April 29, 2008

Monday Stuff - The Belated Ouch List From Sunday

First question: Has the SEC just lost any hopes for a national seeding? If Memorial Day rolls around and not a single SEC team gets a guaranteed home Super Regional, this past weekend might be the main culprit. All the higher ranked teams took in on the chin in the Southern super-conference this weekend.

VandyCurtCasali.jpg
(Curt Casali and the Commodores will have to hustle more to rebuild from this weekend)

That's where we're going to start our Ouch List for this week. Because of attrition, it looks like the SEC is slowly becoming like it was last year, a lot of good teams, but no great teams. I know, that's certainly arguable. And, it's still early. Here are the hurtin' kind from this weekend.

- Vanderbilt.
Record:
31-13 overall, 11-9 in the SEC, 3rd place in the East.
Result:
Lost two of three at home to Kentucky, W3-2, L6-2, L3-1.
Why it hurts:
Vandy's chances for a national seed are wilting. Hell, maybe even a No. 1 seed period. With Pedro Alvarez back this was supposed to be a totally different offensive team. But not this weekend. The UK staff - No. 1 in the SEC - put the clamps to the 'Dore bats big time, holding them to six runs. Sunday's games saw VU out-hit the Cats 11-6, but four costly errors doomed them.

- South Carolina.
Record:
31-14 overall, 11-10 in the SEC, 4th place tie in the East.
Result:
Got swept in Baton Rouge by LSU, L11-3, L11-10 (11inns), L6-3
Why it hurts:
Can you name the last time an LSU team played over its head and beat a Top 10 team in three games at home? Plus, if a light hitting team like LSU (came in hitting .268 in SEC games) can out-slug the Cocks, what's going to happen in the post-season when they play someone with serious offensive skills? Hmmm. This just gives fodder to that whole "Does SoCar have the pitching?" question that the media-types love to ask about this team.

- Mississippi.
Record:
28-17 overall, 11-10 in SEC, 1st place in the West.
Result:
Lost two of three at home to Arkansas. W12-4, L13-11(10inns), L12-4.
Why it hurts:
The general rule of thumb in the SEC is that you take care of business at home and then try to play .500 ball on the road, or as close to that as you can. Well, the Rebels mystery team tour continued as the Hogs went into Swayze and pulled out a pair of wins on Saturday alone. This is the second time this year that the Rebs have lost twice at home in SEC play, losing two to Florida back in mid-March. The good news is that they are still in 1st in the SEC West at 11-10.

- Georgia.
Record:
29-14 overall, 15-5 in the SEC, 1st place in the East.
Result:
Lost the last two games at Florida
Why it hurts:
I don't think a lot of us are going to disparage the Dogs for dropping a pair of games at McKeithen Stadium, it's not an easy place to play. But coming in as the dominant team and having the highest national ranking (in one or two of the "polls"), they were carrying the torch for the conference. Now, after a 2-2 week, the Dawgs national profile took a hit this week, dropping them to No. 17 in the writer's poll.

- Arizona
Record:
28-13 overall, 7-8 in the Pac 10, 5th place.
Result:
Lost two of three at Oregon State, both losses by a single run.
Why it hurts:
This is a horrible result, no shame in going on the road to the two-time defending national champions and losing two close shaves. But - and this is a big but - when the NCAA selection committee decides to only dole out three or four regionals out West, if it comes down to a choice of these two teams, the Beavers got the drop on the Wildcats.

- Charlotte.
Record:
31-12 overall, 12-6 in the Atlantic 10, 2nd place tie
Result:
Lost two of three to Duquesne to fall into a second place tie with the Dukes.
Why it hurts:
With a record of 30-10, wins over South Carolina and Wake Forest, a close loss to North Carolina and an RPI of 53, the 49ers looked to take over the Atlantic 10 conference this weekend to further enhance the at-large resume. But getting roped for 16 and 18 runs in Saturday and Sunday losses, leaves the confidence shaken and the NCAA bid in serious jeopardy.

- New Mexico.
Record:
27-19 overall, 11-4 in the MWC, 2nd place
Result:
Swept in three straight at home to UC Irvine.
Why it hurts:
All that stuff we just said about Charlotte goes double for the Lobos. They had an RPI of 52 and could've used a marquee series win in a rare visit from a Top 10 team. All went for naught after a tough loss on Friday (5-3), they fell apart on Saturday and Sunday, relenting 23 runs. They also lost twice in the mid-week to Arizona. All is not lost though, as UNM is still just a half-game out of 1st in the Mountain West and has TCU coming to Albuquerque to end the regular season.

- Missouri.
Record:
29-14 overall, 9-9 in the Big 12, 4th place.
Result:
Lost all three games at Texas A&M, L9-8, L15-0, L3-2 (10inns)
Why it hurts:
It still may be a tad early to say this, but the Tigers may have just shot themselves in the foot for getting a home regional. Again, it's early. And I love the way Aaron Fitt put it, going into the 7th inning on Friday, Aaron Crow had squelched the Aggie attack, and Mizzou was sitting pretty with an 8-2 lead. An hour later, the Ags had come back to win it from the Tiger bullpenners who couldn't stem the Maroon tide and eventually lost in the 9th inning on a balk call. From there, the Tiger arms were a major problem, losing 15-0 on Saturday and then, as Aaron also pointed out, sending Rick Zagone out for the 10th inning on Sunday, 142 pitches into his outing, only to give up a home run on pitch No. 143 to Kyle Colligan.

- Florida State
Record:
35-7 overall, 19-5 in ACC, 1st in Atlantic Division.
Result:
Lost two of three at North Carolina, L11-4, W13-5, L2-1.
Why it hurts:
You have to like FSU's bounce-back ability for the second week in a row. But you still have to think, they lost two of three to a high-profile team again. Will it cost them in the national seeds department? It could. But there's still time to make amends, namely, the ACC tournament.

FSUElihVillanueva.jpg
(Despite the Sunday loss, you had to be impressed by Elih Villanueva's 9-inning, 2-hit performance)

- California
Record:
27-13 overall, 7-8 in Pac 10, tied for 5th.
Result:
Lost all three at Arizona State, L11-7, L11-7, L18-2.
Why it hurts:
Barring an incredible hot streak to end the season, this will almost assuredly knock the Bears out of a possibility of a No. 1 seeding in the NCAA tournament. But even more alarming for the Bears has been the ineffectiveness of Friday ace Tyson Ross, who got roped at USC two weeks ago and gave up eight earned runs and five walks in 5.1 innings of work vs. the Devils on Friday. Not a good sign.

April 28, 2008

Sunday Summations- TCU makes minced meat of SDSU pitching

TCU wrestles the Mountain West lead with 13-6 Sunday win on Montezuma Mesa.

TCUClintArnold@SDSU.jpg
(Clint Arnold paced the Frogs with four hits and, get this, scored from 2nd base
on a sac bunt. Yes, he scored from 2nd on a sac bunt in the 8th inning)

It's no exaggeration to say that when the Horned Frogs WEREN'T facing the pitching of San Diego State ace Stephen Strausburg, they schooled the Aztecs this weekend.

As Friday turned to Saturday, that's when the Frogs turned into a different team. Strausburg - i.e., the freak of nature - handcuffed TCU to one run on one hit with 13 strikeouts on Friday night. In the two games that followed, the Frogs scored 29 runs on 34 hits and turned this weekend series into a track meet. Today, the Horned Frogs put a 13-6 hurting on the red and black at Tony Gwynn Stadium.

With the two wins, the top of the Mountain West now looks like this:
TCU, 13-5
New Mexico, 11-4
San Diego State, 11-7

SDSUBrGlover.jpg
(Brandon Glover sliding under the tag of TCU catcher Bryan Holaday
was one of the few highlights for the Aztecs)

I made my way down to the Mesa for the 11am first pitch and found a TCU team that was "locked in" and looking much more like their recent regionals teams instead of the young team that struggled out of the gate at 10-10 to start the
season. The Horned Frogs got behind 1-0 after one inning, but it was all downhill from there.

TCU scored four runs in the 2nd to take the lead for good. They built on that lead with two in the 6th, two in the 7th and then put the game away for good with four in the 8th.

Clint Arnold and Bryan Holaday set the table, with four hits on the day. And it was the bottom of the lineup that cleaned everything up with No. 7 hitter Matt Carpenter and No. 9 hitter Matt Vern adding three RBI each.

While the offense was locked in, the pitching wasn't exactly on lock down mode, allowing 14 hits and six runs to the Aztecs. But defensively the Frogs were perfect, committing no errors. In fact, TCU committed only one error on the weekend and scored in 12 of the 18 innings on Saturday and Sunday.

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WHAT'S AHEAD---
TCU has six more MWC contests remaining, three near-gimmies vs. Utah and then a roadie to improved New Mexico to close out the season. But their only RPI-building chance comes in this Tuesday's home game with No. 6 ranked Texas A&M. They spend one weekend hosting Texas-Pan American in Mid-May.

But San Diego State is in much more peril. Their NCAA at-large chances are nearly sunk. Games with Arizona (2), Long Beach State (1) and at Cal State Fullerton (3), does give the Aztecs a chance to improve its standing nationally. But unless Stephen Strausburg can be cloned - and quickly - they probably won't win many of those games.

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NEVER SEEN THIS BEFORE---
In all my years of covering college baseball, I've never marked THIS down in a scorebook: a 2-RBI sac bunt 5-to-3. Yes, that's what TCU pulled today in the 8th inning.

With Bryan Kervin on 3rd base and the fleet-footed Clint Arnold on 2nd, both runners started sprinting on a safety squeeze play. Steve Ellington was the Frog that laid down a great bunt down the 3rd base line. Kervin scored as expected. But when Aztec 3Bman Nick Romero threw casually to 1st base to get the out, Arnold never broke stride. He ended up zooming into home standing up, no problem. So there you go, a 2 RBI sac bunt.

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WORKING DEFINITION OF "EFFECTIVELY WILD"---
TCU ace reliever Andrew Cashner came in to pitch the final 1.1 innings in today's game. There was no save opportunity, but Cashner has been a great piece of the Horned Frog puzzle so far this season. At 6'6" and 188, he looks more like Ichabod Crane but his stat line shows he's 7-2 with a 2.27ERA so far this season. He also has 53 Ks in just 35.2 innings and, get this, 21 walks as well. He'll be a key cog in TCU's post-season plans.

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STRAUSBURGLESS---
San Diego State has now lost four of its last five in games where ace Stephen Strausburg hasn't started. In those five games, the Aztecs have allowed 71 runs, an astounding average of 14 runs given up per game.

SDSUGroundskeeper.jpg
(I've heard that San Diego State has one of the best grounds crews in
the country. As you notice, I'm not going to argue that point)


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NOW A LOOK AT THE NATIONAL GOOD AND BAD---
It's the usual three up and three down feature we like to do late on a Sunday night.

THREE UP---
1- To Florida State and North Carolina.
For playing a great pitching duel as opposed to the way most Sunday games go.
UNC won 2-1 in 10 innings to win the nip-and-tuck series between two top three teams. But what a getaway game THIS was. FSU's Elih Villanueva took a perfect game beyond the 7th inning stretch and the Heels eventually dug deep and found a way to win in extras.

Special tip of the hat to the Seminoles, who proved for the second week in a row that they weren't going to crumble after an ugly Friday loss. I like their resiliency. And though I've been a little tough on them for their pitching, you have to like the way Villanueva took command today. He didn't look so hot last week when I saw him get roped pretty good in Tallahassee by Miami, but he made amends today.

Okay, a small thumb's down for walking in the winning run for UNC on four straight pitches. But other than that...

2- LSU.
Beat No. 7 South Carolina 6-3 to complete the three game sweep.
Had a tough time decided whether to applaud the Tigers in the Three Up, or chastise the Gamecocks in the Three Down. I chose the former, mainly because you have to ask yourself, when was the last time you saw the purple and gold dig deep and pull out an unexpected sweep over a Top 10 team? Since the Bertman administration? I don't have their media guide in front of me (though if I wasn't so lazy, I could just go to the garage and look), but probably so.

LSUPaulMaineiri.jpg
(This weekend, Paul Maineiri picked up the biggest 3-game sweep of his tenure in Red Stick)

3- Xavier.
I heard it on the X. The Muskateers complete the sweep against St. Bonaventure to move into sole possession of 1st place in Atlantic 10.
They got a gutty performance from sophomore starter Danny Rosenbaum today. He went 8.0 innings and struck out a career high 12 batters. Closer Brett Greenwell picked up the save and preserved the shutout with a scoreless 9th. And how about this: The XU arms held the nation's No. 1 hitter, Randy Moley, to just one hit in 13 at bats, including today's 0-for-3 performance.


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THREE DOWN---
1- The Not Ready For Prime Time Players.
The following ranked teams had a chance to prove themselves this weekend, venturing on the road for important three-gamers. But in the end, they gave us all a lump of coal.
- No. 19 Cal.
Swept at Arizona State, including today's hideous 18-2 whitewashing.
- No. 7 South Carolina.
As explained above, lost all three at LSU. How?
- No. 21 Virginia.
Put up a good fight through the first two games, but laid an egg today, losing 10-zip at Miami.
- No. 9 Missouri.
Crumbled under the pressure of A&M's rabid crowd. Nearly got the W today, but succumbed in 10 innings, 3-2.

2- Mother Nature AND the administrators of North Dakota State and South Dakota State.
I knew Mother Nature wouldn't cooperate this season, but this is ridiculous. All four Summit Conference home games by North Dakota State and South Dakota State today were both cancelled against Oakland and Western Illinois respectively.

Now I don't know whether to give Mother Nature ALL of the blame here. Because, today showed sunny conditions for both Fargo and Brookings, albeit with highs just reaching 40 degrees or so. Still, that's plenty warm enough for these rough and tumble natives. So even though the normal high for this time of year is in the mid-60s, they should've played today.

The four games between these four teams won't be made up.

3- The umpiring crew at today's TCU-SDSU game.
I'm not usually one to chide the umps, they've got tough, thankless jobs to begin with. But this crew really screwed the pooch today at Tony Gwynn Stadium.

Three times, the men in black (but yet fans continue to call them "blue") rooked Mr. Gwynn and his boys with pretty obvious bad calls. First, they extended TCU's 2nd inning when home plate umpire Matt Stellges over-ruled first base umpire Keith Bailey's call of a third out on a groundout. That reversal led to two additional runs for the Frogs, putting them up 4-1, instead of 2-1. Then, they missed a pick off at second base of a TCU runner, but with no further damage done. And most egregiously, none of the three happened to see the runner's interference as Cameron Johnson was rounding third that prevented him from scoring a run in the 8th inning for the Aztecs. For the third time today, Tony Gwynn went out to protest, but to no avail.

SDSUGwynn&Umps.jpg
(Not a lot went right for Tony Gwynn with the guys in black today)

Ultimately, considering the winning margin, it didn't decide the outcome of the game. But it's still a case of "What if?" for the Aztecs.


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COUPLE OF QUICK HITS---
- No-hitter for Princeton.
Senior starter Steven Miller flew like an eagle (pause to groan... that was horrible)throwing a 7-inning, complete-game no-hitter for the Tigers in a 3-2 win vs. Cornell. Miller loaded the bases in the 1st inning on two walks and an error. He then hit a batter and walked another, accounting for the Big Red's two runs. From there, Miller was solid, striking out 10, though he did issue six free passes.

- Regular season champions.
Dartmouth split a DH with Harvard today, moving to 24-14 overall, but more importantly, finishing the Ivy part of the schedule at 15-5 and as Red Rolfe Division champions. Though they finish tied with Columbia with the best overall record in the Ivy League, the Big Green will host the Lions in the post-season playoffs.

- Strangest stat line:
Jason Kipnis of Arizona State.
The Kentucky transfer, batting in the No. 2 position today, went 0-for-1 with 4RBI and 3BBs. Kipnis had two sac flies on the day.

- Changing of the guard in the Big 10.
Purdue has been a pleasant surprise as the 2nd place team in the Big 10 standings. Well today, the Boilers reaffirmed their standing in the conference echelon by sweeping normal top rung power Minnesota with a 6-4 win. This marked the first Big 10 weekend sweep since 2005 for PU, also against Minnesota. With Michigan splitting four games with Indiana, the Boilers (now 16-4) are within a single game of the Wolverines. The 16 wins is the most ever for a Purdue squad through 20 games.

- Revolving door in the Missouri Valley.
Now, it's Missouri State that tops the conference. Going into the weekend Northern Iowa was the top dog, but the Panthers lost two of three at home to Southern Illinois. Surprisingly, No. 8 Wichita State lost on Sunday at Indiana State, paving the way for the Bears to move into the catbird seat. MSU beat Illinois State in all three games this weekend. Here's the top of the MVC as of this moment:

So. Illinois, 13-5
Wichita St., 11-4
No. Iowa, 11-4
Creighton, 11-7

WSU actually has the most favorable schedule remaining, with UNI and Bradley at home and a road trip to lowly Evansville... two words I didn't think I'd use in the same sentence anytime soon.

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I would keep going, but my eyelids are becoming freakin' anvils now. I had a late night hockey game tonight, so that's why I'm up 'til 2:30am West coast time finishing this up. I'll throw together an Ouch List sometime tomorrow, er, I mean, sometime later on today.

G'night.

April 27, 2008

Saturday Statements - Like Homer, A little beer and a lot of TV make for a good day

Sometimes it's good to just sit on your fat butt and watch all the great college baseball games that come on satellite TV. Welcome to my world this Saturday. No traveling. No credentials to make arrangements for. No long drives on crowded freeways with drivers paying much more attention to their cell phones than their lane changes.

BamaMatthesCatch.jpg
(Alabama's Kent Matthes made the play of the day, robbing an Auburn home run)

So here's what I saw from the comfort of my couch today. (I know, I need a life. I hear ya'.)

On the Big Ten Network:
Ohio State - 6 13
Northwestern - 4 1
In my pre-season preview I talked about when I was up at last year's Ohio State-Minnesota series, I heard grumblings from the Buckeyes that they weren't real happy with their Nike bats, feeling they seemed "dead" to them. Well sure enough, the announcers on the Big 10 network talked about how the Bucks are last in the Big 10 this year with just 10 home runs.

On Sports South:
Auburn - 4
Alabama - 5
Great defense for the Tide, especially the outfielders. There was Bama right fielder Kent Matthes making one of the best catches so far this season, robbing Auburn's Joseph Sanders of a home run in the 4th inning of the game. Then there was center fielder Tyler Odle making a dramatic diving catch in the 9th inning to protect the precarious one-run lead. And has Bama added on to Sewell-Thomas Stadium? I don't remember there being stands all the way down the right field line. But this is a big time program with a big time fan base, so I'm not shocked.

On ESPNU:
St. John's - 6
Notre Dame - 4
The Johnnies over-take the Big East lead with their second straight win at Eck Stadium over the Fighting Irish this weekend. In the 9th, with Redmen... er, Storm, at 1st and 3rd, a crucial, ho-hum grounder to third was wildly thrown to first, allowing Gino Matias to score from third to provide the winning run for St. John's. The Johnnies improve to 13-4, 31-9 overall and lead the Irish, who are now 12-5 in Big East play. Game three will decide the conference leader tomorrow.

On Fox Sports West:
Arizona - 3
Oregon State - 4
This may have been freshman Tanner Robles' coming out party today for OSU. The fireballing OSU frosh went 7.2 innings, giving up just two hits, striking out seven and retiring the last 12 Cat batters he faced. It was interesting to hear the comments of OSU's Pat Casey during the game (even though I hate those in-game interviews) when he said, "Arizona probably has the deepest pitching staff in the country with six quality guys." Just something to file away come post-season time.

On CBS College Sports:
Fresno State - 1 3
U. of Nevada - 4 7
I was looking forward to seeing the WAC leaders in one of the best settings in college baseball, Peccole Park in Reno. Unfortunately, what we saw was the first double-header loss in WAC play for Fresno all season. Not good. Announcers Tom Hart and Kevin Stocker also reminded the viewers of a terrible situation for the conference, in the fact that the post-season tournament is going to be held in Ruston, Louisiana, hosted by Louisiana Tech. Problem is that right now the under-achieving Bulldogs are way, way down in last place at 3-18. Since only the top six teams make the WAC tourney, if the season ended today, the home town Dogs wouldn't even be able to take part in the tourney. I'd imagine that'll be an easy ticket to procure.


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THREE UP---
1- Miami and Virginia's pitching.
Well, mostly Miami, for pulling out another W by beating UVa 4-3 in 10 innings.
But let's give it up to the pitching staffs of both teams for the last two days. Like Friday's 1-0 Cane win, the two teams once again combined for just nine hits today. But it was another painful ending for the Cavs as shortstop Greg Miclat sailed a throw to first over the head of the first baseman, allowing Jemile Weeks to score the game-winning run. With the W, Miami improves to 19-2 in ACC play, equaling its best conference win total since joining the ACC in 2005.

2- LSU.
Won the South Carolina series with an 11-10 white-knuckler that went 11 innings.
The Tigers showed what they haven't showed in quite some time - dare I say, the Bertman era - and that was a fair amount of chutspa. Down 7-0, the air had gone out of the crowd. But the Bayou boys weren't done bashing. Nick Pontiff roped a two-run bomb to tie things at nine in the 7th. Gamecock errors in the 11th allowed LSU to re-tie the game at 10. Then, with the third error of the inning, Chris McGhee scored the game winning run to sink Carolina and put the Cocks in a 2-0 hole for the weekend.

LSUintimidator.jpg
(Maybe, just maybe, the Gamecocks are really intimidated by the Intimidator?)

3- Kent Matthes, Alabama.
Because of the Tide right fielder, Bama beats Auburn 5-4.
Not only did the right field ace steal the home run from Joseph Sanders in the 4th inning, he also kick-started the Crimson offense with a two-run double in the 1st inning. Then he culminated the W with an absolute strike from the right field corner to throw behind the runner at first to get the last out of the game and preserve the one-run win.

BamaShaveCream.jpg
(Player of the Game Kent Matthes got a shaving cream pie to the face during the post-game interview)


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THREE DOWN---
1- Ole Miss.
The Rebs get swept in two games, 13-11 (10inns) and 12-4 by Arkansas.
Remember when the Rebel pitching staff was supposed to be the bee's knees? Well, with the two losses today, Mississippi drops to 11-9 in SEC play and 28-16 overall. In other words, rather ordinary. The Rebs combined for five errors in the two losses and surrendered 26 hits in the two games. To their credit, the Rebs came back from an 8-1 deficit in game one, so they've got this no-quit facet to their game. But still, the Rebels shouldn't be a middle-of-the-road team in the southern super-conference.

2- Northern Iowa.
Lost twice at home to Southern Illinois, 7-5 and 11-7.
The Panthers went into Saturday with an 11-2 mark in the Missouri Valley, a game and a half ahead of second place Wichita State. But somehow, UNI dropped both games to the 7th-place Salukis. Game two was decided when SIU scored seven runs in the top of the 9th. After this weekend, Northern has the now-1st place Shockers, 3rd place Missouri State and 5th place Bradley remaining. This team might've been one of those textbook fool's gold teams.

