Showdown of the day:
UC Irvine won the opener of its series against rival Cal State Fullerton in dramatic fashion. Irvine led 3-1 heading into the seventh, when the Titans scored three times to take a 4-3 lead, and the 'Eaters tied it at 4-4 with a run in the bottom of the frame. That set the stage for Sr. 1B Jeff Cusick's walk-off three-run homer in the ninth, giving UCI a 7-4 win. Sr. LHP Daniel Bibona (9 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K) went the distance and picked up his fifth win.
• No. 4 Virginia over No. 2 Georgia Tech, 7-4, behind a four-run seventh and a strong start from So. LHP Danny Hultzen (7 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 11 K), who beat fellow midseason All-American Deck McGuire (6.2 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 4 BB, 6 K).
• No. 17 Oregon State over No. 3 UCLA, 4-1
• No. 6 Texas over Kansas, 3-2
• No. 25 Virginia Tech over No. 14 Miami, 9-7
• No. 11 South Carolina over No. 20 Vanderbilt, 3-2
• Kentucky over No. 24 Alabama, 7-6
• Tulane over Rice, 6-5
• Oregon over No. 22 Stanford, 5-2 [...] Continue Reading »
This might be one of the strangest college baseball-related stories of the year. Rutgers basketball coach Fred Hill Jr., the son of long-time Scarlet Knights baseball coach Fred Hill, is being investigated by the university for his behavior at a recent on-campus baseball game, and could be facing termination. The younger Hill reportedly launched into a profanity-laced tirade directed at Pittsburgh coach Joe Jordano and his staff in the ninth inning of Rutgers' 9-8 win on Thursday. Very strange.
Let's go to the mailbag:
It was a great week for Virginia Tech, with mid-week wins over East Tennessee State and VMI and then going down to Tallahassee and taking two out of three. There is a ton of talent on the team and they are 21-10 (6-6 ACC), and I was wondering what you think they need to do to make it to a regional this year? Would .500 in conference be enough?
I posed this question to Virginia Tech coach Pete Hughes this morning.
"I would think .500 in the league gets you in," Hughes said. "But honestly, I think we're better than that. As soon as I get our kids to think like that, we're off and running. And they're starting to think like that."
With good reason. Virginia Tech is legitimately good, which is one reason why we put the Hokies in our Top 25 this week for the first time since 1993. I'm not sure Virginia Tech's resume is quite a Top 25-caliber—its series wins other than this weekend have come against Wake Forest, Maryland, Long Island and Charleston Southern—but winning two of three in Tallahassee is very difficult, and I don't think it was a fluke. The Hokies have Top 25-caliber talent, and now they have a signature series win to hang their hats on.
We projected Virginia Tech to make a regional in the preseason, and I continue to believe the Hokies are on track to make that happen. The conference schedule is challenging—probably the most challenging of any team in the ACC, with road trips to Virginia, Georgia Tech and North Carolina looming, and road trips to Clemson and Florida State already in the books. But home series against Miami (this weekend), Boston College and Duke are winnable, and the Hokies are good enough to steal another series or two on the road. The more games Tech plays against quality ACC opponents, the more its Ratings Percentage Index will climb from its current ranking (69th, according to Boyd's World, and that's down 13 spots from where it was yesterday, before Virginia Tech's 13-0 win against 0-28 North Carolina Central). If the Hokies finish around .500 in the league, they will be in a regional. When our midseason field of 64 projection comes out tomorrow, Virginia Tech will be included.
When I asked Hughes if he thought his team was on track to reach regionals for the first time since 2000, I prefaced the question with the standard caveat: "I know you don't want to get ahead of yourself, but . . ." Hughes, though, did not shy away from the big-picture question; he did not answer with the typical "one-game-at-a-time" coach-speak.
