CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—For the first time since 1980, St. John’s will advance out of regional play after knocking off top-seeded North Carolina for the second time in as many days at the Chapel Hill Regional. Junior Robert Case delivered a pinch-hit, two-out double with the bases loaded in the seventh inning to give the Red Storm the lead for good, as it held on to win 9-5.
"We had that storybook ending yesterday and maybe took the wind out of their sails," St. John's coach Ed Blankmeyer said. "Sometimes, it's destiny. I thought we brought our 'A' game. I thought we were playing our best baseball coming into this."
Tar Heels coach Mike Fox relied on three freshmen pitchers during the game after sophomore righthander Shane Taylor (5-1, 3.48) was forced from the game after giving up four runs on seven hits in just two innings. Fox went to righthander Luis Paula to come in and give the Tar Heels a fighting chance. Paula, who has emerged as a important short reliever in recent weeks, pitched the next 4 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on five hits while striking out seven. It was his second-longest outing of the season and longest since March 6.
In the top of the seventh inning, Fox called upon righthander Mason McCullough with runners on second and third. With the infield at medium range depth, McCullough induced a ground ball to freshman shortstop Michael Russell, who made a nice play on a ball to his right for the second out. But McCullough walked the next batter to load the bases. Fox went to righthander Chris McCue to face the pinch-hitter, Case, who was 1-for-15 in Big East Conference play. On a 1-2 offering, Case sent a line drive into the left-center-field gap to score a pair of insurance runs to give the Red Storm a 7-4 lead.
LOS ANGELES—Ray Birmingham was understandably emotional after his New Mexico team was eliminated from the Los Angeles Regional with a 7-2 loss against Creighton on Sunday. Losing in the postseason is never easy for any coach, but for a core group of UNM seniors, Sunday was the end of an incredible three-year run.
"I lose a group of seniors this year that have been to three regionals, have won two conference tournaments and a conference (regular-season) championship," Birmingham said. "They've made a big impact on a program that is growing fast and getting after it. So it's kind of a hard day for me."
Before 2010, New Mexico hadn't been to a regional since 1962. The Lobos earned an at-large bid in 2010, then caught fire in the conference tournament to capture the Mountain West's automatic bid in 2011. This year they put everything together, tying perennial power Texas Christian for the regular-season title, then blowing through the MWC tournament as well.
Birmingham said a few weeks ago that he really believed his team was good enough to win a regional, and the Lobos headed into the postseason overflowing with confidence. But they failed to carry over their offensive fireworks from the MWC tourney, mustering just seven runs in three games at Jackie Robinson Stadium. On Sunday, Creighton righty Erik Mattingly held UNM to two runs (one earned) over six innings before handing off to Reese McGraw, who worked three perfect innings of relief. [...] Continue Reading »
RALEIGH, N.C—Third-seed UNC Wilmington and host North Carolina State could have traveled down more divergent paths to enter Sunday’s elimination game at the Raleigh regionals. Saturday afternoon UNC Wilmington eliminated fourth-seeded Sacred Heart with a resounding 13-4 victory in which the Seahawks hit five home runs. After a strong start by NC State lefthander Carlos Rodon, the Wolfpack led second-seed Vanderbilt with an 8-3 lead in the seventh inning. The Wolfpack allowed six runs in the last two innings to lose 8-9 on Vanderbilt outfielder Tony Kemp’s walk-off single that left the home crowd speechless.
“I talked to them in the locker room and I told them the toughest game we played all year was this one,” NC State Head Coach Elliott Avent. “They knew they outplayed the other team but crazy stuff happened.”
In Saturday’s elimination game, there was no question which team outplayed its opponent as NC State beat UNC Wilmington 17-5. The Wolfpack's 17 runs scored was a season high and the regional host has scored 41 runs over the last three days. [...] Continue Reading »
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Coming off a crushing loss to St. John’s on Saturday night, North Carolina bounced back Sunday behind freshman righthander Benton Moss to beat East Carolina 5-3. The Tar Heels provided just enough offense for Moss, who was extremely efficient in his first appearance of the Chapel Hill Regional. The righthander threw six innings, giving up one run on six hits.
