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2018 Rewind: Top Stories To Remember

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The 2018 college baseball season was truly one to remember, and it’s time to take an in-depth look at the top stories of the year.

The top stories of the year range from the passing of legendary head coach Augie Garrido to Oregon State winning its third national title, only to have long-time head coach Pat Casey step away from the game this fall.

Let’s check out the story lines:

Legendary coach Augie Garrido passes away

Augie Garrido seemed larger than life throughout his 48-year coaching career. Garrido guided Cal State Fullerton to three national titles before capping off his national title runs with a pair of titles at Texas in 2002 and ’05. Garrido, 79, passed away in mid-March, and the devastating news created a swell of support from around the college baseball community. Texas put the number ’16’ inside the Longhorn logo in center field and held a massive memorial service for him at the Frank Erwin Center. Meanwhile, Cal State Fullerton recently honored Garrido at a memorial service at Titan Gym, where Fullerton head coach Rick Vanderhook and legendary slugger Mark Kotsay, among others, spoke about Garrido’s impact on their lives and our game in general.

Garrido’s contributions to college baseball will never be forgotten. He took a little-known Cal State Fullerton program (at the time) to prominence on the national stage, while also restoring order at Texas. Garrido also had plenty of words of wisdom throughout his coaching career. My favorite memory of Garrido was when a reporter, prior to Game Three of a super regional, asked him about the pressure on his Texas players entering the series finale, to which Garrido responded: “Pressure? Nervous? Man, we’re about to play one game to go to Omaha. This is what these kids live for.”

Indeed, Augie, and may you eternally rest in peace.

Florida State’s Mike Martin gets all-time wins record

Garrido was involved in yet another story line during the 2018 campaign. The legendary head coach was the all-time wins leader in our sport as the season began. He had a whopping 1,975 victories. However, that mark was bested by FSU’s Martin in early May. Martin, 74, broke the record in nine less seasons than Garrido. Martin’s resume, though it still lacks a national title, is simply incredible. The FSU skipper has eclipsed the 40-win mark in all of his 39 seasons, while also eclipsing the 50-win mark in 24 of those campaigns. Amazing when you consider the evolution of college baseball since he began his coaching career. Martin also has guided FSU to 16 College World Series appearances, while never missing the NCAA tournament. 

Who knows if Martin will reach the apex of the college baseball world in his final season at the helm. What I can tell you is that no matter what, his coaching career has been remarkable. He’s also navigated the FSU program with upmost class.

Check out Aaron Fitt’s column on Mike Martin from May, here. It’s classic ’11”.

Oregon State wins its third national title/Pat Casey retires

The 2017 campaign seems like so long ago for the Beavers. That year, the Beavers tallied an incredible 56-6 overall record and 27-3 mark in the Pac 12. However, that team failed to win the national title after getting eliminated from the CWS by LSU.

OSU didn’t let that happen again.

The Beavers didn’t win the Pac 12 crown in 2018, but they accomplished much more. OSU got sweet revenge against that same LSU team in the Corvallis Regional — outscoring the Tigers 26-1 in a pair of meetings to win the regional. OSU then disposed of Minnesota in the super regional round to punch yet another ticket to the College World Series.

OSU had some trouble early with an 8-6 loss to North Carolina. However, the just got the Beavers going. The Beavs proceeded to score 37 runs in three games with wins over Washington, North Carolina and Mississippi State. OSU beat MSU again, 5-2, to advance to the CWS Finals.

Oregon State lost the series opener to Arkansas in the Finals but won the second game in thrilling fashion. The Beavers were down to their last out when the Hogs had trouble securing the final out on a pop fly in foul territory down the right-field line. Cadyn Grenier reached base, and later, Trevor Larnach, who had a spectacular 2018 campaign, delivered the decisive blow with a two-run home run in the ninth inning. It was an absolute no-doubter. OSU beat the Hogs 5-3 to force a Game Three.

The next day, the Razorbacks looked shell-shocked as OSU dominated them 5-0 to win its third national title. Freshman righthander Kevin Abel put together a legendary performance against the Hogs, striking out 10, walking two and allowing just two hits in a complete game. It was a start for the ages, and here’s what I wrote about Abel’s rise to legendary status.

It was a year to remember for the Beavers. Just a few months later, long-time head coach Pat Casey unexpectedly announced his retirement. Though Casey is out of commission for at least the 2018 campaign, there is a clause in his contract that suggests he could let OSU athletic director Scott Barnes know by June he wants to return for the 2020 season. Stay tuned, as his career might not be over just yet.

Wayne Graham’s career comes to an end

You could make a strong argument that perhaps no coach did as much as Graham at Rice when it comes to resources and competition in the region. When Graham took over the Owls program following a stint at San Jacinto (Texas) College, where he coached Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, among others, it was a challenge. The Owls had little history on the baseball front and played in one of the worst facilities in Texas.

