College Weekend Preview: April 4-6

Meaningful
Matchup
Cal State Fullerton at UC Irvine

Dave Serrano still lives on the hill above UC Irvine, just a mile from Anteater Ballpark. As the community around him works itself into a near-frenzy over Serrano’s impending homecoming in a Cal State Fullerton uniform, Serrano needs no reminder that his Titans will travel across Orange County to face Irvine this weekend.

“Oh, is that who we’re playing?” he deadpanned on Wednesday afternoon. “As it gets closer, I’m starting to realize how big it is. I just called over to the ticket office just to find out what our comp list will be for family and friends, and they’ve already pre-sold 2,100 tickets. A friend of mine over there said what they draw this weekend might be more than all their athletic programs have drawn all year long. It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be big. I hope people don’t make it bigger than it is.”

TOP 25 SCHEDULE
(1) Arizona State at (13)
Stanford
Clemson at (2) Miami
Georgia Tech at (3)
North Carolina

Oklahoma State at (4)
Missouri

(25) Cal
State Fullerton at (5) UC Irvine
(14) Virginia at (6) Florida
State
Oregon
State at (7) California
(8) Vanderbilt at
Mississippi
(9)
South Carolina at Georgia
(10) Long Beach State at UC
Riverside
Texas
Tech at (11) Nebraska
Missouri State at (12) Wichita
State
(15) Rice
at Memphis
(16)
Texas at Oklahoma
Gonzaga at (17) San
Diego
(18)
Arizona at Washington

(19) Florida at
Tennessee

(20)
UNC Wilmington at Northeastern
Mississippi State at (21)
Kentucky
(22)
Michigan at Penn State
Southern California at (23)
UCLA
Winthrop at
(24) Coastal California

In Orange County, it doesn’t get much bigger than this. Fullerton and Irvine have been fierce rivals for years, and not just in baseball. Last month on the hardcourt, mascots Peter the Anteater and Tuffy the Titan were ejected from the Big West Conference title game after nearly coming to blows.

On the diamond, the Titans have been one of the West Coast’s pre-eminent superpowers for decades, but last June the upstart Anteaters—coached by once and future Titan Serrano—became Omaha’s darlings and eliminated Fullerton from the College World Series in an epic 13-inning game that featured the emotional ejection of Serrano’s mentor, then-Titans coach George Horton.

Less than three months later, Horton accepted the head coaching job at Oregon, and Serrano quickly announced he would not be a candidate for Fullerton’s vacancy, out of deference for Horton’s long-time assistant, Rick Vanderhook. But a week later, after Fullerton made it clear Vanderhook would not get the job, Serrano reconsidered and accepted his “dream job” at Cal State Fullerton.

Things worked out just fine for Irvine, which landed its own big-name replacement in former Southern California coach Mike Gillespie and then raced to a 19-3 start and No. 5 national ranking heading into this weekend. But that doesn’t mean Anteater fans are likely to forgive Serrano for defecting to their biggest rival a week after clearly stating he would stay put.

“I’ll be shocked if there’s not a lot of resentment from people, but the people that still do matter to me, there won’t be any resentment,” Serrano said. “But there will be a lot of people that want the Titans to be beat pretty badly. They always wanted the Titans to be beat, but now they’ll want it even more because I’m over there running that program.

“It’s not the first time I’ve had to do something like this. I didn’t come back as a former head coach when I first came back to Fullerton (in an Anteater uniform), I came back as a former assistant coach, but the emotions will be the same. I’m going to look out across the field like I did in 2005 after winning the national championship, now I’m competing against those guys. It’s no different this time. I’m going to look out across the field—we didn’t win the national championship, but the unexpected run we made, it kind of felt like we won the national championship. I’m going to see a lot of kids we shared great emotions with and great times with. I’ll prepare my team to take all the emotions out and just prepare to play a good team. If we make this weekend bigger than it is, we’ll fall flat on our face. The ballpark’s going to be loud, it’s going to be packed, it’s going to be a regional atmosphere. But let’s enjoy it. Whether we win or lose the series, it won’t be indicative of what the whole season’s about. Obviously their guys are going to want to beat us, and we want to beat them too.”

