Category archive: Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Are you ready for some baseball? Division I college baseball gets under way at 10 a.m. ET on Friday with the first two games of the Big East-Big Ten Baseball Challenge. If everything goes according to plan, one of the final games of opening weekend will feature Florida International's Garrett Wittels attempting to break Robin Ventura's 58-game hitting streak on ESPNU/ESPN3.com (Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET).
While the first pitch of the season has yet to be thrown, it's never too early to start looking forward to June and the first College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. Defending champion South Carolina lost its top two starting pitchers from last year's squad but returns a talented offensive core and has one of the best bullpens in the country. Last year's CWS field included several programs on the upswing. Arizona State was the only team from the 2009 field to return to Omaha in 2010; this year, the Sun Devils could be the only team not to earn a return trip to Nebraska. The talent level isn't down in Tempe, but unless the NCAA sanctions are reversed, ASU is barred from the postseason.
AP Photo/Nati HarnikESPN Preseason All-American Trevor Bauer leads a talented Bruins staff.
The 2011 season will see another change that could have an even bigger effect than the CWS' move three miles up 13th Street. College baseball is changing the specifications for aluminum bats from measuring the ball exit speed (BESR) to the coefficient of restitution (BBCOR). Early indications from fall practices are that power numbers will be down -- a lot. Small ball could become an even bigger part of the college game, which would favor several West Coast teams in a year when that region already appears to be extremely strong. Combined with the flipped orientation from Rosenblatt Stadium to TD Ameritrade Park -- where the wind is more likely to blow in than out -- pitching and clutch hitting could share the spotlight in late June.
Predicting the field, and especially the teams with the best chances at reaching Omaha, is tricky in mid-February. Using the 2010 preseason coaches' poll, only three of the top eight teams earned national seeds, and just two finished their season at Rosenblatt. Eventual national champion South Carolina and runner-up UCLA both started just outside the Top 25. High early-season expectations are usually enough to get into the tournament, as only East Carolina and Ohio State failed to make the field after appearing in the preseason Top 25.
This is the first time I've attempted to pick the field before the season started. My results at the end of last season were good but not great, but in some cases I favor my bracket to the official NCAA field. I was within one seed on six of the eight national seeds, overseeding Virginia by three spots and picking South Carolina over Georgia Tech for the final top-eight spot (with the way things played out, that looks like a good decision). Of the 34 at-large bids, I had 32 in my final bracket, and the two I omitted topped my "first nine out" section. California was my first team out (and most egregious miss, since it was the No. 2 seed in Norman) but went 0-2; Louisiana-Lafayette was my second team out and went 1-2 in the Austin Regional. The two teams from my bracket that missed regional play were Kentucky and Florida Gulf Coast; Kentucky had a solid RPI but missed the SEC tournament, while FGCU won the Atlantic Sun regular-season title in its first year of tournament eligibility behind ace Chris Sale but fell in the conference tournament. Of the 16 regional sites, I got two exactly right (Atlanta and Norwich) and three of four teams for three more (Auburn, Gainesville, Louisville).
Now that I've dispensed with the caveats, here's my initial projection:
Los Angeles Regional
Last five in: Florida International, Nebraska, Western Carolina, San Diego State, Liberty
First nine out: Kentucky, Elon, NC State, Pittsburgh, Tulane, Oklahoma State, Cal Poly, Southeastern Louisiana, USC
With the exception of Arizona State, which is banned from the postseason, all the teams that played in the final CWS in Rosenblatt earn regional hosting assignments and No. 1 seeds, with the top four national seeds all gunning for a return to Omaha. The other four national seeds all fell 2-1 in super regionals last year, so this bracket is biased toward last year's elite teams. The road from opening day to Selection Monday is bumpy enough that the final field probably won't look like this, but there's a lot of returning talent from last year, and the top squads have reloaded quickly.
Eleven of the 30 conferences with automatic bids send more than one team to a regional. The usual suspects lead the charge, with the SEC (eight), Pac-10 (seven), ACC (six) and Big 12 (six) each in the running to send at least a half-dozen teams to the postseason. The Big East and Sun Belt seem poised to send three teams to a regional for the second straight year, while Conference USA and the Big West should pick up a third bid after only nabbing two last season. For the three conferences slated for two bids, there's one clear leader and one bubble team: Coastal Carolina (Big South), TCU (Mountain West) and College of Charleston (Southern) should be locks to make the field, but Liberty, San Diego State and Western Carolina could be on the wrong side of the bubble if they don't secure automatic bids.
Darryl Dennis/Icon SMIDanny Hultzen and the Cavs are focused on getting to Omaha this season.
Connecticut has the talent to earn a national seed, but the Huskies are in uncharted territory. Last year's great northern hope was Ohio State, and the Buckeyes failed to qualify for the Big Ten tournament after starting the year in the Top 25. UConn needs to overcome a tough early-season trip to California and a bull's-eye on its back during Big East play; that will make the Huskies stronger for postseason play but could cost them some wins and a top spot.
