OMAHA, Neb. – Another day at the College World Series, another bean ball from Mother Nature. So while they’re putting on the tarp again, we can ponder a few questions to come.
How’s the No. 1 seed – and defending champion – looking at the moment? Besides backed to the wall?
Florida became the first reigning champion since 1995 to lose its CWS opener the following year, when it was beaten by Texas Tech. Before that, the past eight title defenders had gone 8-0. “The reality of it is,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said, “we put ourselves behind the eight-ball a little bit.”
Florida stayed alive Tuesday by eliminating Texas 6-1, largely on the 13-strikeout pitching of Jackson Kowar and three-run homer from Jonathan India. Kowar did his dominating with 121 pitches in 6.2 innings – one of two men in the past 40 years to strike out 13 in under seven innings. His changeup tormented the Longhorns, in concert with his mid-90s fastball. “He’s got an arsenal,” Texas coach David Pierce said.
But afterward, O’Sullivan was thinking about the empty at-bats, when the Gators put the first two runners on base in each of the first three innings, and got only a single run out of it. He was thinking of the miscues. He was thinking how star closer Michael Byrne had to throw 31 pitches Tuesday, after 21 Sunday, and what might that mean if they have to protect a lead later in the week? Byrne is not a pitching machine.
“A lot of times you win a game like that, 6-1, and a lot of those mistakes get forgotten quickly because you win the game,” O’Sullivan said. “But today was no cleaner than it was on Sunday.
“This time of year you don’t want to nitpick your team too much because the bottom line, a win is a win. I’ll let them enjoy it. (But) we’ll talk about some things; maybe shorten up some swings with runners in scoring position. I think our swings are getting a little bit too big.”
“And we had to go to Michael Byrne again. We’re going to have to get some help on the back end of the game.”
Next will be either Texas Tech or Arkansas on Thursday. Well, maybe Thursday. Weather is swinging the big bat in this tournament at the moment.
Can the magic carpet ride of the Mississippi State pitchers continue?
The Bulldogs have given up two runs in 18 innings, struck out 13 and walked two. That’s a pretty good reason they’re 2-0.
Another is how they keep knocking down the door whenever the other team leaves it ajar. North Carolina committed three errors Tuesday — as many as the Tar Heels had in their first six NCAA tournament games combined.
Mississippi State used them to score eight unearned runs. Tar Heels pitcher Austin Bergner threw maybe one bad pitch in seven innings, a hanging breaking ball. Jordan Westburg, the No. 9 hitter, sent it into the left field stands for a grand slam. “One bad pitch, like, out of 98,” North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. “They made us pay for it.”
And that’s one way the Bulldogs keep moving on. “I think everybody that’s here is capable of taking advantage of the other team’s mistakes. I think that’s how you get here,” coach Gary Henderson said. “I think absolutely we are better at that piece of the game than we were.”
Can Cooper Criswell save the Tar Heels?
He’s given up one run and eight hits in 13 postseason innings. He came out of the bullpen to put away Oregon State Saturday. When they meet again, he’ll be starting against the Beavers.
Who’s the next unexpected hero?
Westburg had one home run all season before his grand slam. North Carolina’s Ben Casparius had not been at the plate since May 11 when he drove in three runs against Oregon State. Oregon State’s Kyle Nobach had 16 RBI during the entire regular season — but has 14 in the NCAA tournament and four in two games here.
Lots of individual big nights so far. Thirteen different players have had three-hit games already.
Any white-knuckle ninth innings coming soon?
Only three of the seven games so far have been decided by three or fewer runs. Last June, there were 10.
Will Arkansas’s bats stay afire after scoring 25 runs in its last two games? Will Texas Tech remain the team that is so hard to score on, and just took care of Brady Singer? “They just beat us,” O’Sullivan said.
The Razorbacks and Red Raiders will meet in the next game – whenever that is. It was postponed Tuesday night and more rain is due Wednesday. This, in a College World Series that already has had delays of 4:31 and 2:29, and two postponements.
Texas and Washington are gone. Mississippi State is 2-0. Arkansas and Texas Tech have played one game in four days. And everyone else is fighting to stay around, including the Florida team that won here last June. The Gators are pretty good at this survival business. They’re 6-0 the past two seasons in elimination games.
“If you don’t play the game you’re playing you’re not going to play another game,” Byrne said. “So right now, you have to play one game at a time, one day at a time.”
And, he could have added, one weather delay at a time.