Thursday Thoughts, Surprise Edition

So whaddya' do when your planned ski trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming gets thrown into the trash heap because of bad weather in the midwest wreaking havoc on all travels the rest of the week in and out of the Denver airport? Well first, you cry for about three minutes (wait, did I just write that? Or did I only think that?). Then, you load up the truck, grab a Midnight Oil and Mighty Mighty Bosstones CD or two, throw the dog in there as well and head to Arizona for some desert hiking and college baseball.

That's my fate this weekend. Sure, it's tough to hear the peeps I was supposed to hook up with in Wyoming bragging non-stop about the fresh snow that has fallen overnight and they practically need a snorkel to ski the stuff it's so deep, but I've got The Coca-Cola Classic in Surprise, Arizona to look forward to now. For the second weekend in a row I'll get to see Arizona State's offensive potential unleash its fury as they face off with under-appreciated Missouri, defending national champion Oregon State and defending Surprise Tournament champion Gonzaga.

But I have to admit, I've got to get back to Los Angeles in time for Sunday's Wichita State-Pepperdine game. So I won't be in Arizona the entire weekend. But I did make the drive over from Smogland here today so I wouldn't miss the first matchup between the Sun Devils and Tigers.


What I saw tonight at Packard Stadium---
Missouri - 1
Arizona State - 7
Tonight's game wasn't part of the Surprise Tournament, it was just an extra game thrown in prior to this weekend for the two teams to play. But don't tell Matt Spencer and Mike Leake that this was just another game, because these two first year Devils kept their hot streaks going from their performance at the Houston College Classic. Spencer sparked the offense, going 2-for-4 with a double and single in back-to-back innings and Leake put the clamps on the Tiger bats with 4.2 innings of three-hit relief. In three appearances now, Leake has thrown 13.2 innings and improved to 2-0 and an ERA of zot-point-zot-zot. He has also given up just four hits and struck out 10. I have a feeling this guy will get into the starting rotation before too long.

3B Matt Hall came into the game hitting just .231 (On this team? Isn't that grounds for getting cut or something?), but hit a two-RBI double, in which a third run scored on an error, to throw more dirt on the Tigers grave in the 6th.

On another note, the ASU press box was abuzz all game long because a few buildings over the winless-in-the-Pac-10 basketball team was leading UCLA the whole game long. But an 18-2 run late in the game sealed a 67-61 win for the Top 5 Bruins.

Now, back to baseball.


Best Midweek win in 12 innings---
Troy - 7
Alabama - 5 (12inns.)
Ah. This is one of those wins an in-state little brother just loves to pieces. The Trojans not only get three runs in the top of the 12th inning to win the game, but they also get style points, bragging points and RPI points in addition. That's two SEC biggun's the Men of Troy have disposed of in five days (Granted, they got blown out in the other two losses to Arkansas over the weekend). Edgar Ramirez got three hits on the night, including the go-ahead RBI single in that 12th inning and two doubles as well. Remember, the Trojans won the Sun Belt last year, but didn't get an NCAA bid. Wins like this will help to keep that from happening again.


Second best midweek win in 12 innings---
Lipscomb - 4
Auburn - 3 (12inns.)
Unlike the Trojans, LU isn't expected to get serious consideration for at-large status. But just in case they do head down that road (which would be really cool), this is a nice win to hang their hats on as well. After an Auburn fielding error, Caleb Joseph's two-out double down the line put the Bison up for good.


If I had the company leer jet---
Here are the Top 10 series of the upcoming weekend I would go to:
10- Virginia Commonwealth at San Diego.
This four-game series will tell us a lot. 1- if VCU really is the CAA favorite. 2- If USD can put the series loss to USC behind them. and 3- Will give an indication to these teams what it's like to play 4-game weekends, which is what the February start date might just do to teams everywhere.

9- San Francisco at UC-Riverside.
This one was moved from USF because of construction being done to Bendetti Diamond and the wet grounds up there on the inner-city campus. The Dons can silence some skeptics (like me, I admit it) while James Simmons and Co. can start to assert their mission for 2007.

8- Bethune-Cookman at Tennessee.
The Wildcats already swept the team that swept Miami, so should a series win here be any kind of surprise? Tennessee is in desperate need of an Al Davis weekend: Just win baby. The Vol Friday and Sunday starters have ERA's that read 6.14 and 10.00.

7- Oral Roberts at TCU
The Eagles get their first chance at padding the RPI before their Mid-Continent Conference action picks up and their S.O.S. drops anchor. But it's really TCU that needs the wins more, as witnessed by last year's No. 90 RPI ranking. The Mountain West has done them no favors so far.

6- Miami at Florida.
No matter what these two teams do, this always seems to be a highly-charged, highly-entertaining series. Miami acquitted itself nicely after that season-opening debacle vs. Mercer with a sweep of UCLA. Getting Scott Maine back was big reason. Florida still needs to prove its back in the national consciousness after losing a series to VMI. This is the Gators chance.

5- Wichita State at Pepperdine.
Beyond Barry Enright, the Waves haven't exactly looked dominant, but they do have six games under their belts. WSU is playing its first games of the season and have had little outside practice due to a harsh January. Unfortunately, that will probably show here in Malibu.

