Washington Huskies baseball coach Lindsay Meggs wears a chip on his shoulder as easily as most people wear a pair of pants. When Meggs learned the Huskies were bypassed as a host school for the NCAA regionals, he was quick to shout about disrespect.
First, however, Meggs told his players – loudly — what he thinks about playing at the regionals in Oxford, MS.
“It is a great town,” Meggs said at a team gathering at Husky Ballpark for the NCAA tournament selection show on ESPNU Monday morning. “Great for families to make that trip. There’s not a better place to play.”
Anything else, Lindsay?
“It will be a great experience,” the fiery coach promised, “and we’re gonna kick some ass!”
The Huskies (39-15-1), who slipped from fifth to eighth to 14th the past three weeks in the Top 25 poll of Baseball America magazine, face 25th-ranked Georgia Tech (36-25) Friday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
ESPN3 carries the webcast at 1 p.m. PT. Washington is seeded second and Tech third at the Oxford regional on the campus of University of Mississippi.
“Georgia Tech is a great team,” Meggs said, thereby echoing the words uttered by virtually every coach about virtually every post-season opponent. “They’re an experienced team, and they’re a balanced team.”
The same can be said of the Huskies, who came out of nowhere to finish second to national No. 1 seed Oregon State in the Pac-12 Conference. League coaches picked Washington to finish 10th out of 11 teams (Colorado does not offer baseball) in their preseason poll, a fact that Meggs and his players rarely seem to mention more than a hundred times a day.
“We’ve got a chip on our shoulder all year,” Meggs said. “Maybe this will be good for us.”
“This” refers to the 2,500-mile trip to Oxford, one of 16 regional sites in the 64-team NCAA tournament. Host Mississippi – Ole Miss – is seeded first at the regional and 14th overall. The Rebels (41-18) face No. 4 regional seed Jacksonville State (36-25) Friday night. That’s Jacksonville, AL., folks, not Jacksonville, FL.
The Huskies, playing in a regional for the first time since 2004 – also in Oxford – lost out on a host berth when they lost four games in a row (two against Oregon State) before downing UCLA Sunday. Naturally, Meggs was eager to show off Washington’s flashy new $15 million ballpark by playing host to one of the double-elimination regionals.
“We think the west and our league was a little disrespected,” Meggs said.
Not that Meggs does not appreciate that playing in the NCAA tournament represents a significant accomplishment for a program he has rebuilt from the ground up since taking over five years ago.
“We’re thrilled to be in there,” Meggs said. “We could be going to a lot worse places to play, and in terms of what we know about those teams, I think we line up pretty well.”
Right fielder Brian Wolfe, a fifth-year senior who is the lone holdover from Meggs’ first Washington team, made it clear that he would have been happy to play on Mars in the post-season.
“It’s unbelievable,” he gushed. “Coming here my first year, I couldn’t have dreamed five years later what happened today. It’s kind of surreal.”
The 16 regional champions pair off in best-of-three Super Regionals next week to determine the eight qualifiers for the College World Series in Omaha, NE. The Huskies have never made it to Omaha, but they plan to change that ASAP.
“What it’s all about is going to Omaha and taking the world by storm,” shortstop Eric Forgione said.
Wolfe added, “I’m very confident we have the pieces to get to Omaha and win at Omaha.”
Meggs, who won two NCAA Division II championships at Chico (CA.) State, isn’t about to argue with his players.
“If we play the way we’ve played all year long, we could end up in Omaha,” Meggs said. “We can do that.
“That’s been our goal from the beginning. Those are our expectations. That’s what we’re planning to do.”
The Huskies won all 10 of their series with opponents before going 1-2 against both Oregon State and UCLA. The recent four-game losing streak consisted of a school-record three shutouts in a row, followed by a ninth-inning meltdown Saturday, when UCLA erased a 3-1 deficit to win 6-3.
“I think they’ve been kind of tired,” Meggs said of his players. “We came back from Corvallis (Oregon State), that was a real emotional weekend for us.”
Oregon State is old news, Forgione said. For that matter, so is the entire regular season.
“Now the real season starts,” he said. “It’s all that matters.”
Georgia Tech earned an automatic NCAA tournament bid by winning the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament as the No. 9 seed. The Yellow Jackets finished fifth in the seven-team Coastal Division at 14-16, but they’ve won six of the past seven games.
No Yellow Jackets made the All-ACC first team. Outfielder Daniel Spingola, one of three Tech players on the second team, leads the Ramblin’ Wreck with a .328 batting average and 36 RBIs. A number of Tech starting and relief pitchers put up solid statistics, but no Tech pitchers made any of the three All-ACC teams.
Friday’s winners square off Saturday, as do Friday’s losers. The tournament runs through Sunday, with an “if necessary” game set for Monday.
“We want to get to Omaha,” Wolfe summed up. “This is the first step.”