College World Series: First weekend of baseball in Omaha features plenty of steak and sizzle
OMAHA, Neb. – The weekend’s over, and what it produced is not just any ol’ winners’ bracket in the College World Series.
Matter of fact, let’s play . . . Name That Team!
Who hasn’t lost since April 29, which was one day before the NBA playoffs’ first round ended?
OK, that’s an easy one. The Oregon State Beavers, all 55-4 of them.
Who hasn’t lost since May 9, three days after the Kentucky Derby, and is averaging a very healthy nine runs a game in the NCAA Tournament?
They have a date Monday night, matching 22 and 17-game winning streaks. Two teams who will not blink.
“Something’s gotta give,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I expect this game will be a complete blast.”
What team has led 25 of its last 27 NCAA Tournament innings?
Louisville, with Player of the Galaxy Brendan McKay.
What team has a staff that has thrown so many strikeouts, the breeze from swinging-and-missing bats could move a windmill?
That’s Florida, whose nickname might as well be the K-tors. Try 104 strikeouts in eight NCAA Tournament games. Since the super regionals began, opponents have sent 160 hitters to the plate and 63 have come back with bat in hand – a 39.4 percent whiff rate. Plus, with the 3-0, 15-strikeout win over TCU its second consecutive shutout, Florida has not surrendered a run in 18 innings. “They just smother you with outstanding pitching,” Horned Frogs TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle mentioned.
Louisville and Florida have a date Tuesday night. Two teams who have never won a national championship, but now own the inside lane to the final round.
The losers’ bracket ain’t lost on intrigue, either. Cal State Fullerton and Florida State meet Monday, trying to forget Saturday, and the leads that got away. Cal State Fullerton managed five runs on three hits against Oregon State. The CWS hadn’t seen anything like that in 33 years.
Then there’s Texas A&M vs. TCU, a Lone Star State duet with history. Three of their last six meetings have gone extra innings. TCU knocked Texas A&M out of the super regional in 2015 and ’16 and the regional in ‘12. The very thought of it happening again in the College World Series Tuesday must cause mass Aggie nausea.
While they deal with survival or elimination, the four winners can ponder what the weekend taught them.
Oregon State knows its self-confidence and toughness have not retreated an inch, here in the brightest lights. The Beavers were hardly fazed by the early 5-1 deficit against Cal State Fullerton.
“We know that we’re in just about any game,” outfielder Jack Anderson said. “Doesn’t matter. We’re down one, down four, we’re just believing in ourselves regardless of the score.”
As Trevor Larnach put it, “Just the thought of losing, it just never comes in our head.”
Maybe that’s because it hardly ever happens. Or maybe that’s why it hardly ever happens.
LSU is made of similar steel, and was reminded of the value of its dashing, aggressive style. Saturday was the Tigers’ 21st come-from-behind victory. How’s that happened?
“We fall behind a lot of games. We had no choice,” Mainieri said. “I think that’s where the senior leadership really steps up. You can tell young kids all you want how to do it. But there’s nothing better as a teaching tool than to have older players that step up and get the job done.
“It’s just every coach preaches that you’re never out of it and you’ve got to fight back and you’ve got the handle adversity, but sometimes young kids don’t understand how that completely works. And when the older players do it, they see a living example, and you hope the torch gets passed to them.”
Louisville, which had to hold off Texas A&M, learned something, too, starting 1-0 in the CWS for the first time in history.
“We understand now,” coach Dan McDonnell said, “these games aren’t always the cleanest. There’s too much competition. Everybody is playing too hard. It’s not supposed to be smooth and easy. You’ve just got to grind it out.”
One other thing the Cardinals noticed. “You can’t hear,” shortstop Devin Hairston said. “I’ve never been in a stadium that loud before.”
Yeah, well, wait until they hear the buzz of Florida passing fastballs. Alex Faedo was only extraordinary Sunday, allowing two hits in seven innings and striking out 11 of the 24 batters he faced. “Tonight has to go as a great, great performance in College World Series history,” Schlossnagle said.
The Gators have struck out 63 batters their past four games. What must it be like for the poor guys trying to hit against them at the moment?
“Fortunately I don’t have to experience what they do,” Florida shortstop Dalton Guthrie said. “Just hitting off them in scrimmages, the way they attack the zone. I can’t imagine it being very fun.”
The Gators haven’t exactly been on an offensive roll, with six runs in two critical games. Then again, the other team scored none.
“This is who we are,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “And this is what we’ve been doing all year long.”
Now they have to do it against a Louisville team that has won 53 games. The plot is thickening in Omaha.