March 31, 2008

Sunday Summations - Arizona gets out of the sick bay, picks off UCLA

Historic Sancet Stadium and Kindall Field.

I've been wanting to make it to a game here for a long time. After spending the last three days in Phoenix doing the basketball side of things for the West Regionals, I was able to catch the getaway game between UCLA and Arizona.

UofAZieglerGlenn.jpg
(C.J. Ziegler and Brad Glenn celebrate Glenn's 7th inning home run that clinched the win for Arizona today)

Truthfully, I couldn't wait to get down here to see just what the hell UCLA was doing, playing possum all season long and now, all the sudden, becoming the monstrously good team that everyone expected. The Bruins entered today's game with 'Zona having a chance to sweep the Cats and really plant a flag in the grass that they were back.

Meanwhile the Arizona nine just reeked of desperation, to be honest. They really needed a win today, having dropped eight of their last nine to plummet from the No. 1 spot in one or two of the all-too-numerous rankings out there.

More on that in a bit, let's take care of some Sunday business first...

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THREE UP---
1- California.
Completed the sweep of No. 5 Long Beach State, 4-3.
Like a bat signal above Gotham City, this weekend sends an ominous sign to those in the Pac 10. Cal is for real. David Cooper continues to swing the steel, going 3-for-3 today to add to his two homer performance from Saturday. Matt Gorgen got his 15th career save today, moving him to 5th on the school career saves list.

2- Louisiana-Monroe.
The Warhawks beat Florida Atlantic 13-5 today to complete a three-game sweep.
With the sweep of the former top team in the Sun Belt, ULM is now 10-2 in the conference play and owns weekend sweeps over pre-season No. 2 New Orleans and pre-season No. 4 FAU. Ben Soignier concluded the weekend going 7-for-13 at the dish and picked up the win on the mound in Saturday's 3-2 win. And to put this in perspective, UL-M was tabbed 8th in the coaches pre-season SBC poll.

3- Texas Tech's 9th inning vs. Mizzou.
Took the series from No. 2 Missouri with an improbable 15-11 win today.
The Raiders rallied for six runs in the bottom of the 9th inning, including a jog-off grand slam by Doug Thennis that gave Tech the win and the series in one fell swing. This is one of those moments that could turn a season around for the Raiders too, as they improve to 14-12 and 4-5 in Big 12 play.


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THREE DOWN---
1- Mother Nature again.
Man, she's been a bitch again this season. And it's not just in the Northeast either. If I'm doing my math right here (always a questionable foray) there were a total of 17 cancellations all across the country. Storm systems in the Midwest and South wreaked havoc on the college baseball landscape all weekend long. Not just with cancellations, but also revised schedules. It's a shame when teams have to bunch games together on a Sunday - like Vandy and Arkansas did, one of which was a 7-inning affair.

2- The Hogs.
Lost twice to Vanderbilt, 6-5 (12inns) and 6-3
After seeing the Hogs beat Nebraska 9-4 last week, I came away impressed with Dave Van Horn's nine. But having gone 2-5 since then, it turned out to be a lost weekend for the Hogs - literally. Because of horrid weather all weekend, it took three days to complete game one (a 12-inning loss) and then game two was shortened to seven innings. Maybe, in secret, the Razorbacks are glad one game was lost to weather, because this team has been snakebitten. UofA is now just 2-6 in SEC play.

DaveVanHorn.jpg
(Not even the umpires are giving Dave Van Horn respect lately)

3- The Chips.
Lost twice at Buffalo, 1-0 and 4-3.
Central Michigan, the MAC West Division favorites, trounced the Bulls in three straight last year by a combined 24-6. This was supposed to be a no-brainer. But the perennial bottom-feeders stung the Chips twice today, allowing just one earned run in the two wins. Jeffery Hains went 8.2 innings giving up just five hits in game one. CMU is off to a terrible 1-4 start in MAC play and just 7-15 overall. So much for that expected 30 or maybe 40-win season I predicted in the season preview.


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THE OUCH LIST---
Let's get on with our Sunday tradition here stitch-heads.

- Long Beach State.
Results:
Got swept at Cal, L6-1, L10-6, L4-3
Why it hurts:
I suppose this might be one of those situations where the schedule is finally starting to grind on the Dirtbags a bit. They seemed to just ran out of gas today, making uncharacteristic mistakes in the field. Doesn't get any easier either, as the Beach now travels to play at Stanford and at Fresno in the next two days.

- Rice.
Results:
Lost twice vs. Southern Miss, L1-0, W7-0, L8-7
Why it hurts:
Going 1-2 this weekend already equals the number of losses Rice has had in C-USA play for the last two years each. My prediction of them going something close to 22-2 in C-USA play again is going to be wrong. Dare we say... their run at the top is in jeopardy too?

- San Diego
Results:
Lost two of three at home to Santa Clara, W1-0, L12-10, L6-4.
Why it hurts:
Just when you think USD has righted the ship, the Toreros go and drop their WCC opening weekend at Cunningham Stadium. Frosh sensation Kyle Blair was roped hard for seven hits and runs in 2.0 innings on Saturday and Josh Romanski had his first pitch of today's loss sent off the apartment building beyond right field by Matt Long. USD is now 19-10 overall.

- Boston College
Results:
Lost all three at home vs. Georgia Tech, L5-2, L-13-2, L3-2
Why it hurts:
BC has played well this season (including a pair of wins at Clemson), they also were salivating at the chance to hang a few more Ls on a ranked team. But this weekend it wasn't meant to be, losing Sunday's getaway game by the barest of degrees.

- Lafayette
Results:
Lost three of four to Patriot rival Navy.
Why it hurts:
The Leos dominated the PL last season and were the favorites to do it again in '08. But this opening weekend of league play saw them lose a pair of one-run games, including today's finale, where Navy won 6-5 in 13 innings.

- Florida Atlantic
Results:
Got swept in three straight at UL-Monroe (4-3, 3-2 and 13-5)
Why it hurts:
The Owls went from being in first place in the Sun Belt to three games behind the Warhawks with the three losses. But it was the pen that really constricted the Blue Wave attack, giving up just one earned run in 10.2 combined innings of relief this weekend.

- Missouri
Results:
Lost two straight at Texas Tech after winning Friday night 1-0.
Why it hurts:
This isn't a major "ouch" here since losing a series at Tech is not horrible. Dan Law Field is a tough environment to get a W to begin with. But Sunday saw the Tiger arms finally go bust as they gave up six runs in the bottom of the 9th to lose 15-11.

- Houston
Results:
Got swept out at San Diego State, L8-0, L7-6 and L9-6
Why it hurts:
At 16-7 and with wins over the likes of Texas Tech, UL-Lafayette, East Carolina (2) and Rice, I was looking forward to what UofH would do in this last non-conference hurrah before returning to C-USA play next week again Central Florida. Unfortunately, Raynor Noble's charges couldn't gain any ground against Tony Gwynne U., losing all three games, including a blowout loss today that was made cosmetically better by the Coogs scoring five of their six runs in the 9th inning.

- West Virginia
Results:
Lost two of three at Rutgers, L8-4, L8-2, W8-7 (10inns)
Why it hurts:
Labeled as one of my "Teams to keep and eye on" this weekend, the Mountaineers folded up like a cheap tent in Scarlet Knight country, having their 11-game win streak snapped. They ended Friday's game with a bases-loaded pop-up and finally pulled out an extra inning win today to salvage some semblance of respect. Still, at 20-6, it's not too late to make a good impression and this week's visit from South Florida offers a chance to make amends.

- Portland
Results:
Swept in three straight at home vs. LMU, L7-2, L9-3, L-12-3.
Why it hurts:
Other than having a DeMarini bat commercial filmed at their home stadium, there hasn't been a lot of marquee to the Pilot program over the last 10 or so years. When they got out to a 10-2 start this season - including wins against Michigan, Hawaii and Fresno State - it got my attention. But now, with the three losses to the Lions this weekend, PU is on a 2-8 slide and appears headed for the bottom half of the WCC again.


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WHAT I SAW AT SANCET STADIUM TODAY---
UCLA - 011 000 020 - 4 6 2
UofA - 110 120 21x - 8 12 1

WP- Eric Berger (2-1)
LP- Gavin Brooks (1-2)

Arizona coach Andy Lopez wasn't in the dugout for Friday night's 4-3 loss to UCLA because of a fever keeping him under the weather. He mentioned that the fever broke early on Saturday and he was hoping his team's 6-game losing streak fever would break soon too. Well coach, it looks like today your teams' feverish funk broke as well.

The Desert Cats took an early 1-0 lead on a T.J. Steele RBI single in the first inning and never trailed from there. Steele teamed with fellow lumberjack C.J. Ziegler to put the screws to the Bruin staff, both going 3-for-4 and got the backing of cleanup man Brad Glenn, who went 2-for-3 with three ribs, including his third home run of the season.

I gotta say, Ziegler was pretty damn impressive, with a hulking presence at the dish and a smooth stroke, he didn't seem the least bit bothered by the flu bug he was trying to shake off that caused him to miss Saturday's game. (What's in the water here in Tucson, with these sick bodies and all?)

On the mound, Wildcat starter Eric Berger allowed only two runs on four hits in five innings of effective work. Daniel Schlereth came on in relief, striking out five Bruin batters in three innings. This was a much better performance than that Saturday Horror Show that saw the Bruins rip Cat arms for 22 hits and 20 runs.

Nice bounce-back Sunday Arizona. Welcome back to the land of the living. Now, lets just hope that sickness bug doesn't come back to bite you again.


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BIGGEST UMPIRING GAFFE---
Unfortunately, the only real dunce-cap moment of the game came in the bottom of the 5th inning when UCLA managed to pull off the "hidden ball" trick on Arizona's Jon Gaston, whom third baseman Jermaine Curtis tagged while leaning off of third base. The King Cap goes out to the umpiring crew who totally didn't see the play and made no call at all. Eventually, after Curtis and UCLA skipper John Savage pleaded for a call, the umps decided, wrongly, that there was no play and Gaston was safe. The truth of the matter is that Gaston was pegged and the umps just didn't realize the trick play was being pulled off.

HiddenBallAftermath.jpg
(Jermaine Curtis and John Savage want answers about their hidden ball trick from the umpiring crew. They wouldn't get them)

In case you're wondering, the umpiring crew that screwed the pooch on this call was Billy Haze, Bill Speck and Steve Mattingly. Oh, and Mattingly, who bears the biggest brunt for botching the play, tossed out UCLA assistant coach Brian Green during the aftermath. Luckily the play didn't end up being a deciding factor in the game.


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CELEBRITY SIGHTING---
Don't know if you can call seeing ESPN football personality Mark Schlereth a "celebrity" or not - he's no Pam Anderson showing up at Pepperdine games or anything - but there he was in the front row of the stands encouraging his son Daniel the whole time he was on the mound. I do have one question though, if big daddy Schlereth is a 6'5" former NFL offensive lineman, how did Daniel end up being a slight-built 6'0" relief pitcher?

MarkSchlereth.jpg
(Big Daddy Schlereth recording every pitch his boy Daniel makes on a DV camera.)


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NOT A GOOD PLACE FOR A BREW---
After the game was done, I was dying for a cool brew and desperate to see the end of the Kansas-Davidson basketball game. So I left the stadium and went searching for a sports bar of some sort. Now, I don't know if I just took some wrong streets in the process, but I couldn't find a watering hole anywhere on the outskirts of the campus. Hell, I would've even settled for a Chili's or Ruby Tuesday's at that point. After about 20 minutes, I ended up at some place called Famous Sam's, a shady joint that didn't even have windows. What is this, a casino?


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PUTTING OUT AN A.P.B. FOR ONE OF MY BIGGEST CRUSHES---
Unfortunately, my visit to the Tucson campus was done with a heavy heart, because fastpitch pitching guru - and fabulous babe - Nancy Evans is no longer with the Wildcat softball program. So there were no Nancy sightings, unfortunately. The seven-year assistant softball coach quit her position before this spring season started for the red, white and blue. In fact, does anyone out there know what happened to Coach Evans? C'mon stitch-heads, gimme some low-down if you know. Tell you what, Nancy, if you're reading this, I'd like to buy you a nice dinner somewhere and see what you're up to nowadays. And yes, I promise free publicity for doing so.

UofANancyEvans.jpg


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Okay stitch-heads. Another great weekend down, more great stuff to come. In case I didn't mention it before, I've been assigned to cover UCLA in the Final Four down in San Antonio this coming weekend (LOVE the March Madness!) and for the sake of the adventurist in me, I'm driving my way from Tucson to S.A. for the big event. So while I'm on the road, I'll be sure to (finally) go way the hell off the beaten path and make my way to the college baseball Hall of Fame in Lubbock sometime this week.

I'll give you the full low-down on what the place is like.

In the meantime, I'll be hitting the high road to Texas in my cold blue steel, listening to my Underground Garage (channel 25) on Serius radio along the way. And yes Kendall, it IS a cool way to go to the Final Four. I'm diggin' it.

G'night.

March 30, 2008

Saturday Statements - Top 10 carnage

At the conclusion of net-cutting ceremony for UCLA's cagers at the West Regional final between the Bruins and Xavier, I made my way out to Packard Stadium lucky enough to see the final two innings of another Arizona State bloodletting. Sheesh! What's new?

ASUscoreboard.jpg
(This pretty much tells you what I walked into at Packard Stadium tonight)

Man, this is one ugly weekend for USC and Chad Krueter's rebuilding project in Troy. But the good news is that this is the only time all season that the Trojans will have to face off with the Sun Devils.

Speaking of ugly, check out what happened in the Top 10 today. We'll address them in the Three Down. First this...

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THREE UP---
The cool side of the day in college baseball.

1- The two schools that share the same fight song.
No. 28 Cal defeated No. 5 Long Beach State 10-6.
No. UCLA beat No. 6 Arizona 20-8.

Former Cal State Fullerton Titan David Cooper blasted a pair of home runs to ensure that the Beach would finally lose its first weekend series of the season. (Of course, in a strange twist, former Cal Bear Jason Corder, now the Dirtbag right fielder, also managed a grand slam against his old team.)

UCLA jumped all over Saturday starter David Coulon for nine runs and eight hits in 2.1 innings of work making this a no-brainer from the word go. Casey Haerther went 7-for-7 and got four hits from Jermaine Curtis and Brandon Crawford as well. This was ugly.

YayBruins.jpg
(It was good news all the way around for UCLA today)

And yes, for those of you not too familiar with the UC system, Cal and UCLA do indeed have the same fight song. Never understood that one.

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2- Another no-hitter.
Kennesaw State - 0
Lipscomb - 4
Brandon McClurg tossed 113 pitches in a complete-game, 10K no-hitter today to beat the Owls and help LU improve to 13-11 and 9-5 on the season. McClurg also improved to 4-0 with the win and is now sporting a 1.59ERA with a 34-10 K-to-BB ratio.

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3- UNC-Wilmington setting the new CAA win streak mark.
Under a cold, gray 48-degree sky, the Seahawks spread a lot of warmth in their program with today's 3-2 win over Virginia Commonwealth. They just set the new conference-best winning streak mark at 19, eclipsing the old mark held by VCU (1998) and Old Dominion (2006). The win also means UNCW ties this season's national best of 19 straight wins held by Kentucky and Arizona State. They both lost last weekend.


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THREE DOWN---
The bummer side of the day in college baseball.

1- The Top 10.
Seven of the nation's Top 10 lost on Saturday.
No. 3 North Carolina lost to N.C. State 8-6.
No. 4 Florida State lost at Wake Forest 4-2
No. 5 Long Beach State lost at Cal 10-6
No. 6 Arizona lost to UCLA 20-6.
No. 8 Missouri lost at Texas Tech 3-2.
No. 9 UC Irvine lost at Cal Poly 4-2.
and No. 10 Texas lost to Nebraska 2-0.

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2- Texas.
Lost 2-0 to No. 30 Nebraska.
The Longhorns, with all their expected high draft choices on the roster, could muster only two hits against NU's Thad Weber. The Cornhuskers' Saturday starter struck out five and walked only two. In case you were wondering, Jordan Danks, Brandon Belt, Preston Clark and Kyle Russell went a combined 0-for-12 after going just 2-for-12 in yesterday's loss.

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3- The (former) leaders of the SWAC.
Alcorn State, lost 5-3 at Jackson State.
Prairie View lost at Southern 6-3 and 4-2.

Both schools came into the weekend leading the East and West divisions respectively but leave with their tails between their legs. Alcorn was 7-2 coming in, but with today's loss to the Tigers, they lost two of three to allow JSU to take over the East lead.

In PV's two 7-inning losses at SU, the Panthers allowed seven of the 10 runs in unearned fashion. The Panther D also committed six errors and blew leads in both games.


Have a good Sunday in college baseball land.

G'night.

March 29, 2008

Friday First Takes - The "ASU-games-are-beginning-to-be-no-fun" Edition

Their games are over with quicker than a Politicians For Ethics role call.

This ASU team just keeps pile-driving people, especially the games I've been to. I've now seen the Sun Devils beat Vanderbilt 18-6 and today they obliterated USC 16-5 in front of a sellout crowd at Packard Stadium.

MurphKreuter.jpg
(Pat Murphy and Chad Kreuter share a light moment before the game got ugly)

Improving to 23-1, tonight was Arizona State's 13th game where they've reached double-digits in the scoring column. And of those 10 where they didn't, four of those they either shut the opponent out or held them to one run. This team is still scary good, as I found out again tonight.

First to a quick sweep of the national goings-ons:

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THREE UP---
Those things in college baseball that deserve the loudest shout across the rooftops today.
1- Kentucky and Nebraska.
UK won at South Carolina 15-3.
NU won at Texas 14-4.
It was hard to single out just one of these teams. These are two teams that I had on my "Show Me" list going into the weekend and, well, sure enough I've been shown.

The Wildcats showed no freakin' fear at all. In fact, they laid the first "L" on Mike Cisco's ledger by blasting his offerings all over the place, plating 12 runs in the first three innings and never looking back. The Bat Cats did a great impression of the Cock bats by blasting five home run balls, including two by Marcus Nidiffer.

The Huskers, meanwhile, have become come-from-behind specialists. Give them credit for not freaking out after staking the Longhorns to a 4-0 lead after three innings in rowdy Austin. From there, NU's top six batters in the lineup went 8-for-16 to paste UT pitching. Jordan Danks, Brandon Belt and Kyle Russell went a combined 2-for-12 as Husker reliever Dan Jennings tossed 4.0 innings of no-hit work.

2- Other good "Show Me" performances.
- Cal squashed No. 5 Long Beach State 6-1 behind Tyson Ross' 8.0 innings of 5-hit, 8K work.
- Southern Miss edged No. 12 Rice 1-0 on a Ty Sutton solo shot and Barry Bowden's pitching.
- UCLA escaped Arizona 4-3 in 10 innings after Jermaine Curtis tripled and was sac flied in to win it.

3- The Barrys. Er, I mean... the Berrys
In the above mentioned USM win over Rice, the Eagle's Barry Bowden out-dueled Ryan Berry in one of the best-pitched games in college baseball this year. Bowden nearly went the distance (8.2inns) and struck out 10 with just four hits. Berry - with and "e" - went 8.1 innings, striking out 13 and also giving up just four hits. The only run of the game was scored when Trey Sutton torched a ball over the right field fence in the game's second at-bat.


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THREE DOWN---
Those things in college baseball that don't deserve the loudest shout across the rooftops today.
1- Ron Polk announcing his retirement.
I know this happened yesterday, but I didn't get the chance to add it to my Thursday Thoughts. What a freakin' bummer. I dig the guy. I've always liked his punk rock attitude toward the NCAA, saying things that other coaches love to hear him say because they don't have the cajones to say it themselves.

Oh and tonight, MSU beat Polk's former team, Georgia, 3-2 in 10 innings on a wild pitch.

2- The near-misses.
- Duke lost to No. 2 Miami in 10 innings. (Dennis Raben two-run double)
- Texas Tech lost to No. 8 Missouri 1-0. (Aaron Crow- 8.0inns, 2 hits)
- Santa Clara lost to No. 14 San Diego 1-0. (Brian Matusz 8Ks, CG, now 5-1)
- Liberty lost to No. 18 Coastal Carolina 5-3 in 11inns. (Five Flame Es and three Tommy Baldridge RBI did them in)

3- The Big 10 Network's season opener.
Ohio State lambasted Penn State 15-0.
Well this isn't exactly what the network had hoped for in their first ever baseball telecast. But give thumbs up for two things. 1) OSU playing this well. And 2) At least Mother Nature cooperated. While games within two hours of Columbus were getting cancelled because of rain and even show, this game was able to be played.


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WHAT I SAW AT PACKARD STADIUM---
USC - 000 030 020 - 5 11 2
ASU - 112 480 00x- 16 16 1

WP- Tommy Rafferty (4-0)
LP- Tommy Milone (3-2)

This wasn't Tommy Milone at his best. But this was another one of those ASU instructional series examples of how to demoralize teams in a quick fashion. The Devils put up runs in each of the first five innings on the way to a football-style 16-5 win.

KipnisWallace.jpg
(Jason Kipnis gets congrats from Brett Wallace after another Sun Devil run has scored)

The Trojan chariot wheels came off in the four-run 4th inning, keyed by errant throws from SS to 3rd on a fielder's choice, Catcher to SS on a pickoff attempt and CF to the fan in the second row when Nick Buss attempted to throw out Brett Wallace who was streaking toward home. Three of the four runs were unearned.

Well, then again there was another set of wheels that came off in the 8-run 5th inning too. That barrage was highlighted by a bases-loaded, three-run double to the base of the wall below the scoreboard by Kiel Roling. The three pitchers USC used in the inning shot themselves in the foot by issuing five walks in the frame, all of which came around to score.

After that two-inning total of 12 runs, it was over. And I had to take off anyway. Because I had to drive into downtown Scottsdale to see...


BlkRebMotrcylClub.jpg
(Black Rebel Motorcycle Club playing in Scottsdale tonight. Yep, they wear black and they are rebels.)
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BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB---
Named after a motorcycle gang from the Marlon Brando movie "The Wild Ones", this band from San Francisco (great, now I know Kendall Rogers has stopped reading), played at the Martini Ranch. Good straightforward rock-n-roll with bass, drum and wire, pretty reminiscent of hard-driving 90s bands like Ride or The Stone Roses. Possibly played too many slow songs here and there, but the high energy stuff was deep, chest-thumpin' good. Very versatile musicians too, playing electric, bass and acoustic guitars throughout and a harmonica at the same time.

Check them out at www.blackrebelmotorcycleclub.com.

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JUST AS MURPH WOULD WANT IT---
On ASU coach Pat Murphy's trips out to the mound tonight, the Packard Stadium P.A. played Bruce Springsteen's "Prove it all night". Murph loves the Boss, even going so far as to quote him in press conferences at Rosenblatt.

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NOT A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK---
The first reliever tonight for USC was Jordan Hershiser, who came in for starter Milone and immediately walked the first two batters he faced. He then gave up a frozen rope line out to first by Jason Kipnis. After that, he was then replaced by Daniel Cooper. Both of his walked batters came around to score on an Ike Davis double.


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SECOND SELLOUT IN THE LAST 10 DAYS---
Tonight's announced crowd of 4,371 was ASU's second sellout crowd in the last 10 days. Back on March 18th, the Devils hosted then-No. 2 Arizona, and like tonight, had no tickets available.


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TWO PITCHERS, TWO DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS---
The pitching matchup that Aaron Fitt had underlined as the one to watch this weekend never materialized. San Diego State's Stephen Strasburg lived up to his end of the bargin, pitching SDSU to an 8-0 win over Houston with 12Ks and just two hits in a complete game effort. But Coog ace Wes Musick lasted only 3.2 innings, giving up seven hits and five earned runs in the 19 batters he faced.

Keep an eye on the Aztecs, as they are now 15-10 including recent wins over UCLA, Oklahoma State and now the Cougars.


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GIANT KILLER KILLED IN A GIANT WAY---
South Dakota State - 24
Northern Colorado - 7
UNC has wins over Texas A&M and Arizona State, but today, gave up the most runs ever scored by SDSU in its Division I era. The Jackrabbits' main man was Craig Parry, who hit for the cycle, including a grand slam as part of a 4-for-7 day. In case you're wondering, the Bears have now dropped to 7-18.