3- Butler.
Blew a 13-0 lead and lost in 10 innings to Valparaiso, 16-15.
In what may be the worst defensive performance of the season, the Bulldogs commit eight errors and allow the Crusaders to put together a 7-run 9th inning that tied the game. VU won the game in the 10th on a Ryan O'Gara sac fly with the bases loaded. Butler committed five errors in the last four innings to help the comeback. Then the Bulldogs went out and blew another lead in game two and lost 7-5 to complete the ignominious sweep. Zach Rodeghero went 7-for-10 on the day and Andrew Quinnette smashed three home runs to pace the game one win.


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NEWS FLASH... I FOUND ANOTHER STADIUM THAT SERVES BEER---
Here's a screen grab from the Fresno State-Nevada game today. See? There are two women in this picture that are obviously drinking beer. Hopefully in a responsible manner.

NevadaFansBeer.jpg
(That does it! I've gotta make the trek to Reno for a game sometime soon)

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It's late. Time to hit the rack. Hope you guys had a great college baseball Saturday.

G'night.

April 26, 2008

Friday First Takes - Heels get the pre-game handshake, then the big inning

Well at least there were handshakes before and after the game this time. And just like last Friday, the Seminoles played eight innings of really good baseball.

UNC-FSUhandshake.jpg
(Stupid umpire got in the way, but as you see, Mike Martin had no problem shaking Mike Fox's hand before tonight's FSU-UNC game.)

Only problem was, just like their big loss last Friday to No. 1 Miami, the Noles saw their bullpenners lugging a gas can with them to the mound tonight. And it was the hot sticks of players like Garret Gore (2-run single), Dustin Ackley (2-run single), Kyle Shelton (2-run dinger) and Kyle Seager (2-run double) that supplied the matches, pacing North Carolina to an 11-4 win.

The scoreboard couldn't handle the double-digit tally as the Heels ran the total to 11 runs in the 8th inning alone, crushing the Noles hopes in Cary tonight. Eerily similar to last Friday's 10-run 6th inning that doomed their chances against top-ranked Miami.

As I feared, the Noles faced a much tougher assignment at the dish tonight than they've seen all season, getting just four hits on the night despite coming in with an insane .352 team average. But still, they nipped and picked and got some free passes on the way to building an unlikely 1-hit, 3-0 lead. Two of their runs came in the 6th inning, which saw Alex White load the bases after walking the first three batters. Two sac fly RBIs built up the 3-run cushion going into the bottom of the 8th inning.

And that's where things got ugly. After giving up just a harmless single run to Dustin Ackley, the Noles seemed destined to escape the inning with only one run of damage. But the defensive deficiencies bit them in the butt again, as a sure third out grounder was booted. Next thing you know, the floodgates opened up, with a salt in the wound kind of ramifications.

Six FSU pitchers went through the 8th inning revolving door and they could do no good out of the pen. After two pitching changes, head coach Mike Martin quit making the trip to the mound himself, instead sending out assistants who merely signaled to the pen as soon as they bounced out of the dugout. And what hurts even more was the fact that starter Matt Fairel did an admirable job, going 5.2 innings without giving up a run and holding the blue and white to just four hits.

The fight was gone in the Noles. But don't forget, last week they dug deep to take game two and nearly win game three. We'll see how they react now that they're on the road and facing arguably tougher arms.

UNCalexWhite.jpg
(The Juan Marichal-like high kick of UNC starter Alex White, who only gave up one hit but walked four and gave up three runs in 5.1 innings of work.)


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NOW ON TO THE USUAL NIGHTLY FEATURE---
The best and worst from around the nation on this Friday of college baseball in our usual Three Up-Three Down feature.

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THREE UP---
1- The Texas A&M student section.
How else can you explain the Aggies coming back from an 8-2 deficit to win?
And how many times can I give props to the Aggies? Am I showing a bias now? Well, either way, the Maroons came back from an 8-2 deficit by scoring four runs in the 7th, one in the 8th and two in the 9th to complete the most unlikely comeback against an otherwise solid pitching staff of the Missouri Tigers. Aaron Crow came unglued (by his standards) by giving up six hits, five runs and five walks. HAD to be the student section amping up the pressure. In the end, Brian Ruggiano knocked in the game-tying run and the game-winner came from, what else, a Tiger mistake. This one was a balk that scored the winning run from third with no outs in the 9th.

2- Ho-hum, Stephen Strausburg again.
The SDSU ace help lead the Aztecs to a 4-1 win over TCU.
For the second time in three weeks Strausburg tossed a complete game one-hitter as the Aztec ace K'd 13 Horned Frogs to improve to 4-1 with a 1.63 ERA. The bad news? (If you consider it bad news) Strausburg's scoreless streak ended at 30 innings when he gave up a single run in the 7th inning.

3- Preston Guilmet, Arizona.
Threw a complete game 5-hitter in a 7-0 win at Oregon State.
UofA takes game one behind Guilmet's 10K performance, where he gave up only one walk. The Cats also didn't commit a single error on the night. Of course, it didn't hurt that OSU's Mike Stutes issued eight walks and gave up six hits, two home runs and also plunked a batter.


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THREE DOWN---
1- Rice.
Lost to Central Florida 4-2.
I know, I know. It will look weird. It will take a while to get used to seeing it. But for the first time in C-USA history the Rice Owls have three check marks on the L-side of the ledger. UCF's Kiko Vazquez blasted a yard call as part of the 3-for-4 night in which he also scored two runs himself. Kyle Sweat improved to 4-2, giving up just five hits in 7.1 innings to squash the Owls. This also breaks a 4-11 skein for UCF. Now let's see if they can build on it.

2- Whoever left Billy Bullock hanging out to dry.
Florida lost to Georgia 7-4 tonight.
Gator starter Billy Bullock was getting hit hard. And hit often. It was a horrible 3rd inning nightmare for the Gator slinger as he surrendered four runs on six hits. Even the outs appeared to be hard-hit baseballs. But he was given little run support (again) and kept in the ball game way too long. UofF's charges would've been able to make the comeback possible, since their bats woke up in the 7th inning, where it scored three runs. But too much damage had been done.

3- James Madison.
Lost 6-4 to Virginia Commonwealth.
The Dukes are a team I'm keeping close tabs on mainly because they came into this weekend on a 13-3 spree and, at 28-10/16-4, have accomplished more this season already than most people were expecting. And with 1st place UNC-Wilmington taking the weekend off from CAA play, this was JMU's chance to make up some ground in the standings. But no dice. VCU squashed the Dukes attack, holding them to seven hits, despite coming in hitting .323.


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WHAT I SAW ON SUN SPORTS TONIGHT---
Georgia- 204 001 000 - 7 15 1
Florida - 000 100 300 - 4 9 0

WP- Trevor Holder (6-2)
LP- Billy Bullock (3-3)
Sv- Joshua Fields (12)

As mentioned above, the poor early start by Bullock (his fourth Friday non-win in a row) doomed the Gators tonight. The Bulldogs got a series of hard-hit balls in the third inning, scoring four runs to break open the game. The inning started like so:
Matt Olson hit a towering home run down the right field line.
Gordon Beckham doubled.
Rich Poythress singled to right.
Bryce Massanari blasted a no-doubter for 3RBI.
Lyle Allen K'd.
Joey Lewis ripped a single.
Matt Cerione doubled solidly to left center.
Ryan Peisel hit into double play.

But the Gators fought back, scoring four earned runs off of Dawgs starter Trevor Holder to pull within three runs. But Joshua Fields, mullet flailing and all, was a freakin' monster on the mound. He came on in the 8th inning with the bases loaded and one out and just started mowing like a tractor. He faced five Gator batters and five Gator batters went down looking confused by strike three. Unlike his wildness at LSU last week, where he was brilliant AND wild at the same time (two walks and three Ks in seven batters), he was locked in this time.

UGaJoshFields.jpg
(Joshua Fields finished off the Florida Gators for his 12th save of the season)


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SPECIAL LATE NIGHT THUMBS UP AND THUMBS DOWN---
To Arizona State's Mike Leake and Cal's Tyson Ross.
Leake really, really, really helped his team out by going the distance tonight in the Devils 11-7 win. An already thin pitching corps was saved from usurping the bullpen when Leake turned into a complete-game iron man tonight. Sure, he gave up 11 hits and issued four walks, but he kept getting back up after getting knocked down and let his offense back him up.

Ross, on the other hand, hit another blip on the screen, going just 5.1 innings, while giving up eight hits, nine runs and handing out five walks. in the last three weeks, Ross has given up 27 hits in the last 16 innings of work. He HAS to rebound for the Bears to challenge for a spot in Omaha... much less the Super Regionals.

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QUICK NOTE ABOUT BIG 10 BASEBALL---
Who says the Big 10 can't pull some crowds? Here's a shot of Michigan State head coach Dave Grewe doing a sideline interview on the Big 10 Network with the MSU cheerleaders in the background and in front of an Oldsmobile Park record crowd of 12,862 were in attendance as the Spartans took on the Lansing Lugnuts in an exhibition game on Thursday.

MSUdaveGrewe.jpg
(Now THIS is what college baseball is all about. In-game coach's interviews, cheerleaders and a packed house at a minor league stadium)

Of course, MSU then went out and dropped an ugly 16-2 game to Iowa to kick off the weekend earlier today.

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G'night.

April 25, 2008

Thursday Thoughts - The much-loved, much-hated RPI version

Stitch-heads, I come to you with a troubled heart.

This past week the NCAA released its RPI rankings to the general public for the first time this season. And of course, the RPI always boils the blood for yours truly, just in its basic unfairness. But it does give us a crystal ball into what the NCAA tournament field might look like come this June.

FSUhatFlip.jpg
(If the Big Dance started today, Florida State would flip their hats as a No. 2 national seed)

So with that as a backdrop to our weekend preview, let's take a quick look at some of the quirks and curves in the current RPI rankings before we get to the other stuff.

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QUICK HITS ON THE RPI---
- Some years the NCAA selection committee seems to go straight off the RPI and sometimes they really do use it only "as a tool" without as much emphasis. Well, if this was going to be one of those by-the-book years, this would apparently be your national seeds:
* Miami
* Florida State
* North Carolina
* Arizona State
* South Carolina
* Oklahoma State
* Rice
* Arizona

- How about this for big jumps?
* Rice jumped from No. 24 all the way up to No. 7 after sweeping East Carolina
* Arizona went from No. 19 to No. 8 for going unbeaten against New Mexico and Washington State.
* Oregon State jumps from 23 to 16 for winning two of three at ASU. Seems like it should be more.
* Despite having a schedule rated at No. 135 by Boyd Nation and No. 75 by Warren Nolan, Coastal Carolina is up to No. 10 in the RPI (jumped seven spots last week).

- It's still the ACC's world, we're merely living in it.
The ACC has the top three positions of course, with Miami, Florida State and North Carolina. Also note that N.C. State is No. 13 and Georgia Tech is No. 15. All five were in the top 10 last week.

- Notice something missing?
The Big West isn't given much love. In the top 25 there are only two Big West teams: No. 18 UC Irvine and No. 22 Cal State Fullerton. And both of those teams took significant dives this week. The Anteaters did a swan dive from No. 5 to 18 after losing two of three to UC Riverside. Fullerton fell eight spots from No. 16 after sweeping Pacific.

- I don't get this one.
Wichita State jumped up to No. 20 from No. 28 after losing to Nebraska, beating somebody called Tabor and then going 2-1 vs. Southern Illinois. Huh?

- This is a good trivia question.
When was the last time someone named something other than Miami prior to their migration to the ACC made the NCAA tournament from the independent ranks? Well make way for Dallas Baptist. The 27-11 Patriots currently have an RPI of No. 27.

- Texas is at No. 34.
Man, that just doesn't look right.

- Look out for a huge jump up here people.
Who's the last team listed in the RPI? My beloved Coppin State Eagles at No. 296. But they won't be there for long. Not after Tuesday's win over No. 153 VMI.

- Underrated and overrated?
Here are a few teams that get a lot of respect from the RPI:
* Arizona. No. 20 in the human poll. No. 8 in the RPI.
* N.C. State. No. 28 in the human poll. No. 13 in the RPI.
* Oklahoma State. No. 14 in the human poll. No. 6 in the RPI.
* Southern Miss. Unranked in the human poll. No. 19 in the RPI.
* East Carolina. Unranked in the human poll. No. 9 in the RPI
Here are a few teams that don't get much respect from the RPI:
* Texas A&M. No. 6 in the human poll. No. 23 in the RPI.
* Missouri. No. 9 in the human poll. No. 41 in the RPI.
* Wichita State. No. 8 in the human poll. No. 20 in the RPI.
* Kentucky. No. 17 in the human poll. No. 35 in the RPI.

- From three bids to one?
Two conferences that got three bids to the NCAA tournament last year could very well be destined for one-bid territory in 2008. The Big Ten and the Big East don't have the overwhelming numbers as of right now.
Big Ten:
* Michigan, No. 38. They're in. But if they hog the riches by winning the conference tournament...
* Next closest team is No. 114 Illinois. 2nd place Purdue is No. 132.

Big East:
* St. John's, No. 62. The Johnnies do have better Big East teams to face down the stretch. But probably not enough to get into at-large land.
* Notre Dame and Louisville are tied at No. 78.
* West Virginia is way down at No. 103 despite a 28-11 record.


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REQUIRED READING FOR THE COLLEGE BASEBALL FAN---
Take a quick gander at a few of my favorite things this time of year out there in webland:
- College Baseball Insider's Field of Dreamers:
http://www.collegebaseballinsider.com/FOD080422.html

Always good, useful information, especially when it comes to some of the low-major conferences. Good job again boys.

- Jeremy Mills, one of the great minds in college baseball:
http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/blog/index?entryID=3363058&name=ncaa_baseball

I've known Jeremy for a couple of years now and we all - and I mean ALL - use the website he developed for score updates. But now the ESPN employee has been given the green light to start writing some baseball columns, including a weekly weekend preview.

Two quick notes about Jeremy's columns:
1- I'm glad to see that ESPN is finally starting to "get it" when it comes to college baseball. Jeremy brings great knowledge of the game and of its history to the fore.
2- You still have to do a lot of digging to find the baseball stuff. Something like going to "ESPNU" pulldown and then go to "college sports" and fish around from there.


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10 PLACES I'D WANNA BE THIS WEEKEND---
Well, considering the places I've been the past few weeks, I guess I shouldn't complain about a weekend where I can just kick back at home. But if I could go to ten places, this is the ones I'd go to:

1- No. 2 Florida State at No. 3 North Carolina.
Here we go again having the main focus of the country on the ACC as the Seminoles take their show on the road to face the arm-heavy Heels in Cary. If FSU thought Miami pitching was tough, wait 'til it faces the blue and white. It is interesting to note, the Tarheel team ERA is nearly twice as better as the Canes at 2.15, having given up just 89 earned runs in 373 innings. The key to the weekend will certainly be how FSU's bullpen does. In Saturday's 9-5 win over The U, they were brilliant, giving up just a single hit in five innings. It was mostly the starters that gave up the big inning last weekend. And let me say this though, Buster Posey was awesome to watch and Nole leadoff man Tyler Holt has been one of the most impressive freshmen I've seen this year.

2- No. 9 Missouri at No. 6 Texas A&M.
Now is certainly the time for the Tigers to make their move in the Big 12. At 9-6, they stand a healthy 4.5 games behind the scorching hot Ags (15-3). The schedule could help tip the scales as well, since Mizzou has the Big 12 North remaining while the Maroons have Texas and Nebraska left. Aaron Crow needs to out-duel the combo of Brooks Raley and Kyle Thebeau on Friday for them to have any chance to take the series. As you've probably heard a million times already, A&M is on a school record 12-game conference win streak.

3- No. 20 Arizona at No. 29 Oregon State.
Both are 6-6 in Pac 10 play, so this could have post-season hosting ramifications. My first thought is, "Are the Beavers doing it to us all again?" Just like last year, it seems like they're starting to hit their stride later on in the season - sort of typical for a Northern team. Last week's series win at ASU was freakishly impressive, especially the kick that the offense delivered. The UofA is an intertesting story, winners of 12 straight and sitting at No. 8 in the RPI. So if the season ended today, the Cats would be considered a national seed.

4- St. John's at Notre Dame.
Two hot teams. The Irish have been the (mild) surprise of the Big East, racing out to a 1st place standing in the standings at 12-3. Overall, they are a more Irish-like 27-10 than what they were last year (a 28-28 record). But an RPI in the mid-80s isn't going to curry favor with the selection committee. St. John's has gone 19-5 since i saw them win at Northridge early in the season. The Storm needs a better start than lately, having lost its last two Friday games and garnered only 10 hits combined in them.

5- No. 15 Coastal Carolina at VMI
This is another 1vs.2 showdown in the Big South. After this tough roadie, the Chants have only league also-rans High Point and Radford remaining. So this will probably be the KeyDets only chance to make a run for the regular season crown. But VMI has the indignity of becoming just the second team to lose to Coppin State, by an 8-5 count on Tuesday.

6- No. 21 Virginia at No. 1 Miami.
Okay UVa, you haven't held up your end of the bargain lately (going just 9-7 in April, 23-5 before that). So this being your last road games of the season, consider it your next chance to step up and play big. You ready this time? I know this may sound outlandish for me to even suggest this, but this COULD actually be a tougher test for the Canes offense than last week in Tallahassee. UVa has a better pitching staff and plays much better defense than the Noles do. We'll see.

7- No. 19 California at No. 5 Arizona State.
There are big red flags for both teams here. First, for the Bears, two weeks ago I saw Friday ace Tyson Ross get absolutely rocked at USC and last week, though better, still had some trouble with Washington (gave up seven hits, five runs in 7.0 innings but got the win to improve to 6-1). For ASU, I just wonder if the arms are running out of gas. Seven of the last ten games, the Devs have allowed the opponents to score in double digits.

CalTysonRoss.jpg
(The easy motion of Tyson Ross will need to be effective to do in the Sun Devils)

8- Nachitoches, La., San Marcos, Tx. and San Antonio.
There are six teams with winning records in the Southland Conference and they all face off against each other, making this Separation Weekend in the SLC:
Texas-Arlington (10-8) at Northwestern State (12-5)
Lamar (12-6) at Texas State (13-5)
Sam Houston (12-6) at Texas-San Antonio (14-4)

9- Monmouth at Central Connecticut State.
For all intents and purposes, this series will probably decide the Northeast Conference, especially if the Hawks (11-1 in NEC play) win out or takes three of four from the 2nd place Devils (9-3). Monmouth has far and away the best RPI at No. 106. The next closest in the NEC is Wagner at 242.

10- TCU at San Diego State
It's 1 vs. 3 in the Mountain West at Tony Gwynn Stadium. The two teams are separated by just one game in the standings (TCU is 11-4, SDSU is 10-5). Too bad traffic is such a pain that I'm not able to get down for the Friday matchup and see if Stephen Strausberg can earn his third straight Pitcher of the Week award. Could this actually be the year that Tony Gwynn's charges break through and make the Big Dance? This will be a huge weekend to decide that.

And two to grow on...
- Ohio at Kent State
- Eastern Michigan at Northern Illinois.
The top two teams in the East and West divisions of the MAC square off this weekend in Kent and DeKalb respectively. Keep in mind that the winner of the MAC will host the post-season tournament, so this is a big weekend for all.


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BEST PITCHING MATCHUP TO WATCH---
TCU's Tyler Lockwood vs. SDSU's Stephen Strausburg.
You can bet the mortgage that this will be a sub-3 hour game (well, with the mortgage crisis in America, nevermind, but you get the spirit of the comment.). In fact, I'm betting on something like two and a half hours or so. Tops. Lockwood (4-0, 1.87) has a pair of complete games and just eight walks in 60 innings. So he obviously doesn't pussyfoot around on the hill. The Air Force game I saw him throw at Lupton Stadium was a brisk two hour masterpiece. No muss. No fuss. But Strausburg is even better, throwing 86 strikeouts to just eight walks in just 57 innings.

TCUtyLockwood.jpg
(Tyler Lockwood's quick approach guarantees a quick game)


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FIVE CHANGES I'D MAKE TO COLLEGE BASEBALL---
"Not tomorrow. Not after breakfast. Now!"
(Five bucks to who can place that quote. Friends, family members and administrators of CSTV and CBS College Sports are ineligible)

1- No reclassification period.
When teams jump up to Division I, they are required to go through a four-year (or is it five-year?... no matter) period where they are not allowed to play in the post-season. My question... Why? And give me a GOOD reason. Not any of this, "Well it takes four years for the paper work to go through." Just to show you how crappy this rule is, four of the top five teams in the Atlantic Sun are not eligible to play for a championship:

*Florida Gulf Coast, 19-5
Lipscomb, 15-9
*Kennesaw State, 12-9
*North Florida, 13-11
*USC Upstate, 13-11
(* indicates reclassifying team)

2- The Curfew Rule
As I found out this past weekend while at the Miami-Florida State series, this is a horrible, horrible fact of college baseball. I'm not against a Curfew rule. No prob. It's a must. But somebody in the administration of FSU/Miami/the ACC should've looked at it logically and moved the start time to 11:30am. Same goes with teams in the SEC. Simply MOVE THE START TIME. And don't give me any of this "it will conflict with church services" either. All those high-paid top brass administrators in all of these cases are mostly occupied by soulless people anyway.

3- Time Outs.
If a catcher calls time out and goes out to the mound, another time out immediately following should not be allowed to be called. In fact, i think you shouldn't be allowed to call another time out until the next batter is up. In other words, you can't do like Miami did when it appeared as though the Canes were trying to slow the game down for the curfew to take affect. But every team does it every game, especially to give their relievers a chance for more warm up pitches. I realize that.

4- Coaches handshakes.
Again, spurred by the near-brawl by Miami and FSU this past weekend. I don't care how much the coaches on opposing teams despise each other, they should be required to meet at home plate in post-game and set a good example for their impressionable young men and shake hands. (What are we, 10 year olds guys?)

5- If your stadium has three or four names in it, you don't deserve to host in the post-season.
Here's a couple of examples:
- Mississippi State: Dudy-Noble Field, Polk-Dement Stadium
(Just cut the crap and call it Polk Stadium. He's the hero in my book anyway.)
- Tennessee: Robert M. Lindsay Field at Lindsey Nelson Stadium
(Did they REALLY have to include two "Lind-zee" names in there?)
- Nebraska: Hawks Field at Haymarket Park
(I know Hawks is a contributor's name, but it sounds too much like a team's nickname and the Nebraska Hawks just doesn't have a ring to it)
- East Carolina: Lewis Field inside Clark-LeClair Stadium
("Inside"? C'mon. A stadium that nice should have a single name. Make it LeClair.)
- Oregon State: Goss Stadium at Coleman Field.
(As the above examples show, it's usually a field AT a stadium. OSU's is the opposite.)
And the worst of all...
Arizona State: Winkles Field at Packard Stadium at Brock Ballpark.

