HIGH POINT, N.C.—Just a few minutes down the road from Greensboro, where Florida State and Virginia were meeting in a game that had no ramifications on the ACC tournament outcome, Coastal Carolina took on Liberty for the Big South title at High Point.
It was a familiar result: Coastal won 4-1, winning its 15th straight Big South tournament game and its 17th straight game against Liberty to capture its sixth straight Big South tourney championship. But this Coastal team isn't a steamroller like the other recent Chanticleer teams have been, and this team had to grind its way to a championship. That made Sunday's win even more gratifying for Chanticleers coach Gary Gilmore.
"We've had more adversity—our two top freshmen never threw a pitch all year for us, we lose (ace Josh) Conway halfway through the year, and our starting pitching has been iffy down the stretch," Gilmore said. "But the two submarine guys and the rest of that bullpen have been lights out. We've found ways, we've gotten better defensively the majority of the time. And our older guys have just carried us offensively—it's just been wonderful."
Coastal's two submarine righthanders, Aaron Burke and Ryan Connolly, were the story of the tournament. Burke came out of the bullpen to get the win in Coastal's opener (5.1 IP, 1 ER) and third game (4.1 IP, 0 R). Connolly earned the win in relief in games two (6 IP, 0 R) and four (5.1 IP, 0 R). All told, the duo combined to allow just one run in 21 innings over four games. [...] Continue Reading »
GREENSBORO, N.C.—Day Three at the ACC tournament featured a pair of walk-off home runs, but Clemson's victory over Florida State was considerably more compelling than Georgia Tech's walk-off win against Virginia.
When Jake Davies launched his wind-aded three-run homer over the right-center-field wall in the day's first game, it gave the Yellow Jackets a mercy-rule-shortened 17-5 win, improving Tech to 2-0 in pool play.
"That's what you call a good old-fashioned butt-kicking," Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said.
Clemson's walk-off win was more conventional, and more dramatic.
The Tigers clawed their way back from deficits for most of the game but couldn't quite catch up with Florida State until the ninth. The Seminoles took control with four runs in the third inning, then led 5-2 after tacking on another run in the fifth. Clemson answered with two in the bottom of the frame to get within a run—and FSU again extended its lead to three runs with two in the eighth. Again, Clemson responded, scoring two in the bottom of the inning to get back within a run.
Florida State closer Robert Benincasa took the mound to close it out in the ninth, but after a pair of singles, Jon McGibbon delivered a game-winning homer to right-center on a Benincasa breaking ball that hung up a little too long. The Tigers mobbed McGibbon at the plate, celebrating a 9-7 win. [...] Continue Reading »
GREENSBORO, N.C.—After North Carolina used six pitchers in a dominating 6-0 win against Wake Forest on Wednesday night, an entertaining UNC coach Mike Fox had some fun with the media about his bullpen usage.
"As we've done all year long, we go to our bullpen, and kind of mix and match, and drive y'all crazy, but we don't really care about that," Fox said with a playful smile.
He returned to the topic a little later.
"We've got guys down there we haven't used in a while, and we like to use our pitchers," he said, explaining UNC's two pitching changes in the ninth inning, which might have induced a few groans in the stands and press box but also helped the Tar Heels escape a bases-loaded jam unscathed. "We feel like our guys have worked hard and they want innings. I know it's late, I know what the score is, I get all that. I'm just going back to the hotel, so it doesn't really matter to me. I enjoy being in the dugout. I know you guys are on a deadline, so I thought about that a little bit at the end. (Another grin.)
"I like to give our guys an opportunity. We have a reputation for that—I like it. I like that guys know they can pitch. We didn't have the right guy in at the end, but we could have gone to a number of guys there. If they had gotten another hit, we'd have made another pitching change. It's just what we do. No apologies."
Nor should Fox make any apologies. UNC puts a winning team on the field year after year, partly because the coaches know how to make the best use of their roster and put players in position to succeed. [...] Continue Reading »
GREENSBORO, N.C.—It's easy to see why Eilliott Avent has so much affection for his 2012 team. Sure, winning breeds happiness for coaches, and North Carolina State is 39-15.
