We’re off, and it really seems early to me. It was 11 below here in Omaha about two weeks ago, then shot up to 67 last week. Welcome to the ever-changing climate of the Midwest. With streaks like that though, it makes the mandatory start date even more important. Teams like Creighton have a little [...]
That is the way it is supposed to go out. The extra inning walk off single by Whit Merrifield gave South Carolina their first national title and turned out the lights at Rosenblatt Stadium. After losing their first game of the CWS, the Gamecocks rode an underappreciated pitching staff through the rest of the tourney. One of the greatest things about the CWS every year is the unexpected performances that come about. There was no need to start Michael Roth during the regular season, he was much more effective as a reliever. When Ray Tanner called his number for his first start of the year though, Roth was better than anyone could have expected. Relievers are conditioned differently than starters. More sprints, less distance, so the fact that Roth went the distance in his first start is even more impressive.
Omaha is also a place where legitimate stars are introduced to the entire country. College baseball fans knew who Jackie Bradley Jr. was, now the nation knows who Jackie is. I had a chance to spend some time with him over the past two weeks and I could not be more impressed. He can really play, but the way that he handled the attention and exposure was more telling to me. That ability is what sets guys apart as they move forward in their careers. The farther you go in this game, the more eyes that are on you. Jackie seems like he is perfectly suited for the ride that is almost certain to follow. The at bats were advanced, almost like he was looking for a specific pitch every at bat. He is not a burner, but the jumps are outstanding in center. He was a pleasure to watch in Omaha.
I was also very happy to see Ray Tanner hoist the trophy. He is a true professional, and I have always enjoyed covering his teams. This year’s South Carolina crew was a little different than the previous teams that Tanner had brought to Omaha. They could still hit, but the power numbers were not as gaudy as in years past. What was gaudier was the depth of the pitching staff and the ability to defend. This year in Omaha held true to what most of the previous ten years have established…pitching and defense win in Omaha now.
The reality of the CWS final is that someone has to lose, and too often that team’s run is entirely forgotten. John Savage and his staff put together one helluva squad. The pitching is obvious, but some of their position players can really play the game too. I really like Amaral and Regis, they can be anchors in a lineup for the next two years. Their staff was as advertised too. Cole can be electric, Bauer is quirky but he can really pitch, and Rasmussen is very polished and could head through the minir leagues pretty quickly. In the pen, I would bet that Klein is turned into a starter in pro ball because the secondary pitchers are so could and he can throw three for a strike. Rodriguez is a guy that was really overlooked the entire year. Somebody needs to catch these guys, and Rodriguez was solid behind the dish. Losing Rahmatulla was a giant loss, defensively and offensively. They get him back next year as well, and Savage will have one of the top teams in the country to start the season next year too.
Enjoy your summer, go catch a few summer league games if you have any that are close. I am sad to see Rosenblatt go, but cannot wait to get inside TD Ameritrade next June…
Away we go…the final year at Rosenblatt is now underway and it started with two impressive pitching performances. Start with Matt Purke, the super frosh who was all that was advertised in TCU’s first ever appearance at the CWS.
I wrote earlier this year that I thought TCU was deserving of a national seed. After missing out on a national seed, the Frogs rolled through a home regional and then beat a Texas team on the road that was my pick to win it all. They did it today thanks to solid fundamental baseball and the left arm of Matt Purke. This kid is really good, and he headlines a group of arms in Omaha this year that is really impressive. His stuff is outstanding, but that is just the tip of the story. He allows a run in the first, then puches out the side. After that, Florida State got two more hits, and one was an infield single. FSU is a very good club, they did not take many comfortable swings. Purke has now gone 14 2/3 innings against Texas and Florida State in the postseason and allowed a grand total of one earned run. He also set the tone today in the first inning and his offense responded with 5 runs in the bottom of the first. Great start for the Frogs,
and they are dangerous.
Now to the Bruins, who have the deepest pitching staff here in Omaha. John Savage liked the matchup of Trevor Bauer against the Gators tonight and it paid off. The Bruins now have Gerritt Cole and Rob Rasmussen ready for the next two games, and they are in a very good spot right now. The Tyler Rahmatulla injury was one of the toughest for a team heading to Omaha that I can remember. He literally was the reason that they were still standing. At the Bruins’ practice at Rosenblatt on Friday, they let Rahmatulla take two swings, with one hand, at the end of BP. Pretty cool touch by Rick Vanderhook. Solid start for the Bruins and the Cole v. TCU matchup in the winner’s bracket on Monday should be really good.
