College Weekend Preview: Feb. 17-19


TOP 25 SCHEDULE

James Madison at (1) Clemson
(2) Florida at Miami
Kennesaw State at (3) Georgia Tech
Seton Hall at (4) North Carolina
(6) Oregon State at (16) Pepperdine
(7) Texas at (24) Stanford
Morehead State at (8) Tennessee
(9) Cal State Fullerton at/vs./vs. UC Irvine
Penn State at (10) Tulane
(12) Missouri at Louisiana-Monroe
Radford at (13) South Carolina
UNC Asheville at (14) Florida State
Tennessee Tech at (20) Louisiana State
(22) Cal Poly at San Diego State
Saint Louis at (23) Mississippi

TOP 25 TOURNAMENTS

Coca-Cola Classic in Houston
Lamar, (19) Long Beach State, Oklahoma, (5) Rice

Public Storage Classic in Los Angeles
Kansas, (15) San Diego, (25) Southern California, Vanderbilt

Al Olgetree Classic in Edinburg, Texas
(17) Arkansas, Stephen F. Austin, (18) Texas Christian, UT Pan American

Homewood Suites Shootout in Charleston, S.C.
The Citadel, Nebraska, (21) North Carolina State, Richmond

MEANINGFUL MATCHUP

No. 21 North Carolina State‘s statistics look more like a video game creation than real life. The Wolfpack has outscored its opponents 105-16 through six games. It has scored in 40 of 48 offensive innings and been retired in order just twice. It boasts a team batting average of .460, with seven players (minimum 12 at-bats) hitting better than that clip and sophomore third baseman Matt Mangini a ridiculous .800 (20-for-25). Still, it’s hard to tell if this is a really great offense or one that’s simply been beating up on inferior competition.

That answer should arrive before most people begin their weekends. N.C. State faces Nebraska at noon ET in the first game of the Homewood Suites Shootout in Charleston, S.C. Preseason All-America righthander Joba Chamberlain, who went 10-2, 2.81 with 130 strikeouts in 119 innings as a sophomore, will start for the Cornhuskers.

UPSET CITY

Taking Miami at home against Florida is tempting, but it’s too tough to pick against the heavy artillery offense of the Gators–even on the road. So Houston (3-2) is the pick this week as it travels to Tempe to play Arizona State (5-4). The Sun Devils dropped from the Top 25 after a rough tournament in Surprise, Ariz., last weekend, but they’re still a talented team with College World Series experience that will prove a factor in the Pacific-10 race. However, Arizona State’s young hitters might face some difficulties with Houston’s rotation. Righthanders Aaron Brown (0-1, 7.20) and Brad Lincoln (1-0, 0.00) offer power stuff, while senior lefthander Matt Farrington (0-1, 4.50) might be the best Cougars pitcher and best matchup against a Sun Devils lineup loaded with lefties.

IN THE DUGOUT

Junior righthander Randy Boone (0-1, 4.15) answers the question many have been asking: What’s wrong with Texas?

What’s the feeling on the team and around Austin given a 4-4 start?

Obviously, we’re not real pleased with the way we’™ve played so far, but it’s early; we’™ve got a lot of improving to do. Coach has given us a lot of speeches about potential and how it means nothing if you don’t act on it. We had big expectations, and (losing games) is going to happen. We’ve got to tune all that stuff out and not worry about what people think we should be and listen to our coaches and teammates and get better as we continue along this marathon. It’s not a sprint.

You were discussed as a possible closer entering the year and have made one relief appearance and one start. What will your role be in the upcoming weeks?

I’m not real sure. I told one of the younger guys my scholarship didn’™t say anything about me choosing when I’d pitch. I leave that up to guys who get paid to make those decisions–the coaches.

When you see two guys go the way (Huston Street and J. Brent Cox) did and get the credit they did, obviously it’s going to be a pretty coveted role. I feel comfortable in either role. In high school, I was a closer as a freshman, and you don’t see a lot of that at a (small, Class) 3-A high school (in Yoakum, Texas). But (current Reds reliever) Ryan Wagner was on our team, and every once in a while I’d sneak in and close the games. My freshman year (at Texas) I came out of the bullpen and then I started last year, so whatever way is fine.

From a starter standpoint, you can throw the kitchen sink at the first batter. Ideally you’d like to get through the order once without showing all your pitches. As a closer you go right after guys, and I kind of like that. But I also like the mental game of starting.

Tell me about your roommates. (He’s lived with fellow juniors Kyle McCulloch, Carson Kainer and Drew Stubbs since all four were freshmen.)

Drew is definitely the clean guy. If we walk by the sink and the dishes are in there, we see it as it has room for more, where he would say it’s time to clean. I’m probably the slob. The living room isn’t bad, but my room is my room. Kyle’s a pretty good cook. He claims to have learned everything from watching TV shows, but I think his mom has helped. He can cook steaks and chicken and pretty much any kind of meat.

What is it like playing for Augie Garrido and following his philosophy?

