After an absolute marathon of a regional weekend that started at noon ET on Friday and ended at approximately 1:15 pm on Tuesday when Virginia's Devin Ortiz (also the starting pitcher for the Hoos as well as arguably the more famous of the two D. Ortiz's) hit a pitch into the left-field bullpen to dispatch #11 seed Old Dominion and send them to their first Super Regional since they dogpiled in Omaha in 2015, it's safe to say we were incredibly spoiled this weekend. Not only did we get a nice mix between chalk and dry-erase in the teams for the Super Regional round, but we got it in an entertaining fashion. We had multiple walk-offs, game scores ranging from pitchers duels to what might be mistaken for a football game, and to finish things off six of the 16 teams remaining either haven't been to Omaha in the last decade or have the chance to make their first trip ever.
1. The absolute marathon of games
The first two days of March Madness are generally acknowledged to be two of the best days in sports because if you turn on CBS/TNT/TruTV between the hours of 2 and 4 pm, you'll have a pretty solid chance of finding a game going on. In response to this-and don't get me wrong, I scheduled my classes my last two spring semesters of college specifically so that I would be done before noon the first two days of the tournament-I raise you the first FOUR days of the NCAA Baseball Tournament, which at this point really needs a cool nickname like March Madness because saying all that is getting to be a bit of a mouthful. At some point between June 1998 and June 1999, College Baseball looked at College Basketball and said "Hold my beer" and instead took a shot of moonshine and proceeded to add another 16 teams and give us ~12 hours of baseball for 3-4 straight days at the beginning of June.
Because it seems like a ridiculous amount of games either went into extras or got delayed by weather, we got much more than that, especially after the final game of the Columbia regional got postponed, and then proceeded to go into extra innings on Tuesday. Three days of baseball turned into five? Don't mind if I do.
After they made the tournament on the virtue of their conference championship game against Stony Brook getting declared all but impossible due to weather, a lot of people didn't think they should have even been included, especially considering the other team had won the regular-season title.
Fortunately, they proved us all wrong and became the sweethearts of college baseball in the process. After giving Arkansas a scare in their opening-round game, leading 3-0 after the first three innings and putting up much more of a fight than it would seem with a 13-8 final score, they effectively became the second home team in Fayetteville. Most of the crowd of 1,500 who attended their elimination game against Northeastern cheered for the Highlanders, and the coaching staff received a standing ovation at a restaurant in town afterwards. They ultimately fell 18-4 to Nebraska in the second round, coming up one game short of a regional final rematch with the Hogs, but their run will most certainly never be forgotten.
3. Niko Kavadas
Kavadas, an absolute unit of a first baseman for Notre Dame, went ice cold in the ACC Tournament, striking out 7 times in seven at-bats. It seems he refound his mojo(or, rather, the luck of the Irish) in time for the NCAA Tournament, as he went 6 for 10 with 5 home runs and 13 RBI as the Irish took the South Bend Regional by a combined score of 50-5 over Connecticut and Central Michigan. Will he continue this dominance in Starkville against Mississippi State? We'll have to wait and see.
4. Kevin Kopps
Kopps should win the Golden Spikes Award, most certainly will, and it will be nothing short of a highway robbery if he doesn't. So far, he's 12-0 with a 0.68 ERA, a level of dominance not seen since fellow Razorback Blaine Knight went 14-0 in 2018 with a 2.80 ERA. Oh, and he also has 11 saves. This past weekend, he went 2-0 with no earned runs and 15 strikeouts over 13.1IP. His credit to success? Beet juice.
Presumably not even expecting to be included in the Field of 64, LSU Head Coach Paul Mainieri announced his retirement on May 28. The baseball gods clearly had other plans, because the Tigers won four straight elimination games after losing the opener of the Eugene regional and are now on the road to Knoxville so rake on #3 national seed Tennessee in the Supers. Leading the way in their 9-8 victory over #14 Oregon in the finale were Gavin Dugas and Drew Bianco, who stands to possibly face off against father and Ole Miss Head Coach Mike Bianco should both teams make it to Omaha; Dugas went 3-for-3 with two home runs and Bianco hit a two-run shot in the sixth inning.
6. Drew Gilbert
In one of the more iconic scenes from this weekend, Tennessee sophomore Drew Gilbert stepped up to the plate in one of the more dramatic scenes in college baseball: bottom of the 9th, down three runs, with the bases juiced. What happened next is something that can't quite be described in words:
After losing, well, no one in the draft and gaining an absolutely loaded freshman class, the Gators came into the 2021 campaign ranked #1 in the nation. Unfortunately, a nightmare of a season filled with injuries and underperforming players led them to a #16 national seed. They then proceeded to have a two-and-que on their home turf in the Gainesville Regional, losing their two games by a combined score of 24-4 to South Florida and South Alabama. Weather also had its way with the Gators, as they were forced to sit through a seventh inning storm delay-already down 19-1 to South Alabama. It's interesting to see what the 2022 season will look like for Florida as well, as despite a top-ranked recruiting class rumors are already abound about a potential coaching bombshell: could Head Coach Kevin O'Sullivan be the next to take the top job at LSU?
2. The Weather
As much as we appreciate the weather giving us a solid two extra days of playoff baseball, we also have admit that it could gave been much better. From Columbia, to Gainesville, to just about everywhere on Sunday morning, it seemed that Mother Nature was making her own bid to go to Omaha. While we're on the subject-you can't help but feel bad for Florida. After being predicted to finish the season with a dogpile in Omaha, they instead had to sit through a rain delay, in an elimination game, while getting absolutely slaughtered on their home field. It was almost like a scene right out of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
1. That One Ump
Most people probably know what umpire I'm talking about by now. For those in need of context, the Dallas Baptist Patriots faced the Oregon State Beavers in a winner-take-all match to see who would advance to play in the Super Regionals-the best of three serious to determine who goes to the College World Series, for anyone who's made it this far without knowing what I'm talking about.
After the Beavers took an early 5-0 lead, the Patriots cut it down to 5-2 in the sixth on a home run by Ryan Wrobleski. Then, an inning later, Andrew Benefield stepped up and hit the biggest home run of his life so far-an absolute moonshot of a grand slam to give his team a 6-5 lead. As any reasonable person in that situation might do, he took a second to admire his hit while his teammates went wild. Unfortunately, the umpire was clearly not in the same realm of thought as him, and took off his mask to yell at Benefield and tell him to get going. Players celebrating a huge hit? Not on my watch!
Being that an umpire's job is to enforce the written rules of baseball, one could probably expect to find this man in a group chat with characters such as former MLB player Brian McCann, current White Sox manager Tony La Russa, various Twitter boomers and other individuals, each of whom pride themselves on keeping baseball as a gentleman's game. Welcome to the 21st Century, sir. Make yourself at home, and take the stick out of your butt while you're at it.
2. Notre Dame-UConn
Remember the football game score I was talking about? That honor belongs to the South Bend winner's bracket contest between #10 Notre Dame and Connecticut. Due to concerns over their schedule as well as an underwhelming performance in the ACC Tournament, the NCAA proceeded to absolutely shaft them when selecting the 16 national seeds, giving a team that was ranked 6th in the final D1baseball poll the 10th national seed. The Irish responded by absolutely demolishing their opponents in the South Bend regional including a drubbing of UConn by a score of 26-3. Yes, you're reading that right. Big man Niko Kavadas had two homers and eight ribbies, and Notre Dame scored in every inning but the 2nd and 4th.
Will the Super Regional weekend be anywhere near as entertaining as this past weekend? Who knows?