College Weekend Preview: May 18-20

Meaningful
Matchup
Conference
showdowns

For
many conferences, this is the final weekend before conference
tournaments begin, the last chance for postseason hopefuls to extend
their seasons. For leagues without postseason tournaments, races for
regular-season titles have heated to a boil. Here’s a
conference-by-conference look at some of the series with major
postseason ramifications.

Atlantic Coast
Conference

TOP
25 SCHEDULE
Louisiana State at (1)
Vanderbilt
Memphis at (2) Rice
(3) Florida State
at Georgia Tech
(4) North Carolina at Maryland
(6)
Virginia at Boston College
(7) Texas at/vs./vs. (9) Texas
A&M
(8) Arizona State at (22) Oregon
State
Mississippi at (10) Arkansas
Georgia at
(11) South Carolina
Cal State Northridge at (12) UC
Irvine
Illinois State at (13) Wichita State
Washington
at (14) Arizona
(15) Clemson at North Carolina
State
(19) Missouri at (16) Oklahoma State
(17)
Coastal Carolina at Winthrop
(21) UC Riverside at (18) Long
Beach State
New Mexico at (20) Texas Christian
(23)
St. John’s at South Florida
(24) Michigan at Iowa
(25)
Pepperdine at Portland

While
Florida State has locked up the Atlantic Division title, the Coastal
Division is still very much up for grabs, with North Carolina leading
Virginia by a half-game. Both teams are on the road this weekend
against opponents that have struggled against the league’s top
competition: UNC visits last-place Maryland, and UVa. travels to
Boston College, which is currently tied with Wake Forest for the
eighth and final spot in the ACC tournament. BC holds the tiebreaker,
having swept the Demon Deacons, but Wake has a more winnable series
at Virginia Tech, and the Deacs won the opener
Thursday.

Elsewhere, North Carolina State locked
up a regional berth last weekend with a road series victory at
Virginia, and the Wolfpack will try to make its case for a No. 2 seed
in a regional when it hosts Clemson this weekend. N.C. State will do
it without righthander Andrew Brackman, who will not pitch this
weekend because of fatigue. The Wolfpack won Thursday’s opener 11-4.
The Tigers vaulted themselves back into the discussion to host a
regional last week by becoming the first team to win a series at
Florida State this season, but they still need to finish strong. On
the surface, it might seem unlikely that the state of South Carolina
could host three regionals, and Coastal Carolina and South Carolina
both have the inside track on hosting over Clemson. But with
perennial Southeast host contenders Georgia Tech, Georgia, Miami and
Florida unlikely to host, the Palmetto State could get three sites.
Clemson probably needs to win its series this weekend and hold its
own in the ACC tournament to have a chance at making that a
reality.

Big 12 Conference

Texas
is a safe bet to earn a No. 1 seed and host a regional, and the
Longhorns can cement their status as one of the NCAA tournament’s top
eight national seeds with a series win against Texas A&M.

“We certainly hope for all of that,”
Texas coach Augie Garrido said of the possibility of earning a
national seed and ensuring a regional and super-regional at home. “It
didní¯¿½t prove last year to be very helpful, Stanford and North
Carolina State came in and kicked us out of our own tournament. But
the host seed wins the highest percentage of the time–look how often
the host schools have gone to the super-regionals and the World
Series, it’s pretty clear there’s a significant advantage to whoever
gets to play at home.”

The ninth-ranked
Aggies are in an unusual position; with a Ratings Percentage Index of
five, a 41-12 overall record and a solid 7-7 mark against Top 25
teams, they seem like a lock to host a regional as a top seed, and
maybe even earn a national seed. But A&M is just 13-10 in the Big
12, good enough for fourth place. Even if the Aggies sweep Texas, the
highest they can finish in the conference is third. The competition
to host a regional will be fierce between Texas A&M, Oklahoma
State and Missouri, and there is also a crunch in the state of Texas,
where the Longhorns and Aggies are joined by hosting hopefuls Rice
and Texas Christian. Strong finishers are likely to be
rewarded.

“We’re not going to get caught up
in it all, all we can take care of is the next game we have,”
Texas A&M coach Rob Childress said. “When we start looking
at, ‘Are we hosting, are we a top national seed?’ you lose your
focus.

