From the Bird’s Nest: Winners and losers in the Sun Belt baseball tournament
Now that we've had time to digest the Sun Belt baseball tournament here are the winners and losers.
BIGGEST WINNER: UALR
Duh. The Trojans are in the NCAA tournament after only making the Sun Belt Tournament for the first time since 2003. The Trojans did it in the most unlikely way possible. They actually pitched. Statistically the league's worst pitching staff during the season, the Trojans allowed two, five and three runs on their way to the championship and then held FIU, who had scored in double figures in their first three games of the tournament, to six. What a boost for their program and as a result, a boost for the entire league.
BIGGEST LOSER: FAU
Going into the tournament, the Owls were poised to snag an at-large berth to the NCAA's. But in their first game they blew two run leads not once, but twice in extra innings in a 12-inning loss to Western Kentucky. They never recovered, losing to Troy and UALR in their next two games and played themselves right out of the post-season.
The Panthers didn't win the conference tournament, but wins over Arkansas State, South Alabama and Louisiana solidified FIU's resume as a solid #2 seed for the postseason.
The Cajuns probably needed to win the tournament to get into the postseason, but committed six errors in their first game against South Alabama and got a grand total of four hits in a loss to Arkansas State. You would expect a lot more out of the #3 seed in the tournament.
They didn't qualify for the conference tournament, but kudos to the folks in Monroe for putting on a solid tournament. They had plenty of workers, concession people and a few fans as well. Everyone was friendly, helpful and professional. Not easy to do when you don't have a dog in the hunt.
LOSER: SCOTT KENNEDY
He was the home plate umpire in the Cajuns' game against South Alabama. His failure to make a call led to the fiasco that, in turn, led to the ejection of Tony Robichaux. Then, he was behind the plate in the Cajuns' game against FIU and blew the call on Matt Goulas' slide into home plate in the ninth inning. Everyone makes mistakes. Those who make the fewest get to keep their jobs.
WINNER: ADAM PRENDERGAST
The ULM Sports Information Director gets a kudo all his own. He was professional in running the media booths, scored every game in the tournament, organized his staff to take care of the business at hand and took a leadership role during the tournament. Nice job, big guy.
LOSER: SUN BELT SPORTSWRITER/BROADCASTER OF THE YEAR PRESENTATION
This year's recipients, Troy's Barry McKnight and Mobile Register's Kim Shugart were both deserving. Unfortunately ULM's PA announcer was given last year's script and introduced them as Denver's Mitch Hyder and Bowling Green's Nick Baumgartner. We all laughed about it, mainly because whoever wins those awards gets a lot of grief from us media types.
WINNER: FAMILY NIGHT
The presentation of the Academic/All-Sun Belt awards took awhile and maybe the crowd got a little antsy. But the home run hitting contest was impressive, with over 80 baseballs leaving the park (new bats? What new bats?). And, the fireworks show was pretty impressive. Hopefully in the future, more fans will show up on Tuesday. Those who missed it really missed something good.
LOSER: MEDIA WHO DIDN'T COVER THEIR TEAM
FIU and UALR played for the championship. Neither team has radio. FAU and WKU had no one there to write about their teams. Neither did UALR. At least newspapers that cover ASU and Troy hired stringers. This is the sixth rated conference in America. The teams deserve better than that.
WINNER; SBC TELEVISION
I'm sure folks cringed when UALR had to go up against FIU for the championship and envisioned a 20-2 blowout. Instead they got a Cinderella Story and a well-played one run game. Nice showcase for the league.
INCOMPLETE: THE NEW TOURNAMENT FORMAT
We saw some upside and downside to the new format. The league needs to give it another year or two before really making any determination about its future.