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Boston College Vs. Tulane/Utah (NCAA Regional Final): First Pitch

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BC stands on the precipice of doing something they haven't done since 1967 (or ever for that matter).

Courtesy BC Athletics | Josh McCoy

Tulane Green Wave/Utah Utes vs. Boston College Eagles
First Pitch: 6 PM

In 1967, the college baseball world was a very different place. The College World Series sat in Omaha at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium, but the road to get there wasn't very consistent. The eight qualifiers came out of regionally-based districts, but some had four teams playing double elimination, some had four teams playing best-of-three series, and some had two teams playing best-of-three series.

That year, Rider qualified for the College World Series by winning a regional in Princeton, New Jersey. They defeated Ithaca College and St. John's twice in a double elimination bracket also featuring Penn State. In a different district, Auburn qualified by beating West Virginia, Florida State, and Clemson - far different competition.

In District 1, hosted in Amherst, Massachusetts by the University of Massachusetts. In that district, Massachusetts played Holy Cross, while Dartmouth played Boston College. After the Eagles defeated the Indians, 4-3, in the first game, Dartmouth came back to force a deciding third game with a 9-8 victory. That set up an absolutely slugfest battle in the third game, where BC won, 15-13 to advance to the District Finals.

There, they met Massachusetts. After winning 4-1, they lost the second game, 6-5, in extra innings, setting up another deciding third game. It again went to extras, but this time the Eagles won, defeating the Redmen, 7-6, to advance to Omaha.

I guess BC had a thing for being the "Cardiac Kids" back then too.

The whole structure changed multiple times through the years, but in 1999, when the NCAA standardized the format with a field of 64 teams in 16 double-elimination regionals, followed by best-of-three Super Regionals, followed by double-elimination College World Series divisions, followed by a championship game/series, they made it that much tougher to advance.

The new format is designed to for the best of the best to advance. You're allowed a mistake, which you were back then, but it's much, MUCH more forgiving in 2016. Tulane is living proof of that. If you run into an aberration, an outlier performance, a bad game, one too many "groundballs with eyes," you're allowed to have that mistake and still come back to win.

Boston College has never advanced out of a regional under the new format, having lost in 2009 to Army after losing the 25-inning marathon to Texas. They haven't played for a regional final since that '67 season, but they have never advanced to a Super Regional. So today represents uncharted territory.

The Eagles have a chance today to do something they've never done before. Who they'll play is of conjecture since Tulane and Utah have an early game at 2 PM to figure out who will play BC at 6 PM.

College baseball has come a long way since 1967. Today, Boston College can do the same.

On Paper

Tulane Overall Record: 40-20 (15-7 AAC)
Last Time Out: Tulane eliminated the host Ole Miss Rebels, 6-5, yesterday, thanks to a Jake Rogers ninth-inning two run homer. At the time, the Green Wave were losing, 5-4.
Utah Overall Record: 26-28 (18-11 Pac-12)
Last Time Out: Utah lost yesterday to BC, 4-3, in the Oxford Regional second round.

Around The Horn

At this point, there are no surprises coming out of either team's lineup. Both teams are capable of mashing the ball in different ways. We saw yesterday that Utah is capable of getting on base and working counts without using the long ball. Against Ole Miss, Tulane showed by they're one of the most powerful teams in the nation and why they entered the regional as the boom-or-bust team to fear.

It's hard to get a read on how Tulane is against the Eagles. In the first game, they ran into Justin Dunn, which is a great equalizer for any team's bats. They were able to score a quick couple of runs against Dunn, but by then they were already trailing 4-0 (not that leads matter in this regional but they do, right?).

In the second game, they played a see-saw, emotional affair against the Rebels. They wound up winning on a homer in the late innings, but they showed they could get after it earlier in the game as well. For a heavy ball pitcher like Stevens, that means he'll need balls to die off the bats. Be prepared potentially for a good chunk of fly ball outs if it's the Green Wave.

Against Utah, though, we saw a very different style of hitting team. Utah is incredible at working counts and getting on base; Mike King was at 75 pitches with one out in the fourth at one point. But when they started getting aggressive, they started beating balls into the ground. When he was finished, the Eagles starter needed just 36 pitches over the next 2.1-plus innings. It's much less boom-or-bust, but that can be pretty scary to face as well.

