Strike One: Week Six Roundup
It was an action-packed weekend in college baseball. Here are some highlights:
• As Florida State wrapped up its three-game sweep of Maryland on Sunday, junior outfielder Tyler Holt became the first Seminole to hit for the cycle since Stephen Drew in 2004. Holt singled in the first, doubled in the second, tripled in the third and homered in the fifth. Then coach Mike Martin hit one out of the park with his quote discussing Holt's day.
“I would like to say that I have been in this for a while in my life—I’ve never seen a single, double, triple and home run in order,” Martin said. “I’ve seen a number of cycles in my career but never one that was in that order. I’ll have to admit it was a big thrill for me. Tyler was no doubt the story of the ballgame.
“There are two things that really fire me up when I am watching a game: a no-no and the cycle. That fired me up. I will be honest with you, I don’t go to rock concerts but I guess they light the lighters—I would have lit a lighter on that one.”
• Two other things this weekend would have gotten Martin fired up, too, as there were two no-hitters. South Florida junior righthander Randy Fontanez struck out 12 in a no-hitter against Notre Dame on Friday, and Mount St. Mary's senior righty Kent Worthington struck out nine while walking five in a no-hitter against Quinnipiac on Sunday. The Bobcats almost broke up Worthington's bid in the ninth inning, Brian Monack's flare down the left-field line went foul, and Worthington then retired him on a grounder.
• Minnesota and Louisiana Tech opened Target Field, the new home of the Twins, with a game on Saturday, which the Bulldogs won 9-1. The game drew 36,056 fans (at least, that's how many went through the turnstiles from 9 a.m. until the 1 p.m. game concluded)—the second-largest crowd in college baseball history, behind only the 40,106 fans that attended the 2004 Petco Park opener between Houston and San Diego State.
"Unforgettable experience for the kids (and coaches)," Gophers assistant coach Rob Fornasiere said in an e-mail. "Awesome surface, amenities and atmosphere. They got it right. Green grass in March in Minnesota? You bet! We rode the light rail train as a team to the game from the Metrodome to Target Field. Soaked up all the good feelings of being a major leaguer for a day. It was something I will never forget in 31 years of coaching college baseball."
• Middle Tennessee State junior outfielder Bryce Brentz—a first-team preseason All-American—sprained his ankle in pregame warmups Friday and missed the entire weekend series against South Alabama. "There's no structural damage," MTSU coach Steve Peterson told Sidelines, the school newspaper, "it's just going to take time."
• Louisiana State junior righthander Anthony Ranaudo, another first-team preseason All-American, returned to action after missing the last four weeks with a stress reaction near his elbow. He threw two perfect innings in a win against Tennessee on Saturday, striking out one.
“Ranaudo was awesome,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri told The Daily Reveille, LSU's student paper. “He couldn’t have done better. He was throwing hard, hitting 93 miles per hour consistently, and he had great command of his fastball . . . He actually wanted to continue pitching, but we decided the right thing to do was to shut him down.”
• Virginia won the marquee series of the weekend, taking two of three from Clemson. The Cavaliers stayed atop the Baseball America rankings for the sixth straight week with their third series win against a ranked opponent. Meanwhile, Pacific-10 juggernauts Arizona State and UCLA stayed unbeaten, as the Sun Devils swept California to improve to 23-0, and the Bruins swept Cal Poly to improve to 20-0. Those three teams have been the stories of college baseball through six weeks.
Strike Two: Coast To Coastal
CONWAY, S.C.—Most of the country has embarked upon their conference schedules, but San Diego and Coastal Carolina had one more inter-regional nonconference tuneup series first. The Chanticleers entered the weekend as strong favorites against a 12-10 USD team still trying to find consistency, but the Toreros made a statement by winning the last two games of the series after getting shellacked in an ugly opener, 10-2.
"It is significant to win a road series at Coastal Carolina," Toreros coach Rich Hill said. "Flying across the country, playing the No. 10 team in the country, and getting a lot of good performances really says a lot about the character of this team, especially after we could have been down after the Friday night game when we didn't play well and they took it to us a little bit. We showed some character, some resiliency. I'm just really proud of our guys."
San Diego won two of three against Rice last weekend and has actually posted four straight winning weekends, but the Toreros are still just 14-11 overall against a schedule that has included 10 games with ranked opponents (against whom they are 4-6). But San Diego looks like it is starting to gel. Without question, the Toreros have a special pitching staff, with three quality, experienced weekend starters in Kyle Blair, Sammy Solis and A.J. Griffin, plus a talented bullpen featuring hard-throwing righties Matt Hauser, Chris Jensen, Matt Thomson and Darrin Campbell.
