HOOVER, Ala.—It wasn't pretty, but it was entertaining.
After two days of pitchers' duels, Mississippi won a back-and-forth slugfest against Auburn on Friday night, 10-7. Senior outfielder Taylor Hashman broke a 7-7 with a three-run homer to center field in the 10th. Hashman has swung the bat well this week, and he has had a knack for coming up with timely hits all season. He now has 23 RBIs with two outs this season, second-most on the team.
Power played a big part in this game, unlike in most of the first eight games of the Southeastern Conference tournament. The Rebels went up 3-1 early, and Auburn's Tony Caldwell tied it with a two-run homer in the third. The Rebels took a three-run lead with three in the seventh, and the Tigers tied it on Hunter Morris' majestic three-run homer to right in the bottom of the frame. That shot, against lefty Matt Crouse (who pitched well), was downright towering.
But it was a sloppy game, and the one-hour, 55-minute rain delay before first pitch might have played a role in that, creating wet conditions and anxious players. Auburn made five errors, leading to four unearned runs, and Ole Miss made two errors of its own. The two teams combined to hit seven batters. [...] Continue Reading »
Florida International sophomore middle infielder Garrett Wittels is the biggest story in college baseball right now. Wittels is steadfastly pursuing one of college baseball's most famous records—Robin Ventura's 58-game hitting streak, the longest in Division I history. Wittels is nipping at his heels.
Two days after needing a ninth-inning double to keep the streak alive, Wittels extended his hitting streak—already the second-longest in D-I history—to 52 games with first-inning singles in both of FIU's Sun Belt tournament games Friday. Both were hard line drives. He finished 2-for-4 in Florida International's 10-9 win against South Alabama in this morning's elimination game, setting up a showdown against top-seeded Florida Atlantic, which is unbeaten in the tournament. That means the Panthers need two wins in two days against the Owls to prolong their season and give Wittels a chance to make a run at Ventura this spring. At No. 62 in the Ratings Percentage Index, FIU is a long shot to earn an at-large bid, though they have a respectable 7-8 record against the top 50—better than a number of other bubble teams.
If the Panthers lose today (they trail 4-3 in the third) and they do not get a bid, Wittels will have almost seven months to answer questions about the streak, and then will resume his pursuit in February. If he catches Ventura, he can set his sights on the NCAA's overall mark—60 games—held by Damian Costantino of Division III Salve Regina (R.I).
We wrote about Wittels in the Streakin' section of Weekend Preview back in April, when the streak was just 31 games. Here's a link.
HOOVER, Ala.—Indisputably, the root cause of Louisiana State's second-half slump was unreliable pitching. The Tigers too often were forced to play from behind because their starters were hit hard early, and they struggled to protect leads late in large part because closer Matty Ott was going through his own rough patch.
But for the second straight day Thursday, the Tigers got encouraging signs that their pitching is on the mend—which seems to be helping the defending national champions rediscover their missing swagger. LSU continued its resurgence with a 7-5 win against Vanderbilt behind eight strong innings from starter Austin Ross, and Ott escaped a jam in the ninth to preserve the victory.
There might not be a coach in college baseball who offers the media more candid, insightful analysis than LSU's Paul Mainieri. I had an extended conversation with Mainieri on the field after the game, so I'll let him break down Thursday's victory and its ramifications for the Tigers.
Ross allowed four runs on four hits and two walks while striking out seven over eight-plus innings, and held Vandy hitless from the third through the eighth. His M.O. all season has been that one bad innings proves his undoing; today his bad inning was the third, when Vandy scored three runs, but he rebounded quickly to dominate thereafter.
Mainieri: "The kid is a dominating pitcher except for that one inning when he seems to give up multiple runs, but you just never know when that inning's going to happen. Usually it happens in the fourth or the fifth, today it was the second. But I really didn't fault him all that much. They hit the ball. It wasn't like he was walking batters. I thought the kid showed a lot, he kept challenging hitters . . . [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Mitch Gaspard said it Wednesday: Alabama is peaking at the right time. For the second straight day, the Crimson Tide played well in all facets of the game and earned a dominating win, this time by a 6-3 score against Mississippi.