Again, look at NoCo's wins: Texas A&M (2), Southeast Missouri (3), Arizona State and Florida International. And yet, the Bears can lose to a South Dakota State. Ya' kiddin' me here?

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NICK'S NO HITTER---
Evansville - 0
Northern Iowa - 3
Nick Kirk struck out 15 Aces and went the distance without allowing a hit to get UNI's first no-hitter since 1995. Only two Aces reached base all game, one on a walk and another on an error. Kirk is now 3-3 on the season.


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CYCLE NEWS---
Georgia Southern - 15
Col. of Charlston - 5
GSU's David Richardson went single, homer, double and triple in the 4th-5th-6th-and-7th innings to hit for the cycle in four consecutive innings. But allow me to big-picture this thing for a moment. GSU has now won six straight games to improve to 15-8 on the season. More impressively, the Eagles have also scored double digit run totals in 14 of those 15 wins. The only game they didn't was a 3-2 win over Pitt at the Keith LeClair Classic.


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WAKE US WHEN IT'S OVER---
UC Riverside - 6
Cal State Fullerton - 7 (16inns)
Dammit Highlanders! Why'ja let the Titans score five runs in the bottom of the 9th? There wasn't another score until one minute past midnite (that's 3:01am for all you East coasters who couldn't stay up listening to it on the internet) when Eric Komatsu, who tripled for the second time on the night, was sacrificed home with the winning run. In that fateful 9th inning, the Highlanders dropped a sure third out in foul territory. Then Josh Fellhhauer singled, pitcher (!) Brian Wilson singled and Komatsu hit a two RBI, game-tying triple. But that time, Komatsu was stranded at third. Not so in the 16th, where he accounted for the winning run. Yawwwwwn. Nice win CSUF. Nite-nite now.


SameClothes.jpg
THESE GUYS PLANNED THEIR CLOTHES TO MATCH---
I can just see the phone conversation between these two before tonight's game.

"Hey man, what are you wearing to the ASU baseball game?"

"I don't know. Probably my oversized white T-shirt, baggy jeans and my Yankees hat... on backward."

"Okay, I'll wear the exact same thing. But I'm gonna go with my Twins hat instead... on backward."

"Deal."


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Because the band didn't go on-stage until midnite - or, if you will, a minute before the UCR-Fullerton game ended - I'm posting this edition really late. So I'm hittin' it now. See you from the basketball arena tomorrow.

G'night

March 28, 2008

Thursday Thoughts - The "C'mon, who cried when Old Yeller got shot" Edition

"We are the wretched refuse. We're the underdog. We're mutts... We're all dogfaces. We're all very, very different. We're mutants. There's something wrong with us, something very, very wrong with us."

- John Winger's rallying speech to the troops in the movie Stripes.

BillMurrayStripes.jpg

I agree with Bill Murray. I like the mutants. I like the mutts. I like those that are different. I like the college baseball dogfaces out there that will actually reach down and grab a set by playing good teams in the non-conference. And face it, stitch-heads everywhere like them too, it's better baseball to watch.

So my fellow dogs, what follows here is a list of the ugly ones. The teams with the murderous schedules and near-.500 won-loss marks. Those silly rankings don't like them. Their stats just aren't as pretty. They're the ugly ducklings. But we all know what ugly ducklings eventually become when June rolls around.

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THE BEST TEAMS WITH THE WORST RECORDS---
Here are the teams that bear watching come May, when the schedules get easier and the wins start to pile up:

- Cal State Fullerton
Record: 13-8
Strength of Schedule: No. 1
Key Wins: TCU (2), UCLA (2), Southern Miss (3), Arizona, San Diego.
Lots of new faces all over the field and in the dugout, so this isn't totally unexpected. But look at the key wins, the Titans are still going to get their quality Ws that will help them in June.

- Loyola Marymount
Record: 13-11
Strength Schedule: No. 2
Key Wins: Oregon State, San Diego State, San Diego, Cal, USC (2)
My closest neighbor is quietly putting together a good run of late, winning six of eight, including a win at Cal and then the two Ws over USC this week. The Lions travel to Portland this weekend.

- UCLA
Record: 10-9
Strength of Schedule: No. 6
Key Wins: Oklahoma, USC, Pepperdine
Former No. 1 team had the misfortune of playing Long Beach State last week. And we all know what happens to people who dare take on the Beach this year. But more than just that, this team is hurting right now, going to Arizona barely above .500.

- Oregon State
Record: 11-7
Strength of Schedule: No. 7
Key Wins: Georgia (2), San Diego State (2), Pepperdine (2)
Suspension of dueling dipsticks Reyes and Wallace hurts. Not a good distraction to have for a team that is about to embark on merciless Pac 10 play. Washington comes calling this weekend, followed by a trip to improved Cal.

- San Diego State
Record: 14-10
Strength of Schedule: No. 10
Key Wins: San Diego (2), USC, Oklahoma State, UCLA
This could finally be the year SDSU turns the corner in the Tony Gwynn era. So much for holding a regional and letting someone else act as host, the Aztecs hope to be at home in June.

- USC
Record: 11-11
Strength of Schedule: No. 11
Key Wins: Pepperdine, Arizona (2)
Still a young team. But the rest of the staff needs to live up to Tommy Milone's example (3-1, 1.67, six earned runs in 32.1 innings. At least Robert Stock has come around (.365, compared to last year's .253)

USCstockBlack.jpg
(Robert Stock is starting to live up to his billing)


-TCU
Record: 13-10
Strength of Schedule: No. 27
Key Wins: Cal State Fullerton, Minnesota, Ole Miss (2)
The steady rise of the rest of the Mountain West is a cause for concern for Coach Schlossnagle and his Frogs. Other causes for concern is the team average of just .274 with only three home runs.

- Georgia
Record: 13-9
Strength of Schedule: No. 28
Key Wins: Arizona, Oregon State, Florida State, Arkansas (2), Tennessee (2)
Considering the tough teams he's faced, Gordon Beckham (.474-13-32) is a no-brainer for Player of the First Month Award.

- Wake Forest
Record: 11-11
Strength of Schedule: No. 34
Key Wins: Pepperdine, Clemson (2), Miami
If you recall, Wake had a similar rough record last year, but still got an at-large bid to the big dance. The pitching ERA is 8.48, but the bats of Allen Dykstra (.342-7-14) and Willy Fox (.301, 8-8SBs) are still potent.

- Texas Tech
Record: 12-11
Strength of Schedule: No. 43
Key Wins: Tennessee, Texas A&M, Texas.
The win total isn't sparkling yet, but the influence of new pitching coach Dan Spencer is showing. The opponent batting average is down from .298 last year to .268 this year.

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A COUPLE OF FAVORITE UGLY DUCKLINGS---
- Long Beach State, 1998.
This Dirtbag team under the direction of Dave Snow, began the season with a 2-8-1 record out of the gate. Their pre-season ranking of No. 21 looked like a sucker's bet. But they rebounded to eventually win the Big West tournament with a 12-0 blanking of Cal State Fullerton. In the old 6-team regional format, the Beach lost its first game to North Carolina state 12-3 to fall into the loser's bracket. Behind the pitching of future Astro Mike Gallo and Caleb Balbuena, the Beach worked it's way back to the final day and eventually beat North Carolina State and Alabama in a span of seven hours to advance to Omaha. Once there, they went 2-2, eliminating Florida State and Miami - a team with Pat Burrell, Bobby Hill and Aubrey Huff. The Dirtbags finished the season 43-23-1.

- Houston, 2003.
These Cougars came with all the ugliness of a land fill. They finished the regular season with a 32-27 record, including a record of just 6-7 in the month of May (not normally a confidence boost for NCAA selection committee). But playing the No. 1 rated non-conference schedule came in handy. As a 3-seed, UofH won its regional assignment in College Station and faced cross-town rival Rice in the Supers. Despite winning game one, Houston fell in the last two games of the weekend. Finishing with a mark of 37-30, the Cougars proved their mettle despite their mark.

- Cal State Fullerton, 2004.
These Titans are the poster children for teams that play a tough schedule, only to look like crap early and finally prove themselves late. Playing the third-toughest slate in the country in '04, they got off to an ugly, ugly, ugly 16-16 start. Because of that they flew under the radar all season, with their ace Jason Windsor slowly but surely peaking as the season went on. They won their home regional as a 2-seed, having to beat 4-seed Pepperdine twice on the last day. After making it to Omaha, the Titans rode Windsor like a champion filly. They also got quality starts from Ricky Romero and Scott Sarver along to way and beat Texas in two straight to win the national title. Their final record ended up being 47-22.

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10 PLACES I'D WANNA BE THIS WEEKEND---
It's "Prove It" weekend in college baseball. Teams like Kentucky, Cal, Duke, UCLA and Nebraska will need to act like I'm from Missouri and "show me" they can win a big one or two or three. Because there are a lot of questions about them out there. It's put up or shut up time.

1- No. 14 Kentucky (21-2) at No. 7 South Carolina (16-6).
If there's anyplace in the country that dreams can go do die, it's Sarge Frye Field to face the molten hot bats of the Gamecocks. The UK arms of Dombrowski, Rusin, Green and Albers will get a big time test here.

2- No. 5 Long Beach State (17-4) at No. 28 California (15-5-1).
This should be fun. But both teams are coming off mid-week Ls to Pepperdine and Santa Clara respectively. Beware Beach arms, Josh Satin and David Cooper of Cal both have nine dongs this year and are hitting, .432 and .383 as well.

3- No. 2 Miami (19-2) at Duke (21-5)
Like Kentucky, this big blue machine's pitching staff may not come out of this in one piece. Miami is batting .341 with 35 home runs and 112 walks. That's some balance. But again, don't sell the Dookies short, as they've won games with North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia Tech this year. They won't be scared.

Duke-Hassan.jpg
(Alex Hassan is hitting .400 with 9-for-13 in stolen bases on offense and is 1-0, 0.82 with 4svs on the mound for Duke.)

4- No. 30 Nebraska (19-3-1) at No. 10 Texas (17-6)
'Braska has had some good luck recently and hope to keep their rabbit's foot in their pocket. So far so good in Austin as NU actually has a 12-9 lead in the series at Disch-Falk. I loved in the notes for this series that Frosh Brandon Belt has 18 two-out RBI so far this season.

5- No. 24 UCLA (10-9) at No. 6 Arizona (13-7)
Some-damn-body needs to step up here. At 10-9, the Bruins need some kind of mean redemption. But going to the desert to face the Cats is not a recipe for success. Or is it? The UofA has now lost five of their last six. It's cold in the desert people. Cold.

6- Southern Miss (15-7) at No. 12 Rice (18-7)
Despite the chinks in the armor the Eagles have shown, they have now won nine of their last 10, including Ws against Central Florida and Ole Miss in the past week. The Owls are hot too, winning nine of their last 10.

7- North Carolina State (14-8) at No. 3 North Carolina (20-4)
State comes limping in with three losses in its last four games. Two of those losses were by shutout. In those three losses, the Pack has mustered just 10 hits. Meanwhile, the Heels got so mad for making my Three Down list after Friday's loss at Maryland, they've gone out and scored 45 runs in three games.

8- Florida Atlantic (16-6) at Louisiana-Monroe (14-8)
The two top teams in the Sun Belt clash in Monroe this weekend. FAU comes in having won seven straight while UL-M has lost four of its last six. Then again, that's what UL-M gets for changing its name to "Warhawks." (And what exactly IS a warhawk anyway?)

9- Lafayette (10-6) at Navy (13-8)
The first weekend of Patriot play will pit the two favorites against each other in Annapolis. Both have pulled off some solid wins of late, including the Leos beating defending CAA quad-champion Delaware two-of-three last weekend and the Middies disposing of Ivy favorites Princeton three-of-four.

10- Prairie View (12-12) at Southern (8-9)
This is the beginning of a six-game series between the two SWAC West Division favorites. The next three will be at PV in late April. Both teams stand at 6-3 in SWAC play and this series will give one of them the leg up. Plus, I also chose this series in my Top 10 because I've got a craving for a breakfast at Louie's.


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BEST PITCHING MATCHUP---
Keep in mind there are many, many, many good matchups out there this weekend. But here's my fave:
- Long Beach State's Andrew Liebel (2-0, 1.14) vs. Cal's Tyson Ross (3-0, 2.65).
Two of Liebel's best games were no-decisions in the Friday night affairs vs. Rice (8.0 innings, five hits, no earned runs) and vs. Wichita State (7.1 innings, four hits, one earned run). In both games, he struck out 11 and walked only one.

As for Ross, he sat out a couple of starts recently, but is back in his Friday role the last two weekends and should flash his low-90s fastball that moves all over the joint and cross-up the Dirtbag batters with a devastating curve. Beach hitters have had a hard enough time hitting anyway, just now raising the team average to .273 after having it as low as .230 a couple of weeks ago.


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BLUE MONDAY---
Check out some of these painful results from the early week action in stitched-ball land.

Harvard - 0
San Diego - 12

Harvard - 0
Long Beach - 15
The Crimson played an 11am game at Cunningham Field, then made the awful drive up "The 5" to get routed at Blair Field. (I thought they were smarter than that.). Get this, Harvard combined for only one hit on the day, going hitless against USD's Josh Romanski and then mustering only a 3rd inning single by Matt Rogers in Long Beach. But that man a beer!... well, now that I think of it, at Long Beach, you can.

TCU - 20
Dallas Baptist - 3
The Patriots not only blow a 2-0 lead in the 7th, they surrender a white-flag inducing 20 runs in innings 7-through-9.

USC - 10
LMU - 11
The Trojans jump on the Lions for nine runs in the 4th inning alone and hold a 10-5 lead when "Take me out to the ballgame" is played during the stretch. But Loyola, with the help of two walks, a hit batsman, a passed ball and two errors, scores six runs in the 8th and 9th innings to pull out the marathon win.

Oral Roberts - 4
Texas - 5 (10inns)
The Eagles need these kind of RPI-boosting wins when they can get them. That's what makes this loss so much more painful. And they lose despite Texas committing five errors and going through eight pitchers. The winning run was scored when Russell Moldenhauer hit a Baltimore chop between the third baseman and the pitcher for a bases-loaded infield single. Arrrrgh!

UC Riverside - 4
Texas Tech - 5
Raiders score the winning run in the bottom of the 9th after having one runner thrown out at home plate. Two pitches later the winning run scores on a throw to the backstop. UCR came back to win on Tuesday 8-6 for just its sixth win of the season.


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ODDEST MID-WEEK SCORE---
Marshall - 3
N. C. State - 0
So let me get this right. Six Herd pitchers, three of them freshmen, combine to hold the Wolf Pack to one (1) hit? Now I see why Elliot Avent has such a burr in his saddle all the time. This team should be doing better.


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TRIVIA---
I'm in a crimson mood, so here's a trio of trivia questions regarding Alabama athletics and covering the 70s, 80s and 90s in each:

1- Where did Tide quarterback Todd Rutledge have the worst day of his career? (Hint: it didn't happen in the 1978 "National championship" season)

2- What Tide roundballer was so tough under the boards and so physical on both the offensive and defensive end, me and my buds used to call him "Bodily" Hurt?

3- What Bama slugger was at the plate in the bottom of the 9th with two out and the bases loaded and a two-run deficit in the 1998 West Regional final against Long Beach State?

Bonus Q:
What happened in that at-bat?


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MORE COLLEGE BASEBALL ON TV. NEVER A BAD THING---
The Big Ten Network kicks off its voluminous baseball coverage this weekend by showing all four games of the Penn State-Ohio State series from Columbus. I personally think it's a great venue to open their coverage at. OSU has the best stadium in the Big 10 and - much to my surprise two years ago - routinely gets large crowds there for weekend games.

Best part about it? The weather should be clearing as of Friday. The forecast calls for partly cloudy skies on Friday and Saturday with temps near 50. Sunday may hold more scattered showers.

OSUbaseballStadium.jpg
(OSU's Bill Davis Stadium will be a good showcase for the Big 10 this weekend)


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LET'S KEEP AN EYE ON---
- West Virginia (19-4)
This weekend: at Rutgers.
They've battled weak opponents and poor weather all season. Still, 19-4 is good. Though they're not your usual decent Rutgers squad, this weekend could be an indicator of strength or weakness. Eight regulars are hitting over .300, including All American SS Tyler Kuhn, who's going .374-5-28, and Jedd Gyorko, who is hitting .474-4-30 so far.

- Southern Mississippi (15-7)
This weekend: at Rice
Tough assignment. But the Eagles went screamin' past No. 15 Ole Miss on Tuesday night by a 3-2 score. They scored two runs in the bottom of the 9th, then got a Corey Stevens solo shot to centerfield to win the game in the 10th. Oh, and ESPN Sports Center made it their No. 8 play of the day. (Damn! Nice work ESPN)

- Minnesota (10-9)
This weekend: at Indiana.
Gophers are doing it again. Just like they seem to do every year, they pull off a few marquee wins to go along with some curious losses in pre-conference play. But those wins always help them out come June for the at-large consideration. They just split a pair of mid-week blowouts with No. 8 Missouri, losing 17-8 and winning 12-5.

- North Carolina Greensboro (17-5)
This weekend: at Western Carolina
Here's what I love about the Spartans. They don't really have a good marquee win or anything, but they've lost five games so far. Two were at Clemson where they lost both by a single run (11-10 and 6-5). Two other losses came in extra innings, to Ohio and Kent State. The only "bad" loss was a 13-6 thumping at Wake Forest. A weekend in the Smokies at WCU won't be easy.

- Canisius (15-2)
This weekend: vs. Iona
I'm sorry, but teams from the MAAC just aren't supposed to have records like this. Not after just 17 games. But here we are with the Griffins. With Wednesday's 21-11 win over Delaware State, CC has now put up a school record 53 runs in three games. That beats the old record of 52 set back in 1957. The offense is hitting .355. The Griffs will finally have their first home game of the season on Saturday.


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NOW WE KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO---
Updates from some fellow stitch-heads on some of the college baseball players I've asked about over the last few weeks.
- Derek Tatsuno, former Hawaii pitcher, 1977-79
Special thanks to "Don Ho" for giving me a quick update. The player that Collegiate Baseball named the Co-player of the Century spent some time trying to make it in a Japanese industrial league (a pre-cursor to the Japanese big leagues). After two years there, he played in the minors stateside for five years but only made it as far as AAA. He was selected for the college baseball Hall of Fame last year. Last whereabouts were as a sales rep for something called WebCo Hawaii Inc.

- Brad Beanblossom, former Oklahoma State player 1983-85
Special thanks to "Anonymous" for letting me know that Brad went on to play in AAA in the Cardinals organization. Today he's a regional sales manager for Louisville Slugger.


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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO---
Gary Burnham?
He was the Clemson left fielder in the 1996 College World Series who mistakenly thought a ball hit down the 3rd base line had been ruled foul. So, as he jogged over to the ball, he decided to do as many outfielders do in Omaha to curry favor of the fans, he picked the ball up and chucked it to the fans in the crowd along the warning track. Only problem was that the ball had actually been ruled a fair ball, so the Miami batter was given an inside the park home run.

Burnham went on to receive standing ovations from the outfield fans the rest of the series.


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It's late and I'm getting tired. Plus, I just got done covering more of that March Madness stuff here in Phoenix tonight. My mind is freakin' mush right now. But I'm pretty damned satisfied 'coz I love this stuff, man.

Check out this pic I took of Xavier's B.J. Raymond after he hit the game-clinching 3-pointer tonight at the West Regional...

BJRaymondShot.jpg

That's fun stuff, man. Okay, it's time to get outta here.

In the meantime... boy, I hope this is the mess hall. How's it goin' Eisenhower?

G'night.

March 24, 2008

Sunday Summations - March Madness reaches the diamond too

This March Madness thing is awesome. Each year I get this adrenaline rush just watching it. I just wish it didn't have to go on at the same time as college baseball. But we cant' have everything we want in this world. So we deal.

KUdancers.jpg
(Kansas dancers put a perfect accentuation on March Madness
You know, college baseball could use some dance girls too.)

Let's get quickly to our best and worst of Sunday and then dive into that beloved Ouch List, 'coz frankly, there was a lot of pain doled out today on diamonds across the country.

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THREE UP---
1- Missouri pitching.
Unbelievable. Combining today's 12-2, run-rule-shortened win to Friday and Saturday's 3-0 and 7-0 beatdowns, you get Aaron Crow, Ian Berger, Nick Tepesch and Kyle Gibson striking out 28 Baylor batters and holding the Bears to six hits this weekend. That's 26 innings and just six... freaking... hits. I don't use exclamation points often, but damn!

Mizzou is now 18-2 overall and probably still destined to get ranked too low.


2- ACC bats.
Either nobody brought a pitching staff or the ACC games today were played with only five fielders taking the field to play defense.
- Miami beat Wake 23-2.
Then the Canes led game two 9-1 in the 4th, but it was called because of lighting.
- North Carolina beat Maryland 19-1.
Fedroff and Flack combine for two grand slams and 11RBI. Heels also get a 10BBs gift as well.
- Florida State beat Virginia Tech 18-12.
Both Dennis Guinn and Tony Delmonico go 4-for-5. Guinn hits HRs 8 and 9 on the year with 5RBI.
- Virginia *only* beat Boston College 8-6.
Compared to everyone else here, Jeremy Farrell's 2-for-4, HR, 4RBI performance looks paltry.
- And then there was the Clemson-NC State game, where the two teams had the gall to finish 2-0 (CU won). Graham Stoneburner (cool name) threw a complete game 2-hitter to improve to 4-0 on the year.


3- North Carolina-Wilmington
Completed a three-game sweep of William & Mary with an 8-3 win.
The Seahawks are on a nation's best 16-game winning streak, including three straight over the vastly improved Tribe by a combined 33-10. The arm staff held the best hitting team in the CAA to a .248 average on the weekend. At 17-4, UNC-W is now off to its best start since 1985 and are now 9-0 in CAA play.

Surprisingly, the Seahawks don't have any stats that will rip the strings off your rickenbacker - .301 team average, 4.62 team ERA - but since the 1-4 start, they've been on fire. Admittedly, it's been pretty easy sailing, but with eight of the next nine games on the road, we'll get a better read on this red-hot team over the next two weeks.

I know I'm watching with interest.


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THREE DOWN---
1- Baylor.
See above. No further explanation necessary.


2- Vanderbilt's curious losses.
Lost today 10-3 at Alabama.
The Commodores discovered that the road isn't so kind, losing twice at Alabama. Plus they continue to be an unpredictable up-and-down team in general. Mostly up, sure. But today's rout means that Vandy falls to 3-3 in the SEC and 14-6 overall. But the troubling thing is when you consider the teams they've lost to. Bama just now got up to .500 with today's win (11-11). They've also lost games to Illinois-Chicago (10-7) and Iowa (6-8). Plus, throw in the gigantic losses to Arizona State and South Carolina and you see why Vanderbilt's losses are such head-scratchers.


3- The Missouri Valley Conference home teams.
All four homebodies in the MVC went down to defeat today.
Wichita State won at Illinois State 7-2
Creighton won at Missouri State 8-4
Indiana State won at Southern Illinois 15-6
Bradley won at Evansville 11-6.

The Shockers had four pitchers combine for 18Ks (starter Anthony Capra tossed 12) vs. the Redbirds and 3B Conor Gillaspie was a single short of hitting for the cycle as well. (C'mon, I'm not too smart or anything, but isn't the single the easiest to get?)


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THE OUCH LIST FOR MARCH 23RD---
It's a long one this time people, because I've got a lot of baseball to catch up on. So here we go.

- Kentucky.
Results:
Lost two of three at Auburn. (L2-0, L7-5, W9-8)
Why it hurts:
It's not a major shock or anything, but this does raise a red flag since we were all bamboozled by last year's identical 19-0 start by a big blue team with a weak schedule that didn't even make the eight team field of the SEC tournament in May. But no worries BatCats, you've got a weekend series with South Carolina up next to ease our fears.