Even with those challenges, Graham immediately got the Owls back on the winning track and led them to prosperity. Rice made its first CWS appearance in 1997 and tripped to Omaha again two years later. Rice’s administration took notice and the Owls opened a beautiful new ballpark — Reckling Park — in 2000. They were no longer a program with a sub-par facility, thanks to Graham.

What Graham accomplished the rest of his career is remarkable. He guided the Owls to a national title with a series win over Stanford in 2003, and the program made seven total trips to college baseball’s Promised Land in his tenure. Furthermore, he led the program to 21-straight conference championships, dating back to the old Southwest Conference, followed by the WAC and Conference USA.

The Owls also put together an impressive NCAA tournament streak under Graham with 23-straight trips to the postseason. In 2017, the Owls were on the brink of missing the tournament with no at-large chances entering the C-USA tournament. However, they stormed through the tourney and beat Southern Miss to extend the streak to 23 games. That streak ended this year at the hands of Florida Atlantic in dramatic fashion.

Graham’s tenure might have come to a somewhat ugly end as he clashed with Rice administrators about his dismissal, but his contributions to our sport and to Rice University will not be forgotten. He was an amazing coach and will always be Rice’s ‘OG’

Mississippi State’s crazy season

The Bulldogs entered the season with high hopes, and with red-hot head coach Andy Cannizaro leading the charge. Cannizaro guided the Bulldogs to the super regional round two seasons ago, and the ‘Dogs were expected to have yet another solid campaign under the young skipper. However, Cannizaro was let go within the first two weeks of the season, and MSU was beaten down on the road by revengeful Southern Miss.

MSU was left with a lot of drama with Cannizaro’s dismissal. They were looking for a leader. They found one in long-time Kentucky head coach and interim head coach Gary Henderson. MSU responded the next weekend by going 2-1 at a tournament in Corpus Christi, while it made the ultimate impression the following weekend at the Shriners College Classic. MSU won a pair of games over Louisiana and Houston by one run, while it beat Sam Houston State 4-1 to go 3-0

The Bulldogs had plenty of ebbs and flows in SEC play, but they made a statement the final weekend of the regular season to punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament. MSU hosted conference champion Florida in a must-win series to end the conference schedule. UF showed up at the airport to head to Starkville with beach clothing on, and the Bulldogs were motivated. Not only did they sweep the Gators, they wiped out the champs.

Once in the postseason, the Bulldogs won the Tallahassee Regional with Elijah MacNamee’s heroics, while also winning thrilling super regional series over Vanderbilt. Once in Omaha, the Bulldogs were in the driver’s seat before running into the Oregon State buzz saw. Jordan Westburg became a legend and the banana frenzy took over Omaha for a couple of weeks.

What could’ve been a disastrous campaign had a storybook ending.

Postseason surprises

The postseason is always filled with surprise teams, and here’s a list of teams you might not have expected to go a long way in 2018:

• Duke was in our Preseason Top 25, so the Blue Devils making the NCAA regional round shouldn’t be a surprise. However, the Devils took things a step further by knocking off national seed Georgia in the Athens Regional before bowing out to Texas Tech in the super regional round. Duke won its first regional in program history and perhaps set the tone for much more in the future.

• Tennessee Tech was a significant underdog in the Oxford Regional despite having a gaudy record and video game numbers. However, Matt Bragga’s Golden Eagles knocked out host Ole Miss to advance to the super regional round. Once there, the Eagles beat Texas in the first game of the Austin Super before losing the final two games. Yes, it was a disappointing end to a magical run, but what a season it was for Bragga and Co. Athletic directors took notice of TTU’s run, as Bragga parlayed that trip to the super into one of the better jobs in college baseball, Rice.

• Stetson entered the season with high hopes with Logan Gilbert and others leading the pitching staff. Well, the Hatters had a season to remember. Not only did they put together a strong regular season record, they hosted and won the DeLand Regional before bowing out to a powerful North Carolina club in a hard-fought Chapel Hill Super. The Hatters certainly will miss Gilbert but return some quality arms yet again in 2019.

• Minnesota was expected to have a solid 2018 campaign. It was picked to finish third in the Big Ten. However, the Golden Gophers took things a step further, hosting a regional and beating UCLA to advance to the super regional round. The Gophers lost to eventual national champ Oregon State, but the statement was made. The good news? The Gophers lost some key cogs but return stud reliever Max Meyer and Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Patrick Frederickson.

Washington makes its first trip to Omaha

The Huskies overachieved in a big way during the 2018 campaign. UW was picked to finish sixth in the Pac 12 in our preseason preview. But by the end of the regular season, the Huskies were three outs away from capturing the Pac 12 crown. Instead, Stanford defeated UW to win the title.

Not winning the conference title apparently motivated the Huskies. UW took care of business in the Conway Regional with Joe Wainhouse putting on a power display, while the next weekend, they dispatched of perennial power Cal State Fullerton in thrilling extra-inning fashion.

The Huskies made their first trip to the CWS. They lost a 1-0 decision to open the CWS before getting off to a nice start against rival Oregon State before the Beavers surged to a dominant 14-5 victory in an elimination game.

