Friday, June 12, 2015

2015 College World Series Roundtable

(Originally published at Frog O' War)
This year's College World Series field features eight programs with impressive baseball pedigrees. To get ready for the biggest event of the year in college baseball, we got together with representatives from each school's blog to talk about the tournament, the teams, and the greatest moments for each school in Omaha. We also capped off our SB Nation College World Series Roundtable with some National Championship predictions.
Let's begin with some introductions. Please let us know who you are and which blog you are representing.
I'm Marshall Weber with Frogs O' War.
I'm Andy Hutchins, and I'm the editor of SB Nation's Florida blog, Alligator Army.
I'm Adam Henderson with And The Valley Shook!, the LSU affiliate.
Christian D'Andrea from Anchor of Gold here, bucking your traditional sentence structure and covering Vanderbilt sports.
I'm Doc Harper from Arkansas Fight, which you can probably guess is the Razorback site.
I'm Samuel Chi, publisher of CSFBaseball.com and PlayoffGuru.com, totally unbiased when it comes to football and totally biased when it comes to Titans baseball.
I go by Will Campbell. Baseball editor of SB Nation's UVa website, Streakingthelawn, and I am also assistant to our Cavadonkey.
I'm Cam Underwood, and I am Co-Managing Editor of SB Nation's University of Miami blog, State Of The U.


What is your overall perception of this year's College World Series field? Are any of the eight teams a surprise? Or are there any teams that didn't advance that you thought would for sure be competing in Omaha this week?
Marsh (TCU): I'm both surprised and unsurprised by Virginia. They've been such a great ballclub these past few seasons, but for awhile during the season, didn't look like they'd even make the tournament. So to not only make it, but win at Jackie Robinson against the No. 1 National Seed in UCLA is quite remarkable. Good on them.
Hutchins (UF): I think this is a strong field, with no team really below the bar of "very good" and a few potentially great. The only team I'm really surprised to see is Arkansas, but the Razorbacks got a relatively cushy draw; Cal State Fullerton, the only other team that wasn't a national seed and didn't play in Omaha in 2014, obviously has a pedigree when it comes to the postseason.
Henderson (LSU): I think there's some teams that at the midseason point would have surprised me, but the thing about postseason baseball, especially college baseball, is all it takes is a team to get hot at the right time. And that's what we saw from Fullerton and Virginia. I'm more surprised that UCLA and Texas A&M aren't here if anything. I think we all expected teams like LSU, Florida, and Vanderbilt to make it.
D'Andrea (Vandy): Six #1 seeds, last year's runner-up, and an Arkansas team that had been criminally underrated all year? That all sounds about right. However, like Marshall and Adam, I'm surprised that UCLA, A&M, and Louisville (thanks to some godawful luck) won't be joining us in Omaha.
Harper (Ark): I'm surprised Arkansas is here! Not so much because of how the Hogs closed the season, but because they went through such a rough stretch to start the season. The Razorbacks were 2-10 through a span of about three weeks back in March, so Omaha was the farthest thing from any of our minds.
I'd dispute the assertion that Arkansas had a cushy draw. Arkansas went on the road and beat Oklahoma State in Stillwater to win the regional. The Hogs did catch a nice break by getting to host the super regional, but lit up 1st round draft pick Jon Harris for 8 earned runs before Missouri State pulled him, and held the Bears to just two runs (one unearned) in the Game 3 clincher. If that's supposed to be cushy, then so be it.
Chi (CSF): The one team that has no business being here is Fullerton. This is frankly the worst Titans team since 1989, and that was before losing Justin Garza to season-ending Tommy John surgery three weeks before the postseason. After a 14-1 drubbing at Bakersfield in which it committed SEVEN errors, Fullerton was 20-19 and looking at missing the postseason altogether. The late-season turnaround with such a talent-thin roster is remarkably unexpected.
This is a very strong field, there are no newbies here in terms of program history or coaches. They've all been here before, multiple times. But there are two teams that should've been here, but aren't - UCLA and Louisville, both had brilliant seasons and loaded pitching staffs but couldn't get it done.
Will (UVa): I'm allowed to say I am surprised by my own team, right? If you had told me in April that this team was going to make Omaha, I probably would have fallen out of my seat. There were times earlier in the season where I didn't think they were even going to make the ACC Tournament, let alone the NCAA Tournament, but here we are. This team obviously has talent, but injuries took a major toll. As for the entire field, talk about some blue bloods. We can be a part of the family now, right?
Underwood (Miami): This is a very strong field. Obviously, it would have been nice to have the #1 overall seed UCLA and ACC powerhouse Louisville here as well, but they came up short of Omaha. With traditional powers such as Miami and LSU, and with power teams from Florida and Vanderbilt here as well, I think this will be a well played and very good CWS.

