The continued game between Clemson and Oklahoma was an appropriate 3-inning appetizer on Wednesday for the main course thriller that was TCU’s dramatic 11-7 win over Florida State.
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FINAL: Continuation of Clemson 6, Oklahoma 4
FINAL: TCU 11, Florida State 7 (Elimination Game)
(Blog entry by Chase Titleman)
What a difference a day makes here in Omaha … or does it?
For the third consecutive day here in Omaha, wewere awakened by an earsplitting thunderstorm that rocked the windows of our hotel. I wasn’t sure if it was a freight train, tornado or just another of my wild and willy dreams, but when the lightning flashed and the thunder instantly cracked at 5:25 a.m. this morning it was quite a way to wake up.
Oklahoma looks to benefit most from Wednesday evening’s sudden thunderstorm that cropped up with the high humidity and the stifling temperatures, spawning a tornado alert that never materialized. As of 10:00 this morning, a tornado watch box was up on the weather channel for the eastern half of Iowa, but sunny skies are predicted for today at the “Blatt.”
The heat index was 102 when I was sitting in the photo box along the first-base line. ESPN analyst Kyle Peterson (an Omaha native) looked like a camel jockey with towels draped all over his body trying to shade himself from the scorching sun.
With Clemson leading Oklahoma 6-1 going into the top of the 6th, the Sooners will need to get on it in a hurry if they expect to get back into the ballgame and avoid the losers bracket. At the start of yesterday’s game, the wind was howling out to left-center, but today the wind has switched directions and is blowing quite briskly to right-center – so look for some home runs coming in that direction.
If you are coming to the ballpark and have general-admission tickets, that would be the place to sit!
Yesterday’s first game between Arizona State and South Carolina was an example of what a team can accomplish when it plays the wind properly, for it is no secret that the ball will sail out of the “Blatt” with ease if aided by a driving wind (especially when the heat index is cranking as well).
Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a monster, wind-aided bomb to left-center yesterday to kick start an eight-run 2nd inning that sent the Sun Devils packing.
Rosenblatt Surprises: The weather hasn’t been the only surprise here in Omaha …
Florida State and Clemson were 7th and 8th in the KSI Index and I boldly predicted that “if I were a betting man (which I am not), I wouldn’t bet that Clemson student-athletes would be roaming around in Omaha towards the end of the week. I ran into some Clemson players, parents and alumni over at The Union Pizzeria and Bar over near where the new TD Ameritrade Ball Park is going up in the old downtown area near Quest Arena, and boy did they let me hear about it!
Humbled but unfeathered, I promptly told them that the Tigers in my opinion are the most impressive team in Omaha thus far. I really like the way Jack Leggett has this team playing at present. They are peaking at the right time, playing fast and loose while brimming with confidence – all things needed to quiet the nerves of playing in front of 22,000 on a nightly basis.
Clemson won its game despite its 1-2-3 batters (Chris Epps, Mike Freeman and Jeff Schaus) combining to go 0-for-11.
The two teams that have been eliminated, Florida and Arizona State, both had that “deer in the headlights” look and used the same excuse of not playing like the team that got them to Omaha.
How about TCU? Or, more appropriately, how about Matt Curry’s grand slam! Curry had the biggest blast of the series so far with his 8th-inning slam to help the Horned Frogs to a stunning 8-run inning in their 11-7 win over Florida State. Just as clutch was TCU catcher Bryan Holaday’s double, which also came with two outs (two batters before Curry). I’d take eight guys like Holaday on my team any day.
In the postgame press conference yesterday after being eliminated, ASU Coach Tim Esmay had this to say:
“Well, obviously very disappointed in the outcome today. You can’t have a start like we did against a quality team of South Carolina. I thought they did a heck of a job of putting us on our heels, and I think you have to do that in a game like this where you lose and you go home.
“And I think the team that kind of takes control of that and is the aggressor and puts you on your heels, it really makes it tough for you to battle up climb.
