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:
- Wild Pitch
- Home Run
- Home Run
- Home Run
- Error on 2B
- Pop Up
- 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.