The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Hurricanes Advance to College World Series for 21st Time

Well, it was another exciting weekend of college baseball. As you probably know by now, the Miami Hurricanes swept the Florida Gators and earned a berth, for the twenty-frist time, in the College World Series, which will begin this Friday in Omaha, Nebraska. The other seven berths in the CWS were also secured as of late last night, which means that there will be no college baseball played tonight. Later in the week, I’ll give my comments and predictions about the tournament in Omaha, but for today, I thought I’d talk about last weekend’s Coral Gables Super Regional.

Saturday’s game was hot. That has to be the first thing that anyone says about the game. In post game interviews, Hurricanes coach Jim Morris said that it may have been the hottest game he has ever been a part of. For a man with more than 1,000 college coaching victories – and with the bulk of them coming in Miami and Atlanta – you have to respect his opinion when he says it was hot. He knows hot. The fact that twelve fans were treated for heat exhaustion also adds credence to this opinion.

The hot, humid weather may have impacted the play on the field as six errors were committed. Miami was able to walk away with an 8 – 7 win largely because of three Florida miscues in the 7th.

Many have done analysis, which “proves” that the sacrifice bunt is a poor strategy, arguing that giving away an out to move a runner up a base is not a worthwhile endeavor. However, after watching Saturday’s regional, it is easy to see why the bunt is such an important part of the game, particularly at the college level, and even with a team like Miami, which hit a gaudy .330 on the year (eighth in the country heading into the weekend). Even a sacrifice bunt isn’t a guaranteed out, as the Canes proved in the 7th when two of their most productive hitters squared around in succession. Bunting forces the defense to play the ball differently than they normally do, and on Saturday this led to two throwing errors (by a highly drafted pitcher, who had only committed one error up to that point over the entire season) and created costly scoring opportunities. Later in the same inning, while playing slightly in to defend against a potential bunt, Florida third baseman Jonathan Tucker misplayed a ground ball which allowed another run to score. Bunting may not be a statistically sound proposition at the major league level, but at the collegiate level, even with the higher batting averages, it definitely can be. You throw an added dimension of speed and surprise into the game which is more difficult for the defense to prepare for. Plus, it has the added benefit of drawing the defense inward for later at bats, which makes it easier to generate hits. On Saturday, bunting won the Canes the game.

Sunday was, somewhat surprisingly, a pitcher’s duel. Saturday’s matchup was billed as the pitchers duel as the Gators sent ace and second round draft pick Justin Hoyman to the mound and the Canes countered with staff co-ace J.D. Cockroft. On Sunday, with sophomore sensation Cesar Carillo on the hill for the Canes and converted reliever Connor Falkenbach starting for the Gators, know one quite knew what to expect. Carillo had started out slowly against N.C. State in last week’s regional, but like he often did during the regular season, quickly settled down and pitched a nice ball game. Falkenbach did not enter the game with a record like Carillo’s sparkling 10 – 0, but he was 10 – 6 on the year and had pitched many big innings for the Gators. Both pitchers pitched well, but after the first inning, Carillo was clearly better on the day and his strong performance allowed the Canes to scratch out a 3 – 1 win and a return trip to the College World Series.

For an opening round opponent, the Canes have drawn the Louisiana State Tigers, who quickly dispatched of a previously surging Texas A&M team (which knocked off defending champion Rice only last weekend). In case you don’t remember or aren’t quite sure, yes, the last time that LSU and Miami met was the 1996 College World Series Championship game. The Canes lost that game 9 – 8 on a bottom of the 9th, pinch-hit home run by LSU’s Warren Morris, in his only at bat of the season (Morris was recovering from a broken arm most of the year). Memories of that Canes loss are still burned into the memories of many Mark Light faithful, and I would be greatly surprised to see the Canes don green jerseys for Saturday’s opener (as that's what they were wearing during the 1996 loss - it took years for the Canes to wear green jerseys again). More on the College World Series tomorrow...


Post a Comment

<< Home