In the bottom of the first inning of game two of the NCAA Division I College Baseball World Series the Arizona Wildcats may have decided their fate with regard to winning or losing a National Championship. The first two hitters were able to get on base and with the number three hitter in the line-up at bat, Coach Jay Johnson decided to have him sacrifice bunt. In my many years of playing and coaching baseball I was always taught that the number three hitter in the line-up was there for a reason. They can flat out hit! Let me remind you the game is in the first inning. The number three hitter has sacrificed 5 times all seasons. They had played 70 games to date. They gift wrapped an out for Coastal Carolina in a crucial situation of the game. The number four hitter comes to the plate and walks. Now the bases are loaded with one out and the number five hitter at the plate. He has attempted 4 sacrifice bunts all season. Coach Jay Johnson decides to put on the squeeze play here. The pitcher throws the ball in the dirt as the runners are moving toward the next base in front of them. The hitter fails to make contact with the ball and the base runner from third is caught a quarter of the way down the baseline. He is thrown out at third base and the other two runners manage to get back to their previous bases before being tagged out for the third out of the inning. The number five hitter gets a base hit to plate the runner at second base. The number six hitter makes the third out of the inning and Coastal Carolina gets out of the inning with only giving up one run.
Many might say, “Why is this important and they scored a run.” I would say, “You might have scored 3-4 runs if you just allow your hitters that are in key positions in line-up to hit.” It’s an entirely different game when you are down 1-0 as opposed to 3 or 4 to nothing. Arizona ended up losing the game 5-4 and set up one game for the national title. Sometimes coaches overthink strategies and try to force things. Many different scenarios could have happened had Coach Johnson allowed his number three hitter to swing away. I personally think his decision in the first inning of game two may have cost them a national title.
With that being said, coaches know their teams and have gut feelings sometimes. It’s easy to second guess after the fact, but one would think these decisions have been thought out and attempted during prior games throughout the season. It was a great series, but one team has to win and one has to lose. Baseball coaches that are students of the game can learn from this scenario and use it as a learning experience.
By Dr. Bret Simmermacher
Dr. Simmermacher is the Chair of Sports Coaching at the United States Sports Academy, and can be reached at email@example.com.