Thursday Thoughts- Weekend Preview

Just like it did in The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, the city of Houston steps up to the main stage of college baseball this weekend.

But it won't be Kelly Leak, Tanner Boyle, Rudi Stein, Carmen Ronzonni and those two hispanic kids, who not only looked five years younger than the rest of the team but also like they'd never played baseball before period, much less for the "California Champs." The six major players this weekend will be Rice, Houston, Texas A&M, Baylor, Vanderbilt and Arizona State.

And instead of the Astrodome, the venue will be Minute Maid Park and its giant retractable roof. When thinking about how this may be the greatest pre-conference weekend in the entire early college baseball season, it also made me think about other great college sports moments that stand out in this city's history.

Feel free to add your own college moments to this list, but here are (arguably) The Top 5 College Sports Moments that took place in Houston:

1- Houston upsets UCLA in the Astrodome, 71-69, in 1968.
Elvin Hayes scored 39 points to outplay Lew Alcindor and beat the invincible, top-ranked Bruins in front of 52,693 fans. It was Alcindor's first collegiate loss and just second loss since his sophomore year in high school. (If you see highlight clips, note how the court was set up in the middle of the Astrodome floor with no seats around it, making it look like an island in a vast sea of concrete.)

2- The formation of Phi Slama Jamma.
Guy V. Lewis, checkered towel and all, delivered the most exciting collection of slam-dunk artists in college basketball history. Overshadowed by Houston's stunning loss to Jimmy V. in the title game two nights later, the '83 semifinal win over Louisville was the most entertaining dunk-fest I have ever seen. With Akeem, Bennie Anders, Michael Young, Clyde Drexler and Greg Michaeux, man, these guys could fly.

3- David Klingler throwing for 54 TDs in 1990.
The year after Andre Ware won the Heisman, Klingler brought UofH football to another level. He threw for an NCAA record 54 touchdowns that season, albeit about half of them in garbage time (much to the delight of the questionably moral head coach John Jenkins), as witnessed by the 84-21 score over the Eastern Washington, in which Klingler threw for 11 TDs.

4- Darrell Griffith's dunk vs. LSU at the Midwest Regional final, 1980.
Louisville were The Doctors of Dunk, led by the 6'4" Griffith and his 48-inch vertical jump. Yes, 48. I'll try to describe the play as best as I can. On a breakaway in the second half, Griffith took off just inside the foul line, "rocked the cradle" a few times in mid-air while cycling his feet, then raised the ball over his head and slammed the ball down with two hands. Even as an LSU fan, you had to cheer in amazement. (Thankfully, at the time NBC televised the NCAA tournament and would re-play dunks 5-6 times each.).

5- Rice winning the last Southwest Conference title, 1996.
The Owls baseball team, under the guidance of relatively-new coach Wayne Graham, officially announced their presence on the national scene by winning the 1996 SWC title, thus closing out the last championship of the old conference. Ever since that season, Rice has been a major player in college baseball.


Which leads us to this weekend's action in Minute Maid Park. How about adding the Friday Vanderbilt-Rice matchup as a new entry into this Top 5 list of college events?

Okay, so maybe it won't go down in that kind of history, but for us stitch-heads, this is THE marquee matchup for February's college baseball slate. More specifically it's because of Rice's Joe Savery going toe-to-rubber with Vanderbilt's David Price. Hype machine operators are going into overdrive on this one.

So let's go ahead and start this thing off with the obvious:

Best Pitching Matchup:
Duh. Rice's Joe Savery vs. Vanderbilt's David Price.
Two of the biggest bummers of 2006: 1- Seeing how brilliant Savery pitched in the Saturday game vs. Fullerton, but then his getting bit by the injury bug, keeping him from being effective the rest of the season. And 2- Never personally getting a chance to see Price pitch in person. At least I'll get to see these two with no problems on Friday. So if you hear a faint voice in your head, it's just me counting down the hours out loud.

