College Weekend Preview: March 3-5

TOP 25 SCHEDULE

(1) Clemson at College of Charleston, at/vs. (9) South Carolina
Rutgers at (2) Georgia Tech
Purdue at (3) North Carolina
(7) Cal State Fullerton at (4) Rice
Texas A&M at (5) Florida
Oakland at (6) Tennessee
Arkansas State at (8) Mississippi State
Brown at (10) Florida State
(12) Pepperdine at San Diego State
Nevada at (13) Oregon State
(14) Texas at Nevada-Las Vegas
Manhattan at (15) Tulane
Baylor at (16) Long Beach State
Houston at (17) Louisiana State
UCLA at (18) North Carolina State
(19) Stanford at California
Wisconsin-Milwaukee at (20) Missouri
Florida Atlantic at (21) Texas Christian
Illinois-Chicago at (22) Mississippi
Kent State at (24) Winthrop
(25) San Diego at Cal Poly

TOP 25 TOURNAMENTS

Rainbow Baseball Tournament, Honolulu, Hawaii
(11) Arkansas, Hawaii, UT Arlington, Washington

Dairy Queen Classic, Minneapolis, Minn.
Arizona, Minnesota, (23) Nebraska, Notre Dame

MEANINGFUL MATCHUP

A lot of signs point to 11-1 Texas A&M slipping into Gainesville and sneaking out with a pair of wins. No. 5 Florida
has lost three of its last four games to slip to 8-4, and junior first
baseman Matt LaPorta (who has missed those last four games) won’t
return until the middle game of the series at the earliest. Plus the
Aggies have a 1.77 team ERA, while the Gators have slumped at the plate
lately.

But we don’t like that analysis. Texas A&M’s
opponents this year hold a combined 36-39 record, and it has one home
run all season. Much of its offense comes from racing around the bases,
with 37 steals in 53 tries, but UF catcher Brian Jeroloman might slow
that down a bit. Just seven runners have attempted to steal against him
in 12 games.

UPSET CITY

Any time a team from the Northeast Conference can win a series at the home of a Conference USA member, consider it an upset. So Monmouth (0-3) is the pick at Central Florida
(4-7) this weekend. Monmouth got swept at Houston last week, but played
respectably (losing 3-1, 9-1, 6-0). It’s a pitching-and-speed club that
returns all of its top arms and added a key junior college transfer to
a staff that posted a school-record 4.21 ERA last year, when it lost in
the conference championship game following a 30-24 season. Senior
lefthander Joe Cummings held Houston to two runs on five hits over
seven innings last week and could help Monmouth win what looks to be a
low-scoring series.

IN THE DUGOUT

Rice’s
Eddie Degerman (3-0, 0.79 with 33 strikeouts in 23 innings) said facing
top competition, like Nebraska and Joba Chamberlain (who he beat 3-2
last weekend), doesn’t change much about the way he approaches the
game. So when Degerman faces Cal State Fullerton this weekend, it won’t
matter that the Titans are ranked seventh in the nation or hail from
just south of his hometown of Grenada Hills, Calif.

Had you ever been to Texas before you transferred to Rice from UC Irvine before the 2003-2004 season?

Maybe
in an airport, but that’s about it. I’m getting used to it. The
weather’s a lot different; it rains a lot in Houston and people say
y’all. And the first week I was here, the airline lost my luggage and
my flight was messed up. And I hadn’t even played baseball yet. I’ve
adjusted though. A lot of the people are nice here and really
hospitable.

You played with first-round picks
Philip Humber, Jeff Niemann and Wade Townsend in 2004. Which would you
pick if you could choose only one to start an important game?

Oh
shoot, I don’t know. I would take any of them, but if I had to pick,
um, I don’t know. I’m trying to think about who I’m going to see.
Shoot, this is a tough question . . . Based on the year when I was
here, I would pick Townsend because I don’t think he lost that year. He
really competed. I know Niemann had a great year the year before and
Humber was good every year. I’m hoping they won’t see this and won’t
know I picked any of them.

What do you do in your free time?

This
semester I have a lot free time. I only have one class. I’m kind of on
the Matt Leinhart program. It’s an industrial psychology class. It has
to do with human resources and jobs, and I’m still trying to figure it
out. It’s part of my second major; I’m an economics and managerial
studies major.

