OMAHA—Ray Tanner stood silently in front of the third-base dugout at TD Ameritrade Park, watching Arizona celebrate its College World Series Finals sweep of his South Carolina team.
Finally, Tanner ducked into the tunnel and made his way toward the postgame press conference.
"Golly," he said wistfully, as he walked up the tunnel. "If we'd just gotten a couple of hits, we'd have evened this thing up."
The Gamecocks had their chances in the late innings of Game Two of the Finals, which they lost 4-1. After tying the score at 1-1 in the seventh, South Carolina had the go-ahead run at second with two outs, but Tanner English flew out to center to strand the runner. The next inning, the Gamecocks had the go-ahead run at third with two outs, but Joey Pankake struck out to end the frame.
And after Arizona scored three runs in the top of the ninth to take the lead, the Gamecocks loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the frame, but English lined out and Grayson Greiner flew out to end the game, stranding all three runners.
"I knew going into this thing we were playing a team that had hit about .330 on the year. We were hitting probably .270 going in," Tanner said. "And I think we were averaging 3.75 runs in the postseason; we were only averaging three here in the College World Series. And we're playing in the championship series. Eventually, that's going to get you. And in the end, if you had to put your finger on one thing, it's run output. We just didn't get enough runs on the board." [...] Continue Reading »
Arizona has beaten South Carolina, 4-1, to capture its fourth national championship, and its first since 1986.
The Wildcats broke a 1-1 tie with three runs in the ninth against all-time College World Series wins leader Matt Price. Brandon Dixon, a .240 hitter who entered the game as a defensive substitution at first base in the 6th, drove in the go-ahead run with an RBI double down the left-field line. That chased Price and left runners on second and third. Two batters later, freshman Trent Gilbert provided two crucial insurance runs with a two-run single to right.
The Wildcats shined in all phases of the game during the postseason, and they finished the NCAA tournament a perfect 10-0. They earned this championship by knocking off the two-time defending national champions. The Wildcats needed to beat Michael Roth or Price in order to end the South Carolina dynasty; Roth turned in 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball before handing off to Price, with Arizona leading 1-0. The Gamecocks manufactured a run in the seventh to take Roth off the hook, but that was all the scoring Arizona starter James Farris would allow in 7 2/3 stellar innings—in his first start since regionals, more than three weeks ago.
The Gamecocks battled until the very end, loading the bases with one out in the ninth against freshman closer Mathew Troupe. But Troupe got Tanner Enlish to line out, and Grayson Greiner to fly out to right to end it, setting off a dog pile behind the mound.
I'll have plenty more on Arizona's championship after the postgame festivities and interviews.
John Manuel and I made our picks for the Finals in a podcast this weekend (you can download that here). After we both went 7-6 in our picks through bracket play, we both took Arizona to win the Finals opener, but now our picks diverge.
John is taking Arizona to complete the sweep today; I'm going with South Carolina to win today and tomorrow, completing the three-peat. John thinks Roth angered the baseball gods by admitting that he doesn't really like baseball in the pre-Finals press conference; he expects karma to bite Roth and the Gamecocks tonight. I simply refuse to bet against Roth and Matt Price in the College World Series—those guys always come through when it matters most. I think it makes sense for Arizona to start James Farris today, giving ace Kurt Heyer an extra day of rest in case the series goes three games. But Farris hasn't pitched in three weeks, and Andy Lopez admitted yesterday he was somewhat concerned about Farris being rusty. The Wildcats figure to need their artichokes down in the bullpen at some point today.
If Arizona manages to beat Roth and/or Price to capture the national title, hats off to the Wildcats, because they will have earned the championship against the ultimate champions. But I can't see South Carolina going down without a serious fight.
John's Pick: Arizona
Aaron's Pick: South Carolina
OMAHA—Another great season of college baseball is almost in the books, so I want to take a few moments to thank the players and coaches who make covering the sport such a joy. College baseball is close-knit community, and I am very fortunate to cover a sport where teams enjoy dealing with media, rather than viewing interactions with the press as a burden.
