OMAHA—Virginia freshman lefthander Danny Hultzen was marvelous tonight on three days’ rest. Hultzen held Arkansas to one unearned run on five hits and no walks while striking out seven over 6 1/3 innings of work. He threw 96 pitches, four days after throwing 77 pitches against Louisiana State. By pitching this deep into the game, Hultzen allowed UVa. to give Andrew Carraway some extra rest in case the Cavs hold on and earn a rematch against LSU on Friday. Setup man Tyler Wilson is in the game now as we head to the eighth inning, and closer Kevin Arico is loosening up in the bullpen. That duo, as well as lefty Matt Packer, will try to protect a 2-1 UVa. lead.
OMAHA—This is not how heavily favored Cal State Fullerton envisioned this game starting. Underdog Arkansas jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first thanks to some small ball, and the Hogs increased the margin to 4-0 with a long ball in the third. Freshman third baseman Zack Cox was involved in both rallies, singling home a run in the first and crushing a two-run homer into the yellow seats in the right-field bleachers in the third. Cox has as much raw power as any hitter at this event, and today might just be his national coming-out party.
Meanwhile, Arkansas lefthander Dallas Keuchel looks very strong so far, allowing just a harmless single through the first two innings. His heavy sinker has induced four groundball outs and a strikeout through two innings.
Arkansas appears loose and confident, and I think it was critical for the Razorbacks to avoid falling behind early today. Could there be an upset brewing?
As I was wrapping up that blog post, East Carolina stormed back. Jay Brown is gone in favor of DH Parker Bangs, who also pitches, after Brown gave up a two-run homer to senior second baseman Ryan Wood. It’s 5-2 as Bangs gets out of the inning.
In other games . . . two things to note. Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt both brought back their aces on short rest. It didn’t work for the Yellow Jackets, as Deck McGuire gave up seven hits and nine runs (just four earned) with five strikeouts in two innings, and it’s 9-3 Southern Mississippi.
The Commodores have a 1-0 lead behind junior lefthander Mike Minor at Louisville.
IRVINE, Calif.—Baseball America scout Dave Perkin, sitting to my right, put it this way: "It looks like somebody kidnapped the real Strasburg and put this guy in his place."
Perkin said San Diego State ace Stephen Strasburg looked a bit off in his bullpen, throwing very few fastballs and appearing to cut off his delivery. Virginia has been all over his fastball, which has ranged between 94-98 mph in the first two innings. Phil Gosselin hit a first-pitch 97 mph fastball off the left-field scoreboard to put the Cavs on the board in the second inning, and the Aztecs called more sliders and changeups than heaters after that. By my count, Strasburg has thrown 26 offspeed pitches and 13 fastballs since giving up the home run, and he worked in the 92-95 range in the second inning. He struck out the side in the second on two sliders and a 92 mph heater, but in between the Cavs scratched out an unearned run to build a 2-0 lead through two innings.
Not surprisingly, with this game being played in Scott Boras’ hometown of Irvine, Boras himself is on hand, sitting behind the plate with a number of other Boras Corp employees.
If you lightly penciled in New Mexico State for a regional bid this evening (yes, I’m guilty), you’d better get out your eraser. It turns out Fresno State will have the opportunity to defend its national title in the NCAA tournament after all.
The Bulldogs needed to win back-to-back games against unbeaten New Mexico State to get back to regionals, and they trailed 7-4 after seven innings in the first game, at which point I published my final regional projection with the Aggies in the field, and the Bulldogs out (albeit with a caveat that Fresno was technically still alive). But the Wonderdogs rallied for five runs over the final two innings to win 9-7. Then, in the decisive nightcap, Jordan Ribera broke a 3-3 tie with a two-run homer in the eighth inning to propel Fresno into the NCAA tournament.
You just can’t ever count those guys out, even after a horribly disappointing regular season, during which Fresno went just 28-27. In case you were wondering, the Bulldogs went 33-27 in the regular season last year, but they wound up with a 47-31 overall mark by time the 2009 postseason ended.
On the eve of the NCAA tournament selection (which will be broadcast at 12:30 p.m. ET on Monday on ESPN), let’s take one final crack at predicting the field of 64. National seeds are in parentheses, with regional hosts denoted by ^ and automatic qualifiers denoted by *. The eight regionals at the top of this list are on the left side of the bracket, and the eight regionals at the bottom are on the right side of the bracket. [...] Continue Reading »
DURHAM, N.C.—Kevin Arico froze Stephen Cardullo with a fastball over the outside corner, then spiked his glove into the ground and let out a yell. Within seconds, Arico was mobbed by Virginia teammates in a jubilant dog-pile. Virginia had completed a perfect 4-0 run to the ACC tournament championship with a 6-3 win against Florida State.
