|N.C. State vs. Miami|
With the uniform start date in place, many teams have lost the luxury of easing into conference play by warming up with a month of nonconference action. It’s Week Three, and already league play is beginning for the Atlantic Coast, Atlantic Sun, Southland and Sun Belt conferences. It actually started last week for the Southwestern Conference.
Of the power conferences, the ACC is the only one kicking off the conference schedule this weekend. The full slate of ACC games is highlighted by Clemson’s visit to North Carolina (check Monday’s Three Strikes for a recap and analysis of this series), Virginia’s trip to Wake Forest (a set featuring two teams with a combined 15-1 record, but against soft competition) and North Carolina State’s series at Miami.
The Wolfpack and Hurricanes each began the season on the periphery of the top 25, and Miami has since vaulted to No. 15 in the rankings after sweeping a three-game series at then-No. 24 Florida. N.C. State was stunned in its season-opening tournament in Raleigh, dropping its first two games against Rhode Island (which later upset Miami in midweek action) and Xavier. But the ‘Pack has rebounded with seven straight wins to match Miami’s 7-2 record heading into this weekend.
“We felt good about our club all fall and all spring; we know we’re kind of young. We were probably more shocked than anything after the first couple of games,” N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said. “To open it up at home, we were a little shocked the way we played. I think it’s going to be a growing experience all spring. We have a lot of guys who haven’t played before. Once we get some at-bats, hopefully we’ll be fine.”
The Wolfpack was a pitching-dominated team last year, and it rode its
Freshman first baseman Harold Riggins is off to a 7-for-16 start (.438)
“He is flying under the radar,” Avent said of Maynard. “(Assistant
N.C. State has gotten used to being able to rely on its arms, and its
Fortunately, ace junior lefthander Jimmy Gillheeney has become an
“You can go ahead and dodge Hernandez because he’s so good, or you can
“Gillheeney has been outstanding. He’s a year older, a year stronger,
Sophomore righty Jake Buchanan will start Saturday against Miami junior
“Last year, you could not make a mistake. If you did, they banged you,”
The Hurricanes lost All-Americans Yonder Alonso, Jemile Weeks and Blake
“He’s a really good athlete, he can run and throw, and the ball jumps
Miami’s most touted freshman, corner infielder Harold Martinez (.375
The weekend rotation features two new faces after Hernandez, as last
The bullpen has a veteran stalwart in sidewinding closer Kyle Bellamy
So there are some older players to provide stability, but the ‘Canes
“I don’t know what to expect right now from our guys,” Morris said.
“We’d better get after it this weekend. N.C. State to me is always a
|Gonzaga’s Ryan Carpenter vs. Texas Tech’s A.J. Ramos|
|Maybe it lacks the cachet of the Gillheeney-Hernandez matchup (or any number of others), but good luck finding a more intriguing pitching matchup than Carpenter against Ramos on Saturday at the Palm Springs (Calif.) Baseball Invitational, which kicks off tonight. Carpenter, a 6-foot-5 lefthander, is one of the nation’s top freshmen and a key part of Gonzaga’s surprising 6-2 start (which includes a pair of wins against Missouri). Ramos, a 5-foot-10 senior righthander, is just 10 months removed from Tommy John surgery and already looks stronger than ever.
Carpenter, a native of Peoria, Ariz., was the jewel of Gonzaga’s
“The big thing is his strike-throwing ability,” Machtolf said. “So far
Ramos has been a prominent member of the Red Raiders’ pitching staff
“Halfway through the fall, we held money to bring him back, but we just
Ramos has been on a strict pitch count through two weeks—50 in his
Ramos has shown excellent stuff so far, running his fastball up to the
“The slider is the No. 2 pitch, but he really has four very solid
|Ross Heffley, of/2b, Western Carolina|
|Bobby Moranda was an assistant coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference for 20 years between stints at Virginia, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, but had to go to the Southern Conference for a top job, at Western Carolina. The Catamounts program has catapulted others (Jack Leggett, Keith LeClair, Todd Raleigh) to bigger and better things, and Moranda could get Western on its way if his top recruit to the program keeps hitting like this.
