Superstitious Canes escape elimination game against archrival
OMAHA, Neb. -- It's seems silly, really, for Dennis Raben to give in to superstition.
But as Raben's roommate and Hurricanes' center fielder Blake Tekotte wryly notes, "Hey, this is baseball, man. Everybody's superstitious."
As superstitious measures go, Raben's spikeless mohawk haircut -- something he received from Tekotte after he went 0-for-9 in the first two games of the Hurricanes' NCAA regional in Coral Gables, Fla. -- leans heavily on the mild side.
But don't be surprised if you see some of his teammates rubbing that scalp, looking for whatever magic it is he produced Monday to help keep the nation's top-ranked team's national title hopes alive.
The scoreboard in Rosenblatt Stadium read: Miami 7, Florida State 5.
For the Seminoles, owners of a nation-leading 54 victories, it spelled an all-too-common end for skipper Mike Martin, who, after 13 trips to Omaha, is still looking to drink his first championship toast.
Without Raben, though, the Hurricanes -- who blew a ninth-inning lead for the first time this season Saturday while being knocked off by Georgia 7-4 -- could have been going home 0-2 for the first time in their past 20 trips here.
It was in the third inning, with two outs, when Raben came to the plate with the bases loaded and Miami up 2-1. At the time, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound left-hander was batting all of a buck 54 in the NCAA tournament, so the Noles had to feel good about getting back in their dugout without suffering further damage.
Instead, Mohawkman mashed a 1-1 pitch from Elih Villanueva up the middle for a two-run single.
Only because Florida State scored three ninth-inning runs off first-round draft pick Carlos Gutierrez did that not turn out to be the winning hit.
But if the Seminoles had to vote for a Most Hated Hurricane award, Raben would have been the hands-down winner.
In addition to his only hit in eight CWS at-bats, he turned a potential big sixth inning by Florida State, which trailed just 4-2, into a quick zero.
With Tyler Holt on first and no one out, Jason Stidham hit a sinking liner to right. Before it could fall in, Raben, leaving his feet on a face-first dive, snared the ball inches from the ground, had the wherewithal to notice Holt had broken toward second on contact, and quickly threw back in to double him off at first.
Just in case the Seminoles weren't already deflated enough, national Player of the Year Buster Posey followed with a single. A hit that became meaningless when reliever Eric Erickson, who had entered the game unexpectedly in the second when starter David Gutierrez took a liner from Tommy Oravetz off his shoulder, retired Jack Rye on a fly ball to Tekotte.
Indeed, the power of the mohawk had struck again.
"We were in Clemson last year and I was about to give myself a haircut in the hotel room, and Tekotte was like 'Hey, man, let me give you a haircut.' I was like, 'What do you mean?'" Raben said. "He was like 'I'm going to give you a Mohawk, and if you do well, you have to keep it for the rest of the series.'"
The whole team has so much confidence to come back. We know after losing that first game, we had to win four games in a row to get to the championship series. We did that so many times throughout the regular season, so we feel like there's no reason why we can't do it now.
And so, after a frustrating start to this year's regional, it was haircut time again.
"Blake was like 'Hey, remember last year when I gave you a mohawk, you went on a tear? Let me do it again,'" Raben said.
In the next three games, Raben was 4-for-9 with pairs of doubles and homers and four RBIs, walked seven times, and scored six runs.
It's that kind of karma, along with a roster that includes three first-round draft picks and balance throughout, that has Miami thinking it really can come all the way back through the losers' bracket to make the championship series.
Never mind that the odds are against them even more than they appeared to be before Raben's clutch third-inning hit.
Since the CWS went to a top-eight national seed format in 1999, Oregon State's 2006 club is the only one to lose its first game and come back to win the title. USC had done it in 1998, but before that, the last team to pull off the feat was Arizona in 1980.
Raben is fine with that history.
"It wasn't a fluke that we were the No. 1 national seed. We've been ranked No. 1 for most of the year, and that's not just by chance," he said when asked why the Canes should be considered a major threat to win three more games to earn a spot in the best-of-three series that starts next Monday. "Obviously, we would've like to have come through that first game, but it's not time to feel sorry for ourselves.