One of the big storylines heading into this weekend is the SEC, with four teams in the field. Is the conference really that strong? What would it take for a non-SEC team to bring home a National Championship?
Marsh (TCU): An aggressive team that can pitch. Florida, Vandy, and LSU are all just so well balanced; but not unbeatable. So if a team like UVA or TCU can come out, play their game, show off their dominant pitching, and take advantage of playing in a pitcher's ballpark--whether that means smart baserunning or pseudo smallball—I think the SEC is definitely breachable.
Hutchins (UF): Yes, the SEC really is that strong. The conference has recruited extraordinarily well in recent years, and especially since LSU and South Carolina had their dynastic runs, and it's paying off with trips to Omaha and titles. It will take significant upsets for an SEC team not to win it all, in my mind: Florida looks like the clear favorite to emerge from its half of the bracket, and LSU and Vanderbilt should be co-favorites on theirs. I think I'd bet on an all-SEC championship series before a non-SEC titlist.
Henderson (LSU): Yeah. What people think the SEC is in football, it really is in baseball. The only conference as deep as the SEC was this year is the ACC, and the two teams that carried the conference banner (Louisville, Florida State) were eliminated in the Supers. If I had to bet on a non-SEC school to win it all, I'm going with Miami. The Hurricanes can put up runs with the best of ‘em and one bad start can spell disaster for anybody. They're capable of putting up 6 runs before you can have anybody warmed up in the pen.
D'Andrea (Vandy): It's been six years since the National Championship Series didn't feature a Southeastern Conference program. The common thread for all those teams - including this year's representatives - are lineups that boast elite players at the top (Swanson, Benintendi, Bregman, Schwarz) and insane depth behind them. That's what makes them stand out in drawn-out postseason play.
This year, Florida, Vandy, and LSU have a cavalcade of bullpen guys who could take the mound and give you the kind of performance you'd expect from a #2 starter. At this point, that's commonplace for teams at the top of the NCAA's toughest baseball conference.
Harper (Ark): Generally, yes, the SEC is really strong. I don't know if it was as strong this year as others (7 teams in the tournament is fewer than usual) but there were a few really strong teams at the top, not to mention all four of the Golden Spikes Award finalists. I'd be really surprised if either LSU or Vanderbilt didn't make the championship series. Miami has the best chance to get by Florida and Arkansas, but the Gators are still the favorites.
Chi (CSF): As the lone representative from the West, pardon me for not buying into this "SEC dominance" narrative. Of the previous 11 national champions, six came from the West and four from the SEC. So many SEC teams flood the CWS field now is the result of what the NCAA has done to favor southern teams (SEC and ACC, specifically) in terms of both selections and seedings in the Supers era.
In the CWS double-bracket era (1988-98) that immediately preceded the current Supers era, it's not uncommon to see three or more western teams in the CWS. In 1988 there were five, and in ‘92, ‘95 and ‘98 there were three each. And it's no surprise that in each of those years a western team won the title in an all-West championship game. In the Supers era, generally the West is limited to two entries each year while the rest is divvied up between the ACC and SEC with one slot going to a Texas team. When you have more representation of course you'll win more.
Will (UVa): As always, the SEC is as good as everyone thinks. One day (probably), the ACC will rise again and win a national championship. Hopefully it's this year, but if I had to bet on one conference, I'd be a fool not to bet on the conference with half the teams. Not only that, all these teams are legit contenders. Outside of maybe Arkansas, nobody is surprised that anyone is here.
Underwood (Miami): Yes, the SEC is very, very strong. It would be one thing to say they've got good teams, and those teams fall short of Omaha, but half the CWS field hails from that one conference. The outlier is Arkansas, who few people saw as a CWS team. But, they've done a great job in the postseason and here they are. The proof is in the pudding here. SEC = really good baseball.