The Equivalent of September 16th
This weekend marks one of the better college baseball non-conference weekends of the season. Though not as bad as college football, where September 16th was the only big weekend of note in pre-conference play. Here are some quick notes on the better matchups for this weekend (rankings based on NCBWA pre-season poll):

No. 1 Rice vs. No. 11 Vanderbilt:
Not to beat a dead horse, but this is going to be cool. If both pitchers are on their A-game, we could be looking at a 2-hour game. We'll see. Personally, I'm looking to seeing if Price can deliver his promised dominance. I also look forward to seeing VU's Pedro Alvarez in a great showdown with Savery.

No. 30 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 South Carolina:
It's all about offense. OU's lack of it in last week's 1-2 mark at the UTPA Classic and Carolina's abundance of it in the likes of Justin Smoak, Andrew Crisp and Company. Harris Honeycutt (7-0) will start for SC while OU counters with Joseph Hughes, a two-way threat.

No. 23 UCLA at No. 5 Miami:
Is it fair to use that "two teams going in different directions" cliche after just one weekend? Imploding bullpens aside, this one means more to Miami now, especially with the nervous fan base. Unlike last week, Scott Maine is in the Hurricane starting rotation and will make for a good showdown with UCLA's Tyson Brummett.

No. 6 Texas at Long Beach State:
Augie Garrido returns to his old rivals' stomping ground. This is the poster child series for pitching and defense (not to mention teams not afraid to play good non-conference teams). UT has more potential on offense if they get untracked early. Kinda bummed I'll have to miss this one.

No. 8 Arkansas at Troy:
Kind of like their trip to LaTech last weekend, this is another potential ambush in the making for the Hogs. Major props for being a Top 10 team and going on the road in the first place. The Razorbacks must get a better showing from Nick Schmidt, who went just over three innings in Ruston. Troy's Clegg Snipes (7-0, 4.87 in '06) is one of those hidden gems.

No. 14 Arizona State vs. Texas A&M:
Love this matchup too. The embarrassment of riches in ASU's batting order will keep pressure on A&M's stud Jason Meyer and the defense behind him. Six Aggie pitchers threw 14 strikeouts vs. Texas Southern on Tuesday. Too bad the weekend won't see an ASU-Rice matchup. THAT would've been a great test of the Owl arms.

No. 17 Oregon State at No. 19 Georgia:
A three-game rematch of last June's elimination game in Omaha. May give the slight edge to the Beavers for having already played four games and having a few more bats. But the Bulldog crowd has to account for some advantage as well as the weary travel for OSU too. And if he's anything close to last year's form, Josh Fields will protect any late lead for the Dogs.

No. 24 TCU at Central Florida:
I like this series a lot. These are two teams that adapted to their new conferences in hugely different ways last year. TCU swept the regular and post-season Mountain West titles last year, led by All American pitcher Jake Arrieta. UCF is coming off its first sub-.500 season in coach Jay Bergman's 24 years, while finishing 9th in Conference USA.

San Diego at No. 32 USC:
So Rich Hill, you guys have an encore in you? Both of these teams probably deserve a weekend off or a lighter opponent after last week. USC looks decent pitching-wise with some new faces stepping up (Kevin Couture, Anthony Vasquez), but must play to potential on offense. USD is one of the better teams in the country. A better start from No. 2 man Josh Romanski will be huge.

Most Anticipated Season-Opener:
St. Mary's at No. 34 LSU.
Talk about a nervous fan base. LSU fans have had eight months to hear about how the Tigers didn't make the post-season and are in a down cycle while the rest of the SEC has passed them. Then, a rash of defections took some of the best players away from Red Stick. Not to fear Tiger fans, the Gaels are a team that lost to Patten College (Vince Van?...) already this season. A good old fashioned sweep is just the tonic.