It's time to roll out my annual All-Fitt team—the players I most enjoyed watching and/or interviewing in 2012:
C: Tyler Heineman, UCLA
There was a ton of competition for this spot—I hated omitting North Carolina's Jacob Stallings, Stony Brook's Pat Cantwell, Creighton's Anthony Bemboom and Clemson's Spencer Kieboom(!). But UCLA's strong schedule and proximity to my home meant I watched the Bruins more than any other team this year, so I came to really appreciate Heineman's leadership, catch-and-throw skills, grit and personality. Florida State's Sherman Johnson told me during the CWS that Heineman was cracking all kinds of jokes when Johnson stepped into the box against the Bruins—that's a guy who has fun playing baseball, and it shows.
1B: Matt Snyder, Mississippi
Snyder hit some of college baseball's most majestic home runs this season, several of which set off wild beer showers in the student section beyond right field at Swayze Field. That made for some quality YouTube clips, and I also enjoyed chatting with Snyder and teammate Bobby Wahl during my swing through SEC country this year. They seemed like a fun-loving pair. [...] Continue Reading »
John: First, it's good to get back to .500. That was a hard slog, but I've caught Aaron in our picks challenge as we are both a scintillating 6-6. It's probably no coincidence that I'm having more success with picks when I'm no longer in Omaha.
Arizona was No. 5 in BA's preseason rankings because of Aaron Fitt. He loved that team from the get-go this year, and we've been higher on the Wildcats than anyone all year. I hope our readers remember that now that Arizona is in the CWS Finals. (I guess that's why I'm writing this now . . . Give Aaron some props!) When Arizona pitches, it can beat anybody because its defense is sound and its offense is dynamic. Those traits all have been on display in Omaha; it's been the most fun team to watch. Arizona will be a very tough opponent for either Southeastern Conference foe it faces in the CWS Finals. [...] Continue Reading »
John: First, an appreciation from afar for Michael Roth. So many hard throwers have seen their stuff turned around at the College World Series. So often, the big draft prospect, the No. 1 overall pick or the future No. 1, has gone to the CWS and lost, or been hit hard. Not Roth. He went from lefty specialist to ace starter in 2010 in Rosenblatt, in the old yard, with the old bats. He's dominated now in two CWS trips to TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. He deserves to be known as the best pitcher in CWS history because he has earned the title. He's been stellar for championship teams, and now he's thrown in a pair of complete games to boot. What a player. What a career. Congratulations, Michael Roth.
On to the picks . . . I'm taking Arizona. I would pick Florida State if not for Kurt Heyer, but I will take the Wildcats with their ace and their athleticism. If there's any rust, though, look for James Ramsey and the Seminoles to exploit it. Aaron picked the 'Noles to win the bracket, and they have played well, only losing that tight 12-inning game to 'Zona.
In the other bracket, I'm sticking with the Gamecocks to win one and force a game Friday. I don't think it makes a lot of sense to pick South Carolina to win two games, but having to deal wiith the tripleheader is just the kind of thing that will set this potential third championship run apart. Ray Tanner's club isn't really hitting right now, and I'm worried enough about their offense that I don't see the Gamecocks winning a third straight title. But they'll battle enough tonight to stay alive.
John’s Picks: Arizona, South Carolina. [...] Continue Reading »
OMAHA—After a rain delay of nearly two hours, Wednesday's College World Series elimination game between Kent State and South Carolina was postponed until 11 a.m. CT on Thursday. That sets up a CWS tripleheader, as the winner of the morning game will have to face Arkansas in the day's third game.
