CONFERENCE USA BASEBALL: Tournament Bracket
If FAU coach John McCormack had his way, the Owls wouldn’t be playing in the Conference USA baseball tournament this week.
He’d rather play a one more Conference USA series than face the possibility of playing five games in five days with an NCAA bid on the line.
Like many NCAA coaches the idea of allowing five days in Biloxi, Miss., determine Conference USA’s (or any conference for that matter) automatic bid to the NCAA tournament is misguided.
“I think it’s awful,” McCormack said. “The main reason I don’t like conference tournaments is because it’s not normal baseball. “
To appreciate McCormack’s disdain, look no further than FAU’s opening game against Rice on Wednesday, where first pitch is scheduled for 9 a.m. local time.
To keep their routine – and baseball is a sport of routines – the Owls will have to wake up before 6 a.m. to take batting practice at 7 a.m.
“We put the greatest emphasis on the most abnormal circumstance in our sport,” McCormack said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
The emphasis, of course, is the automatic bid.
McCormack has been burned by that policy before. In 2012 the McCormack-led Owls won the Sun Belt regular-season title with a record of 31-20 only to be snubbed by the NCAA after failing to win the conference tournament title.
“You’re like, Oh my God, all that work that we did from Sept 5 and every weekend we got on buses and planes and we played great and we’re getting left out because we got an unlucky draw and we had to play at 9 in the morning and the other team got to sleep in; or the weather came in and destroyed our pitcher and he’s pitching a gem and we had to sit down for two hours and we can’t use him again; or you’re playing the fourth game of the day and the field isn’t in as good shape and the ball bounces over your shortstop’s head – so all that work that you put in is out the window because of this?” McCormack said.
Ironically, this year’s C-USA tournament may provide the only means for the Owls’ to reach the NCAA Tournament.
Ranked earlier in the season by some national polls, FAU lost six of its final 10 games heading to the tournament.
The Owls’ RPI currently sits at 56. In order to get that RPI below 40 – the number frequently considered a benchmark for NCAA inclusion – FAU would likely have to defeat top seed Southern Miss. Because of the way the bracket is structured, if FAU does beat Southern Miss the Owls will have done so in the tournament’s final game – thereby claiming the automatic bid anyway.
It should be noted that if McCormack had his way and FAU played another conference series, the Owls would be face Louisiana Tech, RPI 38, with a reasonable chance to significantly improve their RPI – especially if the series were played in Louisiana.
While the Owls didn’t finish the season well, this team may be better suited than past teams to make a long tournament run. The No. 3-seeded Owls took two games from No. 2 seed Old Dominion and led Southern Miss in the ninth inning twice before blowing two saves.
FAU lacks a consistently dominant starter, but both Alex House and Jake Miednik have dominated at times this season. House threw two complete games and needed only 50 pitches to record a five-inning save on Friday, while Miednik is coming off eight shutout innings against ODU.
McCormack will send Kyle Marman to the mound against Rice on Wednesday. Marman made his first career start on Friday, tossing two scoreless innings ODU in the game House closed.
And the remainder of the staff has shown, throughout conference play, that they are generally deeper than other teams in the conference.
Plus, the Owls can swing it. FAU’s 378 runs scored were the fourth most among C-USA teams. The 64 homers hit by Owls were the second most among conference teams, with David Miranda’s 12 tying for fourth most.
Shortstop Tyler Frank, owner of a .333 average with 10 homers and a team-high 51 runs scored, was the lone Owl selected First Team All-Conference USA, which was announced on Tuesday. Injured at the beginning of the season, Jared Shouppe earned Second Team honors at DH, and Cameron Ragsdale was named Second Team Closer.
Left fielder Eric Rivera picked up All-Freshman honors.
FAU took two-of-three from Rice earlier this season and McCormack still holds out hope that a deep run in the C-USA tournament will demonstrate to the NCAA selection committee that the Owls belong. But he’s also being realistic.
“Just from the surface, just because of the RPI and the committee seems to rely on that so heavily at times, I would think it would behoove us say, Hey, we’ve got to go out there and win that thing,” McCormack said.