Today's hero was 5-foot-6 junior righthander Nathan Kilcrease, who pitched into the ninth inning in just his fourth start of the season after spending most of the year as a bullpen stopper. Kilcrease allowed three runs on nine hits and no walks while striking out three over 8 1/3 innings, before tiring in the ninth and handing off to closer Jake Smith. Smith entered with two runners aboard and one out and Miles Hamblin representing the tying run at the plate. Hamblin, who hit deep homers in each of Alabama's first two games, popped up harmlessly in foul ground, and Smith ended the game by freezing Kevin Mort on a 90 mph fastball over the outside corner.
The most encouraging development for Alabama, though, was Ross Wilson's big day. The preseason All-American has struggled mightily all season and entered the game slugging just .397. Thursday, he went 3-for-3 with a double (remarkably, just his sixth of the year in 196 at-bats) and reached base safely in all five plate appearances. Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard has never lost his faith in Wilson, leaving him in the No. 3 hole despite his struggles with the thinking that the Tide will need him to return to form if they are to make a deep postseason run. Maybe Wilson his finding his stride in the nick of time just like the rest of the Tide.
HOOVER, Ala.—We've got a quick turnaround time before the Alabama-Mississippi winners' bracket game starts, so let's keep this tight and go bullet point-style. Some tid-bits from Florida's 5-3 . . . err, 5-4 win against Arkansas:
• The final score on the scoreboard and in the first official box score distributed was 5-3. After the post-game press conferences were completed, new box scores were handed out with a new final score: 5-4. The reason for the confusion was a wild final play of the game.
With runners on the corners and one out in the ninth, Arkansas' James McCann drove a sinking liner into the right-center-field gap.
"Honestly when the ball left the bat, I didn't think he was going to get to it," Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan said of his right fielder, Jonathan Pigott. "I thought it was going to be gapper and the game was going to be tied at that point."
So did Tim Carver, the runner at first base, and so must have just about every observer at Regions Park. But Pigott closed the distance between himself and the ball impossibly quickly, then laid out parallel to the ground and snared it. He got up and threw to second baseman Josh Adams, who made the relay to first to double off Carver. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Auburn has a reputation as an offensive team, but in Thursday's 3-1 victory against South Carolina, it showed once again that it can win games in all sorts of different ways. Auburn's pitching went to-to-toe against the Southeastern Conference's best pitching staff and won.
Auburn lefty Grant Dayton and South Carolina ace righty Blake Cooper dueled into the eighth inning—both allowed just a solo homer apiece, and both left with the game tied 1-1. The bullpens traded zeroes until the 12th, when Auburn's Trent Mummey hit a bases-loaded two-run single on a 3-and-2 fastball from hard-throwing Gamecocks closer Matt Price.
Dayton was replaced by senior righthander Austin Hubbard, who struck out five over 4 2/3 scoreless innings, the longest relief outing of his career. Hubbard's 80-81 slider is one of the nastiest pitches in the SEC, and he leaned on it heavily, even when the Gamecocks loaded the bases with two out in the 10th.
"I think especially in this park, if you fill the zone up at the bottom of the zone, there's a lot of real estate out there, and I think you can be successful," Hubbard said. "We got ahead of a lot of hitters, Grant got a lot of leadoff guys out, and obviously the defense was a huge part of that too. And (catcher Ryan) Jenkins obviously, I wonder how he's doing now, catching 12 innings and and blocking 8,000 sliders or whatever." [...] Continue Reading »
The races for at-large spots and regional hosts are starting to crystallize after Wednesday's action. Quickie analysis, largely cribbed from my Twitter feed:
• I'm ready to pronounce Baylor and North Carolina State as safe at-large teams after wins against Kansas State and Clemson, respectively. Maybe you're not impressed with Baylor's 12-13 conference record or 4-11 mark against the top 50 in the RPI, but good luck finding enough worthy bubble teams to keep the Bears out even if they lose their next two games. And at least they are finishing strong, with six straight wins and three series wins in the last four weekends.