The Bracket One team that starts 2-0 can throw their ace again on Friday if they want. It would be on 5 days rest. If you are three starters deep, which TCU and UCLA both are, you have a clear advantage given the schedule.
Day two should be just as good, with OU and South Carolina getting things started at 2 Eastern. Enjoy.
I thought it might be interesting to some of you to hear what happens in preparation for the airing of the selection show.
Selection Monday is one of my favorite days of the year. This year’s edition was different than before though, and the beauties of live television reared their heads this past weekend.
I was due to broadcast the SEC Championship game from Hoover and had a blast doing it. The venue a good one and the crowds, especially when Auburn or Alabama were playing, were pretty impressive. The amount of RV’s was sick, there had to be over 150 of them parked side by side with flags flying high. The plan was to do the game at 1:00, then head to the airport afterwards for a 6:45 flight to Hartford. I was to land about midnight, make the trek to Bristol the next morning and post up ready to read the bracket by about 9 on Memorial Day. Sounds like plenty of time…unless it rained.
When we started on time I thought I was home free, but a rain delay in the 5th inning was the first hiccup. We were back underway at about 3:30, and to the 9th inning by 4:45…still looking good. Then came the lighting, and with it my chances for making the last flight that would get me to Hartford in time for the show the following day. ESPN Regional Television has studios in Charlotte, so I booked a flight for the following morning and we would then do the show from two different sites. Of course my bags were gone, why wouldn’t they be, and with the missing bags was my suit. The hits just keep on coming. The good folks at Delta ran down the bag in about an hour, and I was to the studio at about 10:15 with just over two hours to go before air.
We usually get the brackets at about 9 AM Eastern time on Monday, and we had them a little earlier this year. I had the bracket in hand while still at the airport, and then banged away when I got the studio to get ready for the show. The show itself is just ½ hour, but the leadup takes a lot longer than that. I had been in touch with my producer Paul Palmer for the past few weeks, discussing story lines and working together to make sure that the supporting video was pulled together. On the morning of the show, we go over the exact breakdown of the show and the format is scheduled to the minute. The reality is that I end up talking too much and Paul’s best laid plans are revised mid show. Ryan Burr was the play by play guy and we went through the brackets as well mid Monday morning. After a few hours of prep and one rehearsal we were off.
The toughest thing about the show is the time…it is tough to really break things down. I will say this about the committee; I think they nailed it this year. They have a very tough job. Try comparing the resumes of the last 5 teams in, and the last 5 teams out this year. In reality, many played themselves out of the tourney in the past few weeks. I also thought that the national seeds were well put together as well. Many have talked about Coastal getting a higher national seed than UVA. I agree, but it really does not make any difference at all. That is the same with 2 and 3 seeds. In essence, they are the same. My only two issues are with TCU missing out on a national seed and the continued regionalization of the Super Regionals.
My argument for TCU revolves around the RPI, which I think is a crutch sometimes in the selection process. TCU was severely penalized for two losses to Air Force, games that they should have absolutely won. Air Force had an RPI near 250 and those two losses literally cost the Frogs a shot at a national seed. I just don’t think that two games should overshadow an entire year. They were the only team to go the distance without losing a weekend series. They also took 2 of 3 at Fullerton and were 7-3 against the Big 12. I think that should overshadow the two bad losses. This is one piece of the selection process that deserves another look.
The second piece is the Super Regional matchups. It is time to seed the top 16 teams and let the tournament play the rest out. The game has grown to that point. I understand wanting to keep teams within a regional closer to home, I don’t think that we will get past that for a long time. We do need to get past the next step though, and I hope that is one change that happens over the next few years.
A few quick plugs. I attended the premiere of a documentary on Rosenblatt Stadium tonight in Omaha called The Long Home Run. The NCAA and Creative Street Studios have combined to make a film that really captures the essence of the stadium and its journey over the past 60 years. I am a little biased as my son made his film debut, but the project was outstanding and will appear tomorrow night on ESPNU as we lead into the postseason. Lastly, I am fired up to welcome Eric Byrnes to ESPN this weekend as we head to Miami to call the regionals. It will be a blast working with a guy that I really respected as a player. His take on the game will be refreshing and it should be a really good listen.
