College Weekend Preview: March 17-19

TOP 25 SCHEDULE

(1) Georgia Tech at North Carolina State
(2) Clemson at Virginia
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at (3) Rice
Maryland at (4) North Carolina
(5) Tennessee at (6) Mississippi State
(7) Cal State Fullerton at Arizona
(8) Florida State at Virginia Tech
(9) South Carolina at Auburn
(10) Arkansas at (15) Florida
(11) Louisiana State at Kentucky
South Dakota State at (12) Nebraska
(13) Oregon State at Southern California
(14) Tulane vs./vs./at South Alabama
(24) Oklahoma at (16) Arizona State
(18) Texas at Texas Tech
Cal Poly at (19) Washington
Alabama at (20) Georgia
Dartmouth at (21) Pepperdine
(25) Kansas at (22) Baylor
(23) Wichita State at Long Beach State

MEANINGFUL MATCHUP

San Diego (13-9) visits Houston
(12-9) this weekend, and each team stands just a series sweep above
.500. They compiled those records against a schedule on which half of
their opponents start this week ranked in the Top 25. Those games are
good for building Ratings Percentage Index figures, but each team could
use a solid series victory to bulk up the wins column before beginning
conference play next week. San Diego already has earned wins against
Cal Poly, Kansas, Texas and Washington and comes in with wins in six of
its last seven games. Houston has defeated Louisiana State and Baylor
and has won nine of its last 13 games.

“We’ve gathered
quite a bit of momentum,” Houston coach Rayner Noble said. “(We)
started out slow, and the last few weeks we’ve played good baseball and
been in every game we’ve played. I was looking at some of the RPI stuff
today, we’re right there neck and neck.”

UPSET CITY

Oregon State won two series against Southern California
a year ago, but both were played in Corvallis and both were extremely
close. Oregon State (11-5) returns its entire weekend rotation, but
lost some key offensive contributors. USC meanwhile gains the advantage
of playing at home and a more veteran offensive cast this time around.
Even without All-America catcher Jeff Clement to boost the numbers, the
Trojans (12-10) lead the Pac-10 Conference with a .332 average built
against one of the nation’s more difficult nonconference schedules.
Look for Cyle Hankerd (.409-4-29), Matt Cusick (.409-1-18), Daniel
Perales (.388-2-15), Lucas Duda (.370-2-21) and company to finally
settle the score with the Beavers.

IN THE DUGOUT

Sophomore
Damon Sublett leads 17-3 Wichita State into its weekend series at Long
Beach State (12-9) by pacing the Shockers with four home runs (after
hitting one last year) and 26 runs scored. The second baseman’s .405
batting average ranks second on the club. Sublett, a righthander, also
serves as the team’s closer, a role in which he has recorded 12 saves
and not allowed an earned run in 26 career innings.

At heart, are you a pitcher or a hitter?

I
view myself first of all as a position player. Pitching kind of comes
second to me; I go out for nine innings to play a position, and if I
get called out to throw, I go out and do it. When it gets to the later
innings and it’s a 5-3 game, my mind starts to wander toward the
pitching aspect. I feel it can take away from some of my at-bats. I’m
always striving to be better at the plate. I feel like a lot of people
view me as a pitcher because of the success I’ve had, but I was
recruited as a hitter and I want to produce.

Is it tough to get warmed up in time when you have to bat and play the field?

I
actually like not having a lot of time waiting around. The other night
I (didn’t start and) sat in bullpen for two innings. I didn’t like it
too much. Fortunately, I seem to get loose pretty quickly. It’s just a
God-given thing that I get ready quick. I look at it as I’ve got seven
pitches to get ready. The biggest part about it is being mentally ready
to pitch. You could lose the game if you’re not ready.

As a Kansas native, what is it like to play at Wichita State?

Coming
to games when I was growing up, I always imagined what it would be like
to play out there where (Darren) Dreifort, Casey Blake and Braden
Looper have played. It’s like playing at Yankee Stadium or something.
The history here is amazing. I got to start my first game as freshman.
I was in awe, real nervous. I couldn’t ask for much more at that point.
I guess now at times we take it for granted, but when we get a big
crowd I just realize how great this is.

Given
Gene Stephenson’s decision to leave Wichita State for Oklahoma and then
his return a day later, what was it like to play at and beat Oklahoma
last week?

They’re good. I don’t think anybody
really thinks about the OU thing a whole lot. When we went down there,
it kind of came up out of the bushes again. It was a good trip for us,
we were mainly just hyped to play a good team. It’s always a big game
to play OU, they’re kind of a big rival around here. I think we could
tell there was a little extra in it for Gene.

