Big Ten Belongs To Big Blue

It was easy to imagine a lot of endings like this for Cal State Fullerton when its stellar freshman class arrived on campus last fall. Gary Brown and Christian Colon will be dynamic college baseball players for the Titans, and they showed a glimpse of their value Tuesday against No. 6 Arizona State. With the score tied 9-9 in the ninth inning, Brown laced a one-out triple into the right-field corner, and Colon singled him home two batters later to give Fullerton a 10-9 win. The Sun Devils, meanwhile, seem to be running out of gas on the mound. They started senior lefty Josh Satow on Tuesday, and he allowed seven runs on eight hits over five innings, just three days after throwing 93 pitches and allowing seven runs on five hits over 4 1/3 innings in Saturday’s loss to Oregon State.

Elsewhere on the West Coast, UCLA is dealing with its own arms shortage, and the Bruins might have found a remedy Tuesday against Nevada-Las Vegas. After Garett Claypool limited UNLV to three hits and no runs over the first six innings, the Rebels stormed back with seven runs against four UCLA relievers to tie the score at 7-7 and force extra innings. The Bruins turned to shortstop Brandon Crawford to stop the bleeding, and Crawford responded with 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in his first career mound appearance. He struck out four without issuing any walks and allowed just two hits, and UCLA sports information director Alex Timiraos reports that Crawford was hitting 92-93 mph on the radar gun. In the 11th, Crawford doubled and scored the winning run on Mickey Weisser’s pinch-hit single.

One other note from Tuesday before we get to this week’s mailbag. Elon reached the 30-win plateau for the ninth straight season in impressive fashion, as freshman left fielder Greg Annarummo went 4-for-5 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in a 19-10 win against Wake Forest. His first-inning grand slam into the trees behind the left-center-field fence got the Phoenix off and running, and he later added a two-run shot and a three-run shot.

This week, we’ve got a double mailbag of sorts, dealing with the Big Ten’s postseason chances:

With the uniform start date designed to help conferences like the Big Ten, is there a chance it is a multiple bid league this year if Michigan wins the conference tourney? Illinois played better out of conference, but is in third place. Purdue played Baylor and Kentucky tough, but didn’t get a win and is just 8-13 outside the Big Ten. Does anyone have a chance of getting in if Michigan wins the tourney?

Travis Miller
Indianapolis

I know Michigan struggled early in the year and that Rich Maloney’s Wolverines don’t have a major marquee win like a year ago (although the win at Coastal Carolina looks better all the time), but given the way they have turned things around in leading the Big Ten, does Michigan have a legitimate shot at hosting a regional? If so, would they be the top seed, or might they be a host as a two-seed?  Thanks.

Andrew Stern
Ann Arbor, Mich.

To answer Andrew’s question first, I think the Wolverines have a very real shot at hosting a regional. The NCAA loves to grow the game by putting regionals in new markets, as it did with San Diego and Myrtle Beach a year ago. There is a lot of untapped potential in the Northern power conferences–the Big East and the Big Ten–and showcasing the beautifully renovated Ray Fisher stadium in a regional would be a great way to show the rest of the country that the Big Ten is serious about baseball, as well as giving hope to other Northern schools that invest in their facilities. The Wolverines are thoroughly dominating the Big Ten, with a 15-1 conference mark and a three-game lead over second-place Purdue, and they challenged themselves early with two games against Arizona State, one against East Carolina and one against Coastal Carolina–all of whom are warm-weather powers that have the significant early advantage over Michigan of being able to practice outside. Michigan went 1-4 in those games, with that lone win coming against Coastal, and that could very well end up as its only win of the season against another regional team. That lack of real quality wins, and an RPI that currently sits at 37 according to boydsworld.com, will make it hard for the Wolverines to earn a No. 1 seed, but if they continue to dominate their conference, I could see them hosting as a No. 2, with a team like California coming to Ann Arbor as the No. 1.

As for Travis’ question, I think the Big Ten is probably unlikely to get a second bid this year if Michigan wins the conference tournament. Illinois had an outside shot before being swept in a four-game series by Michigan last weekend. Ohio State played a fairly solid nonconference schedule but has struggled to an 8-7 start in Big Ten play and has yet to face Michigan. Purdue probably has the best chance, with a 12-4 record in the league, but the Boilermakers are just 20-17 overall and have an RPI of 135–much too high for any realistic shot at an at-large bid. Give Purdue credit for playing a tough early schedule, and for recovering from an 0-9 start against that schedule, but the Boilermakers will have to win the Big Ten tournament to get in.

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