What we learned in the opening round of the 2018 College World Series
OMAHA, Neb – The College World Series in a peanut shell so far: Two days, four games, one rain delay – and an inning that turned into a horror movie for Texas, but lasted much longer.
So what all do we know, now that everyone has played a game?
“This whole fan base has been waiting for everybody to be clicking. It’s happening right now,” second baseman Carson Shaddy said. “You can ask anybody here. None of us are really surprised by it.” Seven of them drove in runs Sunday.
We know that three strong pitching staffs suffered bad weekends in Omaha.
On Saturday, Florida's Brady Singer – he with the 12-1 record – picked up the Dick Howser Trophy as the nation's top player. On Sunday, Texas Tech had him down 5-1 in the sixth inning with nine hits, and gave him his first loss – it ended 6-3 – in nearly three months.
Texas had allowed 14 runs in six NCAA Tournament games. The Longhorns gave up eight in one inning Sunday. “I’m not shellshocked,” said coach David Pierce. “It’s just part of it.”
Oregon State gave up eight runs in five postseason games. North Carolina had that many in seven innings Saturday. Starter Luke Heimlich came in 27-2 the past two years and left 27-3, knocked out in the third inning. “I haven’t seen that before,” coach Pat Casey said.
We know that North Carolina is the only team left that has not lost an NCAA Tournament game, but Monday night the Tar Heels must deal with the growing magic of Mississippi State.
That’s because we know there have now been 13 walk-off wins in the NCAA Tournament – and Mississippi State owns three of them, after doing it to Washington. “We get in the box and we have absolutely full confidence that we’re going to get this done,” the Bulldogs' Hunter Stovall said.
We know now that Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock was a tad understated when he said of his team, "Each and every day, we're really probably just trying to survive." With freshman Gabe Holt continuing his June surge – his three RBI Sunday means he has scored or driven in 12 of the Red Raiders' 20 runs since the super regional began – they were lot more than that against Florida.
Take when Cameron Warren relentlessly worked Singer for a 14-pitch at-bat in the fifth inning. He eventually lined out, but the tone was set for the inning. The Red Raiders scored two runs to take the lead. "To see one of your teammates do that probably sends a message through the dugout, that we all need to go compete," Tim Tadlock said.
We know there have already been heroes we didn’t see coming. North Carolina’s Ben Casparius drove in three runs, getting his first plate appearances since May 11 because of injury.
And those we did. Blaine Knight moved to 13-0 for Arkansas Sunday, adding a CWS victory to a season that includes wins over the No. 1 draft pick (Auburn’s Casey Mize) and the national player of the year (Florida’s Singer). “Obviously I wouldn’t be sitting here right now if it wasn’t for Blaine Knight,” coach Dave Van Horn said.
We know the stat sheet after four games comes with some oddities. There has been only two home runs – but four balks.
We know those sent to the losers’ bracket don’t have much time to recover from tough losses.
Florida, for example. The No. 1 seeded Gators were back in the stadium of their 2017 glory, but went 1-for-15 with men on base. Plus, they watched their ace get beaten. Now they have to take the long way around through the losers' bracket to a repeat. "There's no rewind button. We lost," coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "We've got to move forward...It's not impossible, it's certainly doable."
Or Washington. The Huskies' pitchers threw only 19 balls in nearly nine innings, and Levi Jordan put on a rendition of Ozzie Smith at shortstop. They lost anyway – Omaha’s first 1-0 result in 33 years.
Or Oregon State. The Beavers had trouble lots of places Saturday, including their prized defense. They had committed one error in 45 NCAA Tournament innings – but three against North Carolina. “Knowing that we’re capable of more is probably the most disappointing thing for us,” said catcher Adley Rutschman.
Or Texas, after a sixth inning that lived in infamy. Arkansas scored eight runs, and sent 14 men to the plate. The Longhorns used six pitchers, who needed 62 pitches to get out of the inning. All of that happened without one extra-base hit, by the way. Six singles, four walks, a hit batter.
The first Arkansas batter of the inning went to the plate at 3:08 p.m. CT. The first out was not recorded until 6:29. The third out was 6:39. OK, there was a 2:49 rain delay in the middle of the carnage, but it still took 42 minutes of actual baseball for the Longhorns to get three outs.
“It just unraveled,” Pierce said.
“It’s baseball. You’ve got to forget,” Texas centerfielder Tate Shaw added.
“We’ve been here before,” starting pitcher Nolan Kingham mentioned, meaning when the Longhorns lost the first game of the super regional. But one number echoed through the weekend – 34 of the last 37 national champions won their first game.
We know now the value of hunger for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
That might need some explanation.
For nearly three hours, the Razorbacks were forced to lounge in their clubhouse, hoping their momentum would keep. They also were not making many trips to the tray of food someone had brought to the clubhouse.
Earlier this season, the Razorbacks had chowed down between games of a doubleheader and were whipped in the nightcap. So much for clubhouse smorgasbords, Van Horn decided.
“The running joke after that was, 'you’re going to get a banana and Snickers,’” he said. “When I walked in (the clubhouse during Sunday’s delay), that tray full of food . . . “
He said Knight, who was out of the game by then, could dig in, and his coaches, but nobody else. They declined. Only a banana and Snickers, please.
As the hours went by, the Razorbacks could snack. A cracker here, a piece of cheese there. But nobody treated it like a buffet on a cruise. Meantime, Martin was pacing the clubhouse, pondering his coming at-bat with the based loaded, if the game ever resumed. It was like a golfer who knew he faced a 20-foot birdie putt if it ever stopped raining and lightning.
“I thought about it for a good three hours,” he said. “Every minute we were out of that dugout I thought about it. I sat down for probably 30 minutes at the most. I was up and down just walking back and forth, back to the dugout, back here, back to the dugout, back here.”
Finally word came the game would soon start up. Van Horn came by Martin with one message. “It starts with you.”
Martin hit the first pitch for an RBI single. “After that,” he said later, “we didn’t look back.”
A Pac-12 matchup – Oregon State and Washington – will send the first team home from the losers' bracket Monday. And so the next round will begin in Omaha.
“Eyes forward,” Tar Heels coach Mike Fox said. “We’ve said that a lot.”
And maybe a peek or two at the sky. More rain is in the forecast.