Take it straight from one of ESPN’s top college baseball analysts – this weekend’s NCAA Baseball Regional in Stillwater, which includes Big Ten Conference regular-season and tournament runner-up Nebraska, could be the best regional among the 16 scattered across the country. “To me, this is one of the most intriguing regionals,” former Stanford All-America pitcher Kyle Peterson said Monday. The No. 2 regional seed Huskers (40-19) joined two NCAA blueblood baseball programs – No. 3 seed Cal State-Fullerton (32-22) and No. 1 seed host Oklahoma State (45-16) in the Stillwater, Okla., Regional. No. 4 seed Binghamton (25-25), the American East Conference Tournament champion, rounds out the four-team field.
Peterson, the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year on two Stanford teams that played in the College World Series in the late 1990s, told a national television audience Monday that Cal State-Fullerton “was probably not in the tournament two weeks ago”. Now, he said, no one probably wants to play Cal-State Fullerton, but the traditional power Titans will be Nebraska’s first-round foe Friday at noon at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium in Stillwater. (OSU and Binghamton play at 6 p.m. Friday). The four-time national champion Cal State-Fullerton program won 10 of its last 12 games, including a 17-3 win over USC last week, to solidify its 22nd consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
Nebraska Fans Directed to OSU Website
The power-packed Stillwater Regional will match its winner against the Corvallis, Ore., regional winner in a Super Regional that will determine a 2014 College World Series bid. That makes one of the key questions of the week a simple one – will Nebraska baseball fans, who set an NCAA attendance record last week in Omaha’s Big Ten Tournament, take vacation time and flock to Stillwater? It’s a six-plus-hour drive from Lincoln to Stillwater where Big Red fans can support their favorite team, which split an early season two-game series against Oregon State, the host of the Corvallis regional and No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
I’m guessing there will be solid carryover interest from Husker fans eager to show their support that reached a peak at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park. Fans can buy tickets online here, using Oklahoma State’s website. All-session reserved-seat tickets are $60 apiece. Single-session tickets, if available, will go on sale 90 minutes before each session at OSU’s 4,000-seat stadium. Tickets are expected to be available over the phone (1-877-255-4678), beginning Tuesday morning.
First Foe One of Baseball’s Hottest Teams
Darin Erstad, Nebraska’s third-year head coach, acknowledged that the Huskers’ first-round opponent “was on the outside looking in” until “they won eight in a row” and became “one of the hottest teams going into the tournament.” Cal State-Fullerton never has experienced a losing season in 36 years of Division I baseball. The Titans won all four national titles – in 1979, ’84, ’95 and 2004 – in two different coaching stints under legendary Augie Garrido. Cal State-Fullerton has a 144-76 all-time record in the NCAA Tournament.
Oklahoma State also has NCAA stature in baseball. The Cowboys won the 1959 College World Series Championship and have appeared in the championship game six times. OSU has made 19 trips to the College World Series, which ranks fifth all-time. The 2014 Big 12 regular-season champion Cowboys won 16 of their last 18 games. “This is the ultimate in bonus baseball,” Erstad said. “What it boils down to is who gets hot with the bats. Everybody can pitch and everybody can play defense. All you have to do is get your foot in the door and anything can happen.”
Peterson Likes Nebraska’s Story and Savvy
Indeed. Peterson, above, is an Omaha native whose family has been attending CWS games since he was a baby. Monday, he went out on a limb early in ESPN’s selection show. “I like Nebraska,” he said, pointing out that the Huskers have a .293 team batting average to match their high RPI. “I think it’s a great story. What I like about it is Darin has his own guys in there now. I think that’s important. They play their own style of baseball that you would expect Darin Erstad teams to play. They’re hard-nosed, they’re aggressive, and they’re tough. Indiana got ‘em in the Big Ten Championship game, but this is still a Nebraska club that’s starting to look like the teams that went to Omaha not too long ago.”
The Huskers qualified for the College World Series in 2001, 2002 and 2005, and it's safe to say that Nebraska fans who wind up in Stillwater this weekend still believe in yesterday, but even moreso in a bright tomorrow. ESPN's selection show featured video of brick layers building a foundation, a fitting metaphor for Husker fans who continue to embrace what Erstad, the former Husker football kicker and baseball All-American, is putting together, brick by brick, year by year.
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