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College Weekend Recap: 3/18-3/20
by Will Kimmey
Some observers chafed when scouting directors voted Baylor righthander Mark McCormick a preseason first-team All-American following a 2-4, 4.70 season.
McCormick struggled with his command early in his junior season, turning that chafing into a rash. It seems he's found an ointment lately, entering his weekend start against Texas having allowed two earned runs over his previous 18 1/3 innings.
McCormick added to that total Saturday, dominating Texas for 7 2/3 innings in 9-1 win as Baylor swept their Big 12 Conference rival out of a No. 1 ranking. No team had swept Texas since Oklahoma State did so in 1999.
"It's nice to sweep anybody," Baylor coach Steve Smith said. "But to sweep them means a little bit more because it doesn't happen very much."
The Bears basically beat the Longhorns at their own game: strong defense, timely hitting and dominant pitching. Senior second baseman Michael Griffin made a key over-the-shoulder catch Friday to prevent a runner from scoring from third and preserve a 3-2 win. He hasn't committed an error this season after moving from third base, and the entire infield has made but eight miscues. Griffin drove in the game-winner with a single off Texas All-America closer J. Brent Cox on Sunday for a 4-3 win.
Baylor held Texas to four hits in each of the first two games, and starters Cory VanAllen, McCormick and Trey Taylor went 2-0, 1.31 in 20 2/3 combined innings. McCormick provided the weekend's signature performance Saturday, clinching the series by allowing only an unearned run in 7 2/3 innings.
Smith originally hadn't planned for McCormick to pitch that game, but had to move McCormick and VanAllen up a day each to give Friday starter Taylor extra rest after having an ingrown toenail removed earlier in the week. McCormick notched a career-best 10 strikeouts and issued only one walk, marking the second time in his career he worked five or more innings and didn't allow more than one free pass.
"I don't know about expecting it, but it was what we all thought he was capable of," Smith said. "When he's throwing like he did the other night, he can pitch in any league. If he can keep it up, he's going to make himself a lot of money."
McCormick started the year with 11 walks and 10 strikeouts over his first 9 1/3 innings. His explosive fastball reached 97-98 mph, but he failed to command it. Smith bumped him from Friday starts to Sundays, behind lefthanders Taylor and VanAllen, after he walked four batters in four innings of a 9-3 loss to Oral Roberts on Feb. 18. After McCormick struggled through the first inning at Arizona State the next week, Smith advised catcher Josh Ford to change the game plan.
"I said, 'You're going to pretend he's a thumber,' " Smith said. "He started throwing his breaking ball and changeup for strikes. "Basically, we went away from the fastball. It's a mistake we made with him, and some others, if he was not locating his fastball, we would have him continue to throw it. Then when he got some confidence we went back to the fastball."
Baylor salvaged the last game of the Arizona State series behind McCormick, and his start was the only one the Bears won the following week against Long Beach State. He didn't get the decision against Long Beach State, or against Vanderbilt last weekend, but McCormick has struck out 28 batters and walked eight in 26 innings since the heading out for the second inning against the Sun Devils. He has allowed four runs (two earned) on 14 hits while posting a 0.69 ERA.
McCormick's hot streak has helped spark one for Baylor, which opened the year ranked 11th before nearly falling out of the Top 25 with a 7-6 start. The Bears have posted seven straight wins (all against ranked teams and three in McCormick starts) and eight wins in nine games overall.
Now the Bears, 15-7 and ranked No. 10, and McCormick are each living up to their preseason expectations.
AROUND THE NATION
• Tennessee righthander Luke Hochevar held Auburn hitless for eight innings Friday before finishing off a one-hit complete-game in a 2-1 win. He struck out 11 batters, walked four and retired 18 straight at one point. He's won his last five starts to improve to 5-1, 1.47.
• Long Beach State beat Wichita State 1-0 Friday in what might be the best-pitched game of the year. Dirtbags lefthander Cesar Ramos generated 11 ground ball outs and two strikeouts while throwing a four-hit shutout. Ramos hasn't allowed more than two runs over his last five starts, improving to 4-3, 1.65 on the year. Shockers righthander Mike Pelfrey allowed an unearned run in the first inning on a two-base error, a groundout and another error. He finished with 11 strikeouts, no walks and three hits allowed in a complete-game loss.
• Speaking of Long Beach State, All-America shortstop Troy Tulowitzki got his cast off last week and fielded grounders for the first time. He still can't swing a bat after breaking the hamate bone in his left hand in early February, but the staff expects him back for the start of conference play in April. Teammate Danny Mocny, a senior outfielder/third baseman, missed his third straight weekend with a shoulder injury.
• Ball State freshman righthander Ben Snyder struck out a career-high 14 Oakland batters in a seven-inning complete-game win Saturday. He allowed three hits and no walks.
