The 2017 NCAA baseball tournament and College World Series delivered some of the most watchable baseball of the year. In fact, baseball is one of the few sports where the college game may outdo the professional game in terms of enjoyment factor, inasmuch as the amateurs use every inch of the field, fiddle around with batting order and pitching staffs, and commit heinous errors while doing so.
That the college boys engage every facet of the game — bunting, aggressive base running, wild fielding — is perhaps a testament to the vigor and bravado of youth. It’s also due in larger part to the circumstance of having to play a lot of baseball in a cramped period of time against like-minded opponents who also have to play a lot of baseball in the same span of time. We’re all locked in this cage together, and only the most industrious among us will make it out.
So over the course of June some truly inspired baseball takes place across 17 separate sites in this country, and we’re here to round up the 12 most memorable moments and storylines of this year’s tournament.
Come, walk with us.
Ohio brought a RALLY PENGUIN to the Lexington regional.
College baseball bench hijinks already enjoy a thriving internet subculture, and the Ohio Bobcats are in no way indifferent to such chicanery. So, while down 4-0 to their hosts Kentucky in the sixth of the regional opener, the team unveiled Nigel the Penguin to help spur them on to a late innings rally.
That’s an impressive chest tat, but Nigel did not, in fact, inspire a Bobcat rally. Kentucky won, 6-4. Sorry, Ohio.
The tournament’s facial hair scene was absolutely marvelous.
Baseball beards are common facts of life — especially in the postseason — and college baseball players know well the value of #GraveBeforeShave come tournament time. Take for instance Bethune-Cookman’s Austin Garcia, who took some time from game action to weigh in on the importance of sound beard hygiene.
But Garcia doesn’t own a monopoly on tremendous beardscapes. The Long Beach super regional in fact sported beards and mustaches aplenty.
This last is Cal State Fullerton’s third baseman Taylor Bryant, who grew into something of a tournament superhero. Never change, college baseball facial hair.
Davidson became your new favorite college baseball team.
The Wildcats upended No. 2-overall national seed North Carolina in the Chapel Hill regional, but went on to lose out to Texas A&M in the College Station super. Their story was at the same time inspiring and tragic, and only three starters in the dugout were on full scholarship.
Further, the members of this team are just like you. They’re not going pro in Major League Baseball, and they’re out here earning top grades and entering graduate school next fall. Skipper Dick Cooke was involved in a serious traffic accident back in 2012, and it’s a marvel that he earned his team’s first trip to the regional or super regional rounds after 27 years at the helm.
Sam Houston State ripped off a 5-4-3 triple play.
The Bearkats pulled off a surprising upset in the Lubbock regional to earn a super regional berth with Florida State in Tallahassee, and they immediately got to work. They bunted their way around the bases to gain a 5-2 lead early, then locked down on the ‘Noles with that there triple play. So smooth.
Florida’s super regional celebration mob dragged out into center field.
Ryan Larson knocked in the series-sealing grounder to advance Florida to Omaha for the College World Series, and he immediately tore ass off into center field, fueled by pure ebullience.
The view from within the park was no less enjoyable.
That was somehow the Gators’ first walkoff win of the season, and it came the most opportune time.
The Gainesville super regional was plagued by so much rain.
All three games in the Gainesville super tilt required rain delays before their completion. Two of the games went to 11 innings even after those delays. Such atmospheric chaos thus yielded Florida first baseman JJ Schwarz blasting two home runs in the same game but on two consecutive days, or Wake Forest’s Johnny Aiello knocking two homers on the same day but in two separate games.
The deciding Game 3, which began just one hour after Game 2’s conclusion, also went through a weather delay, and when the suspension was announced, Florida’s starter Brady Singer was absolutely furious about it.
This man is MAD, and rightfully so. After all, Wake and Florida merely twiddled their thumbs for far many more hours than actually participating in baseball games that weekend, and Singer wouldn’t come back on after the game resumed. We’re with you, Brady.
Oregon State’s catcher couldn’t stop making spectacular diving grabs.
The Beavs’ catcher Adley Ratschman doubles as the football team’s kicker, and he once made a tackle on Stanford’s Christian McCaffery in a live football game. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Ratschman can lay out for spectacular catches on bunts that are popped up in front of home plate.
Great stuff, and to complete a double play, no less. But Ratschman wasn’t done there, though. No, he came back in Omaha to carry out an eerily similar play against LSU. Mercy.