"That's our goal," Hughes said. "We can talk about it—we talk about it every day. We talk about Omaha every day in our program. I can't tell you we did that three or four years ago, because we didn't. But it's said with conviction. There's really no reason we can't be a player nationally with the players we have in our program and our track record as a coaching staff. We returned more players this year than any team in the league except Virginia. You just have to change that perception of a team that hasn't gotten over the hump in a while. That perception is out there everywhere. We've just got to win. You've just got to keep your head down and keep winning, and then and only then will you get respect.
"We've done it with a group of guys—our first recruiting class are juniors now. We threw them into the fire as freshmen in one of the best leagues in the country. The learning curve is huge to be productive in the ACC. We failed a lot, and our kids learned a lot from that. They weren't beaten down by it. Now these guys have an agenda and they have goals. We're not jersey watching anymore. Our guys don't even know who we're playing, they're just playing to win every day."
It helps that Virginia Tech's stars set a great example for the rest of the team by embracing that hard-nosed, businesslike approach Hughes preaches. And the stars have also led by example through their performance. The Hokies have two preseason All-Americans, and both are putting together huge seasons: Junior outfielder Austin Wates is hitting .436/.527/.691 with four homers, 30 RBIs and 10 steals in 11 tries, and junior righthander Jesse Hahn is 4-2, 2.23 with 45 strikeouts and nine walks in 44 innings. Wates has played through strained ligaments in his hand, and Hughes raves about his focus and work ethic. Hahn, meanwhile, has matured on and off the field since last year (as detailed by John Manuel in a recent column). On March 27, Hahn gave the Hokies 4 1/3 innings in the first game of a doubleheader despite battling three kidney stones.
"I showed up to the park on Saturday, and he had been in the hospital getting IVs," Hughes said. "He said, 'Coach, I think I can pitch the first game (of the doubleheader). I don't know if I can pitch the second game because my pain meds might wear off and I don't know if I can handle it.' There were scouts and crosscheckers in to see him, and he didn't care—he just knew we needed 18 innings from our pitchers that day. He threw 4 1/3, and then he started bending over because the pain meds were wearing off, so I knew it was time to take him out."
Both of those players were largely passed over by college recruiters out of high school, just like most of Virginia Tech's other core players. Wates' only scholarship offer was to play soccer at UCLA, Hughes says, and Hahn's only other Division I offers came from Maine and Bryant. Senior outfielder/catcher Steve Domecus (.341/.411/.634 with eight homers) couldn't break into the starting lineup at UC Santa Barbara, so he transferred to Moorpark (Calif.) JC and then to Virginia Tech, where he hit .406 last year. Junior second baseman Michael Seaborn (.308/.371/.450) transferred from Kentucky and junior shortstop Tim Smalling (.426/.476/.670) from Arkansas.
"You look at our program, we've got a bunch of castaways who weren't good enough to play at other programs," Hughes said. "We've got a bunch of guys from different places, but they all have one thing in common: They've failed in this league and gotten better from it."
The rotation is rock-solid; Hahn might have a mid- to upper-90s fastball and a wipeout power curve, but he doesn't even have to start on Fridays. Ultra-competitive, deceptive junior lefthander Justin Wright (4-3, 3.95) handles that duty with aplomb. Sophomore righty Mathew Price (4-1, 4.26) has overpowering stuff, with a fastball that reaches 93-94 mph, a dirty breaking ball when it's on, and a much-improved changeup.
And the bullpen is anchored by a steady closer in senior righty Ben Rowen (1-0, 0.79 with 34 strikeouts and five walks in 23 innings), a submariner in the Chad Bradford mold whose knuckles literally scrape the ground when he gets too far out in front. He's a strike-throwing machine who gives hitters a very different look, and Hughes said he has complete trust in him at the end of games. Talented sophomore two-way player Ronnie Shaban (.354/.455/.558; 0-0, 2.84 ERA in six appearances) is growing into the setup role, thanks to a 92-93 mph fastball, a good slider and a fierce competitive streak.