All homecomings aside, this series figures to loom large in the Big West race. As a young Fullerton team has searched for its identity and preseason favorite Long Beach State has lost six straight on its current 10-game road trip, the steady Anteaters have emerged as the Big West’s team to beat—for the moment at least.

“If you’re UC Irvine and you’re going to fancy yourself a contender in this conference, you know you’re going to have to deal with Fullerton and Long Beach every year,” Gillespie said.

That pitching-and-defense recipe that worked so well for Serrano’s Anteaters a year ago has been just as potent for Gillespie’s ‘Eaters, who boast the nation’s best ERA (2.12), led by Player of the Year candidate Scott Gorgen (5-1, 1.39 with a 55-13 strikeout-walk ratio in 45 innings).

But then, Irvine’s pitching ability was never really in doubt. Its offensive potential was, after the departures of mainstays Taylor Holiday, Cody Cipriano, Matt Morris and Bryan Petersen from the CWS club. While the bats have not matched the UCI arms, they have held their own, scoring 6.8 runs per game (fifth-most in the nine-team Big West, just ahead of Fullerton). Holdover Ollie Linton, a redshirt junior center fielder, has been one of the nation’s most dynamic table setters, batting .356/.456/.437 with 22 stolen bases in 25 attempts. Sophomore third baseman Casey Stevenson, a transfer from JC of the Canyons who missed the first month of the season with eligibility issues, finally joined the ‘Eaters last weekend and stepped immediately into the No. 3 hole, going 2-for-4 in his debut against Cal Poly. His addition makes the lineup whole for the first time, and he figures to prosper hitting in front of sophomore first baseman Jeff Cusick, who leads the Anteaters with .449/.541/.609 numbers through 69 at-bats. Cusick is starting to step out of the shadow of his older brother Matt, whom Gillespie recruited and coached at USC.

“He’s a good story. He’s been overshadowed by his brother, who was really one of the best hitters I was ever around,” Gillespie said. “He’s given us much more than I thought. I don’t think we could have expected that from anybody. He’s cut from the same cloth as his brother in terms of his makeup and work ethic. He’s a cage rat, can’t ever get enough swings. He’s a leader, really a key guy in this program. He’s a big, strong, physical-looking guy, and he can really put a charge in it, but the swing is flat, there’s not much lift in the swing. This is a big park, and I think if he were playing in a smaller park, he might have developed more loft in his swing, but to try to hit one out of this park is stupid. Consequently, he’s a doubles guy. He’s got strength, no doubt about it.”

Speed was a major part of Irvine’s attack a year ago, and it is again this year: the Anteaters steal 2.78 bases per game, second-most in the nation. That’s one area where UCI and CSF are similar, as the Titans steal 2.38 bases per game, eighth-most in the country. Fullerton has players who can run up and down its lineup, led by freshman second baseman Gary Brown, who has eight stolen bases in 10 attempts. Brown, the No. 4 prospect in the freshman class entering the year, has struggled offensively, batting just .239, but Serrano and his staff has committed to playing its most talented lineup on a regular basis. That means Brown playing every day—and batting ninth, for now—alongside fellow heralded freshman Christian Colon at shortstop.

“Gary’s had a good week the last week,” Serrano said. “I know he’s really been pressing. I think the coaching staff can take partial blame for that. We started the season with him in the leadoff role, which was a lot to expect for him. I don’t know if he’s that true leadoff hitter yet, but he will be in this program. Now in the nine hole, he’s protected in that order more. The more Gary Brown continues to do well, the better off we’ll be. He’s such an exciting player, when he gets on base he creates havoc—everybody knows he can fly.”

It helps that Fullerton has emerging power hitters in the middle of its lineup. Junior college transfer Eric Komatsu (.333/.445/.589 with four homers and 21 RBIs) has come up with timely hits all season for the 16-9 Titans, and first baseman Jared Clark (.316 with three homers) and sophomore outfielder Khris Davis (.302 with three homers) have showed flashes of their enormous power potential. Sophomore center fielder Josh Fellhauer (.402/.440/.570 with 11 doubles and nine stolen bases), a complete player on the verge of college baseball superstardom, has emerged as the team’s most consistent threat.

