Kent State and Stony Brook celebrate CWS berths
The Big Ten's consistent rabble about college baseball's current format—a rabbling I also rabble rabble—looks a little less rabbly today now that not one but two Northern teams from who-dat conferences have made the College World Series: Kent State and Stony Brook. Kent State got a walk-off bloop single in game three to down Oregon; Stony Brook took out LSU.
Kent State won a regional featuring all-destroying Big Ten dual champ Purdue, taking out SEC #2 seed Kentucky twice along the way. Five of their six games have been one-run affairs of which they've won four. Baseball is very random—so random that it's remarkable a Big Ten team hasn't made it to the CWS on the strength of crazy bounces in the past 28 years.
Theory: the NCAA's introduction of "dead bats" in the past couple years has reduced scoring and made it more difficult for better teams to overwhelm their opponents by dumping home run after home run into the bleachers. Last year was the first year of the new bat regulations:
Auburn, which led the nation last season with 130 home runs, had hit just 32 as of May 8. Just up the road, Georgia Tech and its 122 home runs the year before have taken a nosedive down to 31.
On the whole, home runs have been cut nearly in half. Down 43.7 percent overall, the bandboxes that were making more noise than the House of Blues have fallen eerily silent. [ED: This article takes an odd, overwritten stance against bats that double as rocket launchers.]
The results are fewer games with ludicrous football scores and a lot more randomness in the national tournament. Maybe. Small sample size and all, but when bad pitches are 43.7 more likely to die in an outfielder's glove you get away with a lot more. College baseball is a lot less ruthless now.
If Michigan could get good at baseball again, maybe the national tournament would be less of an insurmountable hill to climb. About that…
You're looking at Michigan's vacant baseball job and these two teams in the CWS and wondering about poaching one of these dudes, KSU's Scott Stricklin (right) looks like a strong, strong candidate.
In eight years at Kent State he's won the MAC four times, won the MAC tourney five times, turned the Golden Flashes into the #3 overall seed last year, has reached two super-regionals and made the CWS this year. At 40 he'd be poised for a long run at Michigan. He came to KSU after a stint at an assistant at Georgia Tech, where he was the recruiting coordinator for a class ranked #1 by the relevant services. He's spent most of the last decade at a school in the same footprint as Michigan and must know the local landscape like the back of his hand. He seems to have all the bases covered. [HIKM]
Potential snags include Stricklin's status as a Kent State alum and possibly having to ward off interest from southern schools. It may be harder to get him than you might expect. Even so this seems like a spot in which using some of Michigan's giant pot of incrementally extracted money would actually pay off. Baseball coaches at MAC schools are not making enough money to turn up their noses at tripling their salary.
As for Stony Brook's coach, Matt Senk has been at Stony Brook for 22(!) years, the first decade of which was spent in D-III. Since moving to America East in 2002 they've had a losing record once, and since 2006 they've finished third or better every year with three NCAA bids. In 2011 they were 42-12 and 22-2 in conference but lost in the tournament and didn't get a bid; this year they are 54-13 (21-3) and scraped their way to the CWS as a four seed.
I'd rather have Stricklin since it's harder to tell if Stony Brook is just a big fish in America East that got fortunate; Stricklin had done better in conference and turned a MAC team into a national seed. While the Seawolves have been dominant in their conference that conference is weak enough to send a 42-12 team to the golf course. Senk's also a bit older. Forty-four isn't ancient, but it is another vote in favor of Stricklin… if Michigan can get him.
[SIDE NOTE: how great are Kent's old-timey uniforms?
Hello. I'm Ty Cobb, minus the racism.]