A few things that jumped out to me while looking over the NCAA tournament brackets:
Probable Marquee Mound Showdowns:
1. Connecticut's Matt Barnes vs. Coastal Carolina's Anthony Meo: a tantalizing battle of two first-rounders-to-be, both from lower New England.
2. Texas State's Carson Smith vs. Kent State's Andrew Chafin: a pair of tenacious power arms with checkered medical histories go at it.
3. Creighton's Jonas Dufek vs. Georgia's Michael Palazzone: feel for pitching galore in this Corvallis regional matchup
4. Maine's Jeff Gibbs vs. North Carolina's Patrick Johnson: upset special? Gibbs can run his fastball up to 96 mph, and he beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill in his second career start last February. The fearless Johnson is the consummate winner (he's 11-1).
5. Arkansas' D.J. Baxendale vs. Charlotte's Andrew Smith: great matchup between competitive strike-throwers—the well-known Baxendale, already named to USA Baseball's college national roster for 2011, and the A-10 pitcher of the year in Smith. [...] Continue Reading »
The NCAA tournament field is complete, and the two biggest surprises both came at the expense of the Southeastern Conference—which trumps every other league when it comes to fan support, visibility and financial influence.
Louisiana State was the highest team in the Ratings Percentage Index rankings (No. 26, according to Boyd's World) to get left out of the field of 64, while Arkansas was the highest RPI team (No. 14) that was not awarded a host site. Instead, the committee awarded UCLA a top seed and a home regional despite an RPI of No. 34, demonstrating a shift away from RPI and toward performance in conference play. The Bruins went 18-9 to win the Pac-10 Conference title, while Arkansas went just 15-15 in the SEC.
And while LSU's robust RPI was not enough to land an at-large bid, St. John's got in with an RPI of No. 54, thanks to its second-place finish in the Big East in the regular season and conference tournament.
"The debate is a consistent one: How do you measure a second-place team versus, for example, a ninth-place SEC team?" said Tim Weiser, chairman of the Division I Baseball Committee, on the ESPN selection show. "We've got a divided group in that regard. Many of the committee members feel like a second-place finish in the Big East is more deserving than an eighth-, ninth-, whatever-place finish in the ACC, SEC, Big 12. That's the balance that leads us back to this process, described as more of an art than a science." [...] Continue Reading »
The NCAA's 64-team Division I tournament field is out, and the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern Conferences have the most teams in the field with seven apiece. The SEC ties for first even though Louisiana State and Mississippi, two bubble teams, were left out of the field.
The Big 12 and Pacific-10 both had six bids, while Conference USA had four teams that earned bids. The Atlantic Sun, Big East and Sun Belt had three regional teams apiece, with the Big West and Mountain West the other multi-bid leagues with two apiece. [...] Continue Reading »
DURHAM, N.C.—Tyler Wilson threw his hands in the air and spiked his glove just before John Hicks wrapped him in a hug. Wilson had just struck out Florida State center fielder Mike McGee to give Virginia a 7-2 victory Sunday and its third ACC tournament championship, all of them coming at the expense of the Seminoles in Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
All seven of Virginia’s runs came on home runs over the “Blue Monster” in left field. While the Cavaliers are one of the nation’s best offensive teams, ranking 19th in runs in the regular season, they are not known for their power. Virginia had just 17 home runs entering the day, led by third baseman Steven Proscia with six.
So if the Cavaliers were going to become a bomb squad for the day, it only made sense for Proscia to deliver the most important blast. After Florida State tied the game at two in the top of the sixth, Proscia came up with runners on first and second and two outs. Seminoles starter Hunter Scantling threw Proscia a slider that he would later say was a good pitch. But Proscia made a better swing and lofted a fly ball that went just deep enough to clear the 32-foot-high left-field wall. [...] Continue Reading »
The NCAA has announced the 16 regional hosts, and there is one big surprise in the field. UCLA was selected to host and is the only site Aaron Fitt did not correctly project in today’s mini stock report.
