It's Wednesday, and that means it's time for the first college mailbag of 2011. As a reminder, you can submit mailbag questions by e-mailing email@example.com (please include your name and hometown), or via Twitter (@aaronfitt). Here's this week's question:
I was just looking up information for college baseball and I work at Stetson in the Athletic Department. I wanted to know what your take was on Stetson's sweep over Georgia this past weekend.
The Atlantic Sun Conference looks very strong heading into 2011, with five teams with legitimate regional-caliber talent in Mercer, Jacksonville, East Tennessee State, Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson. The Hatters were voted fifth by league coaches in the A-Sun's preseason poll, but they made a statement during opening weekend that they will be a significant factor in the conference.
"We were picked to finish fifth, and we did not have one player on our team who was a preseason all-conference pick," Stetson coach Pete Dunn said. "We've kind of used that as our identity. Nobody expects us to do anything, and based on last year that's probably correct. We've kind of taken that as a challenge, and our kids have bought into that. You hear it all the time: We just look at ourselves as a blue-collar team that needs to go out and earn respect."
They earned plenty of respect by sweeping a talented Georgia team, and winning all three games by three or more runs. Stetson's pitching, in particular, has taken a step forward after a disappointing 2010, when the Hatters finished 27-31 overall and 14-13 in the conference, good enough for sixth place. Stetson got three strong starts from righthanders Lindsey Caughel, Will Dorsey and Kurt Schluter, who all pitched five or more innings and allowed just one run apiece.
Caughel and Schluter each worked in the high 80s and threw strikes with their fastballs and breaking balls. Dorsey is more of a finesse pitcher with an 86-88 fastball and outstanding feel for his breaking ball. They aren't overpowering, but they compete and attack the zone, and that should be enough for Stetson to put together a much stronger 2011 season. And the bullpen features a pair of power arms in Tucker Donahue and two-way talent Ben Carhart, although Dunn said Carhart felt some tenderness in his surgically repaired elbow after pitching Saturday, so the Hatters will hold their breath that he gets a clean bill of health after a Thursday checkup.
"Our offense and defense returned pretty much intact, but we have not pitched well the last few years, so we felt that had to be much improved," Dunn said. "One weekend series does not a season make, but I thought our kids did a good job on the mound."
Talented junior catcher Nick Rickles had a big weekend with the bat, going 5-for-8 with three walks and three RBIs, and Dunn said he has learned to pull the ball with more authority and do a better job against fastballs on the inner half. But his impact on the pitching staff might be even more important.
"He's started back there since he was a freshman and has been solid defensively since day one, but he's just gotten better and better," Dunn said. "He has good arm strength, and he runs the show. That's one thing I've challenged him on this year: He had to take ownership of the pitching staff as much as anyone else. He had to take a more active part in nursing them through a tough time, kicking them in the (rear) when they needed a kick in the (rear), being as much a part of the pitching staff as anyone else."
And Stetson's lineup is deep enough that Rickles hit seventh this weekend. Jeff Simpson and Spencer Theisen make the lineup go out of the top two spots in the order, while Trey Blackman, Ryan Lashley and Carhart give the Hatters run-producers in the middle of the lineup.
One weekend series does not make a season, as Dunn said, but Stetson looks like a complete, balanced club. Now the Hatters must build on the momentum from opening weekend, starting with today's game at Bethune-Cookman and this weekend's series against Maine.
"I thought we played very well this weekend," Dunn said, "but it's behind us now."
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