So we're going to see two very different styles in the first game, and how you pitch to one team isn't necessarily how you pitch to the other. Jim Foster is going to be a busy guy watching the first game.

On The Bump

As the regional wears on, teams are going to have to go deeper into their pitching staff, something that's a huge advantage to BC right now. Tulane used three pitchers against BC, but they only had to use two against Ole Miss. That means their bullpen is likely going to be locked and loaded for a long day at the office.

If the Green Wave make it through to face the Eagles, BC will likely, per Green Wave blog site Fear The Wave, draw Tulane's midweek starter, JP France. France is incredibly capable, having gone 6-3 this year with a 3.22 ERA in 18 appearances and 11 starts. He's thrown 72.2 innings, struck out 64, walking 27. His opposing batting average is at .244, which means he's tough to hit but no tougher than what BC saw in Emerson Gibbs earlier this week.

If it's Utah, it'll be interesting to see who throws. The Utes lack pitching depth, and outside of their three regular starters, they don't have a regular midweek guy. Jayson Rose pitched on Friday, meaning he's off limits, and Dalton Carroll pitched against BC yesterday. The Utes announced Josh Lapiana would go against Tulane. Those three combined for 44 of the teams 52 starts.

Of the remaining eight, Riley Otteson has three, but he just pitched extended innings in relief against Ole Miss. After him, Nolan Stouder has two starts but has only thrown 21 innings in nine appearances this season. Tanner Thomas started two games, but in six outings, he threw 10 innings and gave up eight earned runs for a 7.20 ERA.

Hunter Rodriguez has a start to his credit, which means he could be used even though he pitched against BC yesterday. He was solid in Pac-12 games in relief, going 2-0 with a sub-2.00 ERA, even though his season ERA is at 9.43.

Of greater concern for the Utes is Dylan Drachler. Drachler threw an inning against Ole Miss and pitched two innings against BC. The closer for the team, he's had to be the bread and butter because of the lack of depth. That's a lot of innings to log in a row as a reliever, but he has to be available since it's all-hands-on-deck in a game of this magnitude.

As was announced yesterday, Boston College will enter the game with their last remaining weekend starter in Jacob Stevens. Despite being 6'5" with a bulldog's appearance, Stevens isn't going to blow any pitches by anyone. He's a heavy ball, pitch-to-contact pitcher who makes guys either beat it into the ground or tattoo one 25 feet short of the fence in the outfield. I know flyball pitchers make people nervous, but if you can't hit squarely, it's not going out anyways.

What will be interesting for the Eagles is how they use their bullpen. Bobby Skogsbergh pitched two innings but threw limited pitches against Tulane, and virtually everybody is available for Mike Gambino and Jim Foster. Jesse Adams is likely the only one not to pitch since I would think he will be used as the Monday starter if it goes that far. Adams pitched four outs on limited pitches last night against the Utes.

Meteorology 101

A day after the rains came and poured on the seventh inning of the BC game, an absolutely gorgeous day is shaping up in Oxford. The forecast is calling for mostly sunny skies with temperatures getting into the 80s during the first game. There is minimal chance for precipitation through the midday, but those chances are going to die down further by the time BC sets foot on the field. Temperatures will also drop considerably during the BC game, starting out in the 70s and ending in the high 60s.

The only concern will be the humidity. There's going to be 100% humidity with minimal wind. The winds really kicked up yesterday when the wild weather settled in, but it's unlikely going to be like that today. If you're headed to the game, drink lots of water and enjoy an amazing day in the sun.

Where in the World is Boston College Baseball?

Maybe for one final time at Swayze Field in Ole Miss.

With Ole Miss out of the tournament, there's the hope that this could turn into a Boston College home game of sorts. Mike Gambino talked about how great Ole Miss fans and people have been to his team and the families/fans who made the trip, bringing up the hospitality that they've enjoyed. He said that everyone's "fallen in love" with Oxford.