There is an open day built into the schedule on Saturday. The NCAA could have chosen to play the Kent State-South Carolina and Arizona-Florida State games on Thursday, then push the Arkansas-Kent State/South Carolina winner game to Friday. If another game became necessary, it could have been played Saturday. Instead, this schedule creates a significant disadvantage for the Kent State-South Carolina winner, which must play twice in one day. [...] Continue Reading »
John: I may as well stop making picks, as I'm on quite the losing streak. Nonetheless, I will press on and pick South Carolina today. Kent State is more than just happy to be here, and I kind of like Tyler Skulina, the Golden Flashes' starter today, more than Jordan Montgomery. But I also like South Carolina's bullpen depth and don't see that offense being dormant two games in a row. Skulina's good, but I don¹t think he'll pull a Konner Wade or a Ryne Stanek or a Scott Sitz (!) tonight and shut down a potent offense.
Let's give it up for the Seminoles and Aaron's faith in Scott Sitz though. I knew Aaron liked mustachioed pitchers but had no idea he'd pick Sitz and the Seminoles to beat the Bruins, the team he saw the most of personally in 2012. So I'm surprised to be behind in the picks blog, but almost more surprised by Sitz's performance. I did peg Jayce Boyd as part of the process if Florida State were to win, but certainly didn't think it would be with a two-run squeeze bunt.
John’s Pick: South Carolina [...] Continue Reading »
John Manuel: Seems like every year I get a little bittersweet taste coming to Omaha and then leaving, but I suppose by now I enjoy the grind of two games a day and seeing all eight clubs in four days. This job and this trip are a treat and don’t get old. I’ve been coming to the CWS since 1998 with one exception, and the game has changed a lot in that span, but two great games in one day at the Series is still special.
We had two great ones Monday night, with Kent State’s gritty win against a game but ultimately flawed Florida team, and then Arkansas edging South Carolina to end the Gamecocks’ streak. If you follow my Twitter feed you know I thought Florida played tight, but Kent State deserves credit for being able to take advantage. Scott Stricklin has a good, veteran club and is an excellent coach. His past “big school” experience as an assistant at Georgia Tech, plus this trip, make him the most attractive mid-major coach in the country. If I were an AD at an ACC or SEC school and needed a head coach, his name would be tops on my list. That may have been true anyway before this CWS trip, but it’s doubly the case now.
The Gators also deserve credit for not disintegrating, not folding, and Mike Zunino, Preston Tucker and coach Kevin O’Sullivan handled the press conference with a lot of class and dignity. None of them thought they were going 2-and-‘cue here in Omaha, but they were adults about it. That matters, and it’s appreciated.
This is nominally a picks blog, but when you’ve missed four straight games you start to wonder why you’re making picks . . . I believe the phrase is “for entertainment purposes only.” It definitely seems to entertain when we pick against South Carolina, and now Aaron and I both picked them and they lose. We’ll take the blame. [...] Continue Reading »
John is busy being Editor of Baseball America today, so it falls upon me to write the picks text for both of us. That should be easy enough: We're both taking Florida in the first game (against Kent State) and South Carolina in the second game (against Arkansas).
John thought Florida looked very out of character in Saturday's loss to South Carolina. He thought the Gators played and coached tight, and he expresses some concern about Florida's reliance upon the three-run home run to generate offense, because waiting for the long ball is not a winning strategy at TD Ameritrade Park. But he expects the Gators to return to character against the Golden Flashes, and I agree. Florida ace Hudson Randall is one of college baseball's premier big-game ptichers, and he has pitched very well in the second half of the season. I expect him to turn in a gem today, and I think the Florida offense will wake up against Ryan Bores. It's true that Florida leads the nation in home runs, but that lineup is stocked with experienced players who are plenty capable of stringing together line drives and playing small ball when necessary. [...] Continue Reading »
It's the first Sunday of the College World Series, which means it must be Father's Day. I wouldn't be here in Omaha if my dad hadn't instilled in me a deep love for the game of baseball at a very young age. As it turned out, our baseball road trips—to Cleveland, Cincinnati and Montreal, New York and the West Coast and just about everywhere in between—were good preparation for a life of baseball road trips as an adult. Thanks, Dad!
Let's get to Sunday's picks.
