We won't lie: we feel a little bit dirty right now. Having both grown up within two hours of Hattiesburg (one of us in Mississippi and one in Louisiana), it was tough for us to watch the Cinderella Golden Eagles choke away their first CWS game in school history last night. Don't misunderstand us: our loyalties were in no way split, nor are we in any way disappointed with the outcome. Quite to the contrary, in fact. But as fans, watching the games is all about enjoyment. And because of the way in which it happened, last night's game was one of the toughest wins to enjoy that we can remember.
Texas beat Southern Miss more on the weakness of the USM bullpen than on the strength of anything the Longhorns did. After trailing 5-4 in the eighth inning, Texas pulled out a 7-6 win in the bottom of the ninth without driving in any of those three runs on a ball in play; all three were walked in with the bases loaded. We knew how it would end once Brandon Loy worked the count to 2-0 in the bottom of the ninth with the winning run 90 feet away. While all Texas fans have to be relieved with the win, the joy also has to be tempered by sympathy for Southern Miss pitcher Jonathan Johnston, who walked Kyle Lusson to load the bases with two away and then Loy for the game-winner.
While Texas' two runs in the eighth were both walked in as well, at least both men who scored--Travis Tucker and Russell Moldenhauer--had reached base via hitting the ball. In the ninth, Texas never even reached base on a ball in play; one hit batsman and three walks allowed the decisive run. In any event, though, Texas outlasted its opponent in Game One. The way the College World Series is set up, the most important key to success is to win your first two games. After that, you are completely in the driver's seat with the road leading to the championship series. With that in mind, a bit of an overall first-round review and a look ahead to the winner's bracket after the jump.
Over in Bracket One, the SEC went 2-0 on Saturday with Arkansas pulling the upset of Cal State-Fullerton and LSU using the long ball to beat Virginia. The Arkansas win did not particularly surprise us, as we have felt since the tournament bracket was announced that Fullerton had a tremendously easy road to Omaha and has not really been tested by a great team yet. Fullerton had three sub-par teams at their regional, and was paired with a very weak Louisville regional for Super weekend as well. They breezed through it, but we were (and are) still unconvinced. The good news for Fullerton, though, is that they used their number two starter against Arkansas and so they have ace Mike Leake to go against the Wahoos today. The bad news is that even with a win, they need three more in a row to make the championship series.
LSU took the same gamble as Fullerton, but it paid off for the Tigers. Number two starter Anthony Ranaudo had his worst outing of the season but was saved by the bullpen, which in this case included number one starter Louis Coleman. Coleman only threw one inning though, thanks to an eighth-inning, two-run insurance dinger off the bat of Ryan Schimpf, so Coleman will be the Tiger starter tonight against the conference rival Razorbacks.
In the Longhorns' Bracket Two, Arizona State looked scary good on the mound in knocking off North Carolina 5-2 in ten innings. Aussie starter Josh Spence dazzled for seven innings and freshman reliever Mitchell Lambson held on until the Devils finally chased Carolina's Alex White--who was as brilliant as Spence--to put up an error-assisted four-spot in the top of the tenth and sneak out with a 5-2 win. This is pretty terrible news for Texas, because like Texas, LSU, and Fullerton, Arizona State took the chance of throwing its second starter in its first game to save its ace for the winner's bracket.
This means that Texas' somewhat anemic offense will have to find ways to manufacture runs against Sun Devil ace Mike Leake. Leake was considered by most to be 2009's second-best pitcher in the country behind Stephen Strasburg, and he went eighth overall in this week's MLB draft to the Reds. The good news, of course, is that Texas will have Chance Ruffin on the hill to try and match Leake to propel Texas into a great situation. You can rest assured that Leake and his bullpen will be far less, um, charitable than the Golden Eagles were. With a win, the Longhorns will only need to win one of their next two ballgames in order to advance to the Best-of-Three championship series; a loss to AZ State, though, would force Texas to win three in a row to get there. So tomorrow night's game is absolutely huge.
First, though, Bracket One continues today. Either Virginia or Cal State-Fullerton will have the honor of being the first team sent home from Omaha today at 1 PM, with LSU and Arkansas battling for prime winner's bracket position at 6.
Enjoy the baseball!