C-USA Heavyweights AdvanceAnalysis
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HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Before we get to the epic showdown between these two respectful rivals out of Conference USA, here is the elephant in the room when it came to talk about the NCAA tournament at-large bids today.
Marshall. What do we do about Marshall?
One of the big reasons I decided to come to the Conference USA tournament was because of the potential amount of NCAA tournament bids this league stood a chance to earn. It was assured of getting Southern Miss, Florida Atlantic and Rice as those three entered the week with RPIs of No. 21, 22 and 32 respectively.
Louisiana Tech was a pretty sure-shot as well, coming in at No. 38. The Bulldogs have since moved up with an RPI at No. 32 after today’s games.
But what about Marshall? A couple weeks ago the Thundering Herd was way off the pace with an RPI in the 100s. But a 16-4 run to close the regular season jacked their RPI up into the 50s.
After today’s loss to Southern Miss I was able to catch up with head coach Jeff Waggoner. Before I could even finish my first question, he jumped into the argument for his team to get a Regional bid.
“This team belongs in an NCAA Regional,” Waggoner said. “We won 12 of our last 15 conference games and we won 15 of our last 20 overall. We finished a half-game back shy of winning a regular season championship. We made it to the semi-finals of fifth-toughest conference in the country. We should get a chance to play.
“I think they (the selection committee) have to look at more than just the RPI. We’re in the 50s and that’s still not bad. That should give us every chance to get in.
“The NCAA told us we were playing a road series when we play in Charleston (WV), but the RPI counts it as a home series. Our RPI would be a lot better if that series were considered a neutral or away series.”
Southern Miss head coach Scott Berry chimed in as well, “Personally, I feel that they are one of our teams that deserve and NCAA Regional bid. They finished second in our league and we play in a very good league.”
It will be interesting theater come Selection Show Monday for StitchHeads everywhere. Now on to what I saw today…
WHAT HAPPENED AT PETE TAYLOR PARK TODAY
Thankfully there were only three games played at Pete Taylor Park today. A potential fourth game was possible – and it would’ve started at about 10pm – but Southern Miss was able to eliminate Marshall in one game. Rice lost the early game vs. Louisiana Tech in the morning, but was able to exact some revenge and knock the Bulldogs out with a win in the evening game.
LaTech – 021 205 201 – 13 14 2
– RICE – 040 030 030 – 10 9 1
Pretty typical for a conference tournament game, this one went back and forth and featured six home runs – five of which were from the Techsters. The Owls ran out five pitchers and none of them seemed all that effective. Not only did they give up 14 hits, they also combined to issue six walks, one plunking and a balk as well. Seven of the 14 hits were multi-base hits for the Bulldogs. None of this was lost on Rice head coach Wayne Graham.
Graham bemoaned after the game, “We gave them way too many good pitches to hit. And when they got the pitch to hit, they hit it.”
The stat of the game had to come from the bottom of the Bulldog batting order. Taylor Love, Brent Diaz and Chandler Hall, the 7-8-9 batters in the order, went a combined 10-for-12 with nine RBI and each one of them blasted a home run to help the cause.
“They did a tremendous job,” Tech coach Greg Goff said. “Coach (Jake) Wells has done a great job with the offense. And it’s fun to see some baseballs leave the park every once in a while.”
Tech was down 7-5 at the end of the fifth inning but would soon make amends, scoring five times in the seventh, on the strength of a pair of two-run homers by Love and Hall. Two more runs in the seventh inning from a bomb by No. 6 hitter Casey Daigle. That would be enough for the Bulldogs to force a second game later in the day.
U.S.M. – 300 000 000 – 3 7 0
Marsh – 100 000 010 – 2 13 1
The big experiment didn’t work. Well, sorta…
What I mean is, Marshall head coach Jeff Waggoner’s decision to bring Chase Boster back to the mound after throwing 114 pitches on Wednesday backfired early on. The Eagles hopped on him very quickly, posting three runs in the opening frame making the decision look like a disaster.
But… and this is a big but… what was hidden in that first inning was the fact that all three runs were unearned after leadoff batter Dylan Burdeaux reached on an error and his opening inning also included a walk and two hit batsmen. In fact, the Eagles would score those three runs on only one hit. Ugh, they did answer back with a run in the bottom of the first and from that point on Boster was boss before finally getting the hook in the fifth inning after throwing 89 pitches.
His final stat line looked like this:
4.2 innings, four hits, three runs, all unearned, three walks, 89 pitches, 56 for strikes.
The dude did well. Now go put some ice on that arm.
And before any of you start to go all holy here, claiming that throwing Boster on 58 hours rest, remember the words of orthopedic surgeon Dr. Seth Gamradt (the most noted Tommy John surgeon in the country) who said “I don’t think one episode where a pitcher comes back on short rest to pitch again in a championship is a deal-breaker for any career hopes. These kids are elite athletes and get proper training and as long as they’re not doing it all the time, it’s no problem.”
Despite the quick start, the remainder of the game turned out to be quite different. Both teams used five pitchers and there was only one more run added to the ledger the rest of the game – a Corey Bird RBI single in the eighth – and that was it.
The two teams did combine for 20 hits and 24 runners left on base. That made for a long game, 3-hours, 22-minutes in all.
The biggest chance for Marshall came in the seventh inning when D.J. Gee singled to centerfield and advanced all the way to third. But with one out and men on the corners, USM enticed Tyler Ratliff hit into a double play to end the threat. That got the home crowd’s roar of approval.
The Herd also threatened in the eighth inning, after they scored their second run, but they ended up stranding two runners in that frame as well. One of them being 90 feet away on third base,
With the win, Southern Miss advances to the championship game on Sunday.
– RICE – 032 141 000 – 11 14 3
LaTech – 050 010 201 – 9 10 1
Who was the biggest winner of the two Rice-LaTech games today? Southern Miss.
The Eagles got to sit back and watch these two teams go back and forth with each other for 18 innings, scoring 43 runs and using 18 pitchers in all. None of which was able to be a shutdown-type of guy. The closest pitcher to it was Rice’s Glenn Otto, who threw 3.0 innings, giving up two hits and one run, which wasn’t an earned run.
Dane Myers tossed the final 4.2 innings and looked really good at times. Even Wayne Graham talked about how well his fastball was moving and had great sink on his curve ball, calling his performance “courageous.” Then he leaned in to me and said, “But I don’t know HOW Cody Daigle caught up to that curve ball and hit it out of the park.”
Daigle, the Tech first baseman, was one of five home runs in the game, two of them were hit by LaTech and three by Rice. For the Conference USA tournament in total there have been 36 gopher balls clearing the fence and 11 of them have been supplied by Rice and Louisiana Tech.
“When you swing the bats like that it gives you a chance,” said coach Graham after the game. When I reminded him of how he told me back after a game at UT-San Antonio in March that his team “couldn’t win games 1-0 the rest of the season” he snapped back with a laugh “If we do get into a Regional our pitching better come back hard.”
When I asked the question of who will pitch for the Owls in their game with USM tomorrow, coach Graham was vintage coach Graham.
“Great win, but I really don’t have any idea who is going to pitch (tomorrow),” he said. “We’re going to go back into the locker room and flip coins.”