Florida State vs. Stony Brook
UCLA vs. Arizona
I have flip-flopped back and forth on the first game, which I could see going either way. I don't see Stony Brook playing as poorly as it did Friday against UCLA, and if these two teams both play up to their potential, they should be very evenly matched. Both are led by a dynamic All-American in center field (Travis Jankowski and James Ramsey), both have experienced cores of quality upperclassmen surrounding their two big stars, both can drive pitchers crazy with their patience at the plate, and both will hand the ball to strike-throwing sinkerballers today (SBU's Brandon McNitt against FSU's Mike Compton). I think pundits and fans can put too much emphasis sometimes on which team is likely to feel more pressure, and in this case, I think there is some pressure on both teams to avoid an 0-2 showing—Stony Brook surely wants to silence the doubters who called it a fluke after it was shellacked Friday, while Florida State must be desperate to avoid a record fifth 0-2 showing in Omaha, which would give more ammunition to those who love to mock the Seminoles for their CWS futility. I expect both of these veteran teams to be focused and determined, which should make for a great game. One thing in Stony Brook's favor is that Friday's blowout kept its key bullpen arms fresher, while FSU had to extend Robert Benincasa for four innings against Arizona. And Compton allowed 11 hits last week against Stanford, while McNitt is coming off seven very strong innings against LSU. But I just believe in James Ramsey and that Florida State infield—those guys aren't going to let FSU go 0-2 this time around. I'll take the 'Noles. [...] Continue Reading »
Kent State vs. Arkansas
South Carolina vs. Florida
Today's games have an undercard and a main event. Arkansas and Kent State probably know they are not the day's sexy matchup, but that doesn't mean it's not a good one. The two clubs set up fairly similarly as pitching-and-defense teams. Kent State's defense is superior to that of Arkansas in terms of the numbers, the consistency and recent history. The Golden Flashes made several key defensive plays to win a super regional at Oregon and will have to continue to defend at a high level to win in Omaha. Their best chance to win here appears to come today against Arkansas' D.J. Baxendale, who has had an erratic junior season and relies more on competitiveness and location than pure stuff. For the most part this season, Baxendale has beaten decent teams and lost to the good ones; I consider Kent State a good team with just a decent offense, and I think Baxendale will rise to the occasion and deliver a big performance for the Razorbacks. I'm picking them, but if you can't tell, I don't have a ton of confidence in the pick. [...] Continue Reading »
Stony Brook vs. UCLA
Arizona vs. Florida State
John: I'm taking the Pacific-12 Conference teams today. UCLA has the most complete team in the field for me, and Bruins coach John Savage is loving the attention showered on the Seawolves. Can Stony Brook keep up its high level of play despite all the pressure and scrutiny of college baseball's biggest stage? Even if it does, it has to beat the Bruins, who pitch, defend and hit with equal aplomb.
Florida State assistant coach Mike Bell told me during practice yesterday that he considers the Seminoles and Wildcats to be very similar teams. Florida State already put a hurting on one Pac-12 team by dismantling Stanford last weekend, and if Arizona's Kurt Heyer pitches as poorly as Mark Appel or Brett Mooneyham did for the Cardinal in the super regional, the Seminoles will roll.
OMAHA—One NCAA official said he's never seen a team draw the kind of pre-College World Series media crush that Stony Brook generated Thursday.
There was not even enough time to accommodate all the reporters who wanted sessions with the Stony Brook players after their morning batting practice session. And when the the day's final press conference with CWS coaches wrapped up, SBU's Matt Senk was swarmed by reporters for follow-ups, while Florida State's Mike Martin, Arizona's Andy Lopez and UCLA's John Savage exited quietly.
In the apparel tents ringing TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, Stony Brook gear has been flying off the shelves. Yes, it's fair to say the Seawolves are an Omaha sensation—and the first pitch hasn't even been thrown in the 2012 CWS.
"We went out and got some dinner last night," said All-America outfielder Travis Jankowski, "and we were getting cheers, and people wearing Stony Brook stuff."
