I can’t start with anything else here besides that record-setting crowd in Omaha for today’s Big 10 title tilt. Indiana may have won the game and Nebraska given them a run for the money, but the REAL story of the day is the 19,965 fans which filed through the turnstiles today to see this game and give it a College World Series atmosphere.
The 19,965 was the largest conference tournament crowd to ever. The fact that it came from a Big 10 conference game was pretty remarkable too. Great atmosphere. High-pressure stakes. Incredible day in downtown Omaha.
I dig it, man.
WHAT I SAW AT TD AMERITRADE STADIUM
The championship game of the Big Ten tournament.
Nebraska – 000 030 100 – 4 7 2
Indiana U – 210 013 01x – 8 11 2
WP: Luke Harrison, 6-0
LP: Bob Greco, 3-2
Save: Jake Kelzer, 2
- Ryan Boldt, 3-for-4, 2B, Walk
- Tanner Lubach, 2-for-3, Walk
- Kyle Schwarber, 2-for-4, HR, 2RBI
- Dustin DeMuth, 2-for-4, 2RBI 2B
- Nebraska, 40-19
- Indiana, 42-13
IN A NUTSHELL:
This is one of those conference tournament championship games which really didn’t need to be played. I mean, all apologies to the NCAA record 19,965 fans who showed up, the largest crowd in NCAA conference championship history, but these are the games where both teams are set to go to the NCAA Tournament, Indiana as a National Seed, Nebraska as a two-seed, win or lose for both.
Nonetheless, I digress of course.
But both teams deserve credit for playing like they were fighting for the last at-large bid. And it showed. By that, I mean it showed in the good and bad way. There were mistake pitches, clutch hits, thrown bats in frustration, cool confidence, etc. etc. In fact, Nebraska’s first two runs of the game were a direct effect of a room service ground ball that went right through the five-hole of steady 2nd baseman Casey Rodrigue.
But before that, Indiana set the tone with two runs in the 1st inning and another run in the second. Two walks in the 1st inning issued by Nebraska’s Austin Christiansen helped the Hoosiers plate the two runs. Kyle Schwarber and Scott Donley were given free passes and with two out in the inning, Dustin DeMuth lined a double to the right-center gap, plating the two runners and making the walks painful.
But Nebraska fed off the crowd enough to tie the game in the top of the 5th. With the noise level rising and the bases loaded with no outs, a crucial two-run error on the Indiana infield put the joint into a frenzy as Pat Kelly’s routine grounder to IU 2nd baseman Casey Rodrigue went through the legs and allowed Ryan Boldt and Jake Plazcec to score and pull NU within one.
A batter later, the Cornhuskers tied the game with an RBI double-play groundout by Blake Headley.
But the true mark of a championship team is one that can come back and have an answer when momentum seems to be shifting. And that’s what IU did. And guess who?… yes, All American linebac… I mean, catcher Kyle Schwarber. The stout stick crushed a no-doubter to right field the next half-inning later and made it 4-3 IU, just like that.
The bottom fell out an inning later as Indiana plated another three-run inning in the 6th. A walk, single and single loaded the bases for the Candy Stripers with one out. Tim O’Connor’s RBI groundout made it 5-3. Then, a pressing-too-hard error on Nebraska’s Steven Reveles allowed another run to score. Just like Rodrigues gaffe for Indiana, this was a routine play where Reveles just threw the ball wide to 1st after fielding the grounder. Again, big game nerves.
Nebraska got one run back in the 7th after freshman phenom Ryan Boldt doubled, then scored on – you guessed it – another error by IU.
Hoosier reliever Jake Kelzer – who came into the tournament with one of the worst ERA’s on the team at an embarrassingly high 2.62 – came on to slam the door in the final 2.2 innings of the game, giving up just an 8th inning single.
And, as you would expect of the “all business Hoosiers” as Kyle Schwarber stated in the post-game press conference, these guys didn’t dogpile after the final out. Just a few extra emphatic slaps in the high-five line and then they went over and shook the hands of the Huskers.
IT WAS OVER WHEN…
- Kyle Schwarber answered.
As Marv Albert might say, “With authority!” Schwarber’s 5th inning bomb to the right field gen ad section signaled to Nebraska that this Hoosier team wasn’t going to be rattled by the big atmosphere. And they weren’t, especially when it came to answering every one of Nebrska’s runs.
That was Nebraska’s batting at the plate with runner’s in scoring position today. By contrast, Indiana was 4-for-11 with RISP. That right there will tell you the story of the game.
Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad.
- On his guys playing in front of this big crowd and high-level of intensity:
“I saw our guys doing a lot of things that I’ve never seen them do before in the dugout. You might’ve seen them slam their bats back into the bat rack a little harder or seen their helmets skim across the dugout, you’re hearing some noises under their breath. You have to remind them, it’s okay to breathe. It’s a tense situation because they wanted to win this so bad. We want to play at a high level of baseball every time out. Whether you’re playing on a Tuesday with 10 people in the stands and it’s 20 degrees out, or if you’re in front of 20,000 people you want to minimize those outside influences. These are great learning experiences for our guys.”