The order of finish for the SEC is always tough to determine, especially considering how quickly a strong recruiting class can pay dividends. Odds are that the eight teams that reach the SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala., will still be playing in June, but at this point it's hard to count any of the 12 teams out. The top three teams coming into the season are all in the Eastern Division, and it's unlikely that three teams from the same division would all earn national seeds -- much like the early part of the season last year, South Carolina draws the short straw.
The top half of the ACC seems more clear-cut, with Virginia, Florida State and Clemson jockeying for a national seed. Danny Hultzen and six returning hitters give Virginia an early advantage, but the Seminoles and Tigers aren't far behind. At least one of those teams should earn a top-eight spot, with the other two battling for the final spot with the SEC third-place team, the Big 12 second-place team and Connecticut.
The biggest issues for the Pac-10 could be the depth of the conference and Arizona State's postseason ban. The Sun Devils should still pile up wins this year, and every conference win is a lost opportunity for the other Pac-10 schools. The conference won't match its eight bids from last season; seven bids seems most likely, but if ASU sweeps any of the middle-of-the-pack teams, six bids is a possibility.
Three and a half months of action on the field before the NCAA tournament field is announced. Let the games begin!
Jeremy Mills is a researcher for ESPN and is a contributor to ESPN.com's college baseball coverage.
• Garrett Gore tied a CWS career record with his 20th appearance on Tuesday, matching Daryl Arenstein's record for career games set between 1970-73.
• UNC's Dustin Ackley went 5-for-6 against Southern Miss, becoming the 16th player in CWS history to record at least five hits in a game. The last five-hit game in the CWS was by Cal State Fullerton's David Cooper, who went 5-for-5 against Clemson on June 20, 2006.
• Today marked Ackley's second career five-hit game, as the other came against VMI on Feb. 22, 2009
• Ackley's five hits upped his career CWS hit total to 27, making him the all-time hits leader at the CWS. He broke the previous mark of 24 set by Stanford's Sam Fuld from 2001 to 2003. Ackley is now hitting .429 (27-63) in his career at the CWS, a total which would rank ninth all-time.
• Ackley is now hitting .576 (19-for-33) with two homers and 12 RBIs during the 2009 NCAA tournament and is 7-for-11 in Omaha.
• North Carolina's senior class has now won a school-record and NCAA-best 212 games over the past four years.
• With today's win, North Carolina's Adam Warren improved his career record to 32-4 at North Carolina. He is second on UNC's career wins list -- trailing only Robert Woodward's 34 wins between 2004 and 2007. Warren's .889 career win percentage ties Scott Bankhead (24-3 from 1982-84) for first place on UNC's all-time career win percentage list.
• Head coach Corky Palmer finishes his coaching career with a 960-493 record, including a 458-281 mark in 12 seasons at Southern Miss. His 458 wins rank second on the Southern Miss career charts.
• The 23 hits were the most surrendered by USM this season. Its previous high was 22 against Cal State Fullerton on March 6.
Seriously, Ackley is enjoying this.
Before he put on the very serious gaze Tuesday, then shifted to a bored look when cameras approached, Ackley was well aware that he was within reach of the College World Series career hits record.
AP Photo/Ted KirkDustin Ackley set a new College World Series record with 27 career hits.
He smashed it, peppering Southern Mississippi with singles to the left and the right, going 5-for-6 in North Carolina's 11-4 blasting of the Golden Eagles.
Ackley now has 27 hits in 14 CWS games, passing Stanford's Sam Fuld, whose 24 stood for six years. The Tar Heels also tied an Omaha record with 23 hits in the game.
"I think everybody saw today what everyone on our team has seen in the last three years in Dustin Ackley," Carolina coach Mike Fox said. "He's an unbelievable performer; he's one sensational player. And I'm glad the nation had a chance to see it. We needed it."
The Tar Heels survived an elimination game by rocking J.R. Ballinger for nine hits and six runs in 2 2/3 innings. Ackley had No. 25 by the third inning, with the game spiraling out of control for Southern Miss.
The junior, who was the No. 2 overall pick by the Seattle Mariners earlier this month, is known as one of the quietest players on the team. Fox said he's doubtful he'll ever coach another hitter like Ackley, who's gotten a hit in every NCAA tournament game he's ever played in -- all 21 of them.
By the seventh inning, when Ackley singled to right-center, the question wasn't about whether the Golden Eagles had the moxie to stage a huge comeback. It was, "Will Ackley get another at-bat?"
He did, and sent a deep fly ball that was caught near the warning track.
And so ended the first and last College World Series for Southern Miss coach Corky Palmer, whose team put together an inspired run to Omaha for the retiring 55-year-old. Some of Palmer's players bent down after the last out and grabbed a handful of dirt as a keepsake of the school's first CWS.
