Off The Top Of My Head, Trophy’ing

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Yes StitchHeads. I’ve been ensconced in “Dogpile Season” since last week when I went to the Ivy League playoffs and got to see the Yale Bulldogs put the Dog in dogpile, beating Penn in two straight games.

Since then, we’ve had a few more NCAA tournament bids locked up with Oregon State locking up the Pac 12 regular season title, Bethune-Cookman winning the MEAC title, Holy Cross winning the Patriot League playoffs and Long Beach State already clinching the Big West title.

I love a good celebration, so just for kicks I took in the Division II West Regional title game out at Azusa Pacific University on Monday. There, future Big West member UC San Diego beat Dixie State (Utah) 8-6 to earn their way to the D2 College World Series in Grand Prairie, Texas. More on that in a bit. Let’s get to the matters at hand first.

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LET THE RAG ARM-FEST BEGIN
Ahhhhh, here we are. Conference tournament week. My most-hated and most-loved week of the year. My ambivalence is caused by the fact that these conference tournaments are essentially useless. The regular season is usually eight-to-ten weeks long. That’s enough to decide the best team. Also, I hate to see those lower-echelon conferences reward a team that gets hot for one weekend, instead of using the team that is the most deserving AND that gives you the best chance to win some games in the NCAA Tournament. And of course, the biggest reason to hate conference tournament week is how it can wear out a pitching staff. For instance, in the SEC Tournament, South Carolina, Missouri and Auburn could all conceivably play six straight days this week. Yuck.

Ailments like this will run rampant through college baseball this week. God help the pitchers of the world.

But then again, this week does allow for a high volume of college baseball on TV. So if you just want to veg out on the couch for six straight days, you can create your own blissful week of sitting in the man cage and having college baseball bliss from morning to night each day. And I guess the other positive side is seeing all these dogpiles from all of the 28 conference tournaments, seeing the excitement of a team making a big push and seeing their NCAA tournament dreams come true.

So I’ll try not to be too much of a curmudgeon about it all. Onward and upward, StitchHeads. It’s a great time of the year.

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DOGPILING SEASON CONTINUES
Getting back to the D2 West Regional finals I saw on Monday.

The UC San Diego Tritons were playing in their third Regional final in the last four years, having lost the two previous encounters. This time, they weren’t going to be denied, jumping out to a quick 3-0 lead in the third inning and then making it 6-0 through five innings.

Dixie State made a game of it, pulling within 6-4 in the top of the eighth inning, but two-hole hitter Brandon Shirley cemented things with a two-run blast in the eighth inning to earn UCSD’s trip to the D2 CWS. Big righty Jack Rupe got the win by pitching 5.1 innings of two-hit ball, but the tournament MVP went to Adrian Orozco, a redshirt senior who came into the game in the sixth and threw 2.2 innings on the day. He gave up five hits and two runs while K’ing a pair.

UCSD’s Adrian Orozco itched a one-hitter vs. Azusa Pacific and then pitched in relief in the title game vs. Dixie State.

That was a far cry from game two of the West Regional where the Triton righty came within two outs of a no-hitter as the Tritons beat homestanding Azusa Pacific 4-0 to advance to the title round. In that game, Orozco collected 11 strikeouts and two walks. With one out in the ninth, APU’s Pablo O’Connor squeezed a harmless single through the left side to break up the no-hit bid.

“That’s right brothuh! I wear my pant legs high.” Brandon Shirley had a two-run dinger that put the D2 West Regional title game out of reach for the Tritons.

UC San Diego head coach Eric Newman, a former pitching coach at Nebraska, said after the game, “There was no real turning point to this season. I knew this team was a bunch of winners from day one. Not just on the field, but in all ways. They worked like winners. We had a lot of talent coming back who wanted to work their way to this point. So I’m not shocked they came out and played with a purpose all season.”

The D2 College World Series begins this Saturday, May 27th and ends on the following Saturday, June 3rd.

Wait… What?  An eight team double-elimination tournament that lasts just seven days and not 11 days? Yes, see Omaha, it is possible.

UCSD head coach Eric Newman gets the royal treatment by his Triton players. “I’ll take it!” he yelled after getting dunked in ice water.

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FIVE BIG QUESTIONS GOING INTO TOURNAMENT WEEK
The burning questions that vex our college baseball souls on this day.

1- How many upset teams will rise up and win their conference tournaments?
My guess is there will be three Johnny-come-latelies that steal bids from the bubble teams. And there is a reason for that, keep reading to find out.

2- Can these rag arm-fests get done in a humane manner?
The SEC and ACC tournaments got started earlier today and both had their opening games turn into extra inning affairs. The SEC tourney is trying to play four games a day. Yes four. Extra innings is one thing, will Mother Nature raise her ugly head as well? Here is how 9am to 9pm on Wednesday looks…

This don’t look good either.Hoover, Alabama is s’posed to be rainy all dang day on Wednesday too.

Already, we have had the SEC announce that tonight’s fourth game has been pushed to be the first game on Wednesday. And the weather forecast you see above? It claims that more rain is on the way. Ugh. The SEC office has said that because of the schedule getting pushed back, one team will have to play twice on Thursday and another team will have to play twice on Friday. That’s just not cool. Nor a way to determine a champion.

