Of the nuances of another game we love, Larry Bird once observed — and I paraphrase — a free throw made or missed in the 1st quarter is just as important as one in the final seconds.
This thinking applies in college baseball, both micro in a specific game being contested, but also macro if somewhat differently over the course of the long season.
In ultra-steamy College Station, Texas, U of L’s Cardinals dropped two one-run Super Regional affairs, grinders in balance until the final AB. To a similarly talented ball club, blessed to be sleeping in their own beds.
Playing in familiar confines, before a rabid Aggie crowd with that institutional 12th Man attitude, as loud and quirky and inclined to try to get under foe’s skin as any in the land.
Given how the collegiate post-season is structured, what happens in March and April and May informs the scenario come tournament time.
I can’t help but wonder what if . . .
. . . catalyst Christian Knapczyk hadn’t had to sit for a few weeks to heal, or . . .
. . . Riley Phillips hadn’t missed some pitching opportunities, which would further honed his skills?
Might the Cards have captured a few more of those late season Ls?
Would they have been more competitive in the ACC tourney, held on against Pitt, not get smashed by Tech?
Then, when the Selection Committee met, might Louisville have earned a coveted top eight seed, on the cusp of which they were perched a few weeks before?
Then continuing this daydream of an extrapolation, they would have been playing at home in The Jim this weekend, instead of Deep in the Heart of, and the loyalists in the stands could have given them the added zest to prevail.
Ah, yes, were ifs and buts candy and nuts . . .
* * * * *
In my mind, neither encounter featured a turning point/ but for moment.
The Aggies were just a smidge more solid on their home diamond.
The Cards were walked off in Friday’s opener, a game, one guy’s opinion, where two stats mattered most.
Too many Cardinal hurlers took the mound, and threw too many pitches. 225. That’s a lot. Especially when not enough of them were strikes. A&M’s patience at the plate paid off.
U of L only left 9. The victors left 17. In four innings, including the one where they won it. The fifth best team in the land is too good to not take advantage eventually. The game had a last at bat wins feel to it. So it came to pass.
As for Saturday, it’s too easy and frankly not fair to point to a batter missing a hit and run sign, or leaving the bases full in a key situation. The winners themselves botched a couple of bunt opportunities, as both teams realized it was a small ball affair.
A&M just had one more run in them each day.
It happens. It’s baseball.
— c d kaplan