Enjoy the weekend, I will check in sometime throughout to update the action. The Road to Omaha officially begins on Friday at noon eastern on ESPNU…have a blast.
Less than a week away from selection Monday and we enter the last week with some great storylines. The race for the top eight national seeds seems to be a race for the final two spots. Texas, Arizona St., Virginia, Florida, Coastal Carolina and Louisville have locked up spots in my opinion. The top three have been set for a few weeks, and each has strengthened their hold recently as well. Florida locked it up with a series win in Columbia, and the Coastal sweep at Liberty and undefeated run through the Big South has solidified their hold. For Louisville, the consistency all year has been impressive. I still think the trip to Oxford was a key. Although Ole Miss has stumbled down the stretch, Louisville won that series with Clark and Richmond on the bench. They are back now and the top seven in the Cardinal lineup will match up with any in the country.
The last two spots should be between six others. In the end, you can make pretty good arguments for and against the next six teams. This is truly a case where the last week of the season makes a huge difference in the race for the final two seeds.
I had South Carolina solidly in before this weekend, and I still think that they will end up as one of the eight. At least one win in Hoover will go a ways though, and two wins should make them a lock. They have really pitched this year and the lineup has some youth and experience with a very solid balance top to bottom. Sam Dyson could be a difference makes in the postseason. If he is on, his stuff is pretty filthy.
After a midseason lull, UCLA has finished with a flourish and now finds themselves squarely back in the mix for a national seed. After getting swept in Tempe, the Bruins have gone 11-1 down the stretch and have won nine games in a row in a solid Pac-10 conference. The catch might just the mid week game at Fullerton, which the Titans won 5-2. It’s not an RPI killer, but the squad that beat them is in the national seed mix too.
Fullerton is officially back, and the Titans’ past six weeks has them clicking at the right time. With the staff that Fullerton returned, and a solid mix of Gary Brown, Christian Colon and others back in the lineup, Fullerton looked to be a one of the top teams in the country heading into the season. They sputtered out of the gate though, and sat just 12-11 as they entered April. Since then, Fullerton is 25-4 and they have clinched the Big West prior to the last week in the conference. The Titans’ record against the Top 50 RPI teams is not stellar, but they are as hot as anyone in the country. Also, Fullerton won both mid-week games against the Bruins this year, that could figure into the discussion too.
TCU seems to be overlooked in every national seed projection right now, but I still think that they belong in the discussion. They ran away with the Mountain West crown, but have dropped a few games in conference that have buried their RPI. I have been more impressed with their non-conference slate though, as they played ten games against the Big 12 and took 2/3 in Fullerton at the beginning of the year. They were hurt by the overall struggles within the conference and in the end I think that will drag the RPI down too far to finish with a national seed on Monday.
Auburn is the newest addition to the discussion but five straight winning weekends in the SEC will do just that. The season ending run by the Tigers has forced them into the national spotlight. They won the SEC West with a convincing sweep of Ole Miss in Oxford last week, and a SEC tournament championship could vault them over South Carolina into a national seed. Even though it was a few months back, one win in Tempe would have really helped.
The last team in the discussion is Georgia Tech. The Wreck could win 46-48 games while playing in the ACC, which is a great feat. The non-conference slate as not great and that could cost them in the end. Catching Georgia on a down year did not help the non-conference strength either, but that is something they could not control. They can really score, and if they run through the ACC tourney and win it they have a very good argument.
The bubble argument heats up this week two and in the end it is an absolute coin flip. If you are a bubble team, go grab your Florida Gulf Coast, Rice and Coastal Carolina. gear. Each is a lock for the tourney, and each of their respective conferences is potentially a one bid league if the above win the tourney. The past few years have shown that just getting in the dance gives you a chance. Fresno St. won it all as a four seed and Oregon St. was reportedly the last team in the tourney when they won their second national title in a row.
Enjoy the week, it is the most entertaining of the season prior to Memorial Day. I head to Hoover this weekend for the SEC Championship game on Sunday then on to Bristol for the selection show on Memorial Day. I am planning on posting a play by play of the lead-up to the selection show sometime early next week. Memorial Day in the studio is one of my favorite days of the year. I’ll take you through everything that goes into the show, and the limited time that we have to put it all together. Until then, enjoy the tourneys and the last week of the regular season. It should be a great ride from here on in…
First and most definitely foremost, let me welcome the fabulous Stitch to ESPN. His take on the game is always a great read and it is a great addition to ESPN’s college coverage.
