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
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.
WHAT I SAW OUT AT FULLERTON---
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.