“The one thing against Texas, they
always pitch great and play great defense, and they’re going to try
to make you die a slow death.”

As much as
Childress wants to keep his team focused on the field and not the
“spectacle”, as he put it, that’s always a challenge in a
rivalry as heated at Texas-Texas A&M.

“I
think people are apt to get in a fist fight over who’s going to be
the winner of a pickup stick contest between these two, much less a
baseball game,” Garrido said. “If it’s between Texas A&M
and Texas, it’s a true rivalry in every way.”

Missouri,
the one team that has beaten Texas in a conference series this year,
is locked in a tie for second place with Oklahoma State.
Incidentally, those two teams meet for a three-game series this
weekend in Stillwater, Okla. The Cowboys and Tigers trail Texas by
two games, so the winner of this series could grab at least a share
of the Big 12 regular-season title with a little help from the
Aggies.

“I think it’s real exciting,”
Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said. “You couldn’t ask for much
more–you want to play in high-profile games late in the season when
the games mean something.”

This weekend
could mean an awful lot in the muddled Big 12 hosting crunch. The
team not expected to be part of it was Missouri, which lost much of
the firepower and twin aces Nathan Culp and Max Scherzer from last
year’s team that lost a super-regional at Cal State
Fullerton.

“The thing that keeps coming
back to me is we’re going to finish ahead of A&M, but they’re
higher in the RPI,” Jamieson said. “Certainly it would be
hard to deny us (a host site) if we did win the weekend–being a road
weekend, we will have won every road weekend in conference . . . To
be where we are, I could not have expected that. I thought we’d have
a good year, but we’ve had a great year.”

Big
East Conference

St. John’s and Rutgers are
tied atop the league standings at 18-6, with Louisville nipping at
their heels at 17-7. All three contenders are on the road this
weekend against middle-of-the-pack conference foes, though St. John’s
probably has the toughest trip in South Florida (31-22, 12-12 in the
Big East). The Scarlet Knights visit Villanova (27-21, 11-13), while
the Cardinals travel to Cincinnati (28-24, 8-13). It’s worth noting
that St. John’s has won head-to-head series against both Rutgers and
Louisville, and the Knights and Cards do not play this season. All of
these teams will be in the eight-team Big East tournament, where NCAA
tournament resumes can be firmed up. All three are in the running for
an at-large berth if they don’t win the conference tourney, but St.
John’s seems to be the safest bet for an at-large bid. All three
could conceivably make regionals, but two bids seems more
realistic.

Big South
Conference

Coastal Carolina is in very good
shape to earn a No. 1 seed in a regional–the Chanticleers boosted
their RPI into the top 10 by taking two games at Nebraska two weeks
ago, and they can solidify their bid to host at high Class A Myrtle
Beach’s Coastal Federal Field if they can capture the Big South
regular-season title. That title is exactly what’s on the line this
weekend, when Coastal visits preseason conference favorite Winthrop.
A midseason swoon dropped the Eagles to 22-19, but they reeled off
eight straight wins to put themselves back in position to earn an
at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. That was before last weekend,
when Winthrop was swept in three games at Liberty. With an RPI of 90,
Winthrop probably must win the Big South tournamentí¯¿½as the host
school–to secure a bid.

“We had worked
very hard to get ourselves back into position to make a regional, our
RPI was climbing, but we really shot ourselves in the foot last
weekend,” Winthrop coach Joe Hudak said. “It makes the
Coastal series that much bigger, and it was big to begin with. When
the schedules came out two years ago, we looked at Coastal that last
weekend and knew that would be big. Always is.”

Big
West Conference

First place is on the line
this weekend when Long Beach State (13-2 in conference) hosts UC
Riverside (12-3). Because the Big West does not have a conference
tournament, the race for the regular-season title is even more
significant than in most other conferences. UC Irvine lurks just
around the bend at 10-5. The Anteaters have already taken series from
Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton, and they’ve got a chance to
pad their conference record this weekend against Cal State Northridge
(14-36, 2-13 in the Big West). The league is set up for next
weekend’s big finish–Irvine travels to Riverside, while Long Beach
State will have to deal with Cal State Fullerton. LBSU coach Mike
Weathers said his team has its work cut out for it.

