CLEARWATER, Fla.–Frequent readers of the BA College Blog might know that I have a soft spot for short baseball players. Sub-6-footers David Sappelt (Coastal Carolina), Ollie Linton (UC Irvine), Danny Payne (Georgia Tech), Scott Gorgen (UC Irvine) and Josh Satow (Arizona State) were all members of the inaugural All-Fitt team in 2007, and Harrison Eldridge (East Carolina) would certainly have led the 2008 team if I had put one together.
I think I found the first member of the 2009 All-Fitt team today. Cincinnati junior center fielder Jamel Scott is a 5-foot-4 stick of dynamite. Scott used his lightning-quick speed and slap-hitting ability to go 4-for-5 with a double, a bunt single and a stolen base today against Michigan. He also made the best defensive play of the entire weekend in the fourth inning, when Wolverines catcher Chris Berset crushed a ball to deep center field, a shade toward right field. Scott sprinted straight back and reached up his glove to make an over-the-shoulder catch directly into the sun, then crashed into the wall and held onto the ball. Another member of the media commented that it was a Willie Mays-style catch, but Mays didn’t crash into the wall the way Scott did.
We’ve seen a number of superlatives tonight in addition to Scott’s incredible catch. Some other awards from the weekend that were won tonight:
Longest Home Run: Michigan’s Mike Dufek hit a Chris Dominguez-like bomb in the top of the seventh, a three-run shot that gave the Wolverines a 6-1 lead. This missile cleared the berm behind the right-field fence and bounced halfway up the chain-link fence that shields U.S. 19. And it got there in a hurry. I haven’t seen a ball hit that hard since Dominguez hit two massive homers for Louisville in the 2007 College World Series.
Best First-Step Quickness: This goes to South Florida sports information staffer Charlie Terenzio, who is sitting two seats down from me in the Bright House Field press box. Charlie managed to dodge a screaming foul ball that was locked in on his head during the seventh inning. The press box window was open, but Charlie instinctively lunged to his right (wisely choosing his life over attempting to protect his laptop), and the ball left a crater in the half-wall directly behind him.
"I was almost killed by a foul ball," Terenzio was heard telling a co-worker later. "Seriously!"
Best Throw: Cincinnati junior outfielder Lance Durham gunned down Nick Urban at the plate to end the sixth. Durham caught a fly ball halfway between the outfield wall and the infield, and Urban tagged up and tried to score. Durham’s throw didn’t even bounce and hit catcher Rohlfs’ target just a few inches to the first base side. Rohlfs made a nice adjustment to tag out a sliding urban.
Best Escape Artist: Michigan sophomore righthander Travis Smith managed to wriggle his way out of a number of tight spots today. The 6-foot-5 Smith has plenty of projection and figures to add velocity to his 88-90 mph fastball eventually. Today he leaned heavily on a big-breaking 81-83 slider that was especially effective over the outside part of the plate against righthanded hitters, and down-and-in against lefties. Largely thanks to the slider, Smith racked up a career-high nine strikeouts while allowing just one run on seven hits and two walks over five innings. He used the slider to strike out Nick Rohlfs with the bases loaded to end the second, and he caught Spina looking with Scott on second to end the third. In the fourth, he escaped a second-and-third, one-out jam with another strikeout and a ground out to second base. And in the fifth, he loaded the bases with one out and then hit a batter to force in Cincinnati’s first run, but he minimized the damage by inducing an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
Michigan’s young arms continue to shine. Another towering sophomore righthander, 6-foot-6 Matt Miller, relieved Smith and has racked up a career-high seven strikeouts of his own over four shutout innings to pick up his first career save. Michigan 6, Cincinnati 1 is the final.
Most Impressive Team: With apologies to St. John’s, which won two games by a combined score of 33-9, the best team in all phases of the game has been Michigan. St. John’s absolutely bludgeoned Iowa today, and that Red Storm offense will undoubtedly be much better than I originally expected. But the scouts I spoke with weren’t particularly impressed with the Johnnies’ arms. Michigan has gone 3-0 (having also beaten Purdue 4-3 this morning in a recently added game) and allowed just nine total runs in three games. The Wolverines have power arms who have a good feel for pitching, and their lineup is athletic, powerful and fast. There’s a lot to like about that club, and I’m already starting to wonder if it was a mistake to pick Indiana as our preseason Big 10 champion. To be fair, I haven’t seen the Hoosiers yet, and a scout I spoke who saw them today said their offense looks awfully good. But I doubt they’ve got the arms to match the Wolverines.
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