- Duke
Results:
Lost two of three at Georgia Tech (L5-4, L4-2, W10-3)
Why it hurts:
Well, ya' know... now that I think of it, if this was any other Duke team from the last few years they probably would've gone to Atlanta and got clubbed by double-digits. So, Duke, you're off the hook. You played good, competitive baseball and you don't deserve to be on the Ouch List after all. Hell, you blew Tech out in game three anyway.

- Oklahoma
Results:
Lost two of three at Nebraska (L4-2, L4-3, T8-8)
Why it hurts:
This is another one of those cases where a team makes the Ouch List, not for a horrible weekend of baseball, but because they lost in such a painful manner. The Sooners are a good team. For six innings at the Friday game I was able to make, they were the better team. But luck wasn't on their side in Lincoln this weekend, losing on Friday's jog-off home run by Craig Corriston, stranding the tying run at third on Saturday and falling victim to the accursed travel curfew today.

- Rutgers
Results:
Lost three straight at home to St. John's (L12-5, L2-0, L12-9)
Why it hurts:
I've been giving Coach Hill's Knights some benefit of the doubt, especially after winning at Georgia Tech, at Old Dominion and at Texas A&M. But Rutgers may not be the Big East contender I thought they were going to be. Granted, I saw St. John's at Northridge and they're going to be a really good team come May and June, but I didn't expect a sweep. RU now falls to 5-12.

- Hartford
Results:
Went 1-3 at UNC-Asheville (L9-1, W11-4, L33-8) and vs. Brown (L25-9) this weekend.
Why it hurts:
The Hawks got a good win over UNC-A on Friday, but man! That Saturday DH was some kind of painful, losing to the two teams by a combined 58-17. Let's hope this isn't one of those confidence crushers that can ruin a season. Buck up Hawks!

- North Carolina Central.
Results:
Went 0-4 against schools with names like Elizabeth City State and Chowan.
Why it hurts:
First NCC fell victim to Coppin State two weeks ago, breaking the Eagles 55-game losing streak. And now this? Tsk, tsk. But the Eagles did manage to sweep two from St. Augustine's today, 3-2 and 4-0. Wait... who is St. Augustine's again?

- TCU
Results:
Lost two of three vs. New Mexico (W10-2, L7-5, L5-3)
Why it hurts:
The Frogs have dominated the MWC since joining in 2006 and were expected to do so again this season. But they will sing a different song after all, especially in light of the improved Lobos coming to Lupton Stadium and winning this series. Lobo DH Bobby Moore's grand slam accounted for Saturday's series-clinching win.

- UCLA
Results:
Lost three straight vs. Long Beach State (L13-3, L3-2, L10-3)
Why it hurts:
Just like the Beach, the previously No. 1 ranked Bruins were known for their pitching this season. But the light-hitting Dirtbags put a big bruise on the Bruin ego this weekend, garnering 32 hits in all. UCLA, now 10-8, must regroup as fast as it can since Pac 10 play is on the way. They must hope that signals redemption opportunities.

- Arizona.
Results:
Lost two of three at USC (W10-2, L5-0, L5-0)
Why it hurts:
Coupled with the 6-5 loss to arch rival Arizona State, the No. 2-ranked Wildcats went 1-3 this week. And the two blankings at the hands of the Trojans was a stunner, especially for a team that came into the week hitting a crisp .335 against pretty good competition.

- William & Mary
Result:
Was swept in three games at UNC-Wilmington (L9-2, L16-5, L8-3)
Why it hurts:
As mentioned above, this team looked legit, but now, at 16-8 on the season, I wonder. Especially after UNCW shut down their previously CAA-best offense this weekend.


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QUICK HITS---
- Dale Williams, part II.
In my haste to get my Thursday Thoughts out, I had forgotten to post a picture of ex-umpire Dale Williams. So to make amends, well, here you go... the man, the myth, the legend:

Me&DaleWilliams2.jpg

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- Pictures of the most famous pickoff in CWS history.
Also, I had found a picture montage of the famous "Phantom Pickoff" that Mr. Williams nearly blew dead. This is from the Miami media guide of 2006. Sorry that it may be a little bit small to see, but I couldn't blow the image up bigger because it would become all pixelated. But you can see where Phil Stephenson takes off toward second and gets there, only to be thrown out, much to his surprise:

1982MiamiTrickPlay.jpg

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- What ever happened to...
Oddibe McDowell?
(Also forgot this featurette from Thursday... damn basketball tournament getting me off my game in baseball coverage). The former Arizona State Sun Devil center fielder played in 1983 and '84 and was just the third Devil to have his number retired behind Bobby Winkles and Reggie Jackson. Was the Golden Spikes Award winner in '84 after hitting .405-23-74 and stealing 36 bases.

Oddibe.jpg
(Oddibe was a bad man with a cool name)


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THE WORST STRETCH OF INTERSTATE?---
Omaha to Lincoln. And back.
The 52-mile stretch of I-80 between the two cities is wrought with speed swings more fluctuating that Sybll. The mph's go like this:
60-to-65-to-75-to-60-to-75-to-55-to-65-to-60.
There are many stretches of orange construction barrels in places here and there. But there's not a single indication of any kind of construction. It almost looks like they were placed out there because there was a lack of storage space. There are also long stretches of road where you must stay in your own lane and passing is restricted.

I don't get it.


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A COUPLE OF QUICK OBSERVATIONS OF THE OMAHA REGIONAL---
And yes, I'm talking basketball here, but you might dig it. It was a great time at a great venue, but without great games. All six games I worked at the Qwest Center ended up with double-digit winning margins. But here are a few best and worst type of things you might enjoy...

1- The Qwest Center is nice. Like a cool kind of nice.
Omaha definitely wanted a first-class arena to attract a better level of entertainment and events, and, well, they hit the freakin' bullseye. It's one of the nicer facilities I've been to.

One problem: Why on earth did they insist on putting in a stadium-full of battleship-grey colored seats? The entire arena has grey seats. No color patterns to delineate upper from lower seats. No nothing. Take your grey seat and like it. It makes the surroundings look very cold and uncomfortable. They needed Queer Eye for the Straight Guy to head up the design of the chairs.


2- All the excitement of a funeral procession
Unfortunately, as I mentioned, there was no drama, no intrigue and no good games played at the Omaha Regional. I was assigned to cover a group of six games that had not a single result end in anything less than a double-digit win total. C'mon people, where is the March Madness? Damn.


3- Post game press conferences are mostly a waste of freakin' time.
There's rarely, rarely anything said that is worthy or unexpected, especially by the athletes. And it's obvious that most of them are rather not well-read. Michael Beasley looked like Sleepy and sounded like Mushmouth when he was at the dais. As great as he is to watch on the court, he's difficult to watch in a press conference. And K-State coach Frank Martin mostly used the pressers to just rail against media types who asked about his team having a cold streak after the February win over Kansas and to repeatedly refer to his players a "great bunch of kids". I mean, it's okay to say that, sure, but to constantly hammer it to the people there... makes me wonder what he's hiding about these guys.

BeasleyPressConf.jpg
(Michael Beasley after K-State was eliminated. Illuminating nothing.)


4- Really, do we NEED to call them "student-athletes"?
I was at a regional that featured Beasley, Bill Walker, O.J. Mayo, Devon Jefferson, Darrell Arthur and Brandon Rush. There's no reason for the press conference moderator or CBS play-by-play guys to refer to them as anything but athletes. There are plenty of good students in college basketball, sure. And those are the ones I salute more than anyone else. But here in the NCAA tournament, it's the teams with more athletes than just students tend to win more.


5- No wonder *most* media guys are wicked huge.
I wanted to take a picture of it, but I left my camera in press row at the time, but when I went to the media buffet on Thursday, there was all kinds of food offerings for the media members there. Pasta, sandwiches, pizza, cookies, cake, etc. But the gigantor bowl of salad? Barely a lick of it had been eaten. Nearly unmolested by the serving forks sitting next to it. (I actually loved the salad.)


6- A couple of celebrity sightings in Omaha.
Pat Riley, Larry Johnson, governor of Kansas Karen Something-or-other, former K-State football coach Bill Snyder and former ESPN baseball analyst Harold Reynolds were all spotted in the crowd this weekend. The only one I didn't see personally was Reynolds. Which reminds me, anyone know what he's doing nowadays? Ever since his repeated come-on remarks to female workers at ESPN got him railroaded out of town, I haven't heard anything about him. Then again, I don't follow pro baseball too much, so lemme know if you know.

Of the media types, I saw ESPN squawker Jay Mariotti, CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd and former Houston Cougar and current color commentator for Westwood One, Reid Gettys.

7- Do I look? Or do I not? This is awkward.
Okay, I know cheerleaders are a vital part of college basketball. But I gotta admit something I'm not comfortable with. When the guy cheerleaders hold the girls up in the air and the girl cheerleaders do that thing where they lift one leg up high and hold it with their hand, fully exposing their coochie-koo areas that are covered with nothing more than speedo-like underpants.

Now, am I supposed to look at them and cheer for this? Or, since I was sitting 15 feet from them, am I supposed to ignore them? And worse yet, on the numerous occasions when I had my camera out to take pictures of the games and the atmosphere, and the cheerleaders and dance girls were out on the court, I felt like everybody was looking at me saying, "look at that pervert with his camera out every time the cheerleaders go to perform out on the court!"

Dammit people! What am I supposed to do? I hate cheerleaders.

8- Warren Buffet's house.
I can't believe a multi-billionaire that is the richest man in America lives in this modest, two-story house with no security fence and no rabid doberman's protecting it. Apparently he bought the house just East of UNO for $31,000 in the mid-70s and has lived there ever since. Here's a pic.

WarrenBuffetHouse2.jpg
(A modest house sure, but could he afford property in Southern California?)

9- When I left Omaha at 7am on Sunday morning, it was 35 degrees. When I landed in Los Angeles at 12:45pm that same day, it was 85 degrees out. Damn Santa Ana winds... (that's where the wind blows warm air from the desert toward the coast).

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Okay, hope you enjoyed your own March Madness on the diamond. I did. I also got a huge rush of roundball madness too. I just wish there were more upsets this year. Especially in Omaha.

Oh well, maybe all those upsets will be saved for Omaha in June instead.

G'night.

March 23, 2008

Saturday Statements - Not Enough Time

Sorry, I've been immersed in the action on the hardwood for three days now. I don't really have time to do a whole write up of college baseball for today. Just know that I can't wait to get back home and crank up the Three Up-Three Down feature and the Ouch List for Sunday. (I have a sneaking suspicion that Kentucky will be involved).

Anyway, for the time being, I took this picture of a yard sign along 13th Street across from Rosenblatt Stadium earlier today, on my way to the Qwest Center:

SaveRosenblatt.jpg


More tomorrow.

G'night.

March 22, 2008

Friday First Takes - No "Sooner Magic"

Remember those days when Oklahoma's football team had horses like Billy Sims, Marcus Dupree, Elvis Peacock, Thomas Lott and J.C. Watts? Their high-risk, high-reward option offense used to fumble six or seven times a game and still beat the mess out of people by 50-10 or so.

Well, it turns out their baseball team doesn't have that kind of wishbone luck - or maybe I should say that kind of incredible talent. Seven times in their game at Nebraska today the Sooners got their lead batter on and five times they stranded a runner at third base to end an inning. All they got was two stinkin' runs today. And they lost 4-2 in Lincoln.

ChildOfTheCorn.jpg

First a quick look at the best and worst around the country from Friday...

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THREE UP---
The best of Friday action in college baseball.

1- Miami's murderer's row.
Tekotte, Weeks, Alonso, Raben and Sobolewski combined to go 11-for-19 with 10 RBI, four home runs and three doubles. The Canes hit six home runs in all as they lambasted Wake Forest 17-4. I'm running to my Webster's to see if the definition of the word "scary" has been redefined.

2- North Carolina State
Beat Clemson 5-4 at Kingsmore Stadium
I've got my right hand way up in the air, like with my armpit showing and everything. I admit I was skeptical as could be about the Wolf Pack, since they were one of those stay-at-home teams that were stealing everyone's lunch (okay, except Miami's who beat them twice). But today's win at Clemson was impressive. The three-through-six hitters in the lineup powered the effort, going 8-for-14 including home runs by Ryan Pond and Russell Wilson. Pond, the first baseman, also out-raced Kyle Parker to first base with the last out as the game-tying score was heading for home.

3- Northern Iowa pitching.
Beat Northwestern 6-0 and 2-1, combining for 15Ks and just 2BBs.
Talk about getting your triple shot of espresso at Starbucks and heading to the mound. UNI starter Nick Kirks took the mound at 9am in Bradenton, Florida and threw a complete game 2-hitter with 7Ks in game one. Guido Fonseca (who is up for my name of the year team) tossed a complete game five-hitter with 8Ks in game two. Both games were seven innings.

THREE DOWN---

1- Arizona State.
Lost to Northern Colorado 6-3.
So let me get this right, the Devils have beaten Oregon State, Vanderbilt, Michigan, Arkansas, Troy and Arizona. And their first loss is... against Northern Colorado? Who here would've thought that was possible? Anyone?... Anyone?... Beuhler?... Beuhler?

But give major league props to the Bears, that's a win over No. 1 on the road to go along with two wins at Texas A&M and three wins at Ohio Valley favorite Southeast Missouri. Too bad they're an independent, because they could do some damage in a low-major conference.


2- The home-bodies that hit the road.
These teams have spent over 90% of their season in the comfy confines of home so far. Now they've ventured into enemy territory and, well, here are the results.

- Kentucky.
Like Arizona State, entered the day 19-0, but came up short, losing 2-0 at Auburn in its second true road game. Now we'll see if this is another paper Wildcat like last year, or if they're legit and this was an aberration.

- Central Florida.
Lost 8-4 at Southern Miss. That makes their road record 1-2 so far. Their home record? 18-0.

- Duke.
Lost at Georgia Tech 5-4 in its first true road game. But should've won, considering three of Tech's runs were unearned.

- Florida.
Lost 5-4 at Ole Miss by giving up three runs in the bottom of the 9th. The winning run came across on a bases-loaded error with two outs.

- Pepperdine.
Lost at Oregon State 10-3 and 9-7 in its second and third true road games. No on-shore breeze to help at Goss Stadium. Oh and this was OSU's first two home games of the season.

3- Carolina pitchers.
It wasn't a good day for the high-profile arms in James Taylor country.

- T.J. Hose, East Carolina.
The giant killer was hosed today, lasting just two innings and giving up five hits and two runs in a 14-2 shelling by Houston.
- Alex White, North Carolina.
His 6th inning went: HBP, BB, SacBunt, wild pitch, sac fly RBI, reliever comes in. UNC lost to Maryland 4-2.
- Eric Surkamp, North Carolina State.
Wasn't doing too bad vs. Clemson, but gave up four earned runs in the 5th inning, including back-to-back homers.
- Andrew Wolcott, Duke.
The Friday starter for the Dookies suffered his first loss of the season, giving up five runs (though only two earned) in 6.0 innings as part of a 5-4 loss to Georgia Tech.
- Ben Hunter, Wake Forest.
Miami teed off on the Wake ace for two dingers and five runs. 'Course, he also issued five walks too.


(And Liberty, don't think I didn't notice your double-header sweep at the hands of Columbia. I just didn't have room on my "Three Down" list today)


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WHAT I SAW AT HAYMARKET PARK TODAY---

Oklahoma - 001 010 000 - 2 9 2
Nebraska - 000 000 202 - 4 7 0

Nick Sullivan and Craig Corriston led a "surreal" late-inning rally for the Bugeaters, overcoming a 2-0 deficit and winning the game on a Corriston lazer-shot into the face of a fierce wind from left field off of Sooner reliever Ryan Duke.

And I mean Corriston really put a monster charge into the 2-0 offering from Duke in the bottom of the 9th. He had to. That wind was gusting up to 25-30mph today. "I really didn't think I hit that one well enough." Corriston admitted afterward. "The way the wind was blowing today. It was kind of surreal, but we've got a game tomorrow, so it was nice while it lasted."

CorristonHR.jpg
(Craig Corriston rounds third after hitting his game-winning home run)

Coach Mike Anderson admitted it was a matter-of-time kind of thing for Corriston. "He's been a good leader, he's been swinging it well. He's been aggressive. So I'm proud of him. I'm happy for Craig, walk offs are fun. Especially after being behind for so long."

But to say OU "had their chances" would be in-accurate. It's more like they were dominating and really blew it. This game was theirs. As stated above, when a team gets seven leadoff batters on base and only scores two runs, it's a problem. Including in the 6th inning where Jamie Johnson doubled and moved over to third on a wild pitch. Then stood on third as his teammates flew out, struck out and grounded out in succession.

Aljay Davis was the main catalyst for the Sooners, scoring after a third inning double to put up OU's first run, then smacking an RBI single in the 5th to stake out that 2-0 lead. Davis went 3-for-4, with an RBI and scoring once himself. He also laid down a beauty of a sac bunt in his first at bat, displaying his outstanding versatility.

OUaljayDavis.jpg
(Sooner OF Aljay Davis was pretty damn impressive today)

Sooner starter Jeremy Erben was doing an amazing job on the hill as well. Starting just his second game of the season, Erben put the clamps on NU's bats through the first six innings, allowing just one batter over the minimum and three hits, along with some great defense behind him.

But after the 7th inning stretch, Erben gave up a leadoff double, an infield error and a walk to load the bases. Duke came in and immediately gave up a 2RBI single to Sullivan to tie the game.

That set the stage for Nebraska's 9th inning heroics. After two quick outs, Sullivan got back up and delivered again with a sharpe infield single to first base. Corriston then got two pitches out of the zone, before seeing a fast ball that looked more like a beach ball that he sliced into stealth-like into the roaring wind, winning the game.

"We got lucky in the 7th and 9th." Anderson admitted later. "But we're always trying to win the 7th, 8th and 9th innings. Our kids understand that. I give our kids a lot of credit, they were able to put the first six innings behind them. We got some clutch hits. Sullivan and Corriston came up big. I mean Oklahoma's a very good team. Extremely good."

But Anderson still wasn't ready to get totally geeked about his team after one gutsy finish vs. the Sooners. "We have to keep being solid defensively. I don't think we're the most talented team on the field. I don't think we're the most talented team in the Big 12. We're going to do be fundamentally very strong. We have to have days like this where something special happens."

Guess this was one of those "something special happens" kind of days. The kind those Oklahoma wishbone teams used to overcome every week. But that was football.

March 21, 2008

Thursday Thoughts - Greetings from the future location of home plate for the CWS

SiteOfNewStadium.jpg

I'm cheating on you. I'm cheating on all of you. I have decided to keep my usual affair with college basketball's post-season alive for another year. See, CSTV has this habit of sending me to cover the NCAA tournament at this time of year. So even though I love college baseball, I have to admit, I've been seeing another love of mine for a long time.

And sure, it makes me feel as fake as Britney Spears' new British accent. No, make that as fake as Britney Spears period. Abandoning college baseball like that. For shame!

Well no worries. Because the good part is that I'm in Omaha to cover those regional games on Thursday and Saturday. While up here, of course, I'm also breaking my probation officers demands and going to a few Nebraska baseball games at Haymarket Park. So you see, it's not a total lost weekend for the horse-hide.


Yes, I'm dealing mostly with the roundball stuff this weekend, but lemme spend some time right now to give you a couple of thoughts on the college baseball weekend to come. I mean, I gotta keep my finger in the pie of college baseball too.


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COUPLE OF QUICK HITS FIRST---
- We dig into the "Props To You" department.
Mike Martin won his 1,500th game at Florida State back on Sunday with the 17-8 rout vs. Georgia Tech. Good job Cap. Now let's get to work on getting that elusive first national title for ya'. You've still got a lot of people pulling for you on that one.

- Double whammy of honors to Central Florida.
Not only did Mitch Hauk and Austin Hudson combine to no-hit Wagner on Tuesday in a 6-0 win, they also combined for 18Ks. And and in the bonus fact that it also marked win No. 1,200 for long-time skipper Jay Bergman. The Knights also improved to 18-1 on the season. (And the best the pollsters and rankers can do is put them at No. 30?)

- Arizona State wins the 1-vs-2 showdown over in-state rival Arizona, 6-5.
Ike Davis not only puts ASU on the board early with an RBI double, but he also closes out the 9th inning to pick up the save on the mound. You no man, you a monstah!

- My vote for the worst conference performance so far would have to be the Northeast Conference. All combined, the eight teams are 17-75 i. The worst part is that the team with the most wins so far is Wagner. Re-read two entries above.


ArkScoreboard.jpg

- HOG HEAVEN IN LINCOLN---
I decided to fly up here a day early and got to see Arkansas take on the Huskers on a clear, but cool afternoon at Haymarket Park. And as it turns out, the Hogs came out ahead and looked impressive doing it.

Arkansas - 000 110 160 - 9 10 0
Nebraska - 002 100 010 - 4 7 2

WP- Stephen Richards (1-0)
LP- Mike Nesseth (2-1)

NU looked like it was in control of this game for most of the first seven innings. They worked their way through a couple of pitchers, one of which was Arkansas closer Travis Hill, who started the game. But the Razorbacks kept picking away at them. Finally, the damn burst in the 8th inning as the Hogs went on to pick up the 9-4 win, salvaging a split in the two games (NU won Tuesday 6-1)

The big blow came off the bat of catcher Ryan Cisterna, who put the Pigs up for good with a two-run blast to left, scoring himself and the wickedly named Ben Tschepikow (I mean the Tschepikow part is cool, not the Ben part). UofA poured on another four runs to ice the Huskers.

I was impressed with the Razorbacks' lack of quit. They looked a little heavy-footed and defeated early in the game - so I thought this was going to be another mid-week sweep at the hands of another ranked team, like last week's trip to No. 1 Arizona State. But they kept fighting and started figuring out NU starter Erik Bird and the other four relievers that followed.

Still a lot of concern about the Arkansas pitching staff though. The UofA writer I talked with yesterday told me there are two or three decent pitchers and then the drop-off is pronounced. The missing talents of Nick Schmidt, Jess Todd and Duke Welker will be noticeable come the SEC grind of May.

ArkSmallingCisterna.jpg
(#4 Tim Smalling and catcher Ryan Cisterna both homered for the Razorbacks vs. Nebraska)


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SURPRISE TEAMS SO FAR FOR 2008---
The On-The-Radar teams:
- UC Irvine (14-1, No. 9)
Only loss has been a 2-0 pitching duel between Scott Gorgen and Tulane's Shooter Hunt.

- Kentucky (18-0, No. 12)
I'm... slowly... starting... to... believe. (Well, let's wait and see what the Bat Cats do at South Carolina in two weeks).

- California (13-3-1, No. 24)
Keep a close eye as the Bears travel to Wazzu this weekend. Cal has lost two of three going in.

- Central Florida (19-1, No. 30)
If the Knights pick up two or three wins at Southern Miss this weekend, I'm thinking it may be time to make room in the Top 20 for them.


The Off-The-Radar teams:
- Nebraska (15-3)
Wins over Stanford, UC Riverside, Kansas State and Arkansas. The Hogs just broke their 14-game win streak.

- Duke (18-3)
What can you say, they've beaten North Carolina and won a series vs. Virginia. No one expected this. One hitch... first road trip is this weekend at Georgia Tech.

- Canisius (11-1)
Unfortunately, their DH with West Virginia was rained out on Tuesday.

- James Madison (14-4)
Wins against BCS schools Tennessee and Virginia Tech are kind of soured by today's 16-2 loss to Stony Brook.

- Charlotte (14-2)
This is a team that won 11-2 at South Carolina. Not even Vanderbilt could do that.

- Florida Gulf Coast (15-5)
Sure the name sounds like something from a Gabe Kaplan movie, but this team is playing some ball.


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TEAMS THAT SHOULDN'T BE RANKED AT THIS TIME---
Even though we all agree that the rankings are the work of the devil, here are the teams that, if there HAS to be rankings, shouldn't be ranked.
- Michigan (8-6, No. 25 BA)
Keep in mind the "at this time" part of this complaint. They'll be better as the year goes on, but really guys... you CAN'T rank this team right now.