An inconsistent pitching staff has contributed more, though, to Fullerton’s ups and downs. Lately, junior righthander Cory Arbiso (4-2, 3.96) and freshman righty Daniel Renken (3-1, 3.27) have settled into weekend starting roles behind senior ace Jeff Kaplan, who is 3-1 despite a team-high 5.97 ERA.

“The biggest thing more than mechanically for him was probably the expectations,” Serrano said. “When things start going bad, he kind of dwells on it a little bit. Last week against UC Riverside he had four walks, and they were all on four consecutive pitches. He admitted that he’s been dwelling on the negative and not taking it one pitch at a time. He went back and watched the video, he said, ‘I was a different pitcher last year, I had a different mentality, and I need to get back to that.’ He had a good bullpen this week, and I’m very interested to see how he does against Scott Gorgen on Friday night.”

Serrano’s not the only one interested in Friday’s proceedings. There is more than a little buzz surrounding this series, in Orange County and everywhere else in the college baseball universe.

“It only makes sense that there’s going to be a lot of interest,” Gillespie said. “You’d have to be an idiot to think there wouldn’t be a lot of interest in this little community.”

Marquee Mound Matchup
Scott Barnes vs. Zack Pitts

In 2007, Louisville made a surprise Omaha run thanks to a powerful, senior-laden offense and deep, talented pitching staff. A year later, that offense is a shell of its former self thanks to graduations and injuries, and the staff is no longer as deep, but its dynamite one-two punch atop the weekend rotation remains intact. If the Cardinals are to overcome their sluggish start and make good on preseason expectations that rated them the No. 2 team in the Big East, senior righthander Pitts (4-2, 3.62) and sophomore lefty Justin Marks (2-0, 1.62) will likely have to carry them.

Incidentally, pitching is also the calling card of preseason Big East favorite St. John’s, which has cruised to a 20-5 start, including a 5-1 mark in conference play—good enough for first place. The Red Storm’s staff, which is anchored by junior lefthander Barnes (3-1, 4.64), might just be strong enough to carry St. John’s where Louisville was a year ago.

“To me, St. John’s is an Omaha sleeper, because they’ve got some pitching, and they’re very hard-nosed,” said one coach whose team has played the Johnnies. “I really like their team. If they get to a super-regional with their pitching, they’ve got a chance, because they’re very good.”

Junior righthander Jared Yecker (2-0, 3.12), the Red Storm’s No. 3 starter, has shown excellent velocity at times this year, sitting at 90-91 and touching 93, but the remnants of a nasty blood blister have hampered him for the last few weeks. The Johnnies hope he’ll be able to pitch Sunday, and they’ll turn to senior lefthander George Brown (5-0, 2.92) Saturday against Marks. Brown’s stuff isn’t as firm as Marks’s, as he pitches in the mid-80s and tops out at 88, but he has a good changeup and an improved breaking ball, and he always keeps St. John’s in games.

Barnes, though, is the key. A 6-foot-3, 180-pound lefthander with a chance to go in the first few rounds of the draft, Barnes has an 87-90 mph fastball, a good curveball he can throw for strikes and a developing changeup. He struggled with an alignment issue early in the year, particularly in a bad start against Cal State Northridge, when he failed to get out of the second inning.

“We’re really focused on his direction” St. John’s pitching coach Scott Brown said. “He’s such a good athlete that if he’s missing that many times in a row—and he had a very poor start at Cal State Northridge, he just couldn’t make the adjustment. He was just really drifting toward the third-base side, struggling with his direction, and he had a bad outing. He really had to go back to the foundation.

“He’s starting to pitch like the Barnes of old. It’s not there yet with his command totally, but he’s given us two pretty good starts in a row in the Big East. I’m happy with where he’s at, but he’s got to go to another level for us now.”