4- Evansville at Mississippi.
For those of you who don't think this will be a competitive series weren't paying attention to the Aces in the post-season last year. Kasey Wahl and Pat Tumilty, the two hammers that helped bludgeon Virginia and South Carolina in the regionals are still around. Ben Norton, the Aces Ace, can mow people down. But the Rebels are used to big-time competition, so they'll give a small shrug and just play lights out like they're used to in the SEC.

3- Arizona at Cal State Fullerton.
Is Preston Guilmet for real? Are the new Titan faces for real? Each make a big step up in competition this weekend. Andy Lopez needs to prove something here, otherwise people are going to think this is just another average Wildcat team.

2- Long Beach State at Rice.
These two teams are both getting a lot of pub for the starts to their respective seasons. But for the Dirtbags it's good (series wins over USC and Texas) and for the Owls it's bad (a 3-3 start, huge pitching injuries and questions about their bats).

1- Stanford at Texas.
It's not No. 1 because they are the highest ranked teams or anything, but because of the history of great competitiveness that these two teams have when facing each other. Be it regular season or NCAA tournament play. Two great, great coaches as well.


Best pitching matchup---
TCU's Jake Arrieta (1-0, 1.80) vs. ORU's Chris Ashman (1-0, 6.00).
Sure it's a little under the radar compared to the ranked teams that face each other this weekend, but the scouts will find their way to Lupton Stadium in droves on Friday.


Most anticipated season debut---
Nebraska playing at the UTA Tournament in Arlington, Texas.
Don't you figure that NU is just damned tired of hearing about last year's post-season swoon enough now? February 16th couldn't get here fast enough for coach Mike Anderson's charges. The Huskers will have games against New Mexico, Texas-Arlington and Illinois State. The good/smart thing about the Huskers start to this season is that they're facing slightly easier competition than normal for starters. So don't look for any ugly losses like usually happens in weekend No. 1 for the Big Red.


Big 10 pride is good to see---
Got a response from Big 10 baseball blogger Brian DeCaussin (www.bigtenhardball.blogspot.com), who took offense to my comment about hoping the higher-ups who decided to jack with the season start date take in a regional in Baton Rouge or Austin where the humidity and temps are both 100, while Notre Dame is a pleasant 80 degrees. He said, in so many words, I was hep't up on goofball, because there is a big difference between "uncomfortable" temps in June and non-playable conditions for the northern teams in February. Mea culpa, Brian. I wrote that comment attempting to be ironic. It wasn't really my true feelings on the matter. Truth be told, I'm fine with the common start date, especially considering baseball is the only sport in NCAA that doesn't have one. Yes, the only one. And there's much more to my viewpoint on this, but I'm not going to go into my full feelings here, that's another rant for another day. But I love that the Big 10 really does care about its baseball and that serious strides are being made in facility upgrades across the conference. Good to hear from you Brian. Fight on northern baseball. Sorry I'm just not funny at irony.


Jinxed---
Just as I was giving props to Long Beach State's Manny McElroy for being one of the surprise players in the country on Mark Etheridge's SEBaseball.com, I find out he's injured a wrist and will be out at least a month. On top of that, I failed to notice that the J.C. All American transfer also got blown up by Texas last Saturday in 1.2 innings before being pulled. Guess I was basing my judgement on when I saw him shut down USC in week one. Sorry 'bout that. Either way, get well soon Manny.


This week's worst weather honor---
Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The weekend series between the Hogs and Wisconsin-Milwaukee has already been pushed back one day because the forecast calls for temperatures in the 30s and possible light snow. All of which makes UW-M players shrug their shoulders and say, "Pfft! So."


Two more notes about road trips, while I'm thinking about them---
1- Is it just me or is there always a guy at a gas station just needing a few bucks for gas to get his sick mother to the hospital? Damn I'm tired of being approached while I'm fueling my jalopy at any and every freakin' roadside gas station!
2- Sirius radio station 25, the Underground Garage, could very well be the best station on satellite radio. No place else on the dial or in space can you find a station that plays "all 50+ years of rock-and-roll." During one stretch today while driving across the Eastern California desert, they played, in succession:
- Howlin' Wolf "Backdoor Man"
- Gene Vincent "Who slapped John?"
- The Monkees "Daydream Believer"
- The Ramones "I wanna be your boyfriend"
- Kaiser Chiefs "Ruby"
- The Donnas "Who invited you?"
That covers a good sample of just about each decade right there. Little Steven, he of the Bruce Springsteen band and The Sopranos fame, hosts a show on Underground Garage every afternoon. He claims, correctly, "Everybody has some amount of deejay in them. Not everybody can be an opera singer, or a dentist, or a professional hockey player, but everybody has a little bit of deejay in them."


Have a great college baseball weekend. Look for my input here each night on "Extra Innings" and on "Touching the Bases" off and on each day. And I'll look for your input as well.

G'night.

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Eric Sorenson Eric Sorenson
Eric Sorenson is CSTV.com's National Baseball Columnist, and also appears on CSTV as a baseball expert