- On the crowd at today’s game:
“Oh I knew they’d show up today. Maybe not to THAT extent. But I don’t put anything past Husker Nation. I don’t. It’s amazing the support that we have. And it’s not just ‘Hey they’re winning, let’s show up for the game.’ We were playing at nine o’clock in the morning on a mid-day and there were 12,000 people there for our game. That’s one of the big reasons I moved my family back here before I even got hired by Nebraska. That’s the kind of environment I want my kids to grow up in.”
- On the Big 10′s improvement:
“There’s no doubt out it our facilities have improved all over the place. But I’ll tell you where the most improvement is, is on the mound. There were a lot of young arms. I mean there were lefty after lefty rolling out there going upper 80s, touching lower 90s, all with good spin on the ball. And I’m gonna tell you now, it’s coming. There are a bunch of freshmen and sophomores out there who can really bring it. It’s definitely a deeper league than the one we saw a couple of years ago. And you’re seeing guys in the eight-or-nine hole who may not be able to hit a home run, but maybe they can really run. I think you’re seeing lineups that have a completely different skill-set than two or three years ago. And it’s only going to get better.”
Indiana head coach Tracy Smith.
- Opening statement
“First of all I want to thank the Big Ten for making this such a great tournament and the city of Omaha for creating such a great environment for us. I just found out in the hallway walking in here that they set the NCAA record for the biggest attendance of all time for a conference tournament game. I just think that speaks volumes towards the enthusiasm for Nebraska and the folks of the Big 10 have for baseball. I want to thank the fans here in Omaha and for the fans of Nebraska for making this such an incredible atmosphere here.”
- On winning the Big 10 tournament title:
“It’s a great feeling to win. We have a lot of baseball ahead of us but you don’t want to take these things for granted. This was a special group of guys to coach and to be around. I’m glad they got the honor of not only the regular season title but the post-season tournament crown as well.”
- On his players’ mindset going forward to NCAA tournament play.
“They do expect to get back here. I think you saw that when they didn’t dogpile out there. They won a championship in a very unbelievable environment, but our guys said it up here a few minutes ago, it’s real, it isn’t fake. Our guys are focused on winning a national title. There are a lot of good teams who don’t make it to Omaha so they don’t take it for granted. Our guys expect to be on that road back here to Omaha and I can say with 100% certainty that they definitely believe they can make it back here.”
- On evaluating Nebraska as a team.
“I mean this in a totally complementary way, not in an arrogant way, but they are a lot like us. They’re fast where they should be fast, they’ve got guys in the middle of the order that can hurt you, they’re pitching is good and they can beat you in a bunch of different ways with different guys. When they didn’t get into the NCAA tournament last year, I thought they were one of the best teams in the country by the end of the season. Now I understand the RPI and all that but at that time I thought they were playing some of the best baseball in the country. They’ve got pitching, they defend and they’ve got guys that can hit.”
- When asked about when he realized he had a team that had “It”. Had that little something that he knew they would be a national contender:
“When we had two of our guys on the cover of Baseball America.”
- On the state of the Big 10.
“I think it’s a definite upward swing and you could point to a number of different factors. It’s a combination of a lot of good coaches in this league and coaches who players know are going to develop guys. I think it’s the facilities in this league across the board. To use Indiana as an example, we built this new facility and I’ll tell you right now you don’t hold on to the Dustin DeMuth’s and Ryan Halstead’s to stick around for another year of college unless you have an investment in facilities and I think that has a direct effect to the quality of play on the field. And of course, the Big 10 Network gives us the ability to attract the quality of players from all over the country to play here.”
- On a Big 10 team earning a National Seed like Indiana has this year.
“You’ve heard me say this before that we have the direct effect of playing our first 15-to-20 games on the road and that has an effect on the RPI. I say this all the time, as the season goes on and when we start to get our “sea legs” about us, our top teams in the Big 10 are as good as any teams in the country. I said it last year, you don’t know how hard it is for an Indiana with the RPI factor to host a home Regional and be in consideration for a National Seed when you play so many early games on the road like we have. Look at Illinois, they’re fighting like hell to get into the tournament, but there are some good teams at the end of the year that suffered early from the RPI.”
A few more images from today’s game…
Some extra things from around the country.
The rest of the conference tournament champions from around the country.
1- The other conference champions
- Binghamton, America East.
Oof! The Bearcats scored on a bases-loaded RBI single from Eddie Posavec in the 12th inning to upset regular season champion Stony Brook.
- Houston, American Athletic
Cougars get some semblance of revenge as they lost all three games to Louisville at ohm in the regular season. Also, with their RPI sitting at No. 11 coming into the day, did this do enough to put UofH into a National Seed category?