The hosts are as follows:
Cal State Fullerton
UCLA likely will not be seeded No. 1 in its regional when the full brackets are released tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. Arkansas, the SEC West champion, may travel west to Los Angeles as the No. 1 seed, as Florida State did last year in the Norwich Regional.
With one day of games remaining before the NCAA tournament field is unveiled, the postseason picture is finally starting to crystallize. We'll address the national seed, hosting and at-large races later, but let's kick off the Saturday roundup with a look at the teams that punched their tickets to regionals by winning automatic bids Saturday, and the bubble implications of each result:
• Top-seeded Charlotte beat Richmond, 9-4, to win the Atlantic 10 Conference title. Joe Yermal (6 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K) earned the win, and Most Outstanding Player Corey Shaylor had three more hits, capping a tournament during which he hit .636 for Charlotte, which swept through the tournament unbeaten for the third time in five years. BUBBLE IMPLICATIONS: None; the A-10 was going to be a one-bid league regardless of who won the automatic bid.
• Belmont won its first-ever Atlantic Sun Conference title (and secured its first trip to regionals) with a 9-7 win against Mercer, capping an unbeaten run through the conference tournament. Belmont, which won two of three at Stetson last weekend, became the first No. 6 seed to win the A-Sun tournament since Jacksonville in 2003. BUBBLE IMPLICATIONS: The Atlantic Sun was likely to be a three-bid league no matter how the title game played out, as Stetson and Jacksonville look like at-large teams. Mercer has an at-large case as well, and if the Hatters or Dolphins had won the automatic bid, the Bears would have had a real chance at an at-large spot. But it's hard to see them earning a bid as the fourth team in the A-Sun with an RPI in the 50s and a fourth-place finish in the regular season. [...] Continue Reading »
DURHAM, N.C.—Unable to hold a two-run lead in the sixth inning against Clemson, North Carolina State fell short in its improbable bid to reach the ACC tournament championship game when Clemson rallied for a 6-3 victory.
The loss, however, did little to dampen Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent’s enthusiasm for his team going forward. North Carolina State was on a six-game winning streak before losing 6-5 to Georgia Tech on a straight steal of home in the 15th inning Thursday. That loss, Avent said, was still affecting the Wolfpack’s relievers Saturday.
Lefthander Grant Sasser was unavailable, Avent said, and he was wary of going to closer Chris Overman in the sixth inning to face Clemson first baseman Richie Shaffer after Overman had pitched two innings against Georgia Tech. Instead, Nick Rice tried to pitch around Shaffer, but he hit a three-run home run that gave the Tigers their first lead of the day. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—It's hard not to root for Georgia, a team that has had two players confined to wheelchairs by horrific accidents in the last two years.
But as Bulldogs coach David Perno pointed out after his team was blown out by Vanderbilt on Wednesday, rooting for a team is not the same as respecting a team.
And earning respect is not the same as earning a spot in the NCAA tournament.
The Bulldogs already proved that they were a team worthy of our respect by the way they responded to outfielder Johnathan Taylor's injury, suffered in an outfield collision with Zach Cone on March 6. They proved it again this week in the Southeastern Conference tournament, rebounding from the Vanderbilt debacle by winning two straight elimination games against Auburn and South Carolina.
On Saturday, Georgia went one step further, essentially clinching a spot in regionals with an emotional 4-3 win against Florida. Georgia improved to 31-29 on the season and ensured it will finish with a winning overall record, a requirement to get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Georgia's robust ranking in the Ratings Percentage Index (No. 16), winning record in Southeastern Conference play (16-14 in the regular season) and bevy of quality wins will almost certainly earn it an at-large bid on Monday, assuming the Bulldogs don't ride their piecemeal pitching all the way to the automatic bid (which seems unlikely).
"They deserve to play," Perno said after the win. "We've done enough." [...] Continue Reading »
DURHAM, N.C.—Florida State righthander/center fielder Mike McGee doesn’t like to be surprised. So when rain all but washed out Friday’s games at the ACC tournament and pushed Florida State’s final pool play game against Georgia Tech back to Saturday morning, McGee had to set an early alarm.
