As of Friday morning, there are no more than five at-large bids up for grabs for bubble teams, by my count. If UNC Wilmington is eliminated from the the Colonial Athletic Association tournament (the Seahawks took their first loss in the double-elimination tournament Thursday), that number will decrease to four, because UNCW will certainly earn one of those at-large spots. The favorites have gotten off to better starts in the Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Atlantic-10, Summit and Southern conferences, but should Wichita State, Texas Christian, Charlotte, Oral Roberts or Elon fail to win their conference tournaments this week, there will be even fewer spots available for bubble teams.
A day after Rice dropped its opener in the Conference USA tournament to Alabama-Birmingham, the top-seeded and two-time defending champion Owls were unceremoniously bounced from the event by East Carolina. The Pirates trailed 3-1 before posting three runs on Rice starter Ryan Berry in the sixth inning, en route to a 4-3 win. The Owls are ranked fourth in the nation and fifth in the Ratings Percentage Index, and they remain a very strong contender for a national seed, but their early exit is a shocker nonetheless, given their utter dominance of the league over the last three years. Rice’s departure opens the door for Southern Mississippi or perhaps East Carolina to win the tournament and host a regional. Both teams probably needed to win the CUSA title to host, and now they’ll have an even better chance to do so.
Meanwhile, in Hoover, Ala., South Carolina got seven strong innings from Nick Godwin and a three-run homer from Justin Smoak in an 11-3 victory over Florida. The Gators finish 0-2 at the SEC tournament, dealing a major blow to their hopes of hosting a regional. Florida does have a strong RPI (13) and a solid conference record (17-13, which was good enough for third place in the regular season), and they have series wins against Vanderbilt and Georgia in the last month, so they’ve still got a chance to host. But they’re probably competing with Florida for the SEC’s third host site, and the Wildcats won the head-to-head series against the Gators and have gotten off to a 1-0 start in Hoover. Kentucky seems to have the inside track. It is unlikely the Gators and Wildcats will both host, given the glut of strong regional host contenders in the ACC and Big 12.
College baseball fans in Atlantic Coast Conference country who, like me, stayed up late for the North Carolina-Virginia game Wednesday night/Thursday morning were treated to a dandy. The three-hour, 40-minute, 11-inning epic didn’t end until nearly 1:30 on the East Coast, but it proved that baseball can be ultra-intense even with 10,000 empty seats. Virginia eventually prevailed, 8-7.
ACC pitcher of the year Alex White was in control of the game for most of the first seven innings for UNC. After struggling with his command early and giving up three runs over the first two innings, White settled down, retiring the final 10 batters he faced from the fourth inning through the seventh. He did not allow a hit after the second inning and finished with 11 strikeouts. White left with a 4-3 lead, but North Carolina’s bullpen–which has been so reliable all season–allowed two runs in the ninth, one in the 10th and two in the 11th. But each time, the Tar Heels had an answer, which made this game so much fun to watch. [...] Continue Reading »
Upsets are inevitable in conference tournaments, but this one was a shocker at the Conference USA tournament. Top-seeded Rice was stunned by eighth-seeded Alabama-Birmingham, 8-2. Rice junior righthander Matt Langwell allowed four runs on eight hits over 3 2/3 innings, and UAB broke it open with three runs in the sixth against Bryan Price. Of course, if any team has enough arms to make a run through the loser’s bracket, it’s Rice.
The top seed also went down in the Southeastern Conference tournament, as Mississippi beat Georgia 4-1. The Rebels got the performance they’ve been waiting for all year from ace righthander Lance Lynn, who struck out 12 and allowed just one run over 6 2/3 innings. Lynn and Scott Bittle combined to strike out 16 Bulldogs while yielding just four hits. If Cody Satterwhite can follow Lynn’s lead and pitch up to his potential this week, Ole Miss will have a great chance to win this tournament. And the Rebels will be extremely dangerous in the NCAA tournament, because they are one of the most talented teams in the nation.