Griffin, a senior righthander, is a key component. He racked up 25 saves over his first two seasons at USD, then went 8-3, 3.38 last year while splitting time between the bullpen and the rotation. He has gotten off to a rough start in 2010, going 2-3, 6.63 through seven starts, though he also has 45 strikeouts and 12 walks in 38 innings. Griffin had his best outing of the year Sunday, earning a no-decision in a fine duel against hard-throwing CCU sophomore righty Anthony Meo (8.2 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K). Griffin allowed one run on eight hits and three walks while striking out nine over seven innings, and the Toreros broke a 1-1 tie with a run on the ninth to win 2-1. Griffin commanded his 85-88 mph fastball well and effectively mixed four pitches, highlighted by his diving 78-79 changeup.
"He's such an excellent closer, and the starting thing for him has been a process," Hill said. "We had a good conversation this week about no excuses: 'Am I going to start, am I going to relieve?' It's not about that, it's about making quality pitches. But he was down in the zone today, he had a firm mix with all of his pitches. To keep a team like Coastal Carolina down today says a lot about his performance."
Indeed, Coastal will be a very good offensive team, though the Chanticleers are not firing on all cylinders yet. Several key cogs in the offense—most notably third baseman Scott Woodward (.257/.444/.351), first baseman Adam Rice (.272/.333/.380) and outfielder Daniel Bowman (.277/.349/.447)—have yet to hit their strides, but it seems only a matter of time before they do. The Chants already have perhaps the deepest and best pitching staff in school history, and the defense has standouts up the middle in shortstop Taylor Motter and center fielder Rico Noel. The latter is a true 80 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale and one of the most dynamic players in the country. He was on base at least three times in all three games this weekend, and he wreaks serious havoc with his speed.
"I'm very optimistic that our defense and our pitching can really carry us, and I still think our lineup can be really good," Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore said Friday. "We still haven't figured it all out. It's kind of funny, our numbers are about tit for tat identical after this many games in '08, and I never would have thought that, because I think we're capable of a lot more."
Indeed, the Chanticleers are capable of finally breaking through to the College World Series—which makes San Diego's cross-country road trip very impressive, indeed.
Strike Three: Golden Spikes Spotlight on Drew Pomeranz
By now, it has been conclusively proven that the pressure of big games does not faze Mississippi lefthander Drew Pomeranz.
As a sophomore last year, he beat Louisiana State and ace Anthony Ranaudo in front of a large, hostile crowd on a Friday night at the new Alex Box Stadium. He won on Fridays at Florida and Arkansas and Auburn. He threw two masterpieces in the Oxford Regional and another against Virginia in super regionals. Pitching for Team USA last summer, he carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning in the championship game of the Enbridge Northern Gateway World Baseball Challenge against Germany.
So taking on the No. 2 team in the nation this past Friday was just another game for Pomeranz. Naturally, he rose the the challenge, allowing one run on five hits and two walks while striking out nine over 7 1/3 innings in a 3-2 win against Florida, helping the Rebels win the big Southeastern Conference series.
"He's just been really good all the Fridays, and he usually is," Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. "I can probably think of maybe one bad start or a couple bad starts in his career. The few things we always say about Drew is No. 1, he's a tremendous competitor—he's certainly at his best on the biggest stage. Put that together with the talent he has—a dominant fastball and a great breaking ball, but he's a true three-pitch guy."
To finish Bianco's thought, put Pomeranz's history of big-game heroics together with his talent, and you've got a top 10 overall pick in the draft this June; scouts are just about unanimous in that assessment. Pomeranz pitches at 90-94 mph with his fastball, and as Bianco points out, "Not only is it a premium fastball with velocity, but it's not straight, and he can throw it in to righthanded hitters and lefthanded hitters. It has a lot of life and really good command."
His devastating knuckle curveball has become even more of a power pitch than it was in the past, increasing in velocity from 76-78 mph a couple of years ago to 79-82 now. And his improved changeup gives him a third weapon to use against righties sitting on his fastball.
Given his overpowering repertoire, it's hardly surprising that Pomeranz has dominated through six weeks of his junior season, going 4-0, 1.23 with 58 strikeouts and 11 walks in 37 innings. At 6-foot-5, 231 pounds, Pomeranz strikes an intimidating figure on the mound, and his stuff is even more intimidating. Since he has arrived at Mississippi, Pomeranz has become more physical, helping him withstand the rigors of the season and come back on short rest when necessary—like when he struck out 16 and allowed only one run in a complete game win against Western Kentucky in the clincher of the Oxford Regional last year. That effort came on two days' rest.
"When he got here he gained nine pounds of muscle and lost six percent body fat. People just don't do that," Bianco said. "It's the other thing people don't know about Drew, because he doesn't talk much and he's quiet: He's got a great work ethic, and he's always looking to get better. He continues to improve each year."
If he's this good already, it's scary to think about how good he can get if he keeps improving.
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