The press corps expected a meager crowd for the title game after North Carolina and Clemson were eliminated, but I was very impressed with the boisterous, rather large crowd on hand to see UVa. and Florida State. The Cavaliers, in particular, traveled very well and were quite loud all day.
The fans were treated to an excellent game, as Virginia took advantage of two FSU errors and a passed ball to break a 3-3 tie with three runs in the eighth. Virginia’s bullpen was outstanding in relief of starter Andrew Carraway, as Matt Packer, Tyler Wilson and Arico combined to allow just four hits over 6 1/3 shutout innings.
Virginia will not be hosting a regional, but this team looks entirely capable of breaking through and winning a regional on the road. The Cavaliers are strong in all phases of the game, and their bullpen has really solidified down the stretch, addressing a significant concern earlier in the year. Don’t be shocked if UVa. earns a No. 1 seed in Louisville or Greenville after winning the ACC tournament.
Some other teams that won automatic bids today: [...] Continue Reading »
Favorites have come up big in the early games today, giving some hope to fringe at-large contenders. We’ll break down the bubble teams at the bottom of this post, but first here’s a look at today’s big news:
• Middle Tennessee State has won the Sun Belt Conference tournament with a 3-1 win over Louisiana-Monroe, ensuring the Sun Belt will be no more than a two-bid league (if Western Kentucky gets in—which is very much in question, in light of WKU’s 1-6 record against the top 50 RPI teams).
• In the Big East, Louisville cruised to an 11-3 win over Connecticut, which will probably make the Big East a one-bid league, though Notre Dame does have a shot at an at-large berth.
• Rice held off a late Southern Mississippi rally to win the Conference USA title 8-6. The Owls might have earned the eighth national seed with their strong week. Southern Miss is right on the bubble, but its strong week and slightly better RPI might give it the edge over Tulane for Conference USA’s third bid (though I think Tulane is more deserving, for reasons stated in my comment at the bottom of this post). It’s hard to see CUSA getting four bids with so many other strong at-large candidates floating around. [...] Continue Reading »
Earlier I posted a look at teams that won automatic bids on Saturday, as well as my final prediction for regional hosts. America East favorite Binghamton also punched its ticket late Saturday night with a blowout win against Albany to avoid an if-necessary game Sunday. Wichita State also reached regionals for the eighth straight year with a 4-2 win over Creighton in the Missouri Valley Conference finals. Here’s a sneak peek at what’s left to be decided Sunday:
• Virginia plays Florida State for the ACC championship.
• The Atlantic Sun title game between Jacksonville and Lipscomb was suspended in the second inning Saturday with the Bisons leading 1-0. Play will resume at 10 a.m.
• Texas A&M topped Texas Tech 11-4 Saturday night, sending Missouri to the Big 12 title game against Texas via tiebreakers.
• Louisville faces Connecticut for the Big East championship. That’s a big one for bubble teams to watch, as Louisville will get an at-large bid if it loses, but UConn likely will not (though it has an outside shot). [...] Continue Reading »
DURHAM, N.C.—For a while tonight, Duke looked to be on its way to the ACC championship game tomorrow against Florida State. Freshman lefthander Eric Pfisterer (5 IP, 2 ER, 6 K) was in control, but the Duke bullpen couldn’t hold a 4-2 lead, as Virginia took advantage of several Blue Devil miscues to explode for seven runs in the seventh inning en route to an 11-7 win. Virginia has used big innings to win each of its last three games, and the UVa. bats look like more than a match for Florida State’s tomorrow. The Cavs will throw senior righty Andrew Carraway (who threw 4 1/3 innings of relief Thursday against Clemson) against FSU sophomore righty Mike McGee.
Duke coach Sean McNally said afterward that he was holding out hope for a regional bid, but in reality the Blue Devils’ run is over. They availed themselves very well this week, but Boston College wrapped up the ACC’s seventh bid yesterday, and Duke is very unlikely to beat out fellow bubble teams Missouri State, Eastern Illinois, Southern Mississippi and Rhode Island, among others. The Bears, Panthers and Rams, in particular, all challenged themselves in nonconference play, while Duke did not. The Blue Devils took a huge step forward as a program this season and can hold their heads high, but missed opportunities (in series losses to Wake Forest, Maryland and Virginia) will prove their undoing with the selection committee.
