Having been raised in Omaha and spending many summer nights scampering through Rosenblatt Stadium long before the ESPN cameras ever showed up . . .
I’m in Houston. Made it here fine. Back to my old stomping grounds of Reckling Park where Rice is hosting the Conference USA tournament. Houston is also famous for the Johnson Space Center, the Astrodome, the Gallery Furniture Dot Com Bowl and of course, that midget Bushwick Bill and his awful 90′s rap [...]
Well, my conference tournament plans went up in flames. That’s what spending nine hours in the Colorado Springs airport will do to you.
I won’t go into the full details, but just know that the small-but-powerful thunderstorm system that went through Chicago at mid-day today really had me grabbing my ankles and kissing my plans goodbye. Originally I was all set to fly thru the city of the Big Shoulders and connect on to Minneapolis to see the first few days of the Big 10 tournament. But lo and behold, horrid weather and a “grounding” of planes for an hour in Brian Urlacher-town ended up delaying everything on Wednesday, including my plans to fly into Minny on standby.
With flights delayed, moved and suddenly chock-full of angry flying patrons, my standby status for flying wasn’t going to happen. Probably not even for the next day or two.
So, I decided to cut my losses, take a hit on the hotel room in downtown Minneapolis (yes, I’m not happy) and jettison my plans for the Big 10 tournament in order to fly to Houston. Originally, my plan was to get to H-town on Friday or Saturday and see the last few days of the Southland and Conference USA tournaments. But now, I will end up seeing more of them than planned. And what the hell, it looks like my man Aaron Fitt is already up there covering the Northern front anyway, so no need to double up on that. In my effort to spread all the national writers around on Tournament week, I guess this weather crap was just serendipity telling me it was meant to be.
Still‚Ä¶ Damn you Chicago!
WHAT I PLANNED TO WRITE AS AN OPENING.¬†
So knowing I was headed to Viking country all week, I actually had a semi-interesting opening for tonight’s column. And since I had worked through the blood, sweat and tears in composing it, I’ve decided to go ahead and post it here anyway, even if it’s a little less detailed than I had planned. So enjoy‚Ä¶ or hate it. Whatever.
RISE OF THE BIG 10.¬†
Some of you who have been reading my stuff for years might remember this, but back in 2005, I went to the Austin Regional where Tracy Smith’s Miami RedHawks were playing as a 3-seed. Miami U. had just completed a 45-win campaign, won the Mid-American Conference and had also played their first season in a brand new baseball facility on their home campus in Oxford. Then, after the season was done, coach Smith left Miami for Indiana U. My knee-jerk reaction to that was, “Why the hell would he make a lateral move like that?”
Indiana’s Sembower Field was a good facility, if you compared it to high school programs in the area, and the Big 10, which had barely made a peep in the post-season in a couple decades, was a one-bid league in three of the previous five seasons.
Well guess what? I was completely wrong (As usual, right? Ha.). And this year is the best example of why. If Indiana doesn’t bogart the Big 10 tournament title, the Midway conference could get as many as three (or if you’re a Green dreamer, four) teams into the Big Dance. Smith’s Hoosiers are a lock and look likely to play at home in the Regionals. Illinois has an RPI of 30, so they’re a lock as well and will probably be a dangerous 3-seed somewhere. Michigan State has an argument to get into the Big Dance with its No. 40 RPI, even though it didn’t make the six-team post-season tourney. If No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Nebraska, No. 4 Minnesota or No. 6 Michigan win the whole ball of wax at Target Field this week, it’s an easy three-team race to the Big Stage.
I’ll never forget at the 2009 Big 10 tournament I attended in Columbus – which Indiana won – I asked coach Smith his reasons for leaving Miami U. and taking the IU gig. He said, “I looked around at the MAC and knew it was a good conference, but the MAC was a one-bid league. I remember one year when Ball State had Bullington as a first-rounder and was in the Top 25, but didn’t win the MAC tourney so they didn’t get an NCAA bid. And I always kept that in the back of my mind. So I wanted to go to a place where if you did well in the regular season, you were still going to have a chance at an at-large bid.”
Sure enough, coach Smith is right, even with Kent State reaching the CWS last year, the Flashes would have never made it to Omaha had they not won the MAC tournament. But now, 2013 is justification of his assertion.