Louisville needs the same thing out of its ace. After going 10-3, 2.52 last year, Pitts has continued to throw plenty of strikes—as evidenced by his 33-9 strikeout-walk ratio in 32 innings—and has continued to locate his 88-92 mph fastball and quality slider down in the zone. But last year he always seemed in complete control of most games he started, and that has not been the case as often in 2008—often through no fault of his own.

“Zack lost Friday at Pittsburgh, but we botched two double-play balls and really overextended his pitch count. We didn’t make enough plays,” Cardinals coach Dan McDonnell said. “We’ve had three different shortstops to this point, because of the injuries, and we’ve got 11 errors at shortstop already (departed senior Chris Cates made 14 in 71 games last year). We’ve had three freshmen in the outfield, and collectively we haven’t played as good of defense, and offensively we aren’t nearly as potent as we were last year. I don’t think Zack has pitched much different than last year, we just don’t have the pieces around him that we had last year. But on our shirts in the dugout, it says, ‘Make it happen.’ That’s our phrase, and more guys have to make it happen day in and day out.”

For all their ups and downs, the Cardinals are still 15-10 overall and 3-3 in conference play, but there are five teams ahead of them in the Big East standings, so they know there’s no time like the present to start a hot streak. And the Johnnies must travel to Patterson Stadium, where the Cardinals are 11-5 (compared to 2-5 on the road).

“To win a championship, you have to play well at home, and you have to play well against one of the top teams in the league at home,” McDonnell said. “St. John’s coming in here this weekend, these are the two top-picked teams in the league in the preseason. They’ve shown they’re one of the best teams in the league, but right now, this is a big showdown, a big weekend. If we’re going to make a move in the league, we have to play well this weekend. Rightfully so, it’s circled on our calendar.”

Upset City
Virginia over Florida State

It’ll be a classic matchup of strength vs. strength this weekend in Tallahassee, Fla. Through four weeks of conference play, the Seminoles have built what should be an insurmountable five-game lead in the ACC’s Atlantic Division thanks to an offense that was leading the nation with a .358 batting average through Sunday.

After losing its first two conference series on the road against North Carolina State and Duke, Virginia has rebounded with consecutive home sweeps of Boston College and Virginia Tech. Those teams are no Florida State, and Charlottesville is a long way from Tallahassee, but the Cavaliers can simply pitch—in any ballpark, against any opponent. Their 2.83 ERA is fourth-best in the nation, and senior lefthander Pat McAnaney (3-1, 1.44 with a 53-9 K-BB ratio in 44 innings) is the early front-runner for ACC pitcher of the year honors. Preseason All-America righthander Jacob Thompson (4-0, 2.72 with a 39-15 K-BB in 36 IP) hasn’t been as dominant as he was last year (when he went 11-0, 1.50), but he’s still been pretty darn good.

Neither of these teams has played a series yet against a top 25 opponent, but here’s betting Florida State’s hitters will have a harder time adjusting to elite pitching for the first time all year than the unflappable Thompson and McAnaney will have adjusting to FSU’s big bats. The Cavs’ quality pitching will keep the Seminoles’ offense in check, and Virginia’s underrated offense will pepper the gaps and cause havoc on the basepaths, rattling a Florida State pitching staff that ranks eighth in the ACC in ERA (3.97).

Under The Radar
Canisus

Quick, name the only three teams in Division I with two or fewer losses heading into this weekend.

Chances are you guessed right on No. 1 Arizona State and No. 2 Miami. If you also pegged Canisius, it’s probably only because you saw “Canisius” written at the top of this section. Come on, fess up.

The Golden Griffins are riding a nine-game winning streak into this weekend’s series against Rider, their longest since ripping off a nine-game streak in 1986. At 20-2, Canisius has already matched its 2007 win total and reached the 20-win plateau for just the fourth time in program history. Last weekend’s three-game sweep of Iona was just the second time the Griffs have swept their Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference opening series. They also have series wins at perennial MAAC power-turned-independent Le Moyne, at defending Northeast Conference champion Mount St. Mary’s, and at Appalachian State. They beat Penn State on March 24 to earn their first-ever win against a Big Ten opponent.