“We knew that we were on the ropes, and I knew we were too,” Moss said. “ECU knows how to put the bat on the ball . . . We had to play defense today, and that we did. Key pitches in key situations with key outs really helped us today.”
The ECU offense put together 10 hits, three of which came from left fielder Tim Younger, but were never able to string enough together to pose a serious threat. Jharel Cotton took the loss for East Carolina. He pitched 5.1 innings, giving up two runs while allowing three hits and walking three.
Tommy Coyle started the fourth inning with a single and eventually came around to score on a sac fly from Cody Stubbs, giving the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead. Brian Holberton would give North Carolina another run in the top of the sixth inning with a two-out RBI single. Ultimately it was North Carolina’s defense that made the difference, as the Tar Heels completed three double plays and had no errors.
“Today was very typical of a lot of our wins," UNC coach Mike Fox said. “We don’t look the best in the batter’s box but we somehow got it done . . . That’s very typical of how we’ve won some games and how we need to win some games.” [...] Continue Reading »
By Mike Lemaire
PALO ALTO, Calif.—In a game between two teams known for their timely hitting and talented pitching, it was only fitting that the deciding play would be a bases-clearing wild pitch that would spur Stanford to a comeback victory.
Trailing 4-1 entering the top of the sixth inning, The Cardinal scored three runs on the same wild pitch to tie the score. Two innings later, shortstop Kenny Diekroeger gave his team its first lead with an RBI double down the left-field line and freshman reliever A.J. Vanegas slammed the door on the exciting 5-4 win, striking out eight in 3.2 innings, including the final five Waves of the game.
Desperately looking for runs entering that pivotal top half of the sixth inning, Stanford sandwiched a hits batsman and two singles around an Austin Wilson strikeout, loading the bases for the scuffling Tyler Gaffney. But before Gaffney could play hero, Pepperdine starter Scott Frazier bounced a breaking ball that skipped under the glove of catcher Miles Silverstein.
Brian Ragira scored easily and headed for the dugout just as Silverstein was wheeling around to throw the ball to Frazier who was covering home plate. Seeing Ragira in his throwing lane, Silverstein tried to stop the throw, but the ball squirted free from his hands and in the commotion that followed, Ragira unwittingly kicked the ball into his own dugout. After some discussion, the umpires got together and awarded all three runners home plate. [...] Continue Reading »
LOS ANGELES—UCLA has picked a good time to play its best baseball of the year.
A day after Adam Plutko delivered perhaps the best outing of his career (a two-hit shutout against Creighton), fellow sophomore righthander Nick Vander Tuig turned in what was unquestionably the best start of his career. Facing one of the nation's most explosive offenses in the winners' bracket of the Los Angeles Regional, Vander Tuig carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning and finished with a career-high 11 strikeouts, leading UCLA to a convincing 7-1 win.
Eleven different Bruins recorded hits, as they out-hit the Lobos 17-2. The UCLA offense has looked great through two postseason games, sticking to a disciplined middle-to-away approach. Its defense has looked very strong as well. But Vander Tuig was the story Saturday.
"It was Nick's night," Bruins coach John Savage said. "He really came out and was very aggressive with all his pitches, established his fastball again like we did last night (with Plutko). You've just got to give him a lot of credit. He's one of the hardest working guys in our program, and he came out and set the tone this evening."
Vander Tuig set the tone by retiring the first 12 hitters he faced, including five straight via strikeouts in the third and fourth. The Lobos got their first baserunner on an error when Cody Keefer lost a pop-up in the twilight sky in the fifth, but they didn't record their first hit until Trey Porras jumped on Vander Tuig's first pitch of the eighth inning, slapping it down the left-field line for a double. [...] Continue Reading »
All but one of the 16 regionals have completed two days of action (Friday's games were postponed in the Charlottesville Regional, so no team has been eliminated yet and no team is 2-0 yet in that one). Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1999, teams that have won the first two games of their regionals have gone on to win the regional more than 80 percent of the time. Last year's results were right in line with that figure: 13 of the 16 teams that started 2-0 went on to win regionals (81 percent).
