Off The Top Of My Head: The Supers Edition
We’re down to 16 now, people. This weekend’s super regionals will pare it down to eight by the time Monday night rolls around. So while we just left what I consider the most exciting weekend of the college baseball season, the NCAA regionals, we now get down to the nitty gritty of finding out who our eight teams will be in Omaha.
Although you can see all the writers for D1Baseball’s picks elsewhere on the site, here is how I see it shaking out.
The Friday-to-Sunday Supers
Miami (47-15) over Virginia Commonwealth (40-23)
Mark Light Stadium, Coral Gables, Florida.
It’s mind-blowing to think that just 30 days ago, the Rams were 26-22 and in serious danger of not even making the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament. But here they are now, right. They’ve gone 14-1 since then, including winning the A-10 tourney. They will be taking on a Miami team that leads D1 in scoring at 8.5 runs per game. I think the Canes have too much firepower for the Rams. Look for David Thompson, Willie Abreu, Zack Collins and Co. to add some intimidation points this weekend.
Maryland (42-22) over Virginia (37-22)
Davenport Field, Charlottesville, Virginia
These two teams will actually be meeting for the second straight year in the supers. Last year, UVa took the road to Omaha after winning two of three from the Terrapins. Both teams have had their injury problems, but I like the way UMd has played since getting LaMonte Wade back full time. The fact that these two teams are three-seeds is a little surprising considering the talent and expectations they came into the season with. I like the Terps in an upset here. They just didn’t seem fazed at all about facing No. 1 National Seed UCLA.
Missouri State (48-10) over Arkansas (38-22)
Baum Stadium, Fayetteville, Arkansas
As is famously known by now, MSU’s Hammons Field was being used by the Double-A Cardinals affiliate this weekend, so the Razorbacks and their 10,000-plus fans will get a surprise super regional in their cozy confines. But I’m still going with the upset here because of Matt Hall and Jon Harris are possibly the best one-two combo on the mound this side of Vanderbilt. Nothing knocks your socks off about this Hogs team … well, other than Andrew Benintendi, of course. But beware, if this series goes three games, advantage Razorbacks.
Florida (47-16) over Florida State (44-19)
McKethan Stadium, Gainesville, Florida
You’ll have to excuse me just a tad on this one, but the two times I saw FSU play in person this year it won a shootout vs. Jacksonville and lost a Sunday game vs. Coastal Carolina. Now look, I know the Seminoles are good, I just didn’t see them at their best. But they are a young group this year, and besides the Gators are just better this time around. (I know Noles fans, that’s tough to hear). So for the ninth time in 14 Super Regional appearances, the Seminoles will come away empty. But keep these guys in mind in the next year or two.
The Saturday-to-Monday Supers
Louisville (46-16) over Cal State Fullerton (37-22)
Patterson Stadium, Louisville, Kentucky
Ahhhhh, the Titans. The last great hope of the West. They’ve got a pretty tough draw here to say the least. I mean, Friday ace Thomas Eshelman will match up with anybody. And he’ll beat anybody too. But beyond that, the Titans are having to play this series without Justin Garza, their No. 2 ace on the bump. And the Cards just have too much experience to let this opportunity slip by. While these two teams are eighth and ninth nationally in ERA (2.73 for UofL and 2.78 for CSUF), it’s the offenses that separate these two. Fullerton can go quiet at times, so my pick is with the ‘Ville.
TCU (47-12) over Texas A&M (49-12)
Lupton Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas
Both of these two teams had some struggles in the first round of the Big Dance, barely escaping N.C. State and Cal respectively. Well, that’s an understatement for the Frogs, who rallied from a seven-run deficit in the eighth inning to crush the hearts of the Wolf Pack. The quad-pack pitching of Preston Morrison, Alex Young, Tyler Alexander and Mitchell Traver is as good as it gets in college baseball. Now, if Riley Ferrell can get out of his funk he was in last weekend, this Frogs team will be unstoppable.
LSU (51-10) over Louisiana-Lafayette (42-21)
Alex Box Stadium, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
What an atmosphere the Box will be this weekend. As Mike Rooney said on TV last weekend, call in the national guard for this one. But I have a hard time thinking this will go anything other than LSU’s way in two games. As Oklahoma State assistant coach Rob Walton told me, they are the most complete team in the country. They rank in the top 20 in batting average, stolen bases, ERA, slugging, scoring and fielding. The Cajuns made a hell of a run after their 15-13 start this year, but this is where it will have to end.
