Strike One: Shifting Landscape
College baseball truly came into its own in 1999, when the advent of the 64-team NCAA tournament field and a major change in bat standards ushered in a new era. Last season marked the start of another age for the sport, which moved the College World Series from venerable Rosenblatt Stadium into sparkling new TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, and toned down the potency of the bats again.
The new BBCOR bats had a dramatic impact on the game, as offensive numbers plummeted around the country. The consensus among coaches this fall, however, was that manufacturers had made adjustments to their BBCOR products, and players were more accustomed to the new bats. Don’t expect a return to 2010 offensive levels, but some recovery in offense seems likely. [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Confident Tar Heels Make A Statement
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Danny Hultzen dominated North Carolina for four perfect innings Friday night, striking out nine of the first 12 batters he faced.
Tar Heels coach Mike Fox said his team went in with a game plan to try to keep it close by swinging at strike one, being aggressive against Hultzen.
"He's just so good, he was pounding it and creating that angle and has that good breaking ball," Fox said. "We didn't want it to get to two strikes; we told our hitters to swing at strike one. But then (Chaz) Frank went deep in the count against him (to lead off the first), and we thought maybe that was the way to go. That didn't look so good after the first few innings, though."
Initially, it didn't work, but eventually it did. The Tar Heels got to a tiring Hultzen in the eighth inning, with the score just 1-0 Cavaliers. A Ben Bunting leadoff single, a sacrifice bunt, a wild pitch and a walk put runners at first and third for Levi Michael, and he tied the game with a line-drive single to center, scoring Bunting. With runners again at the corners, freshman Colin Moran—0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts against the nation's top lefty—came to the plate.
Fox said Frank had informed Moran to look for sliders. Naturally, Moran went down 0-2 in the count on fastballs. But Moran's no ordinary freshman, and he adjusted in his fourth at-bat. He got a slider he could handle, and even though he was out front, he got enough to loft a sacrifice fly to right field to give the Tar Heels their first lead. [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Handicapping The Horse Races
One NCAA tournament bid has already been secured (Princeton won the Ivy League title last weekend), and another will be awarded next weekend when Army and Navy clash in the best-of-three Patriot League championship series. Army swept Lafayette in one best-of-three semifinal series this weekend, while Navy lost the opener of its series against Bucknell, 1-0, but bounced back to win the next two games, 6-1 and 6-0. The Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference, Northeast Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference tournaments start this week also (more on those below).
Here's a look at how the other conference races shape up at this point in the season. Most of these races fit into neat categories, and since it's Triple Crown season, we'll go with the horse racing terminology:
Trotting around the winner's circle:
These teams have already clinched the regular-season titles in their conferences:
• Stony Brook: The Seawolves swept Binghamton this weekend to clinch the America East regular-season crown. Stony Brook is 18-2 in conference play and owns a three-game lead over Maine with one weekend remaining. Stony Brook took three of four from Maine in April, so it owns the tie-breaker.
• Stetson: Stetson clinched the Atlantic Sun with a series win at Lipscomb. The Hatters are 22-5, four games ahead of second-place Jacksonville. [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Princeton Punches Its Ticket
Princeton became the first team to officially secure a spot in the 2011 NCAA tournament this weekend, winning the best-of-three Ivy League championship series against Dartmouth, which had won the Ivy's automatic bid each of the last two years.
It's quite a turnaround for the Tigers, who went 12-30 a year ago and finished last in the Ivy League at 6-14. But Princeton turned over much of its roster in the offseason, and its young talent matured as the 2011 season progressed. The young Tigers entered league play with a 5-13 mark after taking their lumps in a challenging nonconference schedule, but the early trials paid dividends later. Princeton opened its season with three games at Louisiana State, where it won the Sunday game and learned a little bit about itself.
"I think we kind of figured out at that point with the new bats, you could really attack people—it wasn't like going to play North Carolina and LSU with the old bats where you felt you could just get thumped out of the ballpark," Princeton coach Scott Bradley said. "I think our pitchers at that point just started to get confidence, especially with the top of the lineup and the bottom of the lineup, that you can attack hitters, and you can actually attack at the top of the strike zone. Because if you're working down, and you're trying to bust guys inside, the little guys can inside-out it and get the ball through the hole. So you want to throw the ball at the top of the zone and let guys take their best swing and get guys to hit long fly balls to the outfielders. So that helped us early on, and once we got into league play, a lot of our freshmen started to solidify themselves in the lineup."