“We had a wakeup call for 6:15,” McGee said. “But I went to bed before I found out what happened last night because I don’t really like to be surprised. If they didn’t play or something, I wanted to be sure I knew what was going on before the wakeup call came.”
Wide awake by the time he threw the day’s first pitch at 9:05 a.m., McGee baffled Georgia Tech for 5 1/3 innings and carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning. The offense and bullpen did their parts as well, and the Seminoles beat the Yellow Jackets 4-2 in a game that could weigh heavily in the race for a national seed. [...] Continue Reading »
DURHAM, N.C.—Virginia began playing Miami at 11:07 a.m. Friday. It wouldn’t walk off the field after the last out in a 6-4 victory until just after 10:30 p.m. In between the Cavaliers endured a seven-hour, 28-minute rain delay and an early two-run home run by Hurricanes left fielder Rony Rodriguez.
But when the game finally ended, Virginia controlled its destiny in the ACC tournament, while Miami would need help if it wanted to play for the ACC title.
The game began with storm clouds above Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and it didn’t take long before the rain began to fall. The game was halted in the bottom of the second inning with the Hurricanes leading 2-0. The rain only increased after the delay began and after about two hours the teams returned to their hotels and hoped for a 6 p.m. restart that was later pushed back to 7 p.m.
“We’ve had a lot of problems this year with the rain,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “We have dealt with a lot of things, a lot of doubleheaders, and they have come through all the time.” [...] Continue Reading »
UC Irvine Matt Summers threw the second no-hitter of the week in a 2-0 win against Long Beach State on Friday. Summers needed just 105 pitches to hold the Dirtbags hitless in a nine-inning game for the first time in LBSU's history. It was the fourth no-hitter in UCI history. He walked one, hit a batter and struck out five in his second straight complete-game shutout. The converted center fielder completed a truly remarkable regular season as Irvine's Friday starter, going 10-2, 1.74 and going 8-0 in Big West Conference starts.
Two more NCAA tournament tickets were punched Friday. In perhaps the most stunning development of the season, New Mexico upset top-seeded Texas Christian for the second time this week to complete a perfect 4-0 run to the Mountain West Conference tournament. The Lobos struggled through a brutal regular season with a very young team—finding themselves in a huge hole after getting swept in tough nonconference series early by Arizona State, Creighton and Oklahoma State—and they'll head to their second consecutive regional with a 20-39 overall record.
"I was worried the schedule might take away their confidence," Birmingham said of the regular season. "It took time for them to figure some things out, but now these guys know they can compete with anyone. They just beat TCU, so they can pretty much beat anybody."
And Maine won the America East Conference tournament for the first time since 2006, pounding Albany 10-1. Stephen Perakslis (7.1 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K) turned in a strong start for the Black Bears, who got homers from Ian and Justin Leisenheimer to break the game open with four runs in the seventh.
Maine's championship has no effect on the bubble picture, since the America East will be a one-bid league regardless (though Stony Brook went 42-12 and put together a strong RPI for an AEC team—No. 81, still not close to at-large range). But UNM's shocking title obviously hurts bubble teams, transforming the MWC from a one-bid league to a two-bid league.
On to the mini Stock Report. Here's a look at how Friday's action affected the races for national seeds, hosting spots and at-large bids. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Georgia knew exactly what it needed to do at the SEC tournament in order to continue its season in a regional next week: win three games to ensure a winning overall record—a requirement to be eligible for an at-large bid.
Two down, one to go.
After getting embarrassed by Vanderbilt in Wednesday's opener, the Bulldogs have responded with back-to-back wins to stave off elimination. They jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the first inning Friday against South Carolina, then held on for a 4-2 upset against the nation's top-ranked team.
"Something we've been watching all these games in this tournament: The teams that have gotten off to the quick starts have had some success," Georgia coach David Perno said. ". . . We've done a good job when we have a lead of protecting it." [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Coming out of high school, Ryne Stanek was kind of a big deal.
An unsigned third-round pick from Stilwell, Kan., Stanek and Dominic Ficociello were the pillars of an Arkansas recruiting class that ranked eighth in the nation last October. Stanek, a 6-foot-4, 185-pound righthander, entered the spring as the nation's No. 4 prospect on BA's Top 50 Freshmen list.