“We
could go from first place to fourth place,” Weathers said.
“Riverside, they’re a really solid club, their pitching staff is
really deep, that’s why they’re only a game back. I think the first
noticeable difference is probably the power arms of their staff,
they’ve got much better velocity of the mound, we’re more of a
finesse team. I think their bullpen is exceptional–it definitely
shortens the game. We’ll have to figure out how to be in position to
win before we get to the eighth inning, so that’s one
thing.”

The Highlanders are still without
Saturday starter Mark Rzepczynski, a senior lefthander who broke a
knuckle in the pinky finger of his throwing hand when he angrily
slammed his fist down on his counter at home last week. He’ll be out
four to six weeks.

For more on the Dirtbags, see
“Streakin’” below.

Conference
USA

Rice and East Carolina have locked up
regional spots, but after that it’s wide open. C-USA is starting to
look like a three-bid league, and Houston might be in the best
position to seize the final spot. The Cougars were sitting pretty
before being swept at home by East Carolina two weeks ago, but they
rebounded by taking two of three at Memphis last weekend to draw even
with the Tigers for third place at 12-8. Houston has a huge series
this weekend against a surging Southern Mississippi team that has won
9 of its last 10 to climb above .500 in conference (11-10). Houston
gets the edge at home. Memphis, meanwhile, must travel to Rice
(19-2). A strong final weekend followed by a good showing in the
conference tournament next week in Greenville, N.C., could propel
Houston, Memphis or Southern Miss to a regional.

Horizon
League

First-place Illinois-Chicago leads
second-place Wright State by 2 1/2 games heading into the
regular-season finale between the two teams at Wright State. Of
course, the Horizon is a one-bid league, so it will all come down to
the conference tournament next weekend at UIC.

Missouri
Valley Conference

Red-hot Creighton has won
19 of its last 20 games to draw even with Wichita State atop the
conference at 17-4. The Shockers hold the tiebreaker, having handed
the Bluejays their only MVC series loss of the year back in early
April. Both teams are home this weekend against teams in the bottom
half of the conference, as Creighton hosts Missouri State (21-30,
6-15 in the MVC) and Wichita State hosts Illinois State (20-29,
8-13). Evansville, which entered the season ranked No. 21 in the
nation, fell to fourth place in the league by losing two of three to
Bradley last week. The Purple Aces, who are finished with their
regular-season schedule, probably need to win the MVC tourney to make
a regional, but the senior-laden team is certainly capable of doing
just that.

Pacific-10
Conference

Arizona State took control of the
conference and put itself in position to earn a national seed in the
NCAA tournament by sweeping UCLA last weekend. The Bruins remain in
second place in the league, two games behind ASU, and both teams
travel to the Pacific Northwest this weekend. UCLA visits Washington
State (25-23, 8-13), while the Sun Devils must deal with desperate
defending national champion Oregon State.

The
Beavers, a favorite to host a regional at the midway point, could be
in danger of missing out on the postseason. OSU has lost consecutive
must-win series against Washington and Washington State, and at 8-10,
the Beavs are locked in a three-way tie for fifth place in the
conference with Southern California and California. With a trip to
UCLA lurking on the schedule next weekend, Oregon State could
conceivably lose its final four conference series and finish in the
wrong half of the Pac-10 standings. That would make it hard for the
committee to give the Beavers an at-large bid, regardless of their
good record against a solid nonconference schedule. But coach Pat
Casey’s boys have had their backs up against the wall before, and we
know how that ended.

Southeastern
Conference

With one weekend remaining before
the conference tournament in Hoover, Ala., here’s what we know:
Vanderbilt has won the Eastern Division and will be the No. 1 or 2
seed in the SEC tournament; Arkansas will definitely join the
Commodores in Hoover; South Carolina and Mississippi State will be
there too unless one of them is swept and a succession of other
things fall perfectly into place. What we don’t know: anything
else.

The SEC is unlikely to get nine regional
bids this year, so qualifying for the eight-team conference
tournament will be imperative. It seems likely, though not certain,
that all eight teams that reach Hoover will make the NCAA
tournament.