Just stop it people.


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THE UPSET KINGS---
These are the lovable losers that are also the biggest upset pullers of the 2008 season so far. (Is "upset pullers" a correct term?)

- Northern Colorado
Record: 14-25
Notable wins: At Texas A&M (2), at Arizona State, Florida International.
How do victories like this even happen? It could be argued that the Bears have pulled off the biggest upsets in many years. At least they've pulled off the most notable Ws, including handing the Sun Devils their only loss 29 games into the season. At first, the two wins in College Station kept me from giving any props to the Aggies, but they've rebounded and look very impressive now at 33-7.

- UC Riverside
Record: 11-24, 5-4 in Big West
Notable wins: At Cal State Fullerton, at Long Beach State (2), at UC Irvine (2)
Do you think the people in the Big West are tired of getting beat by UCR, last year's regular season champion? Somehow, the Highlanders can pull off these beauties, but lose to just about anybody else on a given day as well. Must be the youth in them.

- Loyola Marymount
Record: 20-20, 5-7 in WCC play
Notable wins: Oregon State, San Diego State, San Diego, Cal, USC (2), Long Beach State, Pepperdine.
Look at those "name" teams. Playing the 4th toughest schedule in the country and with an RPI in the 50s, you almost can say that if the Lions would just get their record above the Mendoza Line, they'll be in the conversation for an at-large berth in the NCAAs. A WCC weekend against No. 12 San Diego is up next.

Washington State
Record: 20-18, 3-9 in Pac 10
Notable wins: at Oklahoma (3), Cal, Stanford, Arizona State
The Cougs are the bottom-feeders of the Pac 10, but have some good Ws here. But they just don't have the pitching depth to win many three-game weekends in conference play.


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GREATEST DUNKERS EVER---
Let's take a short side trip here.
CBS College Sports ran a feature the other night entitled "College Basketball's 10 Greatest Dunkers". Since I'm a huge hoops junkie too, I TiVo'd it and here is their list:
1- Darrell Griffith, Louisville, 1976-80
2- Clyde Drexler, Houston, 1979-83
3- Vince Carter, North Carolina, 1995-98
4- Dominique Wilkins, Georgia, 1979-81
5- Steve Francis, Maryland, 1998-99
6- Shaquille O'Neal, LSU, 1989-92
7- Michael Jordan, North Carolina, 1980-83
8- Darvin Ham, Texas Tech, 1992-96
9- Harold Minor, USC, 1988-91
10- Jerome Lane, Pittsburgh, 1985-88

I'll give the people who chose this list some credit, they got the No. 1 dunker right. Darrell "Dr. Dunkenstein" Griffith was pure artistry and athletic ability in the air. Just 6'4", but with an incredible 48" vertical leap. He was unGodly. Just imagine what he would've been like in today's up-and-down the court game? Yowza!

But three big problems:
1- During the show, unfortunately they didn't show Griffith's from-the-foul-line two-hand, rock-the-cradle, windmill dunk in the 1980 Regional final vs. LSU at the Houston Summit that even had LSU fans cheering.
2- They had a lot of "one shot Charlies" (as Clyde Drexler put it during the show)like Ham and Lane, who both happened to break backboards on their dunks. They weren't great dunkers, game-in, game-out.
3- Speaking of Ham's plexiglass-breaking dunk vs. UNC, they didn't show a clip of the dunk during the show, only the Sports Illustrated cover picture. What? A show on CBS College Sports couldn't show a clip from the NCAA tournament televised by CBS?

If you twist my arm, here's what my Top 5 would be (I would do 10, but I don't have the time to think about it that hard):
1- Darrell Griffith.
2- Vince Carter.
3- Dominique.
4- Bennie Anders, Houston, 1982-86
(Had waaaay more creativity than teammate Clyde Drexler, just not as publicized.)
5- Gary Springer, Iona, 1981-84
(Yeah, I know you don't know who he is, but his 42" vertical was astounding. The only reason I know him is because he nearly signed with LSU.)


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MORE ABOUT BAD UNIFORMS---
Remember these awful togs from the Houston Astros?

AstrosUnis.jpg

Well, looking through the Tulane media guide the other day, I forgot about these forgettable pieces of junk. Note the angled "Tulane" at the top of the uniform. Also note, despite this being a black and white picture, that the stripes on these unis would have been dark green, light green, light blue and white. Talk about your pieces of snot...

Tulane1983.jpg
(These rival those banana unis from Florida State as the worst in college baseball history)

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Okay people. That may be about all I've got for tonight. Hope you guys have a good college baseball weekend. Some decent matchups here and there, so check out a game near you. Tell 'em the big stitch-head sent you and you'll get in for half price.

More tomorrow.

G'night.

April 23, 2008

Q&A- Florida State's Mike Martin

MikeMartinUmp2.jpg
(FSU's Mike Martin has had his share of disgruntled fans, impressionable recruits and ornery umpires over the years )

Mike Martin entered his 29th season of coaching at Florida State just a mere 145 wins shy of Augie Garrido's NCAA Division I record of 1,629 wins. That's not that many wins in FSU terms, roughly the equivalent of three seasons. I mean, when you consider Martin's fewest victories for a single spring was 44 in 2006, that's not too bad.

He may be 65 years old, but you can't accuse him of slowing down. Not Mike Martin. Too many things to do, too many recruits to meet.

At least that's what I discovered when I tried to set up a quick back-and-forth with the Florida State Seminole head coach this past weekend. With the help of Jason Leturmy, the FSU baseball media contact, I was able to get a few minutes before Sunday's Miami game to talk to the legendary, 28-year head coach of the garnet and gold.

But I have to say, I had to wait a little while. When Jason took me down to the dugout 45 minutes before game time, there was a handful of high school recruits sitting there next to him, listening to his sales pitch intently. After a few minutes, I was given access to Coach Martin. Obviously, I didn't mill around, I hit the ground running with him, knowing my time was limited.

Me:
Hi Coach, I'm Eric Sorenson, from CSTV and CBS College Sports Tonight.

Coach Martin:
Hi, good to see you. Take a seat. (He motions to the dugout bench)

Me:
Just wanted to ask you five or six questions, mostly going back a ways, more than just about this series. And I swear I'm not going to ask you when you're going to retire.

Coach Martin:
(Laughing) Well good.

Me:
First off, is it true that you used to play golf with Rod Dedeaux?

Coach Martin:
(with serious look on his face) Ohhhh, gosh yeah. One of the real big thrills of my life was the day that he took me out to Lakeside, out in California. He treated me like an absolute king. But he was the real King out there. Everybody knew him. It was one of the oldest clubs in California. Lots of movie stars played there, but everyone knew Rod.

Me:
Let me guess, he called you Tiger, right?

Coach Martin:
Never called me anything but that.

Me:
Ironically, same with me. Umm, you walked into a great situation at Florida State a long time ago, what was your predecessor Dick Howser like? What was his influence on you?

Coach Martin:
Dick was a guy that was a consummate baseball man. Taught me a lot about the game. The main thing he taught me was the patience factor, 'coz he knew I was never one to have a lot of patience. He was always relaxed and cool and I was always impressed with the way he treated players. It was a good learning experience. I mean, we used to talk baseball all the time. No matter what it was, we were talking baseball.

Not only was I an assistant to him, but I was a friend. The families would get together, we'd have five or six couples come over for dinner, or at somebody else's house, and eventually we would all end up in the kitchen talkin' baseball.

Me:
(Laughing) Much to the wives chagrin I'm sure.

Coach Martin:
They were unaffected. (wry smile)

Me:
Okay, how big was Seminole baseball when you started in 1980. I mean, you've had two straight nights of record crowds here this weekend. I know you guys were always successful, but how big of an event was it when you began here?

Coach Martin:
Well, you know, we're one of those schools that is deep in tradition and when I came here in 1975 as an assistant and when I played here in '65 and '66, baseball was always very important to the university and certainly in our community. We're one of the few baseball programs in the country that sells out the entire grandstand before the first pitch is thrown each season.

Me:
You haven't had a "bad" season since you've been here, does that make it tough as far as fans expectations and stuff like that?

Coach Martin:
Well there's always expectations that go with this program. But you have to understand that there are going to be years where things don't go your way. You've gotta be patient. It's been hard work. It's obviously been very challenging, but I'm very blessed to have this position, I love what I've learned and love this great university.

Me:
Okay, the 1986 pitching staff... Is that the best staff you've ever had?

Coach Martin:
Well we've had some very good pitching here. I guess in '02, where we had three lefties (led by ace Matt Lynch), they were very, very intelligent and very good. Unfortunately, we got beat right here (at Howser Stadium) against Notre Dame in the Super Regionals.

But certainly, (Mike) Loynd and (Richie) Lewis was a very good 1-2 combination. Lewis wanted the ball every day. But it was also a year when, you're looking at a major leaguer in Paul Sorrento in right field, a major leaguer in Luis Alicea at second base and major leaguer in Mike Loynd on the mound. That was obviously a pretty good team.

(At this point, assistant coach Jeremy Shouppe brings another recruit up to meet Coach Martin, so I politely add that there are only two more questions I'd really like to ask... though that number could easily be about 50 or so.)

Me:
Okay, has there been any difference in the rivalry between you guys and Miami since you have become conference rivals now? Or has it always been intense, no difference?

Coach Martin:
Oh it's ALWAYS been intense, you're talking about guys that have played with and against each other since grade school. In fact, Elih Villanueva, who is pitching against Miami today is from Miami. He knows a lot of these guys.

Me:
Right. That's an interesting story in itself.

Coach Martin:
In fact, my first home run as a collegian was against Miami and my first win as a head coach was against them too. I've never forgotten that. But now that they're in our league, it takes on even more importance, because now we're trying to position ourselves against them for the post-season. And that's the most important part.

Me:
Okay, last question. You gonna try to catch Augie?

Coach Martin:
(Laughs) Well... let's put it this way. He needs to retire. THEN I'll catch him.

Me:
That's what I figured. Thanks coach.

With that, I watched as Coach Martin shook hands with the latest recruit to visit the Tallahassee campus. Then I thought about how many of these young recruits he's shaken hands with before games over the previous 28 years. Probably enough to give anyone a life's full of blisters. Then again, Coach Martin still has the pep and vigor of a younger coach.

Augie, you've been warned.

April 22, 2008

No. 1 vs. No. 2 in pictures

A baker's dozen of photos from this past weekend's Miami-Florida State series in Tallahassee.

JemileWeeksSmiling.jpg
(If you had Jemile Weeks' wheels you'd be smiling too)

MartinStealingSigns?.jpg
(Is that Mike Martin in the corner stealing signs from Jim Morris? Or just admiring his handiwork?)

GuinnTekotte.jpg
(Dennis Guinn and Blake Tekotte both had big at-bats this weekend)

FSUslimJimguy.jpg
(Remember the "Snap Into a Slim Jim!" guy?)

N-O-L-Eguy.jpg
(This guy was leading those N-O-L-E-S spell out cheers all weekend)

1994t-shirt.jpg
(Okay dude, judging by the score on your shirt you've had that thing since 1994, giving males everywhere a bad fashion name to sorority girls everywhere)

FSUelihVilla.jpg
(Sunday starter Elih Villanueva wasn't so impressive, suffering his first loss against some of his hometown friends on the Miami roster)

FSUBusterPosey.jpg
(Buster Posey lived up to billing all weekend long, raising his average to .483 and hitting his 11th home run)

FSUcowgirlwanna-be.jpg
(Is there such a thing as being an FSU Cowgirl Wanna-be? Or do you automatically become one with a short shorts, fakies and a plunging neckline that has been purposely ripped?... Well, you know what, I don't care either way.)

UMBlakeTekotte.jpg
(Hurricane leadoff man Blake Tekotte had a good weekend at the dish, on the basepaths and in center field)

MikeMartinUmp.jpg
(Mike Martin had some odds with the boys in blue, but was mostly sedate)

FSUjasonStidham.jpg
(Jason Stidham had two doubles in Saturday's win and a home run in Sunday's slugfest)

FSUlayingDown.jpg
(FSU players had a unique way of taking in the action from their own dugout)

April 21, 2008

Sunday Summations- Lots of runs, not enough innings and no handshakes

TALLAHASSEE, FLA.-- It was an ignominious end to great rivalry weekend.

TekotteHandshake.jpg
(Stand-up guy Blake Tekotte, actually waiting for post-game handshakes from Florida State that never came.)

Let's start with this: Time just ran out on Florida State. That's the best way to describe today's 11-10 loss to Miami after just seven innings of play.

Once again, the dumbest facet of college baseball, the curfew rule, cost the Seminoles a chance at getting a win over Miami today. And it also cost the fans a chance to see what would've happened in the last two innings of an intense back-and-forth donnybrook.

The Hurricanes held on for the win, but the Seminoles had cut the sizable UofM lead from 11-3 to 11-10 after seven complete. And to quote Keith Jackson, ole Mo was wearing garnet and gold when the game ended. Who knows what would've happened had somebody been smart enough to make this an 11:30am start instead of a 12:30pm start.

But the real story was the near-brawl that ensued after the Canes recorded the last out of the game. What happened, exactly? Well it depends on who you listen to and what colors they are wearing.

Miami claims that Mike Martin Jr., who coaches at third base, said something disparaging to the Hurricane dugout at the end of the game, getting the ire up of the celebrating Cane players. FSU people claim that the Hurricanes celebrated too long, rubbing it in their faces and causing them head toward the locker rooms.

While Miami stood at home plate and FSU players gathered their belongings, you could see numerous reactions. First and foremost was the image that was heavily burned into my mind of Blake Tekotte, hand extended, waiting for a Florida State player to start the handshake line.

But at the same time, there was Jemile Weeks behind him, doing taunting arm waves toward the Seminoles. There were also a couple of Hurricanes simply standing there with arms out and palms pointed upward as if to ask "What the dillio?" (Why did I just use that stupid word?) So you can probably understand the Seminole uprising that came about.

MiamiSide.jpg
(Miami players in the post-game. Some taunting. Some holding others back.)

FSUside.jpg
(FSU players were on the warpath with their blood boiling too.)

The Noles started to charge toward home plate with angered up blood and the crowd starting to cause a ruckus as well. But they stopped short of home and were separated by coaches and team officials. However, it should be noted that neither Jim Morris nor Mike Martin were in the mix to calm their teams, curiously.

And in case you're wondering, no, the coaches never shook hands after the game or before any of the three either. And apparently these guys haven't shaken hands in quite a few years. As I watched the coaches at the home plate pre-game meeting with the umpires in all three games, I noticed that they never even acknowledged each other or looked each other's way. What are we, ten year olds here? Oh well, it IS a rivalry, ya' know.

MiaFSUmeet.jpg
(I'm not sure Jim Morris and Mike Martin ever made eye contact this weekend.)

Miami came out with the idea that they didn't like Florida State getting the upper hand on Saturday, when three garnet and gold relievers shut down the Canes to one hit in five innings. In fact, Yonder Alonso took it upon himself to make sure the Canes got off to a hot start today, going yard on two occasions, including a fast-moving grand salami in the third inning to put the Canes up 4-0, a lead they held for good.

But that doesn't mean there weren't some hairy moments for The U because the Noles pecked and pecked at the lead, getting the biggest shot in the arm with a three-run home run by Buster Posey in the 6th. Then, in the 7th and final inning, they had the winning run up at the dish and the tying run at third, when Hurricane reliever Carlos Gutierrez was able to subdue the fired up crowd by getting leadoff man Tyler Holt to go down looking at strike three to end the game.

For The U, Eric Erickson started the game, getting his first action in a month. EE ended up going four innings, but gave up five hits and three runs, issuing three walks along the way. Yet, Erickson did manage to get the W, improving his mark to 6-0 on the season.

Miami- 005 330 0 - 11 11 0
FSU - 100 215 1 - 10 11 0

WP- Eric Erickson (6-0)
LP- Elih Villanueva (4-1)
Sv- Chris Gutierrez (9)

Top Hitters:
Miami:
Blake Tekotte, 2-for-4, 1BB
Jemile Weeks, 1-for-3, 1RBI, 1HR
Yonder Alonson, 2-for-3, 5RBI

Florida State:
Buster Posey, 2-for-3, 3RBI, 1HR
Jack Rye, 2-for-4
Mike McGee, 2-for-3, 1RBI, 1HR
Stephen Cardullo, 2-for-3, 1RBI, 1HR


.
GAME NOTES---
- Miami started the game with Blake Tekotte and Jemile Weeks both attempting to get on base with bunts. Tekotte's bunt was bobbled by pitcher Elih Villanueva, but was curiously ruled a hit.

- Yonder Alonso took a nasty foul ball off his ankle in his first at-bat that left him writhing in pain on the grass. After a few minutes to shake it off, he was thrown one of those leg protectors and he strapped it on before getting back into the box. The Miami SID said, "He usually wears that thing. I don't know why he wasn't today."

YonderPain.jpg
(Yonder Alonso writhed in pain after fouling a ball off his ankle, but rebounded. And how.)

- Any questions about Eric Erickson's being rusty from a month off with an injury... well, continued. Especially after Jason Stidham took the first pitch he saw over the "18 College World Series Appearences" sign in right field. Obviously, Stidham continued his hot hitting, after going 4-for-5 last night.

- Mike McGee hit a meek pop fly on the first pitch he saw from Erickson in the second inning. Why is that bad? Well, only because Dennis Guinn and Tony Delmonico both walked to start the inning, so you never want your next batter to go after the first pitch. I'm sure McGee heard an earful from Mike Martin Sr. once he got back to the dugout.

- Major league bomb!
Yonder Alonso, shaking off the bruised ankle from inning No. 1, hit a screaming no-doubter with the bases juiced to help put the Hurricanes up 5-0 in the 3rd. It was Alonso's first career grand slam (though I thought ALL his home runs were grand slams... or so it seems). It was also just the second home run given up by Villaneuva this season

- Major league bomb II.
An inning later, Jemile Weeks - who isn't big or anything but has a wicked-fast bat - and Yonder Alonso - again - hit back-to-back home runs to put Miami up 7-1. The last time an opponent hit two home runs vs. Florida State was Clemson's Andy D'Allesio last May 13. The last opposing team to go back-to-back on the Seminoles was also Clemson, with Harbin and D'Allesio back-to-back on May 14, 2006.

- This is also the 2nd time Weeks and Alonso have gone back-to-back this season. The previous time came on March 7th vs. Boston College. For their careers, it marked the 4th time overall that they've had back-to-back homers in a game.

- Not to be outdone, in the bottom of 4th inning, Mike McGee and Stephen Cardullo went back-to-back on circuit clouts to cut the Hurricane lead to 8-3. The last time for back-to-back home runs for FSU was last week in the 8th inning vs. Virginia on April 13th, done by Jason Stidham and Buster Posey. This is also the fourth time this year that FSU has gone for back-to-back HRs.

- This game marked the eighth time in 10 road games this season that the Hurricanes have scored double digits in runs.

- The defensive struggles could be worse for FSU. Twice in today's game, including the game-opening batter Blake Tekotte, the Hurricanes were given credit for base hits on bunts that were mis-handled by Villanueva and Stephen Cardullo.

- I have to admit something here, I was down on the field in the photographer's well next to the Miami dugout when Buster Posey hit his three-run home run to pull FSU within two runs in the 6th inning, and he really didn't hit that ball all that hard, but with the short porch in right, it sailed over the top of the fence with ease. Even some of the Miami players looked on as if they couldn't believe the ball was hit that deep.

- The FSU fans, knowing there was a 3:30pm curfew (and it was 3:18 at the time) booed vociferously at how slow Carlos Gutierrez was warming up during a pitching change. Smart move... or maybe I should say lack of a move, for the Canes.

- After a wild pitch allowed Mike McGee to score from third, cutting the lead to one, home plate umpire David Savage drew the wrath of the Seminole fans for calling Tyler Holt out on a looking third strike to end the game.

- This loss marks the first time all season that FSU has lost a one-run game. Amazingly, the Noles were 10-0 in one-run games coming into today. That shows some character.

- The attendance total of 19,062 for the three game set is a new series record, breaking the old three-game mark of 18,045 set when Miami visited in 2006.

- And by the way, where the hell are these FSU Cowgirls I hear all about anyway? I didn't see one hot, siliconed girl with ripped T-shirt displaying massive fake cleavage the whole weekend. Not fair!

fsuCowgirls.jpg
("We like baseball, but we only stay 'til halftime.")


.
Elsewhere on this college baseball getaway Sunday.

THREE UP---
1- Texas A&M.
They keep winning, so we keep putting them on this list. A&M beat Baylor 13-12 in 11 innings.
Leave it to vets like Blake Stouffer (game-winning RBI) and Kyle Colligan (game-winning run) to pull the Ags through from a 12-6 deficit with one out in the 9th. Unbelievable, man. A&M is on a school record tying 12-game conference win streak and lead the Big 12 at 15-3 and 33-7 overall.

2- Derek Van Buskirk, Michigan.
Yeah, I know it came against Michigan State, but DVB went 4-for-5 with three home runs and 9RBI.
With this win today, UMich swept the Spartans and have now gone 11-1 in their last 12 Big 10 games, putting more distance between itself and the rest of the conference. Overall, the Wolverines are now 28-8, having won 24 of their last 29 games. Leadoff man Jason Christian went 4-for-7 with 5RBI and No. 2 hitter Leif Mahler went 4-for-5 with 4RBI. Too many stars man.

3- Rice.
Swept East Carolina with a 7-1 win today at Reckling Park.
With the series sweep, it appears as if the Owls are back on track for their dominance of Conference USA. In my pre-season "64 Things" column I made comment that the Owls would once again go something like 22-2 in CUSA play. After the series loss to Southern Miss, I started to wonder if they would. Now, everything may be back on track for that to happen.


.
THREE DOWN---
1- Texas bullpen
Lost 13-10 vs. Oklahoma State in Austin.
The pen blew another lead and that means that the Horns go 0-3 against the Pokes by a total of five runs. An 8-2 lead evaporated when five pitchers from the UT bullpen allowed eight runs in the final two innings to suffer the sweep. Rebel Ridling goes 3-for-5 with 5RBI to lead Okie State.

2- Duquesne and Central Florida.
The Dukes lost their third straight game to Temple, 9-7 and the Knights were swept away at Marshall.
After going 0-for-3 this weekend, the Dukes drop out of first place in the Atlantic 10 Conference standings and are certainly off my list of turnaround/surprise teams that I had come up with on Thursday. Now when I go on the air on Monday, I can't include them in my Top 5 Surprises list.

And UCF... man. The Knights started out 19-1 this season and looking like world-beaters. But now they've gone just 7-15 since March 19th. Not a good sign.