Ross Heffley is a 5-foot-7, 175-pound freshman whom Moranda calls “our Dustin Pedroia.” Heffley starred at Brookwood High in suburban Atlanta, helping lead the team to the 6-A Georgia state championship. However, Heffley wasn’t heavily recruited due mostly to his size.
Moranda had seen Heffley at a showcase when he was an assistant coach at Georgia Tech, and his associate head coach, Dave Haverstick, had done the same when he worked at Savannah College of Arts & Design. They dug up their notes when Heffley e-mailed them to see if Western Carolina had interest; at that point, Heffley was resigned to going to junior college. Moranda and Haverstick had written positively about Heffley in their old notes, and Heffley came to Cullowhee, N.C., the next day. He left after accepting a scholarship offer.
Now Heffley has climbed into the No. 3 hole in the Catamounts’ lineup. He’s shown a plus arm, average speed (6.95 second in the 60) and an aggressive, powerful swing, a la Pedroia. He was off to a 14-for-26 start (.538) with a team-best eight RBIs, moving to left field in deference to junior second baseman Nick Liles, the team’s leadoff hitter.
“He had five extra-base hits in the series against Southern Cal,” said Moranda, whose team won two of three from the Trojans. “The USC players were asking our guys about him. Scott Boras’ son plays for SC, and he was at one of the games and asked me after the game about this guy. He’s 5-foot-8 and has the best power on our team. He’s just got great hands and flat-out hits.”
The Bulldogs have matched the 1911 Georgia squad with a 9-0 start, the best in school history. And they’re doing it in dominating fashion.
Georgia has played 81 innings this season and has yet to trail after any of them. Georgia’s pitching was supposed to be its strength—and the staff has been outstanding, posting a 2.89 ERA and an 88-23 strikeout-walk ratio—but the offense has been even better. The Dawgs lead all Southeastern Conference teams in batting (.376), on-base percentage (.482), hits (128) and doubles (27) while ranking second behind Louisiana State in runs (106), walks (63) and slugging (.624). And while many of those numbers are inflated by six total games against Youngstown State, Presbyterian and Wofford, the Bulldogs also outscored Arizona 33-14 in a three-game sweep in Tucson.
Georgia coach David Perno regarded last fall’s recruiting haul as the best in school history, and the freshmen in that class are making huge impacts immediately, especially in the lineup. Freshman outfielder Johnathan Taylor has started seven of nine games and leads the team with a .538 batting average and six steals in eight attempts. Fellow freshmen Levi Hyams (.333), Chase Davidson (.323) and Colby May (.290 with four homers, tied for the team lead) have also produced immediately in the lineup.
“Offensively you just can’t say enough about our guys,” Perno said following a 13-6 win against Wofford this week. “We’re playing a lot of guys and they are all coming up big for us. The depth we have really allows us to stay fresh and sharp.”
Georgia’s pitching depth, though, will come in handy this weekend against Quinnipiac. Junior lefthander Alex McRee, who has gone 2-0, 0.00 as the Saturday starter after spending the last two years in the bullpen, has mononucleosis. He’ll miss his start this weekend and will be reassessed on a weekly basis. Power-armed sophomore righty Justin Grimm (0-0, 4.66) will replace him as Saturday starter this week, and senior lefty Jason Leaver (2-0, 2.00) will start Sunday.
|The Gaels have been as hapless in getting off to an 0-6 start as Georgia has been dominating in opening 9-0. Iona has a 13.59 team ERA, but opponents are averaging 18.73 runs per game against them thanks to 28 unearned runs on 24 errors in six games. Opponents have hit just six homers against the Gaels but are batting .372, have drawn 58 walks (against 28 strikeouts), and have been hit by 11 pitches. And it’s not like Iona is facing the 1927 Yankees; their losses are against Buffalo, William & Mary and Richmond.