3- Can South Carolina and Miami make runs to keep their NCAA hopes alive?
The Gamecocks survived extra innings to beat Vanderbilt 7-4 on Day One of the SEC tourney. But they still need to do some work. The Hurricanes took 13 innings to beat Georgia Tech 6-5. Another few wins will help the Canes as well. But good starts for both.

4- Who will step up and nab the home Regional sites.
There are a lot of question marks out there that will need to be determined this week. We can probably all agree that Oregon State, North Carolina, Florida, Texas Tech and Louisville are all locks for not only a home Regional but also a National Seed. After that? It’s anybody’s ball game. TCU, Kentucky, LSU and Stanford seem to be pretty solid locks to host a Regional, but as a National Seed? And did Clemson hurt its chance as a No. 1 seed with the loss to Duke today? We’ll see.

5- Will the Pac 12 and Big West change their minds about tournaments?
These are the final two holdouts in the conference post-season parade. As you guys know, I hate conference tournaments but these two could always use the final week RPI bumps and add an extra team in the NCAAs. I mean, can you imagine if No. 51 UCLA was playing Oregon State, Stanford and Arizona in the Pac 12 Conference tournament instead of playing three games vs. No. 78 Oregon this weekend?

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THE LUCKY SEVEN
If you are a mid-major or a team ranked in the 30s, 40s or 50s and find yourself squarely on the bubble, this is a list of the seven teams in D1 baseball that you are hoping will win their tournament this week so the number of at-large bids to deserving teams stays as high as possible…

Missouri State in the Missouri Valley Conference
Unlike two years ago when the Bears, Dallas Baptist and Bradley all were in the top 10 of the RPI, MSU is a lone wolf in the Valley this year. The good news is that they’ll have home field advantage for the MVC tourney and they’ve only lost once to a Valley team this year. The bad news is the competition will bring down their RPI and may kill their hopes of hosting a Regional.

Missouri State is throwing its hat in the ring to being a Regional host.

Southeastern Louisiana and McNeese State in the Southland Conference
Both teams come into the SLC tournament on a little bit of a “cool streak” with the Lions going 3-3 in their last six and the Cowboys going 5-5 in their last ten.

South Alabama and Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt Conference
Louisiana is ranked at No. 51 so the Cajuns are close to claiming an at-large spot as well. But the Jags and Chants are more sure bets, especially with their hot streaks down the stretch. In case you’re wondering, neither the Jags nor the Chanticleers had a winning weekend vs. the Cajuns.

Binghamton in the America East
Are we really talking about an America East team with a chance at an at-large bid? I s’pose so. You remember Stony Brook, don’t you? They were in at-large consideration in 2012 before winning the AmEast tourney. Anyway, with all of their conference mates ranked No. 150-plus, it is conceivable that the Bearcats could lose twice and fall out of consideration.

St. John’s in the Big East
The 40-9 Johnnies will have to win the Big East Tournament at TD Ameritrade Park, Creighton’s home digs. And on top of that the Bluejays took two of three from SJU in TDA Park earlier this season, so sorry bubble teams, this is certainly no gimme.

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STOLEN BIDS
For a little historical perspective, our own Mark Etheridge went back to study the occurrences of “stolen bids” for the NCAA tournament since 2001. By definition, stolen bids are the upset teams from multi-bid leagues who won their conference tournaments with an RPI outside of at-large consideration, taking a slot away from an at-large team that was on the bubble. Here’s what he found:

Year: (number of stolen bids) teams (RPI ranking)
2016: (4) Connecticut (RPI No. 51), Utah (93), William & Mary (100), St. Mary’s (57)
2015: (3) Michigan (60), Texas (86), FIU (141)
2014: (2) Campbell (67) Southeastern Louisiana (73)
2013: (3) Towson (89), East Tennessee State (83), Central Arkansas (62)
2012: (5) Samford (47), UAB (102), UT-Arlington (53), Missouri (74), Fresno State (78)
2011: (2) Seton Hall (55), Arkansas-Little Rock (150)
2010: (3) Southern Miss, St. John’s, Florida International
2009: (4) Utah, Indiana, Sam Houston State, Georgia State
2008: (2) Western Kentucky, James Madison
2007: (4) Ohio State, Wofford, New Orleans, Jacksonville
2006: (4) UNC-Asheville, UT-Arlington, Evansville, Stetson
2005: (3) Furman, UT-San Antonio, Notre Dame
2004: (2) The Citadel, Western Kentucky
2003: (5) Jacksonville, Middle Tennessee St, Wichita St, McNeese St, San Diego
2002: (5) Ohio State, Georgia Southern, New Mexico State, VCU, George Washington
2001: (1) Seton Hall

That’s 50 stolen bids since the 2001 season, good for an average of 3.125 per year over the last 16 years. So if it’s an average year in the post-season, look for three teams to come out of the lower seeds and win their conference tournaments.

Okay, that’s it. More tomorrow StitchHeads. Have fun you guys.

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