2012 College World Series preview and predictions
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Throughout the 2012 college baseball season, the word parity was thrown around a lot. There was never a clear-cut number one, or numbers one through 25 for that matter. That theme continued during the Regionals, as six #1 seeds were trounced in the first round, including traditional power houses Miami, North Carolina and Rice. In the Super Regionals, six-time champion LSU couldn’t take care of SUNY Stony Brook. Now, we are left with the following eight teams:
Just because the participants aren’t traditional baseball programs top to bottom, there are some great story lines in what figures to be one of the most exciting College World Series in some time. We have one team (South Carolina) going for their third consecutive championship. Imagine the college careers of Michael Roth, Christian Walker and Matt Price if they win three during their undergraduate years. Crazy. I thought three in a row would surely be some kind of record, but research shows the real USC (I’m a Clemson alum, had to) won five in a row from 1970-1974. Regardless, coach Ray Tanner and these kids are doing something special, and it will be fun to watch the potential hat trick.
Glancing at some of the other teams, a casual observer may think, “Hmm, besides Stony Brook and Kent St., those seem like some squads with histories of success.” Success is a relative term. Florida State, Florida and Arkansas have combined for 36 College World Series appearances. The amount of times these teams were crowned champion is equivalent to what comes out of a goose post fertilization. The three coaches of these squads have all felt this futility personally, and this will surely resonate with their players. Mike Martin (FSU) and Dave Van Horn (Arkansas) are alums of their respective schools, so they’ve lived through the struggles with their respective teams. Florida’s coach, Kevin O’Sullivan, previously coached at Clemson, where he became seasoned in the practice of getting so close, yet to have it somehow slip from grasp (as is tradition in the Upstate). The edge here goes to Martin, who has had the championship elude him as a player and coach at FSU for over forty years (he played in the 1965 CWS).
The last major story, and one that has been getting the most burn, is the emergence of unknowns Kent St. (three seed) and more predominantly SUNY Stony Brook (four seed). The only other four seed to appear in the CWS was Fresno St. in 2008. They won the whole thing. The Stony Brook Seawolves making the CWS is the rough equivalent of a 13 seed making the Elite Eight in March Madness. In the history of their program, they’ve had only one of their alums play in a major league game. They named their current stadium after him (Joe Nathan Field). Personally watching the LSU/Stony Brook games was exhilarating, and one has to wonder if the upstart Seawolves have anything left in the tank.
Bracket 1 games will air on ESPN2 and start on Friday. I’m sorry, but I’m gonna have to jump off the Seawolves bandwagon, if I was ever on it. Their story has been great thus far. They have a legitimate stud in Travis Jankowski, who, if was allowed to take all his team’s at-bats, would give them a decent chance. Much has been made of their top-15 team batting average and ERA nationally, but that came against some really weak competition. They got swept by Eastern Carolina and Holy Cross during the regular season. Their pitching staff must be taxed, having played five games in the Regionals followed by numerous rain delays and a 12-inning game in Baton Rouge.
Florida State played like a legitimate number-one team for much of the season but played sloppy late in the season, including getting swept in the ACC Tournament. They haven’t lost since then, sweeping the Regionals and absolutely destroying Stanford in the Supers. Mark Appel, the consensus #1 pitcher in the ’12 draft can now focus on his professional career, as he gave up five earned, walked four and hit two in four innings of work versus the Seminoles. UCLA and Arizona are good, but neither will be able to take down the behemoth that is FSU.
Who comes out? FSU.
These games will begin Saturday and air on ESPN. Unlike bracket one, there are two teams here who are serious contenders in South Carolina and Florida. Florida ended the season ranked #1. They seem to have everything: a deep pitching staff, crazy good bullpen, an excellent backstop and unadulterated power. They lead the country in home runs, as Mike Zunino and Preston Tucker hit more home runs combined than most programs. TD Ameritrade Park (the new home to the CWS) plays big, but even if they can’t score 10 per contest, their pitching should keep the opposition at bay.
South Carolina has the experience. Most of their guys have been battle tested once, if not twice, on the big stage. They also have a freshmen up the middle in Joey Pankake who’s been exciting to watch and who may prove to be a Scott Wingo-type catalyst for this year’s run. He’s led off and reached base in every game in the tournament.
It really comes down to pure talent versus experience and the natural unlikelihood of three in a row. Also, the Gators’ pitching depth is just too much to overlook.
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