But this Wolfpack team has a certain character that makes Avent gush above and beyond the standard praise a coach has for his winning team. That makeup was on display Wednesday against Miami, when ace Eric Erickson and the Miami bullpen frustrated the 'Pack for eight innings, but N.C. State hung around and strung together five straight quality at-bats in the ninth to push across two runs and win 3-2.
"I'm just so proud of our guys," Avent said. "Wow, the lefty, Erickson, he's been good in this league for a long time, he was really, really good today—we knew we'd have trouble scoring off him. He was as good as I'd seen him. We just battled and battled and battled. And thank goodness for Ethan Ogburn. Ethan was just unbelievable today. He gave us a chance, that's what you have to do against a guy like Erickson."
The two starting pitchers mixed speeds and locations effectively to keep the game scoreless through five innings. Ogburn, who also pitched well in defeat last week at Florida State, spotted his 86-87 mph fastball and kept hitters off balance with his mid-70s curve and 80-82 cutter. The Hurricanes got to him for a pair of runs in the sixth, as Chantz Mack launched his first homer of the year, then chased him in the seventh. [...] Continue Reading »
GREENSBORO, N.C.—Georgia Tech knew what was at stake in its ACC tournament opener Wednesday against Florida State. After going 12-18 in the league, the Yellow Jackets needed to make a statement in Greensboro to bolster their at-large chances. A game against the nation's top-ranked team would be Tech's best opportunity to do so.
Georgia Tech's veterans carried them to a 5-4 win, as Jake Davies mashed a pair of two-run homers behind Buck Farmer, who went six solid innings.
"I would certainly hope it enhances our cause, let's put it that way," Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall said.
Davies, a senior first baseman, made it sound like the Jackets came out with a chip on their shoulder. A fighting spirit will come in handy this week for a Tech team with its back against the wall.
"When they came to our place, we played them tight Friday," Davies said. "On Saturday we had the lead through six innings, so we felt like this was a game we could win, especially with them throwing a midweek guy—we didn't feel like they took us very seriously. We feel like we were a strong 8 seed—we can score runs."
FSU coach Mike Martin made it clear that the Seminoles weren't taking Georgia Tech lightly, adding that Scott Sitz is his No. 3 starter and was the best-rested option. But Davies had Sitz's number. [...] Continue Reading »
BATON ROUGE, La.—As Raph Rhymes posed with a fan for a postgame photo, the fan said, "Did you hear this place? Man, it got juiced."
"Yeah, it did," Rhymes replied with a shake of his head.
For the second straight night, Louisiana State came from behind in the late innings to stun snake-bitten Georgia. This time, LSU erased a 4-2 lead with six runs in the eighth, as Mason Katz smacked a go-ahead grand slam and Rhymes followed with a solo shot over the left-field bleachers, sending the Alex Box Stadium crowd into a deafening frenzy and propelling the Tigers to an 8-4 win.
Rhymes finished 2-for-4 to maintain his .503 batting average, and the Tigers got three hitless innings of relief from Joey Bourgeois and a 1-2-3 ninth from closer Nick Goody, who struck out the side. LSU's collection of dominating power arms stood in contrast to Georgia's softer-throwing bullpen, which failed to nail down the win after starter Michael Palazzone left in the fifth inning with a back spasm.
LSU starter Ryan Eades (5 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 2 ER) did not have his best command but still showed his typical power stuff—a 92-94 mph fastball that peaked at 95, a sharp downer curve at 76-79, a slider with good depth at 82-83 and a changeup with lively arm-side action at 80-81. Bourgeois worked mostly at 90-91 and bumped 92, while getting swing-and-misses with his 73-74 curveball. Goody worked in the 90-93 range for the second straight day, getting two strikeouts on 92 mph heaters and another on a sharp slider at 78.
LSU's bullpen was a bit of a question mark coming into the season, but it has emerged as a true strength for the Tigers, rivaling its vaunted weekend rotation. And the lineup has continued to show a knack for getting big hits in pressure situations—the mark of a confident team capable of making a deep postseason run.