The top three seeds all went down in the Big 12 tournament. Top-seeded Texas A&M’s recent slide continued, as the Aggies mustered just five hits in a 4-1 loss to Oklahoma, the seventh consecutive defeat for the Aggies. The Sooners are a long shot for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament no matter how many big wins they rack up this weekend because of their 9-17 conference record during the regular season, but their 41 RPI gives them a shot if they can reach the Big 12 title game. No. 2 seed Oklahoma State dropped a 3-2 decision to Kansas State, and third-seeded Nebraska lost 10-4 to Baylor. The Bears have work to do to get an at-large bid after going 11-16 in the regular season, but Wednesday’s win was a big first step.
One Wave is working his way back, but another might be waving goodbye. Junior righthander Brett Hunter is back on the mound for Pepperdine, but outfielder Eric Thames is battling an injury of his own.
Hunter first returned to game action Saturday against Santa Clara, surrendering a single and hitting a batter in a close game in the seventh inning before the Waves pulled him for closer Nick Gaudi. Then on Tuesday against UC Riverside, he made his first start since being shelved by forearm and elbow soreness following his Feb. 29 start against Tulane. As might be expected, Hunter showed signs of rust in his short outing Tuesday, allowing four runs (two earned) on three hits and three walks while striking out one over 1 2/3 innings. He threw 68 pitches and sat at 92 mph with his fastball but didn’t really "put the pedal to the medal", according to one scout who was there. He threw all of his pitches, and Pepperdine coach Steve Rodriguez said his curveball looked "great, actually."
"He looked just kind of like I expected him to," Rodriguez said. "When you don’t throw for a couple of months, you just play some catch, throw some simulated games, everything’s different once you get a different colored uniform in the box. He just looked like everybody kind of expected him to in terms of getting feel for his command and being quick to the plate. There’s always a thought in your mind, ‘How does your arm feel?’ He said it felt great, like he’s been telling us for weeks. [...] Continue Reading »
After all that talk about whether St. John’s would get to host a regional, the Red Storm went and let the Division I Baseball Committee off the hook.
St. John’s was eliminated from the Big East tournament in a 12-6 loss to Seton Hall on Wednesday. The Johnnies went 0-2 in the tournament, losing by a combined 24-6 score in two games against Villanova and Seton Hall. St. John’s started soft-tossing veteran Matt Tosoni in yesterday’s blowout, but today they came back with their ace, lefthander Scott Barnes. He carried a 4-1 lead into the seventh inning, when the Pirates exploded for nine runs (three against Barnes) on five hits and three errors.
So St. John’s is the first team eliminated in the Big East, and its regional hosting ambitions are likely out the window as well. The Red Storm didn’t necessarily need to win the Big East tournament to host, but it needed a solid showing to pad a resume that includes precious few wins against likely regional teams. [...] Continue Reading »
What a finish in Baton Rouge. Texas Southern, which went just 7-17 in the Southwestern Conference during the regular season, scored five runs in the bottom of the eighth to steal a 12-11 win over two-time defending champion Prairie View A&M in the SWAC title game Monday. So the Tigers will head to regionals with a 16-32 overall record. If Texas Southern can somehow stun Rice in the first game of the Houston regional (maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but I don’t think so), that will have to qualify as one of the greatest upsets in college baseball history.
Elsewhere Monday, Arizona scored six in the bottom of the seventh to win a travel-shortened 15-11 game in the finale of a three-game set against Stanford. The Cardinal have now dropped back-to-back weekend series and probably need to win their series at Washington State next weekend to secure their regional hosting ambitions. Arizona, meanwhile, probably secured its status as a regional team.
Oregon State, though, could be in serious trouble after being pounded by Long Beach State, 10-0. The Beavers have lost four straight and six out of eight, including a bad loss to Utah Valley State. The two-time defending champs absolutely must sweep Pacific this weekend to have a chance to get into a regional. Long Beach, meanwhile, continues to make its case to host a regional, a case that is getting stronger by the day. The Dirtbags now seem more likely than UC Irvine to get the second hosting slot out of the Big West.
