The NCAA’s baseball postseason begins today with games all over the country. 64 teams begin double elimination regionals at 16 sites, with the winners of each 4-team bracket moving on to best-of-three series for a super-regional (at the higher seeded school paired with that regional) and a chance to play in the College World Series. This is a great time to be a college baseball fan and even if you haven’t heard of any the players or watched any college baseball in the past take a moment out of your weekend to check this tournament out. You won’t regret it.
As a Florida State University alumnus, of course the regional I’ll be focused on is the Tallahassee regional that includes three conference champions in addition to the Seminoles (who were ranked #1 for most of the season but slipped up mightily towards the end of the regular season and into the ACC Tournament, losing 7 of their last 10 games). Joining the Noles are the Mississippi State Bulldogs (SEC Champs), the Samford Bulldogs (Southern Conference Champs), and the UAB Blazers (Conference USA Champs). All of these teams bring something different to the table and with this format every team has a chance to win the regional if they pitch well and have timely hitting. I’d like to think that my Noles would be the favorite to win this regional as they are the top seed and are playing at Dick Howser Stadium (though that doesn’t mean they will always be the home team, a coin toss decides that), but many experts are predicting the #2 seed Mississippi State to advance out of Tallahassee. If things play out according to seeding we will see those two teams match up tomorrow night in the winner’s bracket, rekindling a rivalry from the 2007 Tallahassee regional in which the Bulldogs swept their way through the regional beating Stetson once and FSU twice on their way to their eighth trip to the College World Series. Nobody outside of Starkville wants to see history repeat itself, but it is something to watch for as this weekend plays out.
You can’t get to Saturday without playing today, and the first game of the day is about to get underway as soon as the weather in Tallahassee lets up. Mississippi State (39-22) will face Samford (39-21) in the battle of the Bulldogs. On the mound today for Mississippi State is their ace pitcher Chris Statton, a junior righthander from Tupelo, Mississippi. Stratton has had an incredible year, going 11-1 with a 2.21 ERA and striking out 123 batters in just 102 innings. Opposing him will be Samford senior pitcher Charles Basford (9-2, 3.95 ERA) because Samford’s ace Josh Martin (12-1, 2.96 ERA) threw 236 pitches in last week’s Southern Conference tournament and would benefit from an extra day’s rest. Mississippi State will be heavily favored in this game but their coach John Cohen said of Samford “they have guys who can hit it out of the ballpark, guys who can run and guys who can situationally hit”. Samford does have a great offense and those guys will need to come through with the bats today, facing one of the country’s best young arms in Stratton.
The late game of the day involves the Florida State Seminoles and the UAB Blazers. Obviously the team I am most familiar is my school, and the Noles will send #3 pitcher Scott Sitz to the mound tonight. On the year Sitz is 3-3 with a 4.14 ERA as he’s pitched 54.1 innings on the year (normally as a Sunday starter). Opposing Sitz will be Blazers senior right-hander Michael Busby who enters the tournament with a 5-4 record and a 3.90 ERA in 90 innings pitched on the year. The Seminoles are heavy favorites in the game and Blazers coach Brian Shoop admits that he’s “nervous” and “hopefully confident” and he admits that “this is a little different than it is for team that this is their normal stop after a regular season” (the Blazers are playing in just their second regional in school history, the first since 1991).
Coach Shoop had one quote after the Conference USA championship game that I would like to share with you: “It’s just a credit to our kids to keep hanging in there…Like most things in life. The best things, you press through some disappoint and some adversity. I’m thankful and happy and appreciative to still be standing”. Well, Coach, there are four teams still standing in Tallahassee, and after tomorrow that list will be down to three. By Monday there will only be one team blessed and fortunate enough to still be on the path to Omaha and the College World Series. This is what college baseball is all about.
One Goal. Welcome to Tallahassee.