The lineup is deep, with good power and some speed, and Hughes said the infield defense has been strong since Smalling returned from a dislocated shoulder.
All in all, Virginia Tech looks like a complete, experienced, dangerous team. And after winning that Florida State series, the Hokies are also learning to believe in themselves.
"Our staff and players are really confident," Hughes said. "This weekend was the first time we went into a venue like Florida State and got totally consumed with winning. I just had a really good feeling. For us to have people walk out of Mike Martin's stadium in the sixth inning on a Friday night, that doesn't happen. We've never won a series against Florida State ever—I guess it would be a program-changing weekend for us. I've been looking for a momentum changer for four years here, so I'm going to use it. Getting into the Top 25 meant a lot for our program, since we haven't been ranked since 1993. It substantiates what our kids thought—that we're a really good baseball team."
Showdown of the day:
UCLA might have gotten off to the best start in school history and climbed to No. 3 in the rankings, but the Bruins still must prove they can get past old nemesis Cal State Fullerton. The Titans jumped on UCLA starter Garrett Claypool with five runs in the first inning Tuesday and cruised to a 6-1 win at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Fullerton improved to 16-11; UCLA fell to 23-2. The Titans have won 10 of their last 12 and 15 of their last 18 against the Bruins. Going back further, Fullerton is 37-8 against UCLA in the last 45 meetings between the two teams. The Titans are also 24-5 against John Savage-coached teams at UCLA and UC Irvine. It just feels like Fullerton could be standing between UCLA and Omaha again in 2010, for the third time in the last four years. Of course, it is still far too early to predict how the postseason brackets will shape up.
• No. 1 Arizona State completed a two-game sweep of San Diego with an 11-6 win. The Sun Devils easily overcame an early 5-0 deficit to improve to 27-1.
• Kentucky shut out rival Louisville on four hits in a 5-0 win in Lexington.
• Oklahoma over Texas Christian, 4-2, in Fort Worth
• Clemson over Georgia, 15-5, in Athens
• South Alabama over Southeastern Louisiana, 12-11
• Wichita State over Oklahoma State, 9-6
Upset of the day:
North Florida toppled No. 7 Florida State, 3-1. The Ospreys scored three times on back-to-back homers in the first, and four UNF pitchers held the Seminoles to one run on five hits. This is the second straight year the Ospreys have beaten the Seminoles. [...] Continue Reading »
Here are a few injury updates from the weekend to pass along:
• Arkansas will be without slugging first baseman Andy Wilkins for at least 10 days, according to coach Dave Van Horn. Wilkins pulled his hamstring after rounding first base on a third-inning double Saturday.
• Louisiana State leadoff Trey Watkins dislocated his elbow on a collision with shortstop Austin Nola while chasing a foul ball on Friday. Watkins will miss at least a month—a significant blow, but not a crippling blow for a deep LSU team that moved Mikie Mahtook into the leadoff spot and plugged Johnny Dishon into the outfield. Mahtook had four hits and four RBIs in his first two games atop the lineup, but he'll have his hands full replacing Watkins as a catalyst.
"This little kid, Trey Watkins, is a sparkplug for us—he's the first legitimate leadoff hitter I've personally had since Steve Stanley (at Notre Dame)," LSU coach Paul Mainieri told BA on March 16. "He gets walks, he gets hit because people try to jam him and he takes it. Once he gets on base, he can run and steal bases, so he's been a real asset for us."
• Clemson slugging outfielder Kyle Parker missed the last two games of the Tigers' series against Boston College because of a sore back, but Clemson expects him back in time for Tuesday's game against Georgia.
Strike One: Packing A Punch
Week Seven was chock full of upsets across college baseball. We'll examine Virginia Tech later this week and Tennessee later in this post, but let's start with the biggest upset of the weekend: North Carolina State's series win against No. 1 Virginia.