He alluded, perhaps half-jokingly, to the fact that with Ole Miss out of the tournament, maybe those fans could come out to the game and embrace BC. He thought tickets were sold as a package, and I'm pretty sure they were. So it would be great if the Ole Miss fans, with their team out of it, could totally embrace a team as their own and adopt the Eagles. Though Shea Field has its own merits regarding fan support, nothing would match a big crowd rooting on BC at Swayze Field.

It's really hard to comprehend how culturally different Massachusetts and Mississippi really are. Massachusetts is small, densely populated, cramped, and congested. Mississippi is rural, spacious, and spread out. 80 degrees in Massachusetts is cause to sit inside half naked with the air conditioner on. 80 degrees in Mississippi is a cool day in the delta. Massachusetts was one of the original 13 British colonies. Mississippi was originally part of a Spanish territory.

Heck, Massachusetts voted Republican twice since 1960 (twice for Reagan). Mississippi's voted Democrat once since the same year (once for Jimmy Carter).

That said, I understand individual fans can be lousy on both sides, so hopefully let's root for everyone to root for great baseball and support teams playing in the games.

Music For When You're Trying To Win A Regional

Dion - Runaround Sue.

I can't believe I'm actually drawing this comparison, but I was watching Little Big League yesterday morning (by far one of my favorite movies and, in my opinion, almost as superior, if not more, than Rookie of the Year). There's the montage when the Twins are playing against Cleveland, and it's by far my favorite scene in the movie (especially The Pump Glove).

But if there's a thing about the Twins and the message, it's to have fun. BC has gotten to this point by playing loose and having fun. This is a tight-knit clubhouse with a bunch of great players who are just having a great time playing baseball. Everything from here is with house money. They have to play the same way if they want to advance past today.

A couple of thoughts here, though:

1) That math question in the clubhouse before the Mariners game is brutal. I still can't answer it.

2) How was this play legal?

3) Lou Collins is by far the most selfish baseball player I've ever seen. First, he starts dating the owner/manager's mom. Then he asks her to marry him in the middle of a one-game playoff before he gets up to bat with the game on the line? POOR FORM. This has bothered me for years.

4) Ken Griffey, Jr. in his prime was the greatest baseball player I'll ever get to see in person.

Random Fact(s) of the Week...Or Today

-Of the 16 #1 seeds, only two are already eliminated. Ole Miss is one, and Vanderbilt is the other. My heart bleeds for that Vanderbilt program right now. Just an awful situation.

-Last year, teams that were undefeated into the Regional Final lost on Sunday five times. Of those five, only NC State (lost to TCU in Fort Worth) and Cal (lost to Texas A&M in College Station) lost the second game. Maryland (beat UCLA), Miami (beat Columbia), and VCU (beat Dallas Baptist) won their respective games, including a 21-3 beatdown by the Hurricanes.

-In 2015, 2-0 teams in regional finals won on Sunday 11 times, including Vanderbilt's 21-0 slaughter of Radford.

-Utah last played in a regional final round in 2009, when they played in Fullerton against Cal State Fullerton. They lost to the Titans, 18-2, in the first round, then won two straight over Georgia Southern and Gonzaga. They lost to the Titans again, 16-3, in the final.

-The Utes have never won a regional, having gone to the College World Series in 1951 before district play began. They were eliminated in district play in 1959 and 1960, which were their last trips to the tournament until '09.

-Tulane has not won a regional since 2005, when they went to Omaha. They were eliminated in regional play in '06, '08, '15, and '16.

Prediction Time

Your guess is as good as mine. You have to be feeling pretty good if you're a Boston College fan right now. Things are going great for this team, and they play the game the right way. They're ultra competitive, a close-knit group of guys, and they're incredibly classy during interviews. Mike Gambino's transformed this team and rebuilt them into a winner. They've done it with a facility that we joke about, a place that some even love in its own way. But that they're here is a wakeup call to the ceiling of New England college baseball.

That said, today is going to be a long day, and there's going to be a very long way to go. This is not going to be an easy game, and all three of these teams are going to battle. There's a feeling that they have to get it done today; that's not the case in reality since, you know, they can win tomorrow. But the sense of urgency will be there. Today is about moving on and who could be eliminated.

In the end, that BC is here? Boy that should give us something to party about.