• Sophomore righthander Gary Daley threw the first one-hit shutout for Cal Poly since the Mustangs moved to Division I in 1995 in a 6-0 win Saturday against Washington. Daley endured a one-hour, 29-minute rain delay in the bottom of the first inning, after which he retired the next 13 batters he faced before freshman Andy Lentz delivered Washington's lone hit in the sixth inning.
• Maybe it's time for Northwestern to get Ryan Myers in the rotation. The sophomore righthander struck out 15 Cornell batters in 7 2/3 shutout innings of relief Sunday as the Wildcats battled back from a 7-0 deficit to an 8-7 win.
• A sore shoulder caused San Diego sophomore lefthander Nate Boman (5-1, 2.28) to miss a start two weeks ago and to leave after three innings Saturday in a 4-3 loss to Loyola Marymount. It was a precautionary move, and Boman is expected to start this weekend. The Toreros started play Jan. 21, and he had worked 44 innings before St. Patrick's Day after throwing 52 innings last year as a reliever.
Teammate Justin Blaine (5-2, 2.34), a junior lefthander, is still going strong, having hurled a nation-best 65 innings already. Yet another lefthander, Cal Poly junior Garrett Olson (5-1, 3.06), who opposed San Diego that weekend, ranks second nationally with 62 innings pitched. Blaine and Olson rank second and third nationally in total strikeouts with 63 and 62, just behind Texas A&M-Corpus Christi's Trey Hearne, who has 65 K's in 52 innings to go with a 3-0, 1.90 record.
• When Arizona State All-America outfielder Travis Buck first played third base last weekend against Western Illinois, we thought it was for fun because senior Jeff Larish got to play some shortstop and center field in the same blowout victory. But Buck, a high school shortstop (aren't they all?) showed up at the hot corner again in this weekend's sweep of Oklahoma. He went 7-for-13 at the plate and handled 14 chances without an error, including recording an Arizona State season-high seven assists Saturday. He's hit safely in 12 of his last 13 games for a .371-2-21 streak with 31 runs scored.
"The move to third base is something that coach (Pat) Murphy came to me about and it is what is best for out team to get the best nine players out on the field," Buck said. "I am a baseball player and I just enjoy being out on the field, whether in the outfield or infield. To be honest, it's been really fun to get out there and relearn playing the infield like I did in high school."
• At 11-3, Michigan is off to its best start since 1987 behind a pitching staff that has allowed three earned runs in its last five games (0.60 ERA). The Wolverines held Ohio to two earned runs in a three-game road sweep over the weekend, pulling their cumulative ERA down to 2.76. Senior righthander Jim Brauer is leading the charge. He retired the first 17 batters he faced in a 5-0 win at Ohio. He allowed three hits over eight innings.
• Catawaba, N.C., native Kris Harvey destroyed his home state team as Clemson beat North Carolina twice in three games. The junior righthander/DH hit two home runs and pitched seven scoreless innings Saturday, allowing one hit in a 9-1 win. The son of former all-star close Bryan Harvey totaled three homers for the series and drove in more runs (10) than North Carolina scored (seven).
• Bryan Cipolla rang up eight RBIs and tied an Old Dominion record with six hits Friday in an 18-2 win against Princeton.
• Birmingham-Southern senior first baseman Adam Tucker hit four home runs, drove in 10 runs and scored eight more in a three-game sweep of Tennessee-Martin. He homered and recorded multiple hits in each contest.
• Princeton senior center fielder Will Venable is batting .452-3-10 with two steals in nine games since joining the baseball team. The son of 12-year major league veteran Max Venable missed spring practice and the first two games of the year while playing at a second-team all-conference level on the basketball court. The 6-foot-3 guard led the Tigers with 87 assists and ranked second in scoring (10.5 points per game), rebounding (4.0 rebounds and shooting (.512 field goal percentage).
• Virginia Military Institute senior Duke Acors struck out nine UNC Asheville batters over seven innings Friday to become VMI's career strikeouts leader with 219. The Keydets won the game 23-0.
• Wofford senior first baseman David Long became the school's Division I home runs leader by blasting his 20th career longball against Appalachian State.
• Oral Roberts senior righthander Dennis Bigley tied the school and Mid-Continent Conference wins records with No. 34 against UT Pan American on Saturday. He allowed three runs on five hits over 8 1/3 innings.
• Troy senior righthander Landon Brazell set career highs with 13 strikeouts, 11 hits allowed, 10 innings pitched and 168 pitches thrown Friday in a 7-6 complete-game victory against Belmont. Illinois-Chicago sophomore righthander Ryan Zink also worked 10 innings Friday. He allowed a run on 10 hits while notching nine strikeouts without a walk in a 2-1 win.