We'll get to highlights below, but first here's a quick breakdown of which teams are sitting pretty in their regionals, and which have been eliminated:
Teams that are 2-0:
• Eight No. 1 seeds (including six national seeds, indicated in parentheses): (1) Florida, (2) UCLA, (3) Florida State, (5) Oregon, (7) Louisiana State, (8) South Carolina, Arizona, Stanford.
• Four No. 2 seeds: Arkansas, Central Florida, Dallas Baptist, Vanderbilt.
• Three No. 3 seeds: Kent State, Mississippi, St. John's.
Teams that have been eliminated:
• One No. 1 seed: Miami.
• Two No. 2 seeds: New Mexico State, San Diego.
• Four No. 3 seeds: Belmont, Indiana State, Michigan State, Texas-Arlington.
• Eight No. 4 seeds: Alabama-Birmingham, Bethune-Cookman, Cornell, Dayton, Manhattan, Prairie View A&M, Sacred Heart, Valparaiso. [...] Continue Reading »
RALEIGH, N.C.—The words “Vanderbilt” and “comeback” just seem to go hand-in-hand these days, and the Commodores are fast becoming the story of the 2012 college baseball season. But the 'Dores outdid themselves in Saturday night’s winners’ bracket game at the Raleigh Regional, rallying from deficits of 6-1 and 8-3 in the late innings against host North Carolina State before Tony Kemp’s walk-off single brought home the winning run for a 9-8 final.
One of the funny things about baseball is how the course of a game can change on what seems like an innocent play when it occurs. Saturday night, that play was a third-strike wild pitch that extended the bottom of the eighth inning with Vanderbilt trailing 8-4 at the time.
The Wolfpack had summoned lefthanded reliever D.J. Thomas to face lefty-hitting Mike Yastrzemski with a man on second and two outs. With an 0-2 count, Thomas got Yastrzemski to chase a breaking pitch that bounced at the front of the plate. But the bounce came from so far in front of catcher Danny Canela that it hit high on his chest protector and took a hard carom, which he couldn’t track down in time to throw out Yastrzemski. Instead of the Wolfpack going back to the dugout with an 8-4 lead and three outs to go, the inning continued.
LOS ANGELES—Creighton went 22-28 in the regular season and struggled mightily to score runs for most of the season. San Diego won 40 games and fielded one of its best offensive teams in years.
But the Bluejays and Toreros were moving in opposite directions down the stretch. Creighton finally got its bats going during a surprising 4-0 run through the Missouri Valley Conference tournament and headed to regionals brimming with confidence. USD, meanwhile, struggled in all facets during the final month and lost the West Coast Conference title with a loss in the season finale at Pepperdine.
Each team continued its trend in Saturday's elimination game, as the Bluejays cruised to an 8-2 win, ending San Diego's season.
"I think teams go through different peaks and valleys during the season," said a thoughtful USD coach Rich Hill. "Towards the end of this deal, we just weren't at our best, weren't firing on all cylinders. We haven't really examined the rhyme or reason for that, we were just immersed in the moment, trying to get better each day . . .
"We really didn't play defense all year. Our starting pitching was solid but not spectacular, our bullpen was spectacular, and our offense was up and down. So I think we just willed ourselves to that 40-win plateau." [...] Continue Reading »
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—St. John’s is the lone unbeaten in the Chapel Hill regional after defeating North Carolina in dramatic fashion Saturday night. With the Tar Heel faithful on their feet in the ninth inning, Danny Bathea launched a two-run walk-off home run over the left-field fence at Boshamer Stadium, propelling St. John’s to a 5-4 victory.
Tar Heels closer Michael Morin was the losing pitcher. Having come in to close the game in the ninth inning, Morin gave up back-to-back hits to start the inning. After striking out Zach Lauricella for the first out, Morin left a fastball up in the zone to Bathea and the junior catcher connected.
