Neither Southern Mississippi's quality pitching staff nor three straight days of temperatures in the 40s could slow down Troy's Danny Collins this weekend. Not even a rainout could slow him down on Tuesday. Collins, a junior right fielder, is one of college baseball's most dangerous hitters—and one of its hottest, too.
In three games against Southern Miss—whose pitching staff entered the weekend with a 1.25 staff ERA—Collins went 7-for-11 with four runs scored, a double, two home runs and five RBIs, leading the Trojans to a big series win. It was the continuation of a season-long hot streak for Collins, who is now hitting .526/.612/1.053 with four homers, four doubles, two triples and 20 RBIs through 38 at-bats. And he's a very disciplined hitter, with just three strikeouts and seven walks so far.
When Troy's game at Samford was postponed yesterday, the Trojans had an intrasquad—and Collins was as merciless against Troy's pitching as he has been against everyone else's.
"This spring he's been right on time, hitting for average and power, driving in runs, doing it all," Troy coach Bobby Pierce said. "Like I told my wife when we got home (Tuesday), 'You should have seen him today.' We played an intrasquad game because we got rained out, and he was about 5-for-6 with a couple of homers. The guy can really hit—all types of pitching, velocity, breaking balls."
Pierce said he gives Collins an A-plus grade in the areas of vision and hand-eye coordination, helping him stay back in the box and react late to pitches. That enables him to thrive in Troy's offensive system. [...] Continue Reading »
Nearly all of the teams that make the NCAA tournament end their seasons with a loss, of course. So the nation's longest active winning streak—14 games—dates back to last season, when a Cal Poly team that missed out on regionals finished its season with seven straight wins.
A 14-game winning streak is nice, but the Mustangs would have strongly preferred to end their season in the NCAA tournament. Cal Poly figured it had a good chance to get in after going 36-20 in the regular season, and finishing in second place in the Big West at 16-8, just a game behind league champion Cal State Fullerton.
But Poly wound up in the 60s in the Ratings Percentage Index, so it had to endure another at-large snub—an experience that has become too familiar to coach Larry Lee.
"By about the last three weeks of the season, we were really good, and we won 14 of of our last 17, nine of our last 10, seven in a row," Lee said. "I just thought we were playing as well as anyone out here in the West. Our players knew it, I think it carried over to this year, and I also think they understand how difficult it is for Cal Poly to get a regional berth. So in saying that, it's always stressed that every ballgame, no matter what day of the week it is, is important. Home or on the road, we just need to win ballgames. We can't afford to have a subpar nonconference or conference results. So far, so good."
At least the Mustangs were able to build confidence from their strong second half last year. Pitching has carried Cal Poly to a 7-0 start, including a quality sweep at San Francisco and a home sweep of Seattle. [...] Continue Reading »
Missouri State's Pierce Johnson generated first-round buzz earlier this spring, but the Bears' most consistent pitcher in 2012 has actually been redshirt sophomore righthander Nick Petree, who leads the nation in ERA at 0.77.
Petree is riding an incredible hot streak: He hasn't allowed an earned run in 49 1/3 consecutive innings over seven starts, dating back to March 2. He threw six shutout innings at Wichita State last week, allowing just four hits and striking out nine, as the Bears shut out the Shockers in Wichita for the first time ever. That performance improved Petree to 8-2 on the season with 67 strikeouts and 22 walks in 70 innings.
"It's unreal," Shockers pitching coach Brent Kemnitz said of Petree's streak. "He wasn't on top of his game against us. In the first inning he touched 87 a couple of times, but late in the game he was 83. He's got a lot of movement, a tight slider and a really good changeup. He just competes. You've got to tip your hat to him; he keeps making pitches and getting outs."
Petree has been carving hitters up recently despite pitching through a herniation in a forearm muscle, which hampers his velocity a bit, but doctors say he can't hurt himself worse by pitching with it. He might wind up taking the summer off to address the injury. At his best, he works in the 86-89 range, but he has good enough movement and feel for pitching to win with less velocity. [...] Continue Reading »
David Pierce was ready for a new challenge, and a change of scenery.
A Houston native, Pierce played college ball at the University of Houston, coached at three high schools in the Houston area, spent six years as the Astros' batting practice pitcher, and spent the last nine years as an assistant coach at Rice. He loves his hometown, and he loved working for and learning from College Hall of Fame coach Wayne Graham, an experience that prepared him well to be a college head coach.
"I was excited to get out of Houston—I'd been there my entire life. I was ready to move on," Pierce said. "I've been very thankful and pleased that I've gotten the opportunity to do it."
That opportunity came when Mark Johnson retired as the head coach at Sam Houston State (located in Huntsville, about 70 miles north of Houston) after last season. The Bearkats hired Pierce, and he hit the ground running, building upon Johnson's solid foundation.
SHSU has had plenty of success in recent years, winning the Southland Conference tournament in 2007, '08 and '09 to make regionals. But the Bearkats hadn't experienced the kind of regular-season success they have under Pierce, who has guided them to a 23-9 record and a spot in the Baseball America Top 25 for the first time ever. More importantly, SHSU is No. 27 in the NCAA's official RPI report, meaning it is in great shape to contend for an at-large bid to regionals even if it fails to win the conference's automatic bid. The Southland conference sent two teams to regionals in 2009, but it's nearly always a one-bid league.
"This is unchartered waters for a lot of people in this conference," Pierce said. "We need to work as hard as we can and not depend on that (conference) tournament. That's the voodoo—you never know what will happen." [...] Continue Reading »
Southeastern Louisiana coach Jay Artigues admits he wasn't sure how good his club would be in 2012 after losing its top two weekend starters and five everyday regulars from last year's 35-win team.