It's hard to blame Arkansas fans if they wondered what all the fuss was about. A bout with illness early in the season helped cause Stanek to get off to a slow start, and inconsistent command led to a very inconsistent season. In his last start against Mississippi last week, Stanek recorded just one out before getting yanked in the first inning. He carried a 2-2, 4.75 mark into Friday—when he proceeded to show everyone exactly what the fuss was about.
Stanek allowed just one run on two hits in 7 2/3 innings, walking three and striking out five in the Razorbacks' 4-1 win in an SEC tournament elimination game against Alabama. His stuff was simply electric: His fastball ranged from 91-96 mph, and he was able to get swings and misses with his two hard breaking balls. [...] Continue Reading »
Here's a look at how Thursday's conference tournament action affected the races for national seeds, hosting spots and at-large bids:
NATIONAL SEED RACE
Florida State reversed its sliding momentum with a big 6-3 win against Clemson, while Georgia Tech outlasted North Carolina State 6-5 in the longest game in ACC tournament history, winning on Mott Hyde's steal of home in the top of the 15th. This means either FSU or Georgia Tech is assured of at least two wins in the conference tournament, because the two teams will go head-to-head Friday. That game might very well determine which team grabs the ACC's third national seed.
The ACC still seems likely to get three national seeds (Virginia and North Carolina are locked in), but it's also possible that Texas A&M could give the Big 12 a second national seed at the expense of both FSU and Tech. The Aggies beat Kansas State 4-1 to improve to 2-0 in the double-elimination Big 12 tournament, but the Aggies still don't have as good a resume as either the Seminoles or Yellow Jackets. Both ACC teams have stronger RPIs and better records against the top 25 and top 100. It still feels like A&M is competing with Texas and Rice for one national seed, and both those teams rebounded from losses with wins Thursday. Texas rode a complete-game one-hitter from Taylor Jungmann to a 6-1 win against Baylor, while Rice overcame an early 5-0 deficit to beat Memphis, 8-5. For now, Texas still looks like the strongest bet of the three to net a national seed. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—One thing the three beasts of the SEC East have in common is that they each have deep, versatile, talented bullpens—three of the nation's best bullpens, in fact. Vanderbilt carried a 45-9 record into Thursday, and its bullpen is a big part of its success, but during its two series losses against Florida and South Carolina, it lost the battle of bullpens.
In a rematch against the Gamecocks on Thursday, Vandy won that battle convincingly, and won the game, 7-2, to stay out of the loser's bracket in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Vandy's bullpen melted down during South Carolina's four-run seventh back on April 17. Florida beat Vandy closer Navery Moore twice two weeks ago, and in the Sunday game it got to Moore in the 12th after tying the game against lefthander Corey Williams in the eighth. In Vanderbilt's next game, Georgia broke a 4-4 tie with a run in the seventh against righty Will Clinard.
But on Thursday, Williams, Clinard and Moore all made big pitches in big spots, while South Carolina's bullpen struggled in Vanderbilt's four-run ninth, turning a 3-2 game into a 7-2 affair.
"We went into this thinking that that was something we were going to have to rectify," Vandy pitching coach Derek Johnson said of his bullpen's recent struggles. [...] Continue Reading »
SAN DIEGO — Losing a high fly ball in the sun isn’t all that uncommon. Turning it into an unassisted triple play? Well, that’s another story.
Brigham Young shortstop Andrew Law completed an unassisted triple play Thursday under such circumstances in the Cougars’ 8-2 win over San Diego State in a Mountain West Conference Tournament game at Tony Gwynn Stadium.
The unassisted triple play is one of the rarest occurrences in baseball, which probably explains why there is no listing for it in the NCAA record book. There have been 15 unassisted triple plays in the major leagues, five fewer than the number of perfect games pitched in the majors.
This had not been one of the most fundamentally sound games by the Aztecs, who, among other things, allowed opposing runners to take the extra base, misplayed a rundown and swung at questionable pitches. But, trailing by six runs, SDSU had the makings of a rally when it loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh.
