Coaches: College World Series has no parallel

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June 16th, 2014

Omaha, NE – As the 2014 NCAA College World Series in Omaha got under way this weekend, eight contenders for the NCAA national title are putting it all on the line as they vie for the top spot in college baseball. The CWS comes to Omaha every June at the end of college baseball’s regular season.

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This weekend’s College World Series action has already included an upset of Texas by UC-Irvine, a first time CWS participant, showing just how much parity among Division-I teams has impacted the NCAA Tournament.

Arizona head baseball coach Andy Lopez just finished his 13th season coaching the Wildcats. His Wildcats had a tough year this year, finishing with a 22-33 overall record. He said his experience with the College World Series in Omaha started with a national title win in 1992 while serving as head coach at Pepperdine University. Lopez then moved to University of Florida in 1995 and he took the Gators to the CWS in 1996 and 1998. After moving to Arizona in 2002, Coach Lopez won enough games to bring the Wildcats to Omaha in the 2004 CWS. The year he remembers most though, is the 2012 season when Arizona won the CWS title.

“That’s the final destination, of hopefully a two week experience,” Lopez said. “I‘ve been blessed, I’ve won it twice. I know what it’s like to be the last man standing, so to speak. It’s everybody’s’ dream as a college players and a coach, there is no downside to it, it is an unbelievably pleasant experience.”

Arizona head coach Andy Lopez won the 2012 CWS title. (Photo Courtesy University of Arizona Athletics)

Arizona head coach Andy Lopez won the 2012 CWS title. (Photo Courtesy University of Arizona Athletics)

John Savage, head baseball coach at UCLA, has been at the helm at UCLA for ten years. Coach Savage guided the Bruins to Omaha for three consecutive years starting in 2010. His patience and efforts were eventually capped off by winning the CWS title in 2013. Coach Savage first came to the CWS as an assistant at USC in 1998 when they won the national title. He said he gained a lot of experience from that trip.

“That is everybody’s goal, to get to Omaha and play for a National Championship,” Savage said. “I think it’s a culture you set for your team and your program.”

Savage said every player who plays college ball dreams of playing in Omaha.

“It’s like playing in the World Series in the Major Leagues,” Savage said. “It’s the ultimate prize for every player that plays Division-I baseball.”

Savage said the CWS is a success because of the cooperative spirit of the Omaha community.

“The community of Omaha does such a wonderful job at welcoming the teams and I think it’s the best NCAA championship in America,” Savage said.

Paul Mainieri, head baseball coach at LSU, has taken four teams to the CWS. In 2002, while head coach at Notre Dame, his team made their first ever trip to the CWS, finishing 1-2 in the tournament. Coach Mainieri took over the head coaching position at LSU in 2007. The LSU Tigers are considered one of the top baseball programs in college baseball, having been to the CWS 16 times and winning the title 6 times. Coach Mainieri won the 2009 CWS title with LSU in his third season. He said the road trip to Omaha is a tremendous accomplishment, whether you win it all or not. He also said awareness of the excitement behind the CWS for even the casual sports fan has increased.

Paul Mainieri, LSU's head coach, was named 2009 College Baseball Insider coach of the year. (Photo Courtesy Louisiana Public Broadcasting)

Paul Mainieri, LSU’s head coach, was named 2009 College Baseball Insider coach of the year. (Photo Courtesy Louisiana Public Broadcasting)

“I used to say it’s a hidden gem, but I don’t think it’s hidden anymore,” Coach Mainieri said. “I think most people are pretty well aware that the College World Series is an awesome event, one of the best events in all of sports in the United States.”

Coach Mainieri said the CWS and Omaha mean a lot to his program. That’s why he thinks Omaha has a special meaning to college baseball. All other major NCAA championships travel to different cities, he said, but the CWS’s home is Omaha.

“The word Omaha means excellence,” Mainieri said. “It means the best in college baseball. In one of the rooms at the LSU baseball facility, I have the letters spelling out ‘Omaha’ as big as you can possibly put them covering our wall. I never want our players to forget that it’s the goal, to get to Omaha. It signifies playing for all the marbles and being the best in the country and that is what we aspire to be at LSU.”

Tim Tadlock, head baseball coach for Texas Tech, is making his first trip to the CWS this year. He’s been at Texas Tech for two years and he said making it to the College World Series in Omaha so far has been the highlight of his coaching career.

“Feels really good, but at the same time my feet are on the ground right now as we speak,” Tadlock said. “Unfortunately, I probably remember the ones we lose compared to the ones we win. We don’t really sit down and look at stuff like that, we just try to do the best we can each day try to go out and compete.”

Texas Tech, which lost a heartbreaker to TCU Sunday 3-2, moves to the losers’ bracket in this year’s CWS. Tadlock said he knows his boys can play they just need to get the trains back on the right track.

“Sometimes you don’t control the results, I don’t think you can ever control the results,” Tadlock said. “We just want to go out, do what we do and play the game the right way.”

CWS action picks back up today at 2pm with Texas taking on Louisville, followed by Vanderbilt and UC-Irvine at 7pm.

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