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Three Strikes: Feb. 12

Aaron Fitt -

Strike One: That's Why They Call 'Em DirtbagsLong Beach State coach Mike Weathers tempered his expectations a bit heading into the season, and with good reason. Of the 35 players on the Dirtbags roster, 21 are freshmen or sophomores."It's the youngest team I've had," said Weathers, who took over as LBSU head coach in 2001. "This is the first time I haven't had a starting pitcher back on the weekend--we had Jered Weaver, Abe Alvarez and then last year we had Jared Hughes. This year we don't have one guy, so it's going to be different for us."That inexperience was supposed to translate into a down year for the Beach, but somebody forgot to give the Dirtbags the memo. LBSU followed up its surprising series win against Southern California last weekend by taking two of three this weekend against No. 7 Texas.

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College Top 25: Feb. 12

Losing to two teams outside of the Top 25 and No. 4 Vanderbilt in the Houston College Classic, Rice falls from No. 1 to No. 7. Taking over at No. 1 is Clemson, which will kick off the final college baseball season without a uniform start date on Friday against George Mason.

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Hello Dominic; Good Bye Houston

Aaron Fitt -

Dominic de la Osa picked the right time for his first hit of the season. The Vanderbilt right fielder entered Sunday's game against Baylor in a season-opening 0-for-9 slump, and he struck out swinging in his first two at-bats against Baylor starter Jeff Mandel. But in the fifth inning, with the score tied 3-3, de la Osa came to the plate with the bases loaded and the Baylor fans chanting, "Zero, zero"--a reference to de la Osa's batting average. He reached for a pitch over the outside corner and pulled it through the hole between third base and shortstop, driving in two runs. The Commodores added two more in the inning to break the game open a bit.I won't be around for the late game tonight--have to catch a 7:15 p.m. flight back to Raleigh-Durham. That means I'll miss an excellent pitching matchup between Rice's Joe Savery and Texas A&M's David Newmann, who has a terrific arm and just needs to command his stuff. But it's been a great weekend of baseball here in Houston, with competitive, exciting games and terrific talent on display. The event is very well run and the ballpark is beautiful; I hope to make this an annual trip.

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Satow Bedevils Houston

Aaron Fitt -

Josh Satow was exactly what Pat Murphy said he'd be: a soft-tossing lefthander who gets by with his savvy and competitiveness. He stymied Houston in Arizona State's 11-1 win Sunday, allowing just one run on six hits in a complete game while striking out eight and walking just one. Talking to Satow on the field afterward was interesting for a couple of reasons. First, the 5-foot-9 junior is one of the few players who stands eye-to-eye with me, which was refreshing after I spent the morning craning my neck to chat with giants like Ryan Flaherty and Casey Weathers of Vanderbilt and Matt Spencer of ASU. (Weathers, by the way, is listed at 6-foot-1 but might be taller than that. Or maybe it just seems like it because he has such a massive upper body. I digress.) The second thing that is striking about Satow, other than his diminutive build, is his thoughtfulness and intelligence. He is clearly a guy who holds no delusions about his own limitations and understands what he has to do to be successful.

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Aaron Fitt -

After Vanderbilt's Pedro Alvarez doubled in the ninth inning against Arizona State yesterday, Sun Devils coach Pat Murphy went out to make a pitching change, and Alvarez used the break in the action to confer with Vandy coach Tim Corbin along the third base line. As Alvarez returned to second base, he and Murphy crossed paths, and I noticed that Murphy said something to him. Always gracious, Alvarez said last night that Murphy simply complimented him in a show of good sportsmanship. Murphy had a slightly different take this morning.

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Berry Buries Bears

Aaron Fitt -

Baylor's going to be a heavy contender for the 2008 College World Series; the Bears will probably even be a solid club by the end of this season, but right now their inexperience is looming pretty large. Baylor started three freshman on Opening Day yesterday, the most since 1996 when they started four. Baylor's crack sports information director Larry Little came up with this little chestnut: senior outfielder Chase Gerdes had 459 career at-bats entering the night, and the rest of the lineup combined for just 614. Gerdes alone accounted for 42.8 percent of Baylor's at-bats.Rice had its own freshman on the mound Saturday in freshman righthander Ryan Berry, but he turned in perhaps the best pitching performance of the weekend so far. Berry allowed just three hits over six shutout innings while striking out seven and walking just one in Rice's 7-0 win. Scouts liked Berry coming out of high school but shied away from him because of his strong commitment to Rice, and he pitched well enough in the fall to earn the Owls' Saturday starter spot. Looks like another great find for Wayne Graham and company.As the lights go down here in Minute Maid Stadium, I'd like to pass on one more little tidbit from Larry Little: the temperature in Twin Falls, Idaho: 45 degrees. The temperature in Houston: 44.Not that I'm complaining. I'm watching baseball in early February, and Jim Callis is returning to Chicago tomorrow morning, where the temperature is 5 degrees. Ouch.