"The whole team has so much confidence to come back. We know after losing that first game, we had to win four games in a row to get to the championship series. We did that so many times throughout the regular season, so we feel like there's no reason why we can't do it now."
After all, this team was already the first at Miami to lose a super regional game at home.
To clear another hurdle Monday, the Canes had to beat a squad that had won six straight elimination games in the NCAA tournament by getting the kind of inning-extending hits that Florida State, which stranded 17 baserunners (a CWS record for a nine-inning contest) could not.
"I think it was just kind of an eye-opener for us losing that first game," Tekotte said. "Our talent made us get here, but we have a lot more than talent. We have a lot of great guys, and we know how to come together. Hopefully, we can get this thing going."
But just in case they need a little something beyond the talents that have gotten them this far, Tekotte will keep the clippers -- and Raben -- close by.
Curt McKeever is a reporter for the Lincoln Journal Star.
ROAD TO OMAHA
Bracket | Schedule/results
College World Series finals -- Game 3• Griffin: Fresno State's title is good for sport
• Griffin: From the land of misfits, a champion
• Fresno State shocks Georgia for first CWS title
• Around the Horn: Ace effort
College World Series finals -- Game 2• Griffin: Early struggles spark postseason success
• Fresno State forces Game 3 in 19-10 win
• Around the Horn: Know when to Holden
College World Series finals -- Game 1• Griffin: Beckham calls the shots | Recap
• Around the Horn: Can the Bulldogs bounce back?
• Kimmey: Burning Questions
College World Series -- Day 9• Merrill: CWS attracts a colorful crowd
• Georgia bounces back in big way
• Fresno State stuns UNC to advance to CWS
• Around the Horn: Magic Men
College World Series -- Day 8• McKeever: Georgia's Poythress of steel | Recap
• North Carolina evades elimination on Saturday
• Around the Horn: Flack Attack
College World Series -- Day 7• Pitching powers UNC past LSU | Recap
• Around the Horn: Perfect Pitch
College World Series -- Day 6• North Carolina-LSU suspended because of rain
College World Series -- Day 5• Stanford pitches by committee | Recap
• Around the Horn: Sick Feeling
College World Series -- Day 4• LSU is the Dean of Comebacks | Recap
• Fresno State within a win from the CWS finals
• Around the Horn: Wild Card
College World Series -- Day 3• Miami gets out of a hairy situation | Recap
• Georgia rallies in seventh to edge Stanford
• Around the Horn: Where the wild things are
College World Series -- Day 2• Merrill: Fresno's mighty heart | Recap
• UNC escapes LSU's rally
• Arround the Horn: White's Stripes
College World Series -- Day 1• Merrill: Stanford stuns Florida State | Recap
• Georgia rallies in ninth to down top-seed Miami
• Around the Horn: Fields' Day
College World Series Preview• Merrill: Fresno is crashing the CWS party
• Schlabach: Ring is the thing for FSU's Martin
• Albright: LSU's long and winding road
• Haller: Bulldog mentality suits Fresno State
• Dinich: Hernandez tapped for Miami greatness
• Norwood: Castro making name for himself
• Kimmey: Five burning questions
Super Regional Features• Haller: Fresno State extends Cinderella streak
• Albright: LSU sends Alex Box out in style
• Dinich: Balance key to Miami's success
• Schlabach: FSU survives Wichita, fans
• Norwood: Stanford completes comeback
Super Regional Previews• Griffin: Rice duo eases fans' worries
• Schlabach: Draft on the minds of Georgia stars
• Coaching keys Fullerton's success
• Dinich: NC State's 'pen shuts the door
• Kimmey: Burning super regional questions
Regional Coverage• Griffin: Aggies got a new attitude
• Norwwod: New faces, same story for Fullerton
• Schlabach: Georgia rallies -- again
• McKeever: (Ant)Eaters your hearts out
• Dinich: NC State shows grit
• Griffin: Rice's win is thrice as nice
• Recaps: Monday | Sunday
Regional Previews• Kimmey: Six regional burning questions
• BA: Region-by-region preview
• Albright: UNC's throwing pains
• Albright: ACC's tournament contenders