Forget about the common wisdom that Northern offenses and defenses are supposed to start slow; the Griffs have a .352 team batting average (second in the nation) and a .977 fielding percentage (seventh in the nation). With a roster that features 15 Canadian players, Canisius is hardly deterred by Buffalo’s brutal winters.

One of those Canadians, junior second baseman Kevin Mailloux from Windsor, Ont., hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning Wednesday to give Canisius a 7-6 win against Mercyhurst (Pa.) College. Mailloux leads the Griffs in batting (.439), slugging (.720) and doubles (eight) to go along with five homers and 21 RBIs.

Streakin’
Nick Kirk

Kirk, the Panthers’ junior ace, tossed one of last weekend’s two no-hitters; Lipscomb’s Brandon McClurg threw the other. But in throwing Northern Iowa’s first no-hitter in 13 years, Kirk was more than unhittable. He was nearly untouchable, striking out 15 and allowing just one walk in a 3-0 win against woeful Evansville. The masterpiece stretched Kirk’s scoreless streak to 16 innings, as he threw a complete-game, seven-inning shutout the previous week against Northwestern. He allowed just two hits in that one. The consecutive gems have improved Kirk to 3-3, 3.76 on the season with a 40-10 K-BB ratio in 38 innings.

McClurg, by the way, struck out 10 while walking one and hitting four batters in his no-hitter against Kennesaw State. The junior righthander leads the Atlantic Sun Conference with a 1.59 ERA and a .179 opponents’ batting average.

Slumpin’
Mississippi

Since starting the season 9-0 and rising to No. 2 in the rankings, Mississippi has been a sub-.500 team, going 8-11 and tumbling out of the top 25. The Rebels have yet to face a ranked opponent, but they have dropped three of their last four weekend series, including conference series at home against Florida two weeks ago and at Alabama last week. All of a sudden, this weekend’s series against Vanderbilt is less of a showdown between a pair of preseason top-five teams than a simple gut check for Ole Miss.

“I think the team’s done well as far as handling it, because it hasn’t been good here,” Rebels coach Mike Bianco said. “It’s one thing to lose a few games or have a bad week, but we’ve had a bad several weeks. We haven’t had too much to feel good about. You win a game or two, then you turn around and lose a game or two. We haven’t had a lot to hang our hats on the last few weeks . . . We’re 4-5 in the league, and that’s about how we are every year at this point in the season. But certainly you don’t want to lose too many early that the hill is too hard to climb in the end.”

The good news is the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division has been the weak sister of the Eastern Division through three weeks of play. All six teams in the West have sub-.500 conference records, and all six teams in the East are above .500 in conference. So at 4-5, the Rebels are still tied for the lead in their division.

But the Rebels know that isn’t good enough. The strange thing about their recent funk is its lack of an obvious cause. Ole Miss has stayed mostly healthy and has quality pieces in place all over the diamond to go along with a deep pitching staff. The Rebels have just struggled to rack up wins.

“A lot of times when you don’t have success it’s easy to point to one thing: ‘Well, we haven’t pitched, or we haven’t hit or we haven’t fielded the ball very well,’” Bianco said. “Really in the last 18 or 19 games, we’ve struggled in all areas. We haven’t hit as well, we haven’t pitched as well, we’ve lost some leads late. There’s been games where we gave them runs early and didn’t have enough juice to come back. We just haven’t played very well in all three phases. I think in all three phases we can play better. The good thing is in the last week or so we’ve pitched a lot better.”

The Rebels mixed up their weekend rotation against Alabama, moving freshman lefthander Drew Pomeranz into the Saturday starter spot between hard-throwing junior righthanders Lance Lynn and Cody Satterwhite. Pomeranz, who has pitched in the 93-95 range most of the year and shown a good curveball, persevered through several weather stoppages Saturday and came back to throw 60 pitches after the game was resumed Sunday, finishing with eight strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings. Satterwhite then responded with 6 2/3 innings of two-hit ball in the finale, and the Rebels followed it up with a midweek win against Memphis to generate at least a little momentum heading into this weekend. Bianco said Satterwhite seemed to take better to the Sunday role.