It’s time to focus on the mid majors as we head closer to selection Monday. As we near Memorial Day, two mid-majors are squarely in the discussion for national seeds. TCU passed an impressive test this week by winning two of three at New Mexico, then winning two so far this weekend against Air Force. The Frogs put 26 on the board to win the series clincher on Sunday and essentially clinch the regular season crown in the Mountain West. I think that TCU deserves a national seed. They travelled out of conference and played a very tough non-conference tilt. In addition, the one thing that a team cannot control is the yearly strength of schedule within the conference. I discussed their resume a little last week, but they have not ducked anyone out of conference and have fared pretty well against most. Barring a late season let down, the Frogs should be hosting throughout in my opinion.
Coastal Carolina heads to Liberty this weekend in a battle of the top two teams in the Big South. With a solid outing by Anthony Meo, the Chants won game one and pushed their Big South record to 21-0. You better keep their 1-2 off the bases, because Rico Noel and Scott Woodward have now combined to steal 89 bases this year. Liberty now stands at 18-4 in conference, and they probably need to win one of the final two games this weekend to punch their post season ticket. The RPI is respectable, and the season resume is impressive. Jim Toman’s club has a great argument now and should be on solid ground, but a winning weekend against the clear leaders in the conference will go a long ways. For the Chants, a national seed could mean two straight weeks in Conway and a chance at their first ever trip to Omaha. This first trip will happen in the next few years, and a national seed might be the boost that Coastal needs. To attain it though, they almost assuredly have to win the series this weekend against the Flames.
The most visible series this weekend is in Atlanta, where Jim Morris returns to Georgia Tech to take on the Ramblin Wreck. The winner of the series re-enters the national seed discussion, while the loser has to fight next weekend to hold on to a 1 seed. Miami seems to be a forgotten team this year and I am not sure why. Yasmani Grandal is one of the top players in the land and Jim Morris’ crew has put up solid numbers all year. For Tech, the early start garnered headlines but the late season results will determine whether they travel or stay put in early June. Game one was an impressive night again for Deck McGuire, and the Wreck’s offense banged out 15 hits. If Tech finishes 4-1 in conference the rest of the way, they are right in the national seed discussion as well. For the Canes, it would probably take winning the last two in Atlanta and then 2 of 3 against UVA next weekend in Coral Gables.
Staying in the ACC, the Carolina trip to UVA this weekend might determine their post-season fate as well. Some have the Heels on the outside looking in right now and this weekend does not make things any easier. It does give us possibly the top Saturday pitching matchup in the country though, as Harvey v. Hultzen should be something to watch. Those that have seen Hultzen this year are raving again, and Harvey has been as good as anyone in the country over the past six weeks.
Interesting night in the SEC last night as well. South Carolina and Blake Cooper taking game one in Fayetteville is the headliner. The USC RPI will jump with a series win this weekend, Boydsworld.com had them at 15 this morning. If the Gamecocks win the series, next weekend’s conference finale against Florida will allow them to control their own destiny in the national seed race. I think Florida is a lock national seed right now, and the 9th inning rally last night against Georgia should give them a boost the rest of the weekend. You almost feel sorry for Dave Perno and the Dogs right now, they have figured out numerous ways to lose close games all year. The most interesting topic in the SEC right now is the race for the 8th and final spot in Hoover. Kentucky’s walk off win in Lexington last night off of Matty Ott gives them a two game lead over Alabama and Tennessee with 5 to play. There is a decent chance that the 9th place team gets in the dance. Tennessee has been on fire the past few weeks and a strong finish could be enough, even if they miss the SEC tourney. One last note, watch out for Vandy as they try to make a late run to host. They will play two less conference games because of the rain in Nashville a few weeks ago…those two games against Georgia could have bumped their conference record.
While the Big 12 and Pac-10 conference races appear to be over, the bubble discussion has taken center stage in each conference. In the Pac, six should be safe. Arizona St. is a lock for a national seed, and UCLA, Stanford, Cal, Arizona and Oregon should be in. I expect a seventh team to come out of the Pac and Washington St. and Oregon St. might be fighting for that spot. The Beavers are all over the map, but have played better the past two weeks now. A series sweep of Oregon threw them back into the discussion and they won game one last night against UW. The kicker…they go to Tucson and then host the Devils to finish out the regular season. A strong finish gets them in. Wazzu dropped game one last night in Palo Alto as the Cardinal scored 5 in the 8th to win 8-7. One last note…a strong finish for UCLA and they are right back in the hunt for one of the last national seeds.