On the bright side, Iona’s offense has been just below-average, not putrid like the pitching staff and defense. The Gaels are batting .250 as a team, led by Chris Burke’s .467 mark and Andre Passarelle’s .385.
Iona will try to right the ship this weekend at the Navy Tournament in Annapolis, Md. The Gaels play two games against the Midshipmen and two against Central Connecticut State.
|Stat Of The
|Aggregate winning percentage of the 15 Division I independents that have begun play in 2009 (New Jersey Tech was rained out last weekend and hopes to open at West Virginia this weekend). Just one of the 15—independent powerhouse Dallas Baptist—has a winning record (5-3), but the combined record of all 15 is 24-73. Perennial punching bag Chicago State plays its first 22 games on the road and has gotten off to an 0-9 start against Nicholls State, Charleston Southern and New Mexico State. The other 0-9 team is Texas-Pan American, while Houston Baptist (in the second year of its transition back to Division I) is 0-8.|
The Golden Eagles were expected to be a pitching-and-defense outfit in 2009, but they reached double digits in scoring in their first seven games and have racked up 100 runs overall in their 8-1 start. Seniors Brian Dozier (.487) and Bo Davis (.464) have led the offensive barrage while holding down shortstop and center field, respectively, but Davis will miss the next two weeks after tearing a a meniscus tendon in his knee. Freshman right fielder Kameron Brunty (.432) has been a revelation, and junior Taylor Walker (.400) has stepped at second base for injured mainstay James Ewing, who has missed time with a nearly identical injury to Davis’. Meanwhile, sophomore righthander Todd McInnis (2-0, 0.66) has emerged as the ace of a pitching staff that has posted a 1.98 ERA through nine games.
Southern Miss owns solid midweek wins over New Orleans, South Alabama and Louisiana-Monroe, as well as a quality series win against Louisiana-Lafayette, but the Eagles get their first major test this weekend when No. 7 Cal State Fullerton comes to Hattiesburg for a three-game set. An American League area scout who has seen Southern Miss offered his opinion about the Eagles.
“I’ll tell you what, that is a good, good college baseball team. Position player-wise, they’re nine guys, none of them are really standout pro prospects. They’re all college-sized with college ability. They all can play defense, they’re juniors and seniors so they’re experienced. They’re going to win a lot of games because they play the game right. They make contact, they’re aggressive at the plate, they spray the ball around. They’ll just put pressure on other teams, and they’re not going to beat themselves.
“They’ve got this leadoff hitter, Bo Davis, he can really run—he’s a sparkplug for them. He steals bases and plays real good defense in the outfield. He’s got a wide stance and can hit a few homers, too. Dozier is a good college shortstop—a senior, a leader, he makes the plays he’s supposed to make. He doesn’t have tremendous range, he probably has a fringe-average arm, but he can make the plays around him and has good hands. He’s probably their most experienced hitter who has the best approach of any of them. He makes good contact and drives the ball around the field. For pro ball, I don’t think the bat will propel him into the big leagues and he’s not going to play shortstop.
“Brunty is a lefthanded hitter batting second for them. He can run. He doesn’t have an average right fielder’s arm, but he’s got a good bat, man. He squares the ball up and he can drive it. He’s a good-looking freshman. He’s the only underclassman playing, the rest of the team are juniors and seniors. He’s their best pro prospect.
“Taylor Walker and (third baseman) Josh Fields are good, veteran, complementary players who do what they’re supposed to do. They’re good college players.
“McInnis has good stuff, but as far as professional ball, he’s just little—he has a real slight build. He did a good job, showed good pitchability, threw strikes. His fastball was 90-91. McInnis had a good breaking ball and a pretty good changeup. He moved the ball around and threw a lot of strikes. He’s just a little guy.