• Teams in very serious trouble after losses Wednesday: Southeastern Louisiana, Western Kentucky, Northwestern State, Kansas. All those teams essentially need to bounce back and run through their conference tournaments to capture automatic bids. In trouble, but less dire: Pittsburgh. Series loss to South Florida last weekend and Big East tourney-opening loss to Rutgers hurt, but that series win vs. Louisville and split vs. Connecticut still give the Panthers a better chance than many other bubble teams.
• Oregon State really helped itself with a 2-1 win vs. Oregon, but the Beavers still need to win their last series at home vs. Arizona.
• ACC Atlantic powers Clemson and Florida State are losing grips on hosting after losses today against N.C. State and Miami, respectively. Connecticut and Vanderbilt benefit in the race for the last host spot, and the Huskies probably now have the slight inside track because of geography. All other 15 hosts are now essentially locked up, particularly after Oklahoma pounded Kansas 12-2 and Miami hammered the Seminoles 9-3.
HOOVER, Ala.—With a parade of elite power arms scheduled to take the mound in the first day of the SEC tournament, Regions Park was the place to be for scouting heavyweights Wednesday. I confirmed the presence of at least 12 scouting directors, at least one general manager and several high-level executives, in addition to the dozens of area scouts and crosscheckers on hand.
After a long day that started at 9:30 a.m. and included strong outings by juniors Jimmy Nelson, Drew Pomeranz and Anthony Ranaudo, the scouting contingent was considerably thinner by the time the late game between Vanderbilt and Arkansas started. Those who remained were treated to the most electric stuff of the day, courtesy of Vandy righthander Sonny Gray—just a sophomore, and not draft-eligible.
Gray turned in one of his finest starts of the season in a 2-0 win against the Hogs, striking out eight and walking just one over seven-plus shutout innings, scattering seven hits. His explosive two-seam fastball sat in the 93-95 range for his entire outing, peaking at 96 several times, and his power curveball ranged from 81-86 mph. He also mixed in a handful of changeups around 84.
Commodores pitching coach Derek Johnson said Gray's stuff wasn't actually as explosive as it was against the Razorbacks last Thursday, when he struck out nine and allowed three runs over eight innings in a 4-3 win. But he was better the second time around against Arkansas, which rested banged-up stars Zack Cox and Brett Eibner. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Perhaps a trip to Regions Park was all Anthony Ranaudo and Louisiana State needed to recapture that old magic.
"For a while there, it seemed like old times, with Anthony out there hurling and us swinging the bats real well, and us playing in this ballpark, which we love so much," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
Ranaudo, LSU's beleagured ace, pitched into the eighth inning before running out of gas, helping lead the eighth-seeded Tigers to a 10-6 upset of top-seeded Florida in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
In the first inning, as Ranaudo overpowered the first three Florida hitters with a 92-94 mph fastball and a devastating power curveball at 80-83 that he located to both corners and to the back feet of the three lefties he faced in the frame, it was difficult to imagine how the junior righthander could have possibly carried an 8.49 ERA into the game. Grunts of approval could be heard from some of the scouting horde on hand to get a look at one of the draft's greatest X-factors. Ranaudo seemingly announced in that first inning that Anthony Ranaudo, College World Series hero and top pitching prospect in the nation heading into this spring, was back. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Remember this morning when Auburn coach John Pawlowski said the 20-second pitch clock here at the SEC tournament was not even a factor? In the second game Wednesday, it might have been more of a factor than anyone realized.
Mississippi lefthander Drew Pomeranz had his best outing in a month, according to Rebels coach Mike Bianco, in a 3-0 win against South Carolina. Pomeranz scattered six hits and a walk while striking out seven over seven shutout innings.