- Cal State Fullerton (9-7, No. 23 NCBWA and No.28 CB)
They have a few good wins, yes. Not going to argue that. I'm thinking it's still not sensical to put this team in right now. But as we saw in 2004 and 2007, drop them for now... it only motivates them for later.

- Oregon State (7-6, No. 25 NCBWA)
Like a lot of last season's regular season, the Beavs are too rollercoaster-like. I know, I know, they'll be there at the end. But they better get their Beavers in a row before the Pac 10 demoralizes them.

- Texas A&M (16-4, No. 23 CB and No. 19 NCBWA)
Sorry, that Northern Colorado debacle keeps hanging heavy on my mind. And wins over Ohio State, Arkansas and Texas Tech are mildly impressive.


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10 PLACES I'D BE IF IT WEREN'T FOR THIS MARCH MADNESS ASSIGNMENT---
Since my time is limited, here's a quick look without a lot of chit-chat on the subject.

1- No. 16 Baylor at No. 11 Missouri
Kendall Volz vs. Aaron Crow. Ah! There's that endorphin rush that college baseball gives me on matchups like this.

2- The Bob Scheafer Memorial Tournament, Tempe.
(Florida International, UC Irvine, Northern Colorado and Arizona State)
Really just waiting around for Sunday when that Anteater-Sun Devil rematch from last year's upset in Omaha takes place.

3- No. 17 UCLA at No. 7 Long Beach State
Great pitching. Solid defense. Big bat potential. And big props to both coaches who love to schedule up before league play kicks in. Who's afraid of a non-conference bruise?

4- Florida at No. 14 Ole Miss
These two should swap places, have the 15-3 Gators ranked and the inconsistent Rebels out of the rankings.

5- No. 24 Cal at Washington State.
The Bears are the surprise of the Pac 10, though with talents like David Cooper and Tyson Ross, it shouldn't be too shocking. Wazzu is coming off a quietly impressive series win at Oklahoma.

6- No. 29 Pepperdine at No. 25 Oregon State
While the national champs continue to play up-and-down, the Waves are setting themselves up as legit threats to USD's WCC title. (didn't get the score of Thursday's game as I went to press)

7- St. John's at Rutgers
What a great start to Big East play. These two will probably be the top two in the conference when all is said and done. (SJU won game one 12-5 today)

8- James Madison at Old Dominion
The battle of royalty - Dukes vs. Monarchs. How droll. JMU comes in 14-4 and 8-1. This series at the pre-season favorites will be a great litmus test.

9- Louisiana-Monroe at Arkansas State.
The Indians have cooled just a tad since that stunning three-game sweep of UL-L in week one, hoving gone 3-3 in their last six. Here they host the SBC leaders.

10- William & Mary at UNC-Wilmington
One is trying to prove a point. One is trying to stay at the point. UNCW just got a nice 5-2 win over No. 18 Coastal Carolina on Wednesday to boost its profile.


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BEST UMPIRE EVER: DALE WILLIAMS---
I spent last Sunday at the Hawaii-UCI game sitting next to the legendary Dale Williams. If you don't know his name, you probably know his calls. Dale was a long-time umpire that worked the College World Series eight times and was an umpire out on the West coast for the Pac 10 and Big West for 41 years. He told me his first CWS was in 1978 and his last one was when he worked the national championship game between Fullerton and USC in 1995. His favorite moment? The phantom tag trick play that Miami pulled on Wichita State in the 1982 CWS.

As you might recall, WSU had Phil Stephenson on first and Hurricane pitcher Mike Kasprazak and 1Bman Steve Lusby both acted like his toss to first was way overthrown in an attempt at a pick off. But then everyone reacted like the ball was over-thrown, the first baseman, right fielder, and even two of Miami's bat girls sitting near the bullpen reacted like the ball was rolling around under their feet. Stephenson, looking nervously over his shoulder starts running toward second.

Then, Kasprazak takes the ball out of his glove and flips it over the second to easily tag the confused runner. The play has gone down as one of the most memorable in CWS history. Miami ended up winning the game 4-3.

Funny thing is, Dale was the umpire at first base on that play and told me that the Hurricane coaches almost screwed up royally by not notifying the umpiring crew before the game.

"Usually, a head coach will tell an umpiring crew that they are planning on doing a trick play, so the crew knows to look for it." Dale told me. "When Miami ran the play and everybody was wondering where the ball went, I came real close to raising my hands and calling time out. I thought my eyes were deceiving me. I didn't see where the hell the ball went. I kept looking for it under the Miami bat girls feet, but I didn't see it. But then, just before I called time out, there's the Miami pitcher taking the ball out of his hand and throwing the guy out at second."

Williams also told me that Rod Dedeaux and Augie Garrido are the two greatest psychologists of all the coaches he's dealt with. "I always respected how neither of those guys ever berserk. They would work you and you'd think they were playing a game with you. But I never saw either one of them get out of control with the umpires."

He's known Mike Gillespie, long-time successor to Dedeaux at SC and now the new head coach at UC Irivine, for over 30 years. Even as far back as when he knew Gillespie as a high school and college basketball referee. Williams said Gillespie has mellowed out a lot as the years have gone on. "He mostly just goes out to talk to an umpire now. But back in the old days... (shaking his head)... he was pretty rough on some of our crews."


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FILE THIS UNDER "NEVER SEEN THIS BEFORE"---
With Arkansas in the middle of putting up six runs in the 8th inning, the Hog pitching coach Dave Jorn was apparently barking at the second base umpire about some balk-type motion from the Husker pitcher. Well, Jorn calmly walked out to talk with umpire Jeff Henrichs. Dave Van Horn joined him out there and after a minute and a half, Jorn calmly started walking toward the gate out in left field and walked out. So, I supposed he was thrown out of the game, and without any kind of dramatic "yer outta here" motion from Henrichs.

ArkPitchCoachRun.jpg
(Dave Jorn and Dave Van Horn confront umpire Jeff Henrichs)


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Okay, I gotta get motoring here. I'll give you some kind of quick look at the Oklahoma-Nebraska game I go to on Friday. In the meantime, feel free to check in on some of my basketball stuff too. Because I'm going to dream about the bouncing pumpkin for a while too. Oh my cheatin' heart.

G'night.

March 17, 2008

Sunday Summations - It's Salvation Sunday

It's Sunday. How apropos. What a perfect day for teams to achieve some salvation.

There were a lot of teams out there in the college baseball landscape that really needed an I.V. filled with a freakin' W. It's early in the season and already there are a lot of hurt egos and broken confidences out there.

I got a chance to see Oral Roberts regain some ground today after losing the first two games in Malibu against Pepperdine. The Eagles raced out to a big lead early, then held on to pull out a 13-10 win at Eddy D. Field Stadium. With the win, ORU ended the week going 3-2 including a pair of impressive wins over No. 12 Baylor and today's win over the No. 28-ranked Waves.

P'dineORU1stPitch.jpg
(... buy me some peanuts and SPF, I don't care if I ever get back...)

So yes, you read it here first, ORAL ROBERTS GETS SALVATION! And it's not from some swimming-in-money TV ministry. Here are some more who found their stitched-ball soul today...

THREE UP---
1- Those teams that saved face.
These teams needed, and got, vital wins today to avoid weekend sweeps
- Cal State Fullerton, won at Arizona 10-7.
Still, this 1-3 week will assure a drop out of the rankings.
- North Carolina State, beat No. 5 Miami 11-10.
Matt Payne blasted a three-run bomb in the 8th to end one of those stupid travel curfew shortened games.
- Mississippi State, beat No. 8 Ole Miss 4-0.
I'll be honest, with all the injuries to this team, I would've predicted a big loss today. Ricky Bowen!!... a complete-game two-hitter with 11Ks? Bitchin'.
- Clemson, beat Boston College 16-7.
An embarrassing weekend saves some face today. CU is still on a 5-6 skid.
- Texas Tech, won at Texas A&M, 9-3.
Tough place to play and they nearly pulled off the Friday win as well. A&M gets the Jim Belushi-like raised eyebrow.
- Minnesota, won 11-5 at Pacific.
Before today's win, the Gophers scored one run in the previous 18 innings vs. the Tigers.
- Oklahoma, beat Washington State 14-2.
The Big Red giant awoke today with the help of Andrew Doyle who improved to 4-1 with 7.0 innings of four-hit ball.

2- William & Mary.
Swept Old Dominion, including 7-4 today.
Ssshhhhhh! Don't tell anyone, but the Tribe may be the best-kept secret in baseball. They are now 15-4 on the season and just got done sweeping the pre-season Colonial favorites. Friday and Saturday's wins were both by a single run. Say it with me... "clutch!" DH Robbie Nickle was gold all weekend, getting two hits in each game and seven RBI overall.

3- Eastern Michigan.
beat Wright State 11-2.
Entering today with an 0-17 mark (five of which came by a single run), the Eagles left no doubt this time getting 8.0 strong innings from Matt Shoemaker, who surrendered eight hits while striking out nine on the day. Odd stat of the day: Somehow Todd Graves and Jeff Davis combined to go just 1-for-5, but garnered eight RBI.


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THREE DOWN---
1- Georgia Southern.
One day after setting the NCAA record with 14 home runs... guess what? The Eagles get routed, 11-3, by that same Columbia team. And this game was as ugly as it sounds with CU racing out to a 5-1 lead after two innings and never looking back. In all, the Lions belted out 20 hits on the day. The Lions take a 2-to-1 series lead with game four coming on Monday. Which team will show up between these two Jekyll and Hyde's?

2- Hartford pitching.
Lost to Western Carolina 32-3 in game one of a DH.
Okay, I know it's not nice to pick on a team that's only played three games and goes down to play a WCU team that has played 14 games. But still, the Hawks gave up seven home runs, walked eight and plunked nine Catamount batters. To the Hawks credit though, they came back and had a late 3-2 lead in game two of the DH, before falling 5-3.

3- The SEC West.
Auburn was swept by Florida, including a 6-2 loss today.
LSU was swept by Tennessee, including a pair of 7-3 loss today.
Alabama was swept by Kentucky, including a 5-1 loss today
Arkansas lost two of three vs. Georgia, including a 13-2 loss today.
The only SEC West team to win today?... Mississippi State, who beat Ole Miss, who is, of course, another SEC West team.

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THE OUCH LIST FOR SUNDAY, MARCH 16
- USC.
Lost all three vs. Long Beach State.
Not sure if anyone is doubting the quality of the Dirtbags, but the Trojans needed at least one W here to make sure people know they're turning the corner in 2008.
- Georgia Tech.
Lost all three at Florida State.
It's happened before, we've seen a Tech team win all their home games against a group of tomato cans, only to get their come-uppance in conference roadies. FSU scores 36 runs against what had been a good pitching staff.
- Virginia.
Lost to Duke 4-1.
Let's take a quick look at UVa's profile: Playing at home: 12-0. Playing on the road: 2-4. Again, it's early and there are plenty of home games ahead. Cavs will regoup.
- TCU.
Lost all three at Wichita State.
After beating top 10 Ole Miss two-of-three last weekend, the Frogs went stone cold in Dorothy-and-Toto country, scoring just four runs all weekend.
- Santa Clara.
Got swept at home by UC Davis, including a 12-7 loss today.
After a 9-1 start to the season, the Broncos have gone 1-5, including losing four to the Aggies this weekend.
- Maryland.
Lost two one-run games to a good Wake Forest team, 5-4 (10inns. continuation of a suspended game from Saturday) and 4-3. Not that losing to Wake is any kind of "ouch" but losing both games in Wake's last at-bat is a pain.
- North Florida.
Got swept in three straight at Belmont, including twice today. The Ospreys have gone cold. Despite a season-opening series win over Mississippi State, UNF has gone just 6-7 since.

ORUmartinez.jpg
(as the scoreboard reads, Oral Roberts' Juan Martinez had a big day with a pair of two-run doubles that help pace the Eagles out to a big lead early at Pepperdine)

Okay, I hope you guys have had a great college baseball weekend. I don't know if you can tell, but I'm extra giddy about this coming week. I've been assigned to work the NCAA basketball regionals in Omaha this coming weekend (LOVE the energy of post-season roundball), so I should be able to catch a few Nebraska stitched-ball games up there as well. Can't wait.

In the meantime, keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.

G'night.

March 16, 2008

Saturday Statements - Going Yard... part 14

Imagine you're Columbia. You are a decent Ivy League team, probably going to contend for the Gehrig Division title. You just got your first win of the season over a superior Georgia Southern team, 8-5, at their place and everything. You have to expect some measure of revenge from the Eagles, right? But do you really expect a 26-8 bloodletting? How about 54% of that production coming from bee-bees hit beyond the outfield wall?

Well don't worry, you're an Ivy League school. You can always pull out the old, "We're smarter than you" credo. But GSU did much more than retort to that.

Lemme explain further...

THREE UP---
1- Georgia Southern Yard Calls.
The Eagles were so angry at allowing the Lions to get their first win of the season against them on Friday night, they went and blasted the hell out of them to the tune of a 26-8 win over Columbia. In the process, the Eagles smacked an NCAA record 14 home runs, including five home runs in six at-bats in the 8th inning. Winds musta been blowin' out like a mother.

Damn! Now I can't brag to people that I was actually at the game that set the previous record, the 1996 Cal State Northridge 13-home run barrage over Fresno State in 1996 at gale-force Matador Field. That game featured Robert Fick, Adam Kennedy and Fresno pitcher Jeff Weaver.

2- Boston College.
Won at Clemson for the second day in a row, 7-6.
They won, but they got pretty damn nervous while doing it. BC allowed Clemson to score three runs in the bottom of the 9th, but Chris Kowalski got Ben Paulsen to strike out to end the game with a man on. Still, two wins at Kingsmore Stadium is two wins. And yes, for a team from the Northeast, that's really surprising. Catcher Tony Sanchez has had two hits in each win so far, including a big home run today.

3- Michigan.
beat Coastal Carolina 4-1.
beat Ball State 8-2.
Boy, did M-go-blue need this. As I pointed out in last week's Ouch List, the Wolverines are off to a similar start as last year (when they began 6-6), but unlike last year, no marquee wins to speak of. The big stars made sure this CCU game would be one of them, with strapping Nate Recknagel going 2-for-3 with another home run and starter Zach Putnam K'ing 10 in 6.1 innings and surrendering just three hits. Another two-way specialist, Adam Abraham, got the save.


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THREE DOWN---
1- Alabama.
Lost at Kentucky 15-2.
Gotta admit something here, the Cats are totally putting it in my face. I predicted the Bat Cats would fall to a *real* opponent, but here we are with UK taking the first two from the Crimson Elephants and improving to 17-0. The Tide has some mound problems, as witnessed by Will Stroup's 2.0 innings of work, giving up six hits, seven runs and allowing three walks. Bama drops to 9-7 and there's one last hope for my prediction of Kentucky getting an L in the loss column.

2- Vanderbilt.
Lost 16-7 to South Carolina.
The Gamecocks went all Sun Devil on the Commodores today. Nick Christiani was the victim today in rainy Nashville, lasting just 2.1 innings and giving up nine hits and nine runs (five earned). Seven Gamecock starters had multi-hit games, led by Kyle Enders (2-for-5, three RBI), James Darnell (3-for-5, three RBI), Andrew Crisp (2-for-5, three RBI) and Phil Disher (2-for-5, four RBI). Ouch. Game three will need to be a confidence builder.

3- Prairie View A&M
Lost at Houston Baptist 8-7.
The SWAC favorites have now lost eight of their last nine games, including their second straight loss to the Division II Baptists. In their last five games, all losses, the Panthers have committed 16 errors and issued 30 walks. Overall, PV is now 10-9, but the news gets even worse for the purple crew. They begin a 19-game road trip at Texas Southern next weekend and it ends on April 20th at Texas-Pan American.


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WHAT I SAW AT DEDEAUX FIELD---
Long Beach State - 101 012 121- 9 13 2
Southern California - 000 030 300- 6 8 2
WP- Jason Markovitz (2-0)
LP- Ryan Cabral (0-1)
Save- Bryan Shaw (4)

For the fourth time this season, the Dirtbags win a series against another high-profile opponent. Do you think the pollsters will take note? Coach Mike Weathers has been a little on the grumpy side about the lack of offense from his Dirtbags. Well he can't complain right now because Shane Peterson went 4-for-5 with three Ribs and Jason Corder went 2-for-3 with a double, a home run and two walks.

LBCorderCongrats.jpg
(Jason Corder gets props from his mates after his 5th inning home run)


Even though the game was tied on three different occasions, Long Beach never seemed out of control. The final time the tie was broken was in the top of the 8th on an RBI triple by Jonathan Jones, who came into today's game with just three at-bats.

It wasn't a vintage Long Beach performance, mainly because of the errors and extra offense, but the Beach seems to be figuring out different ways to win games. Bully for them.


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THE OFFENSIVE WOES---
Just to show you how light Long Beach has been hitting so far this year, here are the batting averages of their starting nine tonight - in order.
.327
.175
.381
.367
.367
.045
.120
.143
.333
As a team, the Dirtbags came into Saturday's game at USC with a team batting average of .235.


After this game, I foolishly decided to hit the L.A. basin freeway system and drive from South Central to the O.C. Have I mentioned my hatred for people driving while on their damn cell phones?:


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WHAT I SAW AT ANTEATER BALLPARK---
Hawai'i 010 000 012- 4 11 1
UC Irvine 521 100 40x- 13 18 0
WP- Christian Bergman (3-0)
LP- Nicholas Rhodes (0-2)

This was the second game of a double header between these two teams. Originally, game three in this series was supposed to take place on Sunday, but because of expected rain, the two schools agreed to play two today instead. Unfortunately, I was hoping to catch Matt Daly on the mound for Hawaii, but the Rainbow rotation changed when the DH was announced. Daly ended up starting the first game, a 14-3 loss. He got rocked for seven hits and six runs (four earned) in 4.0 innings.

This was a real beatdown. I'm starting to wonder if there is any drop-off from last year's Anteater team, despite the loss of names like Cipriano, Holliday, Morris, Etheridge and Axelrod. But in the three games this weekend, and especially early on in tonight's second game, UCI seemed to get every bloop hit to fall in and every wormburner grounder to find a hole for a single. For the three games, the Anteaters hit .422. Jeff Cusick did his share of damage, hitting for the short cycle in his first three at-bats and also got some help from Francis Larson, who hit a two-run home run in the first inning to put UCI up for good.

For the day, Larson went 8-for-9 with a walk and seven RBI, including a home run in each game. The Anteaters improve to 14-1, while Hawaii drops to 7-12.

UCICusickLarson.jpg
(Jeff Cusick and Francis Larson, both wielded hot bats for the 'Eaters)

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MOST TELLING QUOTE FROM THE UCI-HAWAII GAME---
"I don't remember a Rainbow team getting beaten this badly in a three-game series in a long... long time."
Don Robbs, Hawaii announcer during tonight's broadcast.


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PITCHER OF THE DAY---
Oklahoma State - 0
Baylor - 3
Shawn Tolleson, Baylor.
If Pete Incaviglia had a grave, he'd be rolling over in it right about now. Facing the molten-hot bats of Oklahoma State today, the Bear starter hung a complete game, two-hitter to lead BU to a 3-0 win in Waco. He threw 108 pitches in all, walking just two and striking out six. It's been an up-and-down season for Tolleson so far, so this was a good performance that could turn his season into something special.


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BEST DOUBLE-HEADER SWEEP (other than UC Irvine)---
Washington State - 4 8
Oklahoma Univ. - 3 5
This gives some credence to my thinking that the Pac 10 will be the toughest conference this year. But also consider this, maybe it's just the fact that Wazzu will be a lot better than everyone thinks. Especially since OU split a series at UCLA to begin the season. Hmmmm. Let's see what the Cougs do next.


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BEST "I'M BETTER THAN OUR STAFF ACE" AWARD---
Virginia - 10
Duke - 1
Pat McAnaney did what Friday starter Jacob Thompson couldn't do - dominate the Dookies. McAnaney went the distance, giving up just four hits and one run (unearned, if you must know) and striking out eight to get is second win of the year. Dan Grovatt and Franco Valdes each hit a big-time bomb and accounted for seven RBI.


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WORST WEATHER---
Chicago State - 0
Creighton - 11
The weather between the DH was 32 degrees under partly cloudy skies. The winds were out of the North at 12-15mph. Factoring the wind chill, the Jays and Cougars were playing in temps that felt like 24 degrees.


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AND IN CASE ANY OF YOU WERE WANTING KNOW HOW RICH HILL'S SURFING TRIP IS GOING---
The late-night results from the Southern-most Division I school in college baseball:
San Diego - 5 4
UH-Hilo - 0 2 (game two 10 innings)
With tomorrow's single game not slated to start until 6pm, it looks like a long morning of surfing on the windward side of the big island tomorrow for some of the Toreros.


USCpoolGirl.jpg
(As you can see, USC's swimming and diving complex is right next door to Dedeaux Field)

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A great Saturday will be followed by an interesting Sunday in college baseball. Okay, sure, it will all be over-shadowed by the NCAA selection show for our basketball brethren. But that's okay, 'coz March Madness still rules.

More tomorrow.

G'night.

March 15, 2008

Friday First Takes - A Classic in the 'Ville

Typical SEC. So far we're one day into the conference play and already we have one game for the ages. South Carolina and Vanderbilt proved they were high-quality teams - and not that we doubted that of course - with a 13-inning knock-down, drag-out. Legends were made and heroes were born on this night in Nashville.

Now, what does the SEC do to top this one? It may take all season to find another classic like this.

VandyFlaherty.jpg
(Ryan Flaherty went 5-for-6, including the game-winning hit in the 13th inning)

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THREE UP---
1- South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
The reputations were there. The rankings were there. The hype was there. And these two lived up to it. No wait, these two went beyond it in front of an electric crowd at Hawkins Field. Great pitching was eventually replaced by clutch hitting. Vanderbilt's Mike Minor only gave up six hits to the mighty Gamecocks and struck out 10 with only one walk. But he got replaced in the 9th after an RBI double by Harley Lail put the Cocks up 3-2 in the top of the 9th. Vandy answered with a Ryan Flaherty home run in the bottom of the 9th to send the game into extras. Eventually, Flaherty also provided the game-winning hit with a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the 13th inning.

Struggling 'Dore All American right fielder Dominic de la Osa came up huge as well, going 3-for-6 at the dish and throwing a perfect strike from the outfield to nab Justin Smoak trying to score from second base in the top of the 13th inning. Amazing!

Mark Etheridge, I'm officially jealous you were able to make it to this one.

2- The Big 12
Of the six games involving Big 12 teams today, five ended up being 1-or-2 run games.

Kansas - 6
Texas - 8

Oklahoma State - 6
Baylor - 5

Texas Tech - 5
Texas A&M - 6 (12inns)

Nebraska - 2
K- State - 1

Washington State - 5
Oklahoma - 3

The most unlikely finish had to be the Oklahoma State-Baylor game, in which the Cowboys got back-to-back home runs with two outs in the 9th from Matt Hague and Rebel Ridling. Both starting pitchers, Andrew Oliver and Kendall Volz, struck out 10 batters in 7.0 and 7.2 innings respectively. Neither factored in the decision.

Meanwhile, bitter rivals Texas Tech and Texas A&M played a four hour, 32 minute, 12-inning white-knuckler in College Station. The night ended with a Dane Carter solo home run.

3- Miami's murderer's row.
Jemile Weeks went 4-for-5 while hitting for the short cycle and gathering four RBI. Yonder Alonso went just 1-for-3 with two RBI and three, yes three, walks. Jason Hagerty added 3-for-5 with two RBI to the total. The Canes ended up routing North Carolina State 12-5, knocking starter Eric Surkamp out of the game after just 2.1 innings.