After the Golden Eagles burned through their pitching staff Sunday and almost beat Texas, Palmer worried about what would happen Tuesday. He saw seven left-handed Carolina hitters. He knew they had no answer.
"We had a magical season," he said. "You can't ask any more of what we've done in the last three weeks. I'm really glad these guys let me work a little longer. It was all them. I was just along for the ride."
Southern Miss coach Corky Palmer and his Golden Eagles were eliminated from the College World Series on Tuesday in a 11-4 loss to North Carolina, sending the legendary leader into retirement.
Southern Miss got off to a good start in the top of the ninth, retiring Dustin Ackley for the first time in the game, off a fly ball to the left.
But Carolina one-upped the Golden Eagles -- literally.
Kyle Seager hit a long homer on the next at-bat, straight over the right center wall and deep into the bleachers to raise the Tar Heels' lead to 11-4.
In the bottom of the ninth, North Carolina got out Adam Doleac and Taylor Walker on a 5-4-3 double play for their first two outs. Bo Davis grounded out to third to end the game.
North Carolina's 23 hits tied for the most in a CWS game.
With Colin Bates on the mound for North Carolina, Joey Archer got Southern Miss its first hit since the fourth inning -- a double way out to left field. He scored when Ryan Graepel made a throwing error in attempt to get Brian Dozier out at first. Southern Miss trails 10-4 after eight innings.
Carolina has 21 hits on the game as opposed to four by Southern Miss heading into the ninth inning at Rosenblatt.
But the first batter Stanley faced, Mark Fleury, drove in another run to put the Heels up 10-3.
With Schlagel on the mound, Kyle Seager's single to the right scored Ben Bunting and moved Dustin Ackley to third. Stanley came into the game, and Fleury hit a sacrifice fly on which Ackley scored.
Ackley is 5-for-5 with four singles, a double and three RBIs. The Tar Heels have had two or more men on base in every inning of the game so far.
Southern Miss' Cody Schlagel created space for that to change with a silly mistake.
Going after the third out, Schlagel caught Mike Cavasinni's ground ball and began chasing him to first base. It looked as if the pitcher could have tossed the ball to first baseman Joey Archer to get the out, but he instead ran for Cavasinni. Schlagel didn't make the tag early enough, and the first-base ump called the Tar Heel safe.
The Golden Eagles got out of the inning before the Tar Heels could capitalize.
UNC returned the favor by leaving Southern Miss scoreless in the sixth, retiring the Eagles' first three batters.
Quick fact: Ryan Graepel, who singled in the top of the sixth, has yet to be retired in the game.
But as in the top of the third inning, the Golden Eagles let success get away from them in the fifth.
After Seth Baldwin struck out swinging and Kameron Brunty caught Ben Bunting's fly ball to left field, Dustin Ackley singled.
A throw over the head of first baseman Joey Archer in an attempt to pick off Ackley allowed the slugger to advance easily to third. Kyle Seager was walked to put men on first and third, but Mark Fleury popped out to right field to end the half-inning.
The Tar Heels responded with a quick three outs to hold their lead at 8-3.
Vollmuth's blast over left field scored Corey Stevens and Michael Ewing, both of whom were walked by Adam Warren, to cut the Golden Eagles' deficit to 8-3.
Warren tied his career high for walks in a game with five -- three in the fourth inning.
Lucky for the pitcher, Carolina's offense just can't let an inning go by without scoring.
The Tar Heels added on two more runs in the top of the fourth to stretch their lead to 8-zip.
With Mark Fleury on third and Garrett Gore on second, Ryan Graepel hit a ball to shortstop that Vollmuth let slip right under his glove and into the outfield. Fleury and Gore scored for Graepel's second RBI on his second hit of the game.
That didn't last long.
After getting off to a quick two-out start, the Golden Eagles gave up four runs to North Carolina, which took a 6-0 lead before the half-inning finally came to an end.
The Tar Heels' Garrett Gore and Levi Michael grounded out to give the Golden Eagles two outs. But J.R. Ballinger went back to his walking ways, putting Ryan Graepel on first, and Mike Cavasinni followed with a single up the middle.
The middle proved to be Southern Miss' dead zone when Seth Baldwin drove a single to center for the Tar Heels, this time socring Graepel from second.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
After Baldwin stole second, Ben Bunting hit another ball up the middle to score Cavasinni and Baldwin. Bunting advanced to second on the play, sliding safe just before the tag.
Next up: you know who.
With Dustin Ackley at the plate, Cody Schlagel relieved Ballinger. Ackley lined one to the left, driving in Bunting for Ackley's all-time-record 25th CWS hit and his third RBI of the game.
Ackley was picked off at second for the third out.
Taylor Walker earned Southern Miss' first hit of the game, after Travis Graves grounded out to lead off the bottom of the inning. Besides Bo Davis' walk, Walker got no backup. Ackley snagged James Ewing's foul ball, and Kameron Brunty struck out to close the inning.