3- The upsets that were snuffed out for curfew and weather reasons.
Florida State wasn't the only victim of the dumb curfew rule. LSU finished its game with No. 21 Georgia tied at 10 after 12 innings. But at least they got the opportunity to play a full nine innings.

Also, Maryland was in the midst of a huge comeback against the extremely shaky Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech, but was cancelled out by rain. The game was called after five innings due to the wet stuff with Tech winning 9-6. But the Jackets had a 9-zip lead at one point.

.
THE STRUGGLES OF THE UNDER-FUNDED.
While at breakfast at the Hampton Inn I was staying at, I spotted Maryland-Eastern Shore's baseball coach William Gardner at the complementary breakfast (the biscuits and gravy were quite popular with some of the Hawk players, I noticed). The Hawks are playing a three game series at Florida A&M this weekend here in Tallahassee. So I took a few minutes to talk to coach Gardner about his second year at the UMES program.

"Well, things are getting a little better. They're promising me two more scholarships next year and then two more scholarships the year after that. And that makes a big difference."

On the money thing, here's what he said about the small strides in amenities that his team is able to enjoy. "I heard stories around here that before I showed up (two years ago) the team would make trips like these in a couple of vans. Now, we're at least flying down here to play games and staying at nicer hotels. So they're putting more money into our program in different ways."

When I asked him about how the transition has been to all the new guys they've added, since there were only eight players off last year's team that came back for this season. "We have a lot of J.C. transfers and that's been one of the tougher things is getting these guys into the program and to play as a team. And a lot of these guys come here used to winning at the J.C. level - which is the attitude we want them to have. But obviously, it's tough with what we're trying to build here."

The Hawks went on to lose 8-4 at Florida A&M today and dropped all three games against the Rattlers.

The struggle continues. But there are some battles that have been won.


.
THE WORKING DEFINITION OF SERENDIPITY---
Quickly here, unfortunately stitch-heads, I had to skip the post-game comments by both coaches because I had to catch a flight from Tallahassee airport. Well, wouldn't you know, my flight was delayed. Awesome. That caused me to miss my conneting flight from Houston to L.A. More awesome. Then, my flight from Houston to L.A. was ALSO delayed. A trifecta of awesome.

I was getting on the plane, and a basketball coach with his high school team was complaining about being "upgraded" from seat 19C to first class. He wanted to be in the back with his team, not upgraded to first class.

Lo, I quickly piped up, "Umm, I was given seat 19C, but if you want it I'll gladly take that first class seat off your hands if you wanna switch?"

No b.s., the guy really wanted to sit with his team. So instead of an aisle seat with a bunch of teenagers, I got the calming comfort of first class. Ahhhh. Time to finish my column for the night.

.
Tomorrow, I'll include a photo journal of the 1 vs. 2 matchup this weekend.

For now...

G'night.

April 20, 2008

Saturday Statements - FSU punches back, gets Miami to tap out

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.-- Round two of this heavyweight fight goes to Florida State, 9-5.

DickHowserStadium2.jpg
(A stadium record 6,789 fans packed Howser Stadium tonight)

You've gotta give it up to the Seminoles tonight. Coming off the heels of last night's train-wreck 11-4 loss to Miami and then falling behind 4-zip tonight, you could just feel the crowd collectively gasping "Oh boy. Here we go again!"

But the Seminoles got four two-out runs in the bottom of the 3rd inning and then three more runs in the bottom of the 6th to surge back. And then the bullpen boys put on a clinic, limiting the lethal Hurricane bats to one single hit in the final five innings to salt the game away.


Miami- 301 100 000 - 5 9 1
FSU - 004 003 02x - 9 14 1

WP- Jimmy Marshall (4-0)
LP- Enrique Garcia (2-1)
Sv- Ryan Strauss (3)

Top Hitters:
Miami:
- Yonder Alonso, 2-for-3, 1RBI, 1BB
- Adan Severino, 2-for-3, 1RBI, 1HR, 1BB
- Dennis Raben, 1-for-4, 2RBI, 1HR

FSU:
Jason Stidham, 4-for-5, 3RBI, 2doubles
Buster Posey, 2-for-4, 1RBI
Stuart Tarpley, 3-for-4, 1double


Most importantly, this was a big win for the Seminole psyche tonight. Can you imagine what a second straight loss to Miami might have meant? Especially if this one had been the runaway win it looked like the Canes were going to get after their first three innings at the dish.

But FSU scrapped it's way back and added another good win to the long lore of this rivalry. Jason Stidham was a man on fire, getting four hits and three runs batted in to pace the Nole attack.

The game three rubber match will have an interesting pitching matchup. Eric Erickson comes back from injury to take the mound for the Hurricanes and J.C. transfer phenom Elih Villanueva will throw for FSU.

.
SOME NOTES I TOOK AS THE GAME WENT ON---

- Hmmm. Old "mo" still wearing Miami orange.
That's what Florida State fans had to be worried about, seeing the Hurricanes jump out to a quick lead today, on the heels of last night's 11-4 shellacking. FSU's Geoff Parker's opening inning vs. the Canes went:
Strikeout
Single
RBI single
2RBI HR
Flyout
Single
(Wild pitch)
Strikeout

- The three earned runs given up in the first inning to the Hurricanes matched the most runs Geoff Parker had given up in an entire outing in his career.

- The opening base on balls by Seminole lead off hitter Tyler Holt meant that he has reached base safely in all 38 games this season.

- I tell you what, FSU looked dead in the water, down 4-zip after two and a half innings. But they showed a lot of moxie by putting together a two-out rally in the 3rd inning to put itself back in the game with four runs to tie things up.

- It started with Buster Posey's 17th double of the season that knocked in FSU's first run of the game. Two batters later Dennis Guinn ripped a shot down the left field line, scoring a pair. Tony Delmonico tied things up with another wicked shot down the left field line, scoring Guinn with the tying run.

- An off-the-beaten-path player I'm impressed with: Miami LF Adan Severino. Last night, he came in as a late game replacement and hit an absolute screamer that was stabbed by Nole RF Jack Rye. Then, in today's 3rd inning, he grabbed a bouncing ball in the left field corner, turned and Elway'd a throw right to 2B Weeks to nab FSU's speedy leadoff man Tyler Holt at second. Severino also pasted a solo shot home run that was a no-doubter over the right field fence to give The U a 5-4 lead in the 4th.

FSUJackRye.jpg
(FSU right fielder Jack Rye can only watch as Adan Severino's dinger does a flyover)

- Starting pitcher Geoff Parker had a rough go of it tonight. The four innings of work was his shortest outing of his career (previously six innings) and he also gave up the most earned runs (4) of his career. Ouch.

- Oh man, just when I gave Severino some major props he goes and gets picked off of first base, leaning too far.

- With the 8th strikeout of the game (of Miami's Blake Tekotte) here in the 8th inning, the entire home crowd gets a free hot dog from Circle K. Which begs the question, do you really want a free hot dog from Circle K?

- In the 8th inning Rivals.com's Kendall Rogers came up to me and said, "I still think Miami's going to win this game." I actually agreed with him. I just have the feeling that their potent bats are never out of any game. But then again...

- In the bottom of the 8th, Jason Stidham added his fourth hit of the game, a two-run double off the wall in right-center, plating a pair of insurance runs for the Seminoles to make the game 9-5. And another reason Miami didn't make that comeback tonight...

- Ryan Strauss, who just pitched a complete game 5-hitter vs. Florida on Tuesday, gave Coach Martin 2.0 innings of no-hit ball, slamming the door on any comeback hopes for the Hurricanes.

- Coach Mike Martin said of Strauss after the game, "He's a bulldog. And he was hungry tonight. And that was just what this team needed to get a win." What was Strauss' strategy with the Canes? "I just came right at 'em. That's the only way to handle their hitters." Nuff said my man.

- It may be the understatement of the year, but Coach Martin was much happier tonight with his team's effort, bouncing back from last night's debacle. "It was crucial for us to bounce back tonight. That's what made it special for us. It was good to see that we didn't hang our heads or feel sorry for ourselves. We needed a response like this tonight. It's a game we were very fortunate to win."

FSUMikeMartin.jpg
(Coach Mike Martin looked a lot more relaxed in the post-game tonight)


- Coach Martin, "I was pleased with the aggressiveness we showed, on the bases. It was typical Florida State-Miami game. Lots of excitement and a big win for us."

- On his team's pitching. "Jimmy Marshall, John Gast, Ryan Strauss, you have to get that kind of relief pitching to win this kind of game. We're trying to get to the ultimate prize and we know we've got to have solid pitching every night."

- Coach Jim Morris of Miami lamented the lost opportunities. "Well Florida State certainly capitalized on our mistakes, just like we did on theirs last night. Particularly there in the 6th inning when we had momentum going our way, we didn't do a good job of base running, got a runner picked off first. And then we made a few more small mistakes and when you do that, they're going to make you pay."

- Morris, on jumping out big early. "Sure, it's no question it's good to do that and get the crowd quieter right there. But the bottom line is you know the game's not over with this ballpark. Either club is capable of coming back, it's a hitter's ballpark."

- Tonight's 13 strikeouts by Miami batters was the most the Canes have suffered all season.

- A Dick Howser Stadium record 6,789 fans in attendance for tonight's game. Besting the previous night's stadium record of 6,756.


.
Now a quick few thoughts on the national scene in college baseball today.

THREE UP---
1- Charlotte's Rob Lyerly
Three home runs, 19 total bases in 24-6 win over UMass.
Lyerly went 6-for-6 with three bombs, a triple and two doubles on the night as part of a school-record 29 hits for the 49ers. Including two hits in his last two at-bats from Friday's games, Lyerly tied a school mark with eight straight hits. With the win, Charlotte wins its fourth straight A-10 series and takes over the top spot in the standings.

2- The Joy of Carbondale.
Southern Illinois pitcher Shawn Joy five-hits Wichita in Wichita.
SIU looked like the Salukis they were expected to be, smothering the Shockers 3-0 at Eck Stadium. Joy struck out five and didn't walk a single batter in the complete game effort. SIU is now just 4-7 in Valley play and 20-16 overall.

3- Ole Miss.
Won at South Carolina, 5-2.
The Rebs have been another mystery team this season with mass amounts of talent, but only a 24-14 record. Well today, the arms of Drew Pomeranz and Scott Bittle held the awe-inspiring bats of Carolina to just six hits. Though the eight walks is a bit of a concern.

.
THREE DOWN---
1- The SEC needs new game operations managers.
First there's that whole Sunday travel curfew thing where they evidently refuse to start games an hour earlier in order to get complete games in. Then, today, after Friday night's Auburn-Vandy game was halted in the 7th inning because of rain, they decide to play another whole game first (which VU won 8-2) and THEN play the last remaining three innings from Friday's games (which AU won 6-3). Isn't that the opposite order of things here?

2- Georgia Tech's bullpen.
For the second straight night, the Jackets blow a lead at Maryland and fall, this time by a 14-13 count.
Only this time, it was an absolute tank job, allowing the Terps to score nine runs in the 7th, 8th and 9th innings, culminating in Joe Palumbo's 2BRI single to end the game. Call it cruel fate, but Tech is just 1-5 since the death of teammate Michael Hutts.

3- Canisius.
Lost 12-6 and 3-1 vs. Siena.
The feel-good story of the Golden griffs took a turn for the worse today as unassuming Siena came to town and took a pair of games. In the nightcap, the Griffs had a 1-0 lead going into the 7th (and last) inning, but an error, a passed ball, a walk and a trio of hits allowed for the Saints to score three unearned runs to win.

.
SPECIAL (dis)HONORABLE MENTION---
Arizona State loses its first home Pac 10 series since 2005.
Oregon State - 12
Arizona State - 3
Just before I hit the hay tonight, I checked in on this West coast score and, sure enough, the Beavers pull the trick over the once-dominating Sun Devils once again. And I find this hard to believe, but the Beavs held the Devils to just three hits through eight innings. OSU improves its black-and-blue record to 18-12 now. ASU drops to 30-6.

OSUjoeyWong.jpg
(Joey Wong put Oregon State ahead for good with a two-run bomb)

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Okay, I'm dead. Spent the last two hours watching UFC blood-and-bodyshot fighting with Kendall Rogers. Thankfully, there was beer there too.

Hope to catch up with FSU head honcho Mike Martin for a quick Q&A tomorrow before the game.

More on the rubber match from Dick Howser Stadium tomorrow.

G'night

April 19, 2008

Friday First Takes - Errors, Runs and Boos Rain Down on FSU

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.--- I'm not going to say I told you so, but did I not say in my preview to this Miami-Florida State series that the sketchy Seminole defense, the worst in the ACC, was of grave concern coming into tonight's rivalry game with Miami? And guess what was a heavy contributing factor in FSU's 11-4 loss? Three nasty errors in the 10-run 6th inning spelled n-o-l-E doom tonight.

Miami - 000 00(10) 010 - 11 14 2
FSU - 011 020 000 - 4 10 3

MikeMartin&ump.jpg
(Not a lot went right for Mike Martin after the midway point of tonight's 1 vs. 2 game)

WP- Chris Hernandez (6-0)
LP- Matt Fairel (8-1)

Top hitters:
Miami-
Blake Tekotte 2-for-5 2RBI, 2 doubles
Jemile Weeks 3-for-5, 2RBI, double, stolen base (13)
Mark Sobolewski 2-for-5, 2RBI

Florida State-
Jack Rye 3-for-4
Dennis Guinn 1-for-5, 3RBI, HR


FSU had things going great guns early on, getting a run in each of the 2nd and 3rd inning. And things really looked good for the garnet and gold when Dennis Guinn pumped out a fastball off the left field foul pole in the 5th inning to put FSU up 4-zip.

The frenzied crowd was whipped up, the Animals of Section B were loud as Van Halen and the Hurricanes looked a little shaky.

But then fate had to go and ruin things in the 6th inning. To put it bluntly, the wheels fell off. It started off rather harmlessly, with Jemile Weeks singling to left and Yonder Alonso working an 0-2 count to a walk. After Mark Sobolewski struck out, Dennis Raben earned another walk and the bags got packed and things suddenly turned serious.

The bottom half of the Cane lineup stepped up huge, with bases loaded RBI hits by Ryan Jackson, Joey Terdoslavich and Dave DiNatale in succession. That brought out the boo-birds in the once-rabid stadium.

Then, like a lottery winner that lost his ticket, a trio of infield errors brought home three more runs and the crushing blow came from the bat of leadoff man Blake Tekotte, who ping'd a two-RBI double to put the game out of reach. Game. Set. Match. And no love.

Miami added a single run in the 8th, but the drama was gone. The energy had been sucked out. And the crowd had long made its way to the exits.

Now FSU has to look at fixing it's bruised ego and recover quickly. Tomorrow brings the same Hurricane batting order, just waiting for a mistake or two.

Alright Seminoles, time to show what you're made of. No pressure.

WeeksAlonso.jpg
(Jemile Weeks and Yonder Alonso did their usual amount of damage starting the 6th inning onslaught with a single and walk respectively)


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SOME NOTES I TOOK AS THE GAME WENT ON---

- The other night I watched a few innings of the Red Sox-Yankees game and saw Big Papi slappin' backs and Kevin Youklis cheerfully talking at second base with the Yankee middle-infielders. Well, this rivalry tonight is about 10 times as angry as that weak rivalry. I noticed that Jim Morris and Mike Martin didn't shake hands before the game at the home plate meeting with the umps. You guys remember that video replay complaint that FSU made toward Miami down in Coral Gables a few years ago?

- I have to admit, I noticed that the Hurricanes went 4-up, 3-down in the 1st inning against Matt Fairel but that they hit him pretty hard each time. Right on the nose, yet, right at people.

- FSU came out aggressive, having five of their first 12 batters making contact off the first pitch. Despite this aggressive approach, it seemed like the Seminole hits early on were all seeing eye singles or infield Baltimore chops.

- With his 4th inning single, FSU leadoff man Tyler Holt has now reached base in all 37 games so far this season.

- When Seminole 1B Dennis Guinn hit a two-run yard call in the bottom of the 5th inning, it marked just the second home run given up by Hurricane starter Chris Hernandez this season.

- The nine hits by FSU was the most hits in a game that Hernandez had given up so far this season. His previous high this year was seven, surrendered three times.

- In the 6th inning, when Miami was in the middle of scoring three straight RBI singles, Coach Martin finally sent reliever Jimmy Marshall out of the dugout and down to warm up in the bullpen. The FSU fans gave a mock-cheer for finally making the move.

- Two batters later, after a two-run double to Blake Tekotte, Martin finally made the walk to the mound and got an even louder mock-applause. I felt bad for starter Matt Fairel, though he did get a nice ovation on his way to the dugout.

- Wanna know the most shocking thing about it? When Mike Martin walked back to the dugout after making the move to Jimmy Marshall, you could actually hear the FSU fans booing here and there.

- Then, once inside the dugout, Fairel was sitting on the bench and Martin crouched down and got nearly nose-to-nose with him, reading him the riot act for some reason. Aye-yaye-yaye!

- FSU came into the game as the worst fielding team in the ACC at .955. Sure enough, the fielding bugaboo came back to bite the Noles in the keister tonight. In that fateful 6th inning where Miami scored 10 runs, there were three errors recorded, two on 1B Dennis Guinn, and another pair of singles that bounded off of Seminole gloves and into the outfield.

- For the Miami portion of the 6th inning:
10 runs
6 hits
3 errors
And a lot of hurt egos.
Last time an opponent scored double digits in a single inning against Florida State:
- vs. Clemson, May 13, 2004. The Tigers scored 11 runs in the second inning as part of an 18-9 CU win.

- Before the 8th inning the p.a. pumped out Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" as has become so popular at games these days. But even after the inning started, the Animals of Section B kept singing the song on their own.

FSUanimalsSecB.jpg
(The Animals of Section B were in top form tonight... for a while)

- My favorite chant by the Animals of Section B?:
"A-C-C, another crappy call! A-C-C, another crappy call!" As Bill Murray said to his girlfriend at the beginning of Stripes, it's a little cute.

- The Seminoles struck out a total of 13 times in the game. That's the highest number of Ks they've suffered in one game this season.

- After the team's post-game meeting in left field, the Miami players huddled together and started jumping up and down chanting something (sounded like "a-roo, a-roo, a-roo") and then broke it up by yelling "Omaha!" in unison.

- Tonight's loss broke the Seminoles' 11-game win streak.


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A QUICK THREE UP---
1- Oregon State.
For scoring five runs in the top of the 9th to win at Arizona State

2- Florida Gulf Coast.
Won a pair of games at pre-season favorite Jacksonville, 5-1 and 4-1, to improve to 28-12 and 18-5 in the A-Sun, solidifying their first place standing.

3- Kentucky's Sawyer Carroll and Collin Cowgill.
The two SEC studs went a combined 5-for-6 with five runs scored and five RBI and also started a 5-run rally in the bottom of the 8th to beat Florida 11-7 in come-from-behind fashion.

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A QUICK THREE DOWN---
1- Florida State's implosion.
Not just the defensive errors, but the hits that actually tipped off the gloves of their infielders and the base-running errors that had Mike Martin Jr. breathing fire out of his third base coaches box. Not a lot went right for the Seminoles in the last half of tonight's game.

2- The Missouri Valley Conference for not getting a single 9-inning game in today.
Four games were suspended or postponed due to weather and the last one, between Wichita State and expected Valley contender Southern Illinois only went seven inning because of the mercy rule. WSU won 10-0.

3- Eastern Time Zone.
It's now 2am here in Tallahassee and I'm not even tired yet.


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A QUICK REPORT FROM THE 10 PLACES I'D WANT TO BE THIS WEEKEND---
1-
Miami - 11
FSU - 4
Wasn't so much the "place to be" after all. That 6th was one ugly inning for the Seminole defense. But the good part is that we'll see what FSU is made of in the next two games of this weekend.

2-
Mississippi - 2
So. Carolina - 6
The grand slams just keep coming for the Gamecocks. This time it was James Darnell, providing his second slammy and 13th home run overall of the season. Mike Cisco did his part, holding the Rebs to one run in 6.2 innings of work. Now, can SoCar keep the good pitching going all weekend?

3-
Oregon State - 6
Arizona State - 4
Damn! Don't count out the Beavers yet. OSU scores five runs in the top of the 9th to lay just the second home loss on the Sun Devils this season. Mike Stutes gives up just three hits in 7.2 innings of no-decision work. Brett Wallace and Ike Davis go a combine 1-for-7. Nice work Beavs. They improve to 17-12. ASU is now 30-5.

4-
ECU - 3
Rice - 10
The Owls may just be ready to put the rest of C-USA on notice that this is STILL their house. Adam Zornes gets four hits and three ribbies to guide the Owl O to the win. This may be a case where T.J. Hose is losing his touch, he takes the loss for the Pirates and falls to 2-4 on the season. Remember, he's the same guy that pitched ECU to wins over Michigan, Pepperdine and Cal State Fullerton in 2006.

5-
OSU - 2
Texas - 1 (11inns)
Give props to Texas tonight. If a Missouri team that hits .305 could hang 31 and 13 on the Horns, I was expecting the worst when the Big 12's best hitting team came to town. But UT's Chance Ruffin held the Pokes to just six hits and one run in 10.0 innings of work. Yet, in the end, the Horns dropped their third Friday night game in four weeks.

6-
Elon - 15
CofC - 14
Talk about white knuckle, panic time. The Phoenix rose... and then almost got burned in the end. Elon goes into the bottom half of the 9th inning with a 15-8 lead but bumbles its way to nearly getting beat. The Cougars Michael Harrington supplied a three-run bomb that cut the score to a single run, but CofC could muster no more.

7-
Notre Dame - 8
W. Virginia - 4
While UND's David Mills and Greg Sherry combined for five hits and four ribbies on the night, the .400+ hitting trio of Tyler Kuhn, Joe Agreste and Jedd Gyorko went just 2-for-12. Nice Friday road win for the improving Irish (24-9-1). WVU falls to 27-10.

8-
Stanford - 4
UCLA - 1
I don't even have to know anything more than this one stat from the game: Bruin pitchers walked nine Stanford batters. Damn. The first four batters of the game went: walk, walk, RBI single and 2RBI double. It's lights out from there.

9-
Duquesne - 4
Temple - 5
It didn't look good early on, as the Owls gave up a home run on the third pitch of the game and fell behind 4-1 after the Dukes half of the 3rd. But Temple's three bullpenners held DU hitless, including another save for Arshwin Asjes (his 6th this year) as Temple came back to win.

10-
Texas A&M - 2
Baylor - 1
Aggies are hitting their stride now, winning a school-best 10 straight conference games with tonight's W. Get this, the winning run came around when Darby Brown (which sounds the like the star of his own sit-com) was plunked with the bases loaded in the 8th inning. A&M improves to 31-7 and 13-3. The Bears are limping at 23-15 and 8-8.