Vanderbilt (45-19) over Illinois (50-8-1)
Illinois Field, Champaign, Illinois
All things being equal, this should be a no-brainer that the Commodores are the more talented team and should win this one, no prob. Right? Wellllllll, no. See, the ‘Dores have had their momentary lapses throughout this season. Losses to Indiana State and Santa Clara are good examples of that. How the hell does that even happen? And Illinois is no one you want to mess with by not playing your best baseball, especially at home where they are 25-2 this year. But you just can’t pick against the Anchor Downers here. Or anywhere. If they play like they did last weekend, it’ll be Dores in two.
END OF AN ERA IN DWIGHT YOAKUM-TOWN
The end of another era came to pass during this past weekend’s regionals. Bill Kernen, the only head coach in the history of Cal State Bakersfield’s baseball program, coached his final college baseball game.
When the sport of baseball was brought to campus in 2009, Kernen, a longtime pitching guru, was tabbed to bring the sport from out of the dust, literally from nothing. It was a total start up project for Kernen, who was also sort of making a re-start of his own, having not been a head coach since 1995.
He famously led Cal State Northridge in its transition from a D2 school into D1 in 1991 and came within three outs of what would’ve been a stunning appearance in the College World Series that season, eventually losing to Fresno State. The Matadors finished that season with a 44-18-1 mark.
In 1995, Kernen left his post at CSUN and moved to New York City to become a playwright. He told me in an interview in 2007, “One thing about writing, just like coaching, it takes over your life. You don’t have time for anything else.”
But the baseball itch was getting to him again during his time in Gotham City. “I got back into coaching because I missed it,” he told me then. “I missed those relationships with players and with coaches.”
So after a couple of assistant coaching gigs to get his feet wet again, Coach K took the gig at Bakersfield and immediately had a positive impact. The Roadrunners were competitive from the get-go, even though they finished 2009 with a 13-37 mark. They doubled their win mark in 2010, finishing 26-30. And it was his 2011 team that was probably the best of his tenure and included wins over defending national champion South Carolina and four other ranked teams in Arizona State, UCLA, UC Irvine and Fresno State. The Runners even ducked into the rankings at the mid-point of the season. But the 33-22 record wasn’t quite good enough to sway the NCAA selection committee and the Roadrunners stayed home.
Four players from that 2011 squad were drafted in the first 20 rounds that June. “That 2011 team was really good,” Kernen said. “I thought they really deserved to be in the NCAA tournament. That was my best team.”
This year, the Runners weren’t going to be denied. They finished the regular season in third place in the WAC with a 17-9-1 mark. After losing the second game in the WAC tournament to Seattle, the Runners won three straight games, two of which were one-run wins over that same RedHawks team, good for a WAC tourney title and the program’s first ever trip to the NCAA tournament.
Once there, they lost to UCLA and then eliminated CWS-alum Ole Miss 2-1 to pick up the first-ever win in the Big Dance for the fledgling program.
Sunday’s second loss to UCLA signaled the end. Kernen is stepping away from the college game once again. He’s had his fill with the baseball thing and plans to spend the next few years back in New York City with his playwriting career going whole hog again.
He leaves Bakersfield with a mark of 197-198-1 in his seven seasons. His final post-game press conference was an interesting one. Here is what he said to the gathered media, which included all four local Bakersfield TV stations.
He started with this statement:
“I’m not going to talk about the game very much, it doesn’t really matter because it’s over and there are more important things to address.”
Then he got onto the fact of the matter:
“The important thing to talk about was the coming together as a team and getting something accomplished that a lot of people didn’t think you were going to be able to do. We’ve never had the first-round, second-round type of guys come into our program, we get guys that are quality players who improve and develop and they play with their heart, their guts and their minds. There are a lot of programs that spend a lot of money on facilities in order to get the players to get them to the NCAA Tournament, and it ain’t that easy. And these guys have been able to do that here with the limited resources compared to a lot of other places.”
On his reflection back to how this season became a success:
“This was a tough year for me as I am going through something in life that is as tough of a thing to go through, so my assistant coaches Alex Hoover, Rich Escalera and Bob Macaluso need to be recognized for the job they’ve done. They picked me up all year long and did more than most coaches would be asked to do in helping me in those times when I had to be away from my team. And the players themselves were important for their leadership and doing more of the leadership kind of work that needed to be done to keep this thing together. So for them to go through that and lead us to an NC-two-A berth and get our first win in the post-season, says a lot.”
What he said to his team in their final huddle after the loss to UCLA:
“I told them that they are in a position to feel horrible right now but it won’t last. They did something that no other team was able to do. They brought the program forward like nobody has before and they forged friendships and associations that they’ll have and remember a lot more than the score of their last baseball game.”
