Friday, May 28, 2010

A Study in Contrast and the Sun Delay

Sorry for not having time to fire off a SHOUT yesterday from the Baseball Championship, but I'm back today with more to share...

Gotta share quick stories on the two games I worked Thursday on the Big South Network, doing play-by-play for the video stream. Talk about two fascinating and different ballgames...whew...

The 3pm game was Coastal Carolina vs. Radford, and it was all about the bats.
I've seen a lot of baseball in my day, but the 2nd inning for the Coastal hitters was an amazing sight. CCU sent 14 batters to the plate, and ten men scored! Felt like we saw one of everything in that frame, and we may well have. The hitting display was impressive, and quite demonstrative of how talented and aggressive the Chanticleers can be. They built a big lead but kept the foot on the throttle, expanding it as wide as they could for as long as they could.

So 10-0 after two and RU facing over early?
No quit in the Highlanders: grand slam in the fourth, another four runs in the fifth, and surprise: it's 10-8 and a whole new ballgame for the final few innings.
In the end, it was 11-9 Coastal...the Chants stay unbeaten (both in the tourney and in overall Conference play this season), while the Highlanders hit the high road back home. Radford showed a lot of heart after getting blitzed up front in that game, but the hole was just too deep. A three-hour ballgame, it had 20 runs and 26 hits combined (making the result not unlike Radford's first game, a 10-8 loss to High Point: 18 runs and 24 hits).

So clear the decks and prep the field, it's time for the nightcap with Liberty and High Point...
Total opposite of the last game--no runs at all in the first five innings. The pitching showdown would theoretically been a quick game as well, but with so many deep counts, walks, hit batters, and the like, the game was methodical but not efficient time-wise. That said, the hits were scattered and the pitchers were largely in control of the game...which made the first run that much more ironic: bases-loaded hit-by-pitch, HPU runner comes in to score. Oh my.... So the 1-0 score lasts from the 6th to the 9th, and then the game changes again. The Panthers got the sought-after insurance run in the top of the frame, taking a 2-0 lead in a game with runs at a dear premium (as opposed to the scoring-in-bunches approach seen just before).

You wouldn't believe it...but here we are, bottom of the 9th--strikeout, 0-2 count on the second batter--single, HBP, HBP, and the BASES ARE LOADED, one out, bottom of the ninth...and PASSED BALL, run scores--two runners in scoring position with a one-run game!
Every minute that passed seemed to ramp up the drama another notch.
But the next two batters would go down--game over, 2-1 final, High Point defeats Liberty.

So two games with fascinating scripts, but different stories from start to finish.
That's baseball, folks.

One sidebar before I head back to the ballpark for today's action...
I've often said with regards to baseball (after several years working in the minor leagues), "Every time I think I've seen one of everything, I see something else." Well, Thursday night was one of those times. Early in the game, I witnessed my first "sun delay."
Yeah, you read it...not a rain delay or anything like that, but a sun delay.
You see, The Winthrop Ballpark is a wonderful facility, really it is...but it's not facing the right way, not in any traditional baseball sense, anyway. The setting sun shoots right into the face of the place--right at the hitters, the fans, the press box, etc. To counteract that problem, a huge wall was built in center field years ago as a super-sized batter's eye. Okay, but yesterday the angle was just right, and the sun hit the press box windows just right, causing a reflective glare that was fully in the face of a pitcher standing on the mound. And so we waited...for several minutes...while the sun slowly set...changing the angle in question...and moving the reflective glare away from the mound...eventually disappearing altogether. Strange but true--the story of the sun delay.

Back to the ballpark for me--enjoy the games, and have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend everyone--get some family time and start your summer, catch the races, do what you do, but above all, remember what the holiday commemorates, okay? And with that in mind, a quick note for Saturday:
In honor of Memorial Day Weekend, all Military veterans and active members of the armed forces and national guard will be admitted free to Saturday's 1:00pm Big South Baseball Championship game at The Winthrop Ballpark. Immediate/accompanying family members will be admitted to the game for $5 each.

Sound good, don't you think? Stay safe, everybody...SHOUT--out!!!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Put Me In, Coach...

Another salute to proper punctuation: "Put me in, Coach" as opposed to "Put me in Coach"...the former would get you entered in a game, the latter would get you seated on a plane.

But all baseball fans recognize the familiar refrain of John Fogerty's "Centerfield," a classic homage to the love of the game. Things change, but there's always something about the game that inspires us, "The one constant throughout the years," as James Earl Jones calls baseball in his epic speech from "Field of Dreams."

The 2010 Royal Purple Big South Conference Baseball Championship began yesterday...that's a mouthful of words for one simple principle: baseball games that matter--a lot.