In regards to the team that you cover, who are the players to watch? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your team? What is something about your team that you think the rest of the field should know?
Marsh (TCU): For TCU offensively, Cody Jones was the Big 12's "Player of the Year." Not only does he hit really well in the leadoff, he's a superb baserunner and that's one of the things that's kept TCU so damn dangerous. Top to bottom, everyone, even freshman Evan Skoug, who's built like a mini-tank, is aggressive on the basepath.
Pitching, it's hard not to talk about Preston Morrison first. He's the greatest pitcher in TCU's history. He's got a Greg Maddux-esque approach (apologies to the OG FoW fans who've heard me say this 100x), and he is just, to quote Marisa Tomei, "dead on balls accurate." Morrison also has a one of the highest baseball IQs I've ever seen in college; he's going to outsmart you, find your weakness, and expose it. The other starters are great too: the two lefties; Alex Young and Tyler Alexander, and the power righty, Mitchell Traver. One to watch out for though, is Trey Teakell, who's been TCU's best option in already superb bullpen. He's got a great sinker, and doesn't get phased often, if ever.
All of this said: The Frogs give themselves the best chance of winning a title with a stable Riley Ferrell. There have been only a handful of college closers who I've seen, Big 12 or not, that are/were as good as Ferrell. If it's the Riley we saw during the regular season or in the postseason in 2014, TCU's chances of winning a Title go way up. It's still possible that they do it without him, but as good as TCU's Fantastic Four of Traver, Morrison, Young, Alexander are; and the fact that you won't really find a better bullpen 1-2 punch than Teakell and Ferrell; if that last piece starts working again, the Frogs will be very, very tough to beat.
Hutchins (UF): Florida's biggest name right now is JJ Schwarz, whose NCAA Tournament triple-slash of .600/.667/1.300 looks like a misprint. But six Florida starters are hitting over .300 in NCAA play, and freshman Jeremy Vasquez, overshadowed by Schwarz and Mike Rivera in Florida's excellent class of rookies, is hitting .600, too. And then there are Logan Shore (2-0, 0.00 ERA, one XBH in 10.2 innings in NCAA Tournament) and A.J. Puk (1-0, 2.45 ERA, 14 Ks in 11.0 innings in NCAA Tournament) on the mound.
Florida's scored more runs per game than any other CWS team, and allowed fewer than any team but Vanderbilt. And Florida has the best defense in college baseball: Its two errors against Florida State in the bottom of the first in Game 2 of its Super Regional were regarded as stunners, because the Gators came into that game with the best fielding percentage in college baseball history. It's really hard to pinpoint weaknesses with Florida (youth? the lack of a third starter on par with surefire MLBers Shore and Puk?); the field needs to beware of the Gators, more than anything, I think, and realize that there are dangerous hitters up and down the Florida lineup.
Henderson (LSU): The obvious answer is #2 MLB draft pick Alex Bregman and the NCBWA Freshman of the Year Alex Lange, but I'm gonna hit you with a deep cut. Mark Laird isn't going to be the greatest Tiger ever, but he's personally one of my favorite Tigers ever. He does whatever the team needs him to do. He's a single machine, is Youkillisian in the way he draws walks, is lighting quick on the paths, and is a vacuum in right field, playing errorless ball this year, and off the top of the top of my head I can think of 3 times he's provided LSU with a walkoff hit. The only thing he doesn't do is hit homers (his only career home run came this year and was an inside the parker) and he doesn't get the same recognition because of that. The student section chant in right is "Mark Is Dreamy" because it's true.
LSU's weakness is well documented and drives me to the brink of insanity: when we get down (or even tied) we get over aggressive at the plate and start swinging at everything, especially the first pitch. With this offense I'm ok with going aggressive but they really go overboard with it. We completely stop eating pitches and all of a sudden the opposing pitcher is at 70 in the 7th inning. Against a guy like Eshelman or Fulmer it's suicide.
Also, Zac Person's name is pronounced "Peer-son". I know, all the clever puns you had just died.
D'Andrea (Vandy): Vanderbilt's headliner is Dansby Swanson, but he's only the zenith of a deep offensive team that has averaged 10.6 runs per game in the NCAA Tournament. Rhett Wiseman and Bryan Reynolds are each batting .500 or better since the SEC Tournament ended. Zander Wiel has provided a third power bat in the middle of the Vandy lineup. He's just as likely as Swanson to change the trajectory of a game with a single swing. Freshmen Will Toffey and Jeren Kendall have teamed with Ro Coleman to give the ‘Dores the most potent 1-7 lineup in the country.
On the mound, Carson Fulmer pitches like he's trying to detach his own arm from his body, but it's super effective (13-2, 1.82 ERA, 152 Ks). Philip Pfeifer will start the Commodores' second outing, and while he's struggled early in games this postseason he came around to limit #6 Illinois to just two runs in 6.1 innings in his last appearance. Behind him is #24 MLB Draft pick Walker Buehler, who has A+ stuff but just B+ execution this season. Then, John Kilichowski, Jordan Sheffield, Ben Bowden, Tyler Ferguson, Ryan Johnson, and Kyle Wright are all capable pitchers who could eat up innings as a spot starter or in long relief in a tournament setting. Like I mentioned before, Swanson and Fulmer are the headliners, but the real reason for Vanderbilt's sparkling postseason record is their depth.
Harper (Ark): Obviously, Andrew Benintendi is our headliner. He's been named National Player of the Year by both Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball, is a Golden Spikes finalist and was just drafted 7th overall by the Red Sox. He's a home run away from being a 20/20 guy. Great speed, great power, and can also hit for average.
Zach Jackson has been our best pitcher. He's been the closer but may have to start a game depending on how it plays out. Arkansas will likely start highly-touted freshman Keaton McKinney in the second game, but he's been really shaky throughout the postseason after suffering a hip injury in the last regular season series of the year. The Razorbacks are also without pitchers James Teague and Dominic Taccolini, so our pitching staff is seriously thin right now, but the Hogs have been able to overcome it so far, but it's the clear weakness at this moment.
Chi (CSF): All-American righthander Thomas Eshelman carried this team all year and even more so in the postseason. He's a control freak, all right, with 131 strikeouts and seven walks on the season. In his three-year career, his K-to-BB ratio is 313-18. He was recruited and groomed as a freshman by current TCU pitching coach Kirk Saarloos, who was the Titans' pitching coach before being poached by the Frogs in ‘14.
But there's not a lot of talent after Eshelman, a second-round pick by the Astros. Only six Titans were drafted on a junior/senior-laden team and the aforementioned Garza is out for the season. Besides Eshelman and closer Tyler Peitzmeier, there are few arms the coaches trust. The best bat in the lineup is DH David Olmedo-Barrera, a 12th-round pick whose 10 home runs (including two in the clincher against Louisville) represent half of the team's total.
But overall this Titans team can't hit for average (CWS field-worst .265), or power (also CWS field-worst 20 home runs total) and is below average with the glove (another CWS field-worst .968 fielding percentage). What it does is it'll grind you to death (just ask Louisville), otherwise I have no idea why this team is in Omaha.
Will (UVa): RF Joe McCarthy is the guy to watch. He was out for much of the season with a back strain, and he is just getting into form. If he can give the offense a spark that it needs, they could do some damage. He's been batting towards the bottom part of the lineup, but he could leadoff and be just as successful. He's got a great eye and is quick for such a big outfielder.
For weaknesses, it is hard to pick between the starting pitching depth and bullpen. Coming into the season, starting pitching wasn't supposed to be a problem with Nathan Kirby, Brandon Waddell, and Connor Jones, but when Kirby was sidelined with a lat strain and mono, it put a strain on the starters. Jones and Waddell have stepped up big time in the last two weeks, and we're all hoping Kirby can come back and give them a #3 starter they'll need for a run. As for the bullpen, outside of Josh Sborz, we don't want to talk about it.
Underwood (Miami): For Miami, there are several players to watch. The list starts with 1st Team All-American 3B David Thompson. He was named 1st team All-ACC, is a finalist for the Dick Howser trophy, was a semi-finalist for the Golden Spikes award, and is the National leader in Home Runs (19 - tied for lead) and RBI (87). He is the foundation of our offense, and as he goes, the Canes go.
Other hitters of note are 2B George Iskenderian, a 1st team All-American in his own right who enters the CWS with a .369 batting average, and DH Zach Collins, who has the most raw power of any player on the Canes' roster. When you put those 3 together in the middle of the lineup with Iskenderian hitting 3rd, Collins hitting 4th, and Thompson hitting 5th, that's a murderers row for a pitching staff to face.
But, do not think that Iskenderian, Collins, and Thompson are the only premium hitters Miami has. The Canes are the national leaders in Runs Scored (8.5 per game) and hit .312 as a team. The pressure will be on the opposing pitcher and defense from the first pitch of the game to the last.
The pitching staff is led by LHP Andy Suarez (9-1, 2.96 ERA) and LHP Thomas Woodrey (7-2, 3.06 ERA). The pair of lefty starters couldn't be more different in terms of style.
Suarez, a 2nd round pick of the San Francisco Giants, is a power pitcher with a low 90s fastball. He chose to return to school after being drafted in the 2nd round by the Washington Nationals in 2014, so his talent is there. He struggled with an oblique strain early in the season, but has put that behind him to return to his dominating form from 2014.
Woodrey is a crafty control artist who started his Miami career in the bullpen. But he was moved to the rotation this year, and earned 2nd team All-ACC recognition for his work. He won't overpower you, but he'll keep you off balance with a number of offspeed and breaking pitches.
Three bullpen arms who will be heavily used are RHP Cooper Hammond, a submariner who has plenty of game experience, LHP Michael Mediavilla, a freshman All-American, and closer RHP Bryan Garcia. In a perfect world, Jim Morris and the Canes would like to see the starters go 6 or 7 innings, then pass the ball to the Hammond/Mediavilla/Garcia combo to close the door. And, for the most part, that's worked to perfection this season.

