Bracket #2 … Late-Developing Excitement/Heartbreak at CWS

June 24, 2010
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Sitting here in the press box has been a real treat. As various media members continue to rave about last night’s titan effort by TCU, we have come to the conclusion – here in the early innings of the SC-OU rematch – that Bracket-2 has been a real yawner thus far in the College World Series. (front page photo courtesy of Oklahoma)

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Actually, any game that hasn’t involved TCU has been a bit on the bland side of the spectrum.  Bracket #2 actually has been trumped mostly by the weather as the strong winds, heavy rains, thunder and lightning have created more excitement than the play on the field.

Caleb Bushyhead drove in the first run of the game in the second inning, on a bloop single to right-center field, while South Carolina left the bases loaded in the 4th. Both offenses are playing as if it is a Tuesday tilt in the middle of the regular season, and they are just trying to grind out the season.

I hope they realize that one team will be going home today, so let’s hope they wake up and make a game of it.

Oklahoma has one run on four hits with an error and four men left on base. South Carolina hasn’t fared much better with zero runs on 4 hits, no errors and 5 men left on base.

This has been a busy week and my energy tank is starting to run on empty as I have had very little sleep, getting in bed a little after 2 a.m. after attending all the press conferences, writing the articles and helping out with the photo and video feeds. I had three interviews today that will be coming on before the end of the CWS.

The first is an interview conducted with Justin Gomes, who is the interim athletic director at Boys Town here in Omaha. Justin and I have a connection as I coached him in my first year of coaching, when I was a freshman at Oregon State.

We both attended Sheldon High School, so there is a bit of a connection between Eugene, Omaha and college baseball in general.

Gary Henderson, the head baseball coach at the University of Kentucky, also is an alum of Sheldon High School and the Eugene Challenger American Legion Program in Eugene, Ore. (of which all three of us are alums).

Justin attended Riverside Community College in the late 1980s and the University of Nebraska in the early ’90s. He has been working at Boystown since graduation, with a degree in child development and a masters in athletic administration. His brother Jarvis is a good friend of mine (we coached together at one point) and is an assistant principal at Tualatin High School, near Portland. Jarvis also coaches baseball at Linfield College with ex-Yankee and World Series MVP Scott Brosius, who also is an Oregon native.

Linfield finished third at the NCAA Division III Word Series this year, which is the second time in three years the Wildcats have made Division III’s version of Rosenblatt.

Justin gave me the tour of the facility today and I came away very impressed with the mission and purpose behind the Boystown organization. You can’t help but admire Justin’s dedication to helping at-risk young adults improve their future. The article will need to go through an approval process, so it most likely won’t come out until Sunday when I arrive back in Eugene.

Reese's is donating $200 to Boystown for every CWS home run.

The second interview I had today was with the owner of the Union Pizzeria and Sports Bar, located downtown very close to where the new TD Ameritrade Ballpark is located (it is the hotel where the Clemson program is staying during the CWS). We have run into a lot of Clemson fans and I was invited to come on the Clemson radio show tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. to talk a little baseball regarding the CWS. Should be loads of fun – hope they don’t lynch me after they read some of my articles predicting that Clemson would go 2-and-out at the series.

Boy was I wrong about that, as Clemson has been one of the more impressive teams out here, although they don’t play a lot of smash ball. Kyle Parker’s triple last night was the first extra-base hit for the Tigers in Omaha, after 17 consecutive singles.

What they have done is pitch well and aggressively attacked the bases, as those singles have quickly turned into doubles or first-and-third situations with excellent run-and-hit and hit-and-run execution. Is it just me or does every player on the Clemson roster look like they are 6-3, 185 lbs. and can run like a deer?

Maybe it is just the nice uniforms they wear, as I am a fan of the purple and orange look with the pant legs running all the way down to the shoes with the no-sock look. Far and away the best looking team out here from an athlete standpoint.

With such a yawner of a game going between OU and South Carolina, it might be a good time to introduce some of the stat leaders here at the CWS (albeit from a small sample of games, with some teams playing three games and others only two).

