This College World Series has something for every appetite, and not just the calzone at TD Ameritrade Park that’s the size of a carry-on bag. The eight teams, too.
There is Texas making its 36th appearance . . . and Washington making its first.
There is Oregon State, who won the CWS in 2006 and ’07 . . . and North Carolina, the team the Beavers beat in the championship round both times. (P.S. Guess who opens the tournament against each other Saturday? Perfect.)
There is Texas Tech, who started the season 14-0 . . . and Mississippi State, who started 14-15.
The field is 25 percent returnees from 2017 – Florida and Oregon State. It is 37.5 percent SEC – Arkansas, Florida and Mississippi State.
Half of the top eight national seeds will be in Omaha – No. 1 Florida, No. 3 Oregon State, No. 5 Arkansas and No. 6 North Carolina. Which means half of them won’t.
North Carolina and Oregon State got there with 2-0 sweeps through the super regionals . . . Florida, Mississippi State and Washington all had to survive extra innings in loser-go-home game 3s.
There are other numbers to describe the eight. Loads of them. Here is a sampling for each.
Alert the TD Ameritrade bleachers. The Razorbacks have hit 94 homers, meaning 167 of their 452 runs were produced by long balls.
They swept four SEC series for the first time in 19 years. That included Texas A&M, Auburn and Kentucky – all ranked at the time.
No. 1 starter Blaine Knight has won 12 games and lost . . . well, that’s the thing. He hasn’t lost any. By the time Arkansas meets Texas Sunday, his last defeat will have been 384 days ago. He also has thrown one wild pitch this season in 101.1 innings.
89,852 fans at Baum Stadium in the postseason. That's more than any other ballpark in the nation.— Razorback Baseball (@RazorbackBSB) June 12, 2018
THANK YOU, fans! pic.twitter.com/KRvTfyQOHl
Dave Van Horn coached a powerhouse for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, then abruptly moved south to do the same thing at Arkansas. Between the two places -- does that make him a Cornhog? -- he has been in the NCAA Tournament 19 of the past 20 years, and the CWS seven times.
How to erase a bad memory 101. Second baseman Carson Shaddy’s difficult 2017 season – his batting average dropped 53 points, from a team-leading .332 as a sophomore to .279 – ended with an 0-for-7 in two painful regional losses to Missouri State. And no call on draft day. Flash forward to the past weekend. Nine RBI for Shaddy in three games to carry the Hogs past South Carolina. He’s headed for the Washington organization as a 10th-round pick. He’s hitting .341. And forgetting 2017.
The Gators are the Justify of the SEC. Want to see a triple crown? Kevin O’Sullivan was conference coach of the year, Jonathan India player of the year and Brady Singer, pitcher of the year. It’s only the second time in SEC history that’s happened.
Florida has 96 home runs this season – 15 so far in the NCAA Tournament. When they won the national championship in 2017, they hit 53 all year – and eight the entire postseason.
This is the Gators’ seventh CWS since 2010. So they’ve made more trips to Omaha in the past nine years than all but 18 schools in the country have done in their entire history.
Florida’s No. 1 seeding comes with some grit. The Gators have overcome losing six of their last seven regular season and SEC tournament games, rallied to beat Florida Atlantic to win the regional, and survived the 11-inning trial by fire Monday against Auburn.
On the way to 15 saves and a 1.59 ERA, Michael Byrne has a 60-5 strikeout-walk ratio. In Monday’s super regional clincher against Auburn, he threw 49 pitches – 36 of them for strikes.
All hail, Elijah MacNamee, the new mayor of Starkville (if he wants to be). He wasn’t even a starter when the season began and hit eight home runs all year. But five of them have come in the NCAA Tournament. One was a walk-off against Florida State when the Bulldogs’ season was down to its last strike. Another beat Vanderbilt in the super regional.
Mississippi State is harder to get rid of than ants on the patio. The Bulldogs are 5-0 in elimination games, all of them on the road. They started the regional losing 20-10 to Oklahoma. They ended it by beating the Sooners 21-6 in two games.
Mississippi State went 10-1 against top-five ranked opponents during the regular season. They swept Florida and Arkansas. Both will be in Omaha this weekend.
March ended and the Bulldogs were 14-15 with an interim coach, Gary Henderson having to taking over in February when Andy Cannizaro abruptly resigned because of off-field issues. Who knew on April Fools’ Day Mississippi State would win 23 of its next 35 games?
Bulldog pitchers got 87 outs in the super regional against Vanderbilt – 36 of them by strikeout.
Clearly, the Tar Heels can be tough on opposing starting pitchers. North Carolina has a 55-15 scoring advantage in the first inning. That’s one reason the Tar Heels have gone 5-0 in the NCAA Tournament and trailed at the end of only one inning in five games – the second inning of a 19-11 regional win over Houston.
Trying to make up those deficits against the Tar Heels late in games is no bargain, either. North Carolina is 36-0 when leading after the seventh inning.