It takes a lot for the media in the nation's largest city to pay any attention to college baseball, but Stony Brook's run through the Coral Gables Regional as a No. 4 seed and its conquest of SEC champion Louisiana State in Baton Rouge has captured the Big Apple's imagination. The New York Times profiled the Seawolves on Wednesday, and Newsday has been chronicling the team's journey in significant depth. The Associated Press reported that the school is hoping to capitalize on the baseball team's sudden popularity by spending $100,000 to produce and air a commercial that touts its achievements in athletics and academics during the first game of the CWS.
Being the subject of so much adulation surely has the potential to be overwhelming for a group of players accustomed to toiling in relative obscurity, but Senk seems confident his team will respond appropriately. [...] Continue Reading »
The College World Series field is set, as South Carolina, Kent State and Arkansas won their super regionals Monday to join Florida, Florida State, Stony Brook, Arizona and UCLA in Omaha. We recapped Monday's action elsewhere on the College Blog, so let's take some time to examine this fascinating CWS field.
The big story is the pair of Northern teams crashing the party. No team from Ohio or further Northeast has been to Omaha since Maine in 1986, and this year's field will include two such teams. Kent State is the first team from the Buckeye State to reach Omaha since Ohio University in 1970, and the first Mid-American Conference team to make it since Eastern Michigan in 1976. Stony Brook is the first team from the Empire State to make it since St. John's in 1980.
The warmest winter and spring that many Northerners can remember certainly made a difference this year, allowing cold-weather teams to practice outside in February—a prospect that is ordinarily impossible. The weather certainly contributed to the great Northern baseball renaissance of 2012, which also included a trip to super regionals by St. John's and a banner season for Purdue, which hosted a regional.
But attributing the success of the Northern teams to the weather is a major oversimplification.
"I think it shows that parity in college baseball does exist," Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said. "And that's something that we talked about a few years ago as coaches, with the scholarships, with the roster limits, with all those things that are put into play—we wanted this to be a national game. Now, I don't know how many coaches in the Southeast and the West actually wanted that to happen, but that's what's happening. You're seeing players that are spread out a little more evenly. [...] Continue Reading »
OMAHA—Minutes after Florida watched South Carolina celebrate its second straight national championship from the first-base dugout at TD Ameritrade Park, Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan exchanged postgame handshakes with South Carolina's players and coaches, then turned to accept consolatory "congratulations on a great season" handshakes from a couple of reporters.
"We'll be back," he said. "We'll be back."
Indeed, the foundation is rock-solid for the Gators, who entered 2011 atop the national rankings and are strong favorites to be preseason No. 1 in 2012 as well. Florida followed its historically strong 2009 recruiting class with another banner haul in 2010, leaving the roster stacked with experienced stars like Mike Zunino, Hudson Randall, Brian Johnson, Austin Maddox and Nolan Fontana heading into next season.
"What a great team, what a tremendous team, classy organization," Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner said of the Gators. "They play the game the right way. You never like to lose games, but you like to play people like the Gators and coach O'Sullivan because you get after it and you play the game the right way. And you can rest assured he'll be back in Omaha time and time again."
The bright future provided some solace for the Gators—but in the immediate aftermath of a national runner-up finish, it was small solace. Florida has gone from winning a regional to reaching the College World Series to making the CWS Finals in the last three years under O'Sullivan, but the progression of the program provided little more consolation. [...] Continue Reading »
OMAHA—I took advantage of another 7 p.m. start time to play my annual round of golf with Doug Kroll of NCAA.com at Shoreline Golf Course in nearby Carter Lake—we've come to call it the Shoreline Classic. This year, we were also joined by Doug's co-worker, Matt Wickline. Like South Carolina, I am the defending champion, and like the Gamecocks on Monday, I had to overcome an early deficit, trailing by two strokes after nine holes. Like the last few innings last night, the back nine was full of dramatic momentum swings—Doug increased his lead to four strokes after 13 holes, then I surged ahead by two strokes with two holes to play. My short game melted down on No. 17, allowing Doug to retake a one-stroke lead. But I took the final hole, and our showdown ended in a draw, with Matt three strokes behind us.