- Georgia Tech, ACC
This team was considered to be on the fence for the NCAA tournament as they were rated at No. 35 in the RPI and had a losing mark in conference play. But today’s 9-4 win over Maryland reassures their inclusion to the Big Dance.
- Kennesaw State, Atlantic Sun
The Owls scored three runs in both the 7th and 8th inning to down Lipscomb 7-1 and earn their first NCAA appearance as a Division One program. Brennan Morgan went 9-for-14 this week and earned the MVP designation.
- TCU, Big 12
The Frogs took down Oklahoma State 7-1 to claim the Big 12 crown. Frosh flinger Tyler Anderson threw his first-ever complete game, giving up just four hits to a really tough Cowboy batting order. TCU claims its seventh tournament crown under Jim Schlossnagle.
- Xavier, Big East
The fourth-seeded Musketeers beat top-seeded Creighton 5-0 in a winner-take-all championship game. Even though this was s’posed to be a double elimination tournament, Fox Sports wanted a one-game title, so XU wins the Big East despite them and Creighton each having one loss.
But I will admit, their celebration in the Atlantic Ocean was pretty cool…
- Campbell, Big South.
Wayyyyyy back on Tuesday the Camels lost badly to Coastal Carolina by a 9-2 count. But after that, it was all #RollHumps. The Camels won five straight games, topped by Sunday’s 9-1 win over Winthrop to advance to the NCAA tournament. The better news is that maybe this makes amends for them getting snubbed last year despite a 49-win campaign.
- Rice, Conference USA.
The Owls saved a life today. One of the bubble teams out there owes the Owls a round of shots as Rice beat upstart UT-San Antonio 11-5 to claim their sixth tourney title in nine tries since joining the league.
- Siena, MAAC
I’m not sure there was a more impressive team in the country this week than the Siena Saints. It’s bad enough they were facing the regular season champion Canisius Griffins, who started the season by beating Carlos Rodon and N.C. State, but they also had to win four games in a 30-hour span to claim the MAAC title. On Sunday they took down the Griffins 6-5 and 5-1 to advance to their first NCAA Regional since 1999.
- Kent State, MAC
Hey, looks who’s back in the NCAAs. I loved the write-up on KSU’s website where it said, “Take two rival schools that are within close distance to the neutral-site ballpark, add in a pitcher’s duel, questionable calls and a superb defense and you have the 2014 Mid-American Conference tournament championship game that Kent State won 3-0 over Akron.”
Yep, that sums it up pretty good in one paragraph.
- San Diego State, Mountain West.
The Aztecs return to the NCAAs for the second straight year after downing at-large lock UNLV at Earl Wilson Stadium in Sin City 4-3. SDSU has a record of 42-19, which is the best win total since 2009′s 43 wins and best winning percentage since 1990′s 49-22. I’m thinking a three seed in San Luis Obispo, no?
- Jacksonville State, Ohio Valley
Oh crap! I thought Siena’s run was impressive. What about these Gamecocks. They lost 2-1 to Eastern Illinois on Wednesday, then went on a six-game tear to win the OVC title game over Tennessee Tech 4-2 in come-from-behind fashion. Call ‘em the Cardiac Cocks.
- LSU, SEC.
Holy Etouffee! I didn’t realize today’s 2-0 win over Florida means the Tigers have now won five of the last seven SEC tournament titles. Is that true? Gadzooks. Sean McMullen launched a two-run home run in the top of the 8th inning and the skunking was the 17th of the season for the Purple and Gold, which leads the nation in shutouts.
- Georgia Southern, Southern Conference.
How about this stat: Samford closer Andres Gracia had allowed just one earned run all season before giving up two runs in the 9th inning to the Eagles, allowing them to win the SoCon title in jog-off fashion. Gracia’s ERA jumped from 0.28 to 0.79 with the two runs he gave up in 1.1 innings today.
- Louisiana, Sun Belt
Again, another huge exhale from the bubble teams as the Ragin’ Cajuns win the SBC title and save an at-large bid out there for a deserving team. UL escaped UT-Arlington’s upset bid today 6-5. it was Blake Trahan’s 7th inning home run which made for the final score. Louisiana was also announced as a host site for a Regional tonight, so we’ll see if that means a National Seed or not.
- Sacramento State, WAC
It’s just as well. The Hornets won the regular season crown, won 39 games and will now go to the NCAA tournament for the first time since joining Division One in 1990. The Hornets took down Utah Valley in the WAC finale by a 10-3 score today. Sac State lost its first game of the week, 4-1 to Cal State Bakersfield, but battled back to win four straight, most of them in blowout fashion too.
Okay, that’s enough for now. In a couple of hours the NCAA Selection Committee will unveil the Field of 64. Good Gaw-wed guys, PLEASE don’t go by-the-letter on the RPI. Ugh.
I’m gonna go try to sleep now.