That’s when it happened. [...] Continue Reading »
DURHAM, N.C.—After an uninspired performance in a loss to North Carolina State on Wednesday night in the ACC tournament, Florida State knew it would need to play better Thursday afternoon against Clemson.
“Guys knew going in we had to put together one of our best performances,” right fielder James Ramsey said. “We had our back against the wall a little bit, especially after getting shut out last night and making a couple errors.”
The Seminoles played clean baseball and lefthander Sean Gilmartin beat the Tigers for the second time in the last week. The win keeps Florida State alive for the ACC championship and helps the Seminoles as they make their case for a national seed.
“Every game at this point of the season is important,” coach Mike Martin said. “A lot of questions still to be answered in the minds of the committee members.”
Ramsey gave the Seminoles a big lift Thursday, going 2-for-3 with four RBIs and a home run. The home run came in the sixth inning, and gave Gilmartin a three-run cushion. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Kevin O'Sullivan had it almost right.
"I think it all started and ended with Hudson Randall on the mound—he was outstanding today," the Florida coach said. "Typical outing for him: eight innings, four hits, one walk."
That's where the "almost" part comes in: in a "typical" outing, Randall doesn't issue any walks. He did not walk any in nine of his previous 13 starts this season, and he had just six walks in 84 innings all season.
Certainly, though, O'Sullivan was right to call Randall's outing "outstanding." The sophomore righthander carved up Alabama for eight innings in Florida's 6-0 win, getting 13 groundball outs (including three double plays) and retiring 12 straight at one point in the middle innings. He finished with two strikeouts.
"He's Greg Maddox," Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said. "Everything moves, the ball stays down, he never elevates anything. So even when you get in an advantage count, he makes a quality pitch. That pitch is down, at the knees or on the black, and he's got good sink on it . . . He makes pitches. Even though he may not have that dominant, overpowering fastball, it's still 88-91, occasionally 92, with sink and with location. He's good, and that's why he pitches on Friday nights for one of the best pitching staffs in the country." [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Georgia coach David Perno was embarrassed by his team's showing in Wednesday's 10-0 loss to Vanderbilt. Not because Vandy one-hit and run-ruled the Bulldogs, but because the team simply did not put forth a good effort, even with its season on the line (Georgia needs three wins at the SEC tournament to finish above .500 and be eligible for the NCAA tournament).
So he tried to deliver a message to his team afterward.
"It wasn't necessarily PG rating," Perno said of his address to his team after the Vandy loss. "I told them flat out: You just don't want to be remembered—we don't want to be the sympathy team, the team that had some adversity in the year, played the tough schedule. We want to be respected. Last night we didn't play like that. If you don't go where you want to go, at least show your identity, and I thought we did that today."
Georgia was much crisper in a true elimination game against Auburn, which needed just one win to ensure a winning record and at-large eligibility. The Bulldogs erased a 2-0 deficit with three runs in the sixth, keyed by Zach Cone's RBI double, and sent the Tigers packing, 3-2. Lefthander Alex Wood threw his first complete game of the season, allowing two runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out eight for the Bulldogs. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—After Wednesday's loss to Florida, a reporter asked Mississippi State coach John Cohen if his team needed to display a sense of urgency in the SEC tournament.
"This is our 56th game," Cohen said, "and I can't think of a game we didn't have a sense of urgency. Thats who we are. We haven't been in the SEC tournament in three years. Urgency—that's my middle name. Yes, there will always be a sense of urgency. At practice there's a sense of urgency."
That answer underscores just how important it was for Mississippi State to get back to the SEC tournament for the first time since 2007—when it went 0-2 but caught fire in the NCAA tournament, reaching Omaha in coach Ron Polk's second-to-last season.
The Bulldogs went 0-2 again in 2011, coughing up a 5-2 lead against the Gators and then getting jumped by Arkansas in Thursday morning's elimination game. The Razorbacks took advantage of two MSU errors and two wild pitches to score four runs in the first and cruised to a 7-2 win. [...] Continue Reading »
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