“Although Cody was giving us an OK effort, it wasn’t really like everybody expected,” Bianco said. “Part of the reason was he was just giving up more hits than we’re accustomed to him giving up in an outing. Although him and Lance are very different, your approach offensively to them is probably very similar. They’re big righthanders that throw a lot of fastballs and throw hard. To throw a lefthander in there, it switches the lineup and sometimes even takes guys out of the lineup, gives guys a different look. It helps us.

“Hopefully these last two really close games where we pitched well and played really good defense will really jumpstart us.”

Stat Of The Week
.964

Arizona State’s winning percentage through 28 games—the halfway mark of the season. The Sun Devils turned in a pair of routine midweek drubbings this week against Wofford to improve to 27-1 on the year. In case you were wondering, the best single-season winning percentage in Division I history is .914, which was set by Arizona State in 1972.

The Sun Devils get their first road test of the season this weekend against No. 13 Stanford after playing 26 of their first 28 at home. The other two games were in “neutral” Surprise, Ariz. The Cardinal has won eight straight weekend series, including sets this spring against Nebraska, Cal State Fullerton and Texas.

Scouting Report
Old Dominion

A star-studded pitching staff earned the Monarchs a preseason No. 25 ranking and made them the consensus pick to win the Colonial Athletic Association title, but things haven’t exactly gone as planned in the first half of the season. At the midway mark, Old Dominion is just 15-13 overall and 7-5 in conference play, five games behind first-place UNC Wilmington in the CAA. A six-game losing streak in mid-March is a big reason the Monarchs are stuck in fifth place in a conference it was favored to win. Since then, they’ve righted the ship with series wins against James Madison and George Mason, but their prized arms have yet to live up to lofty expectations. Junior righthander Dan Hudson has gone 3-2, 4.43 as the Friday starter, and Saturday starter Anthony Shawler has had more success as a hitter (.381/.466/.619) than on the mound (3-2, 5.27). An American League scout who saw the duo pitch against George Mason broke them down.

“I saw Hudson on Friday and Shawler on Saturday. They’re both really competitive guys. I think Hudson is a little bit more advanced as a pitcher, but they’re both competitive as hell. Hudson went nine, and they won. He made one bad pitch to Jason Bour on Friday, and Bour hit the (expletive) out of it. It was an 89 mph fastball, middle of the plate—I think it’s probably still going.

“Hudson’s the prototypical pro physically, 6-foot-4, 205. Hudson’s fastball was steady at 90-92, running in on the hands of righthanded batters. His offspeed was 80-83 down in the zone. He was consistently ahead in counts and had a high first-pitch strike ratio. He repeated his delivery, and the ball comes easy out of his hand. He’s a polished college pitcher.

“Shawler’s fastball was 86-89, touched 90 in the fifth and sixth innings. He had 86 pitches in four innings. He also threw a straight changeup at 75-78, and his 76-78 curveball was sharp with late break away from righthanded batters. His pitches are thrown with about the same motion and release point.

“You can see that there’s talent there (at Old Dominion), they’re a physically big team. I think they’ll go as far as the arms take them. They’ve got to hit. I think they’ll come back. When you’ve got two arms like that, and (Dexter) Carter is a third arm, that’s pretty potent. They play decent defense, and when they start hitting in their conference, they’ll be tough.”

In The Dugout

James Darnell, 3b, South Carolina

After a slow start, Darnell has caught fire of late, raising his line to .345/.409/.622 with nine homers and 40 RBIs in 119 at-bats. A third-team preseason All-American, Darnell is on base to eclipse his fine sophomore season of 2007, when he smacked 19 homers and drove in 63. In last Saturday’s win against Kentucky, Darnell had his second career three-homer game; the first came 11 days earlier against College of Charleston. Then, at The Citadel on Tuesday, Darnell had four of South Carolina’s nine hits and notched his first career two-double game. The next day against Davidson, he went deep again—a three-run shot in South Carolina’s seven-run first. It’s a great time for Darnell to be on a roll, as South Carolina travels south to face red-hot Georgia this weekend. The Bulldogs have won their first three SEC series and are coming off a pair of midweek wins against Clemson.

