"You Ain't Got No Alibi"...
Kudos to ESPN for increased coverage this year of college baseball's super regionals. While the event is still the runt of the three major sports, it's nice to see the Worldwide Leader in sports recognize the following is enough for more airtime.
Unfortunately, the product is not exactly selling itself.
There was no better example of this than the opening game of the USC-Oregon State game on Saturday night. The contest was much talked about as it brought together two of the five best sophomore starters, Ian Kennedy (USC) and Dallas Buck (Or. St.). The story of the game hardly turned out to be strikeouts, but instead that of fielding errors. USC dug itself quite a hole in a losing battle, committing eight errors which allowed the Beavers to score ten times on just seven hits.
The ugliness began early, as the Trojans opened the game with two consecutive errors and a hit by pitch, though Kennedy escaped out of the inning with just one unearned run allowed. The game made another ugly turn in the fourth with a sequence of events that yielded this play-by-play data: E6, BB, GIDP, BB, E4, E6, FC. In the sixth it was another error from the shortstop and a wild pitch that led to two runs. And finally the ugly night was capped off in the bottom of the eighth, when USC opened the door for five runs by committing another throwing error and a misplayed ball in left field.
It was certainly no surprise to see Oregon State, ranked first in the nation by Boyd Nation, defeat USC on its home turf Saturday night. It was simply the "how" and not the "what" that left viewers dumbstruck.
While the degree of ugliness we saw in Game One was unparalleled, the theme of the weekend has simply been that games are being given away. It was seen in the Fullerton regional, in which the defending champs came back to defeat Arizona State with two runs in the ninth. This was spawned by Sun Devil sophomore Zechry Zinicola, named last year on the Freshman All-America team. Zinicola did not look so impressive on Friday when a throwing error on a pickoff attempt and subsequent balk cost Arizona State the game. And while the club came back to win Game Two, should they lose on Sunday, it will have cost them the series.
Our theme was evident at Georgia Tech, in which the first game was nearly totally decided by bad plays. In the first inning the Volunteers struck first, with star Eli Iorg scoring on a wild pitch. But the Yellow Jackets battled back, getting to Luke Hochevar with two outs in both the fourth and sixth. First it was Jeremy Slayden who scored on a passed ball, after reaching base on an error. And then in the sixth it was a balk again, allowing Georgia Tech to take the lead. Tennessee salvaged the contest in the ninth with a walk-off home run, and ended the series Saturday with a 13-3 bashing.
It was four home runs and a complete game that allowed the University of Florida to take the first game of their Super Regional against Florida State on Friday. But without bad play by the Seminoles on Saturday, Gainesville residents might not be making their plans to Omaha this morning. Sophomore Brian Leclerc hit his second home run of the series to take the lead 4-1 in the first inning, but the Seminoles inched back with runs in the third and fourth. But in the bottom half of the inning the Gators received an insurance run when Stephen Barton both reached base and scored on separate errors. Florida did not look back, scoring three in the sixth to solidify a series win.
Misplays also had a large part of Nebraska and Clemson winning their opening game contests over Miami and Baylor, respectively. After falling behind 1-0 in the fourth, Huskers' SS Joe Simokaitis tied the game scoring on a fielding error. Nebraska went on to win the game, and hit three home runs Saturday to advance to next weekend. Clemson hopes they will be so lucky tomorrow, after upsetting the Bears in Waco thanks in part to Baylor. In the third it was two consecutive wild pitches that allowed Clemson to tie the game, and a fielding error in the eighth netted an insurance run.
In conclusion, I apologize to ESPN for the lackluster defense that has been seen so far this weekend. I can only offer a promise, that despite this play, the drama will be what keeps me glued to my television today and tomorrow.
All Series, Updated 4:37 p.m. ET
#6 Cal State Fullerton tied 1-1 with Arizona State
Weekend Heroes (Updated Sunday, 4:36 p.m. ET)
Sunday Update #1: There were two series I did not write about extensively above, one because they didn't apply to our ulginess theme, the other because there was simply nothing to detail. The latter was the Texas-Mississippi regional, in which Game One was postponed after rain yesterday. Texas was up 2-0 when the game was left until Sunday, and were up 4-2 when closer Brent Cox entered the game.
Cox, the Yankees second round choice and the 'National Stopper of the Year', proved to not be able to hide from the error bug that has been biting. En route to a four-run inning, Cox threw a bunt attempt into right field that started the inning in which Mississippi took the game for good. With the Yankees struggling to get back to .500 and Cashman's sure-thing draftee falling apart, one can't imagine Steinbrenner sleeping soundly tonight.
The other ghost series of my weekend coverage has been the #1 seed Green Wave, who faced elimination at the hands of Rice. Tulane showed quite a bit of resilience, winning 7-0 in a game that was within one-run through eight innings. Micah Owings proved to be the hero of the game with a complete game shutout in which no Owl hitter reached second base. Somewhere, Mike Rizzo is smiling.