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.

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(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.

Comments

Don't be so hard on Coach Avent from NC State. His doctor says he swallows a lot of aggression- along with a lot of pizza.

No worries Bubbie. I hear ya'. Aggression? Oh yeah, Coach Avent has a good dose of that (in a good way... unless you're an ump). But I don't know about the pizza's part. I mean, he's no Dewey Oxburger. Coach Avent's more of the lean, mean, fighting machine-type.

No worries Bubbie. I hear ya'. Aggression? Oh yeah, Coach Avent has a good dose of that (in a good way... unless you're an ump). But I don't know about the pizza's part. I mean, he's no Dewey Oxburger. Coach Avent's more of the lean, mean, fighting machine-type.

The Huskers will take the series this weekend in Austin after the 14-4 Friday rout, and be in position to challenge for the conference behind their big time weekend arms.

GO BIG RED!!

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