Before we get to this week's mailbag, there's plenty of news from the Pacific-10 Conference to pass along. The California baseball saga has taken another dramatic twist, as reports say the program is closing in on reinstatement. Former Cal player Stu Gordon, now a San Francisco attorney, has helped supporters of the program raise more than $9 million in pledges, and he met with chancellor Robert Birgeneau this week to present evidence of the fundraising efforts. A decision is expected by the end of this week, but Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour told the Silicon Valley Mercury News, "I'm very hopeful we're going to be able to keep baseball." And Doug Nickle of Save Cal Baseball told the paper he "cannot imagine a scenario" other than reinstatement.
This isn't the first time since the administration announced last September that it planned to cut baseball that the Golden Bears have thought they were close to reinstatement, but this time all signs are very encouraging.
Elsewhere, Oregon State pitching coach Nate Yeskie was arrested and cited for driving under the influence and reckless driving over the weekend. UC Santa Barbara assistant Jason Lefkowitz, in town for a series against the Beavers, was a passenger in the car, which was pulled over after Yeskie allegedly ran two red lights. The OSU administration had no comment on the personnel matter.
In the wake of yesterday's perfect game by Virginia righthander Will Roberts, it seems fitting that today's mailbag question deals with no-hitters:
How about those Seawolves of Stony Brook University? Two no-hitters now in the last five games! Are they the real deal?
Woodland Hills, Calif.
In Stony Brook coach Matt Senk's 31-year coaching career, he had never been involved with a no-hitter until March 18, when freshman Frankie Vanderka threw one against New Jersey Tech.
"So for it then to happen twice in a five-game span is just pretty mind-blowing, to say the least," Senk said.
The second one came this past Sunday, when ace Nick Tropeano and freshman Brandon McNitt combined to no-hit Army in a 1-0 victory. Bad weather had prevented the Seawolves from playing Friday and Saturday, so Senk determined that it was critical to get his top three or four starters some action Sunday and Monday, to make sure they were ready for conference play this weekend at New York Tech. So even though Tropeano had a no-hitter through six innings, Senk stuck with the plan and let McNitt pitch the final three.
"Nick and I had a conversation before the game—I believe I told him we were thinking of splitting the games," Senk said. "He did the math and said, 'Is it possible I might go six?' I said, 'It's a possiblity, but you need to know if you're throwing a no-hitter through six, you're still coming out of the game.' So he was very, very good about it. He pitches for Stony Brook University, and that's the way he goes about his business. Even on that day he was out there, doing the right thing by his team and teammates."
Senk calls Tropeano "the ultimate competitor," and that's a big reason for his success. Another big reason is his ability to throw four pitches in any situation. His fastball velocity has started to creep back up as the season has progressed, and Senk said he's working in the 88-91 range currently. He has always had a good changeup and a nice hard slider, but he worked on developing a sinker last summer in the Cape Cod League, and he leaned on it heavily in the Cape League championship game, when he threw 6 2/3 no-hit innings.
After going 8-4, 2.44 as a sophomore last year, Tropeano is off to an even better start to his junior year, going 4-1, 1.38 with 38 strikeouts and seven walks in 33 innings. He is indisputably the best pitcher in the America East Conference, but he's certainly not the only quality pitcher on Stony Brook's staff, which is a major reason the Seawolves are, in fact, for real.
Stony Brook has an experienced one-two punch with Tropeano and junior righty Tyler Johnson (3-2, 3.16), who struck out 10 over eight innings to earn the school's first-ever NCAA tournament win last year against North Carolina State.
"He's super consistent," Senk said. "He pounds the zone. He's always been about movement with his fastball, and he throws a hard breaking ball as well, a slider. He can mix in a very good changeup as well. He has high pitchability, he knows how to pitch, he has a plan. He's not afraid to come inside when necessary.
"We came into this year feeling good about those two guys, but we also knew that our pitching needed to improve. So that was a big emphasis for us."
Enter Vanderka and McNitt. Vanderka, a 6-foot-1 righthander, ranks fifth nationally in ERA (0.44) and has 25 strikeouts and four walks in 20 innings. McNitt, a 5-foot-10 righty, has a 0.95 ERA and three saves in 19 innings. The Seawolves like having him in the bullpen, but he's a leading candidate to join the rotation once four-game conference series begin. Neither Vanderka nor McNitt has overpowering stuff—they both pitch in the 86-88 range—but they don't beat themselves.
"It always has been about pounding the strike zone, but more than ever with the bat change, I think everybody understands that when you do pound the strike zone, you're going to get more positive results," Senk said. "And that's what they've done. I think they've done an excellent job of going after people and throwing their breaking balls for strikes consistently. And they are missing in places where they can't get hurt."
With a staff full of strike-throwers, it is vital that Stony Brook plays strong defense, and it has, fielding at a .979 clip. The Seawolves have steady veterans up the middle in shortstop Chad Marshall, second baseman Maxx Tissenbaum and catcher Pat Cantwell. The outfield has outstanding speed, led by center fielder Travis Jankowski, who has been timed at 6.4 seconds in the 60-yard dash. The corner infielders are reliable too, especially third baseman Stephen Marino.
"We have preached pitching and defense like everybody does, and the guys have bought into it big-time," Senk said. "We feel like our formula is pitching and play defense and figure it out offensively."
And Stony Brook has figured it out offensively during its 13-5 start, hitting .304 as a team. DH William Carmona brings a physical presence to the middle of the lineup, and the Seawolves have done a good job of situational hitting and manufacturing runs. With a pitching staff that has allowed just 10 runs in its last eight games, Stony Brook's offense doesn't have to do the heavy lifting. It just has to continue to execute.
"It's great that we've had this early success, but I think I would give my club the most credit for not getting too high about what they're doing," Senk said. "I think actually it's an expectation level, that if we do the things that we're coached to do and that we are capable of doing, good things will happen. So I think they've handled things to this point in a very mature fashion, and that's going to be important in conference play, because the other schools in our conference have kind of put the bull's-eye on us, and they're going to be coming after us."
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