By TOM STAD
June 10, 2008
When the dust settled Monday night, the field of 64 had been pared down to the eight teams that will make the journey to Omaha. There were few surprises in the 16-team Super Regionals. Of the top eight teams in the tournament, only the No. 5 national seed Stanford Cardinal and the No. 3 seed Arizona State Sun Devils are not packing their bags for the College World Series, which starts Saturday. However, we didn’t get to this point without some serious drama, as five of the eight best-of-three series went to a third and deciding game. Fresno State and LSU were the last two teams to punch their ticket for the CWS Monday night. Let’s take a look back at each series.
CORAL GABLES SUPER REGIONAL
The host Miami Hurricanes (52-9) did not get to back to Omaha for the second time in three years without a fight from Arizona. The Wildcats took the opener on Friday night with a thrilling 6-3 victory in 11 innings. Junior Jon Gaston, who was selected by the Astros in the seventh round of the MLB draft earlier in the day, ripped a three-run homer off of ‘Canes closer Carlos Guiterrez to provide the winning margin in the first game. The No. 1 overall seeded Hurricanes recovered from that early punch to the mouth to win 14-10 on Saturday, courtesy of a school record 16 walks by Arizona pitching and home runs from four different Miami batters. The ‘Canes closed out the series with a 4-2 win Sunday as Enrique Garcia held Arizona to two runs over six innings and Guiterrez redeemed himself by shutting down the Wildcats (42-19) over the last inning and a third. First baseman Yonder Alonso hit his team leading 23rd homer in a three-run first that gave the ‘Canes all the offense they’d need. Miami will be making its 23rd CWS appearance, second to only Texas’ 32 appearances. They’ll host Georgia Saturday night at 7 p.m.
CARY SUPER REGIONAL
It didn’t take long for the nation’s No. 2 seed North Carolina (51-12) to assert itself in its series. The Tar Heels jumped out to 3-0 and 6-0 leads after the first two frames in their victories to sweep Coastal Carolina and advance to Omaha for the third straight year. UNC had little trouble with Coastal Carolina (50-14) as they coasted to 9-4 and 14-4 wins behind solid offense and some stellar pitching. Sophomore Alex White (10-3), the ACC Pitcher of the Year, threw seven strong innings for the Heels in the first game, while Chanticleer ace Bobby Gagg (6-3) lasted only four frames and was victimized by some poor defense. Then there’s the Tar Heels’ Adam Warren. Warren had a no-hitter on Saturday until a blazing sun caused second baseman Kyle Seagar to lose the ball in the glare as it dropped harmlessly to end the no-hit bid. He ended up going six strong innings, while Tim Federowicz and Dustin Ackley drove in three apiece to lead North Carolina to the series-clinching victory. The Heels will face LSU in the final opening round game of the CWS Sunday night at 7 p.m.
TEMPE SUPER REGIONAL
In the biggest surprise of the tournament, Fresno State toppled No. 3 overall seed Arizona State (49-11) with a 12-9 win in a back-and-forth affair late Monday night. The Bulldogs became the first No. 4 regional seed to advance to Omaha courtesy of a six-run seventh inning highlighted by a three-run shot off the bat of senior left fielder Steve Susdorf. With the game tied 5-5 entering the sixth, Fresno State (40-29) took advantage of a walk, a hit batsman and a single to load the bases with two outs. The floodgates then opened and before the third out was recorded, Sun Devils reliever Mike Leake saw six Bulldogs cross the plate. The host team touched up Bulldog relievers Sean Bonesteele and Brandon Burke for a pair of runs each over the last three innings but it wasn’t enough to keep Fresno State from advancing to Omaha, where they will look to continue their improbable run against Rice Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE SUPER REGIONAL
Having their backs against the wall seems to suit the No. 4 overall seeded Seminoles just fine. After losing to Bucknell in their regional opener, FSU (54-12) stormed back to win four straight and advance. History repeated itself Friday night as the ‘Noles lost the first game of their Super Regional matchup with Wichita State 10-7. But once again, Florida State’s bats made tons of noise as the ‘Noles outscored the Shockers 25-8 in the final two games. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds, however. On Sunday, with the score 6-4 courtesy of a Jack Rye homer and Tommy Oravetz double that brought across three runs apiece, the Seminoles used six shutout innings of relief from senior Ryan Strauss to close out Wichita State (48-17) and get back to the CWS. FSU will be making its 19th appearance in Omaha. The Seminoles have the dubious record of having made the most CWS appearances without bringing home the hardware, but coach Mike Martin and his players hope to change all that this year. It all starts Saturday at 2 p.m. in the CWS opener against Stanford.
