College baseball beat writer Jeff Huth weighs in on the College World Series, which opens today in Omaha, Neb.:
We should have suspected that the makeup of this College World Series would not be business as usual when six-time national champion Texas — which has appeared in a record 34 CWS — didn't even make the 64-team tournament field.
Stony Brook? Kent State? Did the NCAA suddenly add an NIT event in baseball to supplement its postseason schedule?
Nope. It's the real thing, and so are these upstart CWS qualifiers from the American East and Mid-American conferences.
You'll get no argument about Stony Brook's legitimacy from perennial powers Miami and LSU, each of which lost to the Seawolves on their home fields in this postseason. Just ask Oregon — the No. 5 national seed — and Big Ten champ Purdue whether Kent State is the real deal after each were scorched by the Golden Flashes.
Now, Stony Brook and Kent State will try to create more mischief on college baseball's biggest stage. By now it should be obvious the Golden Flashes can really pitch (3.49 ERA, 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings) and the Seawolves can really hit (.335 batting average, 7.2 runs per game) and pitch (2.99 ERA).
Everyone loves an underdog, right? And with the hometown fans having neither Nebraska nor Creighton to root for, we wouldn't be surprised if the college baseball-loving folks of Omaha adopt one or both teams as their favorites. Ratings-conscious ESPN undoubtedly would hate it, but imagine the reaction if these first-time CWS visitors end up in the best-of-three championship finals. They're in different brackets, so it's possible.