Florida (14-13 in the league
entering the weekend), Mississippi (14-13), Alabama (13-14), Kentucky
(12-14), Louisiana State (12-14) and Tennessee (11-14) are all
battling for the final four spots in the conference tourney. The
Gators and Volunteers will go head-to-head in Gainesville, Fla., and
clearly Tennessee has the most work to do of any of the SEC
tournament hopefuls. Florida will be on the bubble for the NCAA
tournament even if it reaches Hoover thanks to its 27-26 overall
record, but Gators coach Pat McMahon feels good about his team’s
chances.

“The right things have to unfold.
I think you need to be playing well late, and I think we’ve done
that,” McMahon said. “We’ve competed well on the road . . .
In the eyes of the selection committee, bottom line, you’ve got to
keep winning ballgames.”

Ole Miss and LSU
both have very challenging weekends ahead–the Rebels must travel to
Arkansas (17-10), and the Tigers visit Vanderbilt (19-8). Mississippi
can probably get into the SEC tournament with one win this weekend,
but LSU likely needs to win its series. That’s a tall order, on the
road against the nation’s No. 1 team.

Alabama is
also on the road against a banged-up Mississippi State team that will
be without closer Aaron Weatherford (nerve soreness in his arm).
Outfielders Cade Hoggard and Jeff Flagg are day to day, and Nick
Hardy will have surgery on his weak wrist at the end of the season.
Alabama knows it must make the most of its opportunity.

“For
us, we have to (make the conference tournament) to play any more
baseball or be in position to play, because our RPI isn’t high, and
we’ve lost too many games in the middle of the week,” Crimson
Tide coach Jim Wells said. “I don’t know about anybody else,
but certainly for Alabama, we have to get (to Hoover) to move
on.”

Kentucky might be in the best position
to improve its status. The Wildcats have a home series this weekend
against last-place Auburn (8-19).

Thursday’s
results muddled things more: Alabama edged Mississippi State, Auburn
blitzed Kentucky, and Tennesse won the opener at Florida.
Mississippi, South Carolina and Vanderbilt all fairly cruised, with
the Commodores getting 15 more whiffs from David Price in a 4-1
victory.

Southern
Conference

Western Carolina and College of
Charleston are tied atop the league standings at 18-6. Both are
likely to be regional teams, but if something unexpected happens in
the 10-team SoCon tournament, it will be nice to have a
regular-season championship in the back pocket, because three bids
from the SoCon is pushing it. WCU hosts Georgia Southern (12-12 in
the conference), while CofC welcomes Davidson (7-17). And the Cougars
own the tiebreaker, having swept the Catamounts in
March.

Southwestern Athletic
Conference

The SWAC tournament began
Wednesday, with division winners Prairie View A&M and Jackson
State as the top seeds in the six-team, double-elimination
tournament. Those teams seem to be on a collision course, as both got
off to 2-0 starts in the conference tournament. The SWAC’s one bid to
the NCAA tournament will be decided as the tournament unfolds this
weekend.

Marquee Mound
Matchup

Bobby Gagg vs. Alex Wilson

Winthrop’s
Wilson is one of the most high-profile sophomore pitchers in the
nation thanks to his electric fastball and devastating slider, but he
hasn’t been the best sophomore righty in the Big South Conference
this season. That title belongs to Coastal’s Gagg, who has gone 10-1,
2.69 with 73 strikeouts and 23 walks in 90 innings. Wilson has
quietly put together another outstanding season, but he hasn’t gotten
the kind of run support he got as a freshman, when he went 13-3,
3.78. His ERA is a full run lower this year (2.77), but he is just
4-4 in 15 outings.

Gagg had been Coastal’s
Saturday starter for most of the season, but with senior lefty Andy
DeLaGarza scuffling a bit recently, the Chanticleers slid Gagg into
the No. 1 starter spot just in time for Friday’s showdown with
Wilson.

Upset
City
Western
Illinois over Oral Roberts

Oral
Roberts’ long-time stranglehold on the Mid-Continent Conference was
on the line this weekend, as the Golden Eagles led the conference by
four games over Western Illinois with a four-game series between the
clubs remaining on the regular-season schedule. The Golden Eagles
dashed the Leathernecks’ hopes of claiming a share of the
conference’s regular-season title by winning Thursday’s series opener
behind eight strong innings from ace righthander Chance Chapman. That
was to be expected, as Chapman, a senior righthander, has been
utterly dominant for stretches this season. He has used one of the
best sliders in college baseball to strike out 17 batters against
Arkansas on March 27 and whiff 19 against Centenary last week. But
even though Western Illinois can’t catch Oral Roberts in the
standings, it can still take the four-game series and gain some
momentum heading into the all-important conference
tournament.