In the Big 12, Texas has locked up the regular season crown and a national seed. K St. and Oklahoma are absolutely in and A&M and Texas Tech should be comfortably in as well. Kansas needs a hot finish, and a few wins in the Big 12 tourney, to get back into the mix. One note in the Big 12, the tourney is set up as two 4 team brackets, with seeds 1,4,5 and 8 on one side and seeds 2,3,6 and 7 on the other. I point this out because there is a clear advantage to having the 6 or 7 seeds as opposed to 4 or 5. You avoid Texas in the first round of the tourney, which should lead to an easier route to the finals.
One last note on the national seed hunt, Louisville was stung last night by St. Johns as super frosh Jeremy Baltz went deep four times. He now has 18 jacks this year as the Johnnies try to stun Louisville at home this weekend. The Cards dropped a mid-week game to Vandy this week as well and still need to finish strong to claim a national seed. UConn dropping game one at USF stings their hosting chances as well. It might come down to UConn and Vandy for one of the last host locations in the country this year.
I will try to post later tonight after game two of the Ole Miss v. Alabama series in Tuscaloosa. 4 PM Eastern start time on ESPN2. Tune in, we will have plenty of national discussion about the last few weeks as well.
By the way, give me Super Saver to win the Preakness as Calvin Borel wins on the rail again…talk to you soon.
The race for the top eight national seeds is officially in full swing, and the suspects are thinning. For me, there are three clear leaders in the discussion…Arizona St., Texas and Virginia have virtually locked up three of the eight. UT and ASU are among the hottest teams in the land, and UVA has lost only one series all year and leads the ACC conference. They will head to Miami to finish the season, with Miami a contender to claim a national seed as well. The Canes visit Georgia Tech this coming weekend before hosting the Cavs.
I expect that two of the remaining 5 will come from the SEC, with Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina now in the discussion. The Hogs losing two of three this past weekend to Auburn will bump them down a little. For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that two of the above three SCE teams emerge with national seeds and Miami claims one as well. That leaves two to go, with Coastal Carolina, UCLA, Louisville and TCU all in the mix. I think that Louisville’s RPI will be tough to pass up, and the series win at Ole Miss continues to look better as the season moves along. The last is the most interesting to me for a variety of reasons. Let’s go team by team…
Start with Coastal, who could will win 50 games prior to regionals this year. The non-conference schedule has been impressive, with wins over Virginia Tech, UC Irvine (twice), NC State, Pitt, Clemson and North Carolina. The only series loss of the year was to San Diego at home, and they are now 17-0 in the Big South this year. The challenge for the Chants is keeping the RPI where it is (currently about 7th). If Coastal finishes the season with a top eight RPI, it will be very tough for the committee not to award them a national seed.
To UCLA, who just three weeks ago would have been in the discussion for top overall seed in the nation. The Bruins have gone 3-6 in the league over the past three weeks though and this weekend’s sweep at the hands of the Devils will not help. It will take some work over the last four conference series’ for the Bruins to re-enter the national seed discussion.
Finally to TCU, which seems to be getting hurt by the RPI the most. The Frogs have a series win at Fullerton and are 7-3 against the Big 12 this year. Granted, the Big 12 is down overall, but that is still an impressive number. They will host New Mexico next weekend in a series that should determine the league champ. I suspect that even with a great finish, the Frogs will be just outside of the top 8 but there is a very good argument to include them in the mix. If the SEC or ACC contenders slip up, the Frogs could sneak in to the 8th spot, but it looks like the will be hosting regardless.
I was in Gainesville this past weekend for LSU at Florida and came away very impressed with the Gators. There are not a lot of holes on this club. Defensively they are very sharp up this middle, with the freshman shortstop Fontana fielding .995 so far this year. I talked about it a lot on the air today, but that is an amazing number. He also leads off, and was impressive in that role as well. The rotation all pitched well this weekend, and Kevin Chapman came in throwing 95 on Saturday night to shut down an LSU rally. Matt den Dekker looked good in the 2 hole, and the youngsters in the middle of the lineup can really swing it themselves. I think that Florida will be there at the end of the year, and the last weekend series in Columbia against South Carolina could help determine who gets a national seed.
