The city of Omaha and the NCAA have agreed in principle to keep the College World Series in Omaha through at least 2030. But starting in 2011, Rosenblatt Stadium will no longer be the home of college baseball’s marquee event. That’s when the CWS will move to a new $140 million downtown stadium.
The 20-year agreement is an unprecedented step. Omaha has hosted the CWS since 1950 but has never had an agreement longer than five years at any given time. Key to the agreement were provisions intended to protect the city’s taxpayers: revenues from the new stadium will first be used to make annual payments on the construction debt.
The Omaha World-Herald, which has covered this long process in terrific detail at every step along the way, has plenty more on this very significant agreement (see link above).
It’s been an unusual year for Texas. The Longhorns, after all, are true college baseball royalty–they’re not used to sitting in fifth place in their conference with a 10-11 mark. But with two conference series left, Texas might finally be gathering some momentum.
Junior righthander Kenn Kasparek, who’s had an up-and-down year in his return from Tommy John surgery, threw a no-hitter in UT’s 10-0 win against Texas State on Tuesday. He struck out nine without issuing a walk, and was perfect except for a hit batsman in the seventh inning. It was the 20th no-hitter in the storied history of Texas baseball, but it was one of the first things for the ‘Horns to get excited about in 2008. [...] Continue Reading »
Texas Tech has made it official: Dan Spencer will take over for Larry Hays at Texas Tech. No one is saying when that will be, but the former Oregon State assistant is a Red Raiders alumnus and has the perfect combination of experience, understanding of the unique nature of Texas Tech and the winning background with the Beavers to become a successful head coach in the Big 12.
The Texas Tech announcement comes just days after long-time Florida Atlantic coach Kevin Cooney announced he will retire after this season, his 21st at the helm of the Owls. Like Texas Tech, the Owls seem to have a natural in-house replacement in associate head coach John McCormack, but no announcement has been made yet about who will succeed Cooney.
On to this week’s mailbag:
Hey Aaron, I was just curious which college pitchers you thought had the best sink on their ball in this draft.
The 2008 draft class is rich with quality righthanded sinkerballers. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s consider just players who throw a sinking fastball, and not those with outstanding sink on a split-finger (like North Carolina State’s Clayton Shunick or Georgia Tech’s David Duncan) or cutter (like Mississippi’s Scott Bittle). [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Just Another Big Weekend For UNC
CARY, N.C.–Sunday was Senior Day for North Carolina–the final home weekend game for seniors Chad Flack, Rob Wooten, Kyle Shelton, Mike Facchinei, Tyler Trice and Seth Williams. That group has won a lot of games in four years–190 of them, to be precise, including a national-best 149 over the last three years. And while those six seniors won’t be playing any more weekend games at UNC’s 2008 home, the USA Baseball National Training Complex, they still have three more midweek games in Cary, and they’re certain to play a home regional after that. If the Tar Heels can win that regional, the chances are very good that they’ll have a home super-regional the next week.
Winning two out of three games against then-No. 3 Florida State this weekend went a long way toward ensuring the Tar Heels will earn one of the eight national seeds, which would make their road to a third straight College World Series appearance considerably smoother. The Florida State series was critical, because the Tar Heels are on the road against Virginia and Miami the final two weekends of the season.
"I didn’t want to put a great deal of emphasis on this game today, but I think deep down I knew this was a huge game for us because of what we have to do the last two series at Virginia and at Miami," North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. "This was one we really needed. I didn’t tell the players that, it was kind of a regional, super-regional type atmosphere, where you get down to the last game and there’s a lot at stake. I didn’t want to put that much measure on it, but it was an important game for us." [...] Continue Reading »
It was easy to imagine a lot of endings like this for Cal State Fullerton when its stellar freshman class arrived on campus last fall. Gary Brown and Christian Colon will be dynamic college baseball players for the Titans, and they showed a glimpse of their value Tuesday against No. 6 Arizona State. With the score tied 9-9 in the ninth inning, Brown laced a one-out triple into the right-field corner, and Colon singled him home two batters later to give Fullerton a 10-9 win. The Sun Devils, meanwhile, seem to be running out of gas on the mound. They started senior lefty Josh Satow on Tuesday, and he allowed seven runs on eight hits over five innings, just three days after throwing 93 pitches and allowing seven runs on five hits over 4 1/3 innings in Saturday’s loss to Oregon State.