DickHowserStadium.jpg
(An awesome crowd of 6,756 were at tonight's game)
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STADIUM REVIEW---
Dick Howser Stadium.
The Good-
- Stadium-styled seats all around the grandstand. No bench seating, except in the gen ad bleachers down each line.
- Lots and lots of shaded areas to sit. Most of the grandstand, in fact, is under the overhang.
- Don't know if they need to have it that short, but a unique right field fence, with a short-porch of 320 feet, but with a 30 foot fence.
- The mesh netting behind home plate is very easy on the eyes and easy to see through.
- Good sound system. Not too loud, but certainly not one that makes you wonder what the p.a. man just said.
- Impressive outer brick facade is a high-quality look. The stadium looks impressive from outside the gates as well.

The Bad-
- About that mesh netting. It's good, but there is way too much of it. It covers the entire grandstand. There should be some easier sightlines without netting. And there certainly shouldn't be netting overhead all the way down each foul line!
- The bleachers down each line should be more angled toward home plate. But that's a complaint I make about a lot of stadiums. Why have ANY grandstand or bleacher facing the outfield?
- The tall wall behind home plate. Like a lot of places have, there's a near-10 foot wall from the bottom of the backstop to the stands. Sort of like Ohio State's. And I'm just not a fan of that. Gimme Georgia Tech's old wall-less backstop.
- The grass didn't look to be in very good shape, particularly around and behind home plate. Outfield didn't look bad though.
- The short porch in right field is kind of fun, but then you realize there's no real reason for it to be there. There's no building it's buttressed up against or immovable parking structure or anything. It's just a short fence for the sake of having a short fence.

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More tomorrow from Dick Howser Stadium. I should also tell you that tomorrow, College World Series tickets go on sale to the general public. But by the time you read this, they'll probably already be sold out. Ha ha.

G'night
(If I can finally get to sleep)

April 18, 2008

Thursday Thoughts - Giving props to the Old Man

I've gotta hand it to my father. There are three things my old man told me that really stuck with me.

1- "Don't be boring."
Anybody can be boring. Think differently.

2- "Just wear jeans and t-shirt."
When you look back at pictures 15 to 20 years later, what you're wearing won't be half as embarrassing as that of other people.

and 3- "You should go to those College World Series games. It's a good event for the city."

So, implanted at an early age, I've got my pops to thank for getting me to this stage of addiction to college baseball. Thanks dad.

CWStickets'76.jpg
(I went through books and books of these things as a kid, it was like adding sugar packets to Mountain Dew for me)

As weird as it sounds, growing up in Omaha, there were numerous times that pops would take me and a couple of my friends and drop us at Rosenblatt at 10am and then come back and pick us up at 11pm when the day's games were through. See, back in those days, they would play three, sometimes four games in a day (back when it wasn't all about making money and dragging this damn tournament out for two weeks). So we would zoo around the stadium all day and take in games while we were at it.

Bad parenting? Sure. But again, it forged this college baseball thing so strongly into my brain that I can't shake it now as an adult.

Well, now my father lives in Pensacola, Florida where, like everyone else in the panhandle, he bakes in the... er, I mean, basks in the sun every spring. And since the panhandle of Florida also hosts the biggest matchup of the 2008 college baseball season so far, I thought I'd hop a few planes so that I could share a few beers with him, swap some old Omaha stories and also drag him out with me to some games over in Tallahassee.

It's No. 1 vs. No. 2. Miami vs. Florida State. Almost as big as those games we used to go to in June at Rosenblatt Stadium. I just hope I can escape getting caught by stadium security at Dick Howser Stadium just like I used to at the 'Blatt.

And did I tell you about the old College World Series luncheon? That was something they used to do every Friday on the first day of games. All eight teams would gather at this giant ballroom downtown, along with hundreds of media, dignitaries and NCAA personnel and Jack Payne would be the emcee, introducing each of the teams one-by-one to resounding applause. My father used to check me out of school early on that day and take me downtown to the big pre-games gala event.

Of course, the weird thing about it all was that here they were, all eight teams, having a huge steak and potatoes meal and everything, and at 4pm that same day, two of the teams were going to be taking the field after eating a large banquet meal. Oh well, players were tougher back then anyway. And, as I experienced, parenting was a little questionable too. But I turned out alright. (Didn't I?)


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TEN PLACES I WOULD WANT TO BE THIS WEEKEND---
Including one big place I will be at.

1- No. 1 Miami at No. 2 Florida State.
This is the working definition of a no-brainer.

Can. Not. Wait.

Never been to FSU for a game, so this will be an experience. Are the Animals of Section B still around? Guess I'll find out. Lots of eye-popping offensive stars in this one. I've been able to see the likes of Jemile Weeks (.403), Blake Tekotte (.390) and Yonder Alonso (.358) - couldn't be more impressed. But I have never seen Buster Posey (.478), Tony Delmonico (.363) or Jack Rye (.374) in person, only on televised games. That's gonna be so damn cool it's not even funny.

Lots of improved pitching for both sides. Soph Matt Fairel (8-0, 2.38) and J.C. transfer Elih Villanueva (4-0, 3.33) have proven to be solid studs and Ryan Strauss (5-0, 4.34) just got through pitching a complete game in Tuesday's win over Florida - though that does make me wonder about his availability, or effectiveness, for this weekend. The Canes counter with a bit more balance on the staff, led by ace Chris Hernandez (5-0, 2.77). But the part I like about The U is that their bullpen seems a bit more stout, with Kyle Bellamy (5-0, 0.65 in 27.2 inns) and Carlos Gutierrez (2-0, 2.96, 8svs) providing quality relief. And believe me, this series will use a good bit of relievers.

Elsewhere, the matchup seems pretty even.
Records:
Miami: 31-3, 15-1
FSU: 33-3, 17-1

Batting average:
Miami: .344
FSU: .352

Team ERA:
Miami: 3.78
FSU: 3.53

Home runs:
Miami: 55
FSU: 52

Here's the interesting part in looking at these two teams:

Stolen Bases:
Miami: 69 of 85
FSU: 39 of 57

Fielding Percentage:
Miami: .977 (1st in the ACC)
FSU: .953 (last in the ACC)

So you see that Miami not only has a tendency to blast the ball all over the park, and beyond, but they also love to give the opposing team the heeby-jeebies. Pressure. Pressure. Pressure. And the Seminoles have shown to be a little shaky in the fielding department. So keep that in mind as the games drag on to the 7th, 8th and 9th innings, one of these teams seems to crack more often. I'm giving the edge to the Hurricanes because of it.

Hmmm. Now that I think of it, the three-gamer is completely sold out. Wonder how the old man's gonna get in? Ah, no worries, he once got into a sold out Nebraska football game using a woman's student I.D. when I was a kid. He'll make it in.

2- No. 23 Mississippi at No. 9 South Carolina.
You'd think that this is a matchup of the Rebel arms against the Cock bats. And it's true, Ole Miss leads the SEC with a 3.39ERA and 352Ks and the Gamecocks lead the SEC with an intimidating 70 home runs (.308 team average). Reb starters Lance Lynn and Scott Biddle are two of the top three in Ks in the conference with 65 and 71 punchouts respectively. But like Miami above, I like the fact that the Cocks also field at an SEC-best .977. That's good to know going late into games.

3- Oregon State at No. 3 Arizona State.
The Devils already beat the stew out of the Beavers in an early season game 11-0. Also, remember how ASU won all three games up in Corvallis last May, holding the Beavs to just four runs in those games? Edge still goes to the Sun Devils, who are breathing a sigh of relief over finally playing at home again. (Home record: 27-1. Road record: 3-3.)

4- No. 26 East Carolina at No. 7 Rice.
Once again, here's where the Pirates can prove their worth AND start to state a claim for a home regional, which they so desperately want. Let's do the math here, ECU beat Southern Miss in Hattiesburg, two games to one. Rice lost to USM at home two games to one. So, that extrapolates that the Pirates should beat the Owls this weekend, right? Hmmmm. Saturday's game is on CBS College Sports.

5- No. 15 Oklahoma State at No. 14 Texas.
Talk about two teams going in opposite directions. The Pokes have wins over Missouri and Nebraska over the last two weekends. Texas still has the stigma of the 31-12 and 13-3 losses at Mizzou. Plus, did I read right that Kyle Russell is hitting something like .228 or so? Aye-yaye! Have to love what transfers Matt Hague (.359) and Luis Flores (.317) have brought to the Okie State lineup. Have to like their chances in Austin here too.

6- Elon at College of Charleston
The Phoenix got off to a hot start at 19-3, but have hit the skids lately with three straight losses, including getting their ears boxed against Coastal Carolina, 12-0 on Wednesday. Meanwhile, CofC comes in off a pair of hometown wins over Charlston Southern, 5-2 and 4-2. With the Phoenix in 1st at 12-3 and the Cougars in 3rd at 8-4, this will go a long way in deciding the Southern Conference title.

7- Notre Dame at West Virginia.
The Irish have come on lately and are now tied atop the Big East standings, a place they haven't been to in a long time. So Dave Schrage seems to finally have his four-leaf clover going in South Bend. For WVU, I'm rubbing my eyes here, according to the NCAA stats, five Mountaineers are hitting .400+. Five! Among those are SS Tyler Kuhn, who is living up to billing, hitting .438, along with sweet swinging C Justin Parks at .402 and hot frosh Jedd Gyorko at .422.

8- No. 25 Stanford at UCLA
This might be do-or-die time for the Bruins, who are just 18-14 after being a pre-season No. 1 and in danger of being banished to the bottom of the Pac 10. The Trees are tied with Arizona State (who they beat two out of three) at the top of the Pac at 6-3. They rally their offense behind the sizable bat of Sean Ratliff, who has clubbed 10 home runs and has a slugging percentage of .791.

9- Duquesne at Temple.
Hard to believe this is a battle between 1st (DU at 10-2) vs. 3rd (TU at 8-4) in the Atlantic 10, but here we are. All nine starters in the DU lineup hit .300 or better. Meanwhile, Matt Ortega leads the weak Owl bats (.274) with a .314 mark. But I like the arm combo of Matt Mongiardini (5-2, 2.03) and reliever Arshwin Asjes (0-0, 1.64, 5svs) for the Cherry and White.

10- No. 8 Texas A&M at Baylor
One of the best venues in the country sees the hot-handed A&M Aggies bring their Top 10 nine to struggling Baylor. The Brazos River rivalry probably holds more importance for the Bears, if only because they are one of the mystery teams in college baseball this season. So much talent, but BU is only 23-14 and 8-7 in Big 12 play. A&M leads the circuit at 12-3.


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MY MID-YEAR TOP FIVE LISTS---
The other day, the boys over at CBS College Sports Tonight - the nightly Sports Center-type show dedicated to nothing but college sports, which I think is so cool and is hosted by Greg Amsinger and Adam Zucker - asked me to put together some Top Five lists for baseball that they could run each night this week with me over the phone. So this is what I came up with. I'm sure they're not totally agreeable to all of you, but you can't please everyone.

So here they are, and let the arguing begin... riiiiiiight, NOW!

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Golden Spikes Player of the Year:
1- Ike Davis, ASU
Went with Davis because of his value on offense and on the mound, where he's 4-0, 1.22 with three saves for the depleted pen of the Devils.
2- Gordon Beckham, Georgia
Been the main reason the Dawgs are back in the national and SEC picture.
3- Aaron Crow, Missouri
Just third? Yeah, I know, he could be a No. 1. He's been totally bad-ass, tossing out no-hitters like their comp'd rooms in Vegas for partying rap stars.
4- Brian Matusz, San Diego
USD has had some rough spots, but not with the intimidating lefty, who is 7-1, 1.99 with 80Ks.
5- Randy Moley, St. Bonaventure
A wild card at No. 5 (sorry Buster Posey), but anyone who is hitting .561 with .600 on-base % is nails in my book.

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Top Hitters:
1- Gordon Beckham, UGa
Yes, he's been a better hitter than Davis, and against a good schedule too, going .432-16-40.
2- Ike Davis, ASU
It was his invaluable combo of pitching and hitting made him #1 in my POY list.
3- Randy Moley, St. Bonaventure
Again, I love the mid-major guys that put up ridiculous numbers and that's a recipe that "Holy Moley!" has cooked up this season.
4- Buster Posey, Fla. State
What an athlete! Played Shortstop as a frosh and is a catcher now. Also has four saves on the mound too.
5- Ollie Linton, UC Irvine
Only a .333 average, but does so many things well with the bat. Bunts, sacrifices, hits behind runners. Plus he's stolen 24 bases already this season

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Top Pitchers:
1- Aaron Crow, Missouri
Had a string of four straight shutouts prior to Texas coming to Columbia last weekend. Still, 8-0, 2.05 with 71Ks. Damn, that's good.
2- Brian Matusz, USD
Has gone pitch-for-pitch with Crow against a murderous slate. Should be a great pro player soon.
3- Stephen Strausburg, San Diego State
Aaron Fitt calls him the No. 1 pitcher for the '09 draft. Had a complete-game, one-hitter with 23 Ks vs. Utah last week.
4- Joshua Fields, Georgia
This diminutive fire-baller is the main reason the Dawgs are back atop the SEC, he was 1-6 last year. But he's already got 10 saves this year, with 0 earned runs.
5- Scott Gorgen, UC Irvine
He's 6-2 and has only given up an average of five hits per nine innings. Nice work.

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Grades:
(This is a section where they just wanted me to give out various grades on subjects of my choosing, so this is what I came up with.)
1- ACC: A
Miami-FSU are 1 and 2. North Carolina is No. 4. That's gold. But also consider that five of the top 10 in Boyd Nation's RPI rankings are ACC teams. Strong work so far.
2- Pac 10 #1 teams: C-
Arizona, UCLA and ASU were all pre-season No. 1's but the Bruins are just 18-14, UofA is a roller-coaster 22-11 and the Devils finally went on the road and went just 3-3.
3- SEC Schedule makers: D-
Remember last year? Only five SEC teams got NCAA bids, primarily because of weak non-conference slates. Well, other than Georgia's No. 37 ranked schedule, the rest of the conference didn't learn its lesson. Mostly wimpy slates that will come back to haunt them again.
4- Canisius: A
Who would've thought this team would go from 20 wins last year to 28-4 so far this year. Best part? Coach Mike McRae was a former goalie on his college hockey team in Maine. Ya' gotta love a guy with those kind of cajones.
5- Mike Gillespie, coach of UCI: A++
Speaking of shocking, UCI lost its top four hitters, two of three weekend starters on the mound and its head coach. Yet, SoCal coaching vet Gillespie came back from coaching a minor league team on Staten Island and has instilled new confidence in these Anteaters. They are currently the No. 5 in the country.

We also had one more topic to cover, the most improved teams from 2007. But since this feature wasn't slated to run until next Tuesday, I begged them to wait until Monday to do this feature. Because, what if Duquesne or UC Davis goes 0-fer this weekend? Then my analysis of them being a surprise - or on top of their respective conferences - would be dead wrong. So, in order to prove I'm not a total hack, we're going to re-shoot this segment on Monday. We'll see if these teams are still on lock-down mode through this weekend. So here's who I had prior to this weekend...

Most improved teams
1- Georgia
2- Stanford
3- UC Davis
4- Duquesne
5- Canisius
Again, this list may change after this weekend.

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THE (BAD) FASHION OF COLLEGE BASEBALL---
Suffice to say that David Bowie was NOT referring college baseball when he wrote that song about fashion. So here is a quick look at some of the worst uniforms in college baseball, new and old.

BrownUnis.jpg
(The awkward looking brown and candy apple red uniforms of Brown University)

ASUunis2.jpg
(Arizona State broke out these horrid oldies during last year's College World Series. They were from the Barry Bonds early-80s era.)

USCstockBlack.jpg
(A couple of weeks ago in a game against Long Beach State, USC brought back their "Sunday Black" unis from a few years ago. Never liked how schools got to forcing black into their school colors in the last 10 years or so)

PaulMolitor77.jpg
(Ahhhh! The Paul Molitor era solid yellows of Minnesota. This pic is from 1977, though you do have to appreciate the effort of white cleats.)

FSUbananaUnis.jpg
(And quite possibly the worst uniforms in college baseball history are these Florida State banana yellows, from - believe it or not - the late 90s. Just nasty. Made worse with black cleats.)

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ONE LAST HOMAGE TO MY FATHER BEFORE I GO---
Another thing the old man knew pretty well, was good old fashioned rock and roll. So, in light of that, I'm going to re-hash a clip from who I consider to be the greatest rock and roll singer of all time, Little Richard, before he went all religious and quit being cool. Check out this clip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBTakXapwiE

Have a great college baseball weekend. It looks like I might be doing post-game updates from the Miami-Florida State series for the CBS College Sports Tonight show as well. Check 'em out if you can.

G'night.

April 15, 2008

Monday Stuff - The Belated Ouch List From Sunday

And now, with a little bit of adieu, here is the Ouch List for Sunday April 13th:

UCdavidEsquer.jpg
(Cal coach David Esquer, with his Bono-like specs, must have concern about the direction of his team)

The Bears head our list of unfortunate Ouch List members. More

- California.
Result:
Lost two of three at USC. L17-1, L11-5, W13-11.
Why it hurts:
If not for the bloodlettings that Texas suffered at Mizzou, we might be talking about how poorly Cal played this weekend. The pitching staff came in with an ERA just over 3.00, but they looked nothing like that in L.A. this weekend. It might just be one of those weekends though, this team is still way too talented. At least I'm sure that's what David Esquer is hoping.

- Texas.
Result:
Lost two of three at Missouri. No, I mean really LOST two of three, like 31-12 and 13-2.
Why it hurts:
Like a car wreck on the side of the road, you can't help but stare at those two losses where the Longhorn arms gave up 31 and 13 runs to Mizzou. Sure UT won game three in the weekend series (9-2), but what do you think people are going to remember more come selection Monday?

- Kentucky.
Result:
Got swept in three games at Georgia. L3-2, L13-4, L6-4.
Why it hurts:
The Wildcats needed to prove something to all of us this weekend. But the SEC leaders in batting average, team ERA and fielding took it on the chin. I've been pretty harsh on UK so far this season (well... now that I think about it, not really, but I could see where people might think that), but redemption is always just around the corner in SEC play.

- College of Charleston.
Result:
Got swept in three at Furman, L11-9, L5-3, L9-5.
Why it hurts:
A seven game winning streak coming to a screeching halt is the least of the Cougars worries. The Paladins just swept CofC right out of first place in the SoCon, as they entered the weekend at 8-1. The Cougars committed 10 errors and issued 15 walks on the weekend. But a home weekend with new leader Elon may just be the tonic.

- Clemson.
Result:
Got swept at home by North Carolina L8-2, L4-3, L8-4.
Why it hurts:
This just doesn't seem like a Jack Leggett team. The fireballing arm staff got their ego bruised, especially by Heel second baseman Kyle Seager, and has a team ERA of 4.70. But the offense isn't keeping pace either. Only three players are hitting above .300, and a lot of key experienced bats are struggling, including Stan Widmann, who's hitting in the .260 range. CU has now lost nine straight and stand at 18-17 and 6-12 in ACC play.

- Illinois.
Result:
Lost all four games at home to Michigan, L9-5, L14-4, L14-6, L7-4.
Why it hurts:
The Illini had been the surprise of the Big 10 (that torch now passes to Purdue) and had the Maize and Blue coming to their place, right where they wanted them. But the talent of the Wolverines was just too much. Now IU falls from second place to the middle of the pack at 6-6.

- The East Division leaders of the Southland.
Results:
Lamar lost all three at home to Sam Houston State, L14-3, L9-8, L15-12.
Northwestern State lost all three at home to UT-San Antonio, L10-4, L11-9, L12-2.
Why it hurts:
The two Eastern leaders saw first hand how much ground they need to make to keep pace with the toughies in the West. Lamar is the bigger surprise, letting the BearKat bats have their way, especially in the Friday night game which was a run-rule finish in the 8th. NSU has some arm issues too, having now lost five straight and giving up eight runs or more in each loss. Neither team lost their standing in 1st and 2nd place, but both team ERA's ballooned above 5.00 now.

- San Francisco.
Results:
Lost three at Pepperdine, L11-2, L11-10, L8-5
Why it hurts:
Well, that was short-lived. The Dons entered the weekend at the top of the WCC and winners in 13 of their last 14 games (including Ws over Stanford, Fresno State and San Jose State). But Pepperdine brought them back to reality. Eric Thames went 9-for-14 with six RBI to pace the Waves.

- Long Beach State.
Results:
Lost two of three at home to UC Irvine, L10-5, W5-1, L4-1.
Why it hurts:
The 1-9 road trip was one thing, but now losing two of three at home to the Anteaters has really put the Beach behind the eight ball, even though Big West play is only two weeks old. Getting Danny Espinosa - hitting just .287 now - back to early season form is job one to help alleviate the putrid .268 team batting average.

LBdannyEspy.jpg
(Danny Espinosa needs to step up his game a tid bit more to help the Dirtbags excel.

April 14, 2008

Sunday Summations- The "You Gotta Love Sunday Games" Edition

Ahhhh. Sunday baseball. Lots of runs, Lots of defensive lapses. Lots of pitching changes. Lots of pings. Lots of errors. Lots of walks. Lots of throws over to first. Lots of called time outs. And then, a few more pitching changes.

UCSBscoreboard.jpg
(Look at all those crooked numbers. You've gotta love marathon Sunday games.)

Maybe you were at one of those kind of games today. Maybe you saw Cal State Fullerton beat Cal State Northridge 17-15, or saw Texas-Pan Am beat Texas Southern 14-12, or saw Dartmouth beat Brown 16-14, or saw the double-header treat where Northern Illinois beat Akron 14-11 and 14-10, or saw Northern Iowa beat Illinois State 24-7, or at the Texas A&M Corpus Christi win at Stephen F. Austin 19-16 or at any of the games in the SWAC, where all five contests went into double digits (well, actually, Alcorn State owes every one in the league a beer for being the only team NOT to score 10 or more, losing to Alabama State 11-7).

I was lucky enough to be in attendance to see who would take over the lead in the Big West standings between UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara, up the coast in Goleta. Oh then there's the addition of unseasonably hot temperatures, even in pleasantly cool coastal Santa Barbara.

.
WHAT I SAW AT UC SANTA BARBARA TODAY---

UCD - 013 005 022 05 - 18 21 1
UCSB- 300 101 701 01 - 14 21 1

Let's see, there's UCLA, UC Irvine, UC Berkeley, even UC Riverside. When it comes to college baseball success in the UC system, UC just about everybody else BUT UC Davis. But the landscape may be changing in the Big West, because with today's win, the Aggies have now climbed to the top of the standings where UC teams like Fullerton, Long Beach and Irvine below them.

But when it comes to today's game at Cesar Uyesaki Stadium, one thing is certainly true, the offenses for both UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis were certainly as hot as the weather. The two Big West leaders combined for 32 runs and 42 hits in a game that included seven lead changes, went 11 innings and an SPF-bending four hours and 10 minutes. And as any fan at a broiling hot baseball game will appreciate, there were 11 pitchers used in the game.

