OMAHA–I was thinking about that epic first game yesterday between UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton, and I wanted to single out a crucial moment that got lost in the pandemonium of that 13th inning. If not for Cody Cipriano’s 14-pitch at-bat in the seventh, all of that extra-inning drama might never have occurred. UCI trailed 4-3 heading into the bottom of the seventh, when Cipriano fouled off eight straight payoff pitches and finally deposited a Jeff Kaplan offering over the right-field fence. The opposite-field home run was Cipriano’s 13th long ball of the year, setting a new school record. He is Irvine’s best hitter, but he had been struggling of late. It was nice to see him come through when the Anteaters needed an equalizer.
One other thought on that first game: I wonder if there will be any fallout from the Taylor Holiday hit-by-pitch episode in the 13th inning. Fullerton coach George Horton was ejected after arguing that Holiday intentionally leaned into the pitch, and after the game the NCAA national coordinator for baseball umpires, Dave Yeast, said in a statement: “if the batter intentionally gets hit by moving or rolling any part of the body into the pitch, the batter shall not be awarded first base. The application of this rule requires the umpire to make a split-second determination of the intent of the batter. In the judgment of the home plate umpire, the batter did not intentionally move into the path of the oncoming pitch.”
But in the postgame press conference, Holiday admitted that was exactly what he did. He said CSF’s Bryan Harris was throwing two-seam fastballs that ran in on righthanded hitters, so he got as close to the plate as he could and leaned into the pitch like he was taught. With that admission, Holiday inadvertently showed the umpires up. I wonder if future close calls might be slightly less likely to go in UC Irvine’s favor . . .
Regarding the late game, I found it interesting that Arizona State coach Pat Murphy tried to surprise Oregon State by starting Brian Flores over Josh Satow.
“I was up late watching tape, watching Satow throw, then he starts Flores on me,” OSU coach Pat Casey said after the game.
The strategy didn’t work, and once it became apparent in the first inning that Flores wasn’t fooling the Beavers, Murphy changed course and went to Satow. Flores threw just 21 pitches, and Murphy said he’s got an elastic arm, so he’ll get the call today. Arizona State’s biggest weakness is its pitching depth–this team isn’t really built to run through the loser’s bracket. Mike Leake has proven to have a very resilient arm, but you’ve got to figure at some point Murphy will have to call upon a less proven pitcher like Mike Parigi or C.J. Retherford.
On to today’s picks. My dream of a perfect run through the CWS came to a heartbreaking end yesterday when the Titans couldn’t hold the lead against Irvine, but I regained my three-game lead over John Manuel when Oregon State won the nightcap.
Game Nine: North Carolina vs. Louisville
The best team doesn’t always win in Omaha. The hottest team often does. Louisville’s offense is red-hot, and North Carolina’s starting pitching is ice cold–that’s a dangerous combination. The early innings will be crucial, because Louisville’s offense is very contagious. The Cardinals thrive on stringing hits together, but if Luke Putknonen can keep them in check early, they might start to press. Putkonen needs to try to stretch the strike zone against the aggressive Louisville bats. John is sticking with the Tar Heels, his pre-tournament national champion pick, but I’m going with the hot hand in Louisville.
John: North Carolina
Game 10: Arizona State vs. UC Irvine
John and I were both a little concerned about Arizona State’s mental state after their excuse-laden post-game press conference, especially since Irvine’s best trait is its toughness. But I think you can only hold the Sun Devils offense down for so long. ASU is going to have to slug its way to the championship series, and I think it starts today against freshman Eric Pettis.
Aaron: Arizona State
John: UC Irvine