There’s nothing like championship baseball in the city of Omaha.
In June, the College World Series swallows the city in its entirety, turning Nebraska’s largest metro into a 2 1⁄2 week long party, allowing the citizens, tourists, and college baseball fans to burn the candle at both ends with a bevy of beverages, an obnoxious persistence of the reggae air horn, tailgates that pop up at 6am and shut down just after the 2am bar close, but most importantly, the marathon of The Greatest Show On Dirt™.
Before the drunken stupors and baseball hangovers, TD Ameritrade Park becomes host to a championship unlike any other. The 9th best college baseball conference will play their conference tournament in the Mecca of all the sport; a stadium designed specifically for champions.
Before the dogpile putting a final stamp on the 2017 season, the BIG EAST — our BIG EAST — will play their conference tournament on the dirt, on the turf, the diamond that college baseball teams can only dream about setting foot on.
Before the solemn trumpet plays out the CWS, four schools - Creighton University, St. John’s University, Seton Hall University, and Xavier University - will utilize their differing styles of ball to win the opportunity to play in the grandest post season the sport has ever known.
Before we can let our hair down and bask in the bliss of two solid weeks of the world’s greatest game, we must spit shine our sneakers and fix ourselves a double espresso, for the chaos and polished imperfection of BIG EAST baseball is a phenomenon you cannot take your eyes off of.
Villanova Hands Creighton The Regular Season Conference Title
St. John’s had an opportunity to walk off the field as a regular season champion on Saturday. All they had to do was beat Villanova, a team they’d beaten to a pulp the two days prior (15-1 Thursday, 6-0 Friday).
Instead, Villanova’s bats awoke at some point between Friday night and Saturday morning, as they put up a ‘4’ spot in the top of the second to take a 4-3 lead. St. John’s answered back with three of their own in the 3rd to jump out two runs at 6-4.
Typically this is the point where Villanova shuffles their feet and remains unperturbed for the remainder of the day, but in the 7th they shocked the BIG EAST baseball world by utilizing shaky pitching from the Johnnies to load the bases with one out.
A groundout and a single later, the Wildcats were in prime position to play spoiler, collecting 3 RBIs and jumping out to a 7-6 lead.
In a twist of fate, Ryan Pfutzenreuter tossed 3.1 innings in near perfect relief, burying his curveball in the dirt to bait the free swinging Johnnies into 4 strikeouts. He walked three, didn’t allow a hit, and tossed 57 pitches to 13 batters. If the freshman was looking for a way to end the season on a high note, he certainly delivered in what turned out to be a heroic outing against the #20 Johnnies.
After a couple insurance runs in the 8th, Pfutzenreuter handed the ball off to Tyler Arella after one out in the 9th, and Arella induced back-to-back groundouts.
Final: Villanova 9 St. John’s 6
Because the BIG EAST seeds by winning percentage, Creighton - who was rained out in Indy against Butler - won the regular season title thanks to Villanova. They were in the airport on their way home when it happened. Here’s a photo documenting the celebration:
Happy Bluejays reacting in the airport to the news that we are the BIG EAST Champions! pic.twitter.com/4x1DN3Ulds— Creighton Baseball (@CU_Baseball) May 20, 2017
A Pair Of No-No’s, One The Butler Way, One At Sea
No-hitters are a relative rarity in the game of baseball. Some are gems by one fella on the mound just painting the black like a depressed artist in SoHo, some are a combination of an inept and struggling offense, some are just anomalies.
On May 10th, 2017, Butler managed to scrape together a combined no-hitter over intrastate rival Purdue in front of 833 people.
The final score?
The Butler Way.
Midweek starter Sam Hubbe got the white pearl to begin the game. He strolled out to the mound in West Lafayette with a 3-0 lead, thanks to a three-run dong hanging by Mike Hartnagel in the top of the 1st. This gave Hubbe all the confidence he needed to go out there and throw a gem.
In the 2nd inning, Hubbe walked the DH Mike Madej, who eventually took 2nd on a fielder’s choice. Madej managed to take third on a wild pitch.
He then scored on another wild pitch.
3-1 Dawgs, no-hitter still in tact.
Hubbe was eventually pulled in the 4th inning after Gehrig Parker hung dong in the top of the third to put the ‘Dawgs up 4-1. His final line included a hit by pitch, two walks, two strikeouts, and two wild pitches, getting dinged for the single earned run. Quentin Miller took over the no-hitter in progress.
Miller worked two perfect innings, with one strikeout and no walks, then handed the baton to Luke Johnson, who acquired 5 outs - all of them put into play by fly out or ground out.
Johnson was lifted in the 7th with two outs for Jack Pilcher. Pilcher inherited a runner on base after Zach Jarosz committed a fielding error, so in response to the added pressure of keeping this no-no going, he beaned a guy to get two runners on. Remember kids - if you have a no-hitter going and feel like you’re going to leave a hanging breaking ball over the plate it’s always better to hit the guy than to become the goat.
Pilcher struck the next guy out.
6 outs to a legendary combined no-no.
In the bottom of the eighth, Butler trotted Pilcher back out to the mound. I can only assume that Pilcher knew he was going to give up a hit, so he beaned the batter on the first pitch he threw. He was immediately pulled for Ottavio Dattolo. This is where things get fun.