How did he address the team when he came back?

It
was the same old Gene. He didn’t say a lot about it. That’s kind of
what everybody wanted to hear. We didn’t want to talk about that; we
just wanted to move on and get ready for this year. I was happy to have
him back; he’s a great coach. When I was in Texas this summer and that
all started happening, I was like, “Man, is this real or is somebody
playing a joke on us?”

Why do so many Shockers players call the coach by his first name?

I
think it’s just partially an outlook on him. He’s not all strict about
stuff. It keeps us looser. It was Gene pretty much from start. Maybe
the first day you want to call him Coach or Mr. Stephenson, but after a
few days it falls into place that he’s just Gene. He’s your buddy.

When
Arkansas arrived at Louisiana Tech in February 2005, freshman Brian
Walker realized he had forgotten his cup–an important piece of
equipment for a catcher. As panic began to set in, Walker scurried to a
nearby sporting goods store and bought himself a new one.

After
making his purchase, Walker bumped into Arkansas’ equipment manager and
explained what had happened. Turns out the team always travels with
extras, in case of such an emergency.

“It’s funny, the
difference in playing on the road,” Walker said. “You always panic when
you leave, hoping you brought everything.”

Remembering
athletic supporters and other essential items aren’t the only worries
on road trips. There are plenty of other non-baseball concerns, such as
staying in a hotel, arriving on time for the team bus, making it
through airport security, figuring out a way to spend down time and
even finding a good place to eat. Then there are the other team’s
athletic supporters in the stands, which are often raucous and
overflowing in the Southeastern Conference.

Getting
acquainted with all of these changes can prove a challenge. That’s one
of the reasons Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn likes to get on the road
early in the year. His team has played three series and 11 of its first
17 games away from Baum Stadium, going 10-1 in those contests and 16-1
overall as it enters SEC play this weekend at 15-6 Florida, the
coaches’ preseason pick as league favorite.

“You’re out of
your comfort level when you’re on the road,” Walker said. “It’s a
foreign place, foreign bed and foreign food, but we’re together. That’s
why Van Horn puts us on the road early, to build team chemistry.

“We’re
used to getting up early Thursday and traveling, having a long day and
then practicing (upon reaching that destination). We’re going to
Florida this weekend and it’s just another trip. It’s a business trip.
It’s something we’ve done before as opposed to if it was our first
traveling experience.”

The other 11 SEC teams have played a
total of 35 road games, winning 19 of them (54 percent). That group is
194-47 at home for a .758 winning percentage. Kentucky’s six road games
rank second behind Arkansas’ 11. UK (15-3, 5-1 on the road) stays home
this weekend to face 16-3 Louisiana State, which has yet to play away
from home all season. The Tigers originally had scheduled a few road
games against in-state foes, but Hurricane Katrina forced those games
to get moved back home to Alex Box Stadium. A preplanned trip to Las
Vegas got banged when numerous athletics construction projects sapped
the travel budget.

“Mother nature had a little something to
do with it,” LSU coach Smoke Laval said. “It’s not like it used to
be–last year our club preferred and probably played a little better on
the road. You’ve got to convince the guys it’s still 60 feet, 6 inches
(from the pitcher’s rubber to home plate) and 90 feet (between the
bases) and go out and try your best.”

South Carolina has
played only one road game as it prepares to travel to Auburn. Coach Ray
Tanner knew his club would be young, and wanted it to play as many home
games as possible to build confidence. Its lone road game was a loss at
Clemson.

“You get into philosophical situation,” said
Tanner, whose Gamecocks are 13-2. “I don’t believe that you gain a lot
by losing. I don’t believe you gain a lot by going 0-4. Young players
need to build confidence and be convinced they’re good players. Other
people like to play a great schedule and learn and get better in the
long run. For me, I want them to get comfortable and then take that
confidence on the road. I was convinced we needed to be at home a lot
in the early going.”

Van Horn sits on the other side of that
philosophical table. Playing good teams on the road early on serves as
a barometer for his team and helps it improve.

“It helps you
get better, find out where you’re at,” he said. “I looked at the
schedule in advance, and it seems like we’re always playing on the road
the first weekend of the SEC, this year at Florida. We wanted to play
on the road some so we didn’t get to Florida and get shocked. We didn’t
want to think we were better than we were.”

