First we chatted with Amir Mamdani, the baseball beat writer for The Crimson Daily, Harvard’s student newspaper.
MA: Oklahoma State has been a home run factory this year. How do you expect the Crimson pitching staff will handle a team that has tended to hit the ball over the fence no matter what you try to throw at them?
AM: Harvard has been fairly successful this season is limiting the long ball, surrendering just 26 home runs to opposition, the second fewest of any pitching staff in the Ivy League. The Crimson has been good about keeping the ball low in the zone, and staying away from power hitters, but I’m sure Oklahoma State will pose a different type of power threat than Ivy League competition. Harvard’s relief pitching has been good about avoiding late home runs as well.
MA: Who is able to protect McColl in the lineup? He’s good…like real good. Which means that Elliott might not give him many pitches.
AM: While the perception is that McColl is the main strength in the lineup, people frequently overlook the play of junior right fielder Jake Suddleson, the team’s cleanup hitter. While McColl has received much of the national attention directed towards the Crimson program, Suddleson has had an under-the-radar season that earned him Ivy League player of the year honors. Suddleson hit 10 home runs at a .378/.436/.652 clip, and provides plenty of protection behind McColl.
MA: What this Crimson team’s greatest strength?
AM: The top of the lineup is one of the team’s greatest strengths, particularly the
McColl/Suddleson tandem that drove in 99 combined runs. Center fielder Ben Skinner leads things off, followed by shortstop Quinn Hoffman (son of Hall of Fame reliever Trevor), creating a potent top four in the order.
MA: Greatest weakness?
AM: The team’s pitching depth has been an issue at times this season, with injury to sophomore star starting pitcher Buddy Hayward impacting the team’s success. The Crimson has some depth in senior pitchers Kevin Stone and Ian Miller, but there is a bit of a drop off after Hunter Bigge and Buddy Hayward on the mound.
MA: If we’re being honest, the casual Oklahoma State fan has probably never watched Harvard play baseball. What are three big things to watch for when playing the Crimson?
AM: Pat McColl - the man led all of Division I baseball in hitting for much of the season.
Hunter Bigge - the pitcher/hitter prospect that is getting looks from MLB scouts for his right arm, but plays both in the field as a pitcher and as a DH.
Kieran Shaw - the Harvard closer who set the all-time Ivy League record for saves in a season. Shaw has been nothing short of elite in save situations.
MA: Earlier today I read a D1 Baseball roundtable and one of their writers has this game as the best opening round pitching match-up. Jensen Elliott will be going against Hunter Bigge. What are your thoughts on this match-up?
AM: Elliott is obviously a great pitcher, but I can speak to Bigge’s performance for Harvard. He’s an absolutely fearless competitior, often runs his pitch count well into the 110s and low 120s when needed, and has had some memorable performances, none more impressive than his complete game one-run outing in the Ivy League championship series. Bigge hit the go-ahead home run in the game to break the deadlock, and is a force to be reckoned with both on the rubber and in the batters box as well.
MA: Take our readers through the journey the Crimson took to get to this point?
This has been a magical season for Harvard - qualifying for its first NCAA Tournament since the 2005 season has been the culmination of several years of hard work by Coach Bill Decker and the team. A few years ago the team was mired in a sub .500 record - just a few seasons later, the Crimson has taken every SINGLE series in the Ivy League season, and did not lose a single series all season. The worst Harvard did was to split a four game series, and the Crimson enter Friday night’s game with no shortage of confidence.
MA: This is just a fun question, what’s it like to get accepted into Harvard? It’s an experience so few people have, and I’ve always wanted to know.
AM: Getting into Harvard was one of the greatest moments and honors of my life so far. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to get to know my classmates, friends, and roommates, and I truly feel that simply being at Harvard for four years is a learning experience in in of itself.
Next Phillip Slavin chatted with Daniel Connolly of The UConn Blog about the Huskies.
PS: Just in case the Cowboys and Huskies face off at some point, what’s the one thing UConn excels at this season?
DC: UConn is a really solid all-around team and head coach Jim Penders make sure his teams are smart. They’re rarely going to beat themselves with bad baserunning mistakes or wrong decisions. They also don’t have a ton of power so they’re a strong small ball team with Penders not afraid to use bunts or hit and runs to get players into scoring position. Their biggest strength is closer Jake Wallace. There’s a strong argument he’s the best reliever in the country, sitting in the high 90’s with his fastball paired with a wipeout slider. He’s pitched 37.0 innings this year and has allowed 6 runs total, allowed just 30 runners and with 56 strikeouts. When the game gets to him, it’s practically over.