Under sixth-year coach Stan Hyman,
the Leathernecks have posted their first winning record (31-21) since
1989 and secured a berth in the Mid-Con tournament for the fifth
straight season. Junior left fielder Brett Pendell, a free-swinging
lefthanded hitter, has been a sparkplug atop the order, batting
.347/.427/.464 with 15 stolen bases in 19 attempts and a
conference-leading 54 runs. Senior center fielder Travis Check has
provided some punch in the middle of the order, batting
.339/.397/.540 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs.

“Travis
is arguably the best player in the conference,” Hyman said.
“He’s been consistent throughout the entire season. He tore it
up in our 12 games against the top Big 12 pitching. And his hits
always seem to come at big times. He’s delivered nine game-tying or
game-winning hits and belted two key home runs against Oakland and
(Valparaiso) in conference.

“Defensively,
he’s also saved several games for us. His seven outfield assists also
rank at the top of the conference. He’s a money player who will
succeed at the pro level.”

Give Western
Illinois credit for closing the gap with Oral Roberts. This weekend,
the Leathernecks have a chance to show they are on the same playing
field as the Golden Eagles.

Under The
Radar
Kyle
Nicholson, rhp, Texas A&M

Nicholson
has flown under the radar as much as a legitimate All-America
candidate can. The senior began the year in the bullpen, racking up
four saves and bailing the Aggies out of many a tough spot with
stellar long relief after their starter was knocked out early. But
when A&M needed someone to stabilize its weekend rotation,
Nicholson was called upon to start, and he adapted seamlessly. On the
season, Nicholson is 11-1, 1.74 with 86 strikeouts and 14 walks in
104 innings over 21 appearances (eight starts).

“He’s
meant everything, he’s filled every role you can fill on the staff
for us, from our closer to the last five weeks being our Friday night
guy,” Childress said. “He’s an extreme competitor who’s
going to work off his sinker. And he’s one of the best defenders
we’ve ever had, I know that gets overlooked sometimes. He throws a
sinker, slider and changeup. He’s probably 88-91. He’ll attack the
zone, compete–that’s what he does.”

Streakin’
Long
Beach State

The
surprising success of the Dirtbags might be the biggest story of the
2007 season to this point. The young Dirtbags–21 of the 35 players
on the roster are freshmen or sophomores–opened eyes by starting the
season 12-5 against a murderer’s row schedule (Southern California,
Texas, Rice, UCLA, California, Arizona State) before running into
some adversity. LBSU dropped three straight weekend series against
Wichita State, Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine, as injuries began
to take their toll. Down went ace righthander Vance Worley with elbow
soreness; down went righthander Manny McElroy with a torn muscle in
his back; down went star shortstop Danny Espinosa with a pulled back
muscle; down went junior first baseman Brandon Godfrey with a broken
hand. But Weathers just shuffled the pieces around, plugged new faces
into the lineup, and the Beach kept on chugging. The Dirtbags have
won 13 straight heading into this weekend’s showdown with UC
Riverside, and they’ve won 22 of their last 25 since the finale of
the Irvine series. The hot streak has come against the softer part of
LBSU’s grueling schedule (Oral Roberts, Cal State Northridge, UC
Davis, Pacific, Cal Poly, UC Santa Barbara), but we’ve already seen
that the Beach can make it through difficult weekends without
wilting.

“This roll we’re on right now,
sweeping conference opponents, no matter who they are, I think that’s
really hard to do,” Weathers said. “We’ve rolled through
four straight weekends of sweeps, and in the Big West that doesn’t
usually happen, and I doní¯¿½t think it happens in too many leagues. I
just thought the (early) schedule was going to be way too hard for
this team. I love playing tough schedules, but I kind of wondered if
this was a little too tough for this team, and if I’m surprised by
anything, it’s the success of this team against this
schedule.”