“I’ll say this. I haven’t been any prouder in my years of being a Sun Devil than this team right here. It’s an amazing team. They were fighting until the end. They didn’t give up. They played hard and that’s what they did all year long.
“And I’m just very proud and very blessed that they gave me this opportunity to coach them this year, because this is a heck of a team. And having to deal with expectations, and expectations of Arizona State is to play deep in this tournament. And they know that. They battled that day-in, day-out, and they answered the bell all year long.
“Obviously we did not want to end this tournament the way it ended, but I’ll tell you this, there’s nobody that feels as bad or as upset than those 35 guys in that clubhouse, and I’m extremely proud of this ball club.”
Q: Could you talk a little bit about Sam Dyson and how he pitched today?
COACH ESMAY: “Man, boy, talk about grinding one out. I felt like we had opportunities every inning. I didn’t feel like he really breezed through any inning. But you look up and 100‑and‑some pitches later and he’s battling and making pitches when he needed to, and that’s a performance that I’m sure they’re proud of, because he was a warrior out there today.:
Q: You guys came in as the No. 1 seed. … I talked to a lot of Arizona State media that says it doesn’t even look like it’s the same team, like it’s imposters in the uniforms. Could you address what went wrong here over the last two games?
COACH ESMAY: “You’re playing good talent. I wouldn’t necessarily call them imposters. They are 18‑, 19‑, 20‑year‑old kids, that had a heck of a year and were playing very good baseball. But being in the College World Series enough to see that sometimes when balls aren’t hit or situations don’t come your way, it just happens.
“I’m not going to say that this is not the Sun Devil team that I saw all year long because it was. It was a team that showed up to play, they were ready to play, and they were confident enough to play. But when you have eight teams at the end, everybody’s had a sense of how to win and how to play and take advantage of things, and that’s what I saw happen. The other teams took advantage.
“We did a great job all year of not letting the crack, the door open, and these last couple of games, a crack opened and the other teams took advantage of it. And that’s what happens in a national championship type tournament.
* * * * *
First of all, that question that was posed to coach Esmay is a solid question, although I cringed myself when I heard the word imposters. Arizona State does have a recent history and questions to answer for – they typically are the top-ranked program every year that they have come to the CWS since the turn of the century, yet they have come up empty handed.
It was their tournament to lose. There are questions to answer, especially since they came off perhaps the toughest Super Regional as Arkansas took them to task in back-to-back, 12-inning grinders that smelled of national championship destiny.
But like coach Kevin O’Sullivan over at Florida, this was the first time in Omaha for the Esmay staff, and you could sense a little apprehension in the body language of the assistants and the players.
Esmay had made six trips to Omaha, as both a player and coach for the Sun Devils, but pitching coach Ken Knutson (former head coach at Washington) and Travis Jewett (former assistant at Washington State) were making their first visits. Although 15 members of the Sun Devil squad were returning to Omaha, led by Raoul Torrez who made his third appearance in the CWS, there also were 11 members of the squad that were first-timers and played as if they may have been a little overwhelmed by the environment (a fate that hits many CWS participants).
The other aspect that is important to consider in the Sun Devils’ demise is the fact that they played only 21 games away from Steven Packard Stadium in Tempe. Playing most of their career at home, as well as both the Regional and Super Regional, certainly doesn’t get a team battle-tested for a hostile environment on the road.
In my opinion, it is something to point a finger at, for the key to beating ASU this year was jumping out of the gate early with big innings. The old axiom in baseball is that the majority of the time, the winning team has scored more in one inning than the opposing team has scored the entire game.
In the elite field of Omaha, it is hard to overcome an 8-spot in the second inning. Although the Devils battled hard, they just didn’t peak at the right time. It reminds me of a conversation that Sean Stires and I had when I first arrived in Omaha near midnight on Friday evening. The Sun Devils were the only team that hadn’t really had any type of hiccup the entire year, as they hadn’t lost back-to-back games in 2010 … that is until they got to Omaha.
That will be hard to reflect on during the offseason.