The Tar Heels led the ACC by average 7.26 runs in conference games. North Carolina had never done that before in its history.
Cooper Criswell started the season in the bullpen. Now he’s the No. 1 starter. And his middle name is Efficient. Over his last six starts, he’s 5-0 with 28 strikeouts and two walks.
Kyle Datres was a vaunted high school quarterback who was runner-up for Mr. Football in Pennsylvania. A lot of colleges wanted him to throw touchdown passes. North Carolina got him instead to play third base. Now he’s leading the Tar Heels in hitting at .344.
These Beavers are on a roll. They’re 5-0 in the NCAA Tournament by a combined score of 49-8. Poor LSU had to stand on the rails when this train was rumbling through. Oregon beat the Tigers twice in the regional, 14-1 and 12-0.
Oregon State’s pitchers have thrown 526 strikeouts, and only 194 walks.
Not that they don’t have some margin for error, given the Beavers’ offense. Oregon State is 43-2 when allowing five runs or fewer.
This team ain’t bad with the books, either. Sixteen players were named to the first, second or honorable mention Pac-12 all-academic teams. That includes all six All-Americans, and the three who went in the first round of the major league draft.
Opponents can’t count on much help from the Oregon State defense, either. The Beavers have 43 errors in 60 games.
This makes 36 College World Series trips for the Longhorns, who have been in Omaha so often, they might be eligible for Nebraska license plates. The longest drought for Texas without getting there has been seven years. The 36 appearances are only seven fewer than the rest of the Big 12 combined. And seven more than the entire Big Ten.
David Pierce’s coaching career has included three years at Sam Houston State, two at Tulane, and two at Texas. He hasn’t missed the NCAA Tournament yet.
These are the saddest of possible words for opponents – Hamilton to Clemens to McKenzie. Shortstop to second to first. Texas has turned 71 double plays this season.
Kody Clemens has the required K-first name, as Roger Clemens’ kids do in homage to all those strikeouts. But he deals in hits, not whiffs. Clemens has been a weapon of mass destruction in the NCAA Tournament with a .500 average, five home runs and 11 RBI.
Parker Joe Robinson’s jersey number could be 9-1-1. He gets the call in time of crisis, inheriting 27 runners this season and allowing only eight to score. Twice in the super regional against Tennessee Tech, he entered the game with bases loaded. One runner made it home – on a sacrifice fly.
Draft day was busy in Lubbock. The Red Raiders had 11 players chosen, the most in school history. Texas Tech was the only school to have 11 taken in the first 30 rounds.
Texas Tech started the season 14-0, and its pitchers put together a 37-inning scoreless streak. So the Red Raiders had big ideas early.
In the first seven years of the CWS, Texas Tech didn’t even have a baseball program, not restarting its program -- shut down in 1930 -- until 1954. It then took six decades for the Red Raiders to finally make it to Omaha, in 2014. Now they have become an even-numbered year habit under Tim Tadlock, returning in 2016 and 2018.
There’s more than one way to advance. Texas Tech blew through the regional by a 30-12 combined score. Then Duke held the Red Raiders to 14 runs in three super regional games. They got by, anyway. Freshman Gabe Holt – one of only two starters not from the state of Texas (he’s a Georgian) – either drove in or scored nine of the 14.
The great circle of college baseball life. Dylan Dusek was the winning pitcher in the final game of the 2014 super regional, when the Red Raiders advanced to their first CWS ever. The reliever who finished off Duke Monday night to get Texas Tech back again, four years later? Dylan Dusek.
The Huskies were picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12, and came from one of only two league schools – with Colorado – never to play in a College World Series. Times have changed.
No wild bunch of guys, these Washington pitchers. They led the Pac-12 in fewest walks, hit batters and wild pitches. And also – for whatever reason – most intentional walks.
This is what’s called flipping a switch. The Huskies hit 15 homers in their first 39 games – and 24 in their last 20. Joe Wainhouse has had 12 by himself his last 18 games. He had seven in his first 38.
One of Washington’s problems was an over-active training room. Because of injuries, the Huskies used six different second basemen, five third basemen, five first basemen, five left fielders, four right fielders and three shortstops. Consider the winding road of Levi Jordan, who was rolling along with a .358 average when he sprained his ankle in March -- stepping happily into the dugout after a home run. He promptly spiraled into an 0-for-24 slump on one good ankle. Since recovered, he is 21-for-43 his last 10 games.
Joe DeMers carried a perfect game into the seventh inning against Cal State Fullerton last weekend. He’s been there before. He threw an 84-pitch perfect game against UC Riverside in February, only the fifth in Pac-12 history. Gabbie Plain did the same thing for the Washington softball team. The Seattle Mariners noticed. They invited the two to throw out the first pitch before a Mariners game, and even provided the catcher; Felix Hernandez, who had his own perfect game for the Mariners in 2012.
So lots of good stories are headed for Omaha. Not to mention lots of hopes, and fans.