Hits … UCLA’s Beau Amaral leads this group of athletes with six hits, while seven others are tied at five. They include Jackie Bradley Jr. (SC), John Hinson (Clemson), Sherman Johnson (FSU), Jantzen Witte (TCU), Stephen Cardullo (FSU) and Tyler Holt (FSU).

With so many Seminoles in this list of hit leaders, one wonders why FSU is out of the tournament so quick … but their achilles heel always has been found in their lack of quality pitching depth.

Runs Scored:
1.  Tyler Holt (FSU) and Jantzen Witte (TCU) – 5
3.  Sherman Johnson (FSU) and Bryan Holaday (TCU) – 4

RBI Time:
1.  Jackie Bradley, Jr. (SCarolina) – 6
2.  Matt Curry (TCU) – 5
3.  Mike McGee (FSU) – 5
4.  Taylor Featherston (TCU) – 4

Doubles: Only one player has two (Jayce Boyd, of FSU)

Home Runs: Jackie Bradley, Jr. (SC) and Mike McGee (FSU) are the only players with two, although last night’s grand slam by Matt Curry is the benchmark play of the CWS so far. I am really looking forward to Friday’s clash, a rematch between TCU & UCLA, which are most likely the two best teams still in alive in the tourney. Curry and McGee (FSU) lead the CWS in total bases with 11.

Power Arms: We might as well put the entire UCLA staff on here with Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer leading the way, followed by Klein and Claypool coming out of the bullpen. Cole threw an 8-inning gem versus TCU the other night with 13 Ks, while Bauer threw a gem on opening night against Florida, going 7 strong with 11 Ks.

TCU’s Matt Purke also went 7 innings with 7 Ks … I am looking forward to seeing the bulk of the TCU staff that we saw on ESPN during the Austin Super Regional.

Scouts Honor: From a scouting standpoint, the top-5 athletes that really stand out from the others include position players Jackie Bradley Jr., Kyle Parker and Matt Curry, plus pitchers Gerrit Cole and Matt Purke, both former 1st-round draft picks by the Yankees and Rangers, respectively.

Kyle Parker also was a 1st-round pick and arguably is the best overall athlete here (playing both quarterback and left field for Clemson) … But the player who has been the most fun to watch is Bradley Jr. – an incredible athlete who makes it look easy. He is a legitimate 5-tool guy that you likely will see in the big leagues within five years, as he will go through the minor-league system rather quickly barring injury. The SC centefielder has a strong average arm, with plus-plus foot speed. The clincher is that he can hit for both average and power, as he generates tremendous lift and leverage at the plate with lightning-quick handspeed to boot.

Carolina Comes Back: South Carolina finally has responded here in the bottom of the 8th inning to tie the score (1-1), but Oklahoma now has runners on first and second with one out in the top of the 9th after SC first baseman Christian Walker dropped a sky-high infield popup and closer Matt Price hit the next batter to put runners on first and second with one out … but Cameron Seitzer promptly grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the threat.

Either I am extremely tired or this game just lacks any pizzaz! Either way, press row agrees that Bracket #1 has produced the more entertaining ballgames.

Game Wrap: Can Oklahoma Grind Another One Out?

Cleanup hitter Tyler Ogle (.322, 36 Runs, 43 RBI) hit his 10th home run of the season to lead off the 12th inning and potentially delivering a 2-1 victory for Oklahoma, but South Carolina came back in the bottom of the inning to win 3-2 to force an all-Palmetto State final in Bracket #2.

It all unfolded after Robert Beary singled through the hole to lead off the bottom of the inning,  but Sooners closer Ryan Duke struck out Evan Marzilli.

One a 1-1 count, Beary stole second base on a slider down-and-away to put the tying run in scoring position and the winning run at the plate. Whit Merrifield popped out to third baseman Garrett Buechele for the second out, bringing up Jackie Bradley Jr. (whose 18-game hit streak was in jeopardy, after an 0-for-5 start).