Strike-throwers Mike Ford (5-3, 3.98), Zak Hermans (5-1, 2.85) and Matt Bowman (2-7, 5.05) executed Bradley's plan very well in Ivy League play, where the Tigers built plenty of confidence, finishing the regular season with the league's best overall record at 15-5. That earned them home-field advantage in the championship series against Dartmouth, which was particularly important because the Big Green owns the nation's longest home winning streak at 24 games. [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Emotional Week For Alabama
Somehow, Alabama's players found a way to keep their minds on baseball and win a series at Mississippi State this weekend. It was an emotional end to an emotional week for the Crimson Tide, who saw their hometown of Tuscaloosa ravaged by a mile-wide tornado on Wednesday afternoon, leaving dozens dead or missing and many more homeless.
"For our players, to go through what they did over the last four or five days—it was definitely emotional," Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said. "One of our kids said he went into a home and actually pulled two bodies out. There's stories that are just unreal. We've got a heck of a group, I can tell you that. Some high-character kids."
The storm, which struck about 5 p.m., knocked out cell phone towers in the Tuscaloosa area, so the coaches weren't able to confirm that all of their team was safe until about 8:30 that night, after a number of them had combed the downtown area and student housing complexes looking for missing teammates.
"It was unlike anything I've ever been through," Gaspard said. "It's just one of those things you feel real fortunate that all the people in our team and families, everyone is safe, and that's the most important thing. But it's just major devastation in our city, and obviously there are going to be a lot of lives that are lost—they're still in search-and-rescue mode for another couple of days. It's just mass destruction. It was unreal—it really was." [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Aggies Firing On All Cylinders
It's not easy to find a better pitching staff than Texas A&M's. The Aggies rank second in the nation in ERA (2.15), and their dynamite weekend rotation of John Stilson, Michael Wacha and Ross Stripling gives them an advantage in nearly every weekend series.
The question facing the Aggies coming into the season was how their offense would perform. Lately, A&M's bats are more than holding their own, which makes the Aggies as dangerous as any team in college baseball. They showed it this weekend, sweeping a previously red-hot Oklahoma State team that had already won weekend series against Texas and Oklahoma. The Aggies simply dominated the series, outscoring the Cowboys 24-4 in the three-game set.
"We played good this weekend," Aggies coach Rob Childress said. "We pitched really well, we played good defense, and the three guys in the middle of our lineup had good weekends—Adam Smith, Kevin Gonzalez and Matt Juengel were productive for us, and they need to be for us to be really good."
The talented Smith is still hitting just .222 on the season, but that does not tell the whole story. Childress said he started driving in a lot of key runs since conference play began, and indeed, he leads the league with 11 two-out RBIs in conference play. Gonzalez and Juengel combined for eight RBIs in the final two games of the series, giving the Aggies reason to hope that they are heating up, as well. [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Zags Emerge As WCC Favorites
LOS ANGELES—Gonzaga already looked like the team to beat in the West Coast Conference after sweeping UC Irvine in late March. After two weeks of conference play, the Zags have made it clear that they are the favorites.
Gonzaga followed up its sweep of preseason WCC favorite San Diego by taking two of three on the road from Loyola Marymount, which figures to be Gonzaga's strongest competition in the league. Gonzaga finds itself 21-11 overall, 5-1 in the WCC and on track to make its second trip to regionals in three years, after going 28 years between postseason appearances before 2009.
Gonzaga set the tone for the weekend on Friday, when it erased a 3-2 deficit on Cameron Edman's three-run homer into the trees right of the left-field Blue Monster against LMU closer Ryan Hawthorne in the ninth inning. After the first batter of the inning reached on an error, Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf elected to let cleaup man Royce Bollinger hit away rather than bunt the tying run into scoring position, and he rewarded his coach by singling up the middle, setting the stage for Edman's heroics.
"It's just that Royce is pretty good against lefthanded pitching, and the old adage is you play for the win on the road, and I don't like to bunt that much anyway, so it's easy for me to talk myself into letting him swing away," Machtolf said. "(Edman's homer) is a special hit, for him and for us." [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Mashing In Memphis
At the end of a Conference USA weekend, Daron Schoenrock said he just wants to find an easychair and relax, because he's mentally drained. More than ever, C-USA is a grind this year, with no easy series. Southern Mississippi, Rice and East Carolina are strong, as expected, while Central Florida, Tulane, Alabama-Birmingham and Houston have taken steps forward. So has Schoenrock's Memphis team—another reason this is a banner year for Conference USA.