Elsewhere on the West Coast, UCLA is dealing with its own arms shortage, and the Bruins might have found a remedy Tuesday against Nevada-Las Vegas. After Garett Claypool limited UNLV to three hits and no runs over the first six innings, the Rebels stormed back with seven runs against four UCLA relievers to tie the score at 7-7 and force extra innings. The Bruins turned to shortstop Brandon Crawford to stop the bleeding, and Crawford responded with 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in his first career mound appearance. He struck out four without issuing any walks and allowed just two hits, and UCLA sports information director Alex Timiraos reports that Crawford was hitting 92-93 mph on the radar gun. In the 11th, Crawford doubled and scored the winning run on Mickey Weisser’s pinch-hit single.
One other note from Tuesday before we get to this week’s mailbag. Elon reached the 30-win plateau for the ninth straight season in impressive fashion, as freshman left fielder Greg Annarummo went 4-for-5 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in a 19-10 win against Wake Forest. His first-inning grand slam into the trees behind the left-center-field fence got the Phoenix off and running, and he later added a two-run shot and a three-run shot.
This week, we’ve got a double mailbag of sorts, dealing with the Big Ten’s postseason chances:
We’ve detailed Clemson’s struggles, with the Tigers losing 11 of 12 games going into Sunday to fall to 19-20, 7-13 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Duke played host to Clemson over the weekend and was trailing the Tigers by a half-game (one victory) in the race for the eighth and final ACC tournament slot.
Sunday’s game officially ended in a 6-6 tie in 10 innings. The Tigers believe the outcome of the game should have been different, however. Clemson’s Kyle Parker homered in the top of the 11th inning, a two-run shot giving Clemson the lead 8-6. However, a Duke official emerged to inform umpires of a lightning strike in the area and a 30-minute lightning delay ensued. According to Duke’s official press release on the game, "The two-run bomb was quickly followed by a bolt of lightning from an impending thunderstorm, causing a minimum delay of 30 minutes. Near the end of the delay, rain and hail set in and rendered the field condition unplayable. Because the teams could not complete the 11th inning, Parker’s home run was rendered moot and the score reverted to the 6-6 final." [...] Continue Reading »
Miami coach Jim Morris said last week that he didn’t think there was a lot of animosity between his players and Florida State’s.
"I don’t think our players don’t like their players," Morris said. "I think they know the importance of this game. Therefore it creates some anxiety sometimes and makes it pretty competitive."
This weekend’s showdown in Tallahassee was filled with both competitiveness and anxiety. The Hurricanes wound up escaping with an 11-10 win in Sunday’s curfew-shortened rubber game, as closer Carlos Gutierrez struck out FSU freshman Tyler Holt looking on a borderline pitch with a 3-2 count and the tying runner on third base. After that, tensions nearly boiled over at Dick Howser Stadium. [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Power vs. Power
COLUMBIA, S.C.–What happens when one of the nation’s premier groups of power arms faces off against one of the nation’s most fearsome collections of power bats? It just depends on the day.
Friday at Sarge Frye Field, South Carolina’s heavy hitters got the better of Mississippi’s hulking ace, first-team preseason All-America righthander Lance Lynn. But on Saturday, Ole Miss freshman lefthander Drew Pomeranz and bullpen dynamo Scott Bittle put the clamps on the Gamecocks’ heavy hitters. On successive days, each team showcased the strengths that make each a bona fide College World Series contender. Then on Sunday, South Carolina sophomore righty Blake Cooper stole the show from his team’s big bats and the big right arm of Mississippi’s Cody Satterwhite, as the Gamecocks won the finale 4-1. Check back later this week for more on Lynn and Satterwhite.
The Gamecocks knew very well what they were up against Friday. Last year in Oxford, Miss., Lynn struck out 12 South Carolina batters in a complete-game, three-hit shutout. First baseman Justin Smoak saw even more of Lynn this summer when the two were teammates with Team USA, and his pregame message to the rest of the Gamecocks was simple.
"He just said, ‘He throws hard. Get ready,’" third baseman James Darnell said.
All the anecdotal evidence resulting from the NCAA’s compacted schedule this year, from scores in our inbox to coaches’ comments, told us scoring was up. Now, there is hard evidence to back it up.
The NCAA, after a two-year hiatus, issued its midseason trends report for baseball today, and it shows that scoring is up significantly. Last year, teams were averaging 6.13 runs per game at midseason and finished up at 6.10. This year, scoring is at 6.50 runs per game, an increase of just more than six percent. Home runs also have increased from 0.65 at midseason 2007 to 0.77 in ’08, an increase of just over 15 percent.
