pitching strong like the Anteaters, it would be their second Super Regional in three years.

Southern Miss - 8
New Orleans - 2
Merely fodder for the Tiger cage.

LSU - 11
USM - 4
Again, the Tigers keep plastering people all over the yard. It wasn't the home run this time, though Leon Landry did go yard to put LSU up 3-0 in the 2nd inning. But Blake Dean had the big blow with a bases-loaded triple in the 6th inning to make this a no-brainer. This marks LSU's 17th regional title in program history.

Texas - 4
St. John's - 3
Credit the Horns for hanging one and moving to another regional title round. But also give some props to a game bunch of Johnnies. They came to play this weekend and showed well for the Big East, beating the Horns and playing Rice close until the bottom dropped out.

Rice - 7
Texas - 4
After committing two errors on one play in the 6th inning, the Owls found themselves in a 4-4 tie with their arch-nemesis Longhorns. But Wayne Graham got 2.1 innings of scoreless relief pitching from Bobby Bell and a three-run 7th inning to help put the Longhorns away and bring his Owls to their fourth consecutive Super Regional round.

Illinois-Chicago - 11
Houston - 14 (11inns.)
For the second year, the Flames just wanted to cause more trouble in the post-season (like last year's win over Long Beach). They got two walks and a wild pitch to help them score a game-tying four runs in the 9th inning to send the game to extras. But UofH got a crushing double from catcher Chris Wallace to account for the winning runs.

Texas A&M - 3
Houston - 4
The rabbit's foot is firmly in the Cougar pockets today as UofH completes the Flames-Aggies sweep and force another day of action. Another round of late-game heroics helped the Cougars pull out this win as well. Jake Stewart singled up the middle to score the game-winning run in the bottom of the 9th inning at Olsen Field. Frosh Jared Ray threw a complete-game five hitter to get the win. it was Ray's first career complete game, the kind of performance a coach needs in the post-season to extend the season.

Long Beach State - 1
San Diego - 5
Great game. Heavy emphasis on strategy and situational hitting and fundamental pllays all the way around. In the end San Diego made one or two more solid plays and got a great effort from starting pitcher Ricardo Pecina, who went 7.0 innings with six Ks and relief ace A.J. Griffin, who picked up his 14th save of the year, a new single season record for saves.

(USD's Logan Gelbrich tags Dirtbag leadoff man Jordan Casas on a play at the plate in the 6th inning)

San Diego - 15
Fresno State - 1
Aye-yaye! Old 'Mo is wearing Torero powder blue (actually, I didn't go to this game, so I have no idea if they wore the same light blue jerseys like they wore in afternoon win over Long Beach). Without the injured stud that is Tanner Scheppers, you have to like the pitching depth of San Diego in this one. That's just life. Cruel, I know. But another freshman arm, Kyle Blair, stepped up, going 7.0 innings, giving up four hits and striking out nine to improve to 8-4 on the year.

(Rich Hill says one of the important factors of his team's success is to keep the dugout loose and energetic. I s'pose this is one way to do that, bringing new meaning to the words "rally caps")

Vanderbilt - 10
Oklahoma - 11
Oh my. You kiddin' me on this one? What a game this was (where the hell was my lear jet when I needed it?). VU and OU trade runs left and right and the Sooners get the last laugh with a pair in the bottom of the 9th on a dinger that supplied the dagger. So do you consider this game a microcosm of the NCAA selections? Judging by the two wins for OU over the Commodores, guess the Sooners desrved the at-large bid after all and that the SEC is weaker than the committee thought. You surprised? Or not?

Arizona State - 12
Oklahoma - 0
Oh really. Like you're going to act surprised over this? Josh Satow improved to 9-3 on the year with 7.1 innings of three-hit work. Nice.

Only 22 teams still alive in this college baseball season. Hope yours is one of them. We'll pare it down to 16 after tomorrow. I'll see what I can do about getting out to see the two nearby regionals. Though, to be honest with you, I wish I was in Tallahassee or in Athens for one of those rivalry games for all the marbles.