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THREE DOWN---

1- Starting pitchers.
- Forrest Moore, Mississippi State
The injury-depleted Bulldogs got just 1.2 innings of work from their starter today. Moore struggled, giving up six hits and eight runs. State ended up getting blown out 15-6 by rival Ole Miss.
- Jason Franzblau, Arizona State.
Lasted four batters into his game with Troy, allowing three hits, one walk and four runs without recording an out.
- Dan Klein, UCLA
The Bruin starter faced six batters, giving up five hits and five earned runs. UCLA came back from a 5-0 deficit after one inning to win 10-6. Charles Brewer relieved Klein and went the remaining nine innings to get the win.
- Eric Surkamp, North Carolina State
The arm stud lasted just 2.1 innings, giving up seven hits and seven runs, while also walking five of the 19 batters he faced in a 12-5 Wolf Pack loss to Miami.
- Jacob Thompson, Virginia.
The Cav stud lasted just 3.0 innings, giving up eight hits, six runs and walking three Dookies in a 9-8 loss in Durham.

UVaPitchChange.jpg
(It didn't take long before UVa coach Brian O'Connor made this pitching change today)


2- Baylor.
Lost vs. Oklahoma State 6-5
The Bears terrible week continued as they dropped their third game in five days. BU stranded 11 runners on the bags and also saw its top four hitters in the lineup go a combined 1-for-14.

3- Austin Peay vs. Snowbelt teams.
Lost to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 12-7
The favorites of the OVC have had a tough time above the Mason-Dixon Line so far this season, and it continued today as well as the Govs gave up a whopping 17 hits and committed four errors. With the loss to the Panthers, APU is now 3-6 against Northern teams and just 7-6 overall.


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OTHER FRIDAY NOTABLES---

Toledo - 0
Missouri - 6
Aaron Crow pulls a Derek Tatsuno and strikes out 15 Rockets in a complete game seven-hitter. He also did not give up a walk.

Portland - 0
Indiana - 7
Hoosiers play their way into the championship game of the Pepsi Johnny Quik Classic as Matt Bashore strikes out 12 in 8.0 innings and gives up just six hits. IU is now 3-2 on the week and will face off with New Mexico State in Saturday's third place game.

Iona - 0
West Virginia - 6
Bettering Bashore, the Mountaineers' Billy Gross went the distance giving up three hits and also striking out 12. He also did not give up a walk. In case you're wondering about All American candidate Tyler Kuhn, the SS went 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles and a walk.

Georgia State - 9
George Mason - 5
Somehow Panther DH Jean-Michel Rochon-Salvas managed to go 5-for-5 and scored twice as part of a 17-hit GSU attack, but didn't collect a single RBI.

Virginia Tech - 1
North Carolina - 11
Not a surprise of course, but give it up for Dustin Ackley and Tim Federowicz, who both had a pair of doubles. Fedex ended the day with six RBI.

Canisius - 20 4
Mt. St. Mary's - 1 3
This is a team worth keeping an eye on up in the Northeast this season. With the two wins today, the Griffins established the best start to a season in school history at 9-1. These two wins came about despite an 11-day layoff for exams and because of weather issues.

Hawai'i - 0
UC Irvine - 9
Scott Gorgen continues to fling the ball like a bb. In 8.0 innings, he allowed the Rainbows just one hit and struck out nine batters to improve to 3-1. Ollie Linton continued to swing a hot bat, going 3-for-4 and stealing two bases. No. 2 hitter went 4-for-5 with a pair of steals as well.


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AND THE SHORT GAME AWARD GOES TO---
Minnesota - 0
Pacific - 1
Time: 2:10
A Mike McKeever double in the first inning scored leadoff man Adam Ching to supply the only run the Tigers would need. Tyler Waldron went the distance, striking out 11 Gophers and giving up just three hits.


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AND THE MISERABLE WEATHER AWARDS GO TO---
Kent State - 1
Louisville - 8
Played in low 50 temps with a constant drizzle in beautiful Louisville.

Kansas - 6
Texas - 9
Game started with steamy temps in the mid-90s in surface-of-the-sun Austin.


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Okay stitch-heads, this was a freakin' blast of a day in college baseball. We can only hope the rest of the weekend can measure up to this. Tonight will be one of those nights where I hope to sleep fast.

G'night.

March 14, 2008

Thursday Thoughts - Three words: Coppin. State. Wins.

No. 12 goes down!

And no, I don't mean Baylor, the No. 12 ranked team in the country, I mean the No. 12 thing on my "64 Things That Will Happen In College Baseball."

Coppin State has won. Yes, not a typo, the longest losing streak in Division I history is just that - history. Coppin State beat North Carolina Central 11-7 on Tuesday. And just to prove it wasn't a fluke, the Eagles did it again in the second game of a double-header by a score of 7-6.

Harry_Williams.JPG.jpg
(Coppin State's Harry Williams scored the game-winning run
in game two against North Carolina Central on Tuesday)

Coach Lee Harvey was understandably relieved. "I finally got the monkey off my back." he said on the school's website. "The kids deserve this. There have been a few games where calls didn't go our way, but I wanted them to see they really are a good team."

I think Coach Harvey misspoke. What he meant to say was that he just got the 1500-pound gorilla off his back. I was on the CSU bandwagon huge last year and cringed as they rarely even came within four runs of a win. On Tuesday, that all changed when they pulled off two Ws in one day in a pair of seven inning games.

How about this for getting the breaks and the calls? Game one ended when, with two out in the seventh inning and runners on second and third, N.C. Central's Kyle Davis beat out a grounder to third base, but Justin Goodson, running on the play, was ruled to have interfered with the fielding of the play. Thus Goodson was ruled out and the game was over.

And in game two, the winning run for Coppin was scored on a bases-loaded wild pitch that scored Harry Williams from third.

So there's your antithesis to "calls didn't go our way" right? By golly for coach Harvey and company, the worm has finally turned.

But what am I most proud about these two wins? Both times, the woebegone Eagles were faced with large deficits, of 4-0 and 5-1, and they didn't throw in the towel. You'd expect a team like CSU to crumble in situations like that. But instead the Eagles put nose to grindstone and came back to win both games.

Yep, if anything exemplifies Coppin's luck taking a change for the better, Tuesday was the day everything turned up golden for the Eagles. And stitch-heads everywhere are applauding.


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TOP FIVE WINLESS TEAMS I'M CHEERING FOR NOW---
Now that Coppin State gets a pair of checks in the win column, who else do we need to pull for? Here's a short list of who's bandwagon I'm now officially on and their chances for a win this weekend:

1- Purdue, 0-9.
Hard team to figure out. Lost three one-run games at Baylor, then tanked in three bad losses at Western Kentucky, then lost two more one-run games at unbeaten Kentucky. (insert sound effect of scratching head here).
Chances for victory: 90%. at Ohio this weekend.

2- Eastern Michigan, 0-15.
Impossible schedule so far. At New Mexico, at Florida, at Florida Atlantic, at Tennessee and at Kentucky. My God!
Chances for victory: 45%. vs. Wright State on Saturday

3- Harvard, 0-3.
The Crimson should once again be Rolfe Division title-holders by season's end. They lost three at Wichita State, including an 11-10 loss in 10 innings, where WSU scored five runs in the bottom of the 9th with two outs to tie it.
Chances for victory: 90%. vs. Eastern Illinois and Northern Iowa on Saturday

HarvardWin.jpg
(Harvard will probably rebound to celebrate another
Ivy League title, like the Crimson did here in 2002)

4- Columbia, 0-8.
The Lions of the Hudson have lost at Duke and at Pepperdine. They were competitive in every game in Malibu too, losing 7-1, 7-3, 5-2 and 9-0. No double-digit scores. But the road gets no easier until the end of March when Ivy play starts.
Chances for victory: 10%. at Georgia Southern.

5- Long Island, 0-9.
The Blackbirds nearly beat a good St. John's team on Wednesday, succumbing 9-8 in 10 innings. The Red Storm scored two runs in the bottom of the 9th to tie it on a Tim Morris home run. Arrrgh!
Chances for victory: 75% vs. 1-13 LaSalle on Friday.


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AND JUST FOR KICKS, HERE ARE THE UNBEATENS OF COLLEGE BASEBALL---
Keeping an eye on these guys too:
- Arizona State, 14-0
The Devils keep taking on good competition and keep winning, including two mid-week games against Arkansas, 6-5 and 7-4. Though I did notice that they threw weekend starters Josh Satow and Mike Leake in those two games.
Chances for a loss: 10%. vs. Troy this weekend

- Kentucky, 15-0.
Oh we've been down this road before. Remember last year's school record 19-0 start... followed by the Cats not even making the SEC tournament? Just keep in mind that UK has nine wins against winless teams already this season.
Chances for a loss: 85%. vs. Alabama this weekend.


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WHERE I'D LIKE TO BE THIS WEEKEND---
It's a South-by-Southeast weekend in college baseball. With the West getting most of the best matchups in non-conference games up until now, the SEC and ACC play starts to kick in now. So I'm planning on taking the CSTV Lear Jet down South this weekend. This is tasty tasty stuff people.

1- No. 4 South Carolina at No. 9 Vanderbilt.
Both come in at 10-3 and have a few curious losses to their ledger (Carolina really lost to Yale?), but it's still going to be a great weekend of action in Nashville. It's weird to think that Vandy is playing without Pedro Alvarez and Dominic de la Osa is hitting just .250, yet the 'Dores are still batting a brisk .332 as a team. The rotation of Mike Minor, Caleb Cotham and Nick Christiani all have ERAs of 2.55 or lower and will be a huge test against the awe-inspiring bats of the Gamecocks. Speaking of, the last time VU faced an offense that had this kind of ability to demoralize someone was at Arizona State, and we all remember how bad that was. So here's the Commodores chance to make amends and I think they will.

2- Kansas at No. 10 Texas.
Hey, it's my wish list. If I would rather go to Austin more than anywhere else this weekend, it's my right. Okay, so maybe this one is based more on the fact that the South-by-Southwest Music Festival is going on there as well. Bands like R.E.M., the Boss Martians, The Raveonettes and Moby will be part of the 1000 bands in 100 bars. Oh and the slightly over-rated, but ultra-cool Lou Reed is the keynote speaker this year. Too good to pass up. And KU plays at Texas.

3- No. 21 Cal State Fullerton at No. 2 Arizona
The well-armed Cats have a 36-inning scoreless streak going after throwing three straight shutouts at the Whataburger Classic last weekend. Fullerton is young, but has found some new arms to rely on (frosh Daniel Renken and Jason Dovel). But the road to Tucson is a tough place to lean on young bucks.

4- No. 22 Georgia Tech at No. 6 Florida State.
Two interesting things: 1) This will be Tech's first real games against a team with a pulse (Okay, Rutgers is going to be pretty good). And 2) This will be Tech's first road games of the season. I'm looking at a Seminole series win.

5- No. 25 Oklahoma State at No. 12 Baylor
This is a solid first weekend matchup of Big 12 teams. Poke pugilists Dylan Brown and Tyrone Hambly combined for five home runs in their 19-10 win over Missouri State on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Bears are coming off of back-to-back losses to Oral Roberts. But OSU will have a much, much bigger hill to climb going up against the likes of Kendall Volz and the rest of the Bear arms.

6- TCU at No. 15 Wichita State
Both teams have had interesting seasons so far. TCU has been roller-coasterlike, including last weekend's series win over then-No. 2 Mississippi. But in two mid-week wins over Prairie View, the Frog arms gave up just six hits and struck out 19. WSU picked up a nice win over Washington State and is still trying to get by without stud arm Aaron Shafer.

7- No. 5 Miami at North Carolina State
Of all the ACC teams NOT ranked, the Wolf Pack is the most curious to me. They've gone 9-3 and are coming off a series win over No. 16 Virginia. Eric Surkamp and Eric McConnell will face off against those daunting bats like Yonder Alonso, Jemile Weeks and Jason Hagerty. It's baseball bliss man.

8- USC at/vs. No. 7 Long Beach State
Always one of the best non-conference matchups in the L.A. basin, but it usually takes place on the first weekend of the season. Still, this will be fun to watch. Long Beach continues put the clamps on people, with a team ERA of 2.19, including the bullpens combined ERA of 0.22. SC's All American SS Grant Green is struggling with a .233 average.

9- Oral Roberts at No. 28 Pepperdine
This battle of mid-major powers got a whole lot more interesting when the Eagles took down No. 12 Baylor twice this week. ORU comes to Malibu with a 10-2 record and Brian Van Kirk hitting in the .447 range and pitcher Carlos Luna emerging as one of the most valuable pitchers in the country with numbers like 3-0, 2.20 and two saves.

10- The Pepsi Johnny Quick Classic, Fresno.
Always a collection of wide-ranging schools take place. So if you just want to kick back and overdose on college baseball all day long, this is your destination. Of course, the reason I'd really like to go would be to see just what the hell is going on with Fresno State. They have already lost three games in this tournament this week to New Mexico State, Portland and Indiana.


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TOP PITCHING MATCHUP---
South Carolina's Mike Cisco (3-0, 2.79) vs. Vanderbilt's Mike Minor (2-1, 1.66)
This is one of those matchups that could go the distance or see either hurler run off the mound before an inning or two are done. The offenses are potentially that good. Cisco is a battler. He'll have to have his best junk working well to confound the Vandy bats. For Minor, on the other hand, this may be his biggest test of the season. Last year he shut down the Cocks in his first career weekend start, striking out nine in 7.0 innings to get the win. If he has his fastball moving all over the strike zone, it'll set up his impressive changeup enough to keep the massive Carolina bats off-kilter.


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ONE I FORGOT TO PUT ON THE OUCH LIST---
Ohio State.
My Sunday Ouch List just didn't seem complete did it? Now I know why. I forgot to include Ohio State. As my admitted surprise pick for Omaha, I also knew there would come a time (or 10) that I would second-guess that pick. Well that time (or one of them) is now. The Buckeyes went 1-2 last weekend in Palm Beach, Florida, including one-run losses to both Air Force and Maine. The Falcons scored three runs in the bottom of the 9th to beat the Bucks 9-8.


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TOP 25 TANK JOBS---
Remember No. 7 in my pre-season list of 64 Things? It stated:

"A handful of pre-season Top 25 teams will tank it big time this year."

Well, with all the timeliness you can set your watch to, here's a quick look at those who have already jumped the shark (though we reserve the right to welcome them back with good baseball down the stretch):

- Michigan
Pre-season ranking: No. 8, Baseball America
Current record: 5-5
Not sure we should be getting all freaked out about this, last year the Wolverines started out at 6-6, but included wins over Mississippi State, Oklahoma and Troy. Only difference this year is they don't have any marquee wins. Then again, two games with Coastal Carolina are up next.

- Fresno State
Pre-season ranking: No. 18, Baseball America
Current record: 6-9
Tough schedule? Sure. But that doesn't explain going 1-3 in the Pepsi Johnny Quick Classic, losing games to Indiana, Portland and New Mexico State.

- Louisiana-Lafayette
Pre-season ranking: No. 19, Baseball America
Current record: 5-9
This one is the most perplexing. Had one of the best starting rotations returning this season, but has gone belly-up big time. Getting swept at home by Arkansas State is a real head-scratcher.


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HERE'S HOW YOU KNOW NUTRISYSTEM DOESN'T WORK---
You see all those weight-loss commercials on TV with people like Dan Marino, Mike Golic, Marie Osmond, etc? Well, a few years back Tommy Lasorda was doing those commercials too. Bragging about all the weight he lost and the Nutrisystem plan will help him keep the weight off. Nothing against Tommy Lasorda, unlike Fletch, I don't hate him. My angst is against those damn commercials. Look people, it's mainly genetics with a good dose of moderate eating and exercise that will do the trick.

LasordaBig.jpg
(Lasorda bellying-up to argue a call in a Dodger game last week)


Oh yeah, and don't buy one of those stupid Abdominizer things either.

Okay, I'm going to put my power-stepper box back under the NordicTrac now.


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THIS WEEK'S YOU TUBE MOMENT---

The way the NFL Monday Night Football intro should still be.
Okay, I know we live in an explosions, rap rhyme, dub track with the heavy-breasted girls around the hot-tub world and all, but I have to admit, seeing this old intro for Monday Night Football with the classic orchestra music building throughout and the inimitable voice of Howard Cosell adding intrigue and suspense to the pre-game. Here it is in all its Wank Hilliams-less glory:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgf8SQVpaeE&feature=related


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BEST MID-WEEK WIN---
Coastal Carolina - 11
North Carolina - 4
I always wonder how to gauge mid-week wins. One on hand they're not true indications of a teams' strength, since they usually start their No. 4 or 5 pitcher on the roster. But remember three years ago when back-to-back mid-week wins over Georgia Tech and North Carolina solidified a No. 1 seed for Coastal? Yep, it's true.

On Tuesday, the Chanticleers pulled off another big mid-week win over the No. 3 Heels. And they left no doubt from the get-go, scoring six (6) runs off of freshman phenom Matt Harvey, who was pulled eight batters into the game after walking in two runs.

MattHarvey2.jpg
(This is a picture of Harvey throwing to one of the eight batters he faced)


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SOME QUICK HITS---
- Don't know what's going on with Tuesday's lately, but it's been Super Tuesday for upsets so far this year. This past Tuesday's Top 30 carnage:
No. 20 Coastal Carolina 11 - No. 3 North Carolina 4
Yale 5 - No. 4 South Carolina 3
Western Illinois 3 - No. 7 Long Beach State 0
Oral Roberts 7 - No. 12 Baylor 6
No. 27 San Diego 6 - No. 21 Cal State Fullerton 2

- As I stated before, ESPN just doesn't "get it"
ESPN announced their regular season games they'd be showing this spring, a paltry six in all. (You freakin' kiddin' me?). But I was glad to see the N.C. A&T- Bethune Cookman game on April 6th (Dammit, I'll be working the Final Four) included in the lineup. Rice-Texas is always a great game to see as well. Here's the "complete" schedule:
April 1st: Rice at Texas
April 6th: N.C. A&T at Bethune-Cookman
April 18th: Oklahoma State at Texas
April 20th: UNC-Ashville at Coastal Carolina
April 26th: St. John's at Notre Dame
May 9th: Portland at Pepperdine.

All the games are scheduled for ESPNU. I loved Aaron Fitt's comment on Baseball America, "That's all folks. Makes you long for the days of the NHL work stoppage..." You've crystalized every stitch-heads thoughts exactly Aaron.

- The configuration of the New "Rosenblatt"
Some people in Omaha are up in arms because they don't approve of the proposed downtown stadium having a field that faces south, from home plate to right field, instead of the traditional eastward direction from home to right field as most stadiums are are configured. At least that's how all the artist's renderings have it situated. Me personally? I love the thought of batters trying to fight the brutal South winds coming from right field, instead of the gorilla ball winds from behind home plate that blast pop flies into home runs like Rosenblatt does on hot summer days.

Pitching and defense people, THAT'S what I want the College World Series to become known for.

- Jason Jarvis is ineligible again.
The Arizona State bullpen stud has been declared academically ineligible again, this time for the rest of the season. According to reports, it was a case of an online class mis-understanding that led to his grade being lowered. The part I thought was interesting was when Coach Pat Murphy said that the issue was being appealed, but that was between Jarvis and "the music department."

So, if that's true, what the hell is he doing taking a music class online anyway?


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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO---
Derek Tatsuno?
The Tsunami! As a University of Hawaii pitcher, he was the national Player of the Year in 1979 winning 20 games on the mound, while striking out an incredible 234 batters. That mark still stands as an NCAA record.

DerekTatsuno.jpg
(Hawaii coach Les Murakami with Tatsuno in 1979)

Special thanks to ARW for the update on Wichita State's Jim Audley, who he says now owns and operates his own pizza shop in Waxahachie, Texas.


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Here's to a great college baseball weekend to all of you out there in Stitch-land. Go catch a game near you if you can.

G'night.

March 10, 2008

Sunday Summations - The Ouch List makes its debut

The good, the bad and the Ouch List, it's all here on a Sunday full of college baseball games across the country.

WakeForest@P'dine.jpg
(Wake Forest had itself a good weekend, including a series win vs. Clemson)

Onto today's Ups and Downs:

THREE UP---
The best of a busy Sunday.

1- The ACC Upset Kings.
- N.C. State.
Beat No. 12 Virginia two out of three.
- Wake Forest.
Beat No. 14 Clemson two out of three.
These two are providing hints that maybe the ACC is even deeper than we expected with great first weekends in conference play, both going 2-1 against their ranked foes.

2- The Three-letter Acronyms.
- TCU: Beat Ole Miss 2-1 to take the series.
But it really seemed more like a weekend between two very even teams, both teams scoring eight runs and the Rebs out-hitting the Frogs 22-20. Wonder if the rankings will reflect this?
- ECU: Swept the Keith LeClair Classic field with a 9-3 win over Georgia Southern.
After a 1-4 start that included losses to Elon and Manhattan, the Pirates have won seven straight.
- LMU: Beat San Diego 13-3.
Unheralded Lions beat No. 19 Oregon State, San Diego State and the No. 21 Toreros on successive days. Only a bases-loaded strikeout in the 9th prevented the Lions from beating Oklahoma State on Thursday as well.
- UCI: Beat Tulane 5-1.
Anteaters complete series win to improve to 10-1. Leadoff man Ollie Linton has the dueces wild, going 2-for-5 with two RBI and two stolen bases. In other words, two much for Tulane.

3- Arizona pitching (again)
Held Notre Dame to three hits in a 16-0 win.
Well I'll be Lou Pavlovich'd! Last week it was UC Irvine, this week it's the Wildcats who do the wicked pitching. In three games at the Whataburger Classic, the UofA arms corps hold the Irish, Islanders and Jaguars to 11 combined hits and give up just three walks all weekend. Oh and don't forget about the 38 Ks. Mercy!


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THREE DOWN---
Some low points of Sunday's action.

1- Travel curfews.
This will be the first of many times I mention this I'm sure, but why can't administrators and baseball coaches just go ahead and agree to start games an hour or so earlier on Sunday's? Today's third game of the Stanford-Texas series was cut short after eight innings with the Cardinal anointed the winner by a 12-9 count. Too bad we were robbed of this.

2- Virginia bats.
Lost to North Carolina State 4-2.
Since lacing Wolf Pack pitching for 12 hits in Saturday's 5-3, 10-inning win in game one of the series, UVa's bats went from heavy metal to a soft girl band dancing in unison. The Pack held the Cavs to three hits in game two yesterday (a 2-0 NCSU win) and just four hits today. Keep in mind, the Cavs hit .314 as a team last season.

3- Iowa.
Lost twice to Missouri State, 8-3 and 12-5.
After beating No. 3 Vanderbilt last week, we thought this would ready the Hawkeyes for bigger and better things, but instead they succumbed in all three games to the Bears. Biggest problem? The Hawks committed eight errors in today's DH.


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THE OUCH LIST---
After making a regular appearance every Sunday last season, this list makes its triumphant return for the 2008 season. I wanted to wait a while because the season is still so young. But here are a few to add to the Three Down list above.

- The Rice arm staff.
The Owls got blown out by Michigan State on Friday, 9-3, then gave up 11 runs to Western Carolina on Saturday and then had to make a late inning comeback to beat Creighton today 7-6.

- Michigan.
The Wolverines saved some face today with a 7-0 win over Pitt. But prior to that, the losses to Georgia Southern and East Carolina meant two more shots to the ego. Guess they'll have to prove themselves in June once again.

- Southern Miss.
Not sure if anyone expected the Eagles to win a game or two (or three) out at Fullerton this weekend, but going after the third inning of game one, USM never led the whole weekend long. Sunday's 19-6 lambasting was a shot to the solar plexus. But the Eagles will be back.

- Purdue.
For the fourth time in seven losses, the Boilers lost by a single run to a big-conference team, going down 3-2 at Kentucky today. They led most of the game until surrendering the final run in the bottom of the 9th, despite having UK down to its last strike and last out before an RBI single by Keenan Wiley.

- Richmond.
Lost to Princeton twice, 10-2 and 10-7.
Despite having all the weekend starters back from a team that won 32 games last season, the Spiders went 0-3 vs. the Ivy Leaguers with little outside experience so far this season. A rough ride so far for coach McQueen.

- Winthrop.
Lost to USC 7-1.
The Eagles lost a lot from last year's team, but still could have used a better showing this weekend against USC, but they were outscored by a combined 23-6 to drop to 3-8 on the young season.

