Saddle Up: The Journey To The 2011 NCAA Austin Regional - Texas Tea Entry
Kent State baseball sports information director Mike Ashcraft live blogs from the road at the 2011 NCAA Championship Austin Regional. The No. 3-seeded Golden Flashes (44-15) will lock horns with No. 1-seeded Texas today (June 4) with a berth in the regional's winner's bracket final on the line. First pitch is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. EST (6:30 p.m. CST) at the University of Texas's UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
This blog proves how terrible I am at blogging. I have failed to update my adoring audience for the last two days. There is much to catch up on. Let's start from the beginning.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 1
After briefly jumping back on the highway, we made a stop for lunch at Brown's Restaurant in Benton, Arkansas, which just so happens to be the home of Philadelphia Phillies ace Cliff Lee. I joked with Ty and Dan that people would immediately stop eating and drop their forks when we enetered the place upon seeing three clueless guys from the north. I went with fried chicken, awesome mashed potatoes and biscuits. Dan tried the corn bread and ribs but could not handle the fancy sauce on them. None of us could work up the courage to sample the fried green tomatoes. I came perilously close to purchasing a cowboy hat at Brown's.
Ty and I swaped driving duties after eating at Brown's, putting me in control of the music. Ty's collection of music consists of some good old-school rock and country but also consists of big-haired screeching women from the 80s. Dan can't make it to the M.A.C. Center without using his GPS so he was excused from driving.
One of the cool parts of the car ride was seeing the ridiculously awesome high school football stadiums in Texas, which rival many college cathedrals. Seems like Friday Night Lights was pretty accurate in its depiction of high school football in Texas.
Driving through Texas was interesting, especially since I had the good fortion of hitting the Dallas Metroplex at rush hour. It wasn't quite white-knuckle driving but it was close. I have come to find that people in the south have absolutely no concept of using a turn signal to change lanes. Don't get me wrong; 90% of the people in the south are very friendly. That being said, they really need to brush up on their road ettiquite.
Speaking of road ettiquite, Dan occupied the "shotgun seat" for the duration of our trip. This was a miserable executive seating decision on the part of Ty. Dan puts the Donner Party to shame. He does not pay attention when you're asking him what exit you should take and attempts to rectify the situation by pulling up the directions on his GPS AFTER you miss the exit. He also nearly got us T-boned mere feet from the hotel. He was too busy enjoying his crappy music to help spot oncoming traffic that was in my blindside. Thanks Dan, thanks. For that, he has been demoted to the backseat for the car ride home.
We arrived at the hotel in Austin around 9 p.m. CST. We were exhausted and ready to throw down the fisticuffs with each other. We reconciled and decided to go get some grub. We went to the Mellow Mushroom in downtown Austin. The pizza was really good, but they were having an open mic night. Let's just say some of the talent made Alan Ashby's panflute melodies sound awesome. We went back to the hotel after getting our fill of both the food and the bad music and passed out.
THURSDAY JUNE 2
Thursday forced us to get down to business. We attended practice and got our first taste of UFCU Disch-Falk Field. You will be hard pressed to find a nicer college baseball facility. When people say everything's bigger in Texas, they are not kidding. It is a beautiful stadium, and I highly reccomend that any fan of college baseball makes the trip to Austin to catch a game there.
Coach Stricklin, Kyle Hallock and Ben Klafczynski kindly endured speaking with the media on the team's behalf at the post-practice press conference. I am fortunate to work with a coach and players who are always very accomodating to the dozens of media requests I throw at them. Thursday was also the day we got the exciting news that Hallock and Kyle McMillen were named Louisville Slugger Third Team All-America selections. Anyone who has followed our team all season knows how deserving both are of the honor. Mac likes to call me, Ty and Dan "The Kings Of All Media." We are just glad we get to watch the "King Of All Relievers" do his thing.
Thursday's practice brought shame to me, though. After we wrapped things up at the field, Ty, Dan and I all got to toe the rubber at Disch-Falk Field. Dan and Ty threw perfect strikes. My pitch shamefully bounced in the dirt way in front of home plate. Good thing I can write about sports since I can't play them.
Thursday night ended with a visit to our hotel room from associate head coach Mike Birkbeck. Birky is always awesome to hang out with. He is hilarious and tells some really good, insightful baseball stories.
FRIDAY, JUNE 3
Game day. What we drove 20-plus hours for had finally arrived. I'm sure you've read the recap or listened to the game, so I'm not going to get into the blow-by-blow, but it was a thrilling way for our team to open the regional. Our team showed the kind of will to win that it is going to take to get to the next level of the tournament. After practice on Thursday, Coach Stricklin told the team that they were good enough to be a top-10 team in the country and good enough to get to the Super Regional. They played like it on Friday. It says a lot about our team that guys like Jason Bagoly, Nick Hamilton, Troy Summers and Cody Koch were able to come off the bench and play key roles in our win, and it is a testament to our coaching staff and players like Hallock and McMillen and Justin Gill -- who all played like the upperclassmen and All-Americans that they are -- that the first guy on the roster through the 27th guy on our roster is ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes for our team to reach its goal.
Now, we'll have the opportunity to "shock the world" when we take on Texas tonight. It's going to be a great challenge, and with Andrew Chafin taking the mound for us and Taylor Jungmann taking the mound for the Longhorns, it is also going to be one of the best games of the entire college baseball season. The team has a tremendous amount of respect for the Texas tradition, but don't mistake that for being intimidated by the Longhorns. The Flashes will "have it ready tonight."
Stay tuned for another blog post tomorrow and follow along with KentStateSports.com today for complete coverage of the winner's bracket final against Texas.
Yours in baseball,