Best Off The Radar Series:
Mercer (2-0) at Bethune-Cookman (1-2)
How good is this? Strangely, it's the Bears that hope to ascend to the level of the Wildcat program - winning their conference and going to the NCAA tournament almost every year. B-CC is ranked No. 1 in Ruffin Bell's BlackCollegeBaseball.com poll and had some good moments vs. Jacksonville last weekend. And I love Mercer coach Craig Gibson's comment in talking with SEBaseball.com's Mark Etheridge, "If the Miami weekend is the high point of our season, and we don't accomplish our goals of making conference tournament and NCAA tournament, then these wins don't mean a whole lot."

Best Midweek Win:
Texas State 3 - Rice 2
As well-chronicled by our own Glenn Tanner in Touching the Bases, this was a white-knuckler that had the Bobcat fans goin' nuts. The best point Glenn brought up was the quality-win-on-layaway factor that will come into play if TSU needs some love from the NCAA selection committee in at-largeland. Those mid-major teams can't help that their conference mates bring a huge anchor affect with them.

Push the start date back to after daylight savings time?
I can hear from friends yelling at me from here. Tuesday's game between Pepperdine and Long Beach State had to be halted going into the bottom of the 9th inning after it was deemed too dark to keep playing. And I actually don' t blame the season start date (that would be silly), I blame Pepperdine's scheduler. See, the Waves don't have lights at Eddy D. Field Stadium, but in the early part of the season, they still insist on starting games at 2pm. Sure the sun doesn't set until around six these days. But with the surrounding mountains overhead, as soon as the sun drops behind them, it gets dark quick. So, after three and a half hours, the score tied at 7-7 and Adrian Ortiz primed to start the bottom half of the 9th at bat, this game will pick back up on April 10th, prior to a regularly scheduled game at Long Beach. Blair Field, by contrast, has lights.

10-game winning streak
Bet you didn't know that this honor belongs to Arizona, didja? It's true. UofA is 5-0 this season after winning the last five of 2006. And like their rivals just up I-10, the Cats have some awesome bats as well this year. In Wednesday's 13-2 win over Utah Valley State, LF Brad Glenn hit a trio of home runs and 1B Bill Rhinehart hit a pair. They'll welcome New Mexico to Sancet Stadium this weekend for a three-gamer. But things get serious with a trip to Cal State Fullerton the following weekend.

Conference play, already?
No, it doesn't count toward the SWAC standings, but fellow members Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Alcorn State will face off this weekend at ASU in a non-conference three-set. Braves OF Marcus Davis is the projected Player of the Year in the SWAC, coming off an '06 season that saw him hit .415-11-54. UA-PB's Jose Rivera, also a senior outfielder, was also listed as a pre-season All-SWAC choice.

That's enough baseball talk for now.

I am happy to report that the CSTV higher-ups have decided to hand over the keys to the company leer jet and I will be able to make the trip to Houston for the three-day Astros College Classic. Like everybody and their brother, I will be there blogging from Minute Maid Park. Fellow CSTV honk Glenn Tanner will be hangin' out too, so prepare for some informative AND entertaining entries in the "Touching the Bases" blog. We just don't believe in being boring.

I will do my best to see if I can track down "Coach" Leak at the petroleum plant, just in case he wants to give his side of the story on the father-son conflict between him and son Kelly in Breaking Training. In the meantime, let's win one for the Looper, and...

Let them play. Let them play. Let them play.

Comments

Mr. Sorenson,
You just brought back some memories for me. Made me feel alot younger too with your reference to Carmine Ronzonni and the Bad News Bears. My freind Jimmy Baio played the role. The Brooklyn raised actor made the part look realistic, he wasn't a bad ball player growing up, although I took him deep a couple of times. Thanks, I've told you before, you do a great job. P.S. The BIG EAST Tournament is in Brooklyn this year at Keyspan Park. If you make it out, the Nathans hot dogs are on me.

Just wanted to let everybody know that there's a video webcast of the Oregon State-Georgia series, and the Friday game is free. Start here
(http://www.osubeavers.com/PromoPage.dbml?SPSID=24958&SPID=1962&DB_OEM_ID=4700).

Also, the Astros College Classic that Eric talks about is available on video at http://mlb.tv. The cost is $14.95 for all nine games.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

 


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