It has been a sad week in college baseball. Last weekend, former Mississippi State catcher Ryan Duffy was paralyzed from the neck down after diving off a dock in Key West, Fla., and breaking his neck. Then, at the end of this weekend, Wichita State senior two-way player Mitch Caster was killed in a car accident while driving back from Rochester, Minn., where he had just played in the Northwoods League championship series.
Police told the Wichita Eagle that Caster was driving an SUV that crossed a median and collided with a semi at about 12:15 a.m. Monday in West Des Moines. The Rochester Honkers said on their Twitter feed that fellow Honker Jimmy Waters (an outfielder for Kansas) saw the accident.
“We are all deeply saddened over the tragic loss of Mitch Caster,” said Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson in a statement. “Our entire team is devastated. Mitch was a fine young man and great teammate. The memories that every team member and coach has of him will always be cherished. May God bless and keep him. Our hearts go out to the entire Caster family in this time of grief.” [...] Continue Reading »
Summer college baseball is wrapping up around the country. A few notable championships were decided this weekend—in the Cape Cod League, Coastal Plain League and National Baseball Congress World Series.
In the Cape, the Cotuit Kettleers won their first title since 1999 with a 6-0 win against Yarmouth-Dennis in the decisive third game of the championship series on Friday. Cotuit capitalized on four Y-D errors and got a brilliant relief outing from righthander Nick Tropeano (Stony Brook) after starter Brady Rodgers (Arizona State) left with a back strain in the third inning. Tropeano, the top prospect in the Atlantic Collegiate League last summer, retired the first nine batters he faced and finished with seven strikeouts over 6 2/3 hitless innings of relief.
“There was no doubt in my mind that if Nick Tropeano finished that ballgame, the Cotuit Kettleers were going to win,” Cotuit coach Mike Roberts told the Cape Cod Times. “(He) is one of the greatest competitors I've ever seen in collegiate baseball in my 30-plus years of coaching. He is Long Island tough.” [...] Continue Reading »
Two of California's top assistant coaches broke through into the head coaching ranks this summer. Long Beach State did not have to look far to find a replacement for Mike Weathers, as Dirtbags pitching coach Troy Buckley has long been considered a rising star in the coaching ranks. The Dirtbags made that hire very early in the summer, but Cal State Northridge took far longer to hire a replacement for Steve Rousey. Finally, after two months, the Matadors announced the hire of Matt Curtis away from Fresno State this week.
Like Buckley, Curtis has proven himself as an elite recruiter on the West Coast. Now he will try to turn Northridge into a contender in the ultra-competitive Big West Conference. It won't be easy, but Curtis is excited for the challenge. BA caught up with Curtis to find out how he plans to do it.
BA: Congratulations on landing your first head-coaching job. What made the Northridge job appealing to you?
Curtis: "Division I head coaching jobs are few and far between, and it's something that I've aspired to. I'm excited; there's been a tradition of winning in the past, and you're in a great baseball area." [...] Continue Reading »
Nicholls State announced Thursday that it has promoted associate head coach Seth Thibodeaux to head coach, replacing Chip Durham, who left to take a job in the private sector last month. Thibodeaux has spent the last three years as the Colonels' recruiting coordinator under Durham.
“Seth has helped recruit every single player on our baseball team and has played a major role in nearly every aspect of the program," athletics director Rob Bernardi said in a release. "His familiarity with the team and the program was a big factor in choosing him as our head coach. We expect that Colonel baseball will continue to advance under his leadership."
Thibodeaux takes over a program that he has helped to steadily improve over the last four years. In 2010, the Colonels made their first postseason appearance in 10 years and earned their first postseason win in 12 years—a 13-2 upset of No. 1 seed Texas State in the opening round of the Southland Conference tournament. The Colonels finished the season 27-29 (15-18 in the Southland)—their first 20-win season since 2005 and first 10-win conference season since 2002. The Colonels finished just three wins shy of their first 30-win season since 1993. [...] Continue Reading »
Cal State Northridge's long coaching search has finally reached its conclusion. Baseball America has learned the Matadors have hired Fresno State assistant Matt Curtis as their new head coach; an official announcement is expected today.
Curtis emerged as one of the favorites for the job shortly after Northridge fired coach Steve Rousey on June 9, but the Matadors inexplicably took two months to make the hire. In the end, they found the right man for the job. Curtis has developed a reputation as one of the top recruiters on the West Coast in his 10 seasons at Fresno, and he played a critical role in assembling Fresno's 2008 national championship team. A former catcher at Fresno, Curtis has experience coaching pitchers, hitters and catchers.
Northridge is not an easy place to win, and many of the top assistants in the West were not interested in the job. The Matadors must upgrade their facility and the administration needs to ramp up its commitment to the program. But the program has won before; under Bill Kernen (now the coach at Cal State Bakersfield), Northridge made a successful transition from Division II to D-I, making regionals in 1991-93. The Matadors also made regionals in 1996 and 2002 under Mike Batesole—Curtis' boss at Fresno State for the last eight years.
