How Was Utah Valley’s Goose Cooked?

May 29, 2012
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Kallunki, Record-Setting Wolverines Left Out Of NCAA Tourney…

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By College Baseball 360 Co-Editor Sean Stires

I went to bed last night thinking about Utah Valley. I don’t really know exactly why – I’ve only been to Utah once in my life. I’ve never even been to Orem, Utah where the school is located and I don’t think it had anything to do with the fact that my wife was watching that show, Sister Wives, on TLC (She…ok we also used to watch Big Love on HBO. Go figure).

I specifically kept coming back to two things though: 1. That number:  47 and 2. That name:  Goose Kallunki.

Talk to me Goose

And he did. Goose was talking to me and repeating that number over in my head.

47…47…47…47…47…47…

As in 47 wins.

Goose Kallunki hit .419 with 18 home runs and 86 RBIs this season.

Goose Kallunki, the best name in all of college baseball, helped Utah Valley win 47 games this season, but it wasn’t enough to get the three-time defending Great West Conference champions into the NCAA Tournament.

“Ultimately, it came down to non-conference competition and non-conference schedule strength,” NCAA Baseball Committee Chair Kyle Kallander said when I asked him about the Wolverine’s omission from this year’s field of 64.

“What you’ve gotta do is you’ve gotta go out in your non-conference schedule and you’ve gotta schedule stronger. And then of course you have to have some success against that schedule.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to sit here and rail on Kallander and the committee for leaving Utah Valley out of the tournament. There were plenty of teams that had even more impressive resumes than the Wolverines who are sitting home right now as well.

Kallander is correct when he points out Utah Valley’s weak schedule strength, which came in at 262 in the Warren Nolan rankings. That contributed to a Warren Nolan RPI of 72. That 72 though is still better than the 122, 135, 212, and 225 RPIs turned-in by Cornell, Creighton, Sacred Heart, and Prairie View, respectively. Those teams are all in the big dance, but the biggest difference is their conferences receive automatic bids for winning postseason tournaments, while the Great West Conference does not get a bid.

Prairie View and Cornell’s combined win total (51) barely tops Utah Valley’s 47 and their average schedule strength is 244.

Like most Ivy League teams Cornell doesn’t even play a full 56-game regular season schedule. The Big Red didn’t even play as many games (46) as Utah Valley won, and three of those games came in the Ivy Championship Series against Dartmouth two weeks ago. Cornell was winless in two tries against RPI top 50 teams this year, while Goose and the Wolverines had wins against both Arizona and Arizona State.

Turn and burn Maverick

That takes me back to Goose Kallunki. I’ve never seen the guy hit in person and he may never get a cup of coffee in the show, but the kid flat out raked it as a senior in Orem this year. Here’s his offensive line:

.419 batting average, 18 home runs, 86 RBIs, .734 slugging percentage.

He’s in the top five in all of Division One baseball, while leading the nation with his RBI total. Those are impressive numbers no matter what the strength of schedule says. He wasn’t alone either. The Wolverines had a .350 batting average and smacked a total of 54 home runs.

Goose was also 5-for-8 with four RBIs and a home run in his two games against Arizona this season. The home run came in a 5-4 win over the then fourth-ranked Wildcats. That win came against the highest-ranked opponent the program had ever faced. The Wolverines were also swept in a three game series at Cal State Fullerton the first weekend of March.

It’s easy to say Utah Valley needs to get out and play a tougher non-conference schedule, but it’s another thing to do it. There aren’t exactly a wealth of Division One schools to play midweek games in and around Orem, which is located just north of Provo and BYU and south of Salt Lake City and the Utah Utes.

There’s a big lake and a lot of wide open space to the west of the school and a big mountain range to the right in Colorado, whose only Division one baseball program is Great West rival Northern Colorado. Good luck finding DI competition in neighboring Idaho or Wyoming.

Utah Valley played both of those teams this year and beat them both, although their 11-10 loss to the Utes on May 15 is probably what ultimately cost them an NCAA bid. That setback snapped the fourth longest winning streak in Division One history at 32 games. Had they won that day and gone on to win the rest of their regular season and conference tournament games they would have carried a 41-game winning streak into selection Monday that would have been all but impossible for the selection committee to disregard.

Utah Valley head coach Eric Madsen

Utah Valley head coach Eric Madsen has now won 141 games in his first four seasons at the helm, with 99 of them coming into the last two seasons. The Chicago States and New York Techs of the Great West Conference obviously don’t provide the kind of quality wins that other conferences would. If Madsen wants to take the Wolverines to the dance he’ll have to follow the blue print laid out by Ray Birmingham at New Mexico.

Kick down the front door.

New Mexico hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in nearly 50 years prior to receiving an at-large bid in 2010. The Lobos have lacked at-large credentials the last two years, but New Mexico has received automatic bids by winning the Mountain West Conference. They have built their resume and strengthened their resolve along the way by playing a who’s who of college baseball in their non-conference slates.

In case some of you are wondering who the best is, they are up here on this plaque…

Texas, USC, Arizona, Arizona state, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Oklahoma State are among them, with most of those games on the road.

Birmingham’s philosophy is simple – “Why try to go through the back door when you can kick down the front door?” Birmingham’s front door leads to the Los Angeles Regional this weekend when the Lobos face San Diego in the first round.

I know, I know. It’s not always as easily done as it is to say it. God knows college baseball budgets are tight, and it has to be even tighter as a place like Utah Valley where they don’t even have football to help prop-up the rest of the athletic department.

But hey, give LSU or Ole Miss a call and take a pay check series in Baton Rouge or Oxford next season. It paid-off for Appalachian State in more ways than one this year. Nobody saw the Mountaineers or Ryan Arrowood (another great name) coming when they took two of three from the eventual No. 7 national seed Tigers back in late February. The Mountaineers used those wins as a springboard to a 39-win season and a No. 3 seed facing Oklahoma this weekend in the Charlottesville Regional.

It’s all a moot point for Utah Valley now. They won 40 of their last 41 games and will have to settle for knowing they had a great year, while I’m stuck with that number in my head.

47…47…47…47…47…47…

Talk to me Goose…

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