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Three Strikes
Quick impressions on the weekend in college baseball

by Will Kimmey
March 20, 2006

Strike One: Mississippi State rolls on

Mississippi State won four games last week to remain the nation's only undefeated team while extending its record to 15-0. That's a better start than the 1985 Bulldogs club that featured future major league all-stars Jeff Brantley, Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Thigpen. Mississippi State has relied on one of the deepest and most effective pitching staffs in the nation, one that has delivered a 2.07 ERA and held opponents to a .222 average.

Junior righthander Josh Johnson leads the way with a 4-0, 1.42 record after throwing eight scoreless innings Saturday against Tennessee. He's part of a rotation that has produced 11 quality starts (six or more innings with three or fewer earned runs allowed) in 15 games. The relief corps hasn't been ugly, either, compiling a 1.04 ERA in 43 innings thus far, led by senior righthander Brett Cleveland's four saves and 1.23 ERA.

The offense hasn't bludgeoned anyone aside from Alabama-Birmingham in a 20-4 win Tuesday, but that could change. Mississippi State has stranded 144 runners in 15 games and has five hits in 33 at-bats with the bases loaded. Those are ugly numbers, but the law of averages reminds us that the Bulldogs should start getting a few breaks in the near future.

"To win 15 straight, you've got to pitch, hit and play defense, and for the most part this season we've done a pretty good job with that," Mississippi State coach Ron Polk said.

Strike Two: Kansas State climbs with Hill

Brad Hill went 418-91, made seven Division II College World Series appearances and won a national championship in nine years as coach at Central Missouri State. His first three seasons at Kansas State have each seen progress, as evidenced by his team's current 15-game win streak and 16-1 start. Both are school records.

Wichita State is the only ranked team to fall during K-State's streak, and no one's predicting the Wildcats to capture the Big 12 title, but wins are wins and progress is progress for a program that was 15-37 in 2003. That was the year before Hill arrived; his first club went 26-30, and his second one went 30-25 to become the 10th Wildcats team in nearly 100 years to win 30 games.

Kansas State visits Missouri this weekend for its first conference series, and plays host to Nebraska and Texas the following two weekends. Those results will help bring into focus which goal is more realistic for K-State in 2006: getting out of the conference cellar for the first time since 2002 or making its first NCAA tournament.

Strike Three: Morgan mows 'em down

Missouri's Max Scherzer didn't make his start Friday night because of tightness in his biceps. Nebraska's Joba Chamberlain has missed two straight starts with tightness in his triceps. Texas' Kyle McCulloch has slumped as a junior, going 1-4, 4.10. So who's the biggest (healthy) gun in the Big 12? Try Texas Tech redshirt freshman righthander Miles Morgan. He struck out 15 Texas hitters in a complete game Saturday. That marked the most strikeouts by a Red Raiders pitcher in Big 12 play, and two shy of the conference record. Morgan allowed a run on four hits. He didn't issue a walk and threw 132 pitches. He's 4-1, 3.74 with a 60-11 strikeout-walk ratio in 46 innings this year, thanks to a fastball that reaches the mid 90s. Morgan foreshadowed his strong debut by dominating the Central Illinois League last summer