It makes sense that earned run averages also would be up, and they are, to 5.43 from 5.10, but strikeouts also have jumped, from 6.75 to 7.03. [...] Continue Reading »
It’s rare enough for one player to hit for the cycle, but on Tuesday two different players on opposite coasts pulled it off. First was North Carolina sophomore outfielder Tim Fedroff, who got the hard part out of the way early with a first-inning triple in a 14-3 win against UNC Greensboro. He delivered an RBI double in the second inning, a two-run homer in the fourth and an infield single in the eighth.
Then, at Long Beach State, junior first baseman Shane Peterson hit for the cycle and drove in five in LBSU’s much-needed 10-0 win against Pepperdine. Peterson started his big day off with a two-run opposite-field homer in the first inning, then added an RBI triple to center in the third, an infield single in the fourth and a two-run double down the right-field line in the sixth.
The cycles overshadowed a big day for South Carolina junior first baseman Justin Smoak, who tied school records with three home runs and nine RBIs in a 14-4 win against South Carolina-Upstate. Smoak became the 12th Gamecock to hit three homers in a game, joining third baseman James Darnell, who already has done it twice this year. [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Make That Strike Three, Times 23
San Diego State sophomore righthander Stephen Strasburg struck out 23 batters in a complete-game one-hitter Friday against Utah.
It’s hard to decide if the scariest thing about that performance was that Strasburg was just trying to pitch to contact, or that he missed his start last week with a viral infection in his ear that affected his equilibrium and left him less than 100 percent against the Utes.
"It was not as well as I’ve felt," Strasburg said. "I felt a lot better two weeks before against Houston. Just coming off being sick, my endurance wasn’t really there. I was kind of surprised because my velocity was where it usually was the first four or five innings, then I started to get tired. I was like 97-99 the first two, then I went down to like 95-96 the next six. The seventh through ninth I was like 93-95. Usually my velocity takes a little longer to get down."
With fatigue like that, who needs freshness?
Strasburg struck out the side in order in the first, then recorded two strikeouts in each of the second, third and fourth innings. Utah got its first baserunner on Corey Shimada’s leadoff walk in the fourth, but he was erased trying to steal second. He struck out the side in order again in the fifth before "running into trouble" in the sixth. Michael Beltran led off the inning with a chopper up the middle–the only hit Strasburg allowed–and reached second when the next batter, Tyler Relf, laid down a sacrifice bunt. Strasburg fielded the bunt and threw errantly to first base, creating a first-and-second, no-outs predicament.
Piece of cake. Strasburg simply struck out the next three batters in order. Then he struck out the side in order in the seventh and eighth innings, and he topped the day off with a pair of strikeouts in the ninth, getting Jesse Shriner swinging to end the game.
"I just try to get ahead early in the count, and once I get ahead I try to make a quality pitch and not make a bad pitch where he can hurt me," Strasburg said. "I was able to get ahead most of the night pretty consistently, and then I was able to expand the zone and get some missed swings. I threw maybe two changeups to a lefty, got a flyout on one of them. I’d throw my slider for strikes early on, throw my fastball, then expand the zone and throw the slider low and away to righties."
The 23 strikeouts were a Mountain West Conference record and the most in a game at the Division I level since Miami’s Neal Heaton struck out 23 against Indiana State in 1981. The all-time record still belongs to Miami (Ohio)’s Buddy Schultz, who struck out 26 against Wright State in 1973. Strasburg’s pitching line also produces a game score of 107; for comparison’s sake, the best game score for a major league in a nine-inning game is 105 in Kerry Wood’s iconic 20-strikeouts effort against the Astros in 1998.
"I didn’t know anything about the records or anything, I wasn’t really paying attention to anything like that," Strasburg said. "I was just hoping to go five or six innings to keep our team in the ballgame. I just kept pitching, and in the sixth or seventh the fans stood up and started clapping, and I realized I did something. I was on my 18th or 19th strikeout at that point. It was a real close game all the way through."
The Aztecs needed Strasburg to dominate, because they managed just one run of their own against Utah’s Stephen Fife, and that wasn’t until the seventh inning. But their hulking ace picked them up and carried them to a win Friday, setting the stage for a three-game sweep that kept SDSU atop the MWC standings.
"It was pretty intense," Strasburg said. "We needed to keep winning in conference and set the tone for the weekend. It was just one of those real close games, and we were able to win our next two."