And there’s another piece of fiction I’d like to go ahead and blow up here. You don’t need good weather to have a strong baseball conference. The 2013 season has been one of the worst weather-wise in recent memory. Hell, temperatures in Texas didn’t seem to warm up till almost mid-April. Louisville coach Dan McDonnell told me his teams’ trip to Florida was “nearly the coldest baseball games I’ve been a part of.” Yet, through it all the Big 10 has been strong this season, ranking No. 6 in the RPI rankings of conferences. Each of the teams in the top seven of the Big 10 standings also piled up some impressive early season wins in those “cold” trips South and West. And I believe I’ve written ad nauseum about the facility upgrades at just about every program except for Northwestern.
So the Big 10 has never been higher. But the good news for just about every team is, they can all do even more improving.
Best of what I could find today.
1- CHAD PINDER, VIRGINIA TECH.¬†
As College Baseball Insider Sean Ryan tweeted, “Chad Pinder, have a day.” And boy howdy did he ever. The Hokie big-stick slammed a pair of dingers, one of which was of the 4RBI variety, as Tech blasted rival Virginia 10-1.
2- TOMMY LAWRENCE, MAINE
The All-AmEast pitcher proved his worth today, tossing a complete-game two-hitter in the Black Bears’ 7-0 win over 4-seed Stony Brook in Lowell, Mass. The win was Lawrence’s 10th W of 2013, tying the school record for wins in a season.
3- ANDY HENKEMEYER, MINNESOTA.
In the Gophers 3-2 upset of 4th-seeded Illinois thanks to Henkemeyer’s 5th inning RBI single which tied the game at 2-apiece, then in the bottom of the 9th, Henkey did it again with a bases-loaded shot down the right field line giving the Gophers a good jump-start to their tournament. Here’s a look at the game-winning hit as it was seen on the Big 10 Network
Worst of what I could find today.
1- JOSE BRIZUELA, FLORIDA STATE.
According to a short release I received today, the Seminole sophomore 3rd baseman has been suspended indefinitely by head coach Mike Martin due to a violation of team rules and was sent home from the ACC tournament.
Whatever he did, it must’ve been a case of bad judgement and, of course, he also picked some piss-poor timing for it.
2- EXTRA INNING GAMES/BREAKFAST TIME FIRST PITCHES.
As Fat Sam pointed out in the comment section to the Baldcast, Mississippi State used seven pitchers in Tuesday’s 17-inning win over Missouri. So a deep run thru the SEC tournament will further tax this team as they head toward the NCAA Tournament next week. Today saw another extra inning game between Ole Miss and Arkansas, won by the Hogs in a more-sane 10 innings. Also, out West UT-San Antonio got a 14th-inning home run from R.J. Perucki to beat Sacramento State 3-2.
And another thing I can’t stand about conference tournament week is the knack for conferences to have teams throw out their first pitches at 9-freakin’-A.M. Really? You’re going to want your championship to be decided by teams getting out to the field at 7am or earlier?
3- UTAH VALLEY.¬†
Ack! After making last year’s magical run and being a big subject in Mike Rooney and I’s Baldcast last night, the Wolverines saw their 2013 season end ignominiously with a 3-2 loss to Chicago State. UVU ends the final year of Great West play with a 24-30 overall mark. They’ll move to the WAC for next season. And still there will be no Goose kallunki on the team.
HELPED THEIR CAUSE:
Nothing like conference tournament time to help balloon a team’s RPI
- Texas A&M:¬†
The Ags entered the day at No. 39 in the RPI after beating Florida on Tuesday. Just imagine what their RPI will be after beating No. 2 ranked Vandertbilt today? Three home runs helped boost the Ags to the win over a nothing-to-play-for Vandy squad. But just to let you know, this was the first time all season that VU was shut out in a game. Parker Ray went 8.0 innings to pick up his first win of the season. Yes, first.
- All the Sun Belt Favorites
South Alabama, Troy, Florida Atlantic and Louisiana, who are all in pretty safe territory RPI-wise, all won today on opening day in the Sun Belt tournament. USA and Louisiana have RPIs inside the Top 25, but for FAU and Troy another win for each and they’ll all be ollie-ollie-oxen-free.