With a base open, the question became, “Would OU “unintentional-intentionally” walk Bradley or go head-to-head for the win?  At 3-2, in the game’s only marquee moment, the crowd came to their feet to witness Bradley tie the score with a single just beyond the reach of a diving Cameron Seitzer, as Beary raced home.

Tie game, bottom of the 12th, runner on first base. Adrian Morales walked to put Bradley even closer to the plate (a bad sign if you ask me) and Brady Thomas singled up the middle to drive in the hero of Bracket-2 so far (Jackie Bradley Jr.).

It was a tough way to close the season for Oklahoma, but the College World Series now will see a rematch of a 2002 CWS bracket final – as Clemson and South Carolina will battle to play for the national championship. In 2002, South Carolina beat Clemson twice to eliminate the Tigers and earn the trip to the championship. It will be interesting to see if history repeats itself.

Post-Game Comments:

OKLAHOMA COACH SUNNY GALLOWAY

“Great college baseball game, that’s how it should be. … I’m proud of both teams, clearly if you are going to play your last baseball team [overcome by emotion] … you want to play a good one … these young men went out and excelled.

Q: “What did you tell your team?” … “Remember that feeling at Virginia … the sting of tonight will go away, but remember Virginia. I want them to have a good memory now. It’s all part of the process of building the tradition and restoring the program. We wanted the journey to continue, but that’s the sting. It’s been a great journey!

“We always think positive and plan that way …e very game here at the CWS is a fight. I remember yesterday thinking how important it might be to be the home team, and tonight it was really important.

Thoughts on pitcher Zach Neal: “The game that Zach pitched, he accepted his role, he never questioned it and he pitched the game of his career. … Can’t say enough about how poised he was and how well he pitched. We are blessed at Oklahoma with outstanding student-athletes and young men.

On facing Jackie Bradley: “We had a plan and stayed with the plan. We tried to pitch him away and then come back in. It looked like it got too much of the plate, but you can’t blame a pitcher, you have to give credit to the hitter. Nobody lost here today. It was a celebration of college baseball today.”

OKLAHOMA PLAYERS

Reliever Jeremy Erben: “It was a heck of a ride. Can’t imagine my senior being any better than this one. It’s been a long season, but one I will remember the rest of my life.”

Starter Zach Neal: “Virginia [super-regional appearance] was one of those days where you don’t have what you usually have. I came out and tried to attack the hitters today. I just kind of came out and left it on the field.”

Catcher Tyler Ogle: “We hadn’t really put any runs together the whole game and I just wanted to get something started. As soon as I got back into the dugout, I just wanted to go win a ballgame.  Obviously it didn’t work out like that. I think a lot of guys were pressing and trying to do too much.  We are a better team when guys stay in the zone and try not to do too much.”

South Carolina Postgame Comments:

COACH RAY TANNER

“Another great baseball game between the Gamecocks and the Sooners. … Got a great start out of Blake Cooper … we just kept scrapping and battling. It was a never-give-up day here in Omaha.  Just a great game by both teams fighting hard, you hate to have anyone lose tonight.

“This game’s hard, it is a humbling game, you have to face advertsity, you keep battling and hope it falls your way. Like I said, we lost a close one to them, I was hoping we could win a close one tonight. My situation was that Blake was going to pitch if he felt he was good enough to go. If he said he was at 75%, I wouldn’t have started him.

“We will go back and regroup and try to figure out our pitching staff and where we are at. We have played like this a lot.”

SOUTH CAROLINA PLAYERS

Jackie Bradley, Jr: “They made some great pitches. I put some good swings on some balls. I kept battling, knowing I was going to get my chance. Of course, we know who we are playing [next]. It’s a big rivalry, but it’s just another game and we are going to approach it that way.”

Starter Blake Cooper: “I felt strong all day and was able to locate my breaking ball and make some good pitches. Coach Calvy came to my room about 11:30 last night and asked me if I was good enough to go, and I said I was.”

DH Brady Thomas: “I knew the pressure was going to be on them. I got a good fastball and was lucky enough to put a good swing on it.”

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