Strike Two: Priday’s Big Friday
Only a 23-strikeout game could steal the spotlight from Missouri on Friday night. All the talk heading into Missouri’s showdown with Texas centered around the amazing Aaron Crow, who carried a 42 2/3 inning scoreless streak into Friday. But all the talk afterward was about Missouri senior outfielder Jacob Priday, who smacked a Big 12-record four home runs and drove in a team-record nine. Priday took advantage of a 30 mph wind gusting out to center field, which also helped spell the end of Crow’s streak in Texas’ six-run first inning. But at least three of Priday’s homers were moonshots that likely would have been out in any conditions.
"We don’t get the kind of wind that was blowing Friday but once every 10 years, because it was out of the west," Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said. "It was sustained 20-25 mph, gusts around 40. When the ball gets up in the air, it’s a joke. The last game I remember like that was
Even after Crow and the Tigers fell behind 9-0 heading into the bottom of the second, they did not panic. Instead, they scored three in the bottom of the second and 10 in the third, en route to a 31-12 massacre. Priday wasn’t alone in the homer parade, as Missouri first baseman Steve Gray went deep twice and outfielder Aaron Senne hit another.
The Tigers continued abusing Texas pitching on Sunday, scoring 13 runs on 17 hits–and no homers. Missouri batted .500 (43-for-86) in the first two games, as the Longhorns got horrible starts from Austin Wood on Friday and Brandon Workman on Saturday, and their bullpen provided no relief.
"We’re a team in transition," Texas coach Augie Garrido said before the series. "Some of us (in the Big 12) are, and some of the teams are playing probably closer to their full potential than we are. That’s on one hand disturbing but on the other hand the reality of it all. Our inconsistencies come primarily from the defense behind the pitching and the returning pitchers that have not been as consistent as we hoped they would be."
When a team scores 44 runs in two days against Texas, it’s jarring. Even more jarring than Aaron Crow giving up nine earned runs in two innings.
"His stuff was good, but he wasn’t ahead in the count, and they were geared up to hit him," Jamieson said. "Crow really makes teams either really bad or really good. Teams will cheat a little on the fastball and if he’s not locating, they’ll get out in front of the fastball. I think a lot of things got to him, and he wont admit it, but the streak, the pressure, the wind blowing out, there were a lot of factors. When I heard the forecast, I said it was going to end tonight."
Strike Three: Phoenix Rising
ELON, N.C.—Elon righthander Steven Hensley is a candidate to go in the first five rounds of June’s draft, but his appearances have been up and down so far, leaving room for speculation.
He put some of those thoughts to bed Friday night in a 16-1 rout of Western Carolina. Hensley’s first pitch of the night was a 92 mph fastball on the outer half. Nick Liles got the barrel on it and pushed a home run to straightaway right field. Hensley, a little surprised, reached back on his next pitch and put a 93 mph fastball over everyone’s head into the backstop.
He walked Barret Shaft on four pitches, fastballs that all finished high and to his arm side. The next batter successfully laid down a sacrifice bunt, but Hensley induced a fly ball and grounder to get out of the inning with just the home run.
“I was kind of shocked,” Hensley said of the leadoff homer. “You’ve just got to gather yourself and start pitching again.”
He also expressed his trust in the Elon offense, which got started in the second inning with a Chase Austin home run and a Dallas Tarleton RBI double. Even after bouncing back in the first, Hensley looked like he was pressing for the first couple of innings. A pair of sliders got too much of the plate and a couple of fastballs rode in too far, one hitting a batter.
Through the first three innings Hensley had given up one run on three hits, a walk, an HBP and no strikeouts. However, he was commanding his slider well and throwing it for strikes. His fastball was sitting comfortably at 91-92 mph while his slider was at its best when it was 76-78 with good break.
After three innings, Hensley found his groove and let the whole stadium know it. On the mound he was calm and collected, but when he got a big strikeout or the defense made a good play, he jumped around, pumping his fist, trying to pump up his teammates.
Hensley finished the night with his fourth career complete game. He threw 122 pitches and scattered eight hits while walking one and hitting three. He also struck out 11, all from the fourth inning on. He improved to 7-0, 2.28 with 64 strikeouts and 19 walks in 55 innings.
One scout said during the game that he was impressed with how Hensley looked compared to previous starts he had seen this season. Hensley’s arm slot was higher than before and he was maintaining his velocity well. He hit 93 several times and touched 94 twice. In the ninth he was still comfortable around 91 and hit 93.
“His arm was live,” Elon coach Mike Kennedy said. “In the bullpen his arm looked good. Outside of that he threw his slider for a strike when he needed to.”