Don’t bunt on Adley Ratschman.
Louisville’s skipper earned the first coach’s ejection of the CWS since 2007.
Dan McDonnell got his Cardinals to Omaha after winning the Louisville regional and super regional rounds, and the stakes are necessarily elevated in Omaha. So it was unsurprising to see him completely lose his top over a close bang-bang out call at second against TCU.
It’s tough to let things go when you have a pretty good argument for your runner being safe. In any case, this is one of the more polite coaches tosses you’ll see in the game of baseball.
LSU and Florida State gave us the game of the year.
Florida State and LSU should play many, many times every year. Especially if they can deliver a bout similar to the one they gave us in the bracket round, when the proceedings became totally unhinged for a wild, raucous affair.
Spectacular. Hilarious. LSU would eventually eliminate the ‘Noles to advance to the final series with Florida, but not before FSU totally screwed themselves in the rematch a few days later.
Even when FSU displayed competence, the Seminoles still couldn’t achieve wild outs at the plate.
LSU forgot how to play baseball in Omaha.
Specifically, LSU shortstop Kramer Robertson experienced the world’s worst brainfart once the final series commenced. He was a .413 hitter on the season, but his bat fell totally asleep after the bracket round began. But that’s the worst of it. For some reason his fielding took a nosedive as well.
He started off a horribly blunder-filled game in a bad 13-1 loss to Oregon State, for instance.
That inning also saw Tiger reliever Nick Bush apparently forget how to catch the baseball.
LSU reliever Hunter Newman also gave up the first grand slam in a College World Series in TD Ameritrade Park. Not good.
Yeah, that one hit the grass. But it also hit the strike zone, so.
The loss was so bad that LSU ripped through eight pitchers just to get to the end of the thing, and that’s a lot of pitchers
Two balls struck the left field wall in the same spot. One was called foul, the other fair.
College baseball needs to expand its use of replay review, specifically to foul balls that narrowly hit or miss the foul pole. On the same day, mere hours apart, two balls hit the left field foul line in nearly the exact same spot and the first was called foul without review, then the second was called fair and confirmed on review.
First, Oregon State. Foul ball, or is it?
Second, Florida. Fair ball, definitely.
For some reason, Oregon State skipper Pat Casey didn’t call for a review on the Beavers’ hit. Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park is oddly shaped, forming an oblong oval at its bottom which extends out to the foul lines, thus blocking the third base line dugout’s sightline to the foul pole.
It’s nigh impossible for a coach to see where a ball hits the deep left field fence, so perhaps not too much blame should come down on Casey. Even so, that play probably cost the Beavers a run, if not two.
Games 1 and 2 of the finals were everything we wanted out of the Florida-LSU matchup.
Florida and LSU matched up very well for the CWS final round, not least because both clubs sport extremely good pitching. The Tigers held a slight advantage in the discipline of hitting, but the Gators could score in spurts, which they did to take the tournament in a two-game sweep.
Game 1, then, promised an unpredictable, classic bout between SEC heavyweights, and damn did these guys deliver. For instance, second base became something of a touchstone for how this series was to unfold, what with strange and phantom calls happening from the tilt’s first inning.
Kramer Robertson then returned to commit yet another ball-to-glove transfer error, this time losing the ball into shallow left.
But Robertson would redeem himself, diving for a wonderful stab in the second-third base gap.
Still, LSU’s troubles weren’t yet over, as big hitter Greg Deichmann heaved his bat into the photographers pool along the first base line. This is dangerous.
It’s not quite Tim Tebow’s level of bat-flinging, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
To return to second base, though, Diechmann later tried extended a single into a double and was soon enough thrown out at second. Or was he?
That’s a severely close call and surely one that will disrupt many a Thanksgiving dinner in Louisiana for years to come.
Finally, in Game 2 of the finals, Florida benefited from a base running interference call that literally wiped an LSU run off the scoreboard. The Tigers’ Jake Slaughter made a hard slide into second, bashing shortstop Dalton Guthrie on the right shin as he completes his throw to first.
Because of that collision, the force out at third was no longer available to LSU, and Josh Smith — who had already crossed home plate to tie the game at 2-2 — had to go back to third. The Gators indeed completed the double play, then would go on to score four more runs in the eighth to put the game well out of reach for the Tigers.
2018’s College World Series can’t get here soon enough.