"This league, about all you can say is, 'Wow,' " Schoenrock said. "As far as a non-BCS league, it's got to be one of the best leagues in the country."
A week ago, it looked like Southern Miss might have been the team to beat in Conference USA, and it still might be. But Memphis won a huge series against the Golden Eagles this weekend, following a midweek win against Mississippi. The Tigers are 19-12 overall and 3-3 in conference play, and they have the offensive firepower to make some noise down the stretch.
"We looked at the strength of this year's team, it was basically experience in the lineup, and that experience is coming forth now," Schoenrock said. "We have been really close in our losses early—I could see some good things happening with the team. We were losing a lot of one-run games, we were one pitch away, one play away. We didn't get discouraged; I knew we had a tough stretch coming up, and our lineup started kicking on a few more cylinders this weekend, is the best way to say it." [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Cowboys Up
Oklahoma State won just eight conference games in all of 2010, sinking to last place in the Big 12. Pitching was a major culprit, as the Cowboys ranked eighth out of 10 teams in the league with a 5.56 ERA.
Through three weeks of conference play in 2011, OSU already has five conference wins, and its pitching is a big reason why. Through 28 games, Oklahoma State owns a 2.38 ERA, second in the Big 12 behind only Texas A&M (1.98). After winning back-to-back series against Texas and on the road against Nebraska, the Cowboys have climbed to 5-4 in conference play, and into the Baseball America Top 25.
"There's still a lot ahead of us, but we're getting better. We're a lot better than we were last year," Oklahoma State coach Frank Anderson said. "For the most part, we've done a pretty good job of pitching and playing defense. We play infield defense at a pretty high level, but we need to get better at our outfield defense. Like everybody, we're trying to figure out what you have to do with the bats."
The Cowboys have figured out that part of it better than most, in fact. Oklahoma State ranks second in the Big 12 in batting (.307) and third in home runs (19). The Cowboys rode a power surge to Friday's win at Nebraska, bashing five home runs in a 12-7 win, and they scored 10 runs again Saturday in a blowout victory. Mark Ginther, Davis Duren, Dane Phillips, Zach Johnson and Jared Womack give the lineup a solid core of physical veterans with some extra-base potential. [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Mississippi State Announces Presence In Wild West
When Mississippi State faced Auburn a year ago, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 9-0 lead on Saturday, but could not hold it. The Tigers started to come back against freshman righthander Chris Stratton and finished the job against the MSU bullpen, winning 16-14 and going on to sweep the Bulldogs.
Contrast that Saturday with this past Saturday, when the Bulldogs again jumped out to a big lead against Auburn, scoring eight runs in the first. Stratton was on the mound again, and this time he held the Tigers at bay into the eighth inning, and MSU went on to sweep the series against 22nd-ranked Auburn.
The Bulldogs took their lumps on the mound over the last two years, but now all the work they have done to rebuild their pitching staff is paying off. Freshmen started 35 of Mississippi State's 56 games a year ago, when MSU finished 6-24 in the SEC, the second-worst record in the conference. But now those young arms have found their bearings, and they have led MSU to an 18-6 start, including a 4-2 mark in SEC play.
"We just really made our freshman guys into the leadership guys on the team last year, and for the most part, they got beat," Bulldogs coach John Cohen said. "But we were investing in all those freshmen—we just kept rolling them out there.
"Our mission No. 1 when we got here (in the summer of 2008): We feel like with our ballpark and the advent of the new bats in college baseball, we felt that pitching and defense was going to be the most important things we could do. So we have spent the majority of our scholarship aid and time and effort around defending the field and getting the very best arms we could get. I think we're starting to see the fruits of that labor." [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Gators Prove Even Better Than Expected
Coming into the season, Florida looked like the team to beat in college baseball. The Gators earned the No. 1 spot in Baseball America's preseason Top 25, and coach Kevin O'Sulivan knew his team would be good. But his team's 18-2 start—which was punctuated with a midweek win against Florida State last week and a series sweep at Louisiana State this weekend—was beyond even O'Sullivan's expectations.
"If you'd have told me before the season started that we'd be 18-2 with the schedule we've played, I'd have said, 'No way,' " O'Sullivan said. "But the fact of the matter is, we won two one-run games (this weekend at LSU). Either one of those games could have gone either way. I think our pitching depth probably showed up yesterday in the 7-3 win . . . I told my guys to enjoy it. You don't go into LSU often and win a series, or get the opportunity to sweep them."