The coaching carousel has been busy in the West over the several few days. Here are a few other developments (in addition to Southern California's firing of Chad Kreuter and naming of Frank Cruz as interim head coach): [...] Continue Reading »
Southern California fired head coach Chad Kreuter on Monday after four disappointing seasons. The Trojans also announced that assistant Frank Cruz will serve as interim head coach for the 2011 season.
Kreuter took over as head coach after USC forced out his father-in-law, long-time Trojans coach Mike Gillespie, after the 2006 season. Kreuter had spent 16 years in the big leagues as a catcher and came to USC following a stint as a minor league manager in the Rockies system. His only previous college coaching experience was a season as USC's director of baseball operations.
The Trojans failed to make regionals in his four-year tenure, during which they went 111-117 (.487) overall and 39-63 (.382) in the Pacific-10 Conference. His teams finished no higher than fifth place in the league standings, placing ninth in 2007 and 10th in 2010, when USC went 28-32 overall (7-20 in the Pac-10). And in the Kreuter era, USC won just three of 14 games against crosstown rival UCLA (coached by former Trojan John Savage).
"On my first day on the job at USC last week, I said one of my goals was to return the USC baseball program to national prominence," new athletic director Pat Haden said in a release. "There is no reason we shouldn't be there. [...] Continue Reading »
USA Baseball's collegiate national team fell just short of its fourth straight V FISU World University Championships title this weekend in Tokyo, as Cuba overcame a pair of late deficits in the gold-medal game to stun the Americans, 4-3, in 10 innings.
"It was one of the greatest games I've ever watched, I think," Team USA coach Bill Kinneberg said Tuesday, after returning from Japan. "The intensity of both teams, the play of both teams, just the way it unfolded was really something. It was just too bad somebody had to lose, and it was really too bad we came out on the losing end of it. I don't know if I've ever seen a team of mine play with that emotion and that intensity for 10 innings."
After Drew Maggi (Arizona State) broke a scoreless tie with a solo homer in the top of the eighth, Cuban star Alfredo Despaigne answered with a game-tying solo homer of his own in the bottom of the frame against USA closer Noe Ramirez (Cal State Fullerton), who had entered in relief of starter Gerrit Cole (UCLA). Cole had scattered 10 hits over seven shutout innings.
Lefthander Nick Ramirez (Cal State Fullerton) rescued his Titans teammate from a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the ninth to force extra innings. International tie-breaker rules allowed each team to start its 10th inning with runners on first and second and no outs. Team USA finally got to Cuban starter Miguel Gonzalez (who struck out 14 over 9 2/3 innings, throwing 151 pitches) for two runs in the top of the 10th, but Despaigne answered again in the bottom of the inning.Unknown Object
With one out, Despaigne cranked his second homer of the game—a walk-off, three-run shot against Nick Ramirez. It came on an 0-and-1 changeup.
"He's really a mature hitter," Kinneberg said of Despaigne. "Nick threw him a changeup the first pitch, and he looked kind of bad on it. As good a hitter as he was, we threw it to him again, and he really made a tremendous adjustment on it. Nick threw a good pitch, but his strength took over on that. It was really a great at-bat by him."
There's no shame in losing to Despaigne, who is the best player in Cuban baseball right now. The 24-year-old outfielder is a veteran of the 2008 Olympics (when he homered against Stephen Strasburg in a Cuban rout of the USA in the semifinals) and 2009 World Baseball Classic. In 2008-09, he hit 32 home runs in Cuba's Serie Nacional, breaking the league record. He nearly won the league's triple crown this past season, when he became the third player to repeat as Serie Nacional MVP.
So Team USA had to settle for the silver medal, but it took a heroic performance from Cuba's best player to keep the younger Americans from the gold.
Team USA finished its summer tour with a 16-3 record, including two losses against Chinese Taipei immediately after the Americans landed in Asia. The team rebounded nicely from those losses, splitting the four-game series against the Taiwanese and then outscoring its five opponents 46-10 to reach the FISU finals. That run included quality wins against Canada in pooly play and Japan in the semifinals.
As usual, pitching was Team USA's greatest strength. The team's 11-man pitching staff posted a 1.22 combined ERA with 188 strikeouts and 41 walks in 162 innings. Six different pitchers posted sub-1.00 ERAs in 11 or more innings, led by lefthander Tyler Anderson (1-0, 0.00 in 16 innings over three starts) and righty Sonny Gray (3-0, 0.38 in 24 innings over five appearances, including the semifinal win against Japan). Gray and Cole (2-0, 0.72) turned in their second straight dominant summers with Team USA.
"Our pitching was really good throughout the summer," Kinneberg said. "We gave up some runs against Chinese Taipei in the tournament, that was really the only game we gave up any significant runs whatsoever. Our pitching and defense were really good. I think we struggled at times offensively, and mainly because of the type of pitching we were seeing. When we saw average pitching or below average pitching we hit pretty good. But we saw really good pitching from Korea (early in the summer in North Carolina), and really good pitching from Japan and Cuba obviously, and Chinese Taipei had some good arms. Offensively I thought we were a little bit shy, and without Anthony (Rendon), that probably hurt us a little bit on the offensive side."