Virginia missed plenty of opportunities early in the year, losing tight series against Miami and North Carolina. I thought the Cavs looked impressive in defeat in Chapel Hill back in March, but the difference now is that they look impressive in victory. The offense has been a strength all year long, but the pitching staff is in much better shape now, with Tyler Wilson setting up Kevin Arico in the back of the bullpen. And UVa. is staying patient offensively and getting timely hits when it needs them most. This team will be very dangerous in the NCAA tournament.
The question is, where will Virginia’s postseason begin? Will the Cavaliers host a regional? [...] Continue Reading »
Here’s a look at the teams that have won automatic bids to the NCAA tournament today:
• Xavier needed to win back-to-back games against unbeaten Rhode Island to win the Atlantic 10 tournament, and the Musketeers pulled it off. They hung eight runs on 11 hits over 6 2/3 innings against URI ace Eric Smith to win the first game 9-7, then cruised to a 10-1 win in the second game. Rhode Island deserves an at-large bid and just might get one.
• Top-seeded and heavily favored Coastal Carolina topped Winthrop 7-1 to win the Big South tournament and prevent another at-large bid from being gobbled up.
• Second-seeded Georgia State continued its remarkable run, topping defending champion and host UNC Wilmington 12-10 to win the CAA tournament. The Panthers rallied from five runs down to earn the first trip to regionals in school history. "Things looked bleak for a while, but I never thought we were out of the game, and neither did our players," Georgia State coach Greg Frady said. "We’ve got 11 wonderful seniors, and they played like champions." [...] Continue Reading »
DURHAM, N.C.—A cheer rose up from the Duke players watching in the left-field party pavilion as Wilson Boyd cranked a three-and-two fastball off the giant "Wilson Boyd" sign displayed on the Blue Monster video board. A much louder roar came from the orange-clad fans behind the first-base dugout, and Clemson’s players bounded out of the dugout to mob Mike Freeman, who crossed the plate with the winning run.
In a tournament largely devoid of that kind of excitement, today’s 4-3 Clemson win against North Carolina in 11 innings was far and away the best game of the week.
"Well, it was a really, really good college baseball game," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. "It was a good battle, one of those epic, classic baseball games. That’s what we needed to see going into next weekend."
DURHAM, N.C.—There have been quite a few lop-sided games here at the ACC tournament, but we’ve finally got a good one on our hands now between North Carolina and Clemson. The atmosphere is electric, as the crowd of 6,956 is the largest ever to attend a college baseball game in North Carolina.
Righthander Matt Harvey (6 IP, 3 R, 2 ER) turned in his second straight solid outing for UNC, but Clemson lefthander Casey Harman (7.1 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 10 K) was better, and the Tigers led 3-2 heading into the ninth. North Carolina tied the score with a run in the ninth to force extra innings, and the Tar Heels threatened to take the lead in the 10th, but Mark Fleury was thrown out at the plate by Clemson left fielder Jeff Schaus to end the inning. It was a very close play, and it looked to me like Fleury touched the plate with his right foot just before John Nestor applied the tag, but the umpire saw it differently. It’s still 3-3 heading into the 11th.
Another mid-major top seed has been eliminated from its conference tournament. George Mason won its first two CAA tournament games but lost twice today, faling 9-3 to Georgia State and 5-3 to UNC Wilmington. Expect the Patriots to earn an at-large bid, making the CAA a two-bid league and eliminating another spot for a bubble team like Duke, Stanford, Oregon State, Hawaii or South Florida.
A few bubble teams have already been eliminated from their conference tournaments and likely lost their chances at an at-large bid, such as Troy, Florida International, College of Charleston, Western Carolina, Illinois, New Mexico, Indiana State Southeastern Louisiana. All of those teams probably needed to make deeper runs than they did this week to get at-large spots, especially after the departures of top seeds Eastern Illinois and George Mason likely ate up two at-large spots (though neither EIU nor Mason is a lock). [...] Continue Reading »
North Carolina righthander Alex White looked great in the first inning tonight against Virginia, pumping fastballs in the 94-97 mph range, according to a National League scout on hand.
That was the highlight of White’s outing. Virginia chased him in a 10-run third inning, eight of which were charged to White (though three of those runs were inherited by Brian Moran, who was hit harder than he’s been hit since the 2008 College World Series).