But with a roster filled with "tough, hard-nosed Cajun kids," as Artigues put it, the Lions have gotten off to a strong 15-6 start, highlighted by a pair of midweek wins against Mississippi State last week. Artigues wants his Lions to be the most mentally and physically tough team on the field every game, and that blue-collar approach has helped him build Southeastern Louisiana into a very competitive program that has won 32 or more games in each of Artigues' last five seasons, including a 40-win campaign in 2010.
Junior second baseman Brock Hebert (pictured at right) embodies the values that make Southeastern Louisiana successful.
"The thing about Brock, he plays with an unmatched confidence level," Artigues said. "In the box, on the basepaths, defensively at second base, he just plays with confidence. There's no doubt in him when he plays. He has an aura about him that makes everybody around him better as well."
He also has the kind of tools that make him one of the top second basemen in college baseball. Hebert is red-hot, riding a 15-game hitting streak that has boosted his season line to .450/.526/.600 with 12 doubles in 80 at-bats.
Hebert has evolved into a disciplined hitter since arriving at Southeastern. He hit .288 with 51 strikeouts and 19 walks as a freshman, then saw his average climb to .340 as a sophomore, when he struck out 56 times but drew more walks (28). So far this year, he has 12 walks and 15 strikeouts.
With four weekends in the books, Kentucky is the only unbeaten team remaining in college baseball. The Wildcats are 17-0 heading into today's game against Murray State, with a series against No. 3 South Carolina looming this weekend.
The Gamecocks will be Kentucky's first significant test, as the Wildcats have played just two games against teams with winning records: South Carolina-Upstate (12-2) and Morehead State (9-8). The rest of their opponents have an aggregate record of 59-89.
But that doesn't mean Kentucky is going to fold once Southeastern Conference play begins. These Wildcats are talented and balanced, with a deep collection of power arms on the mound (many of them lefthanded) and an intriguing blend of power and speed in the lineup.
"There's a few things," Wildcats coach Gary Henderson said by way of explanation for his team's hot start. "Our starting pitching's been solid. We've got some solid, if not better than that, depth in the bullpen, so we've got some options back there. You never feel like you're held hostage and have to run that starter out there for seven innings every time. Our starting position players have been outstanding playing defense. And our concentration at the plate has been really good." [...] Continue Reading »
Texas State coach Ty Harrington knew it would be a challenge to replace two-time Southland Conference pitcher of the year Carson Smith this spring. But in some ways, he thought his 2012 pitching staff had a chance to be even better.
"We lost Carson Smith, and anytime you lose somebody of that quality you wonder who's going to replace him," Harrington said. "We felt like we have more depth on the mound, and thought we had a chance to match people up as games went on, which we haven't been able to do in the past. To be honest with you, our bullpen's been as good as our starters have been."
That's saying something, because the starters have been otherworldly. Texas State's pitching staff is riding an incredible streak into tonight's midweek showdown against No. 5 Rice: The Bobcats have recorded a school-record five consecutive shutouts. Their scoreless streak stands at 50 1/3 innings, within shouting range of the NCAA record of 64 straight set by Arizona State in 1978. The streak has helped Texas State get of to an 8-3 start and jump to No. 21 in the Baseball America rankings.
"It makes coaching a lot easier when you're throwing up zeroes, I'll tell you that," Harrington said. [...] Continue Reading »
A year ago, Oregon headed into the season with high expectations and a No. 14 ranking. The Ducks struggled to generate consistent offense all season and scuffled to a disappointing eighth-place finish (11-16) in the Pacific-10 Conference.
After losing a trio of first-five-rounds picks on the mound (first-rounder Tyler Anderson, second-rounder Madison Boer, fifth-rounder Scott McGough), plus their starting catcher (Jack Marder) and entire middle infield (Danny Pulfer and K.C. Serna), the Ducks were dealt blows this fall and spring, losing freshmen Cole Wiper and Sam Johnson plus key junior lefthander Christian Jones to Tommy John surgery.
So naturally, expectations were much lower for Oregon this year.
That is why the Ducks have opened eyes by starting the season 7-1, including a sweep at preseason No. 10 Vanderbilt that vaulted Oregon into the rankings at No. 18. Oregon's current seven-game road winning streak is its longest road winning streak since at least 1963 (that is as far back as Oregon's records go). Granted, the school did not have baseball for about three decades until reviving the program for the 2009 season, but the point is this hot start is a big deal for the Ducks.
Especially considering the rigors of the road trip. Oregon opened its season with four games at Hawaii (winning the last three), wrapping up the series on Monday. On Wednesday morning, they flew to Nashville, where they played Belmont on Thursday, then a weekend series at Vandy. [...] Continue Reading »
Florida Atlantic has opened the season with a nice streak: The Owls have not trailed in any of their first 27 innings. That becomes even more impressive when you consider the streak that FAU snapped during opening weekend: Alabama had never been swept at home by a nonconference opponent until the the Owls swept the three-game set in Tuscaloosa. The Tide hadn't been swept in any nonconference series since 2001. And it was Florida Atlantic's first sweep over a Southeastern Conference Team since 1999.
Starting quick was key all weekend for FAU, whose strong bullpen should excel at protecting leads this year. The Owls got excellent relief work this weekend even though closer Hugh Adams did not make the trip to Tuscaloosa because of shoulder inflammation.
"(Getting early leads) was huge," FAU coach John McCormack said. "The one thing we did a really good job of all weekend was capitalizing on some of the opportunities we had and on their mistakes. We ran the bases well. We had a number of two-out hits, some big two-strike hits, a couple sac flies, guys got moved over. Our short game was exceptional. We got a lot of bunts down. We have a number of guys where that's part of their game. And whenever they were able to score, we answered right back. We didn't trail all weekend, and it was good, not playing from behind, especially on the road." [...] Continue Reading »
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