Who Will Be This Year’s Fresno State?

September 29, 2009
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Who’s going to Omaha? Who’s going to win this weekend? Who’s this year’s Fresno State? I’ve heard all of those questions this week as we get ready for the 2009 NCAA Baseball Tournament to start today. The one thing I can say for sure is (ready)…I don’t know.

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I have always said, if I could make those kind of predictions I would be making a lot more money somewhere else. One thing last year’s Wonderdogs taught us though is: How could we know?

How could we have ever seen them coming? There’s no way. (Even though New Mexico State’s Richard Stout told me in an interview earlier this season that one of his coaches predicted it when the Aggies were playing the Bulldogs last year.)

The 2008 Fresno State run made me throw out everything I thought I know about winning in the college baseball post-season. Rule #1 (I thought) was you need starting pitching depth. Fresno State had solid pitching, but true depth? Head coach Mike Batesole’s pitching was so worn out by the time he got to the CWS championship series against Georgia that he didn’t even know who he would start in the first game.

He roles out Sean Bonesteele, who pitched valiently for three innings, but FSU lost 7-6. It’s over, right? Wrong. Bulldog starter Justin Miller gives-up five runs in 2.2 innings the next night , but Fresno State wins 19-10. Then Miller comes back the next night, goes eight innings in the most important game of his life, gives-up just a run, Steve Detwiler drives-in six runs, and FSU wins 6-1 to claim the improbable national title.

Who needs to know who their starting pitcher will be?

But that was all last year. What about 2009? Is there a team in this year’s field that can wear Cinderella’s slipper as snugly as the 2008 Wonderdogs?

I don’t think we can bank on a #4 seed again. A #3 seed can just as easily fit the bill. To start with, I wouldn’t count out a team like Baylor or Oklahoma State from at least to a Regional title game. Both of those teams have been bashed all week, and in today’s “nobody thought we could do it” world, I wouldn’t count out some good old fashioned machismo where those teams are concerned.

Some interesting #3s to watch: Ohio State vs. Georgia in the Tallahassee Regional and Cal Poly vs. Oral Roberts in Tempe (a classic hitting vs. pitching, respectively, match-up).

How about the Norman Regional, where #2 Arkansas plays #3 Washington State, and perrenial power Wichita State is a #4 seed vs. #8 National Seed Oklahoma.

Don’t rule out Ft. Worth as a region where the improbable might become possible either. TCU is seeded first vs. #4 Wright State (podcast with WSU’s Quentin Cate), with #2 Texas A & M vs. #3 Oregon State.

But after scanning the brackets, my true sleeper to watch in this year’s tournament is: Middle Tennessee State. The third-seeded Blue Raiders play Vanderbilt in the first round of the Louisville Regional. (The Cardinals play #4 Indiana in the other first round game.)

Why MTSU? How about a self-proclaimed “good ol’ boy” named Bryce Brentz. The sophomore leads the nationa in the following categories:

Batting average (.482), slugging percentage (.968), on-base percentage (.552), total bases (213), and home runs (28-T w/Alabama’s Kent Matthes).

I had to double and triple check Brentz’s batting average when I saw it. I thought maybe I was looking at his on-base percentage. Who leads the nation in both batting average and home runs? It’s just not fair.

By the way, Brentz is also 5-3 with a 4.78 ERA on the mound this year. This from a guy who calls himself a “late bloomer” to college baseball. He late-bloomed himself to a .329 average with 18 home runs as a true freshman last year.

“Baseball’s just a game of adjustments”, he told me in an interview I did with him just a few weeks ago on our web site. (It’s still the most fun I had doing an interview this season.)

Brentz may or may not get anything to hit when MTSU plays Vanderbilt today in their Regional opener. The Blue Raiders split two games with the Commodores April 7 and 14. Brentz combined to go (7-9) with 3 home runs and 8 RBIs in those two games.

There’s good reason to believe the Sun Belt champion’s NCAA run could be short lived. Vandy sends Mike Minor (6-4, 3.64 ERA) to the mound to face the Blue Raiders. Minor tossed his second complete game of the season in last week’s 4-1 win over LSU in the first round of the SEC Tournament. However, the Tigers avenged that loss by beating the Commodores 6-2 in the SEC title game. Fresno State anyone?

Don’t get me wrong, with sluggers like All-American Chris Dominguez (23 HR) and Phil Wunderlich (18 HR) can ping it too. But the Cards are the #1 seed at they’re own regional, we’re talking about possible Cinderellas.

It’s hard to count out a team like Middle Tennessee State with team numbers that go like this: .346 BA, 99 HR, .578 slg%, .422 OBP, 9.1 runs/game. If you were a coach would you want to face an offense like that with your third, fourth or fifth starting pitcher on the mound?

Speaking of head coaches, Brentz says his coach, Steve Peterson, is “…cool and level-headed, it’s like cutting the head off a snake, the snake dies. Coach never breaks down.”

How can you argue with logic like that?

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