Monday, June 05, 2006

Malibu Regional Recap

By Tiger Fan

In case you haven’t heard by now, the Tigers beat Pepperdine by a score of 8-3 earlier today to clinch their first-ever NCAA Regional title (no, I didn’t get anything done at work today after 3:00). The win also marked the first time a No. 4 seed has won a region since the tournament expanded to 64 teams. For those of you who don’t follow college baseball, this is the equivalent of reaching the Sweet 16 in the NCAA basketball tournament. Next up for the Tigers is a trip to the Super Regional for a best of three series against Cal State-Fullerton. At stake is a trip to the College World Series in Omaha and a chance to play for the national championship.

If this sounds like an improbable turn of events to you, you’re not alone. Just two weeks ago, Mizzou was on the outside of the NCAA tournament picture looking in. But since then, the Tigers have won 10 of their last 12 games, including a sweep of No. 3 Texas (which has since been knocked out of the NCAA tourney) and four straight wins in elimination games this weekend. The two losses in that stretch have been heartbreaking one-run games that were decided in the ninth inning. I don’t know much about Cal State-Fullerton, but if the Tigers keep playing like they have been, they are going to be mighty tough to beat. It should be an interesting series when things get underway on Friday.

The Tigers’ regional win is the result of a wild weekend of baseball that saw them lose their opener against Pepperdine on Friday with their ace Max Scherzer on the hill, survive a 14-inning battle with Cal-Irvine on Saturday, win two games on Sunday with two freshman pitchers recording complete game victories and knock off Pepperdine again today with their closer Taylor Parker filling in at starter. The amazing thing is that after all of the madness, things are set up perfectly for the Tigers as they head to the Super Regional. Scherzer was able to rest up and should be ready to show what he is made of on Friday after not pitching his best against Pepperdine. Then Nathan Culp will be ready to go on Saturday. And if a third game is needed after that 1-2 punch, Rick Zagone is coming off a complete game win with lots of confidence. Behind the starters is a bullpen that has been playing well and a line-up that seems to be hitting better with each passing game. The CS-F series is by no means a gimmie – they are one of the top teams in the country – but you have to feel good about how things are shaping up for the Tigers right now.

I’ll be in Las Vegas this coming weekend, so I won’t be glued to my computer like I was last weekend (ask Fannette; she’ll tell you that 9 hours of listening to baseball on a computer in one weekend is a bit much). But since I was able to tune in this weekend, I'd like to give out some Malibu Regional Awards:

MVP(s): Rick Zagone and Aaron Crow

The entire pitching staff turned in an amazing performance, but Zagone and Crow really stood out. The two freshmen turned in back-to-back complete games on Sunday when the Tigers needed it most. After the 14-inning affair on Saturday, lots of Tiger fans were wondering how the Mizzou pitching staff would survive on Sunday. But Zagone and Crow answered the call, allowing two just two runs between them as the Tigers knocked off both UCLA and Pepperdine. That is clutch. I don’t think they are quite ready to replace Scherzer and Culp, but after Sunday’s performance, I’m already looking forward to next year.

Gutsiest Performance: Taylor Parker

After pitching 1.2 scoreless innings in Saturday’s game to earn the W, the Tiger closer came back today and made only his fifth career start. He pitched 5.2 strong innings, allowing just 2 unearned runs on five hits and pitched his way out of a couple tight jams. Parker wound up the day with his second win of the tournament.

Unsung Hero Award: Travis Wendte

If you look at the stats from this weekend, Tiger reliever Travis Wendte’s numbers won’t dazzle you. But while Wendte didn’t earn a win or a save on Saturday, he saved the season for the Tigers. He pitched five scoreless innings against the Anteaters, and recorded several crucial outs with the winning run just 90 feet from home. None of these other guys could have done what they did if it weren’t for Wendte.

There’s a Reason We’re His Fan Club: Gary Arndt

Our boy Gary turned in a solid performance this weekend, particularly Saturday. In that game, he made a diving catch for the third out in the 13th inning that saved the season and he turned the game-winning double play in the bottom of the 14th. Oh, and he also had a homer and 3 RBI in that game. If the scouts were watching, you might see Gary get drafted in tomorrow’s MLB draft.

Improbable Clutch Hitter Award: J.C. Field

One of the most productive Tigers this weekend was J.C. Field… yes, that J.C. Field. We all know he’s a great catcher, but J.C. isn’t usually known for his hitting prowess or his speed on the base paths. But that wasn’t the case this weekend. J.C. had an RBI single in the ninth on Friday to bring the Tigers within one. He scored the winning run on Saturday when he chugged all the way home from second in the 14th. He scored the go-ahead run in the fifth inning on Sunday. He had an RBI and a run scored on Monday. Forget the ninth spot in the order… let him bat clean-up if he’s going to hit like this.

And while we’re at it, let’s move the 6-7-8-9 hitters to the top of the order. This weekend, John McKee, Brock Bond, Gary Arndt and J.C. Field (who usually occupy those spots in the order) accounted for 11 runs scored and 9 RBI. Can’t ask for much more from the bottom half of the order. Finally…

Pinch-Hit Hero Award: Ryan Lollis

He only had one at-bat on Saturday, but he came up huge when it mattered most. Lollis stepped in to pinch-hit for Trevor Helms with two outs in the 14th inning on Saturday. Lollis ripped a two-strike single to right, allowing J.C. Field to score what would be the game-winning run.


Tiger in Texas said...

This team's roller coaster of a season seems eerily familiar to the 2002 basketball season, doesn't it?

Tiger Fan said...

That's very true. I was actually planning to write a very similar piece later this week... but looks like it would be redundant now. Thanks for posting.

Christina said...

You weren't the only one glued to your computer for each of the games over the weekend. I was right there with you. I had to support my friends...