Here's a look at some other highlights from Saturday's action: [...] Continue Reading »
Between the two of us, BA intern Peter Wardell and I caught most of the UCLA-Oregon and Southern California-California series this weekend. I won't see the Ducks and Golden Bears again this regular season, so I wanted to pass on some of our notes on those two clubs.
I wrote a little about the Ducks in yesterday's Three Strikes column, focusing on ace Alex Keudell. The next two members of Oregon's weekend rotation, freshman Jake Reed and sophomore Brando Tessar, are cut from the same cloth as Keudell—they are pitchability righties who lack overpowering fastballs.
Reed, who ranked among our Top 200 prospects for last year's draft, has the best stuff of the three, and he worked primarily in the 86-88 mph range with late arm-side movement on Friday, dialing his fastball up to 91 on occasion but with less movement. He showed a promising changeup at 77-79 with deception, though he struggled to locate it at times. His 78-81 slider had tight break. Oregon coach George Horton said he was very pleased with Reed's poise and presence after the Bruins got to him for a run in the first.
Tessar didn't have his best command in Saturday's loss. His three-pitch mix included an 86-89 fastball, a 76-79 slurve and a 79-81 changeup.
Oregon closer Jimmie Sherfy has been a dynamo this spring, but he was battling the flu this weekend, and the Ducks hoped to get through the weekend without using him. He wound up throwing an inning Saturday, allowing one run but escaping a bases loaded jam with a pair of flyouts. Sherfy worked in the 87-91 range (below his normal velocity) but still flashed a devastating power curveball with three-quarters break at 78-81.
"He gave us everything he could," Horton said. "What I didn't like about Sherfy was his body language. It's something that all prideful athletes have to work on, the disappointment thing. You have to take that like a man and get to the next pitch. That's a deal with Jimmie. Sometimes when things aren't going well he shows that, and I don't like that part of it." [...] Continue Reading »
COLUMBIA, S.C.—The scene was a familiar one. Matt Price was on the mound, closing out a South Carolina victory against Florida.
It looked more like 2010 and 2011 for the two-time defending national champions than like the last week. Entering their Southeastern Conference series against top-ranked Florida, the Gamecocks had lost four of their last five games. But the pitching heroes of their Omaha runs held the Gators to four hits while the lineup broke out for seven runs to break a 2-2 tie.
The scoreboard showed a 9-3 Gamecocks victory Thursday night in front of an announced sell-out crowd of 8,242. It was the first win of the SEC season for South Carolina (17-5, 1-3), while it ended Florida's winning streak at 18. Both teams knew the game was better than that, at least until South Carolina broke things open in the seventh and eighth.
When it was still close, Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner turned to Price, the redshirt junior righthander who had made all five of his appearances as a starter in 2012. At 2-1, 3.71, Price had thrown well as a starter, but after losing three close games to Kentucky last weekend, Tanner said he gave plenty of thought to using Price out of the pen in this series. After all, Price had 30 saves the previous two seasons, including 20 last year.
"We told him all week, 'Seventh or eighth inning, if we have an opportunity, we're going (to you),' " Tanner said. "And he said, 'I'll be ready.' He pitched well early, not so well late . . .
"I was tempted (to take him out in the ninth). I turned to coach (Jerry) Meyers, and he wasn't tempted. I said, 'Well, I'm not the pitching coach,' so that's the end of that story." [...] Continue Reading »
LOS ANGELES—Most of the sports world was buzzing about March Madness on Friday, but it was also a thrilling day in college baseball, where the SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12 schedules opened with a bang. Let's start the Friday Roundup with the game I attended between two of the top contenders in the Pac-12.
Top 25 Showdowns
(11) Arizona State at (9) UCLA: The sterling pitching matchup between ASU's Brady Rodgers and UCLA's Adam Plutko took some strange turns, but UCLA won it in walk-off fashion in the ninth, 6-5. The Sun Devils broke a scoreless tie with five runs in the third on Deven Marrero's two-run triple and Trever Allen's three-run homer, but Plukto retired the next 14 Sun Devils in order, and the Bruins tied the game with their own five-run outburst against Rodgers in the sixth.
