Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Things That Are & Things That May Be

Been a little while since our last SHOUT, hasn't it?
So let's get to it...

Our focus today is baseball and softball, throwing that at you right now.

On the baseball front, we have some interesting dynamics happening...

First I have to brief you on the baseball tourney format, because that's key to the stuff that follows...keep up with me on this, please: ten teams play in the regular season for the Big South, but PC is not eligible for postseason play yet in baseball as part of their transition to D1, leaving nine eligible for the tournament--but only eight teams make it into the tourney field (with me so far?)...the top four seeds skip the opening day and go directly into double-elimination bracket play, but the bottom four seeds have to play on the first day in single-elimination mode to see who joins the top group and who ends the postseason in a one-and-done...okay, who's lost?

Nobody? Great!

So let's start with the news at the top, because there are some staggering stories to share.

Coastal Carolina is the leader right now...and it's a pretty well-defined stake for king-of-the-mountain, as the Chanticleers are a whopping 20-0 in the Big South this year. Read it again if you like: undefeated in Conference play--in BASEBALL, where even the best team slips up on occasion. But wait, there's more: CCU has actually won 30 Conference games in a row, going back into last season! The Chants peaked with a week at #1 in the NCAA RPI for baseball, now sitting just slightly back, at 6th in the nation. Coastal is ranked in the top 11 in all major polls (6/4/5/4/11, with Rivals.com the only holdout from having CCU as top six across the board).

Very well, you say, Coastal=good, got it...but not so fast, my friends--don't look past Liberty. The Flames are second in the Big South at 18-3, and LU has 15 consecutive Big South victories tucked away. Liberty has inched its way up the RPI to #42 and is receiving votes in multiple polls right now.

Okay, so not quite as mind-blowing as the Coastal data, right? Well buckle up for this, sports fans: they play each other for a three-game series this weekend, the penultimate week of the college baseball season. As a wise man once said, "something's gotta give."

Sidebar on CCU/LU: both teams figure to make the NCAA field, barring odd circumstances down the stretch. ESPN's current "Baseball Bracketology" forecast (are these things getting out of hand?) has Coastal Carolina hosting a Regional, with College of Charleston, North Carolina, and Michigan penciled in to fill out the foursome...and Liberty going to Charlottesville for a Regional hosted by Virginia, with Vandy and JMU there to complete that quartet. That's all speculation, so file that under the "Things That May Be" in our title today...but that kind of guesswork has not slowed down the Coastal Carolina ticket office, offering sign-ups for ticket packages to postseason play not yet awarded. Certainly confident and likely prudent, but in superstition-heavy baseball, is no one concerned about the major hex cast by such a move? The jinx factor can almost be tangible sometimes in baseball, but it's likely the Chants can back up the bravado.

By the way, the focus of that ESPN piece was the likely lineup from one-bid leagues...nice to see that the Big South was NOT featured for a change.

Now to the opposite end, the polar extreme, the bottom of the standings...PC brings up the rear at 4-17, but they're out of the tournament discussion anyway. Remember that remark about the top eight teams? Well, there's a duel for eighth place between Charleston Southern at 6-14 (with five Big South losses in a row) and UNC Asheville at 5-16 (with nine straight Conference losses). And, you guessed it, they also face off in a three-game set this weekend!

Yes, in a happy accident of scheduling, we could very well determine the positioning at the top and bottom of the seeding in concurrent series with just a week left in the season. Sure, there will be a little jockeying thereafter, but a lot will depend on what happens for those teams in those series.

Meanwhile, there's drama in the middle as well, given the value of being in the top four. Now, Coastal and Liberty already have two of those spots locked down, but the others are in play. Radford (13-8) has a leg up, but it's not a done deal. VMI (11-10) holds fourth now, but only by a game on High Point (10-11)--and don't overlook Winthrop just behind at 9-12. The Eagles of course covet a spot in the top four to be sure they avoid a potentially quick exit from an event they're hosting in Rock Hill. The only team I didn't mention up to now is Gardner-Webb, largely because the Running Bulldogs (at 8-13) float in a space neither likely to make the top four nor get bounced out of the top eight. Expect to see them playing in the single-elimination round on Tuesday the 25th.

Moving right along now to softball...we KNOW those seeds, because the Softball Championship is THIS WEEK--no waiting here. All seven Big South teams (including PC for softball) participate in the tourney, with the seeding in this order: Radford, Liberty, Winthrop, GWU, CSU, Coastal, and PC. There will be five games Thursday, five more Friday, and the event will conclude Saturday. It's double-elimination throughout, and although nobody gets knocked out on the opening day, they start falling right away on day two with lower bracket games. Tell you what--in a set-up like this, you don't want to lose your first game. It sounds obvious, but knowing that your second loss is the one that kills you may take some of the sting out of the first--don't be fooled. Losing your opener in this tourney puts you on a rough road if there's going to be a title in your future: a relentless series of elimination games in a narrow time span--good luck...have a look at the bracket here.

If you plan on checking out the coverage from Coastal Carolina on the Big South Network for the Softball Championship, you'll probably hear my voice. I'm the guy doing play-by-play for the first ten games of the softball frenzy in Conway--so check it out!

Okay, enough rambling, I think...yes? Yes...you've gotten a taste for the chases and races here at the waning moments of the baseball and softball seasons--hopefully that gives you a little context to enjoy the games ahead. Follow closely on BigSouthSports.com, Twitter.com/BigSouthSports, Facebook.com/BigSouthSports, and this space as well...even though I'll be talking away, I'll do my best to update all of the above for you, so stay tuned...SHOUT--out.

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