On his feelings after the game was over and his coaching career was done:
“I felt fine. I didn’t feel real emotional. I’m ready to do what I’m going to do next. I have a sense of pride and accomplishment of what we did here. I think this is what we set out to do when we came in here and I think somebody else can take it even farther because the community is starting to sign up for this and we’ve got a strong administration behind it, the facilities continue to improve. We have a lot of positives in place for moving forward.”
When I told him I make it up to New York a couple times a year:
“Well hell man, let me know when you do, I’ll take you to the best places to get drunk!”
Break a leg in New York City coach K. The sport will miss you.
Biggest Busts In The Preseason Top 25
As I have pointed out numerous times, there are always three or four teams that are plastered all over everybody’s preseason Top 25s that always manage to faceplant and have a crappy season, be it due to injuries, pressure, high expectations or just bad baseball. It never fails, no matter how confident pundits like myself are in the teams we have ranked up high. So with the luxury of hindsight being 20-20, here are the teams who were thought to be the bees knees, only to roll snake-eyes this season.
– No. 5: South Carolina
Talent. Facilities. Tradition. Coaching. Nobody saw this coming. Carolina finished in the bottom half of the SEC at 13-17 and 32-25 overall. And way down at No. 63 in the RPI? Oof. For coach Holbrook’s sake this better be an aberration.
– No. 10 Texas
Same goes here. And though the Longhorns made a late push and won the Big 12 tournament to get into the NCAAs, they still underachieved the whole season. The Burnt Orange finished in the mid-80s in RPI, despite having Friday ace Parker French return for his senior season.
– No. 16 Texas Tech
Now you see why the Big 12 was viewed to have a “down year.” With fellow CWS alum Texas Tech joining UT on the skid list here it didn’t help the conference image. The Red Raiders seemed fine at first, going 10-1 to open the season. But after getting swept at Fullerton, they went on to finish 31-24 and in the No. 77 slot of the RPI.
– No. 21 Alabama
Although the Tide finished at No. 44 in the RPI, they also just escaped a losing record at 32-28. You knew something was wrong when the Tide lost two of three at Houston and followed that up by losing two of three at home to Louisiana early in the season. But having talents like Mikey White, Georgie Salem and Kyle Overstreet should be showcasing their skills in the regionals, at least.
– No. 23 Nebraska
This wasn’t so much of a bust-of-a-season as it was the rest of the Big 10 just kept rising and rising. The Huskers hung around the mid-20 range in the RPI most of the first three months of the season but couldn’t hold on down the stretch. Their 9-14 Big 10 mark killed their hopes for an at-large bid to the Big Dance.
– No. 25 Tennessee
This was expected to be the season that the Vols finally broke out. Instead, they just broke. Unlike the other teams on this list, the Vols finished with a losing record at 24-26 overall. Though they made the SEC tournament they lasted for a cup of coffee. After the season was done, a shakeup in the coaching staff resulted.
HOW IMPORTANT IS PITCHING?
I know, dumb question. But back in the 90s and early 2000s, pitching was nominally important. What was important was having some linebacker-sized guys with wispy bats that could crush the ball to the rings of Saturn and back. Those days are (thankfully) long gone. You know how TD Ameritrade plays: like the desert plains of the Savannah stand between the batter and the fence. Of the 16 teams remaining in the NCAA tournament, here is how they rank nationally in team ERA. And yes, Arkansas, FSU and Virginia… those ERAs are a tad too high to win it all:
2- TCU, 2.38 ERA
3- Illinois, 2.42 ERA
7- Missouri State, 2.70
8- Louisville, 2.73
9- Cal State Fullerton, 2.78
10- LSU, 2.84
12- VCU, 2.86
17- Texas A&M, 2.95
20- Vanderbilt, 3.02
22- Miami, 3.03
29- Florida, 3.19
32- Maryland, 3.23
42- Louisiana, 3.33
56- Virginia, 3.52
74- Florida State, 3.70
108- Arkansas, 4.14
Yes, the SEC and the ACC got an impressive number of representatives into the Round of 16. But remember all that talk about “spreading the game” a few years ago? Well depending on your definition of “North” for our sport, this year’s super regionals have more of a northern flair than most years. Big 10ers Illinois and Maryland are still alive and playing teams in last year’s CWS finals. Also, Missouri State from the Missouri Valley Conference is still alive as the No. 8 overall seed and VCU, out of the Atlantic 10 Conference, is going to be playing down at Miami and hoping to pull an upset as a No. 4 seed. And if you want to get technical about it, Louisville, whose latitude is certainly farther North than most of the rest of the field, was a Big East team two years ago and an American Athletic Conference team last year. So their roots are still in the North.