Florida's pitching staff figured to be one of the deepest in the nation, but the emergence of sophomore righthander Austin Maddox in the bullpen has made the Gators even better on the mound than expected—and who would have thought that was possible, given the outsized expectations? Maddox threw 4 1/3 shutout innings in relief of Karsten Whitson on Sunday, allowing just two hits and no walks while striking out three.
"He's 92-95, it's heavy, it's three pitches for strikes," O'Sullivan said. "With LSU's lineup being so dominant righthanded, we'd used (righties Anthony) DeSclafani and (Tommy) Toledo on Friday, we used (Greg) Larson and (Nick) Maronde on Saturday, so we were thinking, if we need a guy to bridge the gap if Whitson only goes five, we were just trying to get two innings from Maddox, then go to DeSclafani. But he went 4 1/3 and only threw 43 pitches." [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Bulldogs Rally Around Taylor
LOS ANGELES—Tragedy has hit Georgia hard over the last two years. In the fall of 2009, freshman infielder Chance Veazey was paralyzed from the waist down in a motor scooter accident, and the loss took a major psychological toll on the Bulldogs. Then, last Sunday at Florida State, outfielder Johnathan Taylor suffered a major spinal cord injury in a collision with Zach Cone.
It was a gut-wrenching, terrifying loss for Georgia, but this time the Bulldogs have rallied around their injured comrade. With a picture of Taylor hanging in the dugout, Georgia has won five straight games since Taylor's injury, including a 3-0 weekend at the Dodgertown Classic to even its record at 8-8.
"Last year, when Chance Veazey—who was my roommate—got in that scooter accident, we didn't come back from it, we didn't respond the way we should have," sophomore shortstop Kyle Farmer said. "But this year, we wanted to change it around and respond the way we should, because J.T.'s a great player, a great life to this team. It's almost like he's with us now . . . We're real close, we're almost like a family."
Georgia played with energy and intensity Friday against UCLA and ace righthander Gerrit Cole, and the dugout erupted when Farmer connected on a high, 97 mph, 0-and-2 fastball for a three-run homer in the seventh inning. Cole had racked up 11 strikeouts through six perfect innings heading into the frame, but Georgia broke the game open in the seventh. After Levi Hyams broke up the no-hitter with a one-out double and Zach Cone's speed forced the Bruins into an error, Chase Davidson delivered a tie-breaking single through the right side, and Farmer followed with his blast to left field. That put the Bulldogs ahead 4-0 and propelled them to a 6-2 victory. [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: It's Always About Pitching For Texas
AUSTIN—Augie Garrido was positively beaming as he greeted a throng of reporters on the turf at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Sunday. The Texas coach alternately cracked jokes, waxed philosophical and analyzed his team's big series win against Stanford.
Ace Taylor Jungmann did the heavy lifting on Friday, as usual, falling just an out shy of his third straight complete game in Texas' 4-3 win. But that's nothing new; the Longhorns must expect to win every Friday behind the overpowering Jungmann, one of college baseball's most accomplished and talented pitchers.
No, the story of the weekend for Texas was the way it bounced back Sunday from an ugly 9-2 loss Saturday, during which senior righty Cole Green struggled and the team committed five errors.
"It's a little bit different than it's been the last two years—we've got some young guys starting, which is different. But we have good character, and we're working well as a team," junior shortstop Brandon Loy said. "We've just got to cut out some of these bad losses we're having. It's one thing if you come out and don't play good, and the other team plays better than us and beats us. But to come out and don't play well and get beaten 9-1, 10-1, whatever it is—we can't have those games. But then again, we came out and bounced back and had a good win (Sunday)."
Sunday was a different story. The defense was crisper, the pitching was better, and the result was a 4-2 win.
"It's always important to turn a game like yesterday around and see how the team's going to respond, and I think we responded the way we would hope for it to," Garrido said. "We got quality pitching out of Sam Stafford, and then the relief was what we needed to keep their team under control." [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Bringing The Flair
COMPTON, Calif.—The fourth annual Urban Youth Invitational took place this weekend in Irvine and Compton, where MLB Network televised a Saturday doubleheader at the five-year-old MLB Urban Youth Academy. UC Irvine was the big winner, winning three games against Southern, Bethune-Cookman and Grambling State by a combined score of 36-4, but the event was about much more than the final scores of the baseball games.
