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College : : Story
CWS: Power arms get overshadowed
Kendall Rogers        
Published: Wednesday, June 18, 2014

College World Series: Game 8
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OMAHA, Neb. -- One of the biggest pluses of the College World Series is the ability to see so many power arms in one place, especially Virginia's Nick Howard and TCU's Brandon Finnegan and Riley Ferrell.

All three pitchers were electric Tuesday night, as Virginia beat TCU 3-2 on a walk-off sacrifice fly in the 15th inning to put itself in the driver's seat for the CWS Championship Series. However, the story line for this contest went well beyond those power arms. It encompassed all of college baseball.

As the Horned Frogs progressed through Tuesday night's game, they showed a good approach and had several key players doing great jobs of squaring up the ball. For instance, first baseman Kevin Cron went 1-for-6 at the plate, but also hit two or three balls that wouldn't have much trouble either hitting up against the wall or leaving for a home run ... in most ballparks. It just didn't happen at cavernous TD Ameritrade Park, the long game combined with the frustrations of not winning causing TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle to sound off during the post-game press conference.

Schlossnagle, as with most coaches at the CWS, typically sits at the podium in the press conference room, surveys the crowd and patiently waits the questions about to be asked. He didn't have that approach tonight. Schlossnagle clearly was perturbed, only looking up from his box score when the NCAA moderator asked him to give an opening statement.

Judging by Schlossnagle's body language, it was obvious we were about to get something good from him. We just didn't know it would result in a comment that had the college baseball community, including many coaches, buzzing well into the late-night hours.

"It's hard to get upset with your offense when you're facing that type of pitching, and I've got to be careful here before I say some things about this ballpark that I'll regret," Schlossnagle passionately said. "It's just a travesty what we've done to college baseball. But it's very impressive by Howard, very impressive by Ferrell.

"But yeah, I mean the pitching was smothering," he continued. "Then you add in the park and the conditions, and it's not a good recipe for scoring."

No one in the press conference, or myself, were surprised that Schlossnagle felt that way about the bats, and especially this ballpark. But it was the rhetoric and stage on which he did it that has a lot of folks around here talking, and many coaches here wondering if, once and for all, things need to be done to the ballpark.

"I just think they need to move the fences in," one assistant of a team in Omaha said. "But how much do you move them in? I'm not sure moving them in even 10 feet would make much of a difference. My guess is we'll be told the ball will make the difference, but I'm telling you right now, that won't be the case."

The ballpark talk didn't stop there. ESPN's Karl Ravech and Kyle Peterson suggested during the national telecast that some changes needed to be made. And even Virginia coach Brian O'Connor, who watched Nate Irving hit a leadoff double into left-center field gap in the 15th inning, and saw Thomas Woodruff come home to score in walk-off fashion on Daniel Pinero's sacrifice fly, briefly touched on the ballpark issue.

"When you're in an extra inning and you're facing pitching like we're facing, it's great to see Nate clutch up there," O'Connor said. "He's gotten so many big hits in his three years here. For him to drive the ball over the left-fielder's head, I didn't know if anybody was going to be able to do that on either club tonight.

"But fortunately, he got it up enough," he continued. "He must've squared it up really, really good to hit it out there."

The ballpark debate only will heat up here in Omaha for the next week with still no homers hit in this year's College World Series. But beyond just the rhetoric, there's a perfect opportunity for the NCAA to be proactive on the issue.

Beyond the ballpark talk, fans who saw the Cavaliers and Horned Frogs duke it out saw a real treat from a pitching standpoint. Virginia's Brandon Waddell was his typical, sharp, self with a fastball and changeup combination, TCU lefthanded starting pitcher Brandon Finnegan was consistently low-to-mid 90s with his wipeout slider, while the highlight of the night was the overshadowed bout between All-American relievers Riley Ferrell and Nick Howard.

Ferrell and Howard combined to throw eight innings of work, with Ferrell sitting 95-98 with an upper-80s slider, and Howard showcasing big-time stuff with a 94-97 fastball, along with a devastating 82-84 mph slider. Howard struck out six batters and allowed just a hit in four innings, while Ferrell struck out four and allowed just a hit in four innings.

Waddell, Finnegan, Howard and Ferrell should've been the overriding story line, but no, it was TD Ameritrade Park.

Again.

 

GAME AT A GLANCE

Player of the game: Nick Howard, rhp, Virginia

Turning point: The Cavaliers and Horned Frogs were tied 2-2 after five innings, and the two teams would go 10 more innings before someone -- Virginia -- could punch through. Virginia began the 15th inning with a double from nine-hole hitter and catcher Nate Irving, who crushed a ball into left-center field and actually found a way to get the ball over the head out of the outfielders. Virginia leadoff hitter Branden Cogswell then put down a sacrifice bunt to move the runner to second, and Irving was then replaced on the bases by Thomas Woodruff. Then, talented young shortstop Daniel Pinero worked a 2-2 count and hit a sacrifice fly to center field to bring in the winning run.

Did you know: The contest between the Cavaliers and Horned Frogs went 15 innings and tied the longest game in TD Ameritrade Park history. Additionally, the 4 hours, 54 minute contest was the longest, time-wise, in TD Ameritrade Park history. Also worth noting, TCU first baseman Kevin Cron set an NCAA record for putouts with 23, the previous record being 21.



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