College basketball coined the phrase ‘March Madness’ over the years, and for good reason.
Well college baseball provided us last night with ‘Manic Monday’ or maybe ‘White-Knuckle Monday.’
Whatever you call it, since Sunday afternoon college baseball has provided me with the best 30 hours or so of sports drama all year.
A Quick Nod to the Kings
The big story in the sports world Monday night (and rightfully so) was the Los Angeles Kings’ Stanley Cup clinching rout of the New Jersey Devils. As someone who spent a couple nights back in the day at the old LA Forum (and many more hearing Bob Miller and Nick Nickson call the games on TV/Radio) seeing the old purple & gold get their butts handed to them – it was good to see.
But from a U.S. perspective, where we aren’t crazy about hockey nationally, it was two nondescript NHL franchises, and the Kings almost did it almost too easily (16-4 in the playoffs). Game 6 was essentially done after the Kings scored three first period power-plays goals after a devastating five-minute major penalty.
At that point it was all over except for the post-game interview F-Bombs.
Meanwhile there was incredible drama in steamy Waco, Texas and Eugene, Oregon – as both Arkansas-Baylor and Oregon-Kent State went into the late innings tied in low-scoring pitching duels. The previous night also provided the deciding game of underdog Stony Brook’s upset of LSU in steamy, damp Baton Rouge.
The only bummer was the home crowds at all three locales went home devastated.
Arkansas has a fantastic baseball pedigree with current coach Dave Van Horn, who has continued the groundwork laid by the retired Norm DeBriyn.
The Razorbacks appeared to be going down in Game 2 of the three-game Super Regional before a ninth inning rally culminated by two bases-loaded hit batters.
Last night was a tense pitching battle where hits, let alone runs, were tough to come by. Twice the Hogs got out of bases loaded jams in the middle innings, getting out of one predicament with an outstanding play at second base.
Finally Arkansas squeezed home a run in the top of the tenth, and once more walked the tight-rope in the bottom half, allowing two two-out runners, before finally getting the last out.
Meanwhile Oregon-Kent State played out a similar script for a second consecutive night.
Kent State got a great starting pitching performance and was clinging two a 2-0 lead before Oregon rallied in the late innings to tie. That allowed the Ducks to bring in their freshman late-inning relief ace Jimmy Sherfy, who almost looks ready to close in the majors now … if his arm can stand throwing that devastating slider long-term.
But Sherfy appeared to pull something on one of his final pitches and Kent State followed with a bloop single down the left field line by Jimmy Rider (350th career hit, MAC record) to punch their ticket to Nebraska.
With Kent State winning the coin-flip to be the home team in Game 3, Oregon fans suffered in silence witnessing the surreal walk-off loss.
So the team in blue and gold (and best uniforms in college baseball), whose most famous baseball alums are Thurman Munson and Steve Stone from way, way, back, became the first Ohio-based team to score a College World Series berth in 40+ years.
Among the great stories off the current team is outfielder Nick Hamilton, who has overcome a hearing disability to make it to this level. He was also a late-round draft pick by the Cleveland Indians last week, and oh yes, his dad is legendary Cleveland play-by-play man Tom Hamilton. His recent absences from Tribe broadcasts are now well explained.
The SEC will be well represented in Omaha with Florida, Arkansas, and two-time defending champion South Carolina participating. But noticeably missing from the pregame tailgating scene will be the annual pilgrimage of LSU supporters thanks to the stunning Game 2 and Game 3 losses at home.
As a number four seed, SUNY Stony Brook has indeed become a storybook headline. It is the equivalent of a number 13 seed or lower making March Madness’s elite eight. LSU fans did right giving their own team, and Stony Brook, a nice ovation following the final out. LSU drew more fans for the final game than Stony Brook (who did not become D-1 until 2000) drew all season.
And the unlikely road to Omaha was not just about the last two days. Stony Brook had to come back from five runs down to beat Missouri State in an elimination game in the regional round.
Meanwhile Kent State outlasted Kentucky in 21 innings earlier in the tournament. Can I find the six-hour plus tape of that game somewhere?? Who was left pitching at the end of that, if anyone??
That is the beauty of college baseball. If you are an MLB fan that loves October, the college game provides the same level of drama in May and June.
I will be joining MSF’s Jerod Morris and Ari Kaufman Wednesday night for a special podcast to preview the College World Series. It will be two weeks of sports that will definitely continue to be must-see viewing.