Kennedy added that his command was outstanding and he simply looked fresh.
A couple of other Phoenix players stood out. Elon has a talented group of freshmen that have come up big in 2008. Shortstop Neal Pritchard has hit .299 with six homers toward the bottom of the order and has flashed some great defense. Outfielder Harry Austin (a redshirt freshman) forced himself into the lineup during Pat Irvine’s slump. Austin is undersized at 5-foot-7, 150 pounds, but he can hit the ball to all fields and is an above-average runner, getting to first base at 4.12 seconds. He’s batting .333 with 13 steals in 14 attempts.
Behind Hensley and its deeper lineup, Elon won the series and improved to 28-9, 12-3 and first place in the Southern Conference. The Phoenix have three more road series in the league, including back-to-back affairs with College of Charleston and UNC Greensboro that will test their claim to being the league’s top team. But taking two out of three from preseason SoCon favorite Western Carolina makes Elon the clear front-runner.
The first game of Georgia Tech’s series against Miami has been pushed back to part of a doubleheader Saturday after the death of Yellow Jackets junior lefthander Michael Hutts. He was found dead in his apartment Friday afternoon, and the cause of death is not yet known.
"This isn’t supposed to happen to fine young men like Michael," Tech athletics director Dan Radakovich told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "It’s not supposed to happen to college student athletes. To have a life cut short like this is just tragic."
Hutts was 0-0, 3.38 with 11 strikeouts and two walks in 11 innings of relief this spring.
Our deep condolences go out to Hutts’ family, friends and teammates.
Tuesday’s schedule was chock full of the normal quality matchups, and five top 25 teams played extra-inning games. A quick roundup:
• No. 1 Miami was pushed to 11 innings by frisky Florida Gulf Coast before outfielder Dave DiNatale hit a walk-off two-run homer.
• No. 7 UC Irvine blew a 5-0 lead against UCLA but scored the winning run in the 10th inning in typical Anteater fashion: with an Ollie Linton walk, a Ben Orloff sacrifice bunt and a Jeff Cusick RBI single.
• No. 17 Kentucky beat instate-rival Louisville 7-6 on Keenan Wiley’s walk-off homer to lead off the 12th. Wiley went 4-for-6 out of the No. 9 hole, exemplifying the kind of production the Wildcats have gotten all year from up and down their lineup. [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Top Dawgs
Through four weeks of play in the Southeastern Conference, it is clear that the league lacks a single, dominant superpower. South Carolina and Vanderbilt, which entered the week ranked in the top 10, were both swept on the road this weekend. Mississippi, which swept Vandy, had lost three of its previous four series before this weekend. Kentucky has lost road series to South Carolina and Auburn. Florida had won its first three conference series before losing two out of three to Tennessee this weekend.
It’s a muddle, but after sweeping the Gamecocks, Georgia has emerged as the front-runner–for now, anyway. The Bulldogs appear to be the most balanced team in the league, with three reliable juniors in the weekend rotation, the nation’s best closer in senior righthander Joshua Fields (1-1, 0.00, 8 saves, 32-6 K-BB ratio in 15 innings), and a deep lineup built around one of the nation’s best hitters in shortstop Gordon Beckham (.419/.507/.871 with 15 homers and 36 RBIs). Beckham got little to hit last week, but slugging first baseman Rich Poythress (.383/.479/.643 with seven homers and 29 RBIs) has emerged as a legitimate source of protection behind him in the lineup, and seniors Ryan Peisel and Matt Olson came up with big hits against South Carolina.
“We’re definitely starting to play better in all phases of the game,” Georgia coach David Perno said. “We’ve solidified our roles on the pitching staff and Joshua is back doing his thing, closing out ballgames. There’s a lot of confidence in our dugout. USC’s starting pitchers did a nice job against us, and they’re the best defensive team we’ve played and certainly one with the most power. It was three well-played baseball games, and I’m glad we’re through with this series.”
The Bulldogs took their lumps early against a difficult nonconference schedule, losing series against Pac-10 contenders Arizona and Oregon State. But that experience toughened the Bulldogs for the conference slate, and they have won their first four SEC series: at Arkansas, against Tennessee, at Mississippi State and against the Gamecocks. If the Bulldogs can keep that momentum going against Kentucky this weekend–and that series is in Athens, so give Georgia a major edge–they will emerge as the clear class of the SEC.
Strike Two: Out With The Old . . .