Sure, it was a disappointing finish for the Huskies. But it was a season to remember, indeed.

Here’s what Shotgun Spratling wrote about the Huskies after beating Cal State Fullerton. Check it out, here.

Quiet summer on the head coaching carousel

The summer of 2017 was a wild one on the college baseball front. In all, 31 head coaching changes were made, including some at high-profile programs. The offseason wasn’t so active this summer, as 22 head coaching changes were made.

You can see the full list of head coaching changes, here.

You also can see every assistant coaching change, here.

So, which programs made the best offseason hires? Here’s my top five, in order:

1. Chris Lemonis, Mississippi State

— There weren’t a lot of high-profile openings this summer, but MSU was the big one. Though the Bulldogs didn’t land a ‘big’ fish, they certainly tried. MSU courted Jim Schlossnagle before the two sides decided to part ways, while Dan McDonnell considered accepting the job as well. In the end, the Bulldogs went with Lemonis, who had success at Indiana and was an outstanding assistant during his time at Louisville. I spoke with McDonnell about Lemonis during a fall trip to Louisville. He raved about Lemonis and said “he’ll be an absolute star”.

2. Matt Bragga, Rice

— Talk about striking while the iron is hot. It’s safe to say Bragga probably wasn’t on Rice’s radar back in early May, but as the Golden Eagles continued to make moves in the NCAA postseason, athletic director Joe Karlgaard couldn’t help but to take notice. Bragga has an infectious personality and did an outstanding job at Tennessee Tech when you consider the facility it plays in. Bragga will have some learning to do with the Owls, but he’s not inheriting a talentless program.

3. Jeff Mercer, Indiana

— The Hoosiers have had trouble keeping coaches over the past few years. Tracy Smith parlayed a trip to the College World Series into the Arizona State job, while this past summer, Chris Lemonis parlayed a regional championship appearance into the Mississippi State job. Though the Hoosiers don’t pay especially well, they finally hired someone who likely won’t jump ship at the first big-time opportunity. Mercer, 33, is a devout Hoosier fan and his family ties to the program run deep. He’s also been successful, winning 38 and 39 games, respectively, at IU the past two seasons.

4. Pete Hughes, Kansas State

— This is certainly the unlikeliest of hires, or so you’d think, but the Wildcats hired someone who has a history of turning around bad programs. Hughes guided Virginia Tech to a pair of NCAA tournament appearances, and he led OU to a regional two seasons ago. His departure from OU had more to do with his relationship with athletic director Joe Castiglione than it did winning, considering the Sooners were trending upward in his final season. This is an odd fit, but Hughes is motivated to win and prove himself in the Big 12. Don’t be surprised when he does.

5. Mike Bell, Pittsburgh

— Though the overwhelming hunch around the Florida State program is that Mike Martin Jr., will take over the program when ’11’ steps down after this season, Bell was said to have a decent shot at the gig, too. Well, Bell decided to plot his own path this offseason by taking the Pitt job. Bell had success at various stops along the way. He spent time at Tennessee before being a successful pitching coach at Oklahoma. He capped off his assistant run with seven seasons in Tallahassee. Bell, 46, knows what’s needed to win at a high level and has recruiting contacts in various regions.

No-hitter mania hits college baseball

Remember when it seemed like no-hitters were a rare occurrence? Well, the 2018 campaign might have been an aberration, but it was a wild one in the no-hitter department. The previous record for no-hitters thrown in a season was 19 back in 1973 — the final season with wood bats. This past season? A whopping 23 no-hitters were thrown, with 10 of those thrown the first month of the season. 

Auburn’s Casey Mize threw a no-hitter in an early-season win over NCAA regional participant Northeastern and struck out 13 batters in the process, while the first no-hitter of the season was thrown by North Dakota State’s Riley Johnson, who struck out a career-high eight batters in a 2-0 win over Central Connecticut State.

In 2018, we made jokes on social media about no-hitters becoming a common occurrence. We’ll see if the trend is emulated in 2019.

Third paid assistant debate takes center stage

We’ll soon know the answer, but will college baseball have a third paid assistant coach in the near future? Right now, the legislation appears to be 50-50 on passing with a vote coming in the next few months.

Those close to the situation say the vote could go either way. Those in favor of the proposal, which is an overwhelming majority, love the idea of adding a third paid assistant, which also would be able to recruit. Those coaches also would have the ability to get full benefits via the institution.

Those against the proposal, a group that’s small number, say the third paid assistant accomplishes very little. While they are fine with having a third paid assistant, they’re concerned about the fact it doesn’t solve a major issue in our sport — the coach/player ratio. Remember, adding a third paid assistant would not give the program an additional assistant. Only an additional fully paid position.

I see both sides of this issue, but I still side with the coaches for this proposal. There are many great coaches in our game who need more stability, and this would provide some of that. Having a third paid assistant also would help with recruiting minority coaches, something San Diego State head coach Mark Martinez is very passionate about as the ABCA Convention in North Texas looms.

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