Ultimately, it was those over-achieving Aggies that rallied for three runs in the 8th and 9th innings and then buried the Gauchos with five runs in the 11th to break the game open.

The biggest bats of the day belonged to the top of the Aggie order:
1- Ryan Royster: 2-for-6 with 4RBI
2- Ty Kelly: 4-for-7 with 2RBI
3- Jake Jefferies: 5-for-7 with 6RBI

But five-hole hitter Ryan Scoma may have been the most clutch batter of the game, gathering four ribbies in his three hits on the day.

UCDTyKelly.jpg

UCDTyKelly2.jpg
(UC Davis' Ty Kelly comes in for landing with the go-ahead run in the 11th inning)

After getting picked 9th out of nine teams in the pre-season Big West poll, Davis has quietly toiled in anonymity as the Northernmost school in the SoCal heavy conference. But at 5-1 in conference play and 23-11 overall, it's time to take a look at the Aggies when talk turns to conference contenders.

UCD owns wins over Fresno State, Washington State and Stanford as its marquee Ws, but it certainly has big tests still ahead as the Ags will play at Cal State Fullerton in two weeks and follow that up by hosting Long Beach State in the first weekend in May.

So UC, you're now under the microscope Davis. Let's see how you under the big lights.


Now on to other things nationally.


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THREE UP---
1- CST... er, I mean, CBS College Sports choosing to show the Army-Navy game today.
The two All American pitchers - Army's Cole White and Navy's Mitch Harris - put on a clinic in Annapolis. White got the W (strangely, just his first of the season) by tossing a complete game 1-hitter with 6Ks and 5BBs. Harris was no slouch, going 7.2 (it was a scheduled 7-inning game), striking out seven and giving up just three hits in getting his first loss of the season.

ArmyColeWhite.jpg
(Cole White reverted to his All American form of 2006 today on the mound)


2- Stanford.
Won 6-3 at Oregon State.
How 'bout this? Ugly ole Stanford, with their old-school pullover jerseys and wart-like 17-11 record, now lead the Pac 10 (well, technically tied with Arizona State, but the Trees did beat the Devils two out of three.). Plus, just give SU plaudits for being a clutch team and winning a series in Corvallis to begin with. Coach Mark Marquess said, "We've been able to play very well this season, particularly when there is a lot on the line." Jeffery Inman improved to 5-0 with his fourth straight Sunday victory.

3- Texas A&M.
Beat Oklahoma 12-2 in a run-ruled game.
With the three game sweep of OU, A&M has finally put to rest that whole Northern Colorado snafu to start the season and have ascended to first place in the Big 12. The Aggies win today marked the third straight Big 12 weekend sweep and runs their win streak to 13 games. Clayton Ehlert threw A&M's first complete game of the season, improving to 5-2 on the season.

.
THREE DOWN---
1- Washington State.
Lost to No. 3 Arizona State 16-13.
It's not that the Cougars lost, but HOW they lost. Wazzu had a chance to hand ASU its second straight road series loss, but surrendered eight runs to the Devils in the 9th inning. So a 13- 8 lead quickly became a 1-2 series loss. Special mention to ASU's Ike Davis, who was monstrous today. The No. 3 hitter went 4-for-6 with 7RBI, including a double and two home runs. As if that wasn't enough, Davis also picked up the win on the mound with 2.2 innings of work to improve to 4-0 on the season.

2- The Great Pretenders
Georgia Tech, Clemson and Kentucky all finished getting swept this weekend.

Tech, you can totally understand that. They hosted top-ranked Miami and dealt with the loss of a fallen teammate. No shame there. I think we'll see the Jackets back in the ACC discussion before long.

Clemson hosted No. 4 North Carolina, but today's 8-4 loss saw 2B Kyle Seager continue to rake the Tiger arms, going 3-for-5 with 3RBI, including another double and another home run in a hot weekend.

Kentucky played decent, losing a one-run game and today's two-run game (6-4). But today the Cats could only manage four hits, this from a team that came into the weekend hitting .350.

3- Charlotte.
Lost to Xavier 10-9.
The 49ers allowed the X-men to score six runs in the 8th and 9th innings combined to lose the series two games to one. Keep in mind this is a Charlotte team that came into the weekend 26-5 and with wins over South Carolina and Wake Forest.


.
WHAT'S NEXT? HARVARD WINS A NATIONAL TITLE IN BASEBALL?
You have to love being a sports fan in Boston these days. The Red Sox, the Patriots, the Celtics, all their teams seem to be in title contention. Even Boston College football team had a great season and was ranked at No. 2 in November. Well, now we get the BC hockey team winning the national title at the Frozen Four in Denver this weekend. The good thing about the Eagles winning it was that this was their third straight trip to the title game, but first win in those trips.

BChockeyTitle.jpg
(BC head coach Jerry York hoists the national championship trophy surrounded by a bunch of screamin' Eagles)


.
I have to cut this Sunday Summations a little bit short, because of the length of the drive to Santa Barbara (and the length of the game itself). So I tell you what, we'll save the weekend Ouch List for Monday. Hope you don't mind.

G'night.

April 13, 2008

Saturday Statements - Long Beach runs down UC Irvine and other tall tales

EspinosaRundown.jpg
(Danny Espinosa and the Long Beach State Dirtbags kept No. 7 UC Irvine on the run today)

The Dirtbags aren't dead yet. In fact, they looked a lot like the Dirtbags of old today. Scrapping, scratching, huffing and hustling their way to a workman-like come-from-behind 5-1 win over No. 7 UC Irvine here at Blair Field today. The win evens the weekend series between to SoCal rivals, improving the 16th-ranked Beach to 19-13 and 2-3. UCI drops to 22-6 and 4-4.

On a blistering (by Southern California standards) 94 degree day, Dirtbag hurler Vance Worley went the distance, holding the Anteaters to eight hits, one run and issuing just a single free pass. More than anything, he looked as smooth as Billy Dee Williams in doing so. I think UCI play-by-play man Mark Roberts said it best, when in the 9th inning he remarked, "Worley is pitching confidently, slowly and smoothly today."

"The heat was a little tough, but I felt good out there. The adrenaline was definitely flowing." Worley remarked. "I was mostly keeping my fastball down, working it in and out and then throwing my slider. I threw a few curve balls, but that was it."

LBVanceWorley.jpg
(Sometimes LB Saturday starter Vance Worley throws so hard his specs come flying off)

Worley kept the Beach together even after Irvine had taken a 1-zip lead on an Ollie Linton single that scored Dillon Bell, who had just got a leadoff single to start the 7th. After "Take me out to the ballgame" was sung, the Dirtbags went to work, scoring five runs, all with two outs, to put the game out of reach. The key hit came off of light-hitting T.J. Middlestedt, who laced an RBI triple that proved to be the winning run.

Despite the huge win, head coach Mike Weathers wasn't ready to proclaim that his Long Beach nine was officially "back" just yet, but did acknowledge it's been a tough time lately for his Dirtbags. "It's just one of those things that when things are going bad, like on that screamer that (Jason) Corder hit that cost us two runs, you just think to yourself 'oh boy.' But those things, like the two-out hits, just haven't been happening. I'm proud of them, they've been going through a rough time but they've hung in there. We're working hard on things, so it's not been from a lack of effort."

When asked about his teams confidence, Weathers responded defiantly with "I don't think confidence is an issue. All the effort is put in and all the hard work is there. We don't talk about a lack of confidence. That's for sure."

Game three in the series is set for Sunday at 2:30 PT. Catch it on the CBS College Sports network.


.
THREE UP---
1- Duh... Missouri
Beat Texas 13-2.
This list is written with the knowledge that everyone here knows that Missouri's two-day blitzkrieg of Texas is so out of this world, I don't believe they're human any longer. I mean, 45-14 in two games? Even MU's football coach would be tickled Pinkell with those results. Today MU's Kyle Gibson and Scooter Hicks combined to hold UT to six hits and struck out 12. There were so many offensive stars in the Tiger lineup, I can't even go into them all without boring the reader.

2- North Carolina.
Won both ends of a double-header at Clemson 8-2 and 4-3.
You'll never catch me talking about the Tar Heels as a team that can't get it done on the road. Doug Kingsmore Stadium is one of the toughest places in the country to play, and they just took two straight from the Tigers in their den. The first game was the completion of a suspended game from yesterday and game two was a gut check win where the Tigers had the tying run at second base when the game ended. The Heels also laced the first loss on CU's Graham Stoneburner with the help of Kyle Seager's three-run bomb in the first inning.

3- Oklahoma State.
Beat Nebraska 19-2.
Other than the Mizzou Tigers, the Cowboys may be putting together the best weekend of baseball (although I hear your arguments Georgia and USC). Every starter in the Cowboy nine had at least two hits today, with Rebel Ridling hitting his team-best eighth yard call of the season. But as I think of it, a guy by the name of "Rebel" SHOULD lead his team in dingers. Anyway, I digress, in two games so far against the Bugeaters, Andrew Oliver and Tyler Lyons have held them to nine hits, two runs, with 15 strikeouts and not a single walk as they've thrown a pair of complete games.


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THREE DOWN---
1- Duh... Texas.
Lost at Missouri 13-2.
Man. I find this really hard to believe. The Longhorns were one of my "8 for The O in 08" but that ship is quickly sinking. Did Augie take a sabbatical that I didn't hear about? The pitching is in a sling and the fielding is limping along like it's got a peg leg. Augie needs to channel his inner Zen with these boys.

2- Kentucky.
Lost at Georgia 13-4.
So far this season, the Bat Cats are now 26-7 overall after today's loss. They're 21-0 against the tomato cans on the schedule and 5-7 against the good teams on their schedule. Let's hope this doesn't turn into 2007 all over again. Here's a look at the UK batting order going into today's game. Seven of the nine batters are left handed hitters.

UKbattingOrder.jpg
(As you see from this TV graphic from today's Georgia game, not a single UK batter came into today with a batting average less than .300. But facing the Bulldog arms was a lot different than the teams they've faced so far.)


3- Georgia Tech choosing to play today.
Lost to Miami 10-5 and 15-5.
I understand the Jacket players wanting to get back out on the field after the tragic death of pitcher Michael Hutts, but I feel bad they had to play a juggernaut like the Hurricanes this weekend. Because you have to figure their minds were on other things today besides playing baseball against the nation's No. 1 team. But this is one of those things that could galvanize a team for the remainder of the season, so you have to believe Tech will be back. And that right soon.


.
MEA CULPA---
To Army-Navy and Harvard-Yale.
Thinking twice about it, if I had to re-write my top 10 places to be this weekend, these two series would certainly be in there. It doesn't matter what sport, these are two of the best rivalries in all of collegiate athletics. So add Annapolis, Maryland and New Haven, Connecticut to the list of places I'd love to go this weekend. And get that Lear Jet warmed up too.

Speaking of the rivals:
Army - 14
Navy - 3
After a 20-10 start, the Midshipmen have now lost four straight, including two straight Patriot League games and have lost first place to Holy Cross. You can see these two on CBS College Sports on Sunday.

Harvard - 1 12
Yale - 6 2
Harvard picked up just its third win of the season today. Ironically, the three wins have been remarkably well played, as the Crimson has allowed only four runs total in those three games.


.
HOW I KNOW I SHOULD BE PUT IN CHARGE OF WHICH GAMES GET TELEVISED---
At noon today, I was scanning the channels on DIRECTV and here were the three college baseball games that were on TV:

- Big 10 Network: Iowa at Indiana
- Comcast Sports: Virginia Tech at Wake Forest
- Fox Sports: Texas Tech at Kansas

So, in other words we got:
- 5th vs. 10th place battle in the Big 10
- 8th vs. 12th place game in the ACC and the
- 2nd-to-last vs. last place game in the Big 12

C'mon TV execs, even in late January you've got to be able to look at a schedule of games and have SOME clue as to who will probably be good and who probably won't at that time of the season.


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THE THING I LIKE ABOUT INDIANA---
It's slowly but surely getting a bit more in vogue, but I can't help but like the looks of a team that wears white cleats.

IndianaWhiteShoes.jpg
(There just aren't enough white cleats in college baseball today. But IU ended up losing a pair of games on the Big 10 Network today to Iowa, 12-11 and 13-10.)


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DID THEY really HAVE TO PLAY?---
Wichita State - 3
Creighton - 7
Dammit Mother Nature, knock it off!
The Jays and Shockers played a 6pm game at Rosenblatt tonight with a gametime temperature of 34 degrees to go along with North winds at 15 miles per hour. It's freakin' April people. Overcoming snowy conditions and cold temps, the Bluejays scored four times in the 8th inning to improve to 23-8 overall and 7-3 in MVC play. Side note: Creighton leads the nation with 47 sac bunts on the season.


.
DP IS HOT, AND WE DON'T MEAN DOUBLE PLAY HERE---
Cal - 5
USC - 11
Check out USC's Derek Perren so far this weekend.
He's gone 6-for-9 with 8RBI in two blowout wins over No. 17 California.
The stocky first baseman came into the weekend hitting .351, but has been breathing through his eyelids this weekend so far. Perren has been the biggest reason that the Trojans are back to showing signs of life again with a pair of wins over the former Pac 10 leaders with clutch hits. USC has now gone 7-1 since the beginning of April, improving to 18-15 and 6-5.


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HOME TEAM SUCKS---
Every home team in the America East conference lost on Saturday.
The only home team to actually come out on top was Binghampton, who split a double-header with UMBC, winning game one 13-2, before dropping game two 9-4. Maine lost twice to Albany in Orono, league-leading Stony Brook lost twice at home to Hartford and Vermont won twice at New Jersey Tech.


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OTHER COLLEGE BASEBALL COVERAGE---
Just a quick note here, on my way down to Long Beach today I was able to tune into to the Nebraska-Oklahoma State game on Sirius radio channel 143, just in time to hear announcer Greg Sharpe say, "Well, the Huskers have seemed to have had good fortune, the right bounces and all the breaks so far this season. Today isn't one of those days." Indeed, as the Pokes had the Huskers drawn and quartered to the tune of 19-2 in Stillwater today.

Game three of the series will also be available on Sirius, but on channel 125 instead. Start time is at 2pm Eastern. For those of you who may be traveling and wanting to be listening to some college baseball tomorrow, here are the other games on the slate:
Arkansas at Florida, 1pm, channel 130
Oklahoma at Texas A&M, 2pm, channel 126
Vanderbilt at Miss. State, 2:30pm, channel 122
South Carolina at Auburn, 2:45pm, channel 140
(Keep in mind the SEC games have that stupid Sunday travel curfew so you'll probably only get to listen to seven innings or so).


Alright people. We've only got one more day left to this beauty of a weekend. I may try to get out to the Big West battle for first place between UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara up the coast tomorrow. Then again, I might get lazy and not go anywhere, so go figure.

Gotta hit the hay now.

G'night.

April 12, 2008

Friday First Takes - Cal Makes The Fraud List (for today)

I liked the way Baseball America's Aaron Fitt put it in his preview today, "USC is one of the nation's most difficult teams to get a read on."

Great jiggers of gin, is that ever true! They'll play like Tarzan one day and then like Jane the next. No wonder the Men of Troy came into tonight's game with No. 17 Cal with a record of 16-15. Yet, keep in mind that those 16 wins included Ws over teams like Pepperdine, Arizona, UCLA, San Diego, Cal State Fullerton and road sweeps at Florida International and Winthrop.

However, you can pretty much figure out by the final score of 17-1, that tonight seemed to be one of those Tarzan-type nights.

USCsprinklers.jpg
(About the only thing that stopped USC tonight was the faulty sprinkler system that malfunctioned four times during the game.)

I chose to go to tonight's USC-Cal game because I figured this might be my only chance to see Cal ace Tyson Ross, considered a top rate prospect for the upcoming June draft. But unfortunately, Ross was simply roped time and time again at Dedeaux Field tonight. Consider these factoids:

- Ross had given up just 18 hits in 32 innings so far this season.
Tonight, he gave up 10 hits in 4.0 innings.

- He gave up just seven earned runs all season.
He gave up six earned runs tonight.

- Ross issued just 10 walks in 32 innings.
Tonight, he walked three in 4.0.

- Opponents came into tonight hitting .161 off him.
Tonight, USC hit .476 off him.

- He came in with an unbeaten record.
After this game, he left with a 5-1 mark.

CalTysonRoss.jpg
(I must say, Tyson Ross has one of the most effortless looking motions of any pitcher I've ever seen. But it didn't seem to help him tonight as he had a tough outing at SC.)

Cal - 001 000 000 - 1 5 1
USC- 021 351 14x - 17 22 1

WP- Tommy Milone (5-2)
LP- Tyson Ross (5-1)
Top hitter: Derek Perren, USC, 4-for-5, 4RBI, HR.

The game stood at a relatively uneventful 3-1 in the 4th inning, but that's when Derek Perren asserted himself. The stocky senior first baseman sent a screaming 3-run home run to the putting green beyond the center field fence, turning a ho-hummer into a no-brainer for the Men of Troy. From there, Ross' night was done and the Trojans kept feasting off the Bear bullpen.


USCDerekPerren.jpg
(Perren sees the welcoming committee from Grant Green and Nick Buss after his three-run homer put the game out of reach tonight)

Besides Perren, starting pitcher Tommy Milone also had a big night, lasting 7.0 innings and surrendering just five hits and one earned run to the potent Cal bats, who came in hitting .318.

Super Shortstop Grant Green also went 2-for-3 with three ribs and a 5th-inning home run that bounced off the top of the left field fence, further burying the Bears into hibernation.

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NOW ON TO THE DAILY BEST AND WORST---

THREE UP---
1- Jacob Priday, Missouri.
How about this? Four (4) home runs against Texas tonight. He went 5-for-5 with a walk and nine, yes nine freakin' ribbie! So much for that idle talk of Mizzou's soft middle of the lineup. The Tigers mauled the Horns to the tune of 31-12 in Columbia tonight.

2- Georgia pitching.
Beat Kentucky 3-2 to improve to 21-12 and 10-3 in the SEC. This team's pitching is gaining more momentum that a four-engine locomotive on a 6% grade. Starter Trevor Holder had another great outing, striking out a career-high nine Bat Cats, improving to 4-2 and leading the SEC starters with a 2.06 ERA. Justin Earls pitched a perfect 8th inning and Joshua Fields got his 9th save of the season.

UK came into the game with an SEC best .350 average. But I think Coach Dave Perno put it best afterward, "It was more great pitching tonight. It's beyond solid, it's phenomenal."

3- Stephen Strausburg, San Diego State.
Against Utah tonight at Tony Gwynn Stadium, the Aztec ace tossed a complete game one-hitter with - pause to build the drama - 23 strikeouts. Yes, twenty-freakin-three! If I'm doing my state school math correctly, that's just four outs that came by way of groundout or flyout. You kiddin' me? Oy-vey!


.
THREE DOWN---
1- Obviously, the shocking death of Georgia Tech pitcher Michael Hutts.
Our condolences go out to the Yellow Jacket nation tonight, of course. Today's game with Miami was cancelled because of it.

2- Texas pitching and defense.
31 runs and 11 walks today, to go with the worst defense in the Big 12? Who's wearing those Longhorn uniforms, man?

3- The ACC home teams.
Of the five games that were completed in the top-flite conference, all four home teams lost:
Florida State 8-6 and 4-3 at Boston College
Virginia 11-6 at Maryland
Duke 4-1 at North Carolina State
Virginia Tech 7-3 at Wake Forest.

Add to that UNC leads Clemson 5-0 after six innings before the rains moved in. So that's almost certainly a sixth loss for the home teams.


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BEWARE THE "FRAUD" STAMP---
This is always one of the more difficult columns I have to write each year. But once in a while it comes time to call a spade a spade and identify some of the Friday Frauds in college baseball. So as we saw from Cal and Texas, there are certain teams today that really wore the "fraud" collar after their performances on the diamond today. Now keep in mind, this is just a Fraud label for today, not necessarily for the entire season. Though a case could be made in that manner for some of them. So here they are....

- Cal.
Result: Lost at USC 17-1.
Cal came in tied atop the Pac 10 at 4-2 with Arizona State and Stanford. But not a single Bear player played like they had all season long tonight. Makes me wonder if this was an aberration or an indication of an over-hyped team. We'll see.
Recent Skid: Bears have won only one of their last four games.

- Texas
Result: Lost at Missouri 31-12.
Boy, is Mack Brown going to lose his job for this one or what?!
Recent Skid: No real skid, but they have gone 5-5 in their last 10.

- St. John's.
Result: Lost 2-1 vs. UConn.
The Huskies came into today's games with a record of 1-5 in weekend opening games, giving up 56 runs in those five losses. But today, John Folino and Danny Erickson combined on a 4-hitter.
Recent Skid: The Red Storm have now lost 3-of-4.

- Illinios-Chicago.
Result: Lost 6-5 (10inns) at Youngstown State.
The Flames have easily been the best team in the Horizon this season, including a win over Top 10 Vanderbilt and one-run losses to Tulane and Baylor. But YSU drilled the Flames for 13 hits and picked up its first Friday win of the season.
Recent Skid: UI-C has lost two straight games, both in 10 innings.

- Ball State
Result: Lost 18-12 to Bowling Green.
The Cards came in at 6-0 in the MAC, but in this slugfest, BSU couldn't keep up, giving up 22 hits, including eight home runs, three by Derek Spencer and two by Brian Hangbers. Yikes and away!
Recent Skid: None. In fact, BSU had won 10 straight coming into today.

- Temple
Result: Lost 23-0 to Richmond.
We gave the Owls props last week for hanging near the top of the Atlantic 10 and actually winning one of their three games with Charlotte. But today, the 3rd place Owls gave up 23 runs, issued six walks, hit four batters and committed six errors.
Recent Skid: Lost seven of last eight after a 13-8 start.

- Baylor
Result: Lost 6-1 at Kansas State
At 20-13 and 6-7 in the Big 12, I'm not sure why the Bears have still been ranked to begin with (No. 30 in current NCBWA poll). The Super Sophs haven't been playing up to snuff for Steve Smith's charges so far this season.
Recent Skid: Take away the sweep of Kansas last weekend and BU is 4-9 since tax day.

- San Francisco
Result: Lost 11-2 at Pepperdine.
The Dons started this weekend in 1st place in the WCC at 5-1. But the Waves got seven strong innings from Friday starter Nathan Newman (8hits, 2ERuns) and put up seven runs in the 6th inning to put them up for good and knock USF out of sole possession of 1st place.
Recent Skid: None. The Dons had won 13 of 14 recently coming into tonight.


.
More tomorrow. Hopefully I'll get a chance to drop by the UC Irvine-Long Beach game at Blair Field. Will the Beach keep on slipping and sliding away? The Dirtbags need a win - before they become a fraud as well.

G'night.