It was a weekend of particular upheaval in a season of volatility for the top 25 rankings, as nine ranked teams lost series and three were swept. One of those swept teams, Virginia, fell out of the rankings altogether, but the Cavaliers weren’t alone. Preseason No. 1 UCLA and preseason No. 2 Arizona both tumbled out of the rankings for the first time this year after dropping Pacific-10 Conference series.
The good news for both the Bruins and Wildcats is that each got respectable pitching this weekend. UCLA’s Tim Murphy struck out 10 in a loss Friday and Gavin Brooks pitched into the ninth in Sunday’s win against Southern California. Ace Preston Guilmet continued to pitch well for Arizona, and senior lefty David Coulon threw a complete-game shutout on Saturday against Washington. If those clubs continue to pitch well, they’re still capable of making a run, but both clubs have been extremely disappointing offensively. UCLA is batting just .259 as a team, and Arizona has averaged just two runs per game over its last eight losses, which have come in its last 10 games. There’s no easy explanation for those struggles, as both teams have healthy and talented lineups–they’re just not producing.
All of a sudden, 14-12 UCLA and 15-11 Arizona are in jeopardy of missing out on regionals. The Wildcats are in the most trouble because they are just 3-6 in the league, and they still must travel to Oregon State and California and host Stanford and Arizona State. UCLA, at least, is just 3-3 in the Pac-10, though it also must travel to OSU and Cal and it also gets Stanford and ASU at home. If the Bruins and Wildcats are going to make a run, they’d better get to it.
Strike Three: Liberty Takes Time
ASHEVILLE, N.C.–Jim Toman didn’t expect to transform Liberty into a national power overnight. He left his secure job as South Carolina’s recruiting coordinator to take over the Flames because he saw an opportunity to build something special. But building a new foundation takes time.
Liberty has had its ups and down so far in Toman’s first year at the helm. After losing 9-0 Friday at UNC Asheville, the Flames scored 25 runs over the next two days to take the series and improve to 14-15 (3-3 Big South) on the year.
Last week, Liberty took one game against Big South juggernaut Coastal Carolina and lost two other close games, one in extra innings and one by a 2-1 score. That series was the first under the new lights at Worthington Stadium, and the opener drew a school-record 3,183 fans. The $350,000 lights and the new $52,000 sound system are indications of Liberty’s commitment to baseball, and the crowd is a sign that the commitment is gaining notice.
"I feel kind of guilty right now because we’re not winning enough games, but the administration is putting the money in our program," Toman said. "I don’t know whether we were playing up to Coastal’s ability last weekend or they were playing down to ours, but it was a pretty even series, so I felt good after that."
There are signs the Flames should be competitive in the second half of the season, though a regional run seems improbable. Senior outfielder Garrett Young, the most talented player on the roster, has been hampered offensively by a labrum tear that has limited him to DH duties, but he blasted a big grand slam in Saturday’s win and had two more hits Sunday. Fellow senior outfielder P.K. Keller missed some time with a knee injury but returned to go 4-for-6 with three RBIs Sunday, raising his team-best average to .387. On the mound, 6-foot-8 strike-thrower David Stokes (3-3, 3.11) has been up to 91 mph to go along with a decent slider and changeup, and senior righty Ryan Page (1-3, 4.13) has come on over the last week or two, working in the 86-89 range with a decent changeup and improved curve. Auburn transfer Clarence Nicely, who is coming off Tommy John surgery, has been inconsistent with his stuff but has flashed a 90 mph fastball, and swingman Dustin Umberger has struck out 44 while walking just 11 in 35 innings.
"These guys here work really hard, great kids, solid kids, we’ve just got to get the talent level up a tad," Toman said. "And when we do that we’ll be OK. It’s all going to boil down to whether we can find some players."
The Flames signed 12 recruits in the early period, and they’re leaving no stones unturned. Liberty’s signees come from Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, Arizona, Washington and Pennsylvania. Third baseman Tyler Bream, the son of former big leaguer Sid Bream, is the jewel of the class, a good hitter with solid actions and a strong arm at the hot corner.
Recruiting players to come to Liberty is much different than recruiting at South Carolina. Instead of a big, public university, Liberty is a small, private school that caters to players with a strong religious background.
"It helps and it hurts," Toman said. "It helps because if you get a kid who wants our type of environment, we have a good shot of getting him. But there’s also hundreds of good players out there who really wouldn’t fit in at Liberty, so it hurts you there. Obviously the pool of players we’re selecting from is smaller than it was at South Carolina, because we are a Christian school and we’re looking for kids open to that environment. That’s not for everyone, but I’ve got to think there’s 30 kids out there that want to play at Liberty, in the Big South, a good conference. If they’re out there, we’re going to find them, one way or another."