The first game between VMI and UNC Asheville played as scheduled, despite getting some mid-game showers, and despite a seemingly random glitch that kept some--but not all--streaming viewers from seeing the first few innings. That tech issue had me hopping with troubleshooting, not to mention hopping mad, but all was resolved in a fair amount of time. Meanwhile, the game itself rolled on, a well-fought contest with the Keydets coming out on top 7-4. For VMI, that means at least two more games in the season...for Asheville, it's all over: opening day is single-elimination play.

For the nightcap between Winthrop and Gardner-Webb, I got to put on the headset and take the play-by-play call for the Big South Network. Although I have done literally hundreds of baseball games, the majority on radio, but many on TV as well, it had actually been a while since I had the mic for baseball. In the past few months, I've been tapped to voice softball, swimming, track, and basketball, but no baseball this season, so I was looking forward to the opportunity to dust off some of the old ballgame patter.

I gotta say, it was fun--I've always enjoyed doing that. Every game follows a different script, so you never know what you're going to get. In this case, we got a game with some drama, as Winthrop got on the board and increased its lead slowly from one, to two, to four, before GWU even scored at all. The Runnin' Bulldogs made the most of the late innings, climbing within one and getting good hitters up in the ninth with a shot at changing the outcome. But Winthrop held off the charge 4-3, and the tournament-hosting Eagles punched a ticket to stay alive in their own ballpark for at least two more days. Gardner-Webb? Like Asheville, done.

The Wednesday lineup, about to begin as I post this SHOUT (not from the ballpark for now, but from an edit session for our Hall of Fame Banquet--I'm getting to the park later today): 11am - Coastal Carolina vs. VMI; 3pm - Liberty vs. Winthrop; 7pm - Radford vs. High Point. And again, all games can be found on the Big South Network at Enjoy! SHOUT (and Mark B.) -- out.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Fans in the Big South Conference certainly have plenty of events and athletes to get excited about throughout the year, with lots of successes and remarkable competitions to enjoy...but we also know that there are times when fan fever reaches a higher level--moments when even casual fans find themselves fired up for the sports drama to come.

Over the years, the Baseball Championship has been one of those benchmark events. This year should be no different, and it's time to take the field and get going: games one and two are tonight at Winthrop Ballpark for the 2010 Royal Purple Big South Conference Baseball Championship.

The headline story has to be top-seeded Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers are justifiably ranked with the nation's elite teams. Their overall record is sensational; their Conference record is spotless: 25-0 in Big South play for 2010.

Seriously. Undefeated. Twenty-five wins.

CCU has an inside track on hosting an NCAA Regional--and a Super-Regional if they survive. Those games would all be played at BB&T Coastal Field (home of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans minor league team, and a very nice room to catch a game, right across from the Broadway at the Beach complex). The Chants have been knocking on the door to Omaha for years--does Coach Gary Gilmore have the right combination this time? I won't be the one to jinx anything (baseball is so superstitious), so I'll just say "all things are possible"...and now that the regular season is over, all eyes are on the various conference tournaments as teams are slotted into postseason roles.

But here's the thing...Coastal may be wearing the belt, but seven other participants are in the ring for this particular royal rumble. The top four seeds know they are in the main double-elimination bracket starting play on Wednesday: CCU, Liberty, Radford, and High Point. The next four teams have to play their way into that phase of the competition, with single-elimination play Tuesday afternoon and evening...

Game 1 - VMI vs. UNC Asheville, 4pm
Game 2 - Winthrop vs. Gardner-Webb, 7pm

The two winners join the top four seeds and play for the title...the two losers are one-and-done, postseason over, thanks for playing. If that seems rough, remember that Charleston Southern didn't even make this party, finishing 9th for an eight-team field (noting that PC is still not eligible for the tourney due to NCAA D-I transition rules).

Beyond the two-game opening day on Tuesday, it's three games each day for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (11am / 3pm / 7pm schedule each day), and then the final game(s) on Saturday starting at 1pm (one game for certain, two games if necessary to determine an overall winner).

The entire event will be broadcast on the Big South Network. If you subscribed to a Baseball SportPass (or a Spring Combination Package or an Annual Membership), you already have the tournament included in your account. If you're a game-by-game purchaser or new subscriber, you'll need to order the Championship (available by the day or full event) to see the competition. It promises to be one of the more elaborate productions attempted to date on the Big South Network, with up to six cameras in use, significant graphic support, frequent use of replays, and experienced announcers (including me, so I won't lay it any thicker than "experienced" for now). We give a big SHOUT-out to Everett Hutto and Scott Finn at Winthrop for the ambitious production plans and look forward to a sensational product.

Okay, enough hype...PLAY BALL! Just hours after this was written, all the words in the world won't make a difference, as the teams will start sorting it out for themselves between the lines. I hope you have a chance to follow the tournament in whichever way you wish -- either by attending the games at Winthrop, watching on the Big South Network, or following the updates I intend to offer as frequently as I can on Twitter, Facebook, and naturally in some first-person accounts right here in SHOUT! Whew...enjoy the games.

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 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?'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,,, 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.