THE RUSE ABOUT RUINING A PROSPECTS PITCHING ARM IN COLLEGE
As you guys know, this is the time of year when a pitcher’s number of throws gets more and more scrutinized than ever. Some MLB prospect pundits like to center their ire on the college game and say that the coaches wear out their pitchers arms and ruin their professional careers. As a reminder to this being so much of a falsity, you StitchHeads might recall that I went to a pitching symposium at USC back in March where former major leaguer Dr. Tom House was joined by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Seth Gamradt, an expert on Tommy John surgeries, to discuss pitching and how it affects young arms and the future of the player.
After the symposium was over, I cornered Dr. Gamradt and asked him to give his opinion on all the brush-up we always hear come Regionals and Super Regionals time: Does using a college pitcher on short rest twice in a weekend jeopardize his career in any way?
Dr. Gamradt’s answer:
“I doubt it. I strongly doubt it. 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. But the coaches have to be smart. They have to know the background and have the recovery methods for each player. And you also have to have realistic expectations, 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. Obviously, if there is a history of arm trouble or if the kid is dealing with pain then you don’t do that. But a healthy, well-conditioned college pitcher should have no long term problems involved in a situation like that.”
A FORMER RICE PITCHER GOES ON THE OFFENSIVE
While we’re on the above subject, a Rice fan I know sent this Twitter rant to me right before conference tournament week. Apparently former Owl All American pitcher Wade Townsend took particular umbrage to Keith Law alleging that head coach Wayne Graham ruins pitchers arms. Here is his rather lengthy response to Law (Excuse the choppy Twitter-style writing here, I’m cutting and pasting it as it was written…):
@keithlaw In response to your article about the 2005 draft I would like to mention a few things. First of all you say nothing about MLB’s
@keithlaw decision effectively punishing me for returning to finish my degree (in 3.5 years no less), nor mention the fact that I paid for
@keithlaw the final semester out of my own, and unwealthy parent’s pockets. With all the negative publicity that is surrounding professional
@keithlaw sports off the field one would think that would be a major story worthy of notice rather than punishment. The unfortunate truth
@keithlaw behind it is that MLB is more concerned about keeping the status quo and thinking only in terms of $ to notice what I was doing to
@keithlaw further my education. I would have made it a bigger deal at the time via the court system, except for the fear of getting
@keithlaw blackballed as a 21 year old kept me from speaking up (see Curt Flood). I would love to see the anti-trust exemption eliminated
@keithlaw just for this reason (and I hope someone will continue to challenge it in court). The unfortunate human toll (me) on this decision
@keithlaw was that it sent a 21 year old into deep, hair falling out, world spiraling depression due to the fact that I could not play
@keithlaw baseball in college nor sign with the Orioles after the baseless ruling. You fail to mention how a completely broke 21 year old
@keithlaw was forced to move back into his parent’s trailer because they and Wayne Graham were the only ones there for him. You fail to
@keithlaw to mention this and how it turned me from a pitcher into a traveling sideshow filled with radar guns. To not notice how this is
@keithlaw much more devastating to one’s arm and to fail to see how I felt that I needed to vindicate Tampa Bay’s decision to draft me by
@keithlaw going out and trying to be too perfect too soon is glossing over the real crime in this situation. Yet you take a decent idea for
@keithlaw for an article and turn it into another hitpiece on both me ‘blew out every joint in his body’ (such a good taste in humor) and
@keithlaw Wayne Graham who is the only reason I was ever in the debate to even be drafted. You provide no facts on how I, or any of my
@keithlaw teammates at Rice, were ‘blown out and overworked’, yet you continue this narrative that has been going on for over ten years. You
@keithlaw cite both Philip Humber (owner of the 21st perfect game in Major League history) and Jeff Niemann (won 40 games in the major
@keithlaw leagues and made over 12 million dollars) as proof that we were “overworked” by Coach Graham. If this is proof of overwork then
@keithlaw please let every single pitcher that comes out of Rice meet the same fate. Your implied argument of our surgeries AFTER coming out
@keithlaw of Rice is akin to noticing it was a cold winter, therefore Global Warming does not exist. You fail to attack the minor league
@keithlaw system and how it is filled with uneducated coaches making 30-50k$ a year, who dont know or care about you. When compared with the
@keithlaw salaries of college coaches (upwards of 200-500k a year) one can clearly see where the better coaching talent lies. I never once
@keithlaw had video dissected in the minor leagues by any of my coaches, this is something that Coach Graham would do on a daily basis.