“He threw me a fastball up and in and I was fortunate enough to get my hands through,” Bathea said. “It’s something I’ll always remember. Right when I rounded first and saw the ball go over his mitt I got really pumped.”
Both starting pitchers were outstanding. St. John’s lefthander Sean Hagan pitched 8.1 innings, allowing four runs on eight hits and walking two. On the other side, Kent Emanuel was even more impressive for the Tar Heels. The sophomore lefthander pitched eight innings, giving up a single run on five hits and walking one batter.
On his decision to bring Morin in for the ninth rather than leave Emanuel in the game, Tar Heels coach Mike Fox admitted that Emanuel still had gas left in the tank.
“I thought he was throwing his best at the end,” Fox said. However, his confidence in Morin remains high. “I make that move every time, without question,” Fox said. “We wouldn’t be playing in this regional without him.” [...] Continue Reading »
By Mike Lemaire
PALO ALTO, Calif.—Ever since it shocked the college baseball world by surviving multiple elimination games to win the 2008 national championship, Fresno State has earned the reputation as a team that is at its best when its back is against the wall. Saturday, facing elimination as they took on Michigan State, the Bulldogs lived up to that reputation.
After allowing two runs in the first inning, starter Thomas Harlan and relievers Gene Escat and Taylor Garrison combined to shut out the Spartans the rest of the way, allowing just five hits, on their way to a decisive 8-2 victory that will keep Fresno's season alive for at least one more day.
Just last weekend, the Bulldogs fought off elimination to win their seventh straight WAC championship, and this weekend they were back in survival mode, something the Bulldogs’ faithful have grown accustomed to in recent years.
“When you get your work done, you know you deserve it,” Fresno State coach Mike Batesole said. “These guys have put in an awful lot of work since August so when you get in those situations you know you have earned it, and you know you deserve it, and they are way more likely to perform.” [...] Continue Reading »
RALEIGH, N.C.—In the first round of the Raleigh regional on Friday, UNC Wilmington lost to second-seeded Vanderbilt and Sacred Heart was outmatched by host North Carolina State to set up an elimination game of the lower seeds on Saturday afternoon.
Despite a losing record, Sacred Heart advanced to its second straight regionals after sweeping the Northeastern Conference tournament in convincing fashion. The Pioneers’ postseason run ended Saturday with a 13-4 loss to UNC Wilmington.
After Vanderbilt held the Seahawks to two runs on Friday, UNC Wilmington’s offensive attack was the story of the game on Saturday, as the Seahawks pounded 17 hits, including five home runs.
“The coaches have been talking about our approach at the plate and having quality at-bats and we did a great job today,” Seahawks sophomore catcher Drew Farber said. “It was a great team effort.”
By Mike Lemaire
PALO ALTO, Calif.—With the 2012 draft just three days away and the No. 1 overall pick still shrouded in mystery, Stanford ace Mark Appel had one last opportunity to prove to the Houston Astros that he is their guy. Friday, facing Fresno State, the only team to beat Appel this season, Appel made the most of that opportunity.
Appel used a fastball that touched 97 mph and a darting 87-88 mph slider to keep the Bulldogs off-balance the whole game. He threw 122 pitches to beat Fresno State, allowing just four hits and one earned run while striking out 11 en route to an easy 9-1 victory.
The Bulldogs beat Appel 7-4 in early March to give the junior from Houston his only blemish of the season, and from that game, the Bulldogs knew they had to take away Appel’s fastball and make him rely on his offspeed stuff. The only problem was that, on this night, his slider and his changeup were just as good if not better.
“Last time out, we took his fastball away early and we thought he would make an adjustment this week, and surely he did,” Fresno State coach Mike Batesole said. “He came out with two outstanding breaking pitches. The kid is fantastic, he had the answer. I am pretty sure he could have won a big league game today.” [...] Continue Reading »
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—No. 6 national seed North Carolina needed every bit of its vaunted bullpen to put away pesky Cornell, champion of the Ivy League, in the NCAA tournament opener for both teams.