Arkansas has
played in three round-robin tournaments, and most opponents at those
events saved their best pitcher to face the ranked Razorbacks. Arkansas
faced Oklahoma State’s Oliver Odle, Texas Christian’s Sam Demel,
Washington’s Tim Lincecum, Hawaii’s Steven Wright and Cal State
Northridge’s Craig Baker, beating all of them except Lincecum.

“It’s
great for us as a hitting group, we’re facing everybody’s ace,” Walker
said. “They all have plus arms with good secondary pitches. It’s good
(preparation) for the SEC, because Friday, Saturday, Sunday, you’re
getting their best guys. If you’re not prepared for that, you won’t
know what you’re getting.”

Georgia (13-2, 1-2 on the road)
felt the same way about its only road trip of the year, when it went to
Southern California and beat its ace, Ian Kennedy. That came a week
after the Bulldogs swept San Diego at home by beating Josh Butler and
Brian Matusz.

Auburn (10-10) also has played only one series
on the road, getting swept at Arizona State, but coach Tom Slater feels
the caliber of competition his team has faced in the preconference
season will end up being more important than where the games took place.

“We’ve
played such a good schedule so far, playing Florida State and Arizona
State. Playing Elon and Birmingham-Southern, those names don’t jump out
at you, but they’re pretty good teams,” Slater said. “Home or road
really doesn’t matter. It’s just important that we’ve played a good
schedule, and that means the game won’t speed up on a Friday night. Our
kids have seen lots of good pitching and lots of good teams.”

AROUND THE NATION


Nebraska junior righthander Joba Chamberlain, who missed last week’s
start with a tightness in his triceps, won’t pitch this weekend against
South Dakota State. He was cleared to pitch after a Tuesday bullpen
session, but Nebraska coach Mike Anderson decided to hold him out as a
precaution with forecasts calling for temperatures in the 30s and 40s
and the chance of rain and snow.

“We are just trying to be
smart about what we are doing,” Anderson said. “After his workouts this
week, we feel as though Joba is ready to pitch, and our team is ready
to play, but both conditions (his health and the weather) need to be
conducive for Joba to get on the mound. We will wait until both
conditions are right.”

• Florida State (19-1) earned its
best win of the season Tuesday, crushing Winthrop 10-0 by scoring eight
runs in four innings against Eagles ace Heath Rollins. That marked the
16th straight win for the Seminoles, the longest streak in the nation.


In other win streaks of note, Creighton, James Madison and Mississippi
State have won 13 straight games, while Kansas State and Miami have won
their last 12. Kansas State kept its streak alive Tuesday with a 6-3
win against Wichita State, snapping the Shockers’ 13-game winning
streak and continuing the best start in school history at 13-1.


Kentucky All-America second baseman John Shelby was hitting .196-0-6
through 16 games when coach John Cohen was asked about the junior’s
early struggles.

“John is a guy who’s gotten a good deal of
hype, and I don’t think that’s the type of thing that bothers John,”
Cohen said. “I think John is a very aggressive hitter, and he isn’t
getting enough pitches to hit. He should have more walks. John’s going
to be fine. I think it’s natural for a junior to struggle a little bit
in his draft year. He’s just too athletic to stay in this slump.

“Whenever
a hitter is swinging it well and hitting line drives at people, you
just don’t want him to change. He wasn’t getting hits and said, ‘I’ve
got to make some changes’. But there’s a difference between excellence
and success. Excellence is squaring the ball up and hitting it hard,
success is what’s written in the newspaper the next day.”

Shelby
got written about in the paper (and here as well) this week after going
3-for-4 with two homers, eight RBIs, five runs and three steals in two
games against Cleveland State.

• After 14 games on the
sidelines with a strained oblique, Florida first baseman Matt LaPorta
will return to action this weekend against Arkansas. LaPorta was
healthy enough to have played Tuesday night against Central Florida,
but he sat out one more game as a precaution. He spent the week
swinging in the batting cage and taking grounders at first base.


North Carolina has changed its pitching rotation, with righthander
Daniel Bard (3-0, 1.93) and lefthander Andrew Miller (4-0, 0.64) each
moving up a day to Friday and Saturday and righthander Robert Woodard
(2-0, 2.96) going to Sunday.

• Run differential is a neat
stat, but it doesn’t always work the best in college baseball. That’s
because some blowouts get really ugly when one team possesses greatly
superior talent or when the losing team elects to save the rest of its
top pitchers for closer games later in a weekend. Missouri is 10-7
(.588) despite outscoring its opponents 144-70 thus far. Missouri’s
Pythagorean winning percentage, considering that differential, should
be .809–or roughly a 14-3 record.

College | #2006 #Weekend Preview

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