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Thebeau, Chambless Muzzle Cougars

Aaron Fitt -

The frigid weather inside Minute Maid Park did not deter fans of Houston and Texas A&M, who filled most of the lower level in the best-attended game of the Houston College Classic. The bundled-up Aggies fans might not have realized it, but the weather also might have helped their team beat the Cougars 3-2.A&M sophomore righthander Kyle Thebeau said he loved the conditions, and it showed, as Thebeau struck out eight and allowed just one run over 5 1/3 innings.

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More Zaniness

Aaron Fitt -

An addendum to the Zane Carlson anecdote in the last post. Baylor coach Steve Smith came by while we were eating dinner in the media lounge, and he recalled a Big 12 Tournament game against Texas in 2003--two years after Carlson's wild pitch ended Baylor's season--when he went out to the mound and ordered Carlson to intentionally walk a batter in eighth inning with a runner on third base and the score tied. As he walked back to the dugout, he thought, "That was the dumbest thing I've ever done."As the catcher set up to receive the free pass, the umpire stood directly behind the plate and took his mask off. Carlson proceeded to throw a strike right down the middle, passing through the umpire's legs and nearly hitting him in the crotch. The go-ahead run scored from third base, and Texas went on to win. And the petrified umpire didn't even call the pitch a strike, even though it was right over the heart of the zone."The umpire was asking for trouble when he took his mask off," Smith said.

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Vandy Dandy

Aaron Fitt -

This blog post is a little late for a couple of reasons. First was the four-hour, five-minute slugfest between Arizona State and Vanderbilt, which the Commodores won 7-6 when when pinch-runner Jonathan White scored from third base on a wild pitch by Sun Devils reliever Ike Davis--on an intentional walk. Then I was sidetracked by a conversation with Baylor assistant coach Mitch Thompson and Rice assistant David Pierce, whose teams play each other in the third game tonight. Those two gentlemen had a unique perspective on the wild finish between ASU and Vandy; a Baylor-Rice game in the 2001 regionals was decided in the exact same fashion. Zane Carlson's wild pitch on an intentional walk allowed Rice to score the winning run and advance to super-regionals. Thompson made a great point: "If that's going to happen to you, much better for it to happen in the first weekend of the year than the last."

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Checking In From SoCal

Aaron Fitt -

Alan Matthews, who is in Southern California for the Angels fanfest, attended the San Diego-Southern California game tonight and called with another glowing report about USD lefthander Brian Matusz. The sophomore struck out 13 over six innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on three hits and two walks, but did not factor in the decision as the Trojans scored four runs against the USD bullpen and went on to win 6-2. Matthews reports that Matusz worked in the 91-92 mph range with his fastball, touching 93, and his secondary stuff drew raves from assembled scouts. Matthews estimated that Matusz' changeup could rate as a 65 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale, and his curveball could be a 55. His command was erratic at times, but scouts love his sound delivery and 6-foot-4 frame. The Trojans scored most of their runs against sophomore lefty Ricardo Pecina, but senior righty Anthony Slama made a good impression against the one batter he faced (and retired), running his fastball up to 92.

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Welcome To The Show

Aaron Fitt -

One of the things I was looking forward to most this weekend was seeing Baylor's highly touted freshmen in action, and so far I've been disappointed. Slugger Dustin Dickerson did not get the start, though he should get some time at DH this weekend. He appeared as a pinch-runner in the seventh inning and remained in the game at first base. Right fielder Aaron Miller struck out chasing breaking balls in the dirt in his first two collegiate at-bats, then reached on an error on a ground ball to second. And righthander Kendall Volz, the third Baylor freshman to rank among the 20 best in the nation, got hit around in Houston's three-run fourth inning. After inducing a meek ground ball back to the pitcher to start the inning, Volz allowed the next five batters to reach base on a walk and four straight hard-hit singles. He struck out Luis Flores to end the threat, but the damage was done.

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Large And In Charge

John Manuel -

Three members of the BA team braved the mid-30s weather and cold breezes at N.C. State's Doak Field to see righthander Andrew Brackman--listed at 6-foot-10, probably looming at around 7 feet when it's all said and done--make his first start of 2007.Scouts won't judge Brackman on individual starts or even on performance; he'll be judged by quality of stuff and the durability he shows in his first full season as a pitcher, after splitting time between baseball and basketball his first two seasons. The two dozen or so scouts on hand Friday saw plenty--a fastball that Brackman used to pound the strike zone with consistent velocity. Our gun had him consistently at 89-92 mph, touching 93, but when we checked with scouts, we learned our gun was off (at least we caught it early), and Brackman sat in the 92-95 range, touching 97 and a reported 98, according to a local media member.