LSU on the other hand is really scuffling right now. Paul Mainieri went to Matty Ott for the first time in his career today (he has 57 career appearances out of the pen prior to the start today). Ott really struggled to keep the ball down consistently and UF made him pay today. The fact that they started Ott says a lot about the spot they are in right now. I also say Ranaudo on Friday night and he struggled again. The velocity was getting back to where it was last year (he hit 94 during the game), but he took a liner off his leg and that led to an early exit. I did not see the control of the fastball that I saw last year and the ball is still not sinking consistently. For LSU to make any run at the end of the year they will need Ranaudo to anchor them on Friday nights. Micah Gibbs impressed me again and Mahtook showed why he should be a first rounder next year. He hit the first pitch of the game into the seats on Saturday and took some impressive swings over the course of the weekend.
More later this week, I head to Oxford again this coming weekend for Ole Miss and Arkansas. That should be quite a setting this weekend as the eastern division lead in the SEC is on the line.
I have written earlier this year about midweek games and how misleading they can be. Let me clarify that statement, since yesterday’s action proved again why these games really do matter. I still think that the weekend series’ over the course of the year prove who the real contenders are. That being said, midweek games can help decide where you play in early June. Take yesterday for example…Coastal Carolina entered yesterday’s action with the top RPI in the country. Both Boydsworld.com and the NCAA had the Chants as the top RPI team in the country, but after a midweek loss to UVA they Chants now stand at 5th. UVA moves up one spot to 2nd. If you get a chance, go check out Boydsworld.com’s RPi needs report for the remainder of the season, it is a great read on who is in the best position to host at the end of the year. Due to the RPI struggles of the Big South, Coastal has to nearly run the table to stay in the top 8 of the RPI. UVA on the other hand has some room for error due to the strength of the ACC. My point; the midweek games can go a long way to determining RPI strength at the end of the year, and the mid-week loss to UVA could prove costly come selection Monday. For the record, if Coastal wins the conference and takes 2 of 3 from Liberty, I think they should be a national seed. The body of work is there, but the RPI could be a little light in a few weeks.
I had the biggest let down of my broadcasting career this weekend when the LSU- Ole Miss game was rained out on Friday night. The crowd was supposed to be giant, and the setting was perfect for a matchup of two of the top arms in the college game. Instead, we watched it rain for a few hours. The matchup ended up a letdown in the mound, and the series as a whole sent LSU to a point that few thought they would be in just a few weeks ago. If the season ended today, LSU would not be a national seed. A sweep at the hands of the Rebs pushed the Tigers to an unfamiliar spot. The get their chance to re-enter the discussion this weekend though as the travel to Gainesville to face Florida. Kevin O’Sullivan’s club now sports the top RPI in the land, and LSU can make up some serious ground with a solid showing this weekend. For Ole Miss, the sweep if LSU brought them back to the hosting discussion. This past weekend was my first trip to Oxford. Solid spot, and the renovations to the ballpark were very well done. I look forward to the return trip next weekend when the Rebs take on Arkansas.
To last weekend, when Texas proved again why they are the most balanced team in the land. I looked today, UT leads the nation in ERA and Fielding percentage…not a bad 1-2 punch. They are also near the top of the Big 12 in HR’s and the offense has been a pleasant surprise this year for the Horns. On top of that, while Jungmann has been lights out this year, Cole Green may be the national pitcher of the year. 9-0 with a 1.82 ERA and more then 20 less hits then innings pitched. Chance Ruffin has been pretty salty in the closer’s role too…An ERA right at 1 with 60 k’s in 42 ip. The Horns are the team to beat right now in my opinion.
South Carolina continues their impressive run and Virginia Tech should have punched their ticket to the post season barring a late season collapse. The Hokies travelled south to Georgia Tech and promptly took 2 of 3. They have now gone through a three weekend gauntlet and emerged 5-4 against Miami, Virginia and Georgia Tech. I am impressed, I know that. Rice made a statement too with a home sweep of East Carolina. Doubt Wayne Graham at your own risk, the man knows how to coach. Stanford stayed hot with a 3 game sweep of Cal. A three run ninth inning sealed the Bears’ fate this past weekend and Stanford has now won their last seven conference games to climb into 2nd place.
More this weekend from Gainesville, I look forward to seeing the talented Gators for the first time this year. Keep an eye on UCLA v. Arizona St in Westwood this weekend too. That should be a beauty.