Pomeranz said after the game that he was struggling to find his rhythm over the last month. He sure found it today—with a little help.
"I actually kind of liked the clock being like that. I felt like I needed to speed up my rhythm," Pomeranz said. "I don't know if it kind of forced me to, but it was in the back of my mind. My tempo was a little more upbeat than it had been the last couple weeks, so I actually kind of liked the clock." [...] Continue Reading »
Just a reminder: In addition to blogging, I'll be posting shorter updates and observations on Twitter all week from the Southeastern Conference tournament. You can follow me at twitter.com/aaronfitt. And if you're not already following Baseball America, you can start doing so here.
HOOVER, Ala.—Auburn and Alabama cruised through the first game of the Southeastern Conference tournament in a brisk two hours, 12 minutes this morning. Afterward, a reporter asked Tigers coach John Pawlowski if the experimental 20-second pitch count in effect had anything to do with the quick pace.
"I don't think it was even a factor," Pawlowski said.
No, but Jimmy Nelson sure was. Alabama's hulking righthander dominated in his third consecutive complete game, allowing just one run on five hits and no walks while striking out six in a 7-1 win. He needed just 97 pitches, and his efficiency was a big reason for his success, as well as for the fast pace of the game.
"Nelson for the third start in a row was just outstanding," Crimson Tide coach Mitch Gaspard said. "He had all three pitches working today, and really set the tempo early. Ninety-seven pitches in a complete game against a team as offensive as Auburn just doesn't happen very often . . . The way he's done it, he has not gone over 125 pitches to throw three complete games. And today with 97 pitches—that's a guy with really good stuff, with confidence, really executing his pitches." [...] Continue Reading »
Coaches around the nation expect a busy coaching carousel this summer. Ohio State remains the only high-profile job that has become vacant, but two mid-majors made coaching changes today. Western Michigan announced it will not renew Randy Ford's contract, while Central Arkansas announced the resignation of Doug Clark.
Ford spent six seasons at the helm in Kalamazoo, but the Broncos struggled through a 12-42 season this spring, finishing last in the Mid-American Conference (5-22). The buzz in the upper Midwest is that WMU's stadium renovations are at a standstill, and the program would have to commit significantly more resources to baseball to attract one of the region's top candidates, like Minnesota assistant Rob Fornasiere or Michigan assistant Bob Keller.
Clark went 209-213-2 in eight seasons at UCA, but the Bears went 19-35-1 this year and finished 11th in the Southland Conference. UCA completed its transition to Division I this year and was eligible for the conference tournament. The Bears have made numerous improvements to their facilities in recent years.
“I would expect the candidate pool to be vast," director of athletics Dr. Bob Teague said in a statement. “There is great interest in our program on many levels. This is a great place to come and build a baseball program."
Here's our weekly look at how the races for national seeds, regional hosts and at-large bids are shaping up. The NCAA doesn't release its official Ratings Percentage Index report until Tuesday afternoon, so we'll use the updated RPI rankings at WarrenNolan.com, whose Nitty Gritty Report includes detailed schedule breakdowns for every team in the top 105, plus all additional conference leaders.
