The College Baseball Blog contributor and bleedCrimson.net editor Sam Wasson spoke with New Mexico State head coach Rocky Ward about his thoughts on the upcoming Super Regional matchups. Coach Ward participated in the College World Series as a player at Oklahoma State from 1986-1988 and as an assistant coach at New Mexico State in 2002 and as the head coach at New Mexico State in 2003.
Sam Wasson: What are your thoughts on the upcoming Super Regionals.
Rocky Ward: [On the Coral Gables Super Regional]
I thought Arizona wouldn’t make it out of their regional on the road (Ann Arbor) so I’m not going to say that again because they proved that they could. I think it should be a really interesting series. Miami has extraordinary talent. There are some major league level guys walking around [on that club]. I think it’ll be a good series but I think Miami will win.
[On the Athens Super Regional]
Based on the fact that Georgia looked dead in the water and came back from that, that’s going to be really tough momentum [to break] and NC State has significantly less experience at this level. I think they’ve [NC State] has been in a Super Regional once, Georgia has been there a few times more, Georgia’s the higher ranked opponent and I think Georgia will win.
Now I haven’t seen NC State or Georgia and I’m giving you these feelings based on the fact that Georgia came from the depths of hell to a winner when a lot of people had written them off. The only thing that concerns you from a coaching standpoint is whether or not the club had to expend too much emotional energy to get it done and how well they’ll recover the next two or three days going in. They should be fine and there’s momentum there but the momentum will mean something if they play well early in the first game. If they get beat down or get beat in the first game it’ll be tough for them to go out and do it again.
When a team gets down like Georgia did and the amount of energy and everything they had to put together to get back in it and win it, when you’re done with it you’re extraordinarily proud of yourselves but you’re absolutely exhausted with the effort and you don’t necessarily want to have to do it again the next week. You never know how kids are going to be able to respond.
I still think class wise if you want to talk in horse racing terms, class wise Georgia’s got an advantage.
[On the Fullerton Super Regional]
I don’t think Fullerton is as good as they’ve been but neither is Stanford. I think both of those teams are good. I don’t think they’re as good as they have been. I gotta think that on paper most people will think that Fullerton will make it to their fifth consecutive College World Series but Stanford has a ton of tradition, a ton of history and they’ve played well of late. They weren’t really good early in the season. I think it’s a pretty big toss up.
[On the Tallahassee Super Regional]
To me this is a class thing as well, even though both of them have a ton of history in Omaha. I think Florida State will win. I think Wichita State made it through the Oklahoma State Regional because Oklahoma State lost their number one guy, the host team was shackled all of the sudden and they played pretty good baseball. They’re not going to have that with Florida State. They’re going to face a good baseball team that when they needed to turn it up in the Regional, they turned it up. They showed people, they destroyed a pretty good Florida team in one of those games. I think it’ll be a good series.
[On the Cary Super Regional]
I think if there’s going to be an upset, this is one that I would call. North Carolina has been pretty good but Coastal has been kind of that bulldog type club. Hard nosed players, play the game hard, don’t give up, they’re kind of my Cinderella team.
[On the Baton Rouge Super Regional]
That ought to be fun to watch. If LSU loses a game they’ll lose the series, that’s all I’m going to say. If they lose a game, if they don’t win the first two, I think they lose the series I still believe that pretty strongly. Just the pressure of the winning streak, I’ve just been around it too many times. Winning streaks are wonderful and they’re great, as hitting streaks are. Rarely do you see a guy get a hit in the game after he loses his hitting streak and rarely do you see a team win after they’ve lost a winning streak. It’s just something that you get emotionally tied to and it’s something that’s a little bit of a double-edged sword for the coach. You really want to keep your team aware in these situations that we can’t just rely on the streak and it’s hard to do without telling them it’s okay to lose. I’m not so sure that there’s anything they can do but I just believe that if LSU loses game one or game two they’ll lose the third one. I think they’ll lose two in a row if they lose one.
[On the Rice Regional]
You know, A&M has an awful lot of quality but Rice has the most recent history. A&M is rising from the ashes because they were really dominant and outstanding in the 80′s and into the 90′s. I’m not sure when they really dropped off but there were four or five years that they underperformed. This is the first example of them re-emerging as a national power. Maybe what I experienced just on a micro stage with my club this year in the conference tournament, we’ve had history and tradition of playing pretty well in tournaments but we hadn’t been there for a couple years. When we got there I ended up with some of players that played under a little more self imposed pressure than what I expected. I think that A&M will have a little bit of that issue because none of those kids have been there before. The school has and there’s tradition for it but none of those players have been in that position much. They may need another year to get there. There’s no question that if they don’t win this thing the local media will say that, “It was a great year for A&M but they just weren’t quite ready to take the next step.” It’s a real phenomenon. My opinion is that A&M is a better physical ballclub but Rice has better, more recent history and more players that have been in this position in recent history and it gives them an advantage, plus they’re playing at home.