@keithlaw I don’t know what the word for baseless claims made in public, specifically the implication that Wayne Graham should be ‘unemployed
@keithlaw (which is laughable when you see what he has done for not just Rice University, but for the countless players and support staff
@keithlaw that have worked under him), but I think the word ‘libelous’ comes to mind. I’m not a legal scholar but my lawyer @phdoyle is and
@keithlaw I would appreciate if you would at least provide statistics and proof if you plan on making these claims against me, my University
@keithlaw and my lifelong friend and mentor Wayne Graham in pubic. Now back to your article, on a personal note I truly feel like I deserve
@keithlaw to be listed as the biggest bust in the 2005 draft (I can supply statistics), and the highlight should read “never played in AAA”
@keithlaw not “never played in majors.” Also as a history major I would suggest that rather than analyze the past for fun you should dissect
@keithlaw the inadequacies of the draft system and how it is flawed to change the future. Why does such capitalistic country have a socialist
@keithlaw draft system set up that rewards failure? I doubt I see these topics mentioned by you as I realize that you are part of the
@keithlaw corrupt system that does not take humans into account, so at the bare minimum please do not pretend that you, or anyone else in
@keithlaw professional baseball, cares about the human toll of what the draft and subsequent failure can do to players. #crickets
THE FRESHMAN ALL AMERICANS
I always look forward to this time of the season when Lou Pavlovich of Collegiate Baseball releases his Freshman All American team. The first thing I look for is if a team has two pitchers on it, because then you know they are going to have a good base for a formidable arms corps in the years to come. Louisville has hit the jackpot for this year with three of their pitchers making the list, led by two-way Freshman of the Year Brendon McKay.
Here were the top 10 winners in this year’s evaluations of greenhorns:
– Louisville: RHP Brendon McKay (8-3, 1.71, 4 saves & .315-3-32) , relief pitcher Lincoln Henzman (5-1, 1.93), relief pitcher Sean Leland (4-0, 3.09)
– LSU: RHP Alex Lange (11-0, 1.76, 110Ks), Relief pitcher Jesse Stallings (12 saves, 2.23)
– Cal: LHP Matt Ladrech (7-4, 2.67), Relief pitcher Jeff Bain (6-2, 2.45), C Brett Cumberland (.254-7-32)
– Louisiana: LHP Gunner Leger (6-4, 2.87), Relief pitcher Dylan Moore (3-3, 1.51, 12 saves)
– Oregon State: RHP Drew Rasmussen (7-4, 2.80), Relief pitcher Mitch Hickey (4-1, 2.28, 11 saves), K.J. Harrison (.309-10-60)
– Michigan: RHP Ryan Nutof (5-3, 3.71), Relief pitcher Bryan Pall (2-0, 2.97), SS Jake Bivens (.319)
– Vanderbilt: relief pitcher Kyle Wright (5-1, 1.09), 3B Will Toffey (.309-4-45), OF Jeren Kendall (.291-6-34, 17SBs)
– Long Beach State: RHP Chris Mathewson (6-6, 1.94), 1B Luke Rasmussen (.315-6-17), DH Brock Lundquist (.298-3-18)
– New Mexico: RHP Tyler Stevens (5-4, 3.44), 1B Cory Voss (.345-5-35), 3B Carl Stajduhar (.322-9-53)
– Florida: C Mike Rivera (.266-3-41), 2B Dalton Guthrie (.290-2-23), DH J.J. Schwarz (.320-15-66)
MY HALL OF FAME BALLOT
I’m very fired up over the emergence of the Omaha College Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s still a relatively new venture, but it’s a Hall of Fame right there in The O that is honoring the CWS and its history. The boy at The Hall asked me to submit my ballot for 2015 to be inducted there in the mecca of college baseball this summer. So here is who I had for my five players and three coaches:
Talk about tough, the players vote was pretty tough, but the coaches vote was nearly freaking impossible, since it came down to those three above along with Cliff Gustafson and Jim Brock. I mean, how do you leave one of THOSE guys off? I justified Jerry Kindall’s inclusion due to the fact that he was a two-time national champion coach and he was also the last player to hit for the cycle in Omaha. Fraser was a great ambassador of the game and promoted our sport like nobody ever had at the time. And Mean Gene was included because he took over a program that didn’t exist for 10 years and built it into an Omaha regular almost immediately. It was ridiculous how quickly his Wichita State program became a national power.
That’s it. Enjoy the Supers boys and girls.