It is a little different. A lot of the guys from in state are ex-football players, myself included, and have a football mentality where you treat things different. He’s inning by inning, treat every inning as important. It’s a little different from the way we’™ve been taught. He’s up front about it, telling us, “It’s from what you’ve been taught your entire life. It’s going to take a while to adjust.”

I remember when (Garrido) came in with “Pyscho Cybernetics” (by Maxwell Maltz) about the mental power that you can have. Kyle (McCulloch) read it first. I was like, really? Now, I’ve been here for two years and you really understand the value of the mental side. It’s not just working hard every day, but if you’re not working hard every day the right way on the right things, you’re wasting time.

The biggest thing for me is I kind of see the whole at-bat progressing, not just pitch by pitch. I have an idea about setting up hitters. Now, I take a game approach in bullpen: there’s guys on second and third, what do I want to do? You practice situations to prepare to be comfortable in those situations.

RECOMMENDED READING

Louisiana State fans liked to call the Tigers’ late-1990s offensive onslaught Gorilla ball. With fewer mashers in the order this season, LSU might be a team of “baby gorillas” that plays “guerrilla ball”, according to Carl Dubois of the Baton Rouge Advocate.

On a more serious note, Mitch Sherman of the Omaha World-Herald describes the strength of Nebraska lefthander Tony Watson, who lost his mother to skin cancer in November. (This site requires a free registration.)

The Spring Training Classic took place in Surprise, Ariz., last weekend, but the Surprise Teams Tournament happens this weekend in Los Angeles.

No. 15 San Diego gained acclaim–and its first spot in the Top 25 rankings since 2002–by sweeping preseason No. 1 Texas two weeks back, while Kansas made a statement by winning the first two games of a series at Stanford last weekend. Those teams meet Saturday as part of the Public Storage Classic at Dedeaux Field, which also features No. 25 Southern California and Vanderbilt in round-robin play.

San Diego heads to the event at 5-1 following series against Texas and at UC Davis, and seventh-year coach Rich Hill couldn’t be more pleased.

“I would have taken that before you could get the words out of your mouth,” he said. “Now that we’re here, we’re on the ground and we don’t want to stop running. But we don’t validate ourselves on our win-loss record, just how we’re playing.”

There’s no question San Diego has been playing well. The Toreros have followed the plan set out by Hill and recruiting coordinator Eric Valenzuela in building around pitching, and building for this season. That’s the best way to win at a private school, Hill said, cultivating groups of players and dealing with slight rises and slight slips as those core groups come and go.

“San Diego is a team that, like some of those others on the West Coast, always was good and had a good reputation locally, but people didn’t know a lot about nationally,” Kansas coach Ritch Price said. “(Hill’s) been doing a good job out there for a while.”

San Diego won consecutive West Coast Conference titles in 2002 and 2003, and the Toreros have built back up for this season. The lineup regularly features six juniors and seniors seasoned with experience from the WCC and top summer leagues.

“Guys like (junior right fielder) Shane Buschini and (junior shortstop) Steve Singleton and (junior catcher) Jordan Abruzzo have played in real high-profile summer leagues against top players,” Hill said. “Now, when we face high-profile schools, our kids know they can compete against them. They’re like, ‘OK, this is how we roll.’ “

The pitching staff offers two experienced anchors, with junior righthander Josh Butler (2-0, 0.00) and sophomore righty Matt Couch (1-0, 1.50) returning to the rotation after solid 2005 seasons. The addition of freshmen lefthanders Brian Matusz (1-0, 3.00) and Josh Romanski (two saves and a .391 batting average in a dual role that has drawn Mark Kotsay comparisons) has made up for the loss of Justin Blaine (Phillies, sixth round) and Nate Boman (labrum surgery, though he could return by midseason) from the 2005 staff. Butler and Matusz both work in the low 90s and top out near 94. Butler’s changeup and Matusz’ hard breaking ball give each a second plus pitch.

This collection of power arms has allowed 22 runs in six games, though about a third of that total came in a 12-8 Sunday win against Texas. The team ERA drops to 2.86 with that game factored out.

“It’s been awesome, man,” Hill said. “It’s changed so much for us exposure-wise, especially here in San Diego. There are a lot of great players here who used to go up (Interstate) 5 to go to school (in the Los Angeles area), and we’re trying to keep them home. This validates what we’re doing, getting those players and winning.”

Kansas also has found validation in key wins during Ritch Price’s four years there. It has posted three consecutive winning seasons for the first time in school history and looks for a fourth–and its first NCAA tournament bid since 1994–this year. The Jayhawks swept Louisiana State on the road in 2003 and took two of three from eventual national champion Texas last season. The Stanford series was another step in the right direction.

“When you’re trying to rebuild a program and gain respect, wins like that give you credibility right out of the gate,” Price said. “It makes a huge difference recruiting-wise. It’s not the same old Kansas.”