 Have you ever been locked in like this before, James?

It’s a ton of fun when you’re seeing the ball well and taking good swings. I don’t think I’ve even hit two home runs in my collegiate career before and I hit three in a game twice in two weeks.

What’s been the difference for you between your slow start and your current hot streak?

When things are going well, it just comes so easy. There’s other times where I’m getting a hit a game, and I’m saying to myself, ‘Man, I want to get two or three or four hits.’ This year I’ve just tried to be patient, tried to take the pitches as they come. I’ve seen some stretches with a lot of offspeed pitches.

In general, are teams giving you a lot fewer fastballs than you used to see?

The thing I love about the SEC is every team has those great pitchers, and they really pitch to their game plan. I can’t say Mike Minor or some guys like when we play Vanderbilt, they’re confident what they have, they’re not going to pitch you offspeed because you’re James Darnell.


You hit plenty of home runs last year, as well. Was your home run against North Carolina in the super-regionals the highlight?

Hitting 19 home runs, that being the 19th—in the playoffs you always want to do well, but any time you can help the team in a postseason atmosphere, that’s probably one of the most special times in my college career, except maybe beating Clemson a couple times


As a California guy coming across the country for college, how long did it take you to get into that South Carolina-Clemson rivalry?

You learn real quick. All you have to do is go to one football game in the fall, and you don’t like those guys from the start. That’s probably my favorite road place to play is Clemson, because the atmosphere is great, they’re all into it.

I can’t imagine the Clemson fans would like to hear you say that.

They don’t realize how much fun it is to have that type of rivalry. When you’re in college and you get 6,000 or 7,000 people out there screaming and yelling, it’s a big deal, a lot of fun.

So how did a kid from Danville, Calif., end up at South Carolina, anyway? They don’t often recruit out that way.

I remember back in high school, I played on a travel team, Norcal baseball. We had Brett Wallace and Tyson Ross, we had a lot of good players. I was a highly rated shortstop coming out of California, I really didn’t think I’d end up on the East Coast. But when I came out here, the atmosphere, the SEC, being able to face guys like (David) Price and (Casey) Weathers here last year, they gave me a good scholarship, and it all worked out. I think the scholarship was one of the biggest things.

Coming in as a shortstop, you played all over the place as a freshman—second, third, short, outfield. Was that difficult on you?

It’s tough sometimes, but coach (Ray) Tanner gave me some confidence. There were a lot of good players, but he told me I was probably the best athlete on the team. That made me feel good as a freshman guy.

So you’re a great athlete, and you stole 50 bases in high school, but you’ve only got nine steals in three years at South Carolina. Are you just biding your time, James?

Maybe I’ve got a bunch more coming before the end of the year. If you’re hitting third and you have (Justin) Smoak behind you and (Phil) Disher behind him, you want to allow those guys to hit, you don’t want to be causing outs. You run when you can, but other than that you let those guys do their job.

Do you still have the speed you had in high school?

This past summer up in the Cape, I ran a 6.7(-second) 60(-yard dash). I think my speed is still there, that’s what I was running in high school. I think it helped me playing shortstop before, you have to move your feet, show that type of range.

Is it true that you’re an avid trumpet player?

It’s one of those things where I don’t know if I have as much time as I did back in high school, but I still enjoy picking it up and playing every once in a while. Music is one of my favorite hobbies. Especially coming out of middle school and coming into high school, I was in the jazz band. I played through my junior year, but once I started traveling more and playing more, it’s hard to play in a band, you have to get it in when you can.

You’re also a pretty good golfer, right?

I play maybe once or twice a year, but I do enjoy it. I’m not saying I’m good at it. The distance is there, but the slice is an issue.

College | #2008 #Weekend Preview

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