The mid season mayhem portion of the college baseball schedule is now in full swing. As I write this on Saturday night, Oregon has taken the first two in Westwood, the Cardinal have taken the first two in Corvallis, Texas continues to pitch out of their minds and the ACC and SEC races are starting to really take shape. Let me start in Fayetteville, where I had the chance to see Arkansas and Georgia last night during my first trip to Baum stadium.
As I wrote earlier this week, the Arkansas trek this weekend was a family affair. My dad and son Teddy made the trip with me and we had a blast. I do want to thank the fine folks at the hotel for posting a Medieval Times brochure at the eye level of a five year old. The only problem, the restaurant was in Dallas. As we entered the hotel, Teddy grabbed the brochure and seemingly had dinner planned out for the night. Try explaining to a five year old that Dallas is not a dinner trip from Fayetteville. Miniature golf got the call instead and I took two Gatorades from Teddy on the back nine. He did crush the White River on Friday though as he pulled a few Crappies and one White Bass out (catch and release of course). This takes the cake for trip of the year, nothing beats a father-son squared weekend on the road.
To the game…and the atmosphere. My first trip to the Natural State did not disappoint. Dave Van Horn has created a monster in Fayetteville. Most college fans know of Baum stadium, but the growth since Van Horn took over is pretty impressive. They now have 32 luxury suites (all sold out) that extend down each baseline and the feeling is still collegiate. He also has a pretty salty squad this year. Zack Cox is the headliner and rightfully so. Show me a more complete hitter in college baseball right now. What impressed me even more though were the guys that surrounded him. I saw many of them in Omaha last year, but the lineup right now is very offensive. Bo Bigham was the sparkplug as he reached base five times. He is a perfect guy to hit in front of Cox, Wilkins and Eibner. He showed patience and really seemed to get his role…all with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Wilkins has big time power and his 3 run HR in the first really spun the game early. Oh, Drew Smyly was pretty good himself. The lefthander gave up two in the first and then cruised through the last eight innings for his first career complete game. His variance with the fastball probably impressed me the most. The velocity on the fastball was between 84-93 mph, a range that I don’t know that I have ever seen. The top end velo was better than I remembered and he proved why he is a true Friday night guy. Arkansas is for real, I would be very surprised if they are not hosting throughout and fighting for another trip to Omaha.
One quick note on Georgia. They are obviously scuffling right now, but I do think that they will get it turned around next year. The pitching struggles and injury problems have been too much to overcome but I really like Dave Perno and his staff. There is some talent there, but there are pretty beat down right now.
On the national front, give me George Horton as the coach of the year thus far but keep Brad Hill in the discussion. No one could have imagined the success that the Ducks have had this year. They were the first team to best Arizona St., and have now taken the first two from UCLA on the road after a series win at Stanford last weekend. They did not have a program three years ago, and definitely took their lumps last year during the first year on the field. But with a pitching staff that ranks among the deepest (and best statistically) in the country, Horton’s crew has thrust themselves into the post season mix and no one will want to play them in early June. In Manhattan, Brad Hill has succeeded this year in a year that most thought the Cats would take a step back. They lost AJ Morris and his 14 wins from a team that won 43 games last year. The Cats have won the first two this weekend against Baylor and now sit at 8-3 in the Big 12 thus far. They have a tough road ahead with series’ against Texas, Oklahoma, KU and A&M still to come but the resume thus far is still pretty impressive.
One stat note, check out the top team era’s in the country when you have a minute. Last year, the top four team era’s, and five of the top nine nationally, were represented in Omaha at the end of the year. Pitching still gets you to the top and this year is starting to look like the same formula.
Have a great night, I will recap the weekend more in depth early this week.
I now get why parents pace when their kids are playing sports. This past weekend, my 5 year old son Teddy strapped on his Easton spikes for the first time and the Omaha Suburban Brewers took the field in our first official practice. My pre-season email that encouraged parents to follow a strict 8 week strength and conditioning program was met with some interesting looks. Only after I told them that I was completely kidding did they trust me with their sons. Teddy’s dad forgot the bases in the garage so we had to settle for a makeshift first base. The first practice highlights included numerous mid-drill bathroom breaks, a crossfire during catch that has to be among the very best ever, and a dirt house extravaganza that the Ancient Greeks would have been proud of that took shape sometime during batting practice. Next week, we venture into the field for the first time to talk about positions. Stay tuned…my wonderful ride through T-Ball season number one is just beginning.