Conference tournaments are underway in a smattering of leagues across the nation, and the first result in the books is Louisville’s 12-3 win over Seton Hall in the first game of the Big East opener. We’ll have capsules for every conference tournament taking place this week online tomorrow.
Strike One: Punch Those Tickets
Two more teams joined Ivy League champion Columbia in the field of 64 over the weekend–one perennial power and one upstart. Bethune-Cookman continued its traditional dominance of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, winning the sweeping three games to win the conference tournament. And in the Patriot League, Bucknell toppled preseason favorite Navy.
Bethune-Cookman has been the class of the MEAC all season, going 17-1 in conference play and winning the regular-season crown by 5 1/2 games over North Carolina A&T. The Wildcats breezed through the conference tournament, winning two games by a combined 26-3 score and squeaking out a 3-2 win over A&T in between. BCU coach Mervyl Melendez said early in the year that he felt like his team’s pitching gave it a chance to compete in a regional, and the numbers bear it out. Few teams have weekend rotations that can compare statistically to Hiram Burgos (9-1, 1.20), Joseph Gautier (6-2, 2.00) and Eric Thomas (9-0, 2.04).
Bucknell won a pair of one-run games against the Midshipmen to sweep the best-of-three Patriot championship series. Senior outfielder/righthander Jason Buursma, the Patriot League player of the year, did it all for the Bison, going 5-for-10 with a triple and a homer in two games at the plate and working three shutout innings to win both games. Buursma entered all four of Bucknell’s Patriot League playoff games with the score tied (including two against Army) and picked up the victory in all of them. Bucknell needed a run in the ninth to break a tie and win both games against Navy, and Buursma singled to lead off the ninth and scored the winning run both days. [...] Continue Reading »
Jonathan Mayo has reported in his blog and Baseball America has confirmed with two scouts that Fresno State junior righthander Tanner Scheppers has a stress fracture in his shoulder and will not be able to throw for six weeks. This is obviously a significant blow to the draft stock of a player who had a strong chance to go in the top 10 picks in June, not to mention a crippling blow to Fresno State’s postseason aspirations.
Yesterday, Fresno State assistant coach Matt Curtis said he expected Scheppers to pitch this weekend, but that’s obviously not going to happen now. In the first BA mock draft schedule to be posted online tomorrow, Scheppers was slated to go ninth overall to the Nationals, so this injury throws the first round into some disarray. There are just five college starting pitchers who are regarded as sure-fire first-round picks, so Scheppers going down figures to boost Tulane righthander Shooter Hunt’s chances to go in the top 10 and help Eastern Kentucky lefthander Christian Friedrich sneak up close to the top 10. It also could impact the back half of the first round, where clubs might reach for a college pitcher like California’s Tyson Ross if they don’t feel comfortable taking a risk on Scheppers. Whoever does land Scheppers will get a high-upside talent at a spot in the draft that would have seemed very unlikely up until this week.
In other news, Michigan righthander/DH Zach Putnam is in the lineup as the No. 4 hitter today against Northwestern, but his start has been pushed back to the first game of Friday’s doubleheader. Putnam has lost 20 pounds while battling a viral infection but was able to eat solid food today for the first time in 10 days. The Wolverines plan to bring Putnam back slowly–he’s scheduled to throw five innings Friday. Fortunately, Michigan has a bye on Day One of the Big Ten tournament next Wednesday, so Putnam will get an extra day to build up his strength.
Tuesday was a great day for college baseball. Here’s a quick look at some of the highlights:
• Sophomore righthander Scott Swinson threw the sixth no-hitter in Maryland history in a 4-0 win against Delaware. It was the first solo no-hitter by a Terrapin since 1992, and it helped UM reach the 30-win mark for just the second time in school history. Swinson struck out a career-high 10 batters while walking two. The Terps finish the season 30-26.
