Four Top 25 teams were in action Monday, and all four of them picked up victories to remain undefeated on the season. Top-ranked North Carolina jumped out to an early lead and cruised to a 7-1 win against Coastal Carolina, as three UNC relievers combined for 5 2/3 innings of one-hit, scoreless relief. Few teams have bullpens that can shorten games more effectively than UNC.
No. 6 Oregon State wrapped up an unbeaten run at the Palm Springs Tournament with a 5-4 win against UC Riverside in 11 innings. Tyler Painton provided six innings of one-hit, shutout relief for the Beavers, who won it on Joey Matthews' walk-off RBI double in the 11th. No. 14 Oregon completed a four-game sweep of Hawaii with a 4-2 win. J.J. Altobelli (3-for-4, 2 RBI) led Oregon's offense, which did most its damage in a three-run fifth.
And No. 11 Kentucky trailed 10-6 after seven innings but stormed back with four in the eighth and another in the ninth to win 11-10. Thomas Bernal delivered a game-winning pinch-hit RBI single in the ninth.
Let's move on to this week's mailbag question. As a reminder, you can submit questions for the mailbag on Twitter (@aaronfitt), or by emailing email@example.com.
I read your tweets from the USC game on Sunday, and I was wondering what you thought about the Trojans. I know they're young, but is the talent level improving? Is there any reason for optimism this year?
I was on hand for first-week Southern California head coach Dan Hubbs' first victory, a stirring 4-3 comeback Sunday against Nebraska. The Trojans trailed by a run heading into the ninth, but freshman Vahn Bozoian kickstarted a rally with a one-out single up the middle, and Adam Landecker capped it with a walk-off RBI single.
I thought USC played with a lot of energy, and I expect that will be the case all season under Hubbs, who officially took over for the fired Frank Cruz two days before the season began. These guys know they are underdogs, but they are hungry to restore USC's baseball tradition, and there is some intriguing talent in the freshman and sophomore classes.
Bozoian and Timmy Robinson give USC a couple of very physical corner outfielders to build around. Robinson, a former star quarterback at Huntington Beach's Ocean View High who ranked No. 153 on the predraft BA 500 last spring, started the season 0-for-8 with four strikeouts, but his at-bats were more competitive Sunday. He showed off his impressive brute strength by flicking a breaking ball down and away all the way to the wall in left-center for an RBI triple in the seventh.
"It looks like Timmy's starting to recognize pitches better than he did Friday," Hubbs said. "You can see with those last two at-bats Timmy had, what kind of juice he has."
Bozoian also has big-time raw power from the right side, which is why he ranked No. 197 on the BA 500 heading into last year's draft. But scouts questioned whether his long swing would ever allow him to make enough contact in game to unlock his power. He made his first start Sunday and showed that he has made great strides since last year, going 3-for-4 with a rocket double down the left-field line and a pair of singles. He showed good breaking ball recognition and the ability to lay off good sliders out of the zone, which was very encouraging.
"He's a guy we're going to rely on, a guy we'll need as we go forward," Hubbs said. "I think he's made huge strides from September until now. A big thing with him is he's staying on the ball longer, he's shortened his swing, and it's been nice to see. We gave him an at-bat Friday against Fullerton, he saw it well and put a good pass on it. His at-bats have been quality so far throughout. He can foul balls off to go deep into counts."
Of course, the crown jewel of USC's No. 19 recruiting class last fall is lefthander Kyle Twomey, who ranked No. 62 on the BA 500. Twomey showed his signature fastball life and command in his debut Sunday, helping him carry a shutout into the sixth. The Cornhuskers took advantage of some defensive miscues and four singles to score three runs in the sixth, but Twomey returned to retire the first batter of the seventh. He exited after 6 1/3, allowing three runs on six this and a walk while striking out four.
Scouts love Twomey for his loose arm action and the projection in his wiry 6-foot-3 frame, as well as his ability to pitch with his 86-91 mph fastball, which showed superb sink and arm-side run Sunday. His secondary stuff is still a work in progress, but he flashes a solid cutter and changeup, and mixes in a slow curveball. He just needs to learn how to throw his secondary stuff with more conviction.
"He knows he has to throw the changeup instead of push it, and he's got to throw the cutter," Hubbs said. "He needs to just trust that he can throw it. I think sometimes he tries to just place it. The curveball's more of a slower, change-of-speeds pitch. And the changeup has a chance to be pretty good off his fastball, make his fastball explode to the glove.
"In high school, he could pitch with predominantly a 90 mph fastball. Now, 90 is average to everybody. Now, a lefty with plus movement and being able to move it in and out, that's what separates him."
A fourth freshman also turned in a good performance Sunday: righthander Kyle Davis, who threw 2 2/3 shutout innings of relief, striking out three and walking none. Davis attacked the zone with an 86-88 mph fastball and use his quality 79-82 mph slider very effectively, occasionally mixing in a 79 changeup and 73 curveball. He ended the top of the ninth with back-to-back strikeouts with runners on second and third, dropping in a pretty curveball over the outside corner for a called third strike on his final pitch.
"I was really proud of Kyle Davis. He walked the first two guys he faced (Saturday), and he came in and showed a lot of maturity today," Hubbs said. "He has some special pitches, he can create some swing and misses. It was nice to see him come back from yesterday's outing and do what he did today."
Hubbs knows his team will have its growing pains this year, and a trip to regionals is still a long shot for this bunch. But this should be a fun team to watch this year.
"I think you can see the excitement about some of the players we have," Hubbs said. "So the future is really bright, and you got a glimpse of it right there with Twomey, Robinson, Davis and Bozoian."
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