No. 1 seed North Carolina won a 7-4 game against No. 4 seed Cornell in game two of the Chapel Hill regional led by a strong pitching effort from Hobbs Johnson. The sophomore lefthander threw five innings, giving up two runs and surrendering six hits while striking out five Cornell batters. It was Johnson's seventh win of the season.
After getting on the board for the first time in the second inning, the Tar Heels really took control in the fourth inning. With one out North Carolina pieced together four consecutive hits, including an RBI triple by Parks Jordan and an RBI single by Adam Griffin. With two outs Colin Moran and Jacob Stallings hit back-to-back RBI singles, putting the Tar Heels up 5-0. That would mark the end of the day for Cornell's Rick Marks, who pitched 3.2 innings and gave up five runs (four earned) as well as nine hits in the loss.
[...] Continue Reading »
You know it was a magical day in college baseball when the second-longest game in NCAA tournament history might not even be the day's top headline.
That honor has to go to Florida sophomore Jonathon Crawford, who threw the first no-hitter in the NCAA tournament in 21 years. And wouldn't you know it, even Crawford's no-hitter was overshadowed by the first no-hitter in New York Mets history by Johan Santana.
If that's not enough for you, consider this, from ESPN stats and research: the last NCAA tournament no-hitter was also thrown by a Gator (John Burke), on May 23, 1991. That same day, there was also a no-hitter in the big leagues, by Tommy Greene of the Phillies.
Crawford was the model of efficiency in his no-hitter, needing just 98 pitches (70 for strikes) and issuing just one walk in the Gators' 4-0 win against Bethune-Cookman. He struck out five and did a good job pitching to contact, keeping his pitch count down.
"My defense played really well," he said afterward. "I threw one changeup, but it was pretty much fastballs and sliders. When I came in after the eighth, it kind of hit me and I got really excited and nervous all at the same time."
Second baseman Casey Turgeon saved the no-hitter with a leaping catch on a line drive to end the game.
The other game that had Twitter buzzing Friday was the opener at the Gary Regional, where third-seeded Kent State knocked off second-seeded Kentucky 7-6 in 21 innings—the second-longest game in NCAA tournament history. [...] Continue Reading »
LOS ANGELES—Adam Plutko was made for pitching under the Friday night lights.
UCLA coach John Savage has said a number of times over the last two years that he was impressed by how effective Plutko was as the Sunday starter as a freshman last year, because Plutko is a flyball pitcher and the ball carries better during the day. Once the damp coastal air rolls into Jackie Robinson Stadium at night, fly balls tend to fall harmlessly into outfielders' gloves. So a move into the Friday starter job as a sophomore has suited him; he carried a 9-3, 2.79 mark into regionals.
On Friday, facing a Creighton team that lacks offensive punch, Plutko could be particularly aggressive, attacking the zone with his fastball. The result was a dominant two-hit, complete-game shutout, leading UCLA to a 3-0 win in its postseason opener.
"Coach and I talked before the game, and we really wanted to attack them and make them prove that they could hit my fastball," said Plutko, a sophomore righthander. "So we just attacked them and went right at them, and it was working."
Plutko retired the first nine hitters of the game, seven of them on flyballs (six of which did not leave the infield). He got 14 flyball outs in the game, excelling by elevating his 86-90 mph fastball. [...] Continue Reading »
RALEIGH, N.C.—North Carolina State found its offense in its opening game at the Raleigh Regional, routing an overmatched Sacred Heart squad 16-5.
The top-seeded Wolfpack came into the game looking to get its bats going after scoring just six runs in three games at the ACC tournament last week. The 'Pack matched that total by the end of the third inning Friday.
