High-profile regional rivals clashed in a number of midweek games yesterday. In Houston, No. 2 Texas fell to 1-1 this season against rival Rice, which jumped on Longhorns sophomore righthander Austin Dicharry in the first three innings and kept the pressure on in a 10-6 win. Anthony Rendon hit his seventh homer of the year—and drew two more walks, of course—for the Owls.
No. 3 Georgia Tech got a solid outing from sophomore righty Mark Pope (6.1 IP, 5 ER, 1 BB, 9 K) in a 6-5 win against rival Georgia. Pope, making his first start in two weeks due to inclement weather in his last scheduled outing, held the Bulldogs scoreless through five innings before they got to him, taking a 5-4 lead into the seventh-inning stretch. But Tech responded with single runs in the seventh and eighth to sink Georgia back below .500 at 8-9.
Just as Rice evened its season record against Texas, No. 6 Florida improved to 1-1 against No. 5 Florida State with an 8-5 win in Gainesville. The Seminoles jumped out to a 5-2 lead through two innings, but the Gators stormed back behind two homers and seven RBIs combined from Josh Adams and Preston Tucker. Relievers Nick Maronde and Kevin Chapman combined to hold FSU to one hit over five scoreless frames to secure the win.
No. 10 Arizona State remained perfect with a 6-5 win in the first of two midweek games at Cal State Fullerton, which fell back below .500 at 7-8. The Sun Devils are doing it without the big names that Fullerton can boast, but clearly ASU has the deeper lineup and the more stable pitching staff between these two West Coast heavyweights.
Two Palmetto State powers were toppled by quality local opponents, as No. 7 Coastal Carolina fell to College of Charleston, 5-4, and No. 11 Clemson lost to Charlotte, 11-10. One other Top 25 team lost, as No. 19 Vanderbilt was pounded by Western Kentucky in Nashville, 17-2.
Let's get to this week's mailbag:
With a 15-1 record and series sweeps of OVC preseason favorite Eastern Illinois and at Mississippi State, are the Southeastern Louisiana Lions on your radar? Who are their best prospects? Thanks!
The Lions certainly are on the radar, especially after sweeping Texas-San Antonio in their Southland Conference-opening series this past weekend. Southeastern Louisiana has not been to a regional since 1994, but the program has taken major strides since coach Jay Artigues took over in 2005, and it nearly broke through to the NCAA tournament in 2009, going 37-22 overall and finishing in second place in the Southland. The Lions look poised to get over that hump this spring.
Artigues said the key to the rise of his program has been finding players with the right mental makeup.
"The recruiting area we have around us, in a two-hour radius, there's tremendous high school and junior-college baseball around us in Louisiana and Mississippi," he said. "We just had to give kids a reason to be here. My two assistants, Justin Hill and Matt Riser, are former players of mine, and they really understand what I want in players. They do 99 percent of our recruiting. They've done a great job getting tough, athletic, hard-nosed kids. We know we're not going to get kids over LSU and Ole Miss, so we just get blue-collar guys that roll their sleeves up and make my job very easy."
Several key newcomers have blended right in and made an immediate impact for Southeastern so far this spring. Two freshmen, second baseman Brock Hebert and catcher Chad Gough-Fortenberry, have brought stability up the middle. Junior-college transfer Jeff Harkensee (.394/.474/.636) has provided a big bat in the middle of the lineup, and fellow JC transfer Tanner Lorenz (2-0, 2.37) has been excellent in the weekend rotation.
That group has complemented a strong core. Southeastern's best everyday player is sophomore shortstop Justin Boudreaux (.397/.506/.635 with three homers, 16 RBIs and six stolen bases), a slick defender who has taken a major step forward offensively.
"To me he's a premier shortstop in our conference," Artigues said of Boudreaux. "The ball always ends up in his glove, and he's very accurate with his throws. He gets to a lot of balls that a lot of infielders don't get to. He's kind of spoiled us over the last two years. Offensively, he's got better command of the strike zone. Coming in, he was kind of a free swinger, and he's really learned how to command the strike zone, letting the ball getting deeper, just being disciplined."
Southeastern Louisiana's best prospects for the 2010 draft are ace Brandon Efferson and closer Chris Franklin. Efferson, a junior righthander, was a 17th-round pick out of high school in 2007. He has run his fastball up to 92 mph in the past, but this year he's working more in the high 80s, with much improved command and late life. He has also developed a cutter to go along with his curveball and changeup. Artigues said Efferson has learned how to pitch to contact and work deeper into games, helping him go 4-0, 2.10 with 17 strikeouts and five walks in 26 innings.
Improved efficiency from the starters has been critical to Southeastern's strong start.
"The thing I've been impressed with is our pitching staff has really emphasized pitching to contact a bit more," Artigues said. "We love the back end of our bullpen, and our starters have done a great job pitching deep into the ballgames and turning it over to Josh Janway and Chris Franklin. When we do that, we feel confident."
As they should. Janway (2-0, 1.10 with four saves and a 17-6 strikeout-walk ratio in 16 innings) and Franklin (1-0, 1.56 with four saves and an 18-7 strikeout-walk ratio in 17 innings) have been nearly untouchable in the late innings, helping the Lions shorten games. Franklin has also helped his draft stock, as his velocity has jumped as a senior. Last year he worked in the 87-90 range and relied heavily on two good breaking balls. This spring, he has run his fastball up to 95 mph and showed a "tremendous slider," according to Artigues.
"The scouts really missed out on that kid last year, fortunately for us," Artigues said.
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