Happy Monday boys.


June 01, 2008

Saturday Statements - Took some Pepto, not quite as upsetting of a day

Since day one of May-to-June Madness was all about the Earth-tilting upsets, I thought maybe we'd start our summation of today's action in the NCAA tournament by pointing out some of the surprising results from day two. But in the end, today started to bring a sense of normalcy to the tournament.

(Tommy LaSorda tells USD coach Rich Hill, "You know Rich, I've never told anyone this before, but I've always liked college baseball way more than pro baseball. Crazy huh?")

But there was still some stunning news, both on and off the field in college baseball today. Here's the best of the best...

1- UCLA tops Cal State Fullerton 11-4
After getting owned by the Titans for the last few years, including last year's Super Regionals, this was sweet revenge. Now the Bruins are in charge at 2-0. But the Titans have yet to use starters No. 2 and 3 available.

(This stat says it all about tonight's Bruin whitewashing. No wonder they're happy.)

2- Andrew Oliver, the Oklahoma State ace being declared ineligible just hours before the Cowboys' game with Wichita State. No details beyond that, but he would've started today. This means the Pokes are in trouble for coming out of this region.

3- Fresno shutting out USD, 6-0.
It's not a huge shock, but that the Bulldogs are playing so well is the upset here. Clayton Allison putting the clamps on the Torero offense to the tune of four hits is pretty awesome.

4- That Josh Romanski throws a 6-hitter against Fresno State and yet still suffers his first loss of the season.

5- Illinois-Chicago beat Dallas Baptist 9-5.
I'm starting to wonder if this was an upset after all. More on this below.

1- Wichita State in the catbird seat in Stillwater.
After today's 5-3 win over homestanding Okie State, the Shockers prove their arm staff is perfectly suited to make a deep run in the post-season.

2- Arkansas going 0-2.
Not good. Not good for anybody involved.

3- UC Irvine unbeaten in Lincoln.
The 3-2 win is typical Anteater baseball. Close, nerve-wracking, all about pitching and defense. I had a feeling they'd be successful in the Lincoln Regional. But then there's leadoff man Ollie Linton, the bunt-and-steal machine, who hits the game-winning home run. What's next, ice bergs in the desert?

4- LSU crushing its way through the Baton Rouge regional.
Other than Barry Bowden, who Southern Miss used in game one against New Orleans, there's not a pitcher in this field that was going to be able to stymie the Bayou Bashers. Five more home runs today.

5- The Bison slapped back to reality.
But let's give Bucknell and Lipscomb some credit too. They both played pretty good baseball in losses to Tulane (4-1) and Georgia Tech (6-3), pushing both powers to a full nine innings of white-knuckleness (if that's a word... probably isn't).

I've received a handful of Emails and texts concerning the NCAA Selection Committee's inclusion of the nine SEC teams. So since it's a rather sticky subject in stitched-ball nation, let's look closely at how the southern boys did today. After yesterday's horrible showing, today was a little bit better.

Overall mark: 5-5
(including UK's continuation of the Michigan game)

Who crapped out:
- Florida.
Lost 17-11 to Florida State. I think after the 4th inning, both teams just started using a tee instead of pitchers.
- Arkansas.
Lost 5-1 to Stanford. Going back to where they belonged in the first place, at home.

Who bounced back:
- Georgia.
Beat Louisville 9-8. Looked for a while that the Dogs were about to drop out in two at home, but a 7-run 7th inning helped them make a big comeback in this game.
- Kentucky.
Lost to Michigan 7-5, then beat Eastern Michigan 4-3. More on this below.
- Vanderbilt.
Beat Stony Brook 9-4. But you knew this was going to happen.
- Ole Miss.
Beat Bethune-Cookman 14-1. It was a relatively close game for the most part, until a 10-run 6th inning broke the Wildcats will. Michael Guerrero had two home runs in that inning alone. Hotty toddy!