Still, the Americans rebounded after Rendon—BA's 2010 College Player of the Year—suffered a major ankle injury in the second game of the summer. Team USA brought in Jason Esposito (Vanderbilt) to play third base, and he provided superb defense as well as extra energy and intensity. Team USA was plenty athletic—the outfield alone contained a trio of legitimate five-tool center fielders in George Springer (Connecticut), Jackie Bradley Jr. (South Carolina) and Mikie Mahtook (Louisiana State)—and had a bit of power (most notably from Bethune-Cookman's Peter O'Brien and Springer, two of the summer's biggest breakout players). A third breakout star—versatile infielder Ryan Wright (Louisville)—might have been the team's MVP. Wright led all regulars with a .361 average and delivered clutch hit after clutch hit.
The infield defense was strong, thanks to the steadiness of shortstop Nolan Fontana (Florida), second baseman Drew Maggi (Arizona State), Esposito and Nick Ramirez (Cal State Fullerton). Team USA posted a solid .976 fielding percentage.
It was a well-constructed club, though it fell just short of its No. 1 goal. But Kinneberg praised the character and toughness of his team and said he regarded the summer as a success.
"It was really a pleasure for me to be around these guys," Kinneberg said. "We asked them at the beginning to come play hard every game, play the game right, and they did it. I thought the tour was competitive all the way through, with the Koreans and then the Japanese in Omaha, then going to Taiwan was a good experience for us. That got us more ready for the tournament because we were in Asia and continued playing that style of baseball. It was shorter than the other tours I've been involved in, which may have been a good thing too. Our starting pitchers did not overthrow, everybody got kind of the same number of at-bats.
"You always tell your team to leave it on the field, and we did."
USA Baseball's collegiate national team is heading to its fourth straight gold-medal game at the V FISU World University Baseball Championships. Team USA beat host Japan in Tokyo, 4-2, in Thursday's semifinal to earn a showdown against Cuba for the gold on Saturday.
Righthander Sonny Gray (Vanderbilt) continued his tour de force summer, earning his third win with seven strong innings. He allowed his first two runs of the summer—one earned—in the first two innings, but he shut out Japan for the next five innings. He allowed just three hits and two walks while striking out six, improving to 3-0, 0.38 with a 37-4 strikeout-walk ratio in 24 innings this summer.
Outfielder George Springer (Connecticut) provided all of Team USA's offense with a first-inning grand slam. Springer leads the national team with 17 RBIs on the summer. [...] Continue Reading »
Fairleigh Dickinson announced today that it has hired Gary Puccio as its new head coach, replacing Jerry DeFabbia, who went 78-224 in six seasons. Puccio has served as the head coach at Briarcliffe (N.Y.) of the USCAA since 2005. He has 17 years of coaching experience—including five years in Division I at Manhattan in the 1990s—and 12 years of experience as an associate scout for the Mariners. He'll have plenty of work to do at FDU, which has not won more than 16 games in a season in the last decade, but he had some success rejuvenating Manhattan's program. His 1998 Jaspers team reached the 20-win plateau for the first time since 1903.
Elsewhere, Texas Tech hired Jim Horner as an assistant coach, replacing Ed Gustafson. Horner, a Washington State product who played nine seasons as a catcher in the Mariners system, spent the last four seasons as a minor league manager in the Seattle organization. Though he replaces Gustafson—the pitching coach—on the staff, Horner will work primarily with the hitters and catchers.
And Murray State hired Chris Cole away from Tennessee Tech to serve as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator. Cole spent four seasons at Tennessee Tech, where his pitching staff ranked 12th nationally in strikeouts in 2010. Cole started his collegiate playing career at Florida State in 2001 before transfering to Stetson for his next two seasons.
I was on vacation most of last week (with the exception of the Cape Cod League all-star game), and a backlog of coaching news greeted me upon my return to the office. Here's a roundup:
• Ball State promoted Alex Marconi from assistant coach to head coach, replacing Greg Beals, who left for Ohio State earlier this summer. Marconi spent the last five years as a Ball State assistant under Beals. After he finished his collegiate playing career at Kent State (where Beals served as an assistant), Marconi played four years of professional ball in the Rays system, then worked as a volunteer assistant at North Carolina in 2005. But his familiarity with the Ball State program was a major reason he beat out other solid candidates like former Kent State and Wake Forest coach Rick Rembielak.
"Coach Marconi's knowledge of the program, Ball State University and the Muncie community played a key role in his being named our head coach," athletics director Tom Collins said in a release. "He is an outstanding person with great integrity and character who has a tremendous work ethic and desire to be the head baseball coach at Ball State."
• Winthrop hired Clemson associate head coach Tom Riginos to replace Joe Hudak as its new head coach. Riginos has proven his recruiting mettle in the last eight years at Clemson (where he also coached the hitters and outfielders) and nine years as the recruiting coordinator at Stetson, his alma mater. This will be his first head coaching job, but he has plenty of postseason coaching experience, having reached five regionals at Stetson and seven at Clemson—plus two College World Series appearances. [...] Continue Reading »
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