- Delaware.
Lost a pair of one-run games to Old Dominion, 3-2 and 9-8.
The Blue Hens and Monarchs were two of the four teams that tied for the Colonial crown last season, but UD lost all three this weekend to ODU, including leads in both of today's games and had to withstand the pain of stranding three runners in the 9th inning of game two.

- Georgia State.
The Panthers were one of my "teams to watch" in the Thursday Thoughts column, but sure enough, the small, minute spotlight was too bright as they dropped all three games to James Madison at home this weekend, 16-5, 5-1 and 8-3.

- Eastern Michigan.
Lost at Tennessee, 8-7 (10inns.) and 5-1.
The Hurons... er, sorry, I mean, Eagles (yawn), are expected to challenge for the MAC title after going 21-4 and winning the regular season last year. But with the two losses today, EMU is now 0-13. Have to wonder if/when the lack-of-confidence factor comes into play.

- Mississippi.
Lost 2-1 at TCU.
Dropped two-of-three in Ft. Worth this weekend. It's not a big disgrace or anything, but this IS the No. 2 ranked team in the country. Plus, Fullerton already took two of three at Lupton this season, setting a higher standard. The Rebs could've used a series win here to help their reputation.


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I've still got to get used to this time change thing. Hope you all had a great college baseball weekend. More later.

G'night.

March 09, 2008

Saturday Statements - Yes!! (part deaux)

Upset weekend continues. And it just gets better for those hoping to have something interesting to write about.

USDMeadorCongrats.jpg
(Pinch hitter James Meador was the unlikely hero in San Diego
taking down No. 19 Oregon State today.)


Check out the latest carnage in the Top 30 rankings:

TCU 5 - No. 2 Mississippi 4
Duke 13 - No. 3 North Carolina 4
Stanford 6 - No. 7 Texas 5
North Carolina State 2 - No. 12 Virginia 0
Wake Forest 13 - No. 14 Clemson 10
No. 21 San Diego 10 - No. 19 Oregon State 5
Georgia Southern 12 - No. 23 Michigan 3
East Carolina 6 - No. 23 Michigan 5

Here's more of the good and bad from Saturday's diamond work across the country:

THREE UP---

1- Duke and Brown.
These two split DHs with North Carolina and Florida.
Duke came into today with an 11-0 mark. But unlike their roundball counterparts, they were able to bury the Heels with a 13-4 rout in game one. Jeremy Gould went a combined 7-for-8 with four RBI in the two games for the Dukies.

Brown? Going down to Gainesville and getting a W? Believe it. And they did it in dominant fashion, with an 11-2 runaway. And get this, the Bears almost pulled the trick twice, losing in the bottom of the 9th in game two by an 8-7 count.

2- Arkansas State.
Beat Louisiana-Lafayette 3-0 and 9-5.
It's been quite a week for the Indians, having already beaten Ole Miss. But this... this was much more than anyone in the Sun Belt circles could've guessed. Chase Ware throws a complete game three hit shutout in game one, striking out six as well. ASU also overcame a 4-0 deficit in game two to improve to 7-4 on the season.

Odd stat of the year? UL-L is currently hitting just .203 (yes too-oh-three) and is off to an unthinkable 4-8 start.

3- Arizona pitching.
Beat Texas A&M Corpus Christi.
Shutting down the Islanders, in and of itself, isn't necessarily a feather-in-the-cap accomplishment, but let's give it to the Wildcat pitchers for their second straight day of clampdown mound work. Yesterday Preston Guilmet struck out 12 South Alabama Jaguars while giving up just four hits in 8.0 innings. Today David Coulon went one step better, K'ing 11, walking just one and giving up only a single hit in 8.0 innings of work. Hmmm, maybe there IS somebody out there who can stop Arizona State's bats?


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THREE DOWN---

1- Michigan.
Lost to Georgia Southern 12-3 and to East Carolina 6-5.
Unlike most recent years, it appears as if Michigan won't have any good marquee non-conference wins, unless the Wolverines are able to take down Coastal Carolina next week. After getting routed in game one, they blew a 5-3 lead in game two by allowing the Pirates to score three runs in the 7th and 8th inning.

2- The pitching of Texas-San Antonio and College of Charleston.
UTSA won game one 20-12 and CofC won game two 20-16.
This was a good matchup of expected conference contenders that turned ugly in every way possible. Like, scary ugly. Of course, it didn't help that the winds were recorded to be gusting from 40-to-50 mph straight out to center field. The two teams combined for 68 runs, 68 hits, 15 errors, 29 walks and 12 home runs. The Cougars Michael Harrington hit a grand slam and a three-run home run in the second game alone and accounted for a school record eight RBI. The two games took a combined total of eight hours and nine minutes to complete. (Give that umpiring crew a raise).

3- San Diego State.
Lost to LMU 7-2.
After opening the season with a 3-1 mark vs. San Diego and following that up with wins against decent teams in USC and Cal Poly, the Aztecs have gone just 1-5 since. Today's loss to Loyola Marymount was supposed to be their gimme W of the weekend. But Lion pitchers Martin Viramontes and Lee Roberts combine for 15 strikeouts and gave up just six hits to drop SDSU to 6-6. Now the Fighting Gwynn's will take on Oklahoma State and Oregon State to finish out the SDSU tournament. Tough chore.


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TOREROS WIN, BUT NEITHER TEAM WAS SHARP
at Cunningham Stadium.
Oregon St. - 001 103 000 - 5 9 3
San Diego - 110 030 41x - 10 10 3

WP- Ricardo Pecina (1-0)
LP- Blake Keitzman (0-1)

To use Kendall Rogers' favorite phrase, less than stellar. Both teams entered today's game with .500 records and neither USD nor Oregon State looked all that smooth on this sunsplashed Saturday. It almost looked more like they were two snowbelt schools just stretching their legs and gloves out for the first time this season, even though each had played a good bit of games. Lots of small hiccups throughout. A trio of errors each. Some untimely walks, hit batsmen and a balk. A couple of mental errors per side.

But there were some key hits and actually some nice defensive gems along the way as well. USD broke the game open in the 7th inning with the help of two singles, a backbreaking double and two walks.

Key Play:
In the 7th inning, with the score tied and the bags juiced with Toreros, Oregon State went to the pen and brought out lefty Kraig Sitton. SD coach Rich Hill must've had a notion, because he decided to bring in James Meador to pinch hit. Sure enough, Meador sliced a double down the line to bring in two runs and put USD up to stay at 7-5.

Starters looked a little rusty:
San Diego's Matt Couch and Oregon State's Jorge Reyes both had some rough spots out there as neither factored into the decision. Couch, an All-WCC selection in '97, lasted 5.1 innings, giving up four runs on seven hits with six Ks. Reyes, the CWS MVP, went 5.2 innings, giving up five runs on six hits and gathering only one strikeout. San Diego's bullpen pitched more effectively than OSU's parade of relievers that got mind-numbingly tedious after a while. A.J. Griffin was the best pitcher of the day, sitting down six of the seven guys he faced, the only base-runner coming from an error.

Fair or foul?
At the time, I couldn't see it because I was taking pictures next to the Torero dugout, but apparently Meador's game-swinging hit looked awfully foul to many of the Beaver fans in Cunningham Stadium. As you can tell from this picture, Coach Pat Casey didn't agree with the umpire's view on the play either:

OSUCaseyComplaint.jpg
(Pat Casey hopes this guy doesn't work in Omaha this June)

Another thing Coach Casey wasn't all that crash-hot about.
As if the hit-and-miss pitching and questionable umpiring wasn't bad enough, for the two innings I sat down by the Oregon State dugout, three times I saw Coach Casey have to yell at the OSU batter to remind them to look back at the dugout to get the signals from the coaches in between pitches. Ah... Freshmen.

Fielding oops.
As I wrote about in the fall series between USD and Long Beach, Torero 3Bman Victor Sanchez is the real deal. The SuperFrosh made a handful of bare-handed plays to retire the bunt-happy Beachers. But today, had a mental breakdown on a 4th inning bunt by John Wallace when both he and Matt Couch went for the ball, then one of them yelled for it (hard to tell which one), but both ended up backing off. Wallace would score on Drew George's double immediately after. On the other side of the ledger, O-State SS Joey Wong, who made a series of highlight-reel plays in the post-season last year, fumbled a sure-fire inning-ending double play ball in the 5th that allowed three runs to eventually score. Very un-Wongesque.

Another reason to like Josh Romanski.
Not only is he a balls-out center fielder, an All American candidate on the mound and a solid bat (.310 with three home runs entering the game), but he also chose to have Jimi Hendrix as his coming-to-bat music. Gotta love brother Jimi playing that backward guitar.

USDRomanskiSanchezHill.jpg
(Josh Romanski and Victor Sanchez made some big plays for Coach Hill today)


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Texas Tech's home schedule.
The Red Raiders have now lost eight home games due to circumstances beyond their control. In week one Northern Illinois cancelled a four-game series in Lubbock because of the campus shooting that had taken place a couple of days before. Then, this past weekend, Illinois couldn't get out of O'Hare airport because of a bad winter front that had locked up the city of Chicago and had to cancel its four-game set at Dan Law Field.

TTU managed to set up some games with - ironically - Northern Illinois and Texas State down in San Marcos this weekend instead.


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4:19am to 7:07am.
That's the time difference of when last night's Hawaii-Long Beach game ended (according to East coast time) and the beginning of today's Georgia Southern-Michigan game (according to West coast time).


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Man it's late now. I got my college baseball writing interrupted by some stupid party tonight. So now it's like 1:55am... wait, isn't this that whole daylight savings time thing? Oh crap, in five minutes it's going to be 3 o'clock!

G'night... er, I mean, G'mornin'

March 08, 2008

Friday First Takes - YES!!

This might be the only time all season that you'll catch me pulling for one team over another. But remember, we're wishng for upsets this weekend since there aren't hardly any intriguing matchups? Well people, raise your right hand in a fist, because that's what we got today, in a few cases at least.


VandyFlaherty.jpg
(Ryan Flaherty prevented Vanderbilt from becoming another upset victim)

For starters, let's hand out the best and worst of this first Friday in March:

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THREE UP---
The best of Friday.
1- The Top 30 Upsets
Five Top 30 behemoths bit the dust in this weekend's first day of games. A couple more had to hold on to their knickers for nearly getting another notch in the loss column.

See more on this below.

2- The West Coast Conference
The Westies went 8-1 on the day, including two wins over ranked teams: LMU beat No. 19 Oregon State 13-3 and San Diego beat No. 22 Oklahoma State 7-2. Also, Santa Clara improved to 9-1 with a 10-6 win at San Diego State. And late, late into the middle of the night while most of you were in R.E.M. sleep, San Francisco was pulling out an 8-7 win at UNLV in 13 innings. The only hiccup? St. Mary's got one-hit by Tim Murphy and Garett Claypool in a 14-0 loss to UCLA.

3- Shooter Hunt (Tulane) and Scott Gorgen (UC Irvine)
UC Irvine - 0
Tulane - 2
These two put on a clinic at re-worked Turchin Stadium today. Give the edge to Hunt and the Wave as he went 7.0 innings, striking out 11 Anteaters and giving up just one harmless hit to pick up the W. Gorgen was nearly as good, also going 7.0, striking out 10 Greenies and giving up four hits and the two runs. Nice win for Rick Jones' charges.


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THREE DOWN---
The worst of Friday.
1- Mother Nature (again).
Eleven games inside the rankings were postponed or canceled by rain storms roaring up and down the East coast. Who lost the most? The ACC's opening Friday of conference play only saw two games out of six get played. The Southern Conference also played only one of eight games on the docket. Concerning Mother Nature, I digress to the words of Randy Moss, "Dammit woman, I said leave me alone."

2- Call it the Devils beatdown effect.
These teams are still feeling the effects of getting lambasted by Arizona State:
- Oregon State. Lost today to LMU 13-3.
The Beavers have been very Jekyll and Hyde so far, including today's ugly loss.
- Vanderbilt. Rallied to beat Illinois-Chicago 5-4.
Once again, the 'Dores just didn't play very well, having to stage a furious 4-run rally to beat the Flames (while saying "thank you for the pitching change")
- New Mexico. Lost at Minnesota 7-3.
The Lobos were off to a 7-0 start before getting blasted by a combined 28-2 in mid-week games vs. ASU. Today, the Gophers worked them over pretty well too.

3- Those upset-minded teams that couldn't hold on.
Illinois-Chicago - 4
No. 6 Vanderbilt - 5
What the Austin Peay is going on here? UI-C gave up four runs in the 9th, including back-to-back hits by Alex Feinberg and Ryan Flaherty (a two-run single) to ice the game.

Massachusetts - 4
No. 1 Arizona State - 13
Okay, this would've been our sports' Appalachian State, since UMass did lead 3-1 in the 5th inning. Can you imagine if they had held on? But ASU poured it on late to ease into another W.

No. 11 Long Beach State - 4
Hawaii - 3 (12inns)
The Beach looked dead in the warm waters of the Pacific with only two hits through seven innings, but score three times in the 8th to send it to extras, then got an RBI double by Shane Peterson to pull out the win.

Youngstown State - 7
Alabama - 15
With 41 degrees and a slight drizzle, you had to think this was perfect Penguin weather. So a 4-2 lead in the 4th shouldn't have been a shock. But Bama eventually heated up.


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MATADORS BEAT BACK A STORM---

St. John's - 5
Cal State Northridge - 6

Caught the Friday matchup of St. John's at Cal State Northridge today in the San Fernando Valley (Hopefully, nobody at work noticed I was gone.). Wanted to get a chance to see the Big East contenders while they were in town. They ran into some problems with the hot Northridge bats, who came in hitting .370. Starting hurler Scott Barnes didn't last too long, giving up four runs and four walks, along with two hits before getting yanked.

The Johnnies came back and even took the lead at 5-4 in the 7th, but the Matadors were resilient, and the hot bat of Catcher John Parham put the game away with an infield single to short that scored the winning run. Parham only had that one hit on the day, but came in hitting .500 so far.

Interestingly, CSUN 2B Justin DeMarco ended up getting tossed in the 6th inning for giving an extra forearm shiver to the chest of SJU's Johnny Kemp after a collision at second base on an attempted steal. To Kemp's credit, he didn't charge back for the Frosh's hot-headed anger. In the end, after DeMarco got tossed, at least he got comforted by an understanding female while reposing in the grass beyond the outfield wall.

CSUNejection.jpg
(Someday this Freshman will become a Sophomore and it will please his coach)


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THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN---
Here's the list of today's Top 30 upset victims:

Michigan State - 9
No. 6 Rice - 3
It's weird to see Ryan Berry go just 4.2 innings and give up seven runs in the process. The Spartans have now beaten Stetson, Western Carolina and Rice so far.

No. 13 UC Irvine - 0
Tulane - 2
As mentioned above, one of the best-pitched games in this early season.

LMU - 13
No. 19 Oregon State - 3
OSU's pitchers have been good and awful at the same time this season. Latest example being Mike Stutes, who gave up nine hits and four runs in 5.0 innings. Eight Beaver pitchers were used in all.

Rutgers - 10
No. 25 Texas A&M - 8
The Knights add to their impressive list of victims, including Old Dominion and Georgia Tech, all of which were ranked at the time they beat them. A&M arms issue 10 walks today.

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WHO I ALMOST INCLUDED IN THE "THREE UP"---
The Southland Conference.
The SLC was ravaged by cancellations as well, but of the five games there were played, they won four.

McNeese State - 1
Texas-Arlington - 26

St. Louis - 4
Sam Houston State - 9

Notre Dame - 2
Texas A&M Corpus Christi - 5

Northern Illinois - 1
Texas State - 3

Akron - 10
Lamar - 8

Only thing that held the Southland back was no wins over ranked teams and it was hard to ignore that zit of a loss by Lamar.


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NOW THEY LOOK LIKE A NO. 1 TEAM---
South Alabama - 0
No. 5 Arizona - 18
Down at Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi, UofA, the No. 1 team in some rankings, played one of the more dominant games put together this season. Preston Guilmet went 8.0 innings striking out 12 and giving up just four hits, no runs and no walks to improve to 2-1. C.J. Ziegler hit his 7th yard call of the early season. The 'Cats improved to 8-1 and the Jags dropped to 7-4.

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That's it. I stayed up long enough to find out that the Beach had beaten Hawaii. So now, I'm out. More tomorrow from the Oregon State-San Diego game (if traffic obeys, of course).

G'night.

March 07, 2008

Thursday Thoughts - The Upsets Wanted Edition

This weekend it's all about upsets. Mainly because we can't really hope for much else.

large_070901_appstate_celebrates.jpg
(Stitch-heads everywhere are channeling the spirit of Appy State this weekend)

I don't know about you, but I'm hoping for an upset. In fact, I'm hoping for a whole slew of upsets. Unlike last weekend's great slate of games and tournaments, this weekend's schedule looks like a bunch of yawners. Sadly, the San Diego State tournament will involve the only matchups of ranked teams when No. 22 Oklahoma State and No. 19 Oregon State will both play No. 21 San Diego on Friday and Saturday respectively.

So unless this weekend brings about a whole mess of Davids beating Goliaths, I'm not sure there is going to be much to write home about over the next three days. Guess we'll see.

The good thing about this is that there have already been plenty of upsets this week:

Tuesday:
- Sam Houston State 13 - Rice 12
- Cal State Fullerton 7 - UCLA 1
- Louisiana Tech 9 - Baylor 6

Wednesday:
- Charlotte 11 - South Carolina 2
- Arkansas State 7 - Mississippi 5
- Dallas Baptist 7 - Rice 6
- Cal State Fullerton 13 - UCLA 2
- USC 5 - Pepperdine 1

Thursday:
- Illinois-Chicago 2 - Vanderbilt 1
- Santa Clara 7 - San Diego 6

So we've gotten off to a good start. Let's hope it keeps up through the weekend.


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A COUPLE OF QUICK HITS---

- Even the ACC can't save the weekend. Conference play gets kicked off this weekend, but somehow, the only series that could be labeled "mildly interesting" will be the Virginia at NC State matchup. Other than that - and possible upsets - mail it in.

- Reason No. 125 that polls and rankings are a bad idea:
Long Beach State is ranked below Rice. Even after the Beach beat the Owls two of three and then swept Wichita State, who was ranked in the top 10. Late in the season, it might make sense, but after just two weeks of play, a team that beats another should be ranked higher.

- You also gotta love those fans who want their favorite player christened Player of the Year after they've gone 11-for-12 with nine home runs against Cupcake State.

- Did I really just read right? Did Texas A&M-Corpus Christi really walk 17 Texas batters on Wednesday? Man! That's just five shy of the number of letters and characters in it's school name! (Including the dash)

- I just got the notice that tomorrow's Georgia Southern-Michigan game set for Clark-LeClair Stadium in Greenville, NC has been moved from a 1pm to a 9am start because of impending weather. Hmmm, do I feel like waking up at 6am my time and listening in?

- With Rosenblatt apparently set to host its last CWS in 2010 before moving to this hoity-toity new stadium downtown, do you think the peeps at the grand old lady will let me keep a few of the old seats to put in my house?


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TOP FIVE GREATEST POST-SEASON UPSETS---
I was approached by Peter Cooley in the CSTV research department a few weeks ago asking me about what were the greatest upsets in college baseball history. Yikes, that's broad! But then he narrowed it down to the post-season only (since also-rans beat ranked foes all the time during the regular season - for instance Arkansas State's win over Ole Miss this week... well, not that ASU is an also-ran, well... you get my drift.). So from that, I decided to throw together a top five of post-season upsets. Very debatable of course:

1- 2004 Houston Regional - first round
Texas Southern - 4
Rice - 3
The Tigers came into the Regionals with a losing record and had two quality arms on the whole staff. Starter Isaac Daniels was one. His ERA was 4.45 on a team whose ERA was 8.49 entering the post-season. Meanwhile Rice countered with Phillip Humber, a top five draftee that year. Daniels went 7.0 innings, scattering seven hits against a team that hit .310. The Tigers chased Humber by scoring three runs in the 8th inning to forge ahead. Then, TSU's normal No. 2 starter, Brandon Strickland, came on to pitch the remaining two innings and put the clamps on the upset. Rice, the No. 6 national seed, went on to get eliminated by Texas A&M and was unable to defend its national title.

2- 1997 Midwest Regional - first round
Harvard - 7
UCLA - 2
This was a 1st vs. 6th-seed game to open the regional in Stillwater. Though the '97 edition was one of the better Crimson teams, finishing 34-17, you still have to put this in perspective. This Bruin team had players like Troy Glaus, Eric Byrnes, Eric Valent and Jim Parque. UCLA went on to win six straight games (including a win over Harvard) to make it to Omaha.

3- 1987 South II Regional - first round
Southern - 1
Cal State Fullerton - 0
Playing just down the river in New Orleans, the Jaguars made this the first ever win for a historically black school in the NCAA tournament. Ironically, they did it off of Fullerton's All American pitcher Mike Harkey, who was also black. Fullerton entered the Regionals with a 42-14 mark as a top five team and with a No. 1 seed under Augie Garrido.

4- 1999 Lubbock Regional - first round
Wisconsin-Milwaukee - 8
Rice - 4
Rice was the No. 1 team in the nation and UWM was playing in its first ever NCAA tournament. Chad Sadowski pitched a complete game and also went 3-for-5 at the plate. The next day, however, the Owls eliminated the Panthers with a 27-1 bloodletting, on their way to making the CWS field.

5- 1977 West Regional - finals
Cal St. Los Angeles - 5 7
Southern California - 4 6
This isn't as Earthshaking of an upset as you might think, because the Diablos (as they were known then - much cooler than "Eagles") were a good team. But keep in mind they had lost to No. 1 ranked USC 9-0 and 15-2 earlier in the season as part of a 6-7 start. Jack Deutsch's charges rallied and beat USC twice on the same day at Dedeaux Field in dramatic fashion to go to the College World Series. Once there, they became the darlings of Omaha because of their pre-game "shadow ball" routine and their mock-singing of the USC fight song in the dugout. Of course, since then Cal State L.A. has dropped to Division II status.


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TOP 10 PLACES TO BE THIS WEEKEND---
Fire up the lear jet, I'm hittin' each and every one of these places.

1- San Diego State Tournament.
(San Diego State, Oregon State, San Diego, Santa Clara, Oklahoma State, LMU)
So when exactly did San Diego become the center of the college baseball world? This is the second weekend in a row it will be a good time to visit the city with the best weather in America. SDSU and SCU have piled up some good wins so far. Oregon State continues to be a story worth tracking. And the Toreros are college baseball's soap opera team (this week, they've already been shut out by UC Irvine). This will be a couple of good tests for Oklahoma State as well, as the Pokes have played moderate competition in building up a 7-1 mark.

2- Stanford (6-3) at No. 7 Texas (8-2)
Well if the Trees are back, this will show it more than anything else, right? Beating Fullerton at home is one thing. Beating the Horns on the carpet is quite another. Texas needs a good bounce-back weekend after losing to Tennessee and Rice last weekend. Augie just keeps on pumping out more strapping 6'5" Longhorn hitters. This time it's Soph Brandon Belt, who went 4-for-5 with two doubles and eight RBI in Wednesday's 22-3 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

3- No. 13 UC Irvine (8-0) at Tulane (7-3)
Okay, here's my first prediction: UC Irvine won't shut out the Green Wave all weekend. Still, the Anteater arms holding that 36 straight scoreless innings is pretty impressive. Aja Barto, Warren McFadden, Anthony Scelfo and company will see to it that comes to an end.

4- No. 2 Ole Miss (9-1) at TCU (5-4)
This is one of the few non-conference roadies for the Rebs. It will be interesting to see how they handlle strange environs. TCU has some ability, but is still really young. However, the Frogs have shown a knack for winning close games, including a pair of extra inning Ws already this season.

5- Southern Miss (6-3) at No. 26 Cal State Fullerton (5-4)
Great intersectional matchup. Both teams need a little redemption, especially the Titans who got swept in three at Stanford. And they already look pretty damn angry, having beaten UCLA 7-1 on Tuesday and 13-2 on Wednesday. Strangely, the Titans threw their usual Friday ace, Jeff Kaplan, on Tuesday against the Bruins.