After months of onerous negotiation, efforts to keep the College World Series in Omaha long term cleared a significant hurdle this week, and the news isn’t good for those who want to renovate and preserve Rosenblatt Stadium.
Mayor Mike Fahey has advocated building a new downtown ballpark to replace Rosenblatt as the site of the CWS, but his preferred site was under control by the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, which operates the Qwest Center Omaha and was reluctant to allow the city to build a new stadium on two of its parking lots. But on Tuesday, Fahey and MECA chairman David Sokol struck an agreement that would allow the city to build a new stadium in its preferred location, eliminating a major sticking point in the effort to replace Rosenblatt. Some hurdles still need to be cleared–the City Council must approve the plan, for instance–but MECA members told the Omaha World-Herald that the stadium proposal is essentially a done deal. [...] Continue Reading »
We’ve got a couple of coaching-related notes to pass along from Wednesday’s games. In Lubbock, Texas Tech beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 10-5 to earn Red Raiders coach Larry Hays his 1,500th career win. That puts him in pretty exclusive company: just Texas’ Augie Garrido, Wichita State’s Gene Stephenson and Florida State’s Mike Martin (who reached the mark earlier this year) have won as many games. The Lubbock Avalanche Journal had a nice piece about Hays in today’s paper.
Elsewhere, Florida International and Miami met for the first time since former Hurricanes assistant Turtle Thomas became the Golden Panthers’ head coach last summer, and Miami rolled to a 13-2 win. As the Miami Herald reports, the Hurricanes aren’t expected to schedule FIU again after this season, so the April 23 meeting between the two teams could be the last in a while. The ‘Canes and Panthers have met at least twice each season since FIU started its baseball program in 1973. Thomas told the Herald he would like to play Miami four times per year, but Miami coach Jim Morris put the kibosh on that.
"That’s not going to happen," he told the paper. He was noncommittal about whether he would terminate the series altogether.
"I haven’t done the schedule at this point,” Morris said–tersely, according to the Herald. "The only thing I got done is our ACC."
As usual, Tuesday was a busy day on the college baseball calendar, and as usual, there were a couple of notable upsets. Most shockingly, Western Illinois improved to 5-14 on the year with a 5-3 against No. 4 Missouri. Since their 14-game winning streak came to an end last week, the Tigers have run into a mini-funk, losing four of their last five games. Meanwhile, two of the Leathernecks’ victories are against the Tigers and Long Beach State.
Speaking of funks, No. 10 Long Beach State lost its sixth straight game yesterday, 7-6 against Fresno State. The Dirtbags have four games left on their 10-game road trip, and they’re still looking for their first win of the trip.
Staying on the West Coast, let’s go to the mailbag:
I personally feel the West Coast Conference is underrated and underappreciated in the college baseball world. Obviously San Diego and Pepperdine receive national attention, but the rest of the league is snubbed . . . What do you see the final conference standings being in the WCC? Obviously San Diego is favored for No. 1 and Pepperdine No. 2 but otherwise how do you play it out?
Am I wrong in suggesting that maybe, at least maybe, the WCC should be highly considered for three bids into the tournament? It happened in 2005, and I think the conference just keeps improving. Let me know if I am wrong.
To answer the last part of your question first, I thought the West Coast Conference deserved three bids a year ago, when Gonzaga was the most egregious regional snub, in my mind. The league is brimming with quality teams this year, which means there are plenty of regional contenders, but there’s also a good chance that they all beat each other up, leaving San Diego and Pepperdine as the lone regional participants again. Heading into last night’s action, the WCC and the Big 12 were the only two conferences with no teams that had sub-.500 overall records. After one weekend of conference play, neither the Toreros nor the Waves sit atop the conference standings, but rather 3-0 Loyola Marymount, fresh off a sweep of Portland (which fell below .500 last night with a loss to Washington). Santa Clara and San Francisco are both 2-1 in conference play, ahead of Pepperdine (1-1) and San Diego (1-2).
Even after they dropped two out of three to Santa Clara this past weekend, I still believe the Toreros are the favorites to win the WCC, but it’s hardly a slam dunk. At the moment, USD is dealing with some significant injuries, most notably to senior righthander Matt Couch, who will miss the remainder of the season with Tommy John surgery (he hopes to redshirt and return for his fifth year). Outfielder Anthony Strazzara was hit on his right hand by a pitch last week against Harvard and sustained a hairline fracture that will keep him out another two to three weeks. Freshman phenom Victor Sanchez, who leads USD with nine homers, eight doubles and 30 RBIs, left Saturday’s game against Santa Clara after aggravating his shoulder on a swing, and freshman lefty Sammy Solis left the same game after taking a line drive off his hand, causing a lot of swelling but no broken bones. Both are day to day and could be return this weekend.