"You're down 5-0 to Brady Rodgers, it feels like you're down by a lot more," UCLA coach John Savage said. "The guy is so good, he's so complete—four pitches for strikes, any count, competitive. He's as good as there is out there in terms of pitchability and competitiveness. I can't say enough about him. But our guys hung in there, we had some good at-bats in the sixth inning . . . You've got to give our guys a lot of credit; they battled back."
The Bruins took advantage of a leadoff error in that frame, then executed a perfect hit-and-run for a single through the right side, followed by a pair of infield singles, an RBI groundout, and three straight groundball singles. Maybe they didn't string together a bunch of hard liners or deep drives, but they did not let their big deficit stop them from having competitive at-bats.
"That inning got away from us," ASU coach Tim Esmay said. "A team like UCLA, you can't open the door. We opened the door. We let momentum get in their dugout, and they battled Brady." [...] Continue Reading »
HOUSTON—In Friday's loss to Texas, Rice's ballyhooed duo of sophomore righthanders—Austin Kubitza and John Simms—lacked their best stuff, and they struggled.
On Saturday, senior righty Matthew Reckling lacked his best stuff, too, but he was able to turn in a quality outing anyway, gutting his way through 6 2/3 innings and allowing just a pair of first-inning runs and four hits in a 6-2 win against Texas Tech.
"I really appreciate what he did. He started weak, but then he came on strong," Rice coach Wayne Graham said. "A creditable outing, when he didn't have his best stuff. He can throw a little harder than that, his curveball can be a little sharper than that, but he used his changeup some, and it was pretty good."
In his first two dominating outings this season, Reckling threw harder than he did Saturday night, when his fastball ranged from 86-91 mph. But of course, Reckling had struggled even when he had good velocity in years past because his command of his fastball was inconsistent. It was a more effective pitch Saturday, even without its best velocity.
"I think I have a lot more movement on my fastball this year," Reckling said. "Last year I threw a lot of four-seams, today I only threw two-seams. Sometimes I'll elevate a four-seam to get it by someone. On the (three) guys that I hit, those were four-seams. So I was like, I'm only throwing two-seams, which I've been doing all year. It's been running a lot, and just trying to keep guys off, move the fastball around." [...] Continue Reading »
HOUSTON—It's still early March, and Dave Serrano's rebuilding project at Tennessee is still in its infancy, but Serrano did not try to downplay the significance of his team's 5-4 win against Texas on Saturday.
"That was a big win—there are no ifs, ands or buts about it," Serrano said. "We try to say it's another game—it isn't another game. We played the University of Texas, and we came out on top."
It was an important day for the Volunteers, just as it was for Houston, which improved to 2-0 at the Houston College Classic with a 4-1 win against No. 4 Arkansas earlier Saturday. Second-year Houston coach Todd Whitting is a little further along in his rebuilding effort, but both teams can use Saturday's victories to take stock of their progress and build some confidence.
"It doesn't matter who we're beating, we're winning, and that's the main thing," Whitting said. "That's what these guys need. I thought until today's game, even last night, we didn't play games to win. And today they absolutely went out there and they played to win, they didn't play to lose at all. Everybody was aggressive. We continued for two days in a row to be aggressive at home plate. If we can continue to do that, we'll beat some people." [...] Continue Reading »
HOUSTON—When Texas coach Augie Garrido turned to address the media Friday night, a reporter jokingly told him the Longhorns are an offensive juggernaut.
"You bet your sweet ass," Garrido responded without missing a beat.
A little levity was in order after the Longhorns scored 11 runs on 13 hits against a very talented Rice pitching staff, en route to an ugly 11-8 win. Texas had scored just 21 runs total in its previous eight games, scuffling to a 4-4 start.
Garrido said even before his team got annihilated in a three-game sweep at Stanford that his hitters had been out of sync, out of rhythm and out of character. Garrido's message never changed: His hitters needed to stop trying so hard ("They say there's no crying in baseball; well, there's no trying in baseball, or else you'll fail," he said two weeks ago) and focus more on the process than the results. [...] Continue Reading »
HOUSTON—Jared Ray hasn't had many days over the last two years when his arm felt as good as it did Friday, in Houston's 7-4 win against Tennessee in the Houston College Classic. So he wanted to take full advantage, as he said later, and that's just what he did.
