by Jim Buzzerd
I’ve come around on college baseball. At least as far as the post season goes. Over the years I dismissed baseball at the collegiate level, because I felt the product was depleted because the most talented high school players went to the minor leagues, not college. That won’t likely change, the best players coming out of high school will still turn pro, but more and more upper echelon players are going to college and the product has improved. Improved enough that the College World Series has approached must see TV status.
Perhaps not for everyone, but many like me have joined the growing group of college baseball fans. For me, the sport has not, nor likely ever will capture my attention for regular season games like football and basketball does, but the post season is pretty cool, especially the CWS.
The darling of this post season became North Carolina State. The Wolfpack finished the regular season with a mediocre record of 28-22, but they had enough quality wins to make the 64-team field. In the regional, NC State took out Alabama and host Louisiana Tech twice to earn the right to face Arkansas, the overall one seed, in the Super Regional.
Many had the Razorbacks penciled in for a National Championship and after they beat the Wolfpack 21-2 in the first game of the best of three, who could disagree? NC State, I guess. They came back with 6-5 and 3-2 wins to dispatch Arkansas and advance to the world series. In Omaha, State took out six seed Stanford in the opener then beat four seed Vanderbilt 1-0 on Monday to put the Pack in the enviable position of not playing until Friday as they await the winner of the bracket one loser’s bracket.
Vanderbilt battled back to meet the Pack again, but they would need to beat them twice to advance to the best out of three finals. When Friday came around the Wolfpack team had COVID19 problems, and after much consternation, it was determined NC State could play with 13 players, nine position players and four pitchers. Severely undermanned, State made a game of it and had chances to tie or go ahead in the eighth and ninth innings, begore succumbing 3-1.
Any hope of getting players back for a Saturday final was squashed as more players tested positive. It seemed inevitable, and at approximately 2:30 a.m. Eastern time Saturday morning the NCAA announced they could not play that afternoon, thus advancing Vanderbilt.
This decision drew the ire of many across the sports world. Indeed, the circumstances stink. A team that played their way to the brink of a national championship series can’t get on the field. Vanderbilt gets an extra day of rest that it otherwise wouldn’t have, but that can be chalked up to the rub of the green.
I’ve seen many blame the NCAA in some manner. While I have no love for the that organization, I don’t see them as the villain here. They were handcuffed by preset COVID protocols, both their own and the local health department. When I heard of this my reaction was why weren’t these players vaccinated? I’ve since heard that two vaccinated players tested positive last week, but not clear if they were fully vaccinated.
In any event, we get Mississippi State vs. Vanderbilt in the finals.