Which team would consider to be a darkhorse? Which team in the field do you think is capable of turning some heads?
Marsh (TCU): It's hard to say who's a darkhorse. All of these teams, whether old or new, are powerhouses. There really aren't any teams, that I feel like who don't deserve to be here. Virginia and Arkansas, given their regular seasons, then given everything they've done since their conference tournaments has been somewhat surprising. But they were both really good to start out with, especially Virginia, and just got cold early. That all being said, probably Fullerton; which is crazy because they've won 4 National Titles, and been to Omaha nearly 20 times.
But this year, the field is just so good. You either have teams from the Big 12, SEC, or ACC, and have played consistent competition all year; and despite Fullerton's strong schedule, I just think they have a naturally lower expectation because they play in the Big West. That being said, they beat a badass Louisville a team, and to be honest...I'm not counting out anyone.
Hutchins (UF): I think Miami could be the darkhorse of this CWS. Getting Florida first and having a chance to send a young team to the losers' bracket is big for the relatively experienced ‘Canes, and the winner of that Saturday night showcase immediately becomes the favorite to make the championship series out of that bracket. And I think the ‘Canes could very well do that: Their 7-2 win over Florida in Gainesville was the Gators' worst home loss this season, they outscored Florida despite losing that series, and they have the bats to do damage to even the Gators' vaunted starters.
Henderson (LSU): The obvious answer to both is Fullerton. Virginia was a bubble team, but chalk that up to a talented team underperforming all year and then heating up when they needed to. While Fullerton was a regional host, I didn't think they rightfully deserved it but they went out and proved me wrong by beating Louisville in the Super Regional.
D'Andrea (Vandy): Fullerton will give Vandy one of the toughest game one matchups thanks to the presence of All-America pitcher Thomas Eshelman and a stingy defense behind him. They're the clearest pure underdog choice in Omaha. On the other side of the bracket, Arkansas was written off by many after a wretched stretch in March, but the Razorbacks have the firepower to drag any other team in the CWS into a shootout. They're 25-2 when scoring seven runs or more in 2015.
Harper (Ark): I don't know if it's fair to call any of the 8 teams a darkhorse. Understandably, Virginia and Fullerton have the longest odds, according to Bovada, but I wouldn't be shocked to see anybody make some noise. I do think it will be interesting to see the winner of Arkansas/Virginia vs the winner of Florida/Miami on Monday because in a one-game setting, I wouldn't be shocked to see the underdogs pull the upset in one game.
Chi (CSF): I suppose Virginia is the darkhorse, being the only 3-seed in the field, even though it was the national runner-up last year. The Cavaliers got out of a very tough Lake Elsinore Regional knocking off three western teams 3,000 miles from home and then swept a Maryland team that just upended top-seeded UCLA. They have both talent and experience and they play in the weaker half of the draw.
I don't think Fullerton is a darkhorse because I just don't see it coming out its half with basically one good (even if great) starting pitcher. The Titans should be satisfied if they can end their current five-game Omaha losing streak.
Will (UVa): Outside of Virginia riding the current wave, I'd say Miami. Even though they're a national seed, they're a part of our little brother conference, and they're paired up with Florida. If they can knock off Florida in their opening round, they could really be in the driver seat for that half of the bracket. For the other side, I think everyone is looking at LSU (including me), but when you have 3 first round players on your roster, you can't overlook Vanderbilt. Yes, they're the champions, but they weren't a national seed this year and they could come out and beat anyone.
Underwood (Miami): The answer has to be Fullerton. I know some would say Miami, because we're playing Florida in the opener, but the Canes are the #5 National Seed, so I can't say we're a darkhorse. On the contrary, Fullerton was a 1 seed in regionals, but not thought of as a national championship team. They've bucked that trend with their postseason play, and if they can continue that streak, they're the darkhorses to win for me.