FULLERTON SUPER REGIONAL
It certainly wasn’t a walk in the park for Stanford (39-22-2), but the Cardinal managed to sweep host Cal State-Fullerton (42-21) and advance to their first CWS since they reached five straight, the last appearance coming in 2003. Trailing the entire way, the Titans had the tying run in scoring position in the ninth inning on Friday night. Enter Stanford freshman Drew Storen, the story of this Super Regional. The youthful Storen showed tremendous poise once again for the Cardinal and picked up his seventh save of the season, closing out the game by getting the last two hitters to fly out in a 4-3 victory. Fullerton never led on Saturday either, but did tie the game at five in the top of the sixth. In the bottom half of the frame, Stanford catcher Jason Castro laced a three-run double that ended up as the last runs of the series as the Titans could muster only two hits and a walk the rest of the way. Storen was back at it again in the eighth, coming on to get Jared Clark on strikes to end the inning. The phenom then retired the side in the ninth for his second save in as many nights. Stanford faces Florida State in the opening round of the CWS, with the first game slated for Saturday afternoon at 2.
HOUSTON SUPER REGIONAL
Rice (47-13) found an unlikely hero in the first game of its Super Regional against Texas A&M (46-19), as senior Jordan Dodson found himself in the lineup at DH on Saturday and made the most of it. Dodson went 3-for-3 with four RBI and fellow senior Cole St. Clair held the Aggies to just one run over the final 4 1/3 innings to lead the Owls to a 9-7 victory. Needing a win Sunday to clinch a trip to Rosenblatt Stadium, the No. 6 national seed looked like they would have to wait for Sunday for that chance. That is, until junior catcher Adam Zornes made his way to the plate. With two out and one on, Zornes took Aggies reliever Travis Starling (8-2) deep on the first pitch he saw, giving Rice a 6-5 victory and their third straight CWS appearance. Rice will open play Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. against Fresno State.
BATON ROUGE SUPER REGIONAL
I’m guessing LSU head coach Paul Mainieri isn’t dwelling on the fact that the nation’s longest winning streak was halted at 23 games in the Tigers’ 11-5 loss on Saturday. That’s because LSU (47-17) rebounded on Sunday to make their first CWS since 2004 with a thrilling ninth-inning rally that carried over to a thrashing of UC-Irvine (42-17) on Monday night. That last victory signified the end of an era, as the Tigers replace Alex Box Stadium with a new facility next season. LSU, which boasts three true freshmen up the middle in center fielder Leon Landry, shortstop D.J. LeMahieu and catcher Micah Gibbs, was three outs away from elimination in Game 2. Four hits and five runs later, the Tigers were on their way to a 9-7 win and a winner-take-all rubber match on Monday night. Clearly the good feelings from that comeback carried over as LSU put up 24 hits and 21 runs as they pounded the Anteaters into submission 21-7. Now the Tigers will head to Omaha in search of their fifth national title, opening play against No. 2 seed North Carolina Sunday at 7 p.m.
ATHENS SUPER REGIONAL
Georgia (41-23-1) simply outhit North Carolina State this weekend. The Bulldogs, behind junior All-American shortstop Gordon Beckham, pounded Wolfpack pitching for 34 runs in the three-game series, capping the weekend with a 17-8 rout in which Georgia put up nine runs in the first inning and never looked back. Beckham, a first-round pick of the Chicago White Sox, hit his 25th home run of the year in the victory and also became only the fourth player in school history to reach the 100-hit mark in a single season. The first Bulldog to do it was Cincinnati Reds shortstop Jeff Keppinger, who is currently on the DL but is having a nice year for the N.L. Central squad. It was Georgia’s 16th elimination game in Foley Field history - and they’ve never lost at the friendly confines in Athens. Senior starter Nick Montgomery, staked to that huge early lead, allowed three runs over six innings and earned the win in Sunday’s deciding game. While NC State (42-22) failed in its bid to reach the CWS for the first time in 40 years, Georgia will be making its third appearance in the past five years. The Bulldogs won the school’s only national championship in 1990. Georgia draws top-ranked Miami in their CWS opener, with the action starting Saturday night at 7 p.m.