The Wolfpack entered the weekend with a 3-6 conference mark, a record that included losing in a sweep at Clemson and dropping two of three at home against Miami last weekend. So winning the Virginia series was critical for N.C. State to avoid falling into a deep hole in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings. It was also a tangible reward for an N.C. State team that has played hard but had little to show for it prior to this weekend.
"We played well from the beginning of the season on," Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent said. "We played well at Clemson—we took two leads into the eighth and got swept that series. Then we played Miami, and we had a great chance to win Friday's game and we didn't win it, then we won Saturday's game in the most improbable fashion in my career, down 6-1 with two outs and nobody on in the ninth, then coming back to win. That was a tremendous comeback, then (Eric) Erickson on Sunday completely stifled us. You start out that way, and the next thing you know you look up and you're in the bottom half of the standings with other people, and you've got the No. 1 team in the country coming in, so you fight and claw and win two out of three. [...] Continue Reading »
Showdown of the day:
UCLA bounced back from its first loss of the season with a 7-5 win in the rubber game of its series against No. 19 Stanford. Jr. LHP Rob Rasmussen (6 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 8 K) improved to 4-0 for the Bruins.
• Texas over Oklahoma, 9-3, to finish off a sweep
• Florida over Vanderbilt, 7-3, to clinch the series
• Arkansas over Kentucky, 10-1, to even the series
• East Carolina and Tulane split a doubleheader; the Green Wave won the series on the road
Upset of the day:
There were plenty of upsets to choose from Saturday, but bigger than Virginia Tech topping Florida State 8-7 to clinch the series in Tallahassee. Ronnie Shaban's third-inning grand slam put the Hokies ahead for good, and propelled Tech coach Pete Hughes to his 400th career victory. Virginia Tech will go for the sweep today with third-team preseason All-American Jesse Hahn on the mound. [...] Continue Reading »
Showdown of the day:
Texas shut out Oklahoma for the second straight day to clinch the series on the road. The Longhorns scored both of their runs in the second inning, and Jr. RHPs Cole Green (7.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K) and Chance Ruffin (1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R) made it stand up.
Upset of the day:
(tie) The last two undefeated teams left standing were both struck down on the same day. Arizona State came from behind with two in the top of the ninth to take the lead against Oregon, but the Ducks tied it with a run in the bottom of the frame, then won it 6-5 on Fr. OF Marcus Piazzisi's walk-off RBI single in the 12th. UCLA, meanwhile, lost 8-4 to Stanford, as the Cardinal scored seven runs (six unearned) against So. RHP Trevor Bauer in the fifth inning.
• No. 1 Virginia also lost Friday, falling to North Carolina State 6-5 in 11 innings. [...] Continue Reading »
RALEIGH, N.C.—North Carolina State knocked off No. 1 Virginia, 6-5, in a back-and-forth, 11-inning battle Friday night.
As if defeating the top-ranked team in the country wasn't enough, the win is No. 500 for N.C. State coach Elliott Avent.
Virginia's ace, sophomore lefthander Danny Hultzen, was a little shaky in the first inning. He gave up two walks in the inning and the Wolfpack was able to scratch out a run. But he quickly settled in and didn't give up another hit until his final inning. He was filling up the bottom of the strike zone with his 90-92 mph fastball and 79-80 changeup that has good drop and fade. It was mostly those two pitches, but he also mixed in a slurvy breaking ball in the 76-77 mph range.
Showdown of the day:
(tie) Arizona State and UCLA both remained unbeaten with one-run victories in their respective series openers. The Sun Devils mustered just one run on four hits against Oregon So. RHP Tyler Anderson (9 IP, 0 BB, 10 K), but So. SS Drew Maggi's first career homer in the third was all the support necessary for Jr. RHP Seth Blair (7 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K) and the ASU bullpen. UCLA overcame spotty control from ace Gerrit Cole (5.2 IP, 5 G, 3 R, 1 ER, 6 BB, 5 K) and came from behind twice to beat Stanford 6-5 in 10 innings. So. 1B Dean Espy's walk-off RBI single in the 10th gave the Bruins the win.