Fourth-seeded Sacred Heart scored twice in the top of the first against Wolfpack starter Vance Williams, but any thoughts of an upset were squashed quickly. Wolfpack sparkplug Trea Turner started the bottom of the first by pulling a ball down the left-field line for a double, and N.C. State kept the line moving from there. NCSU’s first five men reached to start the frame, highlighted by a titanic home run by DH Ryan Mathews, who turned around a Troy Scribner fastball and sent it deep beyond the left-field fence.
“(Mathews’ homer) picked the team up a little bit.” N.C. State head coach Elliot Avent said. “Not only the home run, but maybe how far he hit it. It was an absolute shot.”
LOS ANGELES—The Los Angeles Regional opener showcased two of the nation's premier sluggers: sophomore third basemen D.J. Peterson of New Mexico and Kris Bryant of San Diego.
Both righthanded mashers are among the 30 semifinalists for the Golden Spikes Award, and both showed why Friday, going a combined 7-for-8. But Peterson (4-for4) had the bigger game, blasting a mammoth two-run homer in the ninth inning to punctuate third-seeded New Mexico's 4-0 win.
"The first pitch, my coach told me, 'Swing for it. Let me see what you got,' " Peterson said of his final at-bat. "So I swung and missed. I got to two strikes, and to be honest I was just trying to punch something through the right side, but it was in, and I just stayed inside and hit it good enough to let it get out."
USD coach Rich Hill describes Peterson succinctly and effectively: "D.J. Peterson is one of the primetime players in college baseball."
Peterson is now hitting .427/.496/.751 with 17 homers and 78 RBIs. He is a fearsome presence in the heart of one of the nation's best lineups, but he is quick to spread the credit around to his teammates.
His teammates sure deserved their share of credit Friday. The Toreros also have a potent offense, but low-three-quarters righty Austin House shut them down for seven scoreless innings, scattering six hits and two walks while striking out five. House got 10 groundball outs thanks to his lively mid-80s sinker and darting changeup, and New Mexico's solid infield played errorless defense behind him. [...] Continue Reading »
BY MIKE LEMAIRE
PALO ALTO, Calif.—All season long, shortstop Zach Vincej and second baseman and West Coast Conference Player of the Year Joe Sever have carried the Pepperdine offense. But with both players held in check by the Michigan State pitching staff, the Waves needed other players to step up with the bat, and fortunately for them, the unlikeliest of sources answered the call.
Pepperdine's first six hitters went just 4-for-21 on the day, but the team’s seventh, eighth, and ninth hitters – Matt Forgatch, Miles Silverstein, and Matt Gelalich – combined to go 6-for-11 with three runs scored and five RBIs, helping the Waves beat Michigan State 6-2 in the opening game of the Palo Alto Regional.
The trio entered the day with just 41 combined RBIs on the season, but they stepped up when their team needed them to. Gelalich, who entered the game hitting just .202/.264/.350, led the way with three RBIs, including a two-run double in the bottom of the sixth inning that gave the Waves a comfortable cushion. They cruised from there.
“Isn’t that awesome? Those are blessings for us,” Pepperdine coach Steve Rodriguez said when asked about the production from the bottom of the order. “We know they pitch Joe Sever really well and they were going to be cautious because he is an outstanding hitter. But that’s why this is called a team sport. In order to win championships, you have to have guys step up. It can’t be the same guys every single day. Today we were really fortunate that we had some guys do that.” [...] Continue Reading »
RALEIGH, N.C.—Vanderbilt surged into the NCAA tournament as one of the nation’s hottest teams and showed no signs of slowing down in its opening game as the No.2 seed in the Raleigh Regional, taking down third-seeded UNC Wilmington 8-2.
The Commodores aren’t a team that sits back and waits for the three-run homer, having hit just 26 long balls as a team in 59 games entering the regional, but they thrive on putting relentless pressure on opposing defenses, terming it their “motion offense,” to borrow from basketball jargon. They famously pulled off a triple-steal and stole seven bags in an SEC tournament game against Florida, and they one-upped that total on Friday, stealing eight bases against Wilmington.
“It’s like driving a car as fast as you can through green lights, red lights, yellow lights,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. “Sometimes you look good. Sometimes you crash.”
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