By John Davis
OMAHA, Neb. – A large ballpark, where teams have struggled to score runs, sounded good to Sam Smith when he found out he was going to be starting tonight’s matchup against TCU in the College World Series.
Smith (5-4, 3.45 ERA) has started the most important games of the postseason for the Rebels (47-20) who stayed alive at the CWS by defeating Texas Tech 2-1 on Tuesday.
Smith didn’t earn a win in his last two starts, against Washington and Louisiana-Lafayette, but coach Mike Bianco has confidence that Smith will do his part, and be as consistent has he’s been most of the year.
“He’s been our guy. And to have a guy in Game 3 that you have so much confidence in where you’re not reaching in the dark so to speak, is nice,” Bianco said.
“He is always a guy that gives us an opportunity to win. It seems like he always goes out there and does a good job.”
Smith’s longest start the last three times he’s been on the mound has been 42⁄3 innings. Bianco said there was a good reason for that.
“Sometimes he comes out in the middle innings, but that’s because in the game he pitches, it’s so important,” Bianco said. “We talk about the importance of all the games, but when he pitches on Sunday, that’s usually to win the series and depending on how much we got in the bullpen, sometimes that’s we make the move in the fourth or the fifth or sixth inning. He’s been great for us in that role.”
Bianco and TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle have been friends for a long time. The two first met when Bianco was at LSU and Schlossnagle was an assistant at Tulane in the early 1990s. Schlossnagle also selected Bianco to help coach Team USA last summer, which included a trip to Japan.
“His wife and my wife, ironically, are both named Camie,” Bianco said. “Of course the summer was tremendous, being together for 35 straight days. Both my wife and his wife and my kids all went to Japan and I think that fostered the relationship even more.”
The last time the two met in the postseason, Schlossnagle got the better of Bianco, with TCU going 2-1 against the Rebels in the College Station (Texas) Regional.
For those that don’t know it, pitcher Aaron Greenwood – who scored Tuesday’s winning run as a pinch runner – is one of the best athletes on the team. According to teammate Sikes Orvis, Greenwood can dunk a basketball.
“I couldn’t think of a better guy to go out there and run,” Orvis said.
“We were flying through guys, our last position players, on the bench. I guess lightning struck twice because the last time we put a pitcher out there to run, it was Bobby Wahl and we ended up beating Florida a couple of years ago. I think we should go to it more.”