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Spencer For Higher Home Runs

Aaron Fitt -

Early on, it looked like Arizona State was well on its way to another 20-run outburst against Texas A&M. The Sun Devils' leadoff batter in the bottom of the first, Brett Wallace, started things off by rocketing a triple to the right-center-field gap. You read that right; 6-foot-1, 245-pound first baseman Brett Wallace tripled. Wallace is a very talented hitter (who was just a homer shy of the cycle through six innings), but fast he is not. Anyhow, Wallace scored on a scorched line drive to center by Eric Sogard. Two batters later, Kiel Roling smoked a double to the ridiculous hill in dead center field, and then Preson Paramore singled to right. Texas A&M starter Jason Meyer wasn't fooling anyone, and the red-hot Matt Spencer came up with runners on the corners. Early in the count, Spencer hit a mammoth fly ball down the right field line that hooked barely foul, missing a home run by just feet. He worked the count full, then fouled off a couple of slow breaking balls. Finally, Meyer tried to sneak a fastball by him, and Spencer proceeded to hit one of the most gargantuan home runs I've ever seen, a towering blast that disappeared somewhere between the Budweiser sign and the third (uppermost) deck of seats in right field. Spencer is a tremendous athlete who flashed power and speed at times in two up-and-down seasons at North Carolina, and it is starting to look like he could put it all together this year at ASU.

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Price-Rice Matchup Lives Up To Billing

Aaron Fitt -

The first game here in Houston has been very entertaining. Since we've been anticipating the Price vs. Rice showdown for so long, I figured I'd break down Vanderbilt starter David Price's outing in some detail. The Owls jumped on Price early, putting a couple runners aboard in the first inning before Pedro Alvarez ended the threat with a 5-3 double play. Two Vandy errors and two Rice singles led to a pair of runs in the second, but then Price settled into a bit of a groove. He recorded strikeouts with his breaking ball in the third and fourth innings, during which he allowed just a pair of infield singles. Then in the fifth, after the first two Rice batters reached, Alan Zornes popped up a bunt for the first out, and Price struck out Aaron Luna and Joe Savery, both looking on pitchers on the inside corner (Luna watched a fastball go by him, and Savery was fooled by a slider). Price kept it going to start the sixth, getting Jordan Dodson looking at a fastball over the inside corner. Then he walked J.P. Padron on four pitches, and I noticed for the first time that he worked very quickly through that at-bat. Price has said the big reason he struggled down the stretch last season was because he let the game speed up on him, leading to big innings. On this occasion, however, he rebounded to strike out Chad Lembeck on a fastball up and in--his last batter of the game. Padron would score on a pinch-hit RBI double by Jess Buenger, closing the book on Price after 5 2/3 innings and 95 pitches. He finished with three earned runs on six hits and three walks while striking out six. The gaggle of scouts assembled behind home plate were dutifully impressed by Price's 92-95 mph fastball with good tailing action and his 82-84 slider, though his command was spotty at times, especially early in the game. That's to be expected in early February.

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No Savery

Aaron Fitt -

Rumor was circulating last night that Rice lefthander Joe Savery would not pitch today against Vanderbilt, and indeed he is not. I just spoke with Rice coach Wayne Graham in the dugout, and he said Savery wants to get back into the pattern he established toward the end of his freshman year of pitching on Sundays for the sake of his bat in the first two games of the series. You have to wonder how much his bat would really be affected by working three innings today, but he wants to get back into the routine he's comfortable with. If that routine helps him stay healthy this year, then he's doing the right thing. Plus the Owls really need Savery's offense to come around; he and second baseman Aaron Luna are still looking for their first hits of the season. Graham said he wants both to be more aggressive this weekend.So, lefthander Chris Kelley is on the mound for Rice--he just worked a perfect top of the first, getting Vandy third baseman Pedro Alvarez to sky a fly ball to center to end the inning. Expect Kelly to go at least five innings, and we could see Bobby Bramhall or Ryne Tacker go two or three innings later in the game. With Cole St. Clair likely out for at least a couple of weeks, the soft-tossing Bramhall and the hard-throwing Tacker are two options to fill in as closer, as is two-way player Jordan Dodson. Bobby Bell could also pitch in relief should he return to full strength; he reported elbow soreness after working an inning against Texas State earlier this week.

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Midwest On The Rise

Aaron Fitt -

Before I get to today's mailbag question, I just want to touch briefly on Wednesday's action. There were just a few teams in action, but Arizona's Brad Glenn put on a show in the Wildcats' 13-2 win against Utah Valley State. Glenn, a sophomore left fielder, belted three home runs and just missed a fourth when he doubled high off the left-field wall. That offense is rolling right now, and as I mentioned in Tuesday's College Blog, they've got some quality arms as well. We'll see what happens in conference play. On to the mailbag:

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Fried Rice

Aaron Fitt -

There were a number of interesting games last night, including Texas' nine-stolen-base effort in a 9-4 win against Texas-Arlington; fine pitching performances from Southern California's Tommy Milone, Kevin Couture and Paul Koss in a 5-2 win against Loyola-Marymount; Jordan Chambless striking out five in 1.2 innings of relief in Texas A&M's 9-1 win against Texas-Southern; and Pepperdine and Long Beach State playing to a 7-7 tie in a game suspended after 10 innings due to darkness. But the most interesting of all was Texas State's 3-2 upset of No. 1 Rice in San Marcos, Texas. The Bobcats pushed across a run on three consecutive singles in the ninth inning against Rice junior righthander Bobby Bell, who worked the ninth and suffered his first career loss in 13 decisions. The Owls were just glad to have Bell back on the mound--he been limited this spring because of a pulled hamstring and a severe grease burn on his pitching hand suffered three weeks ago.

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