April 11, 2008

Thursday Thoughts - The Long, Hard Road Edition

Hey stitch-heads. I have to admit, this Thursday column may be a bit abbreviated than normal. I just got back from the long road trip going from SoCal to San Antonio for the Final Four and back again and I've got "car-lag", if that's a word. It was arduous at times, but still a really cool time. I have to admit, the Final Four is a real happening, a spectacle if you will, not just a way to decide a national champion in the peach basket sport.

80mph.jpg
(Ahhhh, the most welcome sign on the trip. This was the speed "suggestion" in most of West Texas.)
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THE ROAD, PART I---
I have to say, I saw some interesting college baseball along my journey as well as some wicked' college basketball post-season action. Also lucked out with no problems along the way, mechanical or otherwise. Well, unless you count the high school soccer team that stayed in the same hotel as I did in Midland, Texas. Damn, I forgot what I was like as a high schooler on a team road trip.

Here are a few quick observations, then on to the baseball weekend at hand...

- Number of miles driven: 3,759.2
- Number of large dead animals seen on the side of the road: 8 (mostly in West Texas)
- Number of times I got stopped by the heat: 0 (I drove conservatively this week)
- Highest gas price: $4.19 in Blythe, California
- Lowest gas price: $3.08 in San Marcos, Texas
- Number of times I thought about how much obscene amounts of money oil companies are raking off us gullible Americans: 57
- Number of new baseball stadiums I saw a game in: 4
(Arizona, Texas Tech, TCU and Texas State)
- Number of Texas drivers I had to pass on the right side because they were driving slow in the fast lane: approx. 12 (I lost count and Jeremy Mills was right)
- Number of times ESPN's Shelley Smith asked me in a crowded bar in downtown San Antonio, "How are you doing?": 1

GasSign.jpg
(The most ominous sign of our times on the entire trip. Thank you glutenous oil companies.)


THE ROAD, PART II---
Couple of thoughts about being on the road in college baseball.

- Long Beach State just wrapped up what is thought to be its longest road trip since 1959, going 1-9 in games against Pepperdine (1), Cal (3), Stanford (1), Fresno State (1), UC Riverside (3) and LMU (1). Prior to that trip, the Dirtbags were 17-3 and in the top five of the polls.

- Prior to that horrid road trip, the Beach was 5-0 away from Blair Field.

- Arizona State took to the road for the first time in 2008 this past weekend and, voila', the Devils got blown out twice at Stanford, 12-2 and 10-2. In fact, the lone win at Sunken Diamond was a 6-4, 10-inning affair. The two losses cost them the No. 1 ranking this week.

- Before we crucify those two teams and drop them mercilessly, consider that new-No. 1 Miami has played only six road games in building up its 27-2 mark, including a loss at N.C. State and an extra inning win at Duke. The Canes' next seven games are going to be on the road. Let's take a wait-and-see attitude.

- Meanwhile, No. 2 Florida State is 27-3 and has played 10 roadies. Two of their three losses have come on the road. And take this however you want to, but five of their road games have been one-or-two run wins. So that either says they've got a lot of moxie, or they don't play quite as well on the road. FSU travels up to Boston College this weekend.

- Worst road team in the country, besides Long Beach?:
I'm thinking it might be Auburn.
The Plainsmen are 22-12 overall, 6-6 in the SEC. But in games played on opponents' home field, they are just 3-7, including 2-4 in SEC road games.

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SPEAKING OF THE ROAD, HERE'S WHERE I'D WANT TO BE THIS WEEKEND---
If I had traded my father's milk-cow for three magic beans and those magic beans allowed me to travel at the speed of light to anywhere I wanted to...

1- Amherst vs. Williams in Pittsfield, Mass.
These two rivals are going to reconvene for the 149th anniversary of the first college baseball game on record. Waconah Park in Pittsfield will be officially dubbed as "The Birthplace of College Baseball" since it is very close to the location of the original game, which was held on July 1, 1859. Williams will certainly be looking to exact revenge, having lost that first game 73-32 in a game that last 25 innings.

The 150th anniversary will be next year and there are plans in the making to have the College Baseball Hall of Fame involved in making a formal ceremony and event, including bringing these two teams back once again to face each other. Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto said, "It's a warm-up. We're looking at giving the schools an opportunity to see what it would be like in anticipation for doing this next year."

2- THE ACC BIG THREE, ON THE ROAD
Once again, the ACC is the place to be this weekend (fire up the CSTV company jet, right?... if it wasn't busy collecting dust bunnies now). Miami, FSU and UNC all head out on the road to test their mettle. So it will be really interesting to see how these behemoths measure up away from the comforts of home (well, almost home for UNC, since they're playing their games in Cary this season). This will also be a good chance for Tech to put together a season-solidifying week, having already beaten Georgia in the mid-week. Clemson shouldn't be ranked at all, but does have the opportunity to put a lot - make that A LOT - of doubts to rest, going up against the Heels. BC just needs wins. The Eagles came close vs. GaTech, but had no luck. This will be a tall mountain to climb with red-hot FSU coming to Beantown, but it can be done. They cannot get off to a bad start in Friday's double-header.

2A- No.1 Miami at No. 25 Georgia Tech

2B- No. 2 Florida State at Boston College

2C- No. 4 North Carolina at No. 27 Clemson

Tekotte-Weeks.jpg
(Blake Tekotte and Jemile Weeks will have their hands full with the Jackets this weekend.
Special thanks to Kenny Cook, the Doctor of College Baseball, for the use of this picture)


5- No. 7 UC Irvine at No. 16 Long Beach State
Redemption weekend for one of these. As discussed, it's been a hellride for the Beach lately. UCI lost a pair of tough games with rival Fullerton, but didn't drop too far in the rankings. That Scott Gorgen-Andrew Liebel matchup on Friday should be sweet. If I had more time to break down the top pitching matchup of the weekend, that'd be the one I'd choose.

6- No.11 Texas at No.12 Missouri
Questions abound here. UT has questions about its pitching staff that seems to be far from what we're used to seeing in an Augie Garrido coached team. And at .957%, is that REALLY the worst fielding team in the Big 12? Gah! Mizzou's rep has taken a bit of a shot after series losses to Texas Tech and Okie State the last two weeks.

7- No. 9 Kentucky at No. 24 Georgia
The Wildcats take their SEC-best hitting (.350), pitching (3.16) and fielding (.979) to Athens. The up-and-down Dogs will be fighting mad having just come off a loss to rival Georgia Tech. Again, it's another road test for the Bat Cats.

8- No. 14 Nebraska at No. 20 Oklahoma State
The more you keep wondering "Is this Husker team for real?" the more that team ERA of 2.89 team ERA starts to sparkle and shine. And how's the "Matt Hague Watch" going so far? The OSU strapper has been as advertised, going .355-4-32 after transferring from Washington in the off-season.

9- No. 26 Stanford at Oregon State
This is a classic Pac 10 matchup of teams with ugly records (both 15-10) who have played tough schedules (No. 3 and 6 respectively). OSU may be in more need here as they have played .500 ball in Pac 10 play... Ah hell, who am I kidding, the Beavers finished at 10-14 in conference play last year and still won it all. So nevermind.

10- No. 5 Wichita State at Creighton
It's beginning to look like the Big Shockers and the Little 9 in the MVC again. If that's true - heavy emphasis on the "if" part - then this could be one of the few tough spots they'll face.


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OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH CONFERENCE LEADERS,
PRETENDERS? OR CONTENDERS?---
Twenty bucks to the person who actually thought the following teams would enter this weekend at the top of their respective conference standings:

- Duquesne (8-1 in the A-10)
Currently, the Dukes are tied with Charlotte. After an 0-10 start against the likes of Florida State, LSU and South Carolina, DU is hitting its stride. By the way, the Dukes are last in the A10 in batting (.256) and second to last in pitching (7.12).

Up Next: vs. last place LaSalle
Conclusion: Pretenders. (After the LSU series, reality will catch up with them.)


- Florida Gulf Coast (15-3 in the A-Sun)
There's actually a lot to like here, including the Eagles having far and away the best arm staff (3.16ERA, no one else under 4.50), the best hitter in Jason Peacock (.466-6-36 and I'm wondering if he's any relation to former OU running back Elvis?) and the best pitcher in Richard Bleier (5-0, 1.73) in the A-Sun.

Up Next: at 2nd place Lipscomb
Conclusion: Contenders. (Even though they can't go to the post-season)


- Cincinnati (7-2 in the Big East)
Tied with St. John's and Notre Dame, the Bearcats are on an 11-2 spree, including a series win in South Bend. UC relies on some solid pitching (3.94ERA and just 70BBs) and pressure on the opponents (68SBs).

Up Next: home vs. 2nd-to-last place Pitt.
Conclusion: Contenders. (I think the UND series showed us that.)

UCStadium.jpg
(UC's home stadium is one of the most impressive I've ever seen.)


- VMI (7-2 in the Big South)
You guys remember last year's season opening series win at Florida? Or that the Keydets went 34-21 in '07? This shouldn't be a huge surprise. After this weekend, the slate gets a little tougher with a trip to Liberty and a home series with Coastal Carolina. Stay tuned.

Up Next: at last place UNC-Asheville
Conclusion: Contenders. (Though this is a shaky thumb's up for now.)


- UC Santa Barbara (7-1 in the Big West)
Maybe Bob Brontsema is finally getting the breaks in the injury department (that's the GOOD kind of breaks) and making some headway in the Big West. Granted, they've only played Northridge and Pacific in conference play so far, but the three most used arms have ERA's of 2.64, 2.70 and 3.38.

Up Next: vs. 2nd place UC Davis
Conclusion: Contenders. (They're SOS is rated at No. 51. That's enough for me.)

- Northern Iowa (5-1 in the MoValley)
Currently tied with Wichita State at the top, but don't look for this to last. The Panthers, though decent at 17-10 overall, after this weekend will have played the three worst teams in the MVC.

Up Next: at 2nd-to-last place Illinois State
Conclusion: Pretenders.


- Elon (10-2 in the SoCon)
After a 16-1 start, it looked the Phoenix had hit the wall. But then they went out and knocked off No. 5 North Carolina this week, 2-0. So go figure. The big test is next weekend when they'll travel to 23-9 College of Charleston.

Up Next: vs. Western Carolina
Conclusion: Contenders. (It's a no-brainer)


- Grambling State (11-4 in the SWAC)
This one is a total surprise. GSU has gone from six wins in 2006, to 18 wins in 2007, to already having 15 wins this year. Nice work Coach Ray. But now the Tigers, ranked No. 6 in the Black College Baseball poll, face off with pre-season SWAC favorite Prairie View A&M. Earlier this year, they took two-of-three from the Panthers.

Up Next: Three games vs. Prairie View
Conclusion: Contenders. (Earlier series win over PV proves that.)


- UL Monroe (12-3 in the Sun Belt)
The Warhawks were picked to finish 8th in the SBC pre-season coach's poll. Josh Lett (5-1, 3.32) and Jared Jennings (3-2, 3.48) have been a good one-two punch on weekends. Beyond them, the starters drop off. Weekend series at UL-L should be interesting.

Up Next: at Louisiana-Lafayette
Conclusion: Contenders. (But hold final judgement until after this weekend.)


- San Francisco (5-1 in the WCC)
Shades of the 2006 season, where USF won a school record 45 games. But a trip to Pepperdine this weekend could be the end of the ride. Or a springboard to bigger things.

Up Next: at Pepperdine.
Conclusion: Pretenders. (Hmmm. Then again, the Dons have beaten Houston, Fresno and Cal)


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THE ONE SIDE-TRIP I DIDN'T MAKE---
Derek David, a lumberjack slugger from D-III McMurray had an NCAA record-tying seven game string of hitting a home run. One more circuit clout and he would've broken the mark set by Ryan Jackson of Duke (1994) and Andy Bruce of Georgia Tech (1991). On Tuesday, McMurray was hosting Wayland Baptist in Abilene, Texas, a little out of my way on my return drive from San Antonio. But alas, my fatigued body trumped all and I decided to drive on home and not see potential history in the making. In the end, David didn't get his home run on Tuesday, so the string of seven still stands tied between the three players after all.


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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO---
Baylor's Ben Bronson?
The Bear center fielder and lead-off hitter was the best athlete on the Baylor team I saw play Creighton and Rice at old Baylor Ballpark back in 1995, before the stat-of-the-art stadium they've got in Waco now. Not only was Bronson a great lead-off man and obviously a good athlete, but a few years later, while at a San Jose SaberCats Arena Football game against the Houston Thunderbears, there's Ben, playing receiver and cornerback on the 50-yard, indoor war. So now I'm wondering if he ever went into coaching, be it baseball or football.


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Have a great college baseball weekend out there stitch-heads, in the full knowledge of the fact that baseball is now on the college sports main stage... or, well, after the Frozen Four is over. Having fun out there in Denver, Tanner?

G'night.

April 07, 2008

Sunday Summations- The Monday Edition

"Get your hands off me you damn dirty apes!"
charltonHestonApes.jpg

After what we saw this weekend on the diamond, I bet a lot of Top 10 teams felt like Taylor does in this scene from The Planet of the Apes.

Just look at the de-humanizing traps that many of the top 10 teams found themselves in this weekend. Arizona State, UC Irvine, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Long Beach and Missouri all had lost weekends. Man, I don't know about you, but as soon as I pick my jaw up off the floor, we'll discuss it further. What the Sam Hill, people!

(Oh, and more about the passing of the great Charlton Heston below)

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SHORT MEA CULPA---
This edition of the Sunday Summations is late. My bad.

I would go into all the reasons as to why my Sunday entry is being finished on Monday morning instead, but there are too many to mention. But here's a short list:
- The Final Four
- The Final Four parties
- That whole Central time zone thing
- Internet connection problems at the hotel
- Internet connection problems just about everywhere else too
- Lazy

First off, on the "off-day" from games at the Final Four, I was able to make it up to see Texas State play host to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (this is the third time this week I've seen the Islanders. Think I'm becoming "South Coast Bias" now?). I was also joined in the stands by the inimitable Glenn Tanner, another CSTV baseball correspondent and current Texas State professor Finance as well.

TSU won the game 13-4, dropping Corpus Christi to 0-3 in games I've seen them play.

TxSt.HR.jpg
(Texas State's Spenser Dennis gets the home plate salutes after crushing a grand slam as part of a 3-for-4, 5RBI day)


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THREE UP---
1- The "clutch work" of Florida State.
Beat Virginia 3-2 in 10 innings, not once. But twice!
Jack Rye and Tyler Holt provided the game-winning hits in the two contests and - get this - Luke Smierciak was the winning run crossing the plate in the 10th inning of both games after starting both innings by getting plunked. I suppose if you follow college baseball long enough you see just about everything in due time.

2- Stanford
Won today 10-2 vs. Arizona State.
Who here could've seen a pair of blowouts to end the streaks of the red-hot Devils? The Trees earned coach Mark Marquess his 1,300th career victory with the W at Sunken Diamond today. And just think, SU was 90 feet away on Friday night from sweeping this series.

3- The Rebels and Dawgs.
Ole Miss finished off a sweep of Vanderbilt, 11-6.
Georgia finished off a sweep of South Carolina, 4-2.
The Rebels might just be - emphasis on "might" - getting back to the dominant form we were all expecting them to be at this season. This could be one of those wins that sees a team turn a corner on a season.

And same goes for Dave Perno's Bulldogs. This was a dominating weekend for UGa. And an UGa-ly weekend for Carolina. Keep an eye on the SEC-leading Dogs, especially after the bullpenners ran their non-earned run streak to 10 games now.


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THREE DOWN---
1- The ACC pretenders.
- Clemson lost at Miami, 7-6.
- Virginia lost at Florida State 3-2 and 3-2 (both 10 innings)
- Georgia Tech split with North Carolina 4-10 and 4-1
Collectively the three road teams went just 1-8 in the showdowns of ranked teams this weekend. To be honest, I'm concerned about the Tigers. It's weird to see a Jack Leggett team struggle like this. Then again, if ANYBODY ranks this team again this week, I'm going to be concerned about those rankings more than about Clemson.

Virginia should still be okay, although the jury's out until they can put together some impressive wins on the road. Or, well, let me re-phrase that, until they can put together some impressive wins period.

And give Tech some props for pulling out a win in Cary. Zach Von Tersch went 7.0, giving up just four hits to the potent UNC bats and Chris Hicks picked up save No. 8.

2- Arizona.
Lost at Washington 5-1.
Before their No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown with Arizona State three weeks ago, UofA was hitting .336 as a team. Now, after getting just five hits vs. Washington's Sunday staffers, the Cats are hitting just .300.

3- The Sunday pitching of Mercer and Jacksonville
Here are the two line scores from Sunday's double-header in J'ville:

Mercer- 20 23 2
J'ville - 15 13 2

Mercer- 10 16 0
J'ville - 11 13 3

The Bears combine for 30 runs and 39 hits and the Dolphins get 26 and 26 respectively. In all, 19 pitchers were used in the two games. And, considering game one started at 1pm on Saturday (before getting delayed by rain and pushed to Sunday), the two games took nearly 29 hours to complete.


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THE OUCH LIST FOR APRIL 6TH---
1- Arizona State
Result:
Lost two of three at Stanford.
Why it hurts:
Because now, everyone in the nation knows that ASU is just 1-2 in road games this season. Yes, 'vulnerable' is the new word in the Valley of the Sun.

2- Long Beach State
Result:
Lost two of three to UC Riverside.
Why it hurts:
Losing a series to UC Berkeley on the road? That's understandable. Losing a series to 7-15 UC Riverside? Not understandable. Beach is now 1-8 on its 10 game road swing.

3- Clemson.
Result:
Lost all three games at Miami.
Why it hurts:
The Tigers have come up goose-eggs in tough games this season, including this weekend's 0-3 mark vs. Miami. They also went 0-2 vs. Georgia and 0-2 vs. South Carolina. Their ranking should have been taken away weeks ago, but now their legitimacy is at risk.

4- Virginia
Result:
Lost all three games at Florida State.
Why it hurts:
Like the Tigers above, UVa seems to be losing all the tough games on the schedule, going 1-2 at N.C. State, 1-2 at Duke and this sweep at FSU. Staff ace Jacob Thompson got roughed up in Friday's showdown (a 10-3 loss). The Wahoos need a shot-in-the-arm weekend soon, in a big way.

5- UC Irvine
Result:
Lost two of three vs. Cal State Fullerton
Why it hurts:
Not a big "ouch" here, to be sure. But Just when the Anteaters were starting to get all the national pub, they drop this OC series. But it was nip-and-tuck most of the weekend. Like Thompson, Scott Gorgen got rough treatment from his Orange County rivals, getting just his second loss of the season, giving up six hits and four runs in 6.0 innings.

6- South Carolina
Result:
Lost all three games at Georgia.
Why it hurts:
Cocks drop to 1-5 on the road in the SEC, scoring just 12 runs in those five losses. All five of their runs in Athens this weekend were solo home runs.

7- Texas Tech
Result:
Was swept in three at Nebraska
Why it hurts:
Tech was on a roll entering this weekend, fresh off a series win over No. 6 Missouri, coach Larry Hays' 1500th win on Wednesday and ready to get some healthy players back to the lineup. Then, they met their fate in Lincoln. They didn't get embarrassed or anything, but their top four batters in the order went a combined 7-for-44.

8- Central Florida
Result:
Lost all three games at Houston.
Why it hurts:
UCF was outscored 29-11 this weekend. Since starting the season at 19-1, the Black Knights have gone just 3-10, including seven straight Ls. Of those seven losses, they've given up double-digit run totals in five of them.

9- Vanderbilt
Result:
Lost all three games at Ole Miss.
Why it hurts:
We've gone into the reasons already, but figure this out: Vandy is now in last place in the SEC East. But the good news is that Pedro Alvarez returned to the lineup this week, going 5-for-19 with a pair of home runs.

10- Loyola Marymount
Result:
Swept in three straight at San Francisco
Why it hurts:
LMU was leading the WCC going into this weekend and had a resume that includes victories over Oregon State, San Diego, Cal and USC. With the three losses here, the Lions plummet to 4th place.


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THE REASON BASEBALL IN CENTRAL TEXAS IS SUCH A HAPPENING---
Spotted these two billboards along I-35 on the drive from Dallas down to San Antonio this weekend.

BaylorBillboard.jpg

TxSt.Billboard.jpg


Really now, when's the last time you saw a college baseball team get its own billboard on a busy stretch of interstate?

And I also think it's really freakin' cool that a school like Texas State is smart enough to actually market their college baseball program with outdoor advertising. Now if they only had a cool stadium to watch games in. Oh well, guess you can't have it all in beloved sport.


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THE PASSING OF MOSES---
I'd like to give a special R.I.P. to the late, great Charlton Heston who passed away this weekend. Those Planet of the Apes movies and his rendition of Moses parting the Red Sea are cinematic moments that made an incredible impression on my early movie-watching experience.


Okay, that's enough. I'm going to get ready to work what should be a wicked-good national championship game tonight here at the Alamo Dome. My pick? I'm going to say Memphis, 85-80. I can't imagine KU is going to put two incredibly good games together in a row. That's just my hunch.

See you guys again with more baseball stuff in a couple of days - after my long, arduous drive back to Los Angeles.

Exactly WHO thought this driving to and from the Final Four was a good idea again?

G'night. Er... I mean, G'day.

April 05, 2008

Friday First Takes - Making our sport Ft. Worth-it

As a college baseball fan, what's your worst nightmare about bringing novice fans to a game? That it turns into one of those five-hour marathon ping-fests that sours potential fans into thinking this sport was just another fabricated version of the real thing - i.e. the Arena Football syndrome.

TCUclintArnold.jpg
(Clint Arnold led the Frogs with three hits tonight in a 5-1 win)

Well tonight I went out to Lupton Stadium in Ft. Worth with a couple of friends to see TCU and Air Force play. And of course, I worried about a Frog-stomp that would soil the name of college baseball to these newbies.

Thankfully, that didn't happen.

TCU starter Tyler Lockwood was on lock-down mode, allowing just six hits, one run to the Falcons and striking out eight to help the Horned Frogs to a 5-1 win. The best part? The game lasted a brisk two hours exactly.

The Frogs were paced on offense by Arkansas transfer Clint Arnold and Weatherford JC transfer Steve Ellington each had three hits and Corey Steglich, who had two RBI on a pair of hits. Chay Derbigny was the only one to crack the magicians code on Lockwood, slicing a screaming home run to straightaway center field that seemed to keep carrying and carrying and carrying.


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LUPTON STADIUM. ME LIKEY LIKEY---
Nice digs. Really nice digs. In fact, I will go on record as saying when you look at all the facilities in the Mountain West Conference - Miller Park at BYU, Gwynn Stadium at SDSU, Wilson Stadium at UNLV and Isotopes Field at New Mexico - they have to have the best home collection of home fields of any conference in the country.

