Even Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway thought his team’s season was over.
"We will reload and look to next year," Golloway told the Tulsa (Okla.) World after the Sooners came up short of the Big 12 title game. "We have young arms and a bright future in the Oklahoma program."
Why wouldn’t Golloway look ahead to next year? He had no reason to think his club, which went 9-17 in the Big 12 and finished in eighth place during the regular season, would earn an at-large regional bid. But when the selections flashed across the screen Monday, Oklahoma had somehow landed a No. 3 seed in the Tempe, Ariz., regional.
Shortly after that selection was announced, another graphic was displayed on the ESPN telecast, showing that Oregon State had won five series against regional teams (including three against No. 1 seeds Arizona State, Arizona and Georgia and two against No. 2 seeds Pepperdine and UCLA), while Oklahoma had won zero series against regional teams. (Its best series win was against Baylor, which did not get a bid.) Yet the Beavers, the two-time defending national champions who have done so much to grow college baseball in cold-weather markets, were left out of the field of 64.
"That part for me was difficult," Oregon State coach Pat Casey said of seeing that graphic on his television screen. "We had seven wins against the 16 No. 1 seeds and four against the national seeds, and Oklahoma I don’t think had any. One of the things that hurt us was we lost some games to weather that we couldn’t get back, so our win total was down. I thought our conference at the beginning of the year was as good as it’s ever been. When you get in conference and start beating up on each other–you’ve got Stanford as a No. 1 team, having 10 losses in our conference out of 24 games—that tells you how difficult it was in our conference.
"We realized we did a lot of things that could helps us get in, and we did some things that hurt us. (The committee has) a difficult decision to make. I thought our club, especially with some of those young arms, was starting to play a lot better and could have made some noise in the playoffs."
Outgoing Mississippi State athletics director Larry Templeton, the chairman of the Division I baseball committee, said bad losses down the stretch against the likes of Utah Valley State and Gonzaga proved Oregon State’s undoing.
"The committee struggled long and hard with Oregon State, and quite frankly probably would not have struggled as much if they weren’t the two-time defending national champion," Templeton said. "But at the end of the night the determining factor was their 24 losses and who some of those losses were against."
Templeton cited Oklahoma’s 11-5 record in nonconference games against teams in the top 100 of the Ratings Percentage Index as the biggest factor in Oklahoma’s favor.
Of those 11 wins, seven came in midweek games against Texas Christian, Dallas Baptist, Wichita State and South Florida. One of the others came in a four-game home series against Washington State, the last-place team in the Pac-10 that won three out of four games at Oklahoma.
And even if you don’t believe Oregon State’s overall record or RPI is strong enough, College of Charleston has a better case for inclusion than Oklahoma. As Cougars coach John Pawlowski points out, his team went 18-13 against teams in the top 100 of the RPI, while Oklahoma went 18-20. Last year, when CofC won 39 games and was omitted from the field of 64, Templeton pointed to the Cougars’ weak finish as reason for their exclusion after they went 0-2 in the Southern Conference tournament. But this year, Charleston went 7-3 down the stretch and reached the championship game of the SoCon tournament. This time around, Templeton said CofC just didn’t have enough wins against teams in the top 75 of the RPI.
"I really would like someone to define the actual formula for selection," Pawlowski said. "I don’t really know if there’s a definitive formula for the selection process. I think you could spin it anyway you want. I’m not sure what kind of statement it makes when you take a team that finishes eighth out of 10 teams in its league and has a 9-17 record in its league–what kind of statement is that making?"
A befuddling statement.
Still, Pawlowski and Casey were gracious in their disappointment. Pawlowski knows his team had a chance to make the committee a non-factor and didn’t do it.
"Sometimes when you look at things, politics come into play in every aspect of our lives. You just can’t let other people control your destiny," Pawlowski said. "You’ve got to go out and control your destiny on the field. We certainly had our chances, and we didn’t do it."
Other tournament field notes:
• Miami gets the No. 1 seed but also gets a tough regional, with preseason top 10 teams Missouri and Mississippi as its second- and third-seeded teams. The Tigers and Rebels have two of the top six pitching staffs in the country, and Missouri is an experienced bunch making its sixth consecutive regionals trip. If the Hurricanes survive that gauntlet, they get the winner of the Ann Arbor regional, which features talented Arizona, Big Ten champion Michigan and hard-hitting Kentucky. Those two regionals contain five top-10 preseason teams.
• Long Beach State’s regional figures to be the toughest from top to bottom. While No. 4 seed Fresno State is without ace righty Tanner Scheppers, it’s still an experienced team with power arms and power bats such as Steve Susdorf. Second-seeded San Diego should have been a No. 1 seed after winning both the West Coast Conference regular-season and championship series, and earning non-conference wins against the likes of Fullerton, UC Irvine, Long Beach State, UCLA and Oregon State, among others. Templeton said the Toreros were considered for the top seed at Ann Arbor, but only briefly. Arizona’s RPI was higher, but other indicators favor San Diego. And the Long Beach third seed is California, one of the Pac-10′s top offenses and winner of series against Stanford, Long Beach State and Arizona. Oregon State wins three series against No. 1 seeds and gets left out, so perhaps Cal—left out as a bubble team the last two years—should feel lucky to get in. But it’s vexing that the Pac-10, clearly a power conference every bit as much as the ACC or SEC or Big 12, can’t get more than five bids and continues to get the short end from the committee. Oregon State left out, Cal a three-seed, Arizona a No. 1 seed but not a host . . . what good did it do the Pac-10 to have Arizona State’s Pat Murphy as the only coach on the committee?
• Big names left out include Baylor, a bubble team that had a similar case to Oklahoma’s, lost a head-to-head series with the Sooners but finished higher in the Big 12 standings; Clemson, which endured an injury-plagued season and ends a consecutive regional streak dating back to 1987; and Missouri State, which finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament. That apparently wasn’t enough.
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