Saturday's festivities kicked off with a battle of local high school bands, followed by a college fair at the Urban Youth Academy. Irvine and B-CU played at 1 p.m. PT, and Southern's band battled Bethune-Cookman's on the field between games. Then the Jaguars faced Grambling in the nightcap. Former major league all-stars Dave Stewart, Maury Wills, Tommy Davis and Reggie Smith were also on hand.
Turnout was strong despite a chilly, windy day, and all of the participants came away with positive impressions of the event.
"This is the fourth one we've been in, and it's gotten bigger and better every year," Southern coach Roger Cador said. "I'm really excited about it. Major League Baseball got it right. Jimmie Lee Solomon and Darrell Miller put this together, and they got it right." [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Garvin 'Em Up
SAN DIEGO—Vanderbilt headed into 2011 as a leading contender for the national title, and after one weekend on the West Coast, it's easy to see why. The Commodores went 4-0, sweeping a series at San Diego and winning a Saturday game at San Diego State. Vandy impressed in all facets of the game, but its pitching is particularly special.
Junior righthander Jack Armstrong, working his way back from a back injury, did not even pitch, but the 'Dores didn't miss a beat. After a solid start from Sonny Gray on Friday, Vandy got three strong outings from freshman lefty Kevin Ziomek, senior righty Taylor Hill and junior lefty Grayson Garvin. Hill demonstrated outstanding feel for pitching in the first game Sunday, keeping San Diego off balance with a lively 88-91 fastball and a very good 79-81 slider.
The fourth starter, Garvin, was most impressive of all, taking a perfect game into the seventh inning in the finale against USD. Kevin Muno hit a chopper back to the mound that deflected off Garvin's glove for an infield single leading off the seventh to spoil the no-hitter, but Garvin bounced right back by striking out the next two hitters and getting a groundout. He finished with 10 strikeouts before exiting with the bases loaded in the ninth.
Garvin relied heavily on his fastball—which sat at 88-89 early and settled in around 84-87 in the middle innings—and his 77-80 changeup, and he said he did not even take his slider and curveball out of his pocket until the seventh. Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said Garvin reminded him a little of former Vandy ace Mike Minor, the way he spotted his fastball and used his changeup.
"I pitch a lot off my fastball, and being able to move it in and out is big for me," Garvin said. "The ability I have to locate that pitch is key to being successful . . . I definitely try to keep the ball down—I think that's what every pitcher tries to do. I think God has blessed me a lot being 6-foot-6 or whatever, so trying to utilize that is key to my success as well. So that helps me a lot." [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Punch Those Tickets
Bucknell and Bethune-Cookman won automatic bids to the NCAA tournament by winning their respective conference tournaments this weekend. The Bison and the Wildcats join Dartmouth, Cal State Fullerton and San Diego as teams that have already punched their tickets to regionals.
We wrote about both Bucknell and B-CU in Weekend Preview last week. In Under The Radar, we highlighted Bucknell's red-hot junior first baseman, Doug Shribman, who had a huge series against Army last weekend to propel the Bison to the best-of-three championship series. Shribman came up huge once again this weekend against Holy Cross. After the teams split the first two games, Shribman blasted two more home runs (extending his Patriot League record to 20) and drove in six in Bucknell's 12-7 win in the decisive game. Bucknell also got another homer from Andrew Brouse—his 17th of the season.
"Power has certainly a huge part of (our success)," Bucknell coach Gene DePew said on Thursday. "We've been successful when we've been able to hit some home runs, we've had that going for us. We started off real strong with that through the early part of the season down in Florida, then we tailed off a little bit with that in the middle of the year. Unfortunately through the heart of the Patriot League season we struggled, but we're finding our stride again."
Strike One: Wild Weekend Roundup
Week 12 in college baseball was chock full of memorable individual performances and eyebrow-raising games. Here's a roundup:
• Florida International middle infielder Garrett Wittels extended his hitting streak to 45 games in a sweep of South Alabama. Wittels' streak is tied for third-longest in Division I history; Arizona State's Roger Schmuck hit in 45 straight games in 1971. Next up: Wichita State's Phil Stephenson, who hit in 47 straight in 1981. The record, of course, belongs to Oklahoma State's Robin Ventura, who hit in 58 straight in 1987.
