By Parrish Alford
TUPELO – So it was Tuesday afternoon in the office, and I was minding my own business in the northeast quadrant of the cube farm when Boss walked by.
“In light of Mississippi State’s series, I wonder if you might write something about the super regional format, how it relates to tournament play overall, what it means to get past that four-team regional and basically to whittle things down to one opponent, one series, before Omaha.”
It’s nice to be recognized as the authority on something.
As the Ole Miss beat writer, I know a thing or two about super regionals. Been there, covered that.
Having just returned from the SEC meetings in Destin I said what any conscientious employee would say:
“My sunburn hurts.”
Actually, I was eager to help.
The NCAA baseball tournament format, after it’s whittled down to 16 teams, is unlike any of the other championship events.
It changes abruptly in the middle of the process.
You go from your conference tournament, to begin the NCAAs in a true tournament format – albeit a small one with a four-team regional – then a weekend series appears smack in the middle of the playoffs.
It puts a premium on pitching. You don’t have to worry about whether your ace can go twice in the tournament. He just better be at his best when he does go.
It is a return to the familiar, a three-game series format that most conferences play, thrust into the middle of a tournament setting. It’s the format that most teams play for 10 weeks.
It’s just different
The intensity is different, because you can smell the Omaha steaks.
No team will admit that getting to Omaha is the ultimate prize, but clearly for some programs there’s euphoria in the achievement.
In the super regional, you’re almost there.
What lets you see through the window to Omaha are the scenarios the mind can play to get a team over the hump, particularly the team that wins the first game.
When you boil it down to a single game – a single win from breaking through – there are so many things to impact the final score.
Yes it’s about pitching, defense and hitting, but you can be very good in all phases and lose. A single game becomes about poise and mistakes, who has the former and not the latter.
It’s about taking the extra base, about the mid-level fly ball that drops for a hit because an outfielder was cautious and not aggressive.
These are the things that don’t appear in box scores.
Over the course of 53 games talent plays out, but single games are different.
Players have to make plays, but it’s not enough to say the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win. Sometimes the deflection off the glove at third base that’s ruled a hit makes all the difference in the world.
Sometimes at the conclusion of that single game, when you’ve done all you could and still lost, you sit back and say, “That’s baseball.”
The super regional forces you to work harder, to increase your awareness. Your cross T’s and dot I’s more than in the regular three-game conference series.
You do all of those things, but that’s not enough.
You play with an edge, you play with confidence.
And you hope at the game’s critical moment that your best player is better than his best player and that the deflection lands where you need it.
Parrish Alford covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.