Strike One: Golden Spikes Spotlight on Stephen Strasburg
If Stephen Strasburg made his last ever start at Tony Gwynn Stadium on Friday, he left one heck of a final impression on the school-record 3,337 fans on hand to wish him a fond farewell.
San Diego State’s otherworldly junior righthander struck out 17 in a no-hitter against Air Force, allowing just two baserunners in a 5-0 win. Strasburg retired the first nine batters he faced (seven via strikeout) before issuing a leadoff walk in the fourth. The only other baserunner reached on another leadoff walk in the sixth. Aztecs pitching coach Rusty Filter told BA correspondent John Maffei that Strasburg ran his fastball up to 101 mph twice in the 117-pitch outing, and he reached 98 twice in the ninth.
"I was giving it everything I had left at the end," Strasburg said.
Every Air Force hitter struck out at least once, and two struck out three times. The Falcons entered the game hitting .304 as a team and had averaged just 6.4 strikeouts per game this season. Even more, Strasburg was battling a cramp in his side, according to his catcher and roommate, Erik Castro.
"He’s the kind of guy where the ball comes off the bat quickly and finds holes," Castro said. "Tonight, he was missing bats. He was really special."
Strasburg, who had a pair of one-hitters last season, recorded the first no-hitter by an Aztec since 1989. He said he never threw a no-hitter in high school and could not remember if he had one in Little League. Forgive Strasburg if his highlights tend to blend together.
A day later, Strasburg received the 2008 Dick Case Award from USA Baseball, awarded to USA Baseball’s Athlete of the Year. Strasburg not only led the collegiate national team to an undefeated season (going 3-0, 1.06 with 48 strikeouts in 34 innings), he also went 1-1, 2.45 as the lone amateur on the Olympic team.
Now, Strasburg is bearing down on some more hardware. Through 12 starts, Strasburg is 11-0, 1.24 with 164 strikeouts and 17 walks in 87 innings. He has 16.9 strikeouts per nine innings, meaning he’s still on pace to break Ryan Wagner’s Division I record. And who knows? Maybe the Aztecs will finish strong and get an opportunity to host a regional, giving those fans one last look at a once-in-a-lifetime player.
Strike Two: Taking Care Of Business
Several teams have clinched conference titles with two weeks remaining before the NCAA tournament field is announced. Texas (Big 12), UC Irvine (Big West) and Elon (Southern) all wrapped up their regular-season crowns, and all are in the Top 25 rankings.
Outside the rankings, George Mason (Colonial Athletic Association) and Texas State (Southland) have also clinched their conference titles, and both are in very strong position to earn at-large NCAA tournament berths even if they fail to win their respective conference tournaments. Texas State ranks 29th in the Ratings Percentage Index, owns gaudy overall and conference records (37-12, 23-6) and has played eight games against Top 25 teams, winning three. This weekend, the Bobcats swept Nicholls State to extend their winning streak to six, a streak that includes a victory against Rice.
George Mason’s footing is a bit less secure, but the Patriots have a solid RPI (43rd) and gaudy overall and conference records (38-9, 17-4). They could use a few more quality wins—they have not played a single game against a team that has been in the Top 25 at any point this season—but they have not lost a weekend series this year (9-0) and are likely to be rewarded for their consistency. Of course, they could win the CAA tournament to render the discussion moot.
Strike Three: Power Cycle
There were plenty of standout individual efforts this weekend, but let’s highlight a pair of players who hit for the cycle. First was Dallas Baptist sophomore DH Jason Krizan, who hit for the natural cycle on Thursday against Utah Valley State. Krizan hit a single, double, triple and home run in order to help power the Patriots to a 15-14 win against Utah Valley State, in a game decided by Ryan Enos’ walk-off homer in the ninth inning. Krizan also drove in five runs for DBU, which improved to 35-14 as it chases a second consecutive regional berth.
Then on Saturday, Coastal Carolina junior DH Adam Rice hit for the cycle in the Chanticleers’ 20-7 win against Virginia Military Institute. Rice completed the cycle by the fourth inning, singling and doubling in Coastal’s nine-run first, then homering in the second and tripling in the fourth. Rice was the first Chanticleer to hit for the cycle since David Sappelt did it on April 14, 2007.
A couple of other tidbits from around the country:
• New Jersey Tech wrapped up a very forgettable 4-33 season in interesting fashion against St. Peter’s. Senior lefthander P.J. Saporito, who homered in his first collegiate at-bat on March 12, 2006, also homered in his last collegiate at-bat Sunday, slugging a grand slam in NJIT’s 14-13 loss. In between, he homered just two other times in his career.
• UC Santa Barbara was supposed to host Long Beach State this weekend, but the Jesusita Fire dusted the city with ash and forced more than 30,000 residents to evacuate. That forced the Gauchos to "host" the Dirtbags at Cal State Fullerton’s Goodwin Field, where LBSU fans greatly outnumbered UCSB backers. But Santa Barbara persevered to earn a series sweep, led by a career outing from junior righthander Joe Gardner (9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K) on Friday and a strong weekend from junior second baseman Matt Valaika (6-for-9, 6 RBI, 3 2B, HR).