What will you do with those degrees?

I’m
not sure. I might go to law school or into some sort of business, or
real estate. That’s why I’m hoping to play baseball for a little while.

There’s a lot of familiarity for Jack Leggett this year.

His
Clemson Tigers are ranked No. 1, a spot in which they spent seven weeks
during the 2002 season–the last time they advanced to the College
World Series. The batting order features eight of the same names it did
a year ago, when Clemson went 43-23 and fell one game shy of the CWS,
and most of the pitching staff returns as well.

And there’s
also that other constant for Leggett: South Carolina. Clemson faces its
in-state rival this weekend, with a road game Saturday and a home game
Sunday.

A Friday night game at College of Charleston comes
first for Clemson, but it’s apparent how much the next two games mean,
as Leggett plans on holding all three of his weekend starters back for
the two games against the Gamecocks and going with a midweek arm in
Charleston.

There’s no middle ground in the Clemson-South
Carolina rivalry, and unlike a lot of others in college sports where
the fans are more into the antics than those actually participating,
the tension between the coaching staffs and players in this series is
palpable.

“Oh yeah, there’s no doubt about that,” Leggett
said. “It’s a big game for everybody. It’s definitely a rivalry, you
can sugarcoat it any way you want, but it’s a game that’s important to
everybody. You just want to play well.

“There’s a lot of
fanfare about it. I’m not sure there’s a bigger in-state rivalry
around. You’d have to show me one. I know there’s some others than
claim to be, but when you sell out both places and people can’t get
tickets . . .”

This weekend’s series is important enough
that Leggett doesn’t hesitate when asked if two of his recent injury
holdouts will return to the lineup. Sophomore second baseman Taylor
Harbin, limited to one at-bat because of a balky hamstring, and
sophomore righthander David Kopp, who has been resting a sore shoulder,
both will take the field this weekend.

Harbin’s presence
could prove most important. He’s Clemson’s top righthanded hitter, and
was the only righty among the first six batters in the Tigers’ Opening
Day lineup. And that could prove important against a South Carolina
team will start lefties Arik Hempy (0-1, 0.00) and Forest Beverly (3-0,
3.38).

Clemson’s two lowest offensive outputs of the season
have come against lefties: a 3-0 win against James Madison and starter
Greg Nesbitt, and a 3-2 loss to Mercer and Shawn Barrett. The Tigers
did tag Mercer lefty Hunter Abercrombie for eight runs and 10 hits in a
9-4 win, so the left-leaning lineup isn’t completely neutralized by the
matchup.

“We’ve got to beat righthanded and lefthanded
pitchers to win,” Leggett said. “Everybody’s got good pitchers on each
side. Our kids can hit lefthanded pitching pretty good. We ran into a
really good kid and Mercer team, but that second lefthander we knocked
around pretty good. Left or right, it doesn’t make so much difference.
He’s got to be a pretty good lefty to get at us.

“Harbin
coming back gives us one more good righthanded hitter against lefties,
and before it’s all over we’ll be better against them.”

It’s
mostly nitpicking to point out other flaws in Leggett’s team at this
point. By his estimation, the club has played very well in 53 of its 54
innings this year–a throwing error that sparked a three-run Mercer
rally in the club’s only loss serving as the one ugly inning.

Even
with that blip, the pitching staff has allowed 10 runs all year, five
of which were unearned. “I just feel good about everybody who’s gone
out there to pitch,” Leggett said. And junior righthanders Jason Berken
and Stephen Faris–the starters against South Carolina–haven’t allowed
any runs in more than 20 combined innings.

Those are reasons
for the one unfamiliar thing Leggett has to do deal with: Clemson’s
record. The Tigers are off to a 5-1 start, much better than the 9-10
and 6-8 beginnings to the last two seasons. Clemson lost both games of
its early home-and-home series with South Carolina both of those years
before rallying to grab the two midweek games that fall later in the
spring.

Then again, the results don’t have as much effect on the coach as one might think.

“People
ask me, ‘How do you sleep?’ I don’t sleep,” he said. “If we lose, I
can’t get away from what could have been different. What could we have
done better? If we win, I can’t wait to get to ballpark to play again.
I’m ready to go at 2 in the morning. You get greedy.

“I’d rather battle that than losing and getting no sleep.”

College | #2006 #Weekend Preview

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