Who dropped into the loser's bracket:
- Alabama.
Lost 13-10 to Coastal Carolina. Had a lead most of the game. Now will face an angry East Carolina squad tomorrow.
- South Carolina.
Lost 5-4 to North Carolina State. Just eight hits by the 'Cocks against five Pack pitchers.

Who kept the foot on the pedal:
- LSU.
Obliterated Southern Miss 13-4. Five more home runs in today's game, two by Matt Clark. Gorilla ball/Arena ball is back in BR.

After going unbeaten in games against teams outside of its region on Friday, the West shone well again on Saturday, going 4-0 against better competition.

- Arizona won at Michigan 4-3.
Wasn't easy though, because as everyone knows, the Wolverines are way better than their RPI. Still, UofA didn't go all Vandy against them.
- Arizona State beat Oklahoma 15-3.
In the words of Jane's Addiction, nothing shocking. OU will face off with Vandy again tomorrow.
- Stanford beat Arkansas 5-1.
I think I've mentioned this one enough already.
- UC Irvine 3-2 over Nebraska in Lincoln.
Nobody should be shocked by this one either. The Anteaters are just plain good, especially doing this against Husker ace Johnny Dorn.

The rest of the West was feeding off other fellow Westerners today. So there you go. Speaking of, here's some of that info...

Game One:

Long Beach - 9 13 0
Cal-Berkeley - 2 4 1
WP- Brett Lorin (5-3)
LP- Craig Benningson (4-5)

Now THIS might be the real No. 1 seed Dirtbags. Four hits? Against THAT lineup? Wow. Brett Lorin, who wasn't much of a factor in the Dirbag rotation as of just a few weeks ago, set the tone with 5.0 innings of 4-hit, 5-strikeout ball. Relievers Adam Wilk, Nick Vincent and David Roberts no-hit the Pac 10's second-best batting order the ret of the way. Yikes.

After complaining last night that his team only had "three quality at-bats all game long" vs. Fresno State, it's a good bet that this is a little bit more to what Coach Mike Weathers had in mind. Both RF Jason Corder and C Travis Howell combined for five hits and five RBI pacing a hot offense today.

"I know I said we only had about three quality at-bats last night, but today was much better. I lost count." Weathers said.

Jason Tweedy provided the at-bat of the day in the 4th inning. Clinging to a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning, Tweedy came up with guys on 2nd and 3rd. On a 1-0 count, Tweedy sliced a bloop into right field, scoring both Corder, who had advanced on a dropped third strike, and Danny Espinosa. Both Corder and Espinosa added RBI singles in the 5th inning to account for an insurmountable 7-run lead.

(Dirtbag Danny Espinosa slides into home for one of the nine Beach runs)

And that, of course, was insurmountable due to the Beach arms, a trait their notorious for flashing when needed. "Just like anything else this time of year, it's all about pitching. At this stage of the game you have to have good pitching."

When asked about the difference between today's game and the three-game sweep they fell victim to up in Berkeley during the regular season, Weathers claimed it was how Lorin handled the potent left handed bats of Josh Satin and David Cooper. "We didn't handle their left-handed bats very well up there. I thought Lorin was the difference. he really stepped up against them today."

Now, what about the Dirtbag prospects for fighting all the way back? Don't count them out. Nobody scraps like Long Beach does. They also have a relatively deep staff as well. Only problem might be their inconsistent offense.

"This team is fully capable of coming back to win this thing." team leader Espinosa said in the post-game. "There was a big difference between our team last night and tonight. You could just sense we were all taking it much more relaxed today. We were back to playing our kind of baseball."

And that may signal a return of the real Dirtbags.