Upon taking the Kansas job after eight years at Cal Poly, Price’s initial plan was to retool with junior college transfers while also following the administration’s wishes of not running off incumbent scholarship players. Success on the field has translated to recruiting success, and now most of the program’s players enter out of high school.

While top hitters Gus Milner (.545-3-16) and Jared Schweitzer (.485-2-6) transferred in following JC careers, the rest of the position players–including center fielder Matt Baty (.343-0-3) and Price’s sons Ritch (.324-0-3) and Ryne (.258-3-12)–were recruited out of high school. A third son, Robby, is on the way to continue the family tradition at Kansas, one that already boasts three sets of brothers: the Prices, Don and Nick Czyz and Sean and Preston Land. Don, a senior, has recorded three saves and worked seven scoreless innings as the closer, while Sean, a junior lefthander, has attracted scouts to each of his starts with a 6-foot-5 frame, 89-93 mph fastball and 2-0, 2.25 record.

These players have played and grown together under Price, who said his team’s winning three of its last four Big 12 Conference series in 2005 foreshadowed this start. Many of his Jayhawks players came to campus at the end of July with shaggy hairdos similar to that of Padres shortstop Khalil Greene–”they call it the flow, with all the hair coming out of their hat,” Price said–and Price said they were allowed to go untrimmed until they lost a series.

Kansas might have trouble staving off the crew cuts before Big 12 play begins, because a March trip to No. 1 Clemson looms after this weekend’s event. But playing a rigorous schedule helps the team in the present and future because of the gains in recruiting and skill development.

“Our administration wants to be good in all sports–not just a power in basketball,” Price said. “They’ve put $1.5 million into our facility and given us the budget to travel and play good teams like Stanford and Clemson. Kids want to play those teams, and you get better by playing them.”

Hill believes in a similar philosophy, with nonconference games against Georgia, Cal Poly, Washington, Rice and Houston still to come. Plus, the games bring the added bonus of a Ratings Percentage Index boost–something important for a team playing in the West Coast Conference, a league that hasn’t received multiple NCAA tournament berths since 1999.

“As you know, we can use all the RPI help we can get out here in the West,” Hill said. “It’s insane, man. I just asked Eric Valenzuela the other day, who scheduled this thing? It looks great on the schedule card and the Internet, but when you get out and play these teams, it’s not easy.”

Opponents are saying the same thing about San Diego and Kansas this year.

AROUND THE NATION

• Lefthander Andrew Miller isn’t scheduled to pitch this weekend when No. 4 North Carolina opens its season against Seton Hall. Robert Woodard, Daniel Bard and redshirt freshman Luke Putkonen will get the starts while the potential No. 1 overall draft pick Miller waits until a Tuesday matchup against Coastal Carolina to make his season debut.

• Mississippi junior right fielder Mark Wright won’t play against Saint Louis this weekend while serving a suspension for violating team rules. The Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger reported the suspension of Wright, who hit .311-15-51 as a junior, likely stems from his arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol last summer.

• The injuries are piling up at Louisiana State, which already is playing with a young team. Freshman center fielder Jarred Bogany wasn’t able to follow up his 8-for-11 weekend debut after injuring his right wrist before Wednesday’s 15-3 win against Centenary. He’ll be in a splint for three weeks and out of action for at least that long. The Tigers also are without sophomore first baseman Jordan Mayer, who broke his thumb in January and was expected back before March, and sophomore third baseman Chris Jackson, who’s out for the season following elbow surgery.

“Bogany was going to bat third tonight,” LSU coach Smoke Laval told the Baton Rouge Advocate. “That’™s my leadoff guy (Jackson), a No. 3 guy (Bogany), and my cleanup guy (Mayer). That’™s not a lot of fun.”

• Missouri coach Tim Jamieson wasn’t sure if junior righthander Max Scherzer would be ready to pitch this weekend at Louisiana-Monroe, but he was optimistic that the preseason All-American could get in three or four innings. Scherzer, who missed his first start with a cut on his middle finger, won’t throw Friday but wanted to get in some work before facing Florida next weekend.

• Righthander Mark Melancon set Arizona’s career saves record with No. 15 against Loyola Marymount two weekends ago, but he hasn’t found a save situation since. He’ll move into the rotation this weekend against New Mexico.

• It’s hard to believe Pacific is off to a 6-1 start after its best hitter, sophomore third baseman Justin Baum, opened the year 1-for-25 with nine strikeouts. Baum, who set a school record with 17 homers in a Freshman All-America debut, showed signs of busting the slump Wednesday, clubbing two home runs in four at-bats. So even though he’s batting .103, Baum still leads the Tigers with eight RBIs, and all three of his hits are homers.

• Wichita State junior third baseman Derek Schermerhorn is expected to play at this weekend’s Coca-Cola Classic in Mobile, Ala. Schermerhorn, who batted .329 with 34 steals and a 34-game hit streak last season, missed the team’s first five games at Hawaii-Hilo with a high right ankle sprain.

College | #2006 #Weekend Preview

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