6- No. 16 Baylor (8-1) at Mississippi State (5-4)
Oof! Talk about a team that needs some redemption. I know it's early here, but MSU, it's time to step up or step off. Baylor will be a tough road to climb too. The Dogs are missing Jeffrey Rea, Ed Easley and Mitch Moreland a lot more than we all thought.

7- Rutgers (2-4) at No. 25 Texas A&M (9-2)
The Knights have two really good wins (over Old Dominion and Georgia Tech) and can improve their resume more with a win or two here. A&M rebounded nicely in their own Domino's Classic from that horrid double-whammy administered by Northern Colorado. This will be a good test for that younger-than-young Aggie rotation.

8- The Metrodome Tournament
(Cal, New Mexico, Minnesota, Northern Iowa)
This field got a whole lot more intriguing when Cal decided to play even better than advertised, Minnesota beat Tulane and Pepperdine and New Mexico got off to a 7-0 start.

9- No. 12 Virginia (10-0) at North Carolina State (6-2)
The Wahoos take their 1.39 team ERA into Raleigh, where State will face its most significant challenge of the young season. In their only other game against quality competition, the Pack lost to Louisville 3-1.

10- This space vacated due to lack of interest.

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BEST PITCHING MATCHUP OF THE WEEKEND---
- Virginia's Jacob Thompson vs. North Carolina State's Eric Surkamp
A classic righty-lefty showdown in Raleigh. But it's kind of a tale of pitchers that have had opposite results so far. Thompson has gone 2-0, 0.00, 12.0 innings, 16Ks and 5BBs. Surkamp is already just 1-1 on the season, tossing 9.2 innings with 12Ks and 5BBs. Surkamp's loss came to Louisville where he gave up three runs in 5.2 innings of work last Friday.

I got to see Thompson pitch at Wake Forest last March where he had modest stuff going, including his mid-90s fastball that was enough to get him through 5.1 innings for the win. If that wasn't one of his better games, then it's easy to see why UVa went 15-1 in games he started last season. Meanwhile, Surkamp, according to the scouts I've talked to, has four quality pitches, including good velo on his mid-90s FB that moves across all four quadrants, a devastating tear-drop slider that stays in the mid-80s and a 12-to-6 hammer on his curveball that has dynamic 2-plane depth... okay, enough of the talk about the esoteric plumbing here, I meant to say that he throws hard, makes people miss on his curveball and is a good competitor. Sorry 'bout that. Should be a great matchup on Friday.


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SECOND-BEST PITCHING MATCHUP OF THE WEEKEND---
- Long Beach State's Andrew Liebel vs. Hawaii's Matt Daly.
As good as the Dirtbags have been, the Rainbows have been just the opposite - sketchy. But Daly should put up good numbers against a light-hitting LB team, so a Friday win is possible in what could be close to a two-hour game. Look for the Dirtbags to take the series though.


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THIRD-BEST PITCHING MATCHUP OF THE WEEKEND---
Oregon State's Jorge Reyes vs. San Diego's Josh Romanski.
(Depending on the rotation, this may change)
Only bummer about this? When Romanski pitches you miss the chance to see him making his usual array of diving catches in center field. And Reyes is coming off a really, really poor performance vs. Georgia, where he gave up seven runs before not escaping the first inning. This is one of thosetests that could lead to a great season or a sophomore slump.


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OFF-THE-RADAR TEAM TO WATCH---
Santa Clara (8-1)
The Broncos have some solid wins to their nameplate, including K-State, San Jose State and Fresno State. This week will be the real litmus test as they'll take on San Diego (okay, I just found out they won that game 7-6, called after 8 innings), San Diego State, Oklahoma State and Oregon State. Opposing pitchers are being careful with Tommy Medica, though it's not working because he's still hitting .419. But 1B Evan LeBlanc is off to another hot start. Last year he began the season hitting .480 in his first seven games. This year, through eight games, he's hitting a crisp .500, with two home runs and four doubles.


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OFF-OFF-THE-RADAR TEAM TO WATCH---
Georgia State (9-1)
The inner city Panthers have a tough time competing in the Colonial, but so far, they've been pasting the ball against mostly weak teams. Nonetheless, they are hitting .369 as a team and have a guy named Mitch Rider (and the Detroit Wheels?) hitting .423 with four dingers and four doubles so far. Chase Childers leads GSU with a . 571 average. One of the things you have to like is their .974 fielding percentage. They'll take on James Madison this weekend to open CAA play.


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OFF-OFF-OFF-THE-RADAR TEAM TO WATCH---
- Temple (3-4)
The Owls have about as low a profile as there is in college baseball. But coach Rob Valli, in his third season, has them playing pretty well early on, including wins over three good teams. They beat MEAC favorite Bethune-Cookman in week one, 9-6, then beat pre-season No. 25 (BA) Old Dominion last weekend, 5-2, and finally took down defending Big East champs Rutgers on Wednesday 9-5.


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BIGGEST ROAD-WEARY TEAM---
Michigan State.
To start the season, the Spartans played three games down in Bradenton, Florida, going 2-1, including a nice win over Stetson. Then they flew back to East Lansing. But two days later, the Spartans were getting back on planes again, this time to Beaumont, Texas. MSU went 1-3 at the Cardinal Classic, beating only Arkansas State and losing to Lamar and K-State. Then, the Spartans bussed over to LSU, where they lost on Tuesday and Wednesday. Today, they bussed back to Texas to play in the Rice Invitational where they beat a good Western Carolina club 5-3.

Prediction for the rest of the weekend? They'll play Rice tough, but eventually lose. Then, with rubbery legs and withered spirits, they'll crumble from jet/bus lag and lose big to Creighton on Saturday.


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WELCOME TO THE SEASON---
The last bit of Division I teams will finally shake the snow off the gloves and play their first games of the season this coming weekend.

- Harvard (at Wichita State).
My guess is the Shox will be angry and are looking for a sacrificial lamb here.
- UMass (at Arizona State)
Oh the humanity!
- Hartford (at Villanova).
The forecast calls for rain most of the weekend. Sunday may be playable.
- New York Tech (vs. Buffalo)
The Bears and Bulls have to hope old man winter stays away from the Big Apple as well.
- Quinnipiac (at Davidson)
The Bobcats are expected to be NEC contenders, so this could be a good series


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ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME---
I've always had mixed emotions about anything that is labeled as a Hall of Fame, be it sports like football, baseball or hockey or any other kind of Hall of Fame. Bowling, Firefighting, crocheting, whatever.

But nothing mystifies me more than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When an artist has to pay to be in it, that's major league B.S. I loved how the Sex Pistols told the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to shove it a few years ago. Typical punk fashion sure, but they also had good reason. Why should they have to pay for the right of those folks in Cleveland to tell people they were great?

No wonder the answer was, "piss off".

Well, here's this year's Hall of Fame inductees:
-Leonard Cohen
-John Mellencamp
-Madonna
-The Ventures
-The Dave Clark Five

The Ventures had the instrumental No. 2 hit in 1960 with "Walk Don't Run". They were a good surf band, but that was their only big hit stateside (nevermind their Japanese success).

The Dave Clark Five? Yeah, they had a good bit of success. The problem being that they were a British band that came over right after the Beatles. Not an easy act to follow. They reached the American Top 10 a couple of times, most notably No. 1 with "Over and Over" in 1965. Not a horrible pick for the Hall, I suppose. Sadly, lead singer Mike Smith passed away a few weeks ago.

Quick, name me a Leonard Cohen song? 
.
.
.
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That's what I thought.

John Cougar Mellencamp brought roots rock back to the main stage in the 80s. Not bad. I was never terribly over-the-moon about him though. Some toe-tappin' stuff, but nothing Earthshaking.

And that leaves us with Madonna.... In the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame... Really? Maybe if this was the "Scantilly clad, dance in unison Hall of Fame" sure. But "Rock and Roll"? 

Okay, she's a marketing machine and has managed to reinvent herself a number of times. But what instrument was she a virtuoso at? Would anybody say she had a remarkable voice? Hell, you can't even label her a "musician".  

Please people. Disco Hall of Fame, maybe. But this is NOT rock and roll.

So overall, I'm pretty disappointed with this year's inductees. I mean, it's like giving serviceable .280 hitters a pass to Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame should be the best of the best. Tops of the tops. That's what a Hall of Fame should be all about. Not longtime journeymen. 

Bottom line: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does it for the money.


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TRIVIA---
Can any of you give the name of the conference that Cal State L.A. played in back in 1977?

(Whoever gets the correct answer to me first gets a free beer and hot dog at the next college baseball game they attend... my treat. However, if the stadium you go to doesn't have beer for sale, this offer is null and void)


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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO---
Jim Audley?
He's the Wichita State guy that made that incredible throw from center field to catcher Doug Mirabelli to nab Creighton's Brad Bruns at home in the 12th inning of their scintillating 4-3 win in the 1991 College World Series. Still wish that throw would've been five feet wider.


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Okay stitch-heads. Time for me to get my ugly sleep. Let's hear it for the underdog this weekend.

G'night.

March 05, 2008

Q&A- Wichita State's Gene Stephenson

GeneStephenson.jpg

You don't tell a rough and tumble man from Guthrie, Oklahoma that you can't take pressure. That's one thing I've noticed about Gene Stephenson's teams Wichita State, they're usually mentally tough and have an ornery disposition.

But that's also why I've noticed Coach Stephenson grousing about his teams the last few years. He's gone on record at the Wichita Eagle that his recent teams haven't had a toughness about them, haven't been mentally strong and have shown a lack of aggressiveness.

For a man who played football at Missouri and went to the frontlines in Vietnam, that inexcusable, bordering on sacrilege. He didn't earn his 1,606 victories by playing tentatively. If he hadn't been aggressive and confident, his Wichita State program might not have ever gotten off the ground, much less been in the College World Series four years after being reborn in 1978.

Yep, this is an impressive man. And an impressive program. He was the one in charge of kick-starting Shocker baseball again after it had sat dormant for seven years. A thankless task, sure, but he made something special out of it right away. His first team went 43-30-1. And that was no fluke, because his second team went 65-15. And remember, that's 107 wins in two years after having nothing to work with. This is no George-Horton-and-a-truckload-of-NIke-money situation.

I got the chance to catch up with the winningest coach in Division I just as his team was taking batting practice before Sunday's getaway game at Long Beach State.

Me:
Hi coach, I'm Eric Sorenson from CSTV.

Coach Stephenson:
Did you play at Creighton?

Me:
Nope. Just a fan of theirs from growing up in Omaha. But I did go to Creighton's basketball camp, if it matters (knowing that it didn't).

Coach Stephenson:
Okay, must be a different Sorenson I'm thinking of.

Me:
Probably Scott Sorensen from the early 90s. Coach, if you don't mind, I'd like to go way back a bit. I was going to ask how this whole Wichita State job came available for you? How did you know about it? And how things got started.

Coach Stephenson:
Well I was at Oklahoma for five years, working for Enos (Semore), we'd been to the College World Series five years in a row and things were good. I was recruiting for football as well for Coach Switzer and we were doing well there too.

Me:
You recruited for Switzer. That's awesome.

Coach Stephenson:
Yeah, because I'd been a football player at Missouri, as well as a baseball player. And Coach Switzer recruited me out of high school when he was an assistant at Arkansas. So that's how we knew each other. So eventually, Wichita sent out a release, looking for a baseball coach. At the time I was frustrated because I had never considered taking another job. Back in those days there wasn't a lot of turnover as there is today. Things weren't nearly as competitive as they are now. Especially with the money that people put into their programs.

Me:
Right.

Coach Stephenson:
So there were no openings out there. Enos had given me a lot of responsibility on his staff and prepared me to be a head coach. So I was better prepared than just about any other assistants out there, but there were no jobs. So when the Wichita thing came across as a possibility, I jumped at it. At the time I didn't care about the money. I was more concerned about the opportunity. I think at the time there was something like 82 applicants and I had no idea who they were. I think - to be truthful - maybe I was the only one that was really interested in taking it. (small laugh)

Me:
So I assume Coach Semore put in a good word for you and everything?

Coach Stephenson:
Oh of course. But the problem was it wasn't an attractive position. It only paid one thousand dollars a month and it was a month-to month-to month job. There was no office. No car. No phones. No benefits at all.

Me:
When you were there early on - I mean, I'm sure you were a confident guy - but did you anticipate having that much success early on as you did?

Coach Stephenson:
Well I was a little stupid and a little naive probably. Because at the time I never doubted it. Never doubted that we'd be a winner. I never doubted that we'd be as good as anyone in the country in four or five years. We kept that belief the whole time and we were able to bring in players that had that same belief. The one thing we had was an ability to recognize talent that hadn't been refined yet. And honestly, we got some guys to come in right away because they knew they were going to get a chance to play right away.

And we also scraped together enough money to get an astro-turf field, which was a big deal at the time. It also made us play a faster game. And four years later, we're in the championship game of the College World Series.

Me:
Amazing. Really.

Coach Stephenson:
And back home, we had no stands, no seats, no press box, no locker rooms. Nothing.

Me:
I was going to ask you about that, just how bare bones it was for you then?

Coach Stephenson:
There wasn't anything. No locker rooms meant that the guys changed clothes in their cars.

Me:
(laughing) My God.

Coach Stephenson:
Yeah. We just had good players. That's all. And that was the most important thing, that they believed they were good players.

Me:
Do you see anything like this happening in this day and age? I mean, maybe Oregon because they are going to have a lot of money behind them

Coach Stephenson:
No, nothing like that is going to happen again. I mean, there will be a program where you have something come from nothing, but only because they have a lot of money. I don't think you'd see anything like what we did happen again.

Me:
Was you biggest influence on you Coach Semore?

Coach Stephenson:
Well there were a number of people of course. My parents. I mean the work ethic that my mom and dad gave me was one. Everything was based from growing up in small-town Guthrie, Oklahoma. You earn what you got and that was it, you know?

EnosSemore.jpg
(Longtime Oklahoma coach Enos Semore)

Coach Stephenson:
So having spent time in the service, including a year in Vietnam, it kind of gave me a toughness, you know? Then five years at Oklahoma was great because Enos gave me a lot of responsibility because he trusted me. So I gained confidence from that. But that was a big thing too. Enos was a hard-working guy, really committed to being excellent in every way. Honest man, straight up. Good as they come. But the most important thing was that we got players that weren't afraid of hard work.

Me:
Good guys that weren't afraid to get their hands dirty, right?

Coach Stephenson:
Not afraid of a challenge that we don't have as much as anybody else, but that doesn't keep us from being as good or better than anybody else. We had ornery guys in some cases... but tough guys too, you know? Then we had our share of really first class people like Joe Carter... Charlie O'Brien and Jim Thomas, my long time assistant. They were all successful because they were hungry for it.

Me:
Kind of like you were coming out of Guthrie, right? I'm guessing that's where you got your work ethic.

Coach Stephenson:
Oh yeah. Sure. That's the kind of tough players we wanted to get. Back then you found athletes where you could. A lot of these early guys never played baseball in high school. Kevin Penner (from Omaha) came to us on a basketball scholarship and he wanted to be a baseball player and he became an All American for us. Mike Lansing made the major leagues and he didn't play high school ball. Pat Meares didn't play in high school. Joe Carter played maybe five or six games in high school because the program he came from was terrible.

Me:
That's amazing to think about.

Coach Stephenson:
Oh sure, because back then you didn't have all these showcases and Area Code Games and traveling teams. Back then you had to go out and find players that were raw talents. Players that wanted to play hard and be great players. And that really set us apart from other programs.

Me:
Do you find it tougher to find players like that nowadays?

Coach Stephenson:
Sure I do. Society has gotten softer. Parents want to give in more, even to the point of going into debt for their sons. It's a sad thing, you know. Parents want to give them everything they want. Now they're all spoiled to an extent.

Me:
I know you'd been a long-time proponent of a common start date.

Coach Stephenson:
Yeah. For about 35 years now. (Laughs)

Me:
Now that that's happened, and I know it's early, do you notice any difference this year?

Coach Stephenson:
No there's nothing different so far. But what it really does is that it supposedly doesn't allow anybody to practice before we do. Supposedly it doesn't allow anyone to play games before we do. And it forces every team in the country to play the same amount of games in the same amount of time. So I think that's fair. But, do I think that the weather is ever going to be conducive to it all evening out? No. But let me be clear, I've been saying this all along too, I think the only fair way to handle college baseball is for everyone to start April 1st and have the regular season end the first of August, then have the College World Series finish up at the end of August. That's the only totally fair way.

Me:
Quick questions here, what's the best pitching staff you've had in all your years at Wichita State? Is there one you can single out more than others?

Coach Stephenson:
Wow. I don't think you can single one out. I know the ones that people remember the most are the '82 staff because we had Bob Heinkel, who still holds the college record for most wins in a season. We had Brian Oelkers who was the fifth pick overall in the '82 draft, one pick ahead of Dwight Gooden. So he was pretty good. And the third guy on that staff was Erik Sonberg, he was a first round draft pick in 1983. Those three guys won 18, 17 and 16 games. So that's 51 wins from three guys. I don't think you could ever top that. Then our fourth guy won 11 games.

Me:
Was that the 72-win team?

Coach Stephenson:
73 wins.

Me:
Well I don't guess that'll be broken anytime soon, huh?

Coach Stephenson:
No, probably not. And there were a lot of other staffs that were really good.

Me:
Yeah, I remember a few of those staffs from the early 90s.

Coach Stephenson:
You had Kennie Steenstra that went 17-0 in '91 and he played in the big leagues. Darren Dreifort and Jamie Bluma, both of those guys pitched in the big leagues too. And Tyler Green was a first round pick. That '91 team ended up losing in the finals.

Me:
To LSU, that's right. And that was also the team that you guys played that great game against Creighton in the College World Series.

Coach Stephenson:
Yep. Jim Hendry was coaching that team. They had a great team. But the only team they couldn't beat was us.

Me:
Oh yeah, I remember you guys owned them.

Coach Stephenson:
We played them eight times that year and we beat them all eight times. In fact, the only close game was the one in the World Series that went extra innings (a 3-2 Shocker win in 11 innings)

Me:
One of the greatest games I've ever seen. But I wonder, do you think Coach Hendry should've sent that runner from second on that play where the guy was tagged out at the plate?

(See the play at this site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjPiLHAKRAw)

Coach Stephenson:
I don't think he had a choice. I don't.

Me:
I've always been curious as to what you thought about that.

Coach Stephenson:
Well, it was a pinch runner so you figure he had to be quick enough. (Laughs). But that was a whale of a throw from center field to get him

Me:
Oh, Jim Audley? Hell yeah. That was incredible. Since '96, the last time you've been to the College World Series, what was the best team you've had that didn't make it? Was last year as good as it got?

Coach Stephenson:
You can look at a lot of teams that could've gone. '98... '99... that was the year that Christenson did his stupid stuff, you know.

(He's referring to the incident at Evansville where ace Ben Christianson beaned EU lead off batter Jeff Molina in the eye because he thought he was standing too close to home plate during warm-ups... for the record, I didn't bring this incident up, Coach just rolled right into it.)

Had that not happened, I think we would've won it all because he was the number one pitcher around. But he... (pause, kick the ground with his cleats for a moment) I still don't understand what he was doing on that one.

But 2004 and 2007 were both really good teams too.

Me:
I'll be honest, I thought you guys had that one last year. Home Super Regional. Playing a No. 2 seed.

Coach Stephenson:
I did too. I tell you.

Me:
I underestimated Irvine and I had seen them play a couple of times last year.

Coach Stephenson:
I think everybody underestimated them. Because they played the game so well because they weren't an over-powering offense, but they had a really good approach to the game. If their pitchers were on - and they had to be really on - you were going to have a tough time scoring runs on them. And so... we pitched really great against them, but you know, we couldn't get the right hit at the right time.

Sometimes that just happens in baseball. You know, we've had a lot of good teams since '96 that were good enough and were even better than some of the teams that have gone to Omaha. The RPI is a heavy factor and it's unfair the way it's set up, it still favors the Southern teams. But I think creation of the Super Regionals has made it tougher to get there, unless you're playing a lot of home series in the Regional and Super Regional. But it's also important that your team is playing well at the right time and getting the right bounces.

In the major leagues you play 162 games and then a best-of-seven playoffs, but in college you can be bad in one 24-hour period and get two losses and be sent home.

Me:
Two more things I wanted to ask you about before I go, the status of the Missouri Valley Conference, the last 10 years what have you seen that has made it better or worse?

Coach Stephenson:
I think every team - every team - has two quality starting pitchers, at least. And that's what makes it so much tougher. Everybody has somebody that can beat you. It wasn't always that way. Not 10 years ago. So that quality of pitching has made a big difference. We've had a lot of success in that league, but it's never easy. Especially nowadays. It's a lot tougher.

Me:
Okay, lastly, who's a better coach, you or your former player Eric Wedge?

Coach Stephenson:
(Laughs) That's easy, Eric Wedge. He was the American League Manager of the Year last year with the Indians, so he is.

March 03, 2008

Sunday Summations - Best college baseball weekend until the post season?

I think stitch-heads all across the country can agree that Sunday concluded a great weekend of college baseball, with intriguing showdowns all around the country.

In fact, I'm working on a theory here. I'm starting to believe that the NCAA took a look around at all the crappy non-conference matchups that were being played in February of last year (except the Minute Maid Classic) and decided to cut out three weekends of the season because there were so many dead fish games out there.

Now, if there were more interesting weekends like this one we just saw here, maybe the NCAA would consider moving the start date back to late January. But because college baseball schedule makers started putting us to sleep, we fans had to pay the price.

Never again people. Never again.


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THREE UP---

1- The Big 12.
Just for the record, Texas Tech, you guys are buying the next beer round. The Big 12 went 9-1 in games on Sunday, with the only loss being Tech's 5-4 loss to Rice in the Houston College Classic. Seven of those nine wins came on away from the confines of home stadiums. Biggest shock? Nebraska completing the four-game sweep of UC Riverside with a 13-1 whitewashing. (That and the fact that they got the game in before a massive snow storm was about to hit the midlands)

2- South Carolina, ready to take on the minor leaguers?
Dare I say, the Gamecocks were Sun Devilesque! They swept two from bitter rival Clemson, 10-1 on Saturday and today's count of 5-1. Yes, that's a 15-2 combo of pain on the orange, purple and white. The Cocks and Tigers will meet twice more this season, but both will be mid-week games. Reese Havens and Justin Smoak became long-ball nightmares, as expected.

3- 11,166
That's the number of fannies in seats that the Sunday getaway game between Georgia and Oregon State at PGE Park in Portland. The Beavers scraped out a 5-4 win to take the close-knit series 2-games-to-1. Could you imagine a crowd like this happening four or five years ago? Hell no. And to me, it's awesome. Can't wait for Oregon to get on board and add to the college baseball fever in the Pacific Northwest.

Great series too. Josh Fields continues to amaze.


.
THREE DOWN---
1- Chillicothe, Ohio
So I went through the entire schedule of games from today on Jeremy's website (www.ncaa-baseball.com) and it looks like today's Pittsburgh vs. Youngstown State game was the only (yes, the ONLY) college baseball game today that was cancelled because of weather. And even that was because the entire weekend was called off because of the forecast. Not because it was actually raining or snowing today.

Then again, who the hell schedules a baseball game in mid-Ohio for March 2nd anyway?

2- Cal State Fullerton.
(lost at Stanford 6-5)
That loud cheer you just heard was all those Long Beach State fans. First, their team just got done sweeping the No. 10 team in the country, and then they also find out today that their bitter rival, the Titans, just lost all three games in Palo Alto, two of which were by large margins. Today's game was a back-and-forth affair, but Stanford came from behind to score single runs in the 8th and 9th inning to win.

My gawd! The Trees have now swept the Elephants three straight times at Sunken Diamond: 2004, 2006 and 2008.

3- Tennessee and Auburn.
(lost 2-0 vs. Oklahoma and 10-1 at Florida State respectively)
All that good karma that the Vols built up after the win over Texas on Friday, flew the coup with back-to-back losses to Texas Tech yesterday and OU today. Still, keep in mind, this is a young team and will have those kind of ups and downs all season long. The Tigers, on the other hand, needed to stake a claim that they were back in the national scene. In four games against the Noles, they did just the opposite, losing all four games. Granted, today's nine-run wart was the only poor showing, the other three games were decided by 2, 1 and 1 run each.