I did something this past Friday that I rarely do…I became a fan again. Don’t misunderstand me, I always enjoy watching the games that I cover. As a former pitcher though, I got caught up in the Pomeranz v. Grimm spectacle this past Friday in Athens. Both were impressive, but Pomeranz was just a little better this night. The Ole Miss ace punched out 15 over 8+ innings and was absolutely dominant. The fastball was 90-94 but what impressed me most was the ability to go inside to a RH hitter. The ability to throw a fastball to the opposite arm side of the plate is a skill that few can brag of. Pomeranz not only commanded the pitch, he used it as a pitch to finish hitters off when ahead in the count. The curve ball is pretty filthy too…a knuckle curve that is thrown in a way that really decreases the stress on his throwing elbow. Pomeranz does not turn the ball over, rather he flicks the ball out of his hand with his index knuckle and the result is true 12/6 spin. I have Pomeranz v. Renaudo in Oxford a week from this Friday on ESPNU…if you are a college baseball fan this really is appointment viewing. They should be the top two college pitchers taken in this year’s draft.
Justin Grimm from UGA was pretty darn good himself. Grimm gave up 2 earned in 8 IP and he really cruised until the 7th inning. Grimm was consistently in the low to mid 90’s with solid control of a plus curve ball. `A Kevin Mort HR in the 7th got Ole Miss on the board…nice to have power from the 9 hole if you are Mike Bianco. What impressed me most about Grimm was the way he battled when he was in a jam…and this is the 2nd week that I have seen it. Last week against LSU his struggled more with his stuff but he never gave in. This week, his control was better, but he pitched out of a jam in the 8th to still give UGA a chance. I liked Ole Miss, although I do want to see the rest of their rotation in person. Huber looked pretty good out of the pen. Georgia is still showing some growing pains but I do think they will be markedly better next year. They have some kids that can really play. Kyle Farmer has two hits against Pomeranz and the approach each time was veteran. The freshman took a breaking ball and a fastball the other way for hits in separate at bats and I have really been impressed with him over the past two weeks. Colby May is still scuffling and just looks like he is trying to do too much. A plus for Georgia was their pitching over the weekend…The Dogs gave up only 11 runs in 3 games. One last note…if you get to Athens sometime in the near future make sure you bring your sticks. The University Course is a great track, and the good folks in the pro shop let me sneak out on the back side to play 9 holes by myself on Friday morning. I followed that up with a memorable Chik-Fil-A lunch complete with sweet tea…I could not have drawn up my 34th birthday any better.
Around the rest of the country, Washington St. had perhaps the most important series win of the entire weekend. The Cougs were probably not in the regional discussion quite yet before the weekend, but taking 2 of 3 from the Devils has thrust them right back in it. UVA taking 2 of 3 at home against Georgia Tech sticks out as well as the Cavs continue to impress in the ACC. Texas is still on fire and if the season ended today they would be my pick to win the National Title. The rotation is sick, no real drop in effectiveness from Friday to Sunday and Ruffin on the back end has been lights out. Throw Pitt into the discussion for most impressive weekend as well. The Panthers needed a solid performance against Louisville to jump back into the potential at large regional discussion. The series win moves their RPI to around 50 and gets them two giant wins against one of the nation’s top teams.
As far as teams that are back on the at large radar, throw Oregon, Cal, the aforementioned Pitt Panthers and Kentucky in the mix. UK took 2 of 3 from Alabama in what was probably their most important series of the year. The Cats entered the series with a 2-7 mark in the SEC and while they still have plenty of work to do, a series win against a solid Bama team was a good first step. The Ducks took 2 of 3 from Stanford in Palo Alto and are now comfortably in the regional field as of today. George Horton is my coach of the year. This is unbelievable. In just its second year back, Oregon is proving plenty of people wrong right now. Dave Esquer’s Cal Bears have had a solid few weeks themselves. Series sweeps over U of A and USC have Cal tied with Arizona St. for the conference lead at 6-3. Cal has now won 8 in a row and they host Washington this coming weekend.
Plenty more to talk about across the country, I’ll fire another update up later this week. I am going to try and grab Arkansas head man Dave Van Horn this week for an interview that I will post as well. I head to Baum stadium this week for a trip that I have been looking forward to all Spring. My dad and son are making the trek with me, and Teddy is pretty fired up. The fishing pole is making the trip as well. I have never seen Baum Stadium so I am really looking forward to it. More later this week, fire away with questions if you have them.