The No. 30-ranked Panthers continue to be one of the more intriguing teams to keep an eye on with their 40-plus wins and having led the Big East going into the final weekend. Today’s 10-2 blowout of St. John’s was a good start to their tournament run. The RPI is still in the low-60s but my thinking was as long as they didn’t go belly-up in two straight they might have an argument. We’ll see if their hot-hitting continues in Clearwater.
- Notre Dame.¬†
Can the Irish get back in our good graces? The Irish came into the day at No. 46 and should make a good jump after today’s 5-0 upset of No. 36 Seton Hall. Adam Norton went the distance, scattering seven hits and K’ing seven while walking none. Strong.
HURT THEIR CAUSE:¬†
Nothing like a bad showing in the conference tournament to cement your fate.
The Jays go 0-and-2 to fall from fringy benefit-of-the-doubt land (No. 45 in the RPI) to what will probably be the low-50s after today’s 11-4 faceplant vs. Wichita State.
- Florida State.
Not sure how much it’ll hurt FSU’s National Seed chances, but having the double-whammy of one of their best players getting suspended AND losing a 4-3 decision to Georgia Tech was certainly a bad day at the office.
We all know the Cardinals are trying to nab that “last” National Seed spot. But tonight, they got out-lasted by UConn, 3-2 in 12 innings. So yes, not only does the UofL lose to a team with a triple-digit RPI, they also use up some arms in their hurling corps‚Ä¶ oh who am I kidding? The Cards have a deep enough staff to withstand this.
But can they withstand another loss in the Big East tournament?
Losing to Minnesota – speaking of teams with triple digit RPIs – is bad. But can you imagine if the Illini go 0-and-2 with a loss to Michigan tomorrow. I’m not saying they’ll be out of the NCAAs, but that No. 30 RPI will drop a good bit.
TWEET OF THE DAY:
SEBaseball’s Mark Etheridge on Texas A&M’s Hunter Melton:
“You can’t stop Hunter Melton. 2HRs & some of his swing & misses have cooled entire sections.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
As reported by Aaron Fitt from the Big 10 Tournament, Nebraska’s Michael Pritchard, when asked about tomorrow’s starting pitcher for opposing Ohio State, “I don’t know who they’re starting, probably a righty or a lefty.”
Okay Stitch-Heads, here’s the latest from Mike Rooney and I on the coolest Baldcast in the country… Nay, the coolest baldcast in the entire world.
Best Line: Roons on Virginia coach Brian O’Connor, “It’s been a huge advantage at Virginia to keep his staff together. It says a lot about Brian O’Connor, who deserves great credit because you have to allow your coaches to coach to keep them around for that long.”
As you know, most of our nation’s attention turns to the numerous victims in Oklahoma City and the surrounding areas that were ravaged by an incredibly powerful F4 twister that flattened everything it its considerable path.
Growing up in Omaha, I still have PTSD from hearing the tornado sirens go off in the spring and scurrying down to the basement and huddling under our industrial-sized work bench.
Another day, another quadrant of NCAA tournament bids were handed out. The SWAC, MEAC, Patriot and Big West were all settled on this afternoon.
Here’s a quick recap of the highs and lows of this limited action Sunday‚Ä¶
As the Foo Fighters would say, there goes my hero. On the last Saturday of the regular season for most conferences, today was full of heroes as games went down to the wire and regular season titles were up for grabs.
What a panic today was. In the 16 games featuring Top 25 teams, nine of them were either one-run games or went into extra innings.
Yep, it must be getting to crunch time in college baseball.
Beyond the highly-informative and always-entertaining Baldcast, here’s what else went on in college baseball today‚Ä¶ read on.
It’s Don Ho time. “Tiny bubbles” are floating around everywhere in college baseball at this time of year. It almost seems like with this new RPI formula and the rewarding of road wins, the teams “on the bubble” are more numerous (and more diversified) than ever.
I couldn’t help but notice all the good relief stints that occurred in college baseball tonight, several of which were on the tube. And also several of which had big NCAA Tournament implications. So I hope you don’t mind that I did a little write-up and running commentary below.