Considering that each team has appeared in the College World Series relatively recently, do you have a favorite CWS memory? If you've been to Omaha, how would you describe the experience to someone who has never been?
Marsh (TCU): I loved last year's run. However, 2010 was magical. That was before we were in the Big 12. So we went into Austin that Super Regional, having been one game short from going to the CWS there in 2009, and took it back from them. I grew up in Austin, and grew up a Texas fan (which I've very much parted ways with). So being a small school, going into Austin as a Mountain West team, and watching all the home fans leave sad after the third game warmed my heart. After that, we blew out FSU in the first game, lost a tough one to UCLA, then played an all timer against Florida State in the elimination game to get us back to playing UCLA. We won the first game against the Bruins, and tragically lost the second. The loss also tragically occurred the same day as the USA's loss to Ghana in the World Cup. But again, to be the school TCU was back then, and still is in a lot of ways, and to come one game short of making the finals was pretty incredible going into my junior year of school.
All that being said; the specific memories are Matt Curry's grand slam against FSU, which resulted in everyone showering each other in cheap, lukewarm beer.
Hutchins (UF): Florida beating Vanderbilt in back-to-back games in was pretty cool. That team was just slightly ahead of schedule, and making the championship series by knocking off a conference rival was fun. As for Omaha: I went in 2012 ... and arrived just after Florida two-and-'cued. So mostly I remember it being brutally hot, and the sort of dry hot that Southerners -- so most of the fans of this year's teams, basically -- very rarely experience. Drink water, folks.
Henderson (LSU): Given that I was only 3 when Warren Morris hit his famous walk off, I'd have to go with Matty Ott and Chad Jones stonewalling Texas in Game 1 of the ‘09 championship series before Mikie Mahtook laced a two out single to score the go ahead run.
D'Andrea (Vandy): With all due respect to women's tennis and bowling, last year's trip to Omaha gave Vanderbilt its most meaningful NCAA Championship. It looked something like this.
Harper (Ark): This was Arkansas' best Omaha moment, from 2009 (sorry, Virginia guys).
I'm actually getting to make the trip this year for the Saturday and Monday games. It's not a bad drive from Fayetteville, so I'm looking forward to it. It's my first time in Omaha, so I'd appreciate any tips.
Chi (CSF): I'll take a wild stab that I'm probably the oldest guy here (by a decade, perhaps). My first trip to Omaha was in the ‘80s and multiple times after that. For a long time, we Titans considered going to the CWS as our birthright. We have a rental house (The Titan House) across the street from Rosenblatt Stadium where we partied and hung out during the series. The six-year drought that just ended is the longest in program history. Previously, if you played four years at Fullerton, you'd been to Omaha at least once, starting with the program's first year in Division I (1975).
The ‘Blatt was a special place, a creaky old stadium nestled in the middle of a neighborhood with Zesto the go-to place for pregame ice cream. The old press box would literally shake when the fans got excited and started to rock the place. I haven't been to the new park (Fullerton's last CWS appearance was 2009) but I hear it's pretty cookie-cutter and antiseptic.
My favorite memory was of course 1995. That year's Titans rolled through Baton Rouge and Omaha to win the program's third national championship, ending the season on an 18-game winning streak. Fullerton outscored its four CWS opponents 39-11 in four games and that year's team (57-9) was considered the best in college baseball history (I'll challenge anyone to a duel if they wish to dispute that). We spent 12 days in Omaha and it was mostly stress-free because every game after the opener was a blowout and we had lots of dead time to kill between games. We probably visited every attraction within 100 miles of Omaha and dined at no fewer than five steakhouses.
Will (UVa): I was fortunate enough to play for UVa from 2007-2009, so I was on the team that gave UVa's College World Series participant. Beating Irvine with 2 outs in the 9th in 2011 was great, and making the Title Series last year was great, but for me it obviously has to be 2009. If the LF line umpire could see the foul line and there wasn't a streaker in our 3rd game, I think we might have given Texas a run for their money. That was special to me, and I'd be it was pretty special for every other UVa fan.
Underwood (Miami): I went to Rosenblatt stadium on a class trip in 1996, and it was everything I thought it would be from having watched the CWS on TV for years. My class and I got to take a tour of Rosenblatt, and I even got to stand in the outfield. It was one of the most memorable stadium trips of my life. Unfortunately, it was the week before the CWS that year, but it was still a great trip.
For the Canes, there are plenty of great memories from Omaha. The 1999 championship was doubly awesome, because not only did we win, but we also beat our hated rival FSU in the Championship game when they were the heavy favorites.
In 2001, we won our 2nd title in 3 years. And, that started one of the best athletic years in the storied history of the University of Miami, which culminated with the best college football team ever bookending the year with a National Championship.