San Diego - 0 5 2
Fresno State - 6 6 0
WP- Clayton Allison (3-5)
LP- Josh Romanski (9-1)

Before the game, I was going back to the car to grab a long sleeve shirt and lo and behold, I hear, "Eric Sorenson..." There's San Diego coach Rich HIll walking up to the stadium. When I asked him about his team's psyche, he immediately steered me to say, "Look, this is a joke." He said, while pointing toward the stadium. "I'd feel better about our chances if we weren't playing these teams in this regional."

He went on to tell me straight faced, "Fresno is not a 4-seed. They're playing as good as anybody out there now." He went on to tell me some other interesting things, though it turns out most of them were "off the record" to use the industry vernacular (Damn, why did I agree to that?)

In the end he was prophetic. Because Fresno did indeed play "as good as anybody out there" tonight. The biggest story was easily Clayton Allison, the 6'5" senior righty who looked imposing on the mound, in the box score and in the Toreros' head tonight. He ended the night giving up just five hits , three strikeouts and no walks.

"Clayton kept everything down. He threw three pitches for strikes and mixed things really well." Coach Mike Batesole said about Allison, who improved to 3-5 on the season with the complete-game gem. "You know, his won-loss record doesn't show it, but he led the conference in ERA, we just didn't play well behind him. He won 10 games last year and would've won 10 this year if we had played well behind him. Tonight we did."

(The imposing figure of Clayton Allison held the Toreros to five hits.)

The other big story was the work of third baseman Tommy Mendonca. Last night, the stud infielder left the game in the 3rd inning with what were thought to be dislocated fingers. As it turns out, it was "just a sprain." So what did Menonca do with his merely sprained knuckles? He went 2-for-3 with four RBI, including a bases-clearing double in the 4th inning that turned out to be the most important hit of the night.

"My hand bothered me a little bit. I kind of jammed it when I dove for that ball in the 5th. But it was fine. I shook it off." Mendonca replied.

With the win, Fresno heads to the title round in control of this ultimately competitive regional. When asked who he would go with tomorrow night, coach Batesole stated flatly, "I don't know. I really don't. I know one thing, I wish we had Tanner Scheppers, I know that." He said, referring to his weekend starting draft stud that is injured and unavailable.

Who knows, with a healthy Scheppers, that would've made this 4-seed play like... oh, maybe a national seed. Coach Hill would agree with that today.

(Erik Wetzel and Alan Ahmady lead a confident Fresno State team into Sunday's title round.)

Dallas Baptist - 5
Illinois Chicago - 9
After firmly planting myself on the Patriot bandwagon, maybe even going so far as to put on the conductor's hat for it, DBU bows out in two games. Sorry 'bout that guys. I knew going in that Jordan Meaker was a good staff horse, but the well was shallow after him. Sure enough, the Flames came back from a 5-2 deficit to plate five runs in the 5th inning alone to take the lead for good. DBU starter Victor Black got jumped for six runs in 4.2 innings. The top four in the UI-C order accounted for seven of the nine Flame hits, led by Ty Rubio, who went 2-for-2 with two RBI, two runs scored and two walks.

Illinois-Chicago's winning pitcher today was a reliever named Peter Ifft.

Missouri - 5
Miami - 6
It was a magic 8th inning for each team as the Tigers Steve Gray blasted a two-run home run to tie the game at five in the top of the inning. But that didn't last long as Frosh catcher Yasmani Grandal knocked in Dave DiNatale with the winning run in the bottom of the frame.

Still surprised that Kyle Gibson, the No. 2 starter most of the year, didn't get the start. Rick Zagone, who is an experienced arm, started instead. Gibson will now figure big in the Tigers comeback plans.

Oral Roberts - 8
E. Illinois - 7 (10inns).
Both teams traded runs in the 9th inning before Brendan Duffy hit the game-winning RBI in the top of the 10th. T.J. Kelly earned his 10th save of the year by tossing a perfect 10th inning. Have I typed "10th" enough here?

ORU now moves on to face Nebraska in an elimination game to see who will take on UC Irvine.