So, to answer the question more specifically, there isn’t one thing that stands out about UConn. They aren’t dominant in one area, they’re just really good at everything.
PS: UConn is 13-13 on the road, but an impressive 11-3 at neutral sites this season. What makes the Huskies so sold away from home?
DC: Playing college baseball in the northeast is extremely tough. The season starts in February when there’s usually still snow on the ground and the temperatures are still freezing. This year, UConn’s first home game wasn’t until March 26 and its first home series wasn’t until April 5. That’s nearly two months of spending every weekend on the road so the team gets used to.
Penders often talks about how sometimes they’re more comfortable when traveling because they’re so used to it. The Huskies are tough in that sense so when they’re on even ground with another team in an unfamiliar place, they’re going to have the upper hand every time because they’ve already done it so much.
PS: There’s a guy or two on every team that brings the personality. Who should fans in the stands keep an eye on?
DC: Going to go a little off-track on this one. So during the AAC Tournament, I tweeted a gif of DH Paul Gozzo hitting a home run. UConn’s ace, Mason Feole, quote tweeted it and said “If he didn’t plant a tree in my bedroom I’d be happier for him.” Gozzo then replied with a photo of said “tree” in the middle of Feole’s room with “#rollskies rally mulch.” So there’s that.
As for on-field, dugout antics? If you’re sitting close enough you might hear some funny banter but other than that, they really don’t do a whole lot. On the field, Feole can get fired up and is pretty fun to watch pitch and last season in a NCAA Tournament elimination game, second baseman/DH Christian Fedko hit his first career home run late in the game and promptly bat flipped. They’re a funny group away from the field (and the team has done a good job with capturing that recently) but not a whole lot fans can see from the stands.
Last but certainly not least, Phillip chatted with Keith Yaple, baseball writer for CornNation.
PS: Nebraska is the 3-seed in Oklahoma City, but most projections had them as a lower 2-seed. Do you think the Cornhuskers got a fair shake in seeding and does being a 3-seed make them more dangerous?
KY: In essence it is a fair seed. Nebraska had some quality series wins against Baylor, Michigan, and Arizona State. However, Nebraska also went through a four week period where they lost to teams such as Iowa (no different than OK State), Illinois, Northwestern, and Minnesota.
As far as the difference in being a two or three seed, it doesn’t really matter to this team. They will play whoever, whenever, whereever. Being a low 2 seed may have sent them to a more dangerous regional.
PS: Oklahoma State has been hitting the ball out of the park on a regular basis for more than a month now. If OSU and Nebraska face off, how do you feel about the Cornhuskers’ chances to cool down the Cowboys’ hot bats?
KY: If Nebraska were to win against UConn, then Oklahoma State would see Matt Waldron. Waldron had a bumpy middle part of the season, but did his best work against the Big 12 this season. He pitched a combined 12.0 innings, giving up only three runs and only two of those were earned. He got wins against both Baylor and Texas Tech.
Nebraska can cool off bats as they did last week against Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State. Combined, Nebraska allowed only eight runs against those four teams (avoiding a 18-8 meltdown by our starting pitcher in a non-elimination game). The bigger worry would be if you have a left handed pitcher available.
PS: Nebraska has some of the most... “controversial” uniforms in college baseball. Where do you guys stand on the U of N uniforms?
KY: I like them. The University of Nowledge uniforms are clever. Plus to be honest, not many schools get a new baseball uniform every year. Nebraska seems to have one out about once every year or two thanks to the schools big $$$$ contract with Adidas.
PS: Who are 2 or 3 players Nebraska fans should know more about?
KY: Mojo Hagge. Best name on the team, best hair on the team. He bats left handed and catches a lot of baseballs in left field. He tends to sometimes disappear offensively. He is the heart and soul of Nebraska though.
Robbie Palkert- Bullpen relief specialist. He is the heart of the bullpen. He can have his own rough stretches, but over the past month he has pitched like the relief ace that he is. Palkert can come into the game and get the best hitter out.
Angelo Altavilla is another player who is playing the best baseball of his life right now. He has the best swag of any player. He has single handedly pissed off the entire Michigan baseball team by dancing and shit talking. He walks a fair amount and has been playing outstanding defense at third base.