We'll discuss at-large chances in a bit, but let's start with a look at which teams are on track to earn national seeds and which are on track to host regionals after the first 14 weeks of the season:
SECURE TEAMS: Texas, Virginia, Arizona State, Florida
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Coastal Carolina, UCLA, Louisville, South Carolina
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Auburn, Georgia Tech, Cal State Fullerton, Arkansas, Texas Christian
Our eight national seeds remain the same from last week, but South Carolina's hold on one of the eight seeds loosened after it dropped a home series to Florida, its fourth series loss of the season and its second in the last three weeks. The Gamecocks are now essentially even with Auburn and Georgia Tech in the race for the eighth national seed, with Fullerton and Arkansas very much in the picture as well. There is very little difference between the credentials of the Gamecocks and Tigers, who are back-to-back in the RPI (Nos. 12 and 13, per WarrenNolan.com). South Carolina finished a game ahead in conference play and won the head-to-head series against Auburn in March, but the Tigers have been hotter down the stretch, winning five straight weekend series, including a road series at Arkansas and a road sweep of Mississippi. The SEC tournament will have to be the deciding factor. The Yellow Jackets and Razorbacks are a few spots ahead of both Auburn and South Carolina in the RPI, and Georgia Tech is in better position than Arkansas, which must leap over two teams that finished ahead of it in its own conference. Tech's credentials are very comparable to Auburn's and South Carolina's, and a strong ACC tournament performance could easily give the Jackets the nod over both. [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Punch Those Tickets
Bucknell and Bethune-Cookman won automatic bids to the NCAA tournament by winning their respective conference tournaments this weekend. The Bison and the Wildcats join Dartmouth, Cal State Fullerton and San Diego as teams that have already punched their tickets to regionals.
We wrote about both Bucknell and B-CU in Weekend Preview last week. In Under The Radar, we highlighted Bucknell's red-hot junior first baseman, Doug Shribman, who had a huge series against Army last weekend to propel the Bison to the best-of-three championship series. Shribman came up huge once again this weekend against Holy Cross. After the teams split the first two games, Shribman blasted two more home runs (extending his Patriot League record to 20) and drove in six in Bucknell's 12-7 win in the decisive game. Bucknell also got another homer from Andrew Brouse—his 17th of the season.
"Power has certainly a huge part of (our success)," Bucknell coach Gene DePew said on Thursday. "We've been successful when we've been able to hit some home runs, we've had that going for us. We started off real strong with that through the early part of the season down in Florida, then we tailed off a little bit with that in the middle of the year. Unfortunately through the heart of the Patriot League season we struggled, but we're finding our stride again."
Showdown of the day:
Clemson beat Florida State, 8-3, to complete a sweep and steal the ACC's Atlantic Division title from the Seminoles on the final day of the regular season. That's quite a recovery for a Clemson team that lost a series to lowly Wake Forest last week. Jr. RHP Alex Frederick (4.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K) earned the win in relief for the Tigers.
• South Carolina over Florida, 11-6, to avoid the sweep
• Arkansas over Vanderbilt, 7-5, to win the road series. The Razorbacks likely saved their hosting chances with that win, perhaps at Vanderbilt's expense.
• Auburn over Mississippi, 11-1, to complete the sweep. Tigers are making a strong push for a national seed.
• Oklahoma over Kansas, 8-7, to clinch the road series
• Alabama over Tennessee, 9-7, to complete the sweep and put the Volunteers' at-large hopes in very serious jeopardy
• Bucknell swept a doubleheader vs. Holy Cross, 4-3 and 12-7, to win the Patriot League tournament
• Virginia over Miami, 7-4, to win the road series
• Louisville swept a doubleheader at Notre Dame, 13-3 and 4-3, to overcome Connecticut and win the Big East regular-season title by a half game. That gives Louisville's national seed hopes a significant boost.
• Fresno State swept a doubleheader vs. Sacramento State, 10-1 and 7-6, to clinch the WAC regular-season title
• Florida Atlantic over Florida International, 14-10, to win the series and clinch the Sun Belt regular-season title. The Owls are one of the most lovable teams in college baseball in 2010; check out this video of their celebration, which included players and coach John McCormack jumping into a nearby swimming pool with their uniforms on.
• South Dakota State split a doubleheader vs. Western Illinois to finish tied atop the Summit League with Oral Roberts. The Jackrabbits earned the top seed in the conference tournament by virtue of their series win against ORU. [...] Continue Reading »
Showdown of the day:
Jr. 2B Josh Adams broke a 2-2 tie with a two-run double in the seventh inning against Sam Dyson, propelling Florida to a series-clinching 5-2 win at South Carolina. The Gators clinched the SEC's regular-season title.