.
QUICK-HIT HONORABLE MENTIONS---
- Minnesota.
Beat Pepperdine 5-2.
The Gophers recovered from horrible weekend at Ole Miss to beat Tulane and P'dine. The only loss was an extra inning game to TCU. Now this time, when the Gophers beat good teams in the post-season, will you NOT act so surprised?
- Texas-Arlington.
Beat Alabama 12-8.
Talk about rising to the occasion, the Mavericks went 2-2 in the Diamond Classic with both wins coming against the Tide. Last year, UTA won just 13 games.
- Portland.
*Only* lost to Arizona State 5-2.
Really though, the Pilots had a great weekend in Surprise. They went 3-1 with wins over Northern Illinois (9-6 in 16inns), Michigan (4-3 in 10inns) and Hawaii (15-8).
- Texas Frosh Connor Rowe.
Game-winning hit to beat Houston 8-7 in 10 innings.
Okay so this wasn't a grand slam or home run, but it was a storybook finish as this was also Connor's first ever collegiate at-bat.
- Nebraska.
Beat UC Riverside 13-1.
Today's win completes a 4-0 domination of the Highlanders for NU. Can't say I saw that coming.
- Coastal Carolina.
Beat Western Carolina 7-1 and George Mason 6-0.
Nice pitching all weekend for the Chants, as they go 4-0 while giving up just six runs. In game two today, Nick McCully, Dan Lombardozzi and Pete Andrelczyk combined on a two-hitter with 12Ks and just one walk.


.
BRUINS WIN URBAN INVITATIONAL---
UCLA - 4
USC - 3

Bethune-Cookman - 10
Southern - 4
The Bruins sweep through the Urban field with a 3-0 mark. As you might expect, it was all about pitching and defense for the Bruins, giving up just five runs to the Jags, Wildcats and Trojans all weekend.

It was the Three C's at the top of the order: Curtis, Carrithers and Crawford, who combined for seven of the nine Bruin hits and three RBI

I still came away from this weekend really impressed with Bethune. They were never over-powered and went toe-to-toe with the Pac 10ers, before losing to both teams 2-0. But then the Cats punctuated a good weekend by winning today's matchup of the MEAC vs. the SWAC.

Most incredible factoid of the weekend? I find it incredibly hard to believe that these two black college powers have never faced each other on the diamond until today. Ever. THAT needs to change. Another reason why this Urban Invitational was such an important event for college baseball.


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OPINIONS WANTED---
Got a question for you guys and girls out there concerning bat girls, like the one pictured here for Wichita State:
WSUbatgirl.jpg

Do you think young, eye-catching, nubile bat girls is a good or bad thing for college baseball? Blink once for yes and twice for no.


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SEAGER HITTING LIKE A ROCK---
North Carolina 2B Kyle Seager had a wicked-good weekend, going 8-for-14 with 10 RBI in the Tarheels' four wins. In the first three games, he knocked in three RBI in each. Seager also showed great consistency, gathering two hits in each of the four games. UNC went 4-0 against Winthrop, Kent State and St. John's (twice) in the Coca-Cola Classic in Rock Hill this weekend.


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THESE GUYS BRING OUT THE BEST PITCHING IN EACH OTHER---
Southern Miss - 0
UL-Lafayette - 2
Two days ago, USM's Barry Bowden threw a complete game two-hitter with 10Ks to blank UL-L 6-zip. Today, the roles were reversed as the Cajuns put the clamps on the Eagles. Hunter Moody also struck out 10, giving up just four hits in 7.0 innings of work. Matt Broussard and Justin Robichaux pitched an inning each to quell any Eagle hopes. UL-L had a rough weekend though, going 1-2 after losses to USM and Miami University the first two days.


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THESE GUYS BRING OUT THE LACK OF PITCHING IN EACH OTHER---
Ball State - 26
New Mexico State - 25
For the second day in a row, someone in this matchup overcame a double-digit deficit to win the game. Today, it was the Cardinals, who overcame a 25-14 deficit after five innings. Despite all the screaming of the offenses, lets give some credit to Aaron Hammons and Kyle Heyne, who both pitched two innings for BSU and combined to give up one hit to the Aggies in innings 6-through-9, after three pitchers combined to give up 27 hits prior to.

Get this, 14 of the 18 starters in the two lineups had multiple-RBI games today.


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MYSTERY CLEATS---
Anyone recognize the brand of cleats that Southern was wearing at the Urban Invitational this weekend? Here's a quick pic of them:
Southern'sCleats.jpg

If you know, drop me a line. The wording on the bottom of the cleats read "3n2" or something like that. They're rather unique, wouldn't you say? I just can't place the logo or look to them.


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And so we bring to a close a great weekend of college baseball. Tournaments galore made this a fun cross-section of out of conference matchups all around the country.

Hope you're tired like me. But after what I saw this weekend, it's a good kind of tired.

G'night.

March 02, 2008

Saturday Statements - The Urban Invitational Trumps All

UCLA, USC Win But C'mon, They Still Fall Short Of The Southern Band

SUbandleader.jpg
(The Southern U. band won tonight, heads down)

One of the best things about being in Southern California as a college baseball fan is being able to see a wide variety of teams from around the country that come out here to play non-conference games in the early part of the season. But I've never seen anything as fun as what I saw today at the Urban Invitational in Compton.

What a great, great atmosphere it was tonight. It was possibly the coolest college baseball event I've ever attended... well, this side of Rosenblatt of course.

More about that in a bit, let's quickly do the Three Up and Three Down for this Saturday in college baseball first.

.
THE BEST AND WORST OF TODAY---

- THREE UP.
1- The ACC-SEC Challenge.
Advantage ACC for today as Florida State beat Auburn for the third straight day, this time 4-3. Then Miami downed rival Florida for the second straight day, at 8-5. The SEC got their revenge when South Carolina obliterated Clemson by a 10-1 count. (Reese Havens made this one a no-brainer from the get-go with a 1st inning grand slam).

2- The Big 10
Among their seven wins today, two ranked teams got felled by the Big 10ers as Iowa stunned Pedro-less No. 7 Vanderbilt 6-3 and Northwestern beat No. 24 Oklahoma State 14-12 in 10 innings in what had to be the game of the day. Also, Minnesota downed Tulane 7-5 and Ohio State continued its hot start with a 7-5 win over Louisiana Tech at the Aggie Classic in College Station.

3- Northern Illinois gets first wins of the season.
The Huskies swept a pair of games from expected MoValley contender Southern Illinois 3-1 and 9-4. This program needed some Ws, it didn't matter who it was against. This was also NIU's first road DH sweep since 2001.


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THREE DOWN.
1- Texas.
(Lost to Rice 10-4)
Minute Maid Park just doesn't like orange after all. The Horns lost for the second day in a row, this time to rival Rice. The top five batters in the UT lineup went a mere 1-for-18. Kenn Kasparek got roughed up for seven hits and four runs in 3.1 innings of work. Worse yet, the Longhorns also committed five uncharacteristic errors. Not freakin' good.

2- Old Dominion
(Lost to Temple 5-2)
For a team that started out in the Top 25 of some pre-season rankings, a loss to the Owls is pretty inexcusable. Anthony Shawler did strike out 10 and hold Temple to just six hits in 8.0 innings of work. But the Monarchs offense managed just six hits itself.

3- Arizona State getting ranked as low as No. 6 in some polls.
Sorry, I meant to mention this one before. Today the Sun Devils beat Michigan *only* 8-4, which I suppose marks this as their worst game of the season. Some of these rankings, like this one by Baseball America, simply fall victim to people not seeing ASU play yet. Believe me guys, when I saw the Devils beat Vanderbilt by an 18-6 count last Saturday in Tempe, they resembled a team that was in mid-season form confidence-wise at the dish. In other words, they have a real mature approach at the plate. In a word, legit.

And now they've had four errorless games on their way to a 6-0 mark.


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NOW BACK TO COMPTON, THE HOTBED OF THE COLLEGE BASEBALL WORLD ---

GAME ONE---

UCLA 000 000 101- 2 4 0
B-CC 000 000 000- 0 6 3

WP- Tim Murphy (1-0), 9.0inns, 7H, 0R, 10Ks, 0BBs.
LP- Joseph Gautier (0-1), 7.0inns, 2H, 1R, 1ER, 7Ks, 0BBs

TimMurphUCLA.jpg
(The Wildcats didn't have any answers for UCLA's Tim Murphy)

I hope you guys saw this game on TV tonight. I really do.

First off, because I can't imagine a better showcase for college baseball than this UCLA-Bethune-Cookman game. It was quick-paced, well-pitched and low scoring. Bruin lefty Tim Murphy and B-CC's Joseph Gautier threw a pair of bright, shiny, deceptive, impossible-to-hit gems tonight.

And secondly, because, well... it seemed like a game between two even teams. Sure, the Bruins were pre-season No. 1, but the Cats played toe-to-toe and even out-hit the UCLAns. I thought Gautier was remarkable. He may not face a more talented line-up the rest of the year and he didn't blink a bit. Because I was sitting on the same sight line as he had to a guy leading off first, I'll be honest, his move to first base was a borderline balk each and every time. I can see the Cats going a long way with him on the bump.

GautierB-CC.jpg
(B-CC's Joseph Gautier will win a lot of games this year)

In case you couldn't tell from TV, Gabe Cohen's 7th inning home run was a no doubter the second it left the bat. In fact the B-CC fan behind me immediately blasted out, "God Dammit!" and then apologized right away, realizing he was within earshot of young kids. But it was a screamer.

The Cats just couldn't string together enough hits against Murphy tonight. He was just so good.


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GAME TWO---

USC 400 010 080 - 13 10 3
Southern 100 403 001 - 9 11 2

Dear television execs everywhere-

Put this Southern team on TV more often. Look, they're not going to ever make it to the College World Series and probably not the Super Regionals either. But damn, does this team ever have some fun out there. They exude the kind of enthusiasm that Urban Youth Academy director Darrell Miller wanted to showcase by asking Southern to take part in this weekend. If you show the inner city kid how exciting and enthusiastic college baseball can be,

They chanted, they danced, they sang. They basically kept the energy and atmosphere fun in Compton tonight. "Let-em-know, foh-foh, let-em-know (let-em-know)" they chanted when 6'7" Calvin Anderson's hulking presence shadowed the batter's box. It was great. I liked coach Roger Cador's interview with the ESPNers, when he said "A lot of coaches don't like that chanting and dancing from the dugout, but I do. Baseball is all about having fun and I believe in letting my team do that."

As for the game itself, coach Cador told me beforehand that there just wasn't enough quality arms for SWAC teams to compete for more than a game or two against big money programs in the NCAA tournament. I think we saw that exemplified in tonight's second game. The Jags couldn't hold court on their 8-5 lead, surrendering that lead in a 37-minute half-inning. A large portion of that can be contributed to seven walks and two hits in the 8th inning alone, leading to eight runs and a 13-8 lead.

SC kept hammering away. It didn't matter what inning it was, you could see in their eyes and demeanor that the Trojans weren't going to lose confidence no matter what the score. This Trojan team is one ready to have a break out season in 2008.


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BATTLE OF THE BANDS IS NO BATTLE AT ALL---
USC's band went first and played nothing recognizable. Well, except those people old enough to remember their collaberation with Fleetwood Mac for the song "Tusk." I'm guessing none of Southern's fans did. But to their credit, SC did have a portion of the Song Girls show up and perform. Never a disappointment.

But Southern's band? My gawd! They were as advertised. What energy. And it helped a lot that they played some current songs that the crowd recognized. Not surprisingly, they left the field to a rousing applause, unlike the smattering of applause USC's band received.

SUband.jpg
(These guys got up only to get down)


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VIPs EVERYWHERE---
Lots of celebs of the sport were hanging around and having fun out at the Urban Youth Center. I'm not real big on that play for pay league, but I did notice ex-players like Reggie Smith, Frank Robinson and Erik Davis. In addition, 80s R&B crooner Jeffery Osborne belted out the national anthem. Not to mention, as you might've heard from Director Darrell Miller, the crowd was in the 3,500+- range for tonight's double-header. Great, great event. I really look forward to this continuing for the years to come.

ReggieSmith.jpg
(Reggie Smith was one of many celeb players in the crowd today)


EVERYONE BURNS THE BISCUITS ONCE IN A WHILE---
Tonight reminded me that there is something else that I like about ESPN: Gary Thorne. In my "64 Things" column to open the season, I talked about how Kyle Peterson and Mike Patrick were two of the few things that I liked about ESPN's coverage of college baseball. I forgot that Thorne also did play-by-play for the stitched ball. And I dig him.

But keep in mind, I base a lot of that on how good he has been doing college hockey telecasts in past years. I love his voice for the puck action. So I'm a bit biased.


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DOES HE really WANT ME TO WRITE THIS?---
Amongst all the hellos, glad-handing and hoopla before tonight's second game between Southern and SC, I had a chance to ask Coach Cador a couple of questions. I've got to say, his answers were brutally honest and refreshingly frank. I started off asking him about the improvement of the SWAC in the last few years.

Coach Cador:
Well it's really gotten a lot better. We play in a league that has an East and West division. In the West, with Prairie View, Texas Southern, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Grambling and Texas Southern, they have all improved because they wanted to compete with Southern. Somebody made the commitment, the A.D.'s made the commitment to hire good coaches and understand what it takes to win. If we go back to 2000, that's when Jackson State won the SWAC tournament title. That's the only time an Eastern division team won the title. So it's really competitive, especially in the West.

When I asked him how impressed he's been with the turnaround that Prairie View has experienced under Michael Robertson, he said responded with:

Coach Cador:
I've been impressed with the A.D. more than Michael Robertson, because the A.D. made the commitment. He was a young, energetic guy named Charles McClellend that came in and wanted to win, so he would call me and talk to me from time to time to get advice. So I knew then that we had problems because I knew he wanted to make the commitment to have a good program and win. In fact, with that commitment and Coach Robertson coming in, they've been able to cut the line of recruits that we used to get from Houston. They've found money to give money and they've sealed the border, so to speak. And actually, the rest of the conference getting stronger?... that's good. Competition is healthy, ya' know?

Finally, I wanted his opinion on an ex-player of his, Harvey Lee, who has taken over as head coach of the program at Coppin State in the MEAC. I wanted to know if he thought Coach Lee had what it takes to make the Eagles another Prairie View and become successful at CSU.

Coach Cador:
Not gonna happen. No. I can't see it happening because it takes support. It takes support to make this work. I mean, he's young and he's got enthusiasm but it just can't happen with hard work. He needs scholarships and he needs facilities. I mean, Prairie View had the support... if they needed new dugouts and new upgrades, they had the money and got the funding. You see what I'm saying? That's why I don't see Coppin State being able to do it. They just don't have the support right now.


.
Okay, this has been a great, albeit late, night of college baseball. Hope you all enjoyed it too.

Until tomorrow.

G'night.

March 01, 2008

Friday First Takes - This Column Lives Up To It's Name Again

There's a reason that this column is called "Extra Innings." Mainly because Long Beach State keeps playing those kind of games.

Two Fridays. Two extra inning games. Two Dirtbag wins over a Top 10 team. Last week the Beach pulled a 10-inning, 1-0 win over Rice. Tonight it was No. 7 Wichita State, who extended the game with a pair of runs in the 8th, but was eventually subdued in the 12th by a 3-2 score.

ShanePeterson.jpg
(I suppose Shane Peterson looked pretty relaxed before his game-winning hit in the 12th inning tonight, didn't he?)

So it's like nearly 11:15pm West coast time as I begin to write tonight's entry. Let's just try to get as much done as we can and then call it a night... or in East coast time, call it a morning.

As usual, for starters here is Friday's best and worst in college baseball.

.
THREE UP---
.
1- The Mayor of Omaha and MECA decided to get on the same page.
These two parties wanted different things when it came to the new stadium issue in Omaha, including location and control of the facility. But yesterday, to the relief of Omahans and correct thinking college baseball fans everywhere, they are finally in agreement over the new stadium thing. See, I'm not real crazy about a new stadium, but had these two groups not mended their fierce fences, lawyers were sure to get involved and the NCAA had made the statement that if there was any litigation involved, it could change their standing.

Luckily for all, there's a few more lawyers in this world that will go without work.

.
2 - The Big East.
Rutgers - 10
Ga. Tech - 6 (11inns.)
Knights nearly blew a four-run lead in the bottom of the 9th. Then regrouped to take the Jackets down in the 11th.

Louisville - 3
N.C. State - 1
Zach Pitts: 7.0inns, 4H, 1R, 1BB, 6Ks. Yep, nothing wrong under the hood here. 2B Justin McClanahan put two on the board in a hurry with a two-run blast in the 1st inning.

St. John's - 3
Winthrop - 2 (10inns.)
Carlos Del Rosario and Paul Karmas each had two hits with the latter scoring the former with a slap single in the 10th, allowing the Red Storm to improve to 6-0. Definitely one of the best stories of the early season so far.

.
3 - Southern Mississippi's Barry Bowden and UC Irvine's Scott Gorgen.
(beat Louisiana-Lafayette 6-0 and beat San Francisco 4-0)
You don't usually see pitchers go the distance this early in the season, especially against a good team like UL-L. But the Eagle starter (Bowden) went the whole way, striking out 10 and most surprisingly, gave up just two hits to a good-hitting Cajun squad. Meanwhile, Gorgen went 9.0 as well, striking out 12 and giving up just one hit


.
THREE DOWN---
.
1- Michigan.
Yes, yes, I know, wait until June before I give them a verbal lashing. I mean, you can count their outside practices on one hand. But still, getting blown out by Arizona State 15-4 gets followed by a 4-3, 10-inning loss to Portland doesn't acquit the Wolverines very well here. We'll keep an eye out for you guys though.

.
2- Alabama A&M.
I hate to bag on a team that won just 10 games in 2007, but the Bulldogs are now 0-7 after getting swept in two games against Alcorn State today. On top of that, LaDale Hayes, who led the nation with eight triples last year, has yet to play because of injury. Geez, what else could go wrong for A&M this season?

.
3- The Arizona State offense.
C'mon! A team that averages 35 runs a game can only score three against Hawaii? You're kidding right? My goodness, I thought this team was supposed to score double-digits every night or it was a lost cause? On the "positive" side, the Rainbows only managed five hits off of five ASU hurlers. And for the third time in five games this season, the Devils committed zero sins... er, I mean, errors in the field.


.
HONORABLE MENTION---
- Tennessee
Beat Texas 5-4 at the Houston College Classic.
Coach Todd Raleigh gets his first marquee win for his Vol regime. In Texas no less. And despite the Horns smacking three triples on the night. Nice win for the Vols.

- Clemson beats College of Charleston 7-6.
With an energized crowd of 2,083 at Patriots Point Stadium, the Tigers came from behind on two occasions to subdue the Cougars. LF Wilson Boyd smacked his 5th home run of the season. Man alive!

- Missouri piling up the RPI points.
The Tigers beat both Cal (7-5) and San Diego State (3-1) today. That puts the Tigers at 5-1. Mizzou committed just one error on the whole day and Game 1 starter Aaron Crow struck out 10 in just 5.0 innings of work.

- 7,456.
That was the crowd that saw Oregon State beat Georgia tonight 6-4. The game-deciding runs came on Jason Ogata's three-run inside-the-park home run. Man! I hope that shows up on YouTube.com somewhere.

- When all else fails, play two.
It's been a rough and curious ride for San Diego so far. Who can figure the Toreros out? Not me man. But things got markedly better today as USD took two RPI-builders in wins over Cal Poly (3-2) and Fresno State (5-2). Ace Brian Matusz looked a whole lot more like staff ace Brian Matusz, striking out 11, while surrendering six hits in 7.0 innings of work for his first win of the season in the win over Fresno.


.
DISHONORABLE MENTION---
- Kap and the Titans go belly-up.
Cal State Fullerton's Jeff Kaplan, the expected staff ace, lasted just one inning in the Titans 12-5 loss at Stanford. Kaplan gave up six hits and seven runs in that single inning of work.

- Florida International continues to flounder.
And I don't mean that great character from Animal House. The Golden Panthers were routed 10-2 by Wagner today to fall to 1-5 on the season. It will get better, I promise people.

- Appalachian State.
For a team that just got done beating Wake Forest by 12 runs earlier this week, to see the Mountaineers lose a game to a snowbird school like Canisius is pretty bad. To see them lose 10-1 is downright awful. But hand it to the Griffins, they are now 5-0 on the season. See, didn't I tell you this compaction of the season would work?

- Memphis.
The Tigers, fresh off an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament last season have now started the 2008 season with a record of 2-4, including today's ignominious 5-4 loss at home to Ohio. Memphis' only wins have come against UT-Martin and Air Force.


.
LONG BEACH = THE CARDIAC KIDS AGAIN---

Wichita State - 000 000 020 000 - 2 7 0
Long Beach State 010 001 000 001 - 3 13 3

WP- Nick Vincent, 1-0
LP- Andy Womack, 0-1

At Long Beach State, infield errors are viewed upon like Demi Moore's blouse with the red "A" on it in the movie The Scarlett Letter. You just don't commit that kind of ostracizing offense. It's not the Dirtbag way.

But tonight, Freshman second baseman Devin Lohman committed two Es on the same wild play, allowing Wichita State to tie the game in the 8th inning at 2-2.

But unlike those holier-than-thou Quakers in the '96 film, Dirtbags can earn forgiveness with good deeds. So when the 12th inning rolled around, Lohman reached first on a one-out walk, advanced to second on a Danny Espinosa single and then, when team leader Shane Peterson stepped to the dish and sliced a high fastball from Andy Womack over the center fielders head, Lohman made absolute amends by scoring the game-winning run.

And now, for the third time in five games, the Beach has won another one-run game and improved to 3-2 on the season.

On the pitching side, Beach starter Andrew Liebel went 7.1 innings, giving up just four hits, one unearned run and striking out 11 Shocker batters. But because of the error-filled 8th inning, he was given a no-decision.

TravisHowellTagOut.jpg
(Before tonight's 8th inning Bad News Bears rendition, the Beach played its usual solid defense. Like this 4th inning tag out by catcher Travis Howell, after a throw from 3B Taylor Krick had Andy Dirks out by a couple of strides)

.
ESPY DESERVES AN ESPY---
Coach Mike Weathers said after tonight's win, "Danny Espinosa is our entire offense right now. He's all we've got."

And it's true. Including tonight's 4-for-5 performance, the LB shortstop is a cumulative 12-for-20 (.600). He's also got five doubles and a home run in those 12 hits.

What separates him from other Player of the Year candidates? Two things:
1- He's done it against the arms of Rice, San Diego and Wichita State. THAT'S some good pitching there.
2- At the most important position in the field (shortstop), he still has yet to commit an error.

And yes, I realize this is week two and any Player of the Year talk is truly asinine at this point. But still...


.
HAVE YOU GUYS SEEN THIS YET?---
On March 29th, the Dodgers and Red Sox are going to play an exhibition game at the Coliseum, which is a pretty cool idea since the Dodgers played in the grand old Olympic venue for two years after moving from Brooklyn and before Dodger Stadium was completed. But here's the rub...

Coliseum4Bsbl.jpg
(A picture from today's L.A. Times of the horrible layout of the Coliseum's baseball configuration)

See that left field wall? Back in the late 50s when the Coliseum was being used for baseball, there was still a running track around the football field. But in the 90s, the stadium floor was dug up, the track removed, and because of that the left field wall is only 200 feet from home plate. Yep, that's girls softball distance. How the hell are they really going to do this?

There will be a 60-foot screen erected for the game, just like in the old days. But at that time the left field wall was at least 265 feet. So we're looking at one of those games similar to the pro-fat-guys-softball-home-run-or-out type of games that feature guys with beefy arms and child-bearing hips knocking softballs into submission. Terrible.

.
I would go on, but it's now 1:20am. Look, I'm not responsible for any typos, incorrect information supplied to me or any overlooks of Dustin Ackley. It's freakin' late man.

In a word,

G'night.

 


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