What the Dirtbags lack in star
power, they more than make up for in grit. Weathers makes a point of
getting as many players into the lineup as possible early in the
season to find every player a purpose on the team, and that approach
paid off once the injury bug bit. McElroy returned from his injury to
emerge as a reliable Friday starter, and junior righty Andrew Liebel
had no problem making the transition from crucial setup man to
Saturday starter. Sophomore first baseman/lefthander Shane Peterson
has been good on Sundays, and sophomore righty Bryan Shaw has been as
steady a closer as Weathers could want.

Now
Long Beach State is getting healthy again–Espinosa has been back for
about four weeks, and Worley returned to throw an inning against
Loyola Marymount earlier this week. Worley will be available in
relief this weekend and figures to provide a boost in the bullpen the
rest of the way. Fortunately, Long Beach doesn’t need him to rescue
the rotation, because other players have stepped forward in his
absence. The pitching staff has gotten other key contributions from
Division I transfers in need of an opportunity to prove
themselves–senior lefty Omar Arif (a transfer from Texas Christian),
sophomore righty Dustin Rasco (Kansas State) and sophomore righty
David Roberts.

“This team reminds me a lot
of our mid-90s teams when I was an assistant here and the Dirtbag
image was alive and well,” Weathers said. “Then we started
getting all the high-profile guys, and doní¯¿½t get me wrong, I like
getting the high-profile guys, but this team is a true Dirtbag team.
I like talking about this group, you can tell. I’m proud of them, I
don’t know what’s going to happen. So far so good, I doní¯¿½t care
what happens the rest of the way. It’s been a tremendous season, one
they’ll remember.”

Slumpin’
Harris
Honeycutt, rhp, South
Carolina

Honeycutt
was a perfect 15-0 in his three-year collegiate career before making
the fateful mistake of talking to Baseball America. Call it a jinx or
call it a coincidence, but Honeycutt has not won since our profile
story about him ran in mid-April. He lost three consecutive Friday
starts before South Carolina moved him to Saturdays, and then he
proceeded to drop his first two Saturday starts. He’s now 7-5, 3.79
on the year with 89 strikeouts and 33 walks in 76 innings. The
Gamecocks moved sophomore righthander Mike Cisco into the weekend
rotation to start Thursday’s series opener against Georgia (a 13-3
USC victory) so they could leave junior lefty Arik Hempy on Fridays,
but USC coach Ray Tanner said Honeycutt could get bumped from the
Saturday start by freshman righty Blake Cooper, who had been starting
on Sundays. Honeycutt might still get the nod, but either way his
transformation from rotation rock to iffy weekend starter has been
abrupt and startling.

“It’s been a little
bit hard to figure out,” Tanner said. “Harris Honeycutt was
pitching as good as anybody else in the country in the beginning of
the season. He’s not blessed with the fastball of (Vanderbilt lefty)
David Price, but he pitched very well. Then he started scuffling.
It’s not a case of Honeycutt not helping us anymore, he just hasn’t
been as good as he was. Even against Tennessee (last Saturday), he
gave up three in the first and we lost 4-3. I still feel good about
him and think he’s very capable . . . It’s one of those things that’s
hard to figure out sometimes, but I still am a big fan of Harris
Honeycutt.”

Stat of the
Week
8-0

Missouri’s
record in one-run games in Big 12 play. Those eight conference
victories are the difference between being tied for second place and
gunning to host a regional and being out of the postseason picture.
They are also a testament to Missouri’s fortitude in tight
spots.

“It’s a consummate team, guys
picking each other up,” Jamieson said. “We’re not a
high-profile ballclub, but we’re still winning. We have different
guys contributing–it’s everybody. Matching up with Oklahoma State in
their ballpark when they’re playing well is difficult to do, but this
team has responded in different situations all year.”

Also,
with a number of heralded freshmen across the nation having rocky
years, give credit to Missouri freshman Kyle Gibson for living up to
his considerable billing and stabilizing the Tiger bullpen. The
righthander has gone 6-3, 4.03 with seven saves.

“He’s
been a guy since Day One that we could count on, and you don’t
usually say that about a freshman,” Jamieson said. “Our
bullpen depth has gotten better as the year’s gone on, so we doní¯¿½t
have to just give the ball to Kyle. His velocity’s stayed pretty much
the same all year, and he has command of both his slider and his
changeup. He’s capable of getting both lefthanded and righthanded
hitters out.”