• Virginia clinched the top seed in the ACC tournament with a 3-1 win at Miami behind another strong outing from Jr. RHP Robert Morey (7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER).
• Auburn blasted Mississippi, 18-4, to clinch the SEC West title outright.
• Arkansas over Vanderbilt, 4-3, to even the crucial series. The winner of that series is likely to host a regional, although the SEC tournament could play a factor as well.
• Alabama over Tennessee, 4-2 in 11 innings, clinching a trip to the SEC tournament for the Crimson Tide
• Louisiana State over Mississippi State, 17-3, clinching a trip to the SEC tournament for the Tigers
• North Carolina State over Duke, 7-6 in 12 innings, clinching a trip to the ACC tournament for the Wolfpack
• Baylor scored four in the ninth to beat Oklahoma State, 6-5, and clinch a trip to the Big 12 tournament. Missouri also clinched a trip to the conference tournament with OSU's loss. [...] Continue Reading »
Showdown of the day:
No. 4 Florida jumped out to an early three-run lead and held on for a 3-2 win at No. 6 South Carolina. The Gators got just 3.1 innings out of ace Alex Panteliodis, but their strong bullpen took it from there, as Jeff Barfield, Paco Rodriguez and Kevin Chapman combined to throw 5.2 innings of one-run, two-hit relief, striking out seven.
• Miami came from behind to toppled No. 1 Virginia, 5-4, in 11 innings. The Huricanes overcame a 4-2 deficit with two runs in the eighth, then won it on Fr. SS Stephen Perez's walk-off RBI single in the 11th.
• Vanderbilt over Arkansas, 4-3. Curt Casali's RBI single in the seventh broke a 3-3 tie, propelling the Commodores to their seventh straight win. The way I see it, they are one more win against Arkansas from taking a regional hosting spot away from the Razorbacks.
• Auburn over Mississippi, 5-3, in Oxford. The Tigers overcame a 3-2 deficit on Kevin Patterson's pinch-hit, three-run homer in the eighth to beat Ole Miss ace Drew Pomeranz (7 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 6 K). Auburn clinched at least a share of its first SEC West title since 1995.
• Louisiana State over Mississippi State, 14-13, in a must-win game for the Tigers. Closer Matty Ott (0.2 IP, 3 H, 4 ER) had another rough outing and left the game after geing hit in the foot by a comebacker, so LSU called upon Jr. RHP Anthony Ranaudo (1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K) to get the final four outs of the game. [...] Continue Reading »
By Bubba Brown
The Division II World Series bracket is set and the double-elimination tournament is ready to kick off Saturday at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. Here’s a look at the eight teams that will be competing for the title.
Atlantic Region Champion—Kutztown (Pa.): After losing the first game of the regional, the Golden Bears won four straight, including head coach Chris Blum’s 300th career win, to return to the D-II World Series for the first time since 2007. [...] Continue Reading »
Showdown of the day:
So. 3B Garrett Buechele had three hits in support of Jr. RHP Michael Rocha (7.1 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K), as Oklahoma topped Arkansas, 5-2. The win provided a significant boost to Oklahoma's hosting hopes—it jumped the Sooners five spots to No. 18 in the Ratings Percentage Index, according to WarrenNolan.com. Arkansas, meanwhile, has lost four in a row heading into an increasingly important series at Vanderbilt. The Hogs are suddenly in danger of losing out on hosting, especially if Oklahoma finishes strong and Arkansas continues to falter.
• Tulane over Louisiana State, 9-1, in a battle of teams fighting for their postseason lives on the bayou. LSU has lost six straight games and 13 of its last 15. If the Tigers don't win their upcoming series against Mississippi State, they will not make regionals. And the way they have played over the last month, a series win against the struggling Bulldogs is hardly assured.
• North Carolina over Charlotte, 8-4
• Oregon over Portland, 4-2
• St. John's over Boston College, 17-9. The Eagles have little margin for error, and this loss hurts their already rather dim at-large chances. [...] Continue Reading »
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