Lupton is very new and very nice. Every seat is of the professional variety with cup holders and just plain comfy. The stands are very close to home plate, so you feel like you're right on top of the action, even the upper deck.

I can just imagine what this place is like in the post-season MWC tourney or if they ever are able to host a regional.

LuptonStadium.jpg
(TCU's Lupton Stadium. Look how close the stands are to the field)


Now the nightly news in the usual fashion...
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THREE UP---
The best of Friday... well of what I could catch up with tonight.

1- Nick Haughian, Washington
The Husky ace strikes out 15 in complete game win over No. 11 Arizona.
In a matchup with UofA ace Preston Guilmet, Haughian held the still-struggling Cats to a wimpy total of just two hits as Udub improves to 19-8 overall. Andy Lentz got the game-winning RBI double in the 7th as part of a 2-for-3 night. This all came in front of a Safeco Field crowd of 5,187.

2- Missouri Sate.
Won at Wichita State 7-4 in 10 inns.
The Bears overcame another raucous Eck Stadium crowd despite giving up two runs in the bottom of the 9th to send it to extras. Cool as a cucumber, MSU scored three runs in the top of the 10th to improve to 18-8. Ben Carlson improved his average to .408 by hitting his 9th dinger of the season. And reliever Matt Frevert picked up his fourth win of the season, to go along with three saves. WSU's win streak ends at 19.

3- Yonder Alonso, Miami.
His jog-off home run in the bottom of the 9th beats Clemson 6-4.
The Miami slugger keeps affirming to everyone that there's almost NO reason to ever throw him something he can turn on. It was his own hit of the night, but it was good enough to decide the game and also go clanging off the parking garage past the right field fence.

Yonder Alonso.jpg
(Does he look like a monster? 'Coz he plays like a monster.)


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THREE DOWN---
The worst of Friday... well, that's kind of harsh, isn't it? But here's three bad things.

1- Virginia and Georgia Tech.
Give these two road kill status.
In the three marquee matchups of the ACC tonight, these two got blown out in big losses at Florida State and North Carolina respectively. The Cavs, who lost 10-3, saw Jacob Thompson suffer his first loss, getting roped for 11 hits, seven runs and six earned runs in 6.1 innings. Tech fell victim to its weak offense, getting just six hits and striking out 13 times against three Heel pitchers.

2- Arizona's and UCLA's offenses.
Cats can't score against Washington and the Bruins K'd 15 times in loss to USC.
Both of these offenses came into the season with menacing offenses, but in their losing skids - Arizona has now lost 9-of-11 and UCLA has lost 6-of-9 - their bats have taken the brunt of the criticism. USC's Tommy Milone had 14 Ks and gave up just five hits in 8.0 innings of work in Westwood tonight. Bruin team batting average dips to .262.

3- Ole Miss, Georgia, Kentucky, Memphis, Tennessee and Northeastern.
Because none of them had the foresight to build domed stadiums to protect their games from the elements. These top 30 teams all had their games cancelled today due to the rain that won't seem to stop this spring.

HornedFrogGirls2.jpg
(The Frog girls did their thing on top of the dugouts between innings)

April 04, 2008

Thursday Thoughts - The 1500 Horsepower Machine

Texas Tech baseball coach Larry Hays doesn't strike me as the kind of guy that would grant one of those Katie Couric interviews where she tilts her head to the side and asks softy, "How did that make you feel?" Because there he was on Wednesday in front of a throng of media cameras and microphones getting asked how it felt to get win number 1500 against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and he wasn't exactly reaching for the box of tissues.

TTlarryHays.jpg
(This is all the acknowledgment Coach Hays gave after the 1500th win of his career on Wednesday)

"You know, they're all the same." Hays said bluntly about the milestone win. "Really, I'm being honest, they all mean the same to me. Just because one of them has a number on it doesn't mean anything."

Sure, the guys with the cameras and recording devices kind of paused for a second... but then when Hays just kind of stood there stone faced, there was no snickering. Eventually another guy piped up, "Really coach, milestones tend to have a way of lingering for a while, are you glad to get this one out of the way?"

"No. I mean, we didn't think about it. We had other interests like getting (Chris) Richfield and (Jason) Seefeld back."

Then he was asked, "You going to do anything nice tonight? Anything special?"

"No, just the same old deal. Nell's going to have to put with me again." Coach said, referring to his wife of 43 years.

The on-field interview hit a crescendo when coach was asked if he remembers his first win. "Yeah. I remember that." What do you remember? "We won... (laughs)... I remember a kid named Paul Russell hit a three-run homer."

So the native of Dora, New Mexico remembers a lot about the game he's been in charge of for all these years. But he never loses sight of what's important. "The thing is, I'm worried about the next one. Friday's a key game for us for a lot of reasons."

Well, noteworthy or not, the Red Raiders didn't look like they were going to get this "special" win early on. CC's Cory Blair had Tech hitless into the 5th inning with his offense backing him up with a 3-0 lead. But after getting an out and giving up a hit, Tanner Rindels pulled Tech within 3-2 with a blast to left field. After that, Blair got pulled and the Raiders started piling it on, flooding the Islanders with eight runs before the third out was recorded. The go-ahead runs were provided on a bases-loaded, 3RBI double by SS Chris Hall.

From there, the outcome was never in doubt as Tech cruised to an easy 10-5 win, despite getting out-hit by the Islanders 13-7.

And, against his nature, Coach Hays did reflect for a moment after the win - be it ever so brief - thinking about what he'd say to his ex-players. "I guess I'd say 'thank you' to all of them. I mean, you don't have the time to thank everyone. But then I'd definitely thank Nell first for letting me do all this."

But he thought quickly enough to snap back into form almost immediately. "You know, you guys got me on this. I mean, I didn't want to get on this subject, but I'm a grateful person and I really appreciate the opportunity to do this. Because every game is special."

And how many wins did Coach Hays say he had left in him? "I hope at least one more... on Friday."

That's powerful stuff, man.


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THE HAYS FILE---
- Hays becomes just the fourth coach to reach the 1,500 win plateau.
The others:
Texas' Augie Garrido - 1,648 wins
Wichita State's Gene Stephenson - 1,627 wins
Florida State's Mike Martin - 1,511 wins.
- 38th season as head coach, 22 at Texas Tech and 16 at Lubbock Christian.
- 805 wins at Tech. 695 wins at LCU.
- Picked up his 800th win at Tech vs. Texas on March 21, 2008.
- Winningest coach in Texas Tech history.
- Only one losing season since taking over in 1987.


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JohnCandyVacation.jpg
"SORRY FOLKS, PARK'S CLOSED"---

Here's my Clark Griswold moment for this week. (Cue the "Chariots of Fire" song)

As part of my cross half-country trek from Los Angeles to the Final Four in San Antonio, I planned on stopping in Lubbock, going to a Texas Tech game and, most importantly, going to see the College Baseball Hall of Fame. See, when I met John Askins, the former president of the College Baseball Foundation, back at the Houston Classic in February of 2007, for some reason I came away with the impression that the Hall of Fame would be up and operational within a year. So here I was, pulling into Lubbock in my family truckster after a long journey, expecting to see this glimmering new building that was a shrine to the sport we love. But instead, like John Candy did in Vacation, I got stopped before I could even get to the door. But not that I couldn't visit, but because it hasn't been built yet.


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A HALL OF FAME LUNCH INSTEAD---
So instead of seeing the College Baseball Hall of Fame, I was hooked up with Mike Gustafson and the group of people that are in charge of building and developing the Hall of Fame. A great group of people, might I add. (Or am I just saying that because they paid for my lunch?... no really, they're totally cool.)

We met up at a restaurant called Rudy's Bar-B-Que, which ironically is where the whole idea for starting the College Baseball Hall of Fame began. Great food too. I got stuffed.

So here are the members of the committee I got a sit-and-eat with:

Mike Gustafson, Co-chair Hall of Fame Committee
Chris Snead, Chair Hall of Fame Committee
Raymond Richardson, Wallace Award Committee
Randy Robbins, Treasurer Hall of Fame Committee
Jeff Chase, Co-Chair Hall of Fame Committee
Andrea Watson, Publicity Chair

MikeGust.jpg
(Mike Gustafson of the Hall of Fame committee standing outside of Rudy's, the restaurant where the whole idea of a College Baseball Hall of Fame came to fruition on the "back of a napkin" as Chris Snead put it.)

Since I had the ears and eyes of the Hall of Fame committee, here's the info and talking points I could glean from them:

1- How the idea got started.
One day, a couple of the guys were at Rudy's - the very restaurant I ate at - and they decided to start an award for middle infielders, sort of like the Johnny Bench Award. Well, eventually the idea grew into the Wallace Award, which they have now had for four years. Eventually, the group started talking about the kind of things they could do to help expand the game of college baseball even more. So one of them thought about starting a Hall of Fame. But Mike said, "We all were like 'pfffft. Somebody's gotta have that already.' After we looked into it, we saw that there wasn't one, so we pursued the idea."

And now, the committee of can-doers has got the ball rolling and it's well on the way to making this a reality.

2- Why it will be in Lubbock, Texas.
Simple. Nobody else thought of the idea.

Apparently there were inroads into Omaha housing a Hall of Fame a couple of years ago, but studies done by the big-wigs up there decided it wasn't a money-making ordeal. So, it got shelved. (Damn money. Always a problem.) Then, when this Lubbock band of college baseball brothers (and one sister) came up with the idea, it was there for the taking. So they hit the ground running on it. In fact, if you want to complain about it being in Lubbock, just remind yourself that it's either in Lubbock or nowhere.

3- The plan.
The idea is to have a good sized building that will be right next to the Buddy Holly Museum in downtown Lubbock. It will be the centerpiece of a huge downtown revitalization project that will make for a refurbished area of downtown. There are no blueprints or concrete plans yet, and there is even an existing building that will need to be razed first, but it's all intended to be first class with an upper crust feel to it.

4- What will be there.
A lot. According to Mike and Chris, there is a whole storage area of college baseball memorabilia that is already stocked up and good to go. The other interesting thing about the group is they are attempting to get pieces of history "as it happens" if you will. For instance, they've already contacted Georgia Southern about getting one of the bats they used in their 14-homer game from a few weeks ago. They also collected the baseball from Larry Hays' 1500th win on Wednesday.

They other thing that Jeff was telling me how they also plan on making it more interactive. Their hope is to use actual voices of the Hall of Famers in the displays to "bring them to life" more than just a static display of a hat and a ball, for instance.

5- Why it should work.
Unlike the college football Hall of Fame in South Bend, which is barely afloat, the guys emphasized to me that their goal is to fully endow the building and get further endowments for upkeep, utilities and operating costs before they even open the doors. That way, the monies brought in by visitors and gifts, can be icing on the cake.

On top of all that, the city of Lubbock has really bought into the idea of having the Hall of Fame as one of its center pieces and is even donating the land that the building will be on and the offices of some of the people that were with me at the lunch table on Wednesday.


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NOW, HERE'S MY FEELINGS ON IT---
- Lubbock, Texas?
Yeah, I'm not real crash-hot on the college baseball Hall of Fame being so far off the beaten path. But these people are legit and are dedicated to making this thing fly. And again, it's not like any other town stepped up to make this thing happen. (Remember, Omaha chose to embrace the College World Series 58 years ago, so you see what can be done with passionate people). Let me put it this way, I'm not crazy about it being in Lubbock, but I'm glad that these people are handling it. Because this group I met with are pure college baseball through-and-through and their passion for the game was obvious. You could feel that just sitting there with them for 45 minutes. So I've go no problem there.

- Having a Hall of Fame to begin with.
As you guys might recall from my thoughts on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 2008 inductees a few weeks ago, I've never been real crazy about HOFs for the most part. Mainly because there are so many snubs of deserving people that it makes it tough (or in the case of Madonna and Leonard Cohen making it in, there are also those inductees that are ridiculous to include). As stated in that write-up, if you're going to have a HOF, make it only for the upper, upper crust of the sport. To make an analogy, no career .280 hitters like some of the players that have made it into Cooperstown.

Having cool memorabilia is awesome and it makes a Hall of Fame worth checking out, but make it tough as hell to get inducted into the Hall. That's all I ask.

- The building being named after George H.W. Bush.
Okay, I know. He played for Yale in the first College World Series and all. But one of the things I love about college baseball... it's about five million miles away from politics and politicians. I would nix this, even if he opens up his checkbook for the place. Please no politicians.

For more info on the Hall of Fame, go here:
http://www.collegebaseballfoundation.org/catView.php?catID=2

Now on to some stuff for the coming weekend of college baseball:


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NON-FINAL FOUR PLACES I'D WANNA BE THIS WEEKEND---
The Atlantic Coast Conference steps to the main stage this weekend and is definitely the place to be. Three matchups between ranked teams will do a lot of shaking up to the rank-and-file of the East coast power conference. Should be a blast. Here's what we've got.

1- No. 17 Clemson (18-10, 6-6) at No. 2 Miami (23-2, 9-1).
I've got the Jim Belushi one eyebrow up on the Tigers. They lost badly twice to South Carolina, got routed at Georgia on Tuesday (11-3) and have lost weekend series with Wake Forest and Boston College. No. 17? Really? Show me something here Tigers.

2- No. 19 Cal State Fullerton (16-9, 2-1) at No. 5 UC Irvine (19-3, 2-1).
Dave Serrano returns to Anteater Ballpark to take on the team I called "the biggest surprise team in the country" on the CBS College Sports Tonight show. Who would've thought that after losing most of their best pitchers, most of their best hitters and their coach, that the Anteaters would be No. 5 in the country now? Incredible.

3- No. 12 Virginia (24-6, 8-4) at No. 3 Florida State.(25-3, 11-1)
Say what you want about the Seminoles, but they are the No. 1 team in the Boyd Nation RPI right now. And this matchup also pits the second best pitching team in the ACC (UVa with a 2.83ERA) against the best hitting team in the ACC (FSU at .358)

4- No. 6 Vanderbilt (19-7, 5-3) at No. 27 Ole Miss (17-11, 4-5)
Can these two be labeled a disappointment? Possibly yes. I mean both were pre-season No. 10, but both have some curious losses, including this week's Commodore L to Southeast Missouri. So far the 'Dores haven't been very good on the road, including a series loss at Alabama. So Swayze Field is no place to try to right the ship.

5- No. 25 Georgia Tech (24-5, 8-4) at No. 4 North Carolina (23-5, 8-3).
It's neat to see the Yellow Jackets are featuring the third-best team ERA in the conference (3.14) and are hitting only .295. It's usually the other way around. But UNC is the complete package at .330 and an ACC-best 2.34ERA.

6- No. 1 Arizona State (25-1, 3-0) at Stanford (13-8, 2-1).
Sun Devils players say, "So this is what a suitcase looks like?" as they make their first venture out of the Valley of the Sun all season. And the arms of Jeremy Bleich (2-2, 1.38) and Jeremy Inman (3-0, 1.44) may be as good as any they've faced this season.

7- St. John's (20-5, 5-1) at Louisville (15-10, 3-3).
This is a great road test for surging SJU, who has won 13 of 14 since I saw them play at Cal State Northridge. UofL has been very up and down, as you might expect from a team with so many new faces. But Justin McClanahan (.433-5-24) and Chris Dominguez (.381-7-24) are still swinging mean sticks.

8- No. 23 Oklahoma State (18-8, 4-5) at No. 10 Missouri (21-6, 4-2).
Okay, who here wants to put a 10 dollar bet that Aaron Crow gets the victory on Friday night? Anyone... anyone... that's what I thought. OSU better concentrate on getting Ws on Saturday or Sunday.

9- Minnesota (12-11, 2-2) at Ohio State (13-8, 2-2).
This is a battle between two teams that are probably the only hopes for the Big 10 to get an at-large bid beyond Michigan. Though even that could be remote, since the Gophers are just 12-11 and the Bucks are 12-8. I do commend the Big 10 Network in choosing to televise this series.

10- East Carolina (19-8, 3-3) at Southern Miss (19-8, 4-2)
Great Conference USA matchup at Taylor Field. The crowds should be in the 4,000+ range and in raucous mood. But look quick, yes, that's the Eagles atop the league, above Rice, whom they just beat 2-of-3 last weekend. Barry Bowden (5-1, 1.47) and Justin Bristow (4-1, 2.18) are second and third in the conference behind Shooter Hunt of Tulane.

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UNDER THE RADAR---
They won't make headlines on the New York Times ('coz you know college baseball always does) but these will be big matchups this weekend as well.

- Charlotte (21-4, 6-0) at Temple (13-11, 5-1).
It's the 6-0 49ers traveling up to Philly to take on the surprising 5-1 Owls. Considering they hold wins over South Carolina and Wake Forest and TU is coming off of bad losses to Lehigh and Rider, you'd think UNCC would be the overwhelming favorites here. But ace Matt Mongiardini has gone 4-1 with 1.53 in his last five starts.

- Missouri State (17-8, 4-2) at No. 8 Wichita State (22-3, 3-0)
After a few years in hibernation, it appears the Bears may have the goods to challenge the top of the Missouri Valley again. A tough 10-inning loss to Arkansas on Tuesday should have them fighting mad going into Eck Stadium. Since losing three at Long Beach, the Shockers have had no problems, ripping off 19 straight wins.

- Jackson State (20-10, 8-3) at Southern (10-11, 8-4).
The two division leaders in the SWAC square off at Lee Hines Field on Saturday and up in Jackson on Sunday. And strangely, these games don't count in the SWAC standings, but will be the only time these two face off this season.


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THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE HAVES AND HAVE-NOTS---
While Arizona State is making its first road trip all year, the following teams will finally be playing their first home games of the season this Friday:
- Maine. Will host New York Tech (if the weather cooperates)
- Albany. Will host Hartford to open AmEast play
- Central Connecticut State. Will open NEC play by hosting Quinnipiac.


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HERE'S WHY GRACELAND IS A GREAT PLACE TO VISIT AND ALSO SHOULD BE THE NO. 1 TEAM IN COLLEGE BASEBALL TOO---
The 9-18 Yellow Jackets of Graceland College (Iowa) are officially my daisy chain No. 1 team in all of college baseball. Here's how the daisy chain works on this one:
- March 21st. No. 1 Arizona State loses to Northern Colorado 6-3.
- February 26th. Northern Colorado loses to Air Force 5-3.
- April 1st. Air Force is routed by Doane College 11-1.
- February 9th. Doane College is routed by William Woods 11-1.
- March 9th. William Woods loses to Avila University 2-0.
- March 29th. Avila loses a double-header to Graceland 10-6 and 6-5.


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KEEP AN EYE ON---
Speaking of off-the-beaten-path places. These teams are worth watching this weekend.
- North Carolina-Wilmington (22-4)
This weekend: at Northeastern.
Why to watch: Barely cracking the rankings at No. 30 and, at 21 games, the Seahawks still have the longest win streak in D-1. But the trek up to Boston against a decent Husky squad is no gimme. NU's Mike Lyon is hitting .440 and is second in the country with a .893 slugging percentage.

- Canisius (20-2)
This weekend: vs. Rider
Why to watch: Well mainly because it's freaking Canisius with a 90% winning percentage. When's the last time you could say that about the Griffs? Plus, top hitter Kevin Mailloux (.439-5-21) just got done smashing a three-run homer in the 9th to beat Merceyhurst on Wednesday. As a team, the Griffs are hitting .352.

- San Diego State (17-11)
This weekend: vs. New Mexico
Why to watch: It looks like Tony Gwynn finally has a team to call home about. The Aztecs have won 6-of-7, including a clean sweep of a good Houston team last weekend. And yes, ace Stephen Strausberg has been all the rage, with a 50-7 K-BB ratio in 41 innings so far.

- Washington (18-8)
This weekend: vs. Arizona
Why to watch: Well, it's not like the Huskies are going to win the Pac 10 or something, but they've been on my radar ever since four of their last 11 wins have been shutouts. Plus, if they want to announce their arrival in the media's mindset, beating struggling Arizona this weekend will be a big first step. Plus, game one of the series will be played at Safeco Field, home of the Mariners.


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JUST THOUGHT I'D THROW THIS OUT THERE---
- Quit giving us attendance figures that are flat out lies.
Case in point: LSU's attendance for the Wednesday game with Centenary is "officially" listed as 6,634. But the actual attendance was a paltry 612 patrons.


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UNTIL THE COLLEGE BASEBALL HALL OF FAME GETS BUILT, HERE'S WHERE YOU SHOULD GO IN LUBBOCK---

BuddyHollyMuseum.jpg

As a great monument to the roots of American music, the Buddy Holly Center kept me enthralled for an hour and a half on Tuesday when I first drove into town. It's not a big museum, but it's got a lot of neat artifacts from Buddy's life. I couldn't tear myself away. Listening to that drum roll on "Peggy Sue" was hypnotic. And kudos to the special timeline of the history of rock-n-roll that had me reading word-for-word, from Blind Lemon and Robert Johnson to Gene Vincent and Elvis. Eventually, five o'clock came around and they had to kick me out of the joint.


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TRIVIA ANSWERS---
Here are the three answers to last week's Alabama-based questions.
1- Bama QB Jeff Rutledge's worst day?
At Nebraska, 1977, where he threw five INTs and No. 2 ranked Tide lost 31-24. Rutledge would later call it "a nightmare in broad daylight."

2- Bama roundballer known as "Bodily" Hurt?
That would be 6'9", 250-pound Bobby Lee Hurt, who played for Wimp Sanderson in the early 80s. Some of the LSU players he played against still bear the bruises.

3- The home-run machine that was at-bat when Bama had the bases loaded vs. Long Beach State in '98?
G.W. Keller. He hit a screaming line drive that Dirtbag 2Bman Scott Redfox snow-coned at the apex of his jump to secure the win and a trip to Omaha for the Beach.

Nobody got them all correct. Nobody wins the free turkey or the home version of Extra Innings.


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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO---
Florida State's Richie Lewis?
As seen below, the 5'9" mighty-mite pitcher, never without a large chaw in his cheek (now outlawed by the NCAA) and without a Skoal can outlined in his back pocket (yep, outlawed too), was an All American pitcher from 1985-87 for Mike Martin at Florida State. He threw 202 strikeouts in his sophomore season of 1986, second in the nation to Seminole ace Mike Loynd, who had 223 Ks. What a combo!

RichieLewis.jpg


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SPECIAL THANKS TO MY SEARCH COMMITTEE---
A "Mighty Boss of You" thanks goes out to fellow stitch-head Mike Egleston for pointing out to me that former Arizona softball assistant coach Nancy Evans is now coaching for Cienega High School in Vail, Colorado. (Hmmm, my brother lives in Vail. Maybe I should go visit him soon.)


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I'm riverwalkin' out of here. You guys have a great college baseball weekend. Just a head's up here, I may skip Saturday's Statements in this forum this weekend because of all the Final Four hoopla. But don't worry, I'll still try to placate your ravenous college baseball appetite on Friday and Sunday at least.

Did I mention I hate this late night, central time stuff?

G'night.

 


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