• Louisiana State snatched the nation’s longest winning streak away from New Orleans in grand fashion. The Privateers had won 13 in a row heading into last night’s game against LSU at Zephyr Field, LSU’s Sean Ochinko delivered an RBI single in the 15th inning to secure a 7-6 win in one of the longest games in Tigers history. LSU now owns the nation’s longest winning streak at 13 games. [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Series Of The Year In Lincoln
College baseball has not seen a more intense, competitive series between two national championship contenders in 2008 than this weekend’s battle between No. 9 Texas A&M and No. 5 Nebraska. The tone was set Friday, in what must be the Game of the Year–a 16-inning epic that was finally decided when A&M’s Dane Carter delivered a three-run double with two outs after the Aggies had loaded the bases on three infield singles. That resolution came after the Cornhuskers pushed across a run in the bottom of the ninth to tie it, and A&M sophomore reliever Travis Starling delivered eight heroic innings of shutout relief.
“It was absolutely incredible,” A&M coach Rob Childress said after the five-hour, 20-minute marathon. “I’ve been around a lot of teams, and this is as tough a team I’ve been around in 19 years of coaching. We didn’t have many opportunities tonight, and we were just able to find a way.”
After Saturday’s action was washed out, the Huskers showed their own toughness in Sunday’s doubleheader, scoring a pair of improbable comeback victories. Senior catcher Mitch Abeita’s two-out RBI single capped Nebraska’s five-run ninth-inning outburst in the opener, as the Huskers overcame a late 8-4 deficit. Then, in the finale, Nebraska overcame a 9-4 hole over the final four innings to win 13-10. Typical of a Nebraska team that has gotten contributions from all over its roster all season, freshman DH David Stewart–an elite power-hitting recruit who had made just three starts all season heading into Sunday–started both games of the doubleheader and delivered seven RBIs. [...] Continue Reading »
USA Baseball has announced the first 12 college players who have accepted invitations to the national team trials to be held June 11-13. Cal State Fullerton and Tennessee lead the way with two players apiece: outfielder Josh Fellhauer and shortstop Christian Colon from CSF and outfielder Kentrail Davis and lefthander Bryan Morgado from UT. There are eight sophomores and four freshmen on the initial list, which will eventually be expanded to 32. At trials, a 22-man roster will be selected.
Vanderbilt sophomore lefty Mike Minor is the lone player among the first 12 who played for Team USA last summer. The other sophomores are Fellhauer, Missouri righthander Kyle Gibson, San Diego righty A.J. Griffin, Arizona State righty/utilityman Mike Leake, Oklahoma State lefty Andrew Oliver, Missouri outfielder Aaron Senne and Arizona righty Jason Stoffel.
The freshmen are Morgado (a redshirt freshman), Colon, Davis and Auburn first baseman Hunter Morris.
The changing of the guard in the Ivy League continues. A year after Brown won its first-ever Ivy title to reach its first regional, Columbia has won its first Ivy title since 1977, when it was co-champion with Cornell. The Lions are the nation’s first team to punch a ticket to the NCAA tournament–their first appearance since 1976.
Be sure to check this past Monday’s Three Strikes for more information about Columbia. The Lions split a high-scoring doubleheader Tuesday in the Ivy League championship series against Dartmouth, setting up Wednesday’s decisive Game Three. The Lions trailed 5-3 in the sixth inning Wednesday, but freshman shortstop Alex Ferrera launched a three-run homer with two outs to give Columbia the lead for good. The Lions held on for a 7-5 victory.
"It was a tough series with two evenly matched teams," Columbia coach Brett Boretti said after the game. "The level of play is continuing to rise across the Ivy League, and hopefully we can do our best to represent the league well in the regionals."
Elsewhere Wednesday, Arizona State might have found a remedy for its lack of pitching depth. Freshman Matt Newman, who has mostly played outfield this year, made his third career pitching appearance and first career start at Wichita State. The righthander held the Shockers to one run on five hits and two walks while striking out two over 6 2/3 strong innings, before handing off to sophomore ace Mike Leake, who worked the final 2.1 innings to nail down a 6-1 win.
One final note to pass along: Michigan ace righthander Zach Putnam will not make his scheduled Friday start against Minnesota because of a viral infection. The Wolverines lead Purdue by three games in the Big Ten standings and might be able to wrap up the regular-season conference title this weekend.