• Here's another impressive streak: Vanderbilt sophomore third baseman Jason Esposito has reached base safely in 15 consecutive plate appearances, breaking Tim Brecht's 27-year-old school record. Esposito went 5-for-5 on Saturday against Mississippi State, then had a double and tied a school record with five walks on Sunday.
• Oregon catcher Eddie Rodriguez hit for the cycle Sunday against East Tennessee State. He completed the cycle with a home run to right-center field in the bottom of the eighth inning of Oregon's 17-7 win.
• St. John's freshman outfielder Jeremy Baltz blasted four home runs and drove in seven in an upset of Louisville on Friday. In the process, he broke the school records for most homers (18) and RBIs (68) in a season. A lock for first-team freshman All-America honors, Baltz is hitting .412/.487/.784. [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Mean Green Machine
Dartmouth went 22 years between trips to regionals before getting over the hump last year. The wait was a lot shorter this time around.
The Big Green punched the first ticket to the NCAA tournament this weekend, winning the best-of-three Ivy League championship series at Columbia. Dartmouth will now appear in regionals in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1969-70.
Columbia drubbed Dartmouth, the Ivy's preseason favorite, 13-2 in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader, but the Big Green is a resilient lot. Behind a huge day from freshman catcher Chris O'Dowd (4-for-5, 4 R, 5 RBI, HR, 2B), Dartmouth survived a slugfest, 15-10, to force a decisive third game Sunday.
O'Dowd, who leads Dartmouth in batting (.375), on-base percentage (.481) and slugging (.644), had two more hits in an 11-5 win Sunday, part of a balanced 17-hit attack that included at least one hit from all nine starters. Dartmouth was clinging to a 5-4 lead before breaking the game open with four runs in the seventh, capped by senior Brett Gardner's two-run single. [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Small Conference Roundup
Our weekly Tuesday Stock Report has looked only at the conferences likely to receive multiple regional bids, so let's take a moment to examine the races in the leagues that are likely to receive just one bid even if the league favorites fail to win the automatic bids:
• In the America East, Binghamton swept a four-game series from last-place Hartford and took a two-game lead over second-place Maine. Maine, though, looks like the favorite to win the AEC's automatic bid. The Black Bears are battle-tested, having played nonconference series at Lamar, North Carolina and Oregon State, and they have the most talented pitching staff in the league.
• Charlotte is the clear favorite in the Atlantic 10. The 49ers lead the league by three games over Rhode Island, George Washington and St. Joseph's, and their potent offense should carry them through the A-10 tourney. Sidenote: Massachusetts is just 9-9 in the league, but the Minutemen received one of the better individual performances of the season in yesterday's 14-13 win against George Washington, as senior center fielder Brian Baudinet slugged four home runs and drove in seven.
• Preseason favorite Florida Gulf Coast is 17-4 in the Atlantic Sun, three games ahead of second-place East Tennessee State. This is the Eagles' year.
• After taking two of three from Ohio State this weekend, Michigan has become the team to beat in the Big Ten (especially with Michigan State fading fast). The Wolverines are tied for first place with—surprise!—Northwestern. If Ohio State ace Alex Wimmers is sidelined for any significant amount of time, the Buckeyes are in trouble.
• The Colonial is characteristically jumbled, with five teams within four games of first place, led by preseason favorite James Madison. The Dukes swept Delaware this weekend and lead the CAA by 1 1/2 games, and they must still be regarded as the favorites. [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Cardinal Rules
As recently as April 10, Stanford was just 13-13 overall and 3-5 in the Pacific-10 Conference after losing its second straight game at home to Oregon. The young Cardinal was struggling mightily on the mound and was in danger of falling into a deep hole in the conference with a trip to Oregon State looming the following weekend.
Stanford responded to that adversity with eight consecutive wins, including sweeps of the Beavers and arch-rival California. All of a sudden, the Cardinal is sitting pretty at 10-5 in the Pac-10 (just a game behind first-place Arizona State) and No. 21 in the Ratings Percentage Index, according to Boyd's World.
The series against the then-No. 15 Golden Bears was tightly contested, but freshman third baseman Kenny Diekroeger delivered a walk-off sacrifice fly to give the Cardinal a 3-2 win Friday, then hit a walk-off RBI double to complete a ninth-inning comeback in Sunday's 11-10 win.
"That game was huge, even though we'd already won the series," Diekroeger said of Sunday's thrilling finale. "If we had lost that game, we would have been tied with them in the Pac-10, and now we're two games up on them." [...] Continue Reading »
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