Pepperdine has the most offensive talent in the league, but so much will depend upon whether Brett Hunter can make a strong return this month from forearm soreness. Nate Newman and Scott Alexander have excellent arms and are weekend-caliber starters, but neither is a legitimate Friday ace yet.
Those question marks mean the league is wide open, and the three teams at the top of the standings have the best shot at capitalizing. I like Santa Clara the best of that bunch, thanks largely to deep, talented, experienced offense. The Broncos wear out the gaps, leading the conference (and ranking fifth in the nation) with 2.74 doubles per game. Junior outfielder Evan LeBlanc (.379/.425/.573 with three homers, nine doubles and 18 RBIs) has been a revelation in his second year since transferring from Yavapai (Ariz.) JC, and he has help in the lineup from sophomore catcher Tommy Medica (a member of Team USA last summer) and a slew of solid veterans.
"They’re very good," said one coach whose team has played the Broncos. "They have a bunch of veteran position players who continue to get better with experience. It was like, ‘OK, do you walk this guy to pitch to this guy?’ It was never a no-brainer, because they have seven guys at the top of the lineup taking quality at bats right now. They all have a good approach, they were all there last year, and they’ve all improved tremendously."
Santa Clara lacks power arms in its weekend rotation, but Friday starter Nate Garcia throws his fastball and breaking ball for strikes and competes in tough spots. And freshman righthander Thain Simon (6-0, 0.90 with two saves and a 27-6 strikeout-walk ratio in 20 innings) has been a dynamo at the back of the bullpen, thanks to his deception and ability to locate a quality fastball and slider down in the strike zone. The rest of the staff is filled with strike throwers, but the Broncos have a 5.78 team ERA and might not have enough pitching to win the WCC title.
Loyola Marymount has similarly been led by a freshman on the mound. Six-foot-5 lefthander Martin Viramontes has slid right into the Friday starter spot and gone 2-2, 4.03 with a 37-11 K-BB ratio in 29 innings.
"Viramontes, he’s good. If he stays healthy, I think we’ll see that he turns into one of if not the best pitcher to have pitched at Loyola since (coach) Frank Cruz been there," one opposing coach said. "I think he’ll turn into a good draft pick. The breaking ball is legitimate, the fastball is plenty firm enough. Whether he pitches at 90, I don’t know, but it’s upper 80s, he’ll flash the 91s, 92s. As he matures, he’ll be one of those guys in the 90s."
Like Santa Clara, LMU’s strength is its lineup, which has gotten strong starts from first baseman Ryan Wheeler (.353/.415/.510) and DH Andy Preston (.341/.429/.534). Preston, a transfer from Purdue, has beefed up the lineup, and shortstop Kyle Spraker, a transfer from California, has shored up the infield defense.
"I think he’s given them real good consistent, college defense, and probably has hit better than they expected," the second coach said of Spraker. "The guy that will make a big difference for them when he breaks out is (catcher Sean) Dovel, because he’s physical, has hit in the past and hit for some power in the past. And Wheeler is real dangerous. They’re physical, and they can hit. Their question was pitching, and I think they feel better about it now."
San Francisco is the darkhorse. The Dons have recovered from a sluggish start, when they split four games at Hawaii, were swept at UC Irvine and lost a series at Houston. Since then, they’ve won nine of 10, bookended by midweek wins over Fresno State and yesterday’s 5-1 win over No. 7 California. Quixotic lefthander Evan Frederickson, who has one of the best arms in college baseball but was plagued by terrible command and control the last two years at Virginia Tech before transferring to USF, struck out 13 over seven shutout innings against the Golden Bears. If he can build upon that momentum, he could form a formidable pitching core with lefty Matt Baugh (3-2, 3.52), sophomore righty Chase Tigert (0-0, 0.00 through six innings), freshman lefty Matt Lujan (3-0, 1.88) and righthander/first baseman Mitchell Bialosky (1-3, 4.00).
"I thought they were a team that could compete with anybody, and really compete within their league," said a coach whose team has played the Dons. "I think that’s a league that people are going to beat each other up. There’s really nobody that’s a gimme, and nobody that’s going to run away with it."
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