Beavers Can't Be Eaten
Over the course of our trip we have spent plenty of time examining the family aspect of college baseball. We talked to some Nebraska mothers on Mother's Day, toured Jordy Mercer's parent's RV at Oklahoma State, and sat with Matt Gorgen as he watched his twin brother Scott pitch for UC Irvine. Until tonight, the family dynamic we had explored had exclusively revolved around the players.
You often hear coaches speak of their wives as unsung heroes, selfless partners who will sacrifice for the good of their husband's coaching career. Therefore, we figured it would be interesting to see the game through the eyes of a coach's wife. After enduring a string of agonizing Irvine postseason games, who better to assist us than Tracy Serrano, the wife of Irvine coach Dave Serrano.
Since defeating Wake Forest in the first game of their regional, the Anteaters have had nothing but Maalox-requiring marathons that would test the patience of even the most casual fan. You'd think that Tracy would be used to this by now. Think again.
Like any intense fan, Tracy also has her own superstitions. She wore one outfit when Irvine won their first regional game, and she has since worn either the pants, tank top or shirt from that outfit to every game since. She tried a new shirt for Irvine's first CWS game against Arizona State, but when they lost she decided she would never wear it again.
"Cute shirt," she said. "I might wear it at home to work out some time. But it will not be on this body during the College World Series."
Tracy Serrano and the Serrano boys after Tuesday's win against Arizona State.
It was another tough night for Tracy because she had to sit through Irvine's third-straight elimination game. While Tracy might have been a wreck, the Anteaters seemed loose as ever. As we've learned over the course of this trip, it's just how they roll. Plus, they've become the fan favorites here, and they get autograph requests and praise wherever they go. As they walked into the park today, there were even a number of fans chanting, "Ollie, Ollie, Ollie" in honor of Ollie Linton, Tuesday night's hero. As further proof of their relaxed attitude, Linton once again led the team in a pregame skit that has become a staple of their preparation ritual.
Today's matchups provided an interesting contrast. In the early game we had Rice and North Carolina, the two teams that basically choked away the 2006 College World Series. I realize "choke" is a harsh word, but let's be honest. Rice got shutout in back-to-back game by an Oregon State club with depleted pitching when one win would have put them in the title series. North Carolina made it to the title series, but blew a five-run lead in game two, and made a costly error in the eighth inning of game three that gave OSU the title.
In the second game we had Irvine and OSU, two teams that have proven they can execute when it matters. Irvine's biggest advantage in their previous two games was their ability to stay cool when things got hot, but OSU is the one team left with a more impressive resume in that regard.
Rice got waxed by UNC by a score of 6-1, and they now run the risk of being eliminated out of the winner's bracket with two straight losses for the second straight year. While I am sure they will downplay the significance of this, you can't convince me they aren't thinking about it.
It was good to see UNC righthander Robert Woodard rebound from an awful start in their opener against Mississippi State to help keep the Tar Heels alive. Woodard holds the school record for wins, and it would have been a shame for such a great career to end on such a sour note. The senior allowed only a run on five hits in 6 2/3 innings of works before Rob Wooten and Andrew Carigan combined to finish the job. UNC even rediscovered the ability to hit home runs, with first baseman Dustin Ackley slugging the team's first of the CWS.
The Heels and Owls will now play once more on Thursday night with the winner advancing to the title series.
Rosenblatt was packed once again to watch Irvine in the night game, and not just because it was the 'Eaters against the Beavers. As mentioned earlier, they are now the darlings of the CWS and the 29,921 in attendance were hoping to see a little more 'Eaters magic. It seemed appropriate that OSU were their opponents because the Beavers were the lovable underdogs here in 2005, but now that they been to Omaha three years running, they have surrendered that status.
Unfortunately for those looking for some more theatrics from Irvine, they just didn't have any more tricks in the bag. A two-out throwing error by third baseman Tyler Vaughn allowed the first Beaver run to score in the third inning, and OSU catcher/rapper Mitch Canham compounded the error with a two-run home run that gave the Beavers a 3-0 lead they would never relinquish in waltzing to a 7-1 win.
Evan shows off his "O" face.
It was definitely odd to see the 'Eaters get sent home because it was also an indicator that our journey was coming to an end as well. We first met up with the 'Eaters on April 29 when they showed us their zany batting cage race and handshakes. They provided us with great fodder for the blog and video, so we thought they were awesome. At the same time, we figured they were just a fun team that we would never hear from again.
In fact, after they defeated Wichita State to advance to the CWS, freshman pitcher Cory Hamilton said to me, "I bet when you were hanging out with us in our dugout back in Irvine you never thought you'd see us in Omaha." He was right.
I know that as a sports writer I am not supposed to have a rooting interest, but after spending so much time with the Anteaters this postseason, it became almost impossible not to root for them. There, I said it.
A large part of the nature of this trip is to bring out the fun side of college baseball, the atmosphere that makes it special. We had a ball goofing off with a number of players on a number of teams, but there was not another team that seemed to have as much fun as Irvine. Since our goal is to bring you the lighter side of the sport, they were our dream team because they provided us with a seemingly endless supply of amusing video footage and blog material. On top of that, they were a joy to watch on the field and were involved with what were the four most exciting games I've seen thus far on this journey. Therefore, I'd like to thank Irvine for help making this trip so much fun for us, and for those who have been following the blog. It's been a pleasure.
I'm sure they are disappointed, but it was definitely a fantastic season for Irvine. One that put them on the map as another West Coast baseball force. If nothing else, they should take solace in the fact that they knocked off Texas, Wichita State, Fullerton and Arizona State. That's pretty much a "who's who" of traditional college baseball powers.
As for the Beavers, they deserve all the credit in the world. They are in great position to win their second-straight title, which would make them the first repeat champions in the CWS since LSU in 1996-97. I don't think there was anyone in the world who ever thought OSU would be mentioned in the same breath as LSU in reference to college baseball.
We're down to three, and all of them were in the CWS last year. There definitely seems to be something to this whole, "first time teams can't win in Omaha thing."