Finally, who do you see advancing to the Championship Series and who will ultimately be crowned National Champions?
Marsh (TCU): I'm not not going to pick TCU. I've said all year that this team is better than last year. In part because of the new baseballs, the team is just more aggressive offensively. And if you remember anything about last year, that was the Frogs' Achilles' heel. Now, they're back with an offense that's done a 180, and a pitching staff that's arguably deeper top to bottom. The problem is that this field is much deeper and intimidating than it was last year. Some of these teams remind me of the LSU, FSU, and Texas teams of the early 2000s. But if you watched TCU's marathon against Texas A&M, it's pretty evident how deep their bullpen is, and that's where they have an advantage over every team in this tournament. Should the Frog offense be as aggressive and competitive as they've shown against teams like Vanderbilt, UCLA, and Arizona State, their bullpen will be able to close the gap and possibly get them their first National Championship.
That being said, the first game against LSU scares me. But if the Frogs can get past that, and I'm taking Vandy in their respective first game, I like TCU in the rematch of when they both played at Dodger Stadium in March. Should it not be TCU though, I think, the world will be pretty happy with a Florida vs. LSU final. And in that case, I'll take the Tigers in 3.
Hutchins (UF): I like Florida to advance from its side of the bracket, and Vanderbilt to move on from its side. Florida takes its first national title in a three-game championship series.
Henderson (LSU): If the offense can revert back to its regular season form, I think LSU should reach the championship series with some ease. But if LSU's not putting up at least 5 runs a game then things get harder to predict. I can tell you it will probably be LSU and Vanderbilt playing on Friday/Saturday. On the flip side of the bracket, Florida definitely got the favorable draw and they should cakewalk to the championship series. Gun to my head, I'll say LSU over Florida in the championship series 2 games to 1.
D'Andrea (Vandy): Florida and...either Vandy or LSU. Yes, that's a cheap hedge, but I'm in a tough spot where I'll get tagged as a homer for picking the defending champions. My heart says Vandy, but LSU has the depth to match the Commodores at nearly every turn.
Let's buy into the stereotype and go with the ‘Dores, and then let's see them *finally* get their revenge on Florida by taking 2 of three in order to repeat as national champions. Vanderbilt should have taken the regular season series against the Gators, but their bullpen fell apart in game three, leading to an extra innings loss. Now they'll turn to ice-veined Kyle Wright in the late innings. He won't let Florida get away again.
Harper (Ark): I don't believe in this strongly at all but I'll say LSU and Miami with LSU winning.
Chi (CSF): Despite my antipathy toward this "SEC dominance" theme, I don't see anything but an all-SEC championship series. Florida is the prohibitive favorite in its side of the bracket and I'll take Vandy over LSU in the other side. At the end, this Vandy team is just too loaded with talent not to repeat as champions. The Commodores have too much pitching and everything else - plus they're red hot - to lose twice to anybody.
Will (UVa): LSU is the #2 national seed for a reason. They have the pedigree and Mainieri knows how to coach in Omaha, I'm putting my money on them putting another banner up in Baton Rouge. For UVa's side of the bracket, as much as I want to be a homer, and I should be, I have to think Florida is too hot to cool down right now. Sadly, another SEC matchup is exactly what ESPN wants, and not what anyone else wants, but that's the way life goes.
Underwood (Miami): The first one is contingent on the first game, but I think Miami makes it to the Championship series from the left side of the bracket. Yeah, it's slightly homerific, but IF Miami can get by Florida in the opener, I think they can make it to the finals.
On the right side of the bracket, LSU has to be the heavy favorites to get to the Championship series. They have power arms, and arguably the best player in America in SS Alex Bregman, and plenty of championship pedigree. The Tigers will be hard to beat.
As for the champion, I have to go all in: Miami beats LSU and gets revenge for Warren Morris and 1996. Book it.

Monday, February 9, 2015

It's Time to Say Goodbye

By Samuel Chi

The 2015 college baseball season begins this week, and for me, it's time to say goodbye.

With the help of the esteemed Don Hudson, FBF and a few other contributors, this blog has been in existence since 2009, the most recent (and hopefully not the last) season the Titans made it to Omaha. For six years, we have chronicled one of the best college baseball programs in the land from beginning to end with previews, recaps, analyses and videos.

At a time when newspapers are dying and cutting back their coverage, CSF Baseball occupied a unique place. We became the only publication that covered every single Cal State Fullerton baseball game - home and away, including postseason. In fact, Fullerton is the only West Coast program that had this kind of "media" presence.

We provided coverage and information for the national media, helping to raise the profile of our powerhouse program. We were frequently cited by Aaron Fitt of Baseball America and Kendall Rogers of Perfect Game (now both at D1 Baseball). And our Twitter account was followed by thousands of fans, players, parents, coaches and media members.

But it became clear this was not only unappreciated, but also unwanted. Last season, I was part of a spirited campaign that forced the athletic department to rescind its absurd decision not to web-cast home games. Later, I personally lambasted the administration for its mishandling of Coach Vanderhook's four-week suspension.

Because of my refusal to toe the company line, our presence became a target of the school's blowback. The last straw came over the summer when Twitter suspended our account @CSFBaseball after the school filed a complaint that it was "impersonating" something that it wasn't. Funny thing is, the description of the account - from the very beginning - stated clearly that it was the "Unofficial Twitter Home of Cal State Fullerton Baseball, Not Affiliated With the Program."

I sent Twitter a response, but after a couple of exchanges, I decided to give up the fight and allow the Twitter account to be shuttered. After that, I thought it was time for this blog to shut down for good as well.

I've been a Cal State Fullerton fan since the early 1980s, before I was a student at the school. I attended CSF in no small part because of the baseball program and my fantasy of being able to make it as a walk-on (I didn't). I did end up covering the team for two years before graduating in 1991.

