As a player, Oklahoma State pitching coach Rob Walton played in four College World Series in a career that saw him go 20-3 with a 3.74 ERA.
As a pitching coach, his Cowboys entered the College World Series with an ERA of 1 in picking up five wins in South Carolina – three at the Clemson Regional and two at the Columbia Super Regional. His ace, sophomore Thomas Hatch, tossed the first shutout for the Cowboys in Omaha since… well, he did it in 1986, according to Jeremy Mills of ESPN.
As a dad, his son Donnie Walton is playing in his first College World Series. OSU’s senior shortstop was in the middle of the Cowboys’ three straight singles that produced a 1-0 win against UCSB.
Both teams in Saturday’s first game flashed plenty of leather.
For the Cowboys, third baseman Garrett Benge made two tough plays look easy. The first was on an absolute laser from Clay Fisher in the third. Benge reacted to make the play and fired to first for a double play. In the ninth, he made a running, lunging play on a chopper to get the second out of the inning. Second baseman J.R. Davis made a slick barehanded play on a slow chopper to get Devon Gradford in the top of the sixth.
Not to be outdone, Fisher made several nice plays, bounding and bouncing at short for the Gauchos all day long. On a steal attempt, he lunged to his left to corral the throw and make a tag on Davis. In the fourth, his leaping grab of Conor Costello’s line drive and subsequent tag of second for a double play kept UCSB in the game. Third baseman Ryan Clark made a nice diving stab to his left in the eighth to rob Collin Theroux of a hit.
In the second game, Hurricanes right fielder Willie Abreu made a beautiful diving catch on Cesar Salazar’s bid for a hit to end the fourth inning.
One of the biggest defensive plays wasn’t so much a great play as great fortune. The Wildcats had just expanded their lead from 3-1 to 5-1 in the top of the fifth. Zack Collins had a one-out double for Miami, and Brandon Lopez, who had doubled and scored, followed by ripping a line drive up the middle. Second baseman Cody Ramer, shifted up the middle more for positioning than holding Collins, a catcher tight at second, hung behind the bag and shifted only slightly back toward his normal positioning. He was able to haul in Lopez’s liner and tagged second to double-up Collins.
In the postgame press conference, Miami coach Jim Morris and his players talked about missed offensive opportunities.
The Hurricanes entered with a .300 average and average about 7.4 strikeouts a game. They out-hit the Wildcats 9-7 and had several scoring opportunities. But 14 strikeouts, including eight looking, contributed to 10 runners left on base.
“We pride ourselves on big two-out hits,” right fielder Willie Abreu said. “Usually we get them.”
Of note, it marked only the second time this year that the Hurricanes were limited to one run or less – they were shut out by Florida on Feb. 26, and Georgia Tech held them to a run on May 7.
The 14 strikeouts, 11 coming from Arizona starter Nathan Bannister, were two more than Miami’s opening-game loss to Florida last year.
Tailgating continues to pick up at TD Ameritrade Park.
One group that has resonated is the Left Field Lounge from Mississippi State. Traci and Paul Maloney have been coming to the College World Series since 2007 and are stationed this week in Lot D right across the street from the stadium. Three grills were going as local media, and in this case, hungry media, stopped by to check out the Bulldogs (the venison was pretty amazing). Put on a nametag, stop by and say hello. It seems the more the merrier for this group of MSU faithful.