A fifth-year senior righthander for Houston, Ray has had three shoulder surgeries in his career, causing him to miss all of 2010 and most of 2011. But he built confidence by returning from his rehab to make five starts down the stretch last year, and he entered this spring feeling stronger than ever.
On Friday, he looked better than ever, striking out a career-high 10 batters over seven innings, allowing just a run on five hits and no walks.
"I knew I felt good coming into the game," Ray said. "It feels good to be healthy again and not ahve to worry about, week-to-week, how I'm going to feel. Just being able to go out here every day and prepare, knowing that I'm going to have my stuff that week."
He certainly had his stuff Friday. Ray maintained 90-91 mph velocity throughout his start, pumping 92-93 mph heat in the second inning. He started the game by striking out the first six hitters he faced, three of them on fastballs and three on low-80s sliders down and away. He relied almost exclusively on his fastball and hard-breaking 78-83 slider, throwing only a couple of changeups (and not effectively). [...] Continue Reading »
HOUSTON—Arkansas sophomore righthander Ryne Stanek has picked up this spring right where he left off at the end of last season. In Friday's 3-1 win against Texas Tech in the Houston College Classic, Stanek continued to demonstrate just how much he has matured since he first arrived in college.
Stanek, an unsigned third-round pick out of high school in Kansas, struggled with his mechanics—and consequently his command and efficiency—throughout much of his freshman year in 2011. In his final regular-season outing, he recorded just one out before getting pulled in the first inning. But the following week in the Southeastern Conference tournament, Stanek suddenly began to harness his electric stuff, going 7 2/3 strong innings. He followed that up with a complete-game gem in regionals against Charlotte.
After a strong summer with Team USA and in the Cape Cod League, Stanek returned to campus with loads of confidence. He stepped onto the mound at a major league park on Friday and said he did not feel nervous—and he did not look nervous, either.
"I thought he did a great job in a big league ballpark, great atmosphere, he came out and was calm and under control," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "We did a good job spotting him a couple of runs, and he did the rest from there." [...] Continue Reading »
PEORIA, Ariz.—The Arizona Senior Fall Classic kicked off Thursday, bringing hundreds of scouts and college coaches to the spring training complex of the Padres and Mariners. The four-day event features 61 travel and scout teams, primarily from the West.
While coaches and scouts intermingle throughout the 12 fields, there is one event at the tournament geared more for the college coaches: the All Academic Game. The game shines a spotlight on the players with the best grades and test scores, and about 75 college recruiting coordinators showed up to the game Thursday night.
"For a school like us, academics is an important piece," Duke recruiting coordinator Edwin Thompson said. "So having them be able to get the best of the best that are here in one spot helps us out for the rest of the weekend."
Thompson said this All Academic Game is one-of-a-kind.
"It's a benefit for us because instead of looking through all the rosters, you know all these guys have the grades to be able to get into Ivy League or other high academic schools," he said. [...] Continue Reading »
CHATHAM, Mass.—After taking in the Cape Cod League all-star game at Fenway Park on Friday, I stuck around to catch some more action around the Cape. Here are some observations from the final week of the league's regular season.
• Stony Brook dominated the America East Conference this spring, going 22-2 to win the league by four games and finishing the regular season 41-10 overall. The Seawolves were upset in the AEC tournament, ending their season shy of regionals, but a number of Seawolves have made noise in the Cape League. Three Stony Brook players made the league's all-star game, including catcher Patrick Cantwell and center fielder Travis Jankowksi of Bourne, who started for the West team.
Two Seawolves led Orleans to the East Division title on Wednesday, the last day of the regular season. All-star righthander Tyler Johnson allowed just one hit over 6 2/3 scoreless innings to get the win in the first game of a doubleheader against Chatham, clinching the division. Johnson pitches primarily off a mid-80s sinker with serious life, and he effectively mixed in a slider and changeup.