My admiration and support for the team spanned three decades, and that will continue. But while I will root for the team to succeed on the field and in the classroom, I will only do that from the comfort of my own home or at a place away from Goodwin Field. I have no confidence in the people who are currently in charge of the administration or the athletic department. It is my belief that the program will only continue its decline under the current "leadership."

And I will not contribute in any way, financially or otherwise, to the school until this group is gone.

So it's time to say goodbye. We've had a good run. It is my hope that it won't be long before our team will grace the new ballpark in Omaha with its first appearance.

Go Titans!


P.S. You can still find me on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru, where I riff about college football and the NFL, and occasionally college baseball as well.

Friday, May 9, 2014

An Embarrassing Lack of Leadership at CSF

By Samuel Chi

As a Cal State Fullerton alumnus, booster and (former) donor, I cannot begin to tell you how embarrassed I am by the administration that's currently running the university. That begins with president Mildred Garcia and includes VP Johnson Eanes, VP Lori Gentles and AD Jim Donovan.

Their handling of the Rick Vanderhook situation was a spectacular display of incompetence. The entire ordeal lasted four weeks, with Vanderhook reinstated after missing four series and 16 games. The school issued two not-widely-distributed press releases to bookend the entire ordeal, all the while the program floundered.

Let's be clear that I'm no fan of coach Vanderhook. I do not believe that he's the man who can continue the program's tradition of excellence. But the way the university administration treated the situation made him a victim, and his job only gets harder from here on out.

He will be back to coach a team that will become the first Titans squad to miss the postseason since 1991. There will be a significant number of transfers from the current roster. There will be recruits who decommit from the program because of the saga, as other schools gleefully expose what an amateur operation Cal State Fullerton truly is, from the top on down.

If the administration did not have enough goods to fire Vanderhook for cause, then he should've been reinstated quickly. If it did, then he should've been fired with cause and let the lawyers handle the aftermath. But the entire situation was treated as if he's a chemistry professor and that his taking four weeks off is no big deal.

But Vanderhook is not a chemistry professor, but the most high-profile employee at Cal State Fullerton, the face of the university's most visible and valuable commodity. Those in charge clearly did not understand this and proceeded like the second-rate bureaucrats that they are.

No one ever called a press conference. Nobody took charge. Not Garcia, not Donovan, no one. No one gave account of what exactly happened and what was done other than a terse press release with one Donovan quote. There is no leadership, no accountability.

Make no mistake, this will be a watershed moment for the program. The Titans last season for the first time failed to make a trip to Omaha in four consecutive seasons, this will make it five. They will have made the Super Regional just once in the last four years after appearing in the Supers in eight straight seasons from 2003-2010.

Vanderhook, made to apologize to the players, will find himself in a toxic situation where he will trust neither his superiors nor those in his charge. This is a recipe for disaster. After Donovan gave him a four-year extension that won't run out until the 2018 season, he'll be determined to toe the company line just to make sure that he sees the end of his contract.

So this program will go nowhere in the next four seasons, and probably beyond. The golden age of Cal State Fullerton baseball is over. It took 40 years to build it and just four weeks to leave it in ruins.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Titans Baseball Needs a Regime Change

By Samuel Chi

I realize by writing this post I'll offend a strong contingent of coach Rick Vanderhook's supporters. But my loyalty is to the Fullerton baseball program, far and above any individual, so here goes:

Hook was never the right guy to lead this program and that's compounded by AD Jim Donovan's ill-advised decision to extend him last year. But now, Donovan has a chance to take a corrective course of action to save the program.

When Dave Serrano left for Tennessee, it was a pivotal time for the Titans. Under siege from big-budget schools putting more emphasis on baseball, we were faced with a landscape increasingly dominated by BCS powers. We needed an infusion of new blood and new ideas to take us boldly into a more challenging terrain.

Instead, bowing to pressure from alums and some fans, then-AD Brian Quinn hired Hook. Not only that, he did not even bother to conduct a meaningful national search to find the right guy for the job.

Now, Hook's loyalty to Cal State Fullerton isn't to be questioned, but that should not be the first, second or third qualification for the job. This is an elite program that needs elite leadership, and Hook doesn't fit the bill.

Hook's a career assistant for a reason, with a temperament ill suited to be the leader of an elite program. He also betrays a certain amount of small-mindedness, with his decision to meddle with the Titan Central message board and then try to shut down live streaming being glaring examples.

In short, Hook's stuck in the past, on and off the field. He does not have the vision that's desperately needed to lead this program.

While I don't personally approve the secret recording of a tirade (IF THAT'S INDEED WHAT HAPPENED), the allegations must be serious enough for Donovan and the administration to mount an investigation. And make no mistake, this wasn't an isolated incident.

Viewed in totality, you can make a case for abusive treatment of players. Please spare me the Junction Boys tales, these are different times whether you like it or not. And the best coaches find ways to adapt. Coach K does not go about his business the same way he did in the 1980s.

The sunflower seed incident, the post-game rant at USD, the 7 a.m. scrimmage after a late-night game, the pregame tirade before the UCSB game - just using a few examples already mentioned on the message board - prove to be very illuminating.

It shows that Hook has but one play in his playbook. A few commenters mentioned that Augie went on epic tirades, too - yes, I know, I've seen them personally. But that's not the only thing he does. Augie was - and still is - a master motivator. He has many more devices from that coaching tool box.

Hook, on the other hand, is a one-trick pony - which we all knew. And he's not going to reverse this season's epic meltdown because he's already out of ideas. The constant ranting and raving - and badmouthing the players to the press - is already old and the players have tuned him out.

