Discover more from Bald Faced Truth by John Canzano
Canzano: Pac-12 in pursuit of national championships... without USC baseball
What's up with the fall of the Trojans?
It took more than nine and a half hours for the Oregon State baseball team to shake UCLA on the fourth day of the inaugural Pac-12 Baseball Tournament on Saturday.
It was epic, too.
The Beavers blew a nine-run lead in the ninth inning, and eventually lost on a walk-off home run that gave the Bruins a 25-22 win in the double-elimination tournament. UCLA and Oregon State combined for 53 hits.
Game time: 5 hours, 44 minutes.
Combined pitchers: 16.
Combined pitches thrown: 527.
The teams then filled out a fresh line-up card, waited 45 minutes and played nine more innings to determine who would advance to play Stanford in the championship game on Sunday.
Temperatures in Scottsdale, Ariz. were in the mid-to-high 90s most of Saturday and it was 88 degrees when the OSU-UCLA semifinal ended at 11:31 p.m. The Beavers won the game 8-7 and less than 24 hours later, returned to the stadium to play Stanford.
I love the idea of a Pac-12 baseball tournament. It gives the conference an additional media asset, some nice late-season exposure for NCAA Tournament seeding, creates a conference baseball festival and generates revenue. But I’m kicking myself for not thinking about the potential pitching wear that an eight-team, double-elimination tournament creates. I’m curious how that might manifest itself in this week’s NCAA Tournament games.
Stanford (41-14) is the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA bracket. Oregon State (44-15) is No. 3 overall. They’ll both host games beginning on Friday. UCLA (38-22), Arizona (37-23) and Oregon (35-23) also qualified for the NCAA field but will start on the road.
As part of the Pac-12 Tournament, OSU played five games in five days. Stanford played four. Even if you throw out the 47-run marathon, the average number of combined runs scored in the other five games played during final two days of the tournament was 13.6.
I’m not worried about the number of days of rest — Stanford and OSU will get four full days off before their first game in the NCAA Tournament. But I am wondering if we might see some dead arms and psychologically worn out teams. I’ll reserve judgement until after we see a few outcomes, but I’ll bet the Pac-12 is tracking this, too.
WHAT’S UP WITH BASEBALL AT USC?: Baseball is not a revenue-generating sport. So I may be answering my own question, but is anyone else puzzled by what has happened to the USC baseball program over the years?
The Trojans were a proud national power under coach Rod Dedeaux. He won 11 national titles and didn’t have a losing season in his final 37 years on the job. When he retired after the 1986 season, he was the winningest coach in college baseball history.
Former USC player Mike Gillespie followed Dedeaux as head coach and won a national title in 1998. But since then the Trojans have cycled through four head coaches who have a combined win percentage of .483 and only one NCAA Tournament appearance (2015).
I asked around.
The prevailing thought — USC fell asleep at the wheel, hired the wrong coaches, failed to invest in the program, didn’t listen to key boosters and isn’t getting the best talent from its own region anymore.
Said one conference source: “They aren’t even top-three in Southern California. UCLA, Fullerton St. and Long Beach St. are consistently better. Needs a huge fix by (athletic director) Mike Bohn.”
Said another: “Oregon State happened. The Beavers had the right people in charge with Pat Casey and Oregon State invested heavily in baseball amid the success. USC got hyper-focused on football and trying to solve for men’s basketball.”
Said a third college-baseball insider: “Not hiring a strong, experienced head coach with local ties (was a major contributor) to the USC downfall. Andy Stankewicz, Rich Hill come to mind. Not listening to alums. I've heard this from many scouts who played at USC, gave their input but didn't see their suggestions followed through. Weak commitment from previous administrations.”
It’s not an admission-department issue (See: Stanford). It’s not geography (See Pac-12 successes). It’s not history (USC has plenty). So it has to be gross mismanagement of the program and a lack of sound administrative support. USC pushed Gillespie out, for example, and he later took UC Irvine to the College World Series.
USC is losing talent to the other colleges in the area. Also, Stanford currently has three players — the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 6 hitters in the lineup — who hail from Southern California. Oregon State’s No. 2 hitter in the lineup, Wade Meckler, is an Orange County kid (Esperanza HS). In the Dedeaux and Gillespie years those players would have likely been Trojans.
The swoon of the Trojans’ baseball program is being talked about in conference circles. USC being back in football under Lincoln Riley would be great for the Pac-12. I wonder how high fixing baseball is on the USC “to-do” list.
WORLD SERIES BOUND: Softball teams from UCLA, Oregon State and Arizona qualified for the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
Eight teams. Double-elimination bracket. The final two teams play a best-of-three series for the national title.
UCLA is no surprise. The Bruins are the No. 5 team in the country. Unranked Arizona (8-16 in Pac-12 play) and Oregon State (9-15 in conference) caught lightning in a bottle in the last couple of weeks and are playing really well. Should the Wildcats and Beavers both win their opening games on Thursday, they’ll meet on Saturday in the second game of bracket play on ESPN.
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