E. Michigan - 3
Kentucky - 4
After dropping the remainder of the Michigan game this morning by a 7-5 count, the Bat Cats fell behind Eastern 3-2 after two and a half innings. But from there, starting pitcher Greg Dombrowski and reliever Andrew Albers combined to make the Eagles go 20-up, 18-down the rest of the game. In fact, UK catcher Marcus Nidiffer threw out two attempted basestealers and also tagged a runner out at home. Good D and good arms. UK lives to see another day.

Nebraska - 2
UC Irvine - 3
The Anteaters pull out a white-knuckle pitching duel by pulling out the win against NU Friday ace Johnny Dorn. Now, in two games, the Huskers have used their No. 1 starter, No. 2 starter, No. 3 starter and relief ace already. Advantage Anteaters.

Daniel Bibona goes 8.0 innings, striking out seven and giving up all four Husker hits. Eric Pettis picks up his school record-tying 17th save. UCI also knocked out 11 hits in the game, stranding seven runners, compared to just two for the Cornhuskers. Looks like the road-tough 'Eaters have the Huskers where they want them now... playing Oral Roberts in a win-or-go-home game.

Texas A&M - 22
Houston - 6
Five home runs on the day including a pair by Kyle Colligan and the Aggies have now scored 37 runs in their first two games of the College Station Regional.

North Carolina - 5
UNC-Wilmington - 1
Unlike their fellow ACC mates who have been either losing games (FSU) or pulling their hairs out from stress (Miami, N.C. State and Georgia Tech), the Tar Heels are on cruise control. Alex White went the distance for the blue and white, giving up just three hits and striking out eight. With UNC-W's Jeff Hatcher tossing a really good game as well (complete-game seven-hitter with 9Ks), this game lasted just 2:07.

(Alex White gets some congrats from catcher Tim Federowicz after holding the molten-hot bats of UNC-Wilmington to just three wispy hits.)

I've received a few Emails and comments wondering if CBS College Sports was going to cover a regional and have a studio show between games as they've done the last few years during the Big Dance. Turns out that the big-wigs at CBS decided to put the studio "on hiatus" until mid-August in an effort to save a couple hundred thousand dollars. So that means, unlike the last two years, I wasn't going to be headed back to New York to do some in-studio work with Greg Amsinger and Adam Zucker during this opening weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Also, you'll note that the network is still televising the Lincoln Regional, but they aren't using any CBS College Sports staff for it, they're piggybacking Nebraska's N.E.T. coverage of the games. That's the same public broadcasting network based in Lincoln that televises a handful of Nebraska and Creighton games during the regular season.

And no, I'm not happy that the network that refers to itself as "the pulse of college sports" has decided to shut down just as the most important part of the season in the most important sport on the planet is upon us. Let's hope the CBS peeps treat our sport better in the future.

First pitch of the day:
8:01am Pacific time
For the continuation of the Kentucky-Michigan game from last night.

Last pitch of the day:
2:53am (Sunday) Eastern time
UCLA tops Fullerton 11-4 in the wee hours of the night.

All times local. All conditions intolerable.
- Highest Temperature:
Packard Stadium, Tempe, Arizona: 99 degrees at 3pm

- Highest Heat Index:
Alex Box Stadium, Baton Rouge: 104 degrees at 2pm

- Lowest Temperature:
Sunken Diamond, Palo Alto: 54 degrees at 8:30pm

(Alex Box Stadium has been hotter than the LSU bats this weekend. By the way, I withstood 61 degree temps at the end of tonight's second game in Long Beach. In a word, ahhhhhhh!)

- Biggest crowd for a home team:
Haymarket Park, Lincoln, Nebraska - 8,646

- Smallest crowd for a home team:
Foley Field, Athens, Georgia - 1,901

More seasons will end tomorrow. So, get your beauty sleep since the Fullerton regional will end at sometime around 2am again on Monday. Wicked!



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