“If I was just a college baseball fan, shoot, I’d go watch them play a lot, because they’re fun to watch. Once they run up against a team with some good arms, their offense is not an offense that’s going to pound on some good pitching. They should be able to manufacture runs because they’re a scrappy team, but they’re not going to wow you with overall athletic ability; they’ll wow with how good of a team they are. I think they could host a regional, maybe. I don’t know if they have the pure pitching, the big power arms that you might need, but they’re going to win some games, just because they can play.”
|Matt den Dekker, of, Florida|
|Den Dekker, a junior center fielder, has always stood out for his athleticism, and he started tapping into his potential last spring, batting .333/.419.507 with eight homers, 48 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 20 attempts for the Gators. His all-around game stood out last summer, when he started 20 of Team USA’s 24 games and hit .229. Scouting directors voted the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder to the preseason All-America second team in 2009 thanks to his five-tool potential, and he’s off to a .265/.426/.382 start through 10 games. One American League scout said den Dekker is an above-average runner with a solid-average arm and above-average defense. He has good raw power, but the scout said his bat remains a question. Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said den Dekker has improved offensively since last year.
“He’s a lot more aggressive. He doesn’t miss his pitch as much as he did a year ago,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s competitive, and he expects more out of himself than maybe he did last year. He wasn’t very strong last year, so he had to cheat a little bit on the inner half, but he’s probably put on 15 pounds of muscle in the last year. He’s really filled out. He’s always had the frame, and he’s worked hard in the weight room. That’s probably the biggest difference from last year—he’s made some strides confidence-wise, but also physically he’s just a different kid.”
You guys got off to a great first weekend, and even when you weren’t able to get hits, it looked like you had productive at-bats, moving runners along, that kind of thing. How do you think your offensive game is progressing?
My swing’s been feeling good. I try to use all sides of the field, not just pull. I’ve been working on hitting lefthanders, and I think I’m getting better at that. I’ve still got some work to do to get where I want to be.
How did you grow as a hitter last summer with Team USA?
I struggled a little bit, but I tried to focus on my approach, use more of the field. I was more of a pull hitter—my swing was long so I tried to shorten that up. If you’re not making solid contact with the wood, you’re not going to be successful. You’ve got to work on making hard contact every at-bat. I was working on trying to cut down on strikeouts and use my speed.
What was that entire experience like last year, representing your country and being part of a team that went 24-0?
It was an honor to play on the U.S. national team. I got to play with some great guys. It was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything—I got to go out of the country and play some other top players. I learned a lot about my game. It was exciting to win that 11-inning game against Japan in the FISU World Championships—it was an exciting finish.
Did you have a favorite stop during the summer?
The first place we went, the Netherlands, it was kind of like an SEC atmosphere. We were kind of the crowd favorite other than the home team.
You’ve come a long way since you arrived at Florida, playing for Team USA last year and starting this year as a preseason All-American. What has been the key to your development?
I signed late with Florida and I didn’t really get a lot of attention out of high school. The coaches worked with me and really helped me develop. I really owe it to them—they pushed me, and I’ve worked hard, and they know a lot about the game and I’ve taken everything in and put it to work.
Are you one of those guys who always wanted to be a Gator?
I lived down South and played for Westminster Academy, and I really just wanted to play anywhere I could. I got the opportunity to come to Florida, and it’s been awesome—I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. It’s a great campus, a great college town, just an awesome school.
It seems like a pretty great place to go to school. What kind of things do you like to do when you’re not playing baseball?
A lot of our time is out here on the field, but when I’m home I like to just relax, play some video games, nothing too crazy, just try to get my rest in. I’m pretty laid-back, but also at the same time, I’m competitive out here, and when I’m home playing video games I get at it with my roommates too.
So, over the last few years the football and basketball teams here have won championships. Are you guys next?
We’ve been working hard and we want to get this team back to Omaha. It’s been a while. We’re looking for big things this year.