Dattolo hit the next two batters to load the bases. He regained composure and struck out the next batter on three pitches. The next batter lifted a ball into left, scoring a run, making this game 4-2. No-hitter still in tact.
Dattolo got the next batter to ground out to the left side, leaving two runners on, and sending the Bulldogs into the ninth inning.
Dattolo was sent back out for the final three outs. He got a strike out and two fly outs.
Game. Set. Match.
A no-hitter The Butler Way.
The other no-hitter was thrown by Zach Prendergast against Villanova. This was a true-to-form no bullshit near perfect no-no, that included 10 strike outs, no walks, 8 fly outs, and 9 ground outs. Only one baserunner managed to reach the pillows for the Wildcats because of a fielding error by Joe Poduslenko.
For a pitching staff that’s now featured a perfect game and a no-hitter in consecutive seasons (McCarthy in 2016, Prendergast in 2017) you’d have to think that pitching coach Phil Cundari is due a pay raise or a plaque or some sort of getaway island vacation for all he’s done. At least give the man a nice leather chair with his last name stitched on the back of it.
BIG EAST vs The Bayou
Over the past two weekends Creighton and Seton Hall faced off against two of the best teams from Louisiana in Southeastern Louisiana and McNeese State. Both teams are in the top 35 in RPI, serving as a resume booster for both teams.
Creighton got mollywhopped by the cowboys from McNeese State a week ago, getting swept under the rug while their offense continued to sputter out of control. In the 3 game series McNeese hung 4 dongs against them, plowing through Jeff Albrecht and Keith Rogalla with relative ease, then eating the bullpen alive.
McNeese has a bunch of Bayou bashers, however, with 6 players hitting .300+ with two of their members hitting above .350. This sort of offensive explosion in Omaha is a relative rarity so to see it so late in the season most likely hurt the Bluejays’ confidence more than it helped.
Meanwhile, Seton Hall traveled down the Mississippi to play Southeastern Louisiana on their bye weekend. The #27 Lions dismantled the Pirates in March during the ‘Cox Diamond Invitational Tournament’ by a score of 13-1.
They’d won 11 of their last 13 coming into the first game of the three game set against the Pirates. They’re one of the hottest teams in baseball.
So naturally, Seton Hall absolutely obliterated them in the first game by a score of 16-3. Ryan Ramiz, Joe Poduslenko, and Matt Toke each collected three RBIs. Mikael-Ali MOGUES even got into the mix, hitting a RBI double in a pinch hit appearance. Mike Alescio collected 4 RBIs on the night in a career-defining game.
Chris Morris threw 5 strong innings, with 4 strikeouts, 3 hits, while allowing 3 earned runs. The bullpen did the rest of the work, holding SE LA to one hit over the next four innings.
Friday’s game was a bit different as SE LA finally awoke and put up 3 runs in two innings against Wildcat killer Zach Prendergast. They’d go on to put up 7 more runs against the Pirates, but it wasn’t without a fight. Once SE LA’s dynamite starter Corey Gaconi was chased in the 7th, Seton Hall poured on 7 runs on Lion reliever Mac Sceroler. It wasn’t enough to get them a ‘W’ but it was a showing of relentless effort that will come in handy during the BIG EAST Tournament.
Xavier’s Trouble After Omaha
Since the final two games of their series against Creighton were cancelled, Xavier has been in a world of hurt.
They got swept in a weekend series against Indiana. They lost an intracity game to rival Cincinnati. They got swept by St. John’s - the Sunday game featuring a 15-3 loss.
This had to have caused a bit of tumult with Scott Googins’ ballclub. They’re the type of team to start cold and finish hot, yet it appears that a late-season swoon had them pulling at shirt collars and trying to catch their breath.
They got a shot to play a final game in their three-game set against Cincinnati this past Tuesday.
After taking a 1-0 deficit in the top of the 2nd, Joe Gellenbeck came to the top step of the dugout, held out his arms and bellowed, “THIS AGGRESSION SHALL NOT STAND!”
Xavier then reeled off 7 unanswered runs in a rout of their arch nemesis Cincinnati. Trent Astle went on to pitch 4 innings, allowing just the one run, while striking out 5. Conor Grammes and Brad Kirschner threw 3 formidable hitless innings, then handed it off to Trey Schramm and Taylor Williams to close it out.
This lit a spark under the Musketeer’s butts, as they manhandled Georgetown in a season defining sweep, outscoring the Hoyas 36-5 over the weekend. Like Seton Hall, Xavier will roll into Omaha with a scalding hot offense.
Come Home To Omaha
Looking for something to do over the Memorial Day weekend? I bet you are. You probably want to enjoy the sunshine, watch some baseball in a major league ballpark, and enjoy a few cold beverages at a reasonable price, right?
Come to Omaha. Come see your BIG EAST representative play some baseball. Just do it. Seriously. It’s a ton of fun and Omaha is a pretty inexpensive place to take a vacation. You can visit a world class zoo while you’re at it!
Go ahead. Get a rental car and drive here. Or take an airplane. I hear that’s a pretty effective way of travel. Heck, if you’re on the east coast and have the week off, you can hop on a train and make it here in three days!
All-session tickets are reasonably priced. Here’s a link to the website where you can acquire tickets. You know you want to click it and buy them. Just do it. You’re going to miss out if you don’t.