"When I've got all three pitches working, especially with these kind of defensive guys behind me, it makes it real easy to pitch," Johnson said. "I just like to throw that (sinker), let it do its thing and get some ground balls." [...] Continue Reading »
BOSTON—James Ramsey had such a good time Friday night that he said he wanted to keep on playing with his new teammates—the all-stars of the Cape Cod League's East Division.
Ramsey, a rising senior outfielder at Florida State, jumped on an 88 mph first-pitch fastball from William & Mary righthander John Farrell in the fifth inning, depositing it into the right-field bullpen at Fenway Park for a solo home run. That blast earned the Yarmouth-Dennis star the MVP honors for the East, which beat the West 4-1 in the all-star game.
"You feel like you're off the ground, for sure," Ramsey said of the feeling of hitting the home run. "The best part wasn't really running the bases, it was getting back to the dugout, getting the high-fives—'I've only known you for a couple of hours, but I've seen you play for a couple of weeks now.' . . . I'm really blessed to be able to play alongside so many good players in this league."
Ramsey, like every Cape League all-star who has gotten a chance to play at Fenway Park over the last three years, got a major thrill out of playing in the major leagues' oldest stadium. Much of the lower seating bowl was filled despite a forecast that called for a chance of thunderstorms, and the official attendance was 7,007—creating a festive atmosphere. [...] Continue Reading »
GLENDALE, Calif.—The California Collegiate League has featured a nice collection of talent in recent years, a blend of Southern California college players, highly regarded rising freshmen and big-name prospects from schools like Texas and Rice, among others. On Wednesday at Stengel Field in Glendale, the league's top talent assembled for its third annual all-star game, where a number of intriguing power arms were on display. But outfielder Aaron Brown, one of the league's youngest players, stole the show—even though his CCL Nationals were crushed by the Americans, 14-3.
Brown (right), who is hitting .351 with five homers, 19 RBIs and 11 stolen bases in 12 tries for the host Glendale Angelenos this summer, was a two-way star for Southern California powerhouse Chatsworth High this spring. He ranked No. 149 on Baseball America's Top 200 Prospects for the 2011 draft, but his commitment to Pepperdine caused him to slip to the Pirates in the 17th round.
Scouts were clamoring that the Pirates had better open their checkbook after watching Brown on Wednesday. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound outfielder first showed off his easy lefthanded power in batting practice, banging a home run off the right-field scoreboard. Then, in his first at-bat of the game in the second inning, he fouled off some mid-90s heat from righthander Stephen Johnson, then laced an RBI double down the right-field line on a 77 mph slider. [...] Continue Reading »
OMAHA—Minutes after Florida watched South Carolina celebrate its second straight national championship from the first-base dugout at TD Ameritrade Park, Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan exchanged postgame handshakes with South Carolina's players and coaches, then turned to accept consolatory "congratulations on a great season" handshakes from a couple of reporters.
"We'll be back," he said. "We'll be back."
Indeed, the foundation is rock-solid for the Gators, who entered 2011 atop the national rankings and are strong favorites to be preseason No. 1 in 2012 as well. Florida followed its historically strong 2009 recruiting class with another banner haul in 2010, leaving the roster stacked with experienced stars like Mike Zunino, Hudson Randall, Brian Johnson, Austin Maddox and Nolan Fontana heading into next season.
"What a great team, what a tremendous team, classy organization," Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner said of the Gators. "They play the game the right way. You never like to lose games, but you like to play people like the Gators and coach O'Sullivan because you get after it and you play the game the right way. And you can rest assured he'll be back in Omaha time and time again."
The bright future provided some solace for the Gators—but in the immediate aftermath of a national runner-up finish, it was small solace. Florida has gone from winning a regional to reaching the College World Series to making the CWS Finals in the last three years under O'Sullivan, but the progression of the program provided little more consolation. [...] Continue Reading »
OMAHA—Senior catcher Curt Casali hit a solo home run, his seventh of the season, to help Vanderbilt beat North Carolina 5-1 Wednesday night. The victory advanced the Commodores into the bracket championship against Florida, which it must beat twice to reach the College World Series Finals.
Casali was gracious enough to join us for a postgame video interview.
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