In The
Dugout
Daniel
Schlereth, lhp, Arizona

Schlereth is one of the
most intriguing draft-eligible sophomores in the country, thanks to
his power arm from the left side and his famous bloodlines. His
father, Mark Schlereth, won three Super Bowls in his 12-year NFL
career as an offensive lineman and is now an analyst for ESPN. Daniel
Schlereth, who transferred to Arizona from Nevada-Las Vegas after
missing his freshman season with Tommy John surgery, has gone 2-0,
2.92 with eight saves in 25 innings this season despite missing a
month with torn rib cartilage.

So
how painful is it to tear cartilage in your oblique area,
anyway?

The day that I did it, I couldn’t
breathe very well the next day, but it’s calmed down a lot. I did it
at Chase FIeld against Arizona State. I did it in the bullpen before
I threw (two perfect innings of relief), and after that it was
excruciating.

Tell me about the way you
approach hitters. Do you consider your fastball your best
pitch?

Yeah, I would say so. When Ií¯¿½m
healthy and everything’s going right, it’s usually 92-95, 96 miles an
hour. I’d say that’s my best pitch. It has some movement on it,
too–I don’t throw a four-seamer, I throw a two-seamer. Usually my
approach is just to throw early strikes and get after guys, be
aggressive and stay down in the zone. My out pitch is actually my
changeup, that’s my second pitch, and I throw a cutter/slider kind of
thing.

A lot of people know about you because
of your dad, and I know you were a good football player in high
school as well. How did your dad let you wind up as a baseball guy
instead of a football guy?

Well, first and
foremost, I’m not very tall, I’m not the biggest guy. When I was a
little kid, my dad kind of leaned me towards baseball because of all
the injuries in football. I miss football dearly, man, I wish I could
go back and play a little bit, but Ií¯¿½m happy with baseball. I like
baseball a lot.

So your dad wanted to keep
you away from the injuries, and then you had Tommy John surgery your
freshman year at UNLV.

Yeah, he kind of
jinxed me. We had talked three or four times, and the last time was
right before that injury happened, so I was like, ‘Oh, really, no
injuries, huh?’ It’s just a coincidence, and it happened for the
best, too.

How frustrating was it to miss
that whole season?

Oh my gosh, it killed me.
Over there, I wasn’t real happy at UNLV anyway even though I missed
the whole year, so after that I made a change and came over here,
which is awesome. I’ve been a huge Andy Lopez fan my whole high
school career. I’m definitely glad for the opportunity to play
baseball here at Arizona.

You said you missed
football a little bit. In high school, you threw six no-hitters, you
had a 19-strikeout game once, and you also had a 96-yard run in a
football game. Out of all these things, what’s the biggest
thrill?


Gosh, it’s tough, man. Probably, the
96-yard run was great, but striking out 19 guys out of 21 is pretty
cool too. I guess they’re even. Maybe a walk-off home run is the best
moment you can have. But as a pitcher, probably 19 strikeouts is best
there is. In high school, I tended to walk guys too. I’d strike out
18 guys and walk seven guys–my pitch count would be ridiculous. So I
guess if they weren’t making contact, I was walking them. A
no-hitter’s a no-hitter, it doesn’t really matter.

Your
dad travels to a lot of your games. Does that give you a nice little
extra boost on the road?

That’s great. If
they can’t make it, that’s fine too. It’s definitely good to talk to
him, because he’s been there, and he’s been with the professional
deal, too. It’s definitely good to look up to someone like that,
especially where he’s my dad too.

Does he
ever flash those Super Bowl rings at you when he’s trying to make a
point?

No, he never flashes them, but I know
where they are, though. I just look at those, and I’m reminded of how
successful he was in his career, so that definitely motivates
me.

You started a game earlier this season. I
heard you just felt more comfortable in the bullpen; is that what you
told Coach Lopez?

I think deep down he
really knows that my heart is as a closer. We definitely had to give
it a try, he told me he needed to give me a shot at starting, just to
see how it went. So we did that, and it didn’t work out very well, so
after that I said, ‘You know, Lopes, I guess Ií¯¿½m just a bullpen
guy.’ I just have a closer mentality, and he knows that too, so I
think it works out for both of us.

College | #2007 #Weekend Preview

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