The Mankato Free Press
---- — Last weekend I made my annual visit to the NCAA Division I College World Series at TD Ameritrade Center in Omaha, Neb. Some friends and I have been doing it for nearly 10 years now, and I can truthfully say it never gets old.
It might have been a tad more fun when they were still playing the games at the tradition-laden Rosenblatt Stadium, but the product is still the same. It's still the best college players in the country trying to win a national title for their schools.
As we do every year, we bypass the first two games on opening day and started our viewing with two games on Sunday. The first featured a game of in-state rivals in which No. 1-ranked North Carolina took on North Carolina State.
It proved to be no contest as N.C. State won easily 8-1. The Wolfpack put it away in the third, putting five runners on base with two outs to jump to a 5-0 lead.
The Tarheels wheeled eight pitches to the mound to try to stop the bleeding, but it never happened. Meanwhile N.C. State's Carlos Rodon was nearly untouchable as he took a no-hitter into the fifth. He ended up with eight strikeouts and allowed five hits in the complete-game win.
We always camp on our trip to Omaha and happened to set up next to a couple of Wolfpack fans who were making their first trip the CWS. It was the goal of the couple — Will and Melissa — to take in every game for the duration of their stay and to experience every aspect of the tournament.
The people you meet before, during and after the games are what make the event so special. The one common denominator is that nearly everyone there has a love for baseball.
Sunday's night game was a much better matchup as LSU and UCLA played a down-to-the wire affair. The Tigers of LSU went into Omaha as one of the best defensive teams in the country (.980 fielding percentage), but it didn't show as UCLA scored two unearned runs to win 2-1.
Like Rodon before him, UCLA's Adam Plutko was in charge during his seven inning on the mound. He allowed just four hits and one earned run to get the win. David Berg pitched a scoreless ninth to get the save.
On Monday, we took in an elimination game between Oregon State and Louisville. Similar to UNC, Louisville came into the tournament with a high-power offense that sputtered.
Oregon State went up 3-0 with the help of two errors.
Two Louisville errors — a dropped foul ball by catcher Kyle Gibson then a bad flip by second baseman Zach Lucas — paved the way for two unearned runs to score as Oregon State went up 3-0. The Beavers continued to roll, extending the lead to 10-0 before finishing with an 11-4 victory.
Prior to the game we met an older couple in the parking lot who decided to make the trip from Jacksonville Beach, Fla. They were in their early 70s, but the husband said he just had to drive the 1,400 miles.
"It's a bucket list thing, you know?" he said.
Our final game came Monday night and featured Indiana vs. Mississippi State. Although the Bulldogs were favored, most of us were staying loyal to the Big Ten and pulling for Indiana.
It was a great game as Mississippi State trailed by a run after seven before scoring three in the top of the eighth to go up 5-3.
For the second consecutive game, Mississippi State got out of a seventh-inning jam and scored the eventual winning runs the next half inning. Trailing 3-2, Mississippi State’s Chad Girodo got Indiana's Michael Basil to ground out, but it advanced runners to second and third with two out. Girodo then struck out Dustin DeMuth, who looked at strike three to end the frame. The Bulldogs went on to score three in the top of the eighth to take a 5-3 lead.
Indiana rallied in the bottom of the ninth. With a man on, Kyle Schwarber, who entered the game with 18 home runs, nearly tied it with a shot to deep left-center. The catch was made, however, and MSU held on for the victory.
Chad Girodo was the hero for Mississippi State. He threw 6.1 innings of relief, allowing two earned runs on seven hits with 10 strikeouts.
We left Tuesday morning having once again quenched our thirst for quality baseball. Now we starting counting the days until we can do it all again next season.
Jim Rueda is The Free Press sports editor. He can be reached at 507-344-6381 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.