Now we must not allow this disastrous season go beyond 2014, and the only thing to do is cut Hook loose.

We thank him for all he's done as a player and assistant and these last 2 1/2 years that included a 51-win season (but no trips to Omaha). We go out and conduct an honest and serious national search, trying to locate the best candidate for the job, whether he's ever set foot at Goodwin before or not.

We should never fear whomever we hire would move on to greener pastures. If they do, we wish them well and we move on. We're Cal State Fullerton, there are plenty of top coaches who want to leave their mark here. What we can't do is let the program slip into irrelevance like Titans softball.

That's the danger facing us now. We have failed to recruit top position players after Serrano's departure. We have not been to Omaha since 2009. We have been eliminated by a lower-ranked team in each of the past three seasons. We'll likely miss the postseason for the first time since 1991.

Was it all Hook's fault? Maybe not. But at the same time, Hook isn't going to get us out of this very mess - arguably the program's only major crisis in its 40-year history (I was around in 1989 and this easily tops that) - that in no small part was his creation.

Donovan gets a second chance to make the right move. He needs to find a coach to take Cal State Fullerton back to Omaha and sustain our record of excellence.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Don't Blame Players for Titans' Mess

By Samuel Chi

Where does the buck stop?

When Hook says to a reporter that this team "lacks leadership and accountability" that is the most damning indictment ... of himself.

When the preseason No. 1 USC football team went down in flames in 2012 with a Heisman-worthy QB, did you blame the Trojans players?

But when the preseason No. 1 Titans - with STILL the nation's best pitching staff - about to become the first team since 1991 not to make the postseason, it's all the fault of the players?

When Serrano's teams unraveled in the postseason, did you blame the coach or the players?

You can't have it both ways.

You want to call the players soft and call them a bunch of names, to me that's despicable. Other than the completely understandable loss on Thursday, they have fought hard all season, they just kept coming up short.

So I ask you, other than pitching, which is handled superbly for the most part by Jason Dietrich, who's in charge of everything else? Who recruited these players here? Who's responsible for coaching hitting and fielding? Who's supposed to motivate these players?

That we have a huge talent problem with respect to position players, whose fault is that? Our two best position players are both Serrano recruits. Last year's team that won 51 games had a lineup that was nearly exclusively Serrano recruits.

When things started going south this season, did Hook make any adjustments to right the ship besides ranting and raving at the team AND to the press? How many times has he thrown all the players under the bus, and how many times has he pointed the finger at himself?

Of the 15 losses this season, 10 were one-run games or in extra innings and another two were by two runs. This isn't a team that's not trying hard. This is a team that lacks some talent and the coaching needed to get it over the hump.

I, for one, will salute the players for putting forth the effort and try hard every game. And for enduring the endless tongue-lashing, punishing post-game workouts and early morning scrimmages after coming up just short many times.

These players aren't soft. They needed guidance, leadership and support. They aren't getting it from their head coach. And sadly it seems like they're not getting it from the fans, either.

Shame on you, Titans fans, for throwing these kids under the bus, too.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

CSF Places Coach Vanderhook on Leave

Cal State Fullerton has placed its head baseball coach on leave, the university announced Thursday.

"Effective today, Cal State Fullerton's head coach Rick Vanderhook has been placed on paid administrative leave. The university has received allegations that it is obligated to review," a school release said.

"Assistant coaches Mike Kirby and Jason Dietrich will serve as acting co-head coaches when the Titans take on Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Thursday afternoon to start a three-game series through Saturday."

Fullerton is 18-13 after losing two of three games last weekend at UC Santa Barbara.

Vanderhook took over the Titans program in 2012, when four-year head coach Dave Serrano left for Tennessee. Vanderhook was 36-21 in his first season and followed up with a 51-10 record in 2013, which tied the mark for the fourth-most wins in program history. Fullerton won 66 games in 1984, 60 in '79, 57 in '95 and 51 in '82, all under Augie Garrido.

Fullerton won its postseason regional last year before losing to eventual national champion UCLA in the super regional.

The Titans won the College World Series in 1979, '84, '95 -- with Garrido at the helm -- and 2004 under George Horton. Fullerton has 12 other CWS appearnces.

Friday, February 14, 2014

CSFBaseball.com Shutdown Announcement

Dear fellow Titans fans:

I'm saddened to announce that I will be shutting down the CSFBaseball.com web site, which has been operating since the 2009 season. The decision will stand for the 2014 season, and perhaps for good.

The reason for the shutdown is that I belatedly realized that the site is doing much harm to the success of our beloved baseball team. FBF's previews and Don's recaps are so accurate and insightful that their continued publication would provide coaches of future opponents too much valuable information.

This falls in line with the school's recent decision to discontinue video streaming of Titans home games. In fact, I would urge the administration to cancel all telecasts planned for ESPN3 and ESPNU and hack the streaming service of our road opponents so that no one will see or read about even one pitch of our games. These measures should greatly enhance our chances of winning a fifth national championship, hopefully in an empty stadium in Omaha.

I'd like to thank you for your support and suggestions over the years. Our Twitter feed @CSFBaseball will still be active, but only to disseminate non-proprietary information such as what will be on the latest rerun of "Breaking Bad" episodes.

See you at the ballpark, but remember: Do not discuss the game or our team with anyone - you just never know if Mike Gillespie's great grandson might be in attendance masquerading as a fan. Loose lips sink ships!

- Proprietor, CSFBaseball (Class of '91)