• Texas over Oklahoma, 5-0
• Kansas over Texas A&M, 9-5
• Washington over Washington State, 3-2
Upset of the day:
No. 22 Arizona entered Thurdsay 20-5, but the Wildcats dropped their first road game of the season to California, 7-2. Arizona Fr. RHP Kurt Heyer was hit in the head by a Mark Canha liner in the fourth inning and taken to a nearby hospital, but reports say he'll be OK. Cal did most of its damage that frame, scoring five runs. [...] Continue Reading »
East Carolina suffered a major blow today, as the Pirates announced that junior shortstop Dustin Harrington and junior righthander Sthil Sowers have been dismissed from the team. ECU coach Billy Godwin could not elaborate on a reason for the dismissal, citing federal student privacy laws.
Harrington leads the Pirates in batting (.443), slugging (.679) and stolen bases (eight) and has smacked five home runs and 21 RBIs in 106 at-bats. He's also a very solid shortstop who has fielded at a .958 clip this year. He will be very difficult for the Pirates to replace.
Sowers' loss will be easier to absorb. He is 0-0, 4.09 with 12 strikeouts and four walks in 11 innings over five relief appearances this spring.
Jack Diesing Sr., who created College World Series Inc., the nonprofit company that operates the College World Series, died Wednesday in Omaha at the age of 92.
The Diesing family has been heavily involved in the operation of the CWS since 1964, with his son Jack Jr. having replaced him as president of CWS Omaha. Jack Diesing Jr. helped spearhead the move to a new downtown ballpark, TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, that will keep the CWS in the city for the next 30 years.
The 2010 CWS will be the last played at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium. Sadly, Jack Diesing Sr. won't be there to see it. For more on his life, see this obituary in the Omaha World-Herald.
Showdown of the day:
No. 14 Coastal Carolina beat No. 16 Clemson 4-3—the first win for the Chanticleers against the Tigers since 2005, and the first win at Clemson since 2003. Coastal trailed 3-0 after four innings but rallied to tie the game with single runs in the fifth, seventh and eighth, then won it on Rico Noel's solo homer in the 11th.
• Western Kentucky over Kentucky, 6-3
• UNC Wilmington over East Carolina, 15-13
• Florida Gulf Coast over Oklahoma State, 10-7
Upset of the day:
Kennesaw State earned its third-ever win against No. 3 Georgia Tech, 7-4. With the score tied 3-3 in the seventh, a throwing error by Tech catcher Matt Skole helped key a five-run inning for the Owls. Starter Zak Griffith (6.2 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 ER) was solid in a no-decision for Kennesaw.
• Alabama-Birmingham over Alabama, 6-4
• Troy ove Auburn, 5-4
Hitter of the day:
North Carolina Sr. SS Ryan Graepel: 3-for-5, 2 R, 6 RBI, 2B, HR in 17-6 win vs. Richmond
• Virginia Tech Jr. OF/1B Austin Wates: 3-for-5, 2 R, 5 RBI, 2B, HR in 14-3 win vs. East Tennessee State
• Virginia Jr. OF Jarrett Parker: 3-for-4, 5 RBI, 2B, HR in 17-4 win vs. Towson
• Virginia So. 3B Steven Proscia: 2-for-6, 3 R, 4 RBI, 2 3B vs. Towson
• East Carolina Sr. OF Devin Harris: 3-for-5, 5 RBI, 2B, HR in 15-13 loss vs. UNC Wilmington
• North Carolina State Sr. OF Kyle Wilson: 2-for-4, 3 RBI, 2 HR in 7-3 win vs. Old Dominion
Pitcher of the day:
Iowa Sr. LHP Zach Robertson: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 10 K in 6-5 win vs. South Dakota State
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