CWS Recap: Days 5 & 6
Wednesday and Thursday were elimination days in Omaha. I love elimination games. Why? Because there are two teams fighting for their survival. They usually bring out the best in pitching, defense, and offense. They cause shakeups in the lineup, employ serious strategy, and use any tricks they can think of. Elimination games are usually balls to the wall, knock down drag out fights, full of high drama, intensity, and lots of pacing around the living room when your team’s life is on the line (I know this, because last year during all of USC’s elimination games, I just about managed to wear out the carpet from my pacing). I was anticipating both of this week’s elimination games to be just like this, despite the fact that both matchups were uneven. It didn’t work out quite the way I had dreamed, but it was still some fun baseball to watch.
UNC/Vanderbilt: Let’s be honest. UNC was way outmatched in this game. Vandy is hands down one of the best teams in the country, and the ‘Dores have been playing ridiculous competition all year (2 of those teams being the only 2 unbeatens left in the CWS). Vandy went to the final game of the SEC tournament, and shared in the SEC regular season title (although I still think that having “co-champions” is crap, and hope that the SEC will develop some kind of tie breaking rules in the future). UNC just hasn’t really faced the same type of competition all year. I’m not discounting their season – the ACC plays some good baseball – I just think that Vandy played some tougher teams. UNC couldn’t get anything going against Vandy. They couldn’t get the hits when they needed them, and that was the difference in this game. Vandy, on the other hand, displayed some impressive offensive skill. Connor Harrell hit his second HR of the CWS in the bottom of the 2nd inning, to drive in 3 runs, and cement Vandy’s lead. The Heels just couldn’t come back from the 4 run deficit, though they tried. They did manage 1 run off of starter Taylor Hill, who pitched 7 solid innings for the ‘Dores. Vandy tacked on another run in the 3rd on a solo blast by Curt Casali. UNC just couldn’t recover, and so we say farewell to the Tar Heels. Final Score: Vandy 5, UNC 1.
UVA/Cal: As a baseball fan, I can’t help but love Cal. Not only do they have an incredible story (seriously, if you played a CWS drinking game and drank every time the announcers mentioned Cal’s incredible story/hard road to Omaha, you wouldn’t make it out of the 2nd inning), but they also play solid and scrappy baseball. They’ve had a magical season, and a great CWS run. Unfortunately they had to play a UVA team that couldn’t have been too happy after getting stomped by USC the night before. UVA had everything that they didn’t have in their game against the Gamecocks: solid pitching, timely offense, and pretty solid defense. Cal’s usually stellar defense made a couple of errors, indeed they looked the way the Cavaliers had looked the previous day. One of those errors turned a single into three extra bases, as Kenny Swab rounded the bases and kicked off an inning of UVA runs. Cal just couldn’t recover, and so they are packing their bags to head back to the west coast. Final Score: UVA 8, Cal 1.
A Few Random Observations: The Final Four. Three of the final four teams play in the SEC East. The final four teams were the only teams who were ranked #1 at some point during the year. And this is the 1st time in CWS history that 3 teams from the same conference (not to mention same division) are in the final four. Looks like the CWS actually has the four best teams playing in the semifinals.
Friday’s games. Florida and Vandy meet for another rematch at 2 p.m. I really think Vandy is due to win one against the Gators. They’ve only one once in the five times they’ve played this season. Plus I think the ‘Dores are fired up enough to stave off elimination for at least one more game. They’ll have to beat Florida twice to advance to the final, but I don’t anticipate that happening. I think Vandy forces a second game, but Florida, and it’s rested pitching staff will win the second game.
USC and UVA play at 7 p.m. The Gamecocks certainly have the talent to beat UVA tonight and move on the the final, but UVA isn’t going to underestimate USC this time around. They certainly won’t play as sloppily as they did on Tuesday, so USC is really going to need to play clean, solid baseball to win. This game could go either way, as both teams have a deep pitching staff. I expect this game to be decided by one or two runs. Neither team has formally announced a starting pitcher yet, but UVA is expected to go with their ace, Danny Hultzen. Hultzen was brilliant in the opening round against Cal, and he was the #2 overall draft pick for a reason. But he’s thrown quite a few pitches. And he’s been in the lineup everyday as the DH. We’ll see how he holds up, but I expect him to go for at least 6 or 7 innings. On the USC side, the pitching debate is raging. Will Ray Tanner start freshman Forrest Koumas, who has been the 3rd starter in the weekend rotation for most of the season, or will he give the ball to Michael Roth who threw close to 120 pitches on Sunday night? There are argument for both, which leads to my next point.
South Carolina pitching. There’s an argument for putting either Michael Roth or Forrest Koumas on the mound tonight. Roth is clearly our ace. He’s been in high pressure situations before. He’s also had four days rest. But, he threw close to 120 pitches on Sunday. He also would probably be the best person for the job on Saturday if we should lose tonight. Although, if he throws tonight, and we advance to the championship round, he would likely be able to go again on Tuesday. Koumas is well rested (he actually hasn’t pitched since the beginning of June). He’s been a pretty solid starter for us all year. If he falters tonight, we’d have Roth to fall back on tomorrow. But if he falters tonight, we likely couldn’t rely on John Taylor for a long relief stretch since he pitched 4+ innings on Tuesday. The rest of the bullpen is fresh though, so we could still conceivably work ourselves out of a jam. If Koumas were to start and the Gamecocks were to win, then Roth could go in the opening game of the championship series. It really could go either way, but I think ultimately Roth will get the start. He’ll ask for the ball, and I’m sure both pitching coach Jerry Myers and Coach Tanner will be willing to give it to him, as long as he’s ok physically. If Roth starts, and we lose, I imagine Koumas would get the start on Saturday.
Also. Jenn Brown of ESPN tweeted that USC = South Carolina. Obvious to those of us in SEC land, as California wasn’t even a state when USC was founded. But it’s nice to hear/see it from the national media.