The College World Series starts this afternoon in Omaha, a half-fortnight of tradition and school spirit that brings into the national spotlight some quality young athletes that may soon be starring in the major leagues. I admit I don’t pay that much attention to college baseball before this event because, let’s face it, it’s not the biggest attention-grabber for many schools and even I have a limit on how much I can focus on.
And I was truly hoping that there would be a team that had not played in a CWS in 69 years (and none before that)–a team I have a strong rooting interest in-would be playing today. But the Oregon Ducks, after winning the opening game of their best-of-three Super Regional last weekend, were heartbreakingly ousted by a spirited opponent who themselves had not been to a CWS in 45 years, and none before that either. And they did it on the road to boot:
As the Associated Press reported, salvo one was fired last Saturday night on the Ducks’ home field in Eugene:
Justin Quinn had a two-run single in the bottom of the ninth inning to rally Oral Roberts to an 8-7 victory over Oregon on Saturday night in the second game of the Eugene Super Regional.
Salvo two, also per the AP, came Sunday night:
Jake McMurray went 4 for 5 with two RBIs and three runs, Mac McCroskey had three RBIs and Oral Roberts beat Oregon 11-6 Sunday to win a back-and-forth best-of-3 Eugene Super Regional.
So while I’m not happy about the outcome, I have to admire the perseverence of ORU, and their unlikely presence in this Elite Eight. To be sure, they are a longshot. Wake Forest enters as the top seed, and as USA Today’s respected Eddie Timanus reports, they have an impressive resume:
By most measures Wake is the most complete team in Omaha, leading the nation in team ERA and ranking fourth in the country in scoring. Its plus-59 run differential thus far in the NCAA tournament is the highest ever under the current format.
And the Demon Deacons haven’t been to Omaha in 68 years themselves. But they did win the whole thing the last time they showed up.
Still, aa Timanus reminds, ORU has defied longer odds to make this appearance:
The Golden Eagles are just the third team to reach the CWS as a No. 4 regional seed since the tournament’s current format began in 1999, joining Stony Brook in 2012 and 2008 national champion Fresno State. Still, it’s hard to consider an ORU team that has won 23 of its last 24 games a Cinderella. (Center fielder Jonah) Cox comes into Omaha on a 47-game hitting streak, tied for third longest in Division I history.
And, to boot, Cox enters today’s series opener with TCU hitting .420. That stat alone caught my attention, especially when it involves beating a team from Oregon.
There’s a distinctly homespun and flyover-state appeal to the CWS, even with the presence of Stanford in the field. The balance of participants–TCU, LSU, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia–come from areas devoid of major league teams, from humid environments and smaller cities where college baseball rules even over the minor leagues. And based in Tulsa, ORU is just as revered and priortized.
The sound of an aluminum bat is always jarring to me, but the happy sounds of students, alumni and cheerleaders in a Field of Dreams-like environment where for the next week and change they will gather in the hopes of a title is both reassuring and hypnotic. At a time in the major league season when things are beginning to get a little tired, especially for fans of teams who are struggling, the CWS is a welcome distraction.
And Oral Roberts is the kind of feel-good story that makes that distraction even more welcome.
So for as long as they’re around, I’ll jump on their bandwagon. Oral fixations of any kind always warrant attention in my book.