Settling for a tie is never satisfying, but at least we don't have to worry about that tonight. Either South Carolina will be crowed national champion for the second straight year, or Florida will force a decisive third game Wednesday. The Gators showed plenty of character with their backs to the wall in super regionals against Mississippi State, but Mississippi State is no South Carolina, and the Bulldogs did not have Michael Roth on the mound, as the Gamecocks are expected to. After MSU's walk-off win in the second game of the Gainesville Super Regional, the Gators were "almost ticked off and mad" in the post-game press conference, according to Matthew Stevens of the Starkville Daily News. After their gut-wrenching loss Monday against South Carolina, the Gators seemed shell-shocked and despondent. Maybe they'll put those emotions behind them and bounce back tonight, but they looked like they were already beaten Monday night, for what that's worth.
If this is the last day of the college baseball season, let me say that it has been quite a year. College basball has entered a new era, ushered in by less potent bats and a brand-new stadium for the College World Series. And after a slow start, this CWS has provided us with fantastic theater over the past three games, for which I'm appreciative.
I'm also thankful for all the coaches and players who have made college baseball fun to cover in 2011. Without further ado, here is a list of my favorite players to watch and interview this season—also known as the All-Fitt Team: [...] Continue Reading »
More than a hundred people showed up in person—while who knows how many others sat at their computers and bid over the internet—for an auction that was conducted in two tents located just outside the front gates of the fenced-off stadium.
The auction was being conducted for the Omaha Zoo Foundation, which now has the land to use for expansion of the adjacent Henry Doorly Zoo. Money from the auction is supposed to help defray costs to build a small park—the “Infield at the Zoo”—that is to be built where the playing field is/was after the stadium is demolished.
Some 900 lots were put up for bid in an auction that lasted well into the afternoon. Everything and anything was sold: from home plate to a handicapped seating sign. From pitching mounds to the padding on the outfield wall. From drinking fountains to dugout benches. From bleacher seats to bathroom contents in the umpires locker room.
Prices ranged from $5 for some signage to $7,500 for the American flag flown outside the stadium for the last time. Winning bids came from all corners of the country, although an Omaha woman won the bidding for the flag, so it will stay home. An additional 10 percent auction fee was added to each item. In some cases, removal charges also were tacked on. [...] Continue Reading »
After my 6-0 start to our annual College World Series picks competition, I stumbled with two misses Tuesday but rebounded Wednesday by correctly picking Vanderbilt to beat North Carolina, keeping me unbeaten in that bracket. John Manuel is also 7-2, and now the action shifts back to the left bracket, where California and Virginia meet in an elimination game today.
The Golden Bears will start junior righthander Dixon Anderson, who has power stuff but has had an up-and-down season thanks to inconsistent command. Virginia eats up pitchers who are not fine with their location, so Anderson needs to be sharp Thursday. I like how loose Cal has been out here—coach David Esquer has done a great job setting the tone for his team, which is playing with house money as the biggest underdog of the CWS. But Virginia senior righthander Tyler Wilson (today's starter) is a proven big-game pitcher with outstanding command, and I expect the Cavaliers to rebound from Tuesday's loss to South Carolina with a victory against Cal. John is also taking the Cavaliers.
One other note: Florida announced today that it will start junior lefthander Alex Panteliodis against Vanderbilt and Sonny Gray on Friday. Panteliodis was outstanding over 5 1/3 shutout innings against Vandy in the SEC title game, but I'm still a bit surprised the Gators opted not to bring back ace Hudson Randall on five days' rest against an opponent of Vanderbilt's caliber, especially with Gray on the mound. Randall will be the choice if Vandy forces a rematch Saturday; otherwise he'll be plenty rested to start the opener of the CWS Finals next week.
OMAHA—Senior catcher Curt Casali hit a solo home run, his seventh of the season, to help Vanderbilt beat North Carolina 5-1 Wednesday night. The victory advanced the Commodores into the bracket championship against Florida, which it must beat twice to reach the College World Series Finals.
Casali was gracious enough to join us for a postgame video interview.
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