STRIKE ONE: Down The Stretch They Come
Texas and Clemson began the season ranked as the top two teams in the country. Both encountered some struggles along the way, but have surged back into the Top 5 this week on the strength of double-digit win streaks. No. 3 Texas (38-15, 19-4) has won a season-high 10 games in a row and has lost only one series (against Nebraska) since March 5. When Nebraska and Oklahoma both got swept over the weekend, Texas clinched the Big 12 Conference regular-season. No. 4 Clemson (39-13, 21-6) has run off 11 straight wins, including three consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference sweeps–including two this week, against Duke on Monday and Tuesday and then Florida State over the weekend–to take over first place in the league. It can clinch a share of the ACC regular-season title with one win against Wake Forest.
Kentucky and Georgia have ripped off similar runs in the Southeastern Conference. Kentucky (40-11, 19-8) has won eight straight games and 15 of its last 16 while sweeping three of its last for SEC series. Georgia (35-16, 16-11) has 11 straight wins and three straight SEC series sweeps. These simultaneous streaks set up for a fun finish this weekend when the two teams meet in Athens.
STRIKE TWO: Cardinal Comeback
Three weeks ago, Stanford had lost six straight series and stood in last place in the Pacific-10 at 17-18, 3-9. The Cardinal have won three straight series and 10 of their 13 games since, a run that includes a series win against Arizona State and a series sweep at Washington, where Greg Reynolds beat Tim Lincecum on Friday. The hot streak puts Stanford in fifth place in the Pac-10 at 27-21, 10-11. It if can hold that positioning, the program can keep alive its streak of making regionals every year since 1993 thanks to a strong finish and a top 40 placement in the Ratings Percentage Index.
“It’s not often in a conference like the Pac-10 you can get a sweep, especially on the road,” Stanford coach Mark Marquess. “Hopefully, this is an indication of the way we are playing right now. We played really well today in all aspects of the game.”
The key aspect for Stanford has been pitching. The Cardinal have posted a 2.69 ERA in their last nine games (eight of them wins) after posting a 4.55 mark for the previous 39 games.
STRIKE THREE: Tulane Takes It Up A Notch
On April 9, Tulane sat at 20-14 and looked like a young team trying to find its way offensively. The talent was there, but the key hits weren’t. They’re coming now. Tulane overcame 5-0 and 3-0 deficits with seventh- and eighth-inning rallies Saturday and Sunday to sweep Southern Mississippi and improve to 37-16, 13-8 in Conference USA. With 17 wins in its last 19 games, including five CUSA sweeps, Tulane now should be a lock to make their eighth straight NCAA appearance.
“We’ve gotten dominant pitching and dominant defense since the beginning of the year,” senior outfielder Matt Riser said. “Of late, with the favorable schedule we’ve had, we’ve gotten on roll of consistency at the plate. We’re getting hits in late innings. We’re getting confidence, and a lot of hitting’s got to do with that. When you get in the box, you’ve got to be confident.”
• Cal State Fullerton closer Vinnie Pestano was an out away from his 14th save Wednesday against Southern California when he left the game after feeling a twinge in his elbow. An MRI showed a strained muscle in his upper right forearm, but no ligament damage. He was scheduled to see Dr. Lewis Yocum on Tuesday for further confirmation. There’s no timetable set for Pestano’s return, but he’ll need to be back at full strength if the Titans are going to make a run to the College World Series. His 37 innings rank fourth on the team (behind the three weekend starters), and he’s 2-1, 0.97 with 43 strikeouts and 14 walks.
• Top-seeded Lehigh (27-25) beat Bucknell 14-2 and 5-0 to earn the first Patriot League tournament championship and NCAA tournament berth in school history.
• San Francisco and Pepperdine each swept their final West Coast Conference series to finish as co-champions with 15-6 records. The Dons earned their first-ever WCC baseball title and will host the league’s best-of-3 championship series by virtue of its series win against the Waves during the regular season. USF began the year 5-11 before winning 10 of its last 11 series and 11 of its last 12 games overall. Pepperdine has appeared in the WCC championship series in all eight years of its existence.
• Rice sophomore Joe Savery pitched for the first time since March 26 (shoulder tendinitis) last week. He threw an inning in a midweek win against Lamar before starting the finale of the series win against Houston. Savery wasn’t great, allowing three runs on six hits in 2 2/3 innings Sunday in a 13-3 win, but his getting back on the mound stands as a positive for a team expected to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Savery also went 9-for-18 at the plate with nine RBIs, including five Sunday.
• Northwestern junior lefthander Dan Brauer threw a seven-inning no-hitter in a 7-0 win against Michigan State. He struck out eight batters and walked one in his second straight seven-inning shutout. Brauer improved to 6-0, 2.17 in Big 12 Conference play.
• Illinois-Chicago (31-17, 20-6) clinched the Horizon League in decisive fashion, out-scoring Butler 50-6 in a three-game series. Add that to a 23-5 midweek pasting of Big 10 Conference co-leading Northwestern, and the Flames scorched opponents for 73 runs and a .506 average on the week.
• Georgia beat Georgia Tech 5-4 in 11 innings Thursday, but the most impressive feat might have been the 19,119 fans that packed into Turner Field. That figure might have been higher had the game not been moved back a day because of poor weather.