Tuesday was primary day here in North Carolina, and I think I would have voted for Pedro if he were on the ballot. The nation’s best prospect, Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez, belted two home runs in an 8-0 win against Memphis yesterday, giving him five on the year. He’s starting to find his stride after being sidelined for the first half of the season with a wrist injury, and that’s bad news for the rest of the Southeastern Conference. We’ll have more on Vanderbilt in Weekend Preview on Friday, but for now, let’s hit the mailbag:
This might be the only time in my life I can ask, but as a UC Davis student and avid BA reader, can you tell me if we will see them crack the top 25 this year? They seem to be on the cusp, and their team absolutely rakes.
As a sign of how good of a season UC Davis has had, Ross actually submitted this question on April 14, after the Aggies took two out of three at UC Santa Barbara. We strongly debated ranking Davis that week, and three weeks later we found ourselves talking about the Aggies again in Monday’s top 25 meeting. As it turned out, winning two of three against Long Beach State wasn’t quite enough to put UCD into the rankings in light of series losses the previous two weeks against Cal Poly and Cal State Fullerton, but even after a loss to California yesterday the Aggies are knocking on the door. And that’s a testament to the terrific job coach Rex Peters and his staff have done building that program. [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Resurgence In The Bayou
Heading into the 2008 season, Paul Mainieri talked cautiously but optimistically about how nice it would be to end the Alex Box Stadium era at Louisiana State by hosting a regional. The Tigers had gotten a major talent infusion from the nation’s deepest recruiting class, so Mainieri’s musings were not outlandish, but the goal did seem like a longshot. As recently as April 19, when LSU was 23-16 overall and 6-11 in the Southeastern Conference, it seemed like the Tigers might have a hard time just getting to a regional, nevermind hosting one.
But two weeks later, LSU finds itself perched atop the SEC’s Western Division and ranked in the Baseball America top 25 for the first time since late March of 2006. The Tigers have swept back-to-back conference series for the first time in a decade, and both have come against ranked opponents. And with a strong Ratings Percentage Index (23rd) and a manageable closing stretch (home against Mississippi State and at Auburn), all of a sudden that dream of hosting a regional doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
"Everything’s kind of coming together at the right time for us," Mainieri said. "With seven games remaining, if we can continue to play good ball–I know a lot of people thought it was a pipe dream not too long ago that we could host a regional in the last year of the Box, but I think it’s not so much of a pipe dream now. It would be neat to do it one more time in the old Box." [...] Continue Reading »
Just a week after Arkansas-Little Rock coach Jim Lawler–Baseball America’s 2003 assistant coach of the year while at Texas A&M–announced he will resign at the end of the season, another Division I head coaching job has opened up. Central Florida abruptly fired longtime coach Jay Bergman on Thursday with three weeks left in the regular season. Associate head coach Craig Cozart will serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the season, and a national search for a full-time replacement will begin immediately.
Bergman, who has a 994-594-3 career record in 26 seasons at UCF and is the namesake for the Knights’ baseball stadium, did not accompany the team to New Orleans for its weekend series against Tulane. Since starting 19-1 against a soft nonconference schedule, the Knights have gone just 8-18 and currently sit at 5-13 in Conference USA.
"We’re all disappointed at the way things have worked out, but as a coaching staff and as a team we’re grateful for what Coach Bergman has meant to us," Cozart, who also pitched for Bergman at UCF, told the Orlando Sentinel. "For what he has done for us in our lives and our careers . . . he’s in our hearts. Our guys are ready to play hard and finish out the season in a way that exemplifies how we were taught."
Also last week, Florida Atlantic announced the retirement of Kevin Cooney, best known for his regular Bruce Springsteen lyrics quoting and for leading FAU on a Division I record-tying 34-game winning streak in 1999. Longtime assistant John McCormick has the track record as Cooney’s assistant for 17 years to succeed him and maintain the program as a consistent regional threat.
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