UNC’s Levi Michael just hit a home run over the Blue Monster in left field that appeared to peg a beverage cup belonging to a fan standing above the wall, cutting the UVa. lead to 10-1. Assuming this lead holds up (and I’m going to go ahead and assume it will), the Cavaliers can clinch their second straight trip to the ACC championship game with a win tomorrow against Duke or a UNC loss tomorrow against Clemson. The Tar Heels can still win the pool with a win against Clemson and a UVa. loss. Duke can win the pool with a win against Virginia and a UNC loss.
DURHAM, N.C.—Two teams needed to do some work at the ACC tournament in order to secure at-large berths. Boston College took care of business, beating Georgia Tech and Miami to essentially wrap up a bid. That put even more pressure on Duke, which lost its opener to North Carolina yesterday. But the Devils responded with a 10-4 win against Clemson behind a strong start from senior righty Andrew Wolcott (7.1 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 2 ER). With a win tomorrow against Clemson combined with North Carolina losses tonight and tomorrow, the Blue Devils can earn a trip to the championship game against Florida State.
Wolcott improved to 5-0, 2.66 against top 25 teams this year (though I can’t confirm all those matchups were against teams in the BA rankings). He’s the epitome of a big-game pitcher, and he was the big difference today against Clemson. As Tigers coach Jack Leggett pointed out after the game, Clemson had as many hits in the game as Duke (11 apiece), but Duke got the big hits when it mattered most, and Clemson did not. Buckling down with runners on base is the mark of a winner. [...] Continue Reading »
Another top seed has fallen. Texas Christian was eliminated from the Mountain West Conference tournament by Utah, 6-4. I still think TCU has a decent chance to host a regional, but failing to reach the MWC championship game is certainly a blow. Still, Horned Frogs have a top-10 RPI, a regular-season MWC title and quality nonconference wins against Cal State Fullerton and Mississippi. I think that’ll be good enough, though I also wouldn’t be surprised if TCU is sent elsewhere, probably as a No. 1 seed.
Utah must now win two straight games against San Diego State to win the automatic bid (and deliver another major blow to a bubble team like Duke, Stanford, Oregon State or Hawaii). The Aztecs can clinch the MWC title with a win against the Utes tonight. The Aztecs might have a chance to host as a No. 2 seed should they wrap up the title, but geography might actually work against them. There aren’t many Western teams heading to regionals this year—there aren’t even enough local teams to fill up regionals in Irvine and Fullerton. Adding a fourth West Coast regional (joining Tempe also) would require three more teams to fly across country. That seems like an extremely unlikely scenario to me.
Bubble teams got some bad news this afternoon, as Murray State scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to eliminate Eastern Illinois from the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, 5-4. The OVC would have been a sure-fire one-bid league if the top-seeded Panthers had won the automatic bid, but now they’ll have a strong chance to gobble up one of the at-large bids, which hurts teams like Duke and Stanford. The Panthers rank 56th in the Ratings Percentage Index, according to Boyd’s World, so they’re not a regional lock. But with a 36-13 overall record, a regular-season OVC title and a solid nonconference resume, EIU deserves an at-large bid. Here’s betting the committee will recognize that.
Tulane bounced top-seeded East Carolina out of the Conference USA tournament with a 3-0 win today. The Pirates finish 1-2 in the tournament, and I think they blew their opportunity to host a regional with the poor showing. Tulane, meanwhile, has won a pair of games and eliminated the top seed. That will be enough to get the Green Wave into a regional.
As I see it, 14 teams are in great shape to host: Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine from the Big West; Arizona State from the Pac-10; Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12; Rice from Conference USA; Texas Christian from the Mountain West (though the Frogs could be in trouble if they get bounced from the conference tournament today); Louisiana State, Florida and Mississippi from the SEC; Florida State, North Carolina and Clemson from the ACC; and Louisville from the Big East. [...] Continue Reading »
Rhode Island might be the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, but we anointed the Rams the favorite in our conferene tournament capsules, and they’re showing why. URI dismantled top-seeded Dayton 9-2 today behind eight strong innings from lefthander Nick Greenwood. The Rams are now 2-0 in the tournament and still have their best pitcher, righty Eric Smith, fresh and ready to go. Meanwhile, in the Big East tournament, Connecticut is off to a 2-0 start after beating second-seeded South Florida 4-2 today.
Here in Durham, a third New England team had a big day, as Boston College completed a 10-1 shellacking of Miami behind seven strong innings from lefty Pat Dean. The press box is buzzing with talk about how impressive the Eagles have looked this week, and Miami coach Jim Morris echoed that sentiment in his post-game remarks.
"I want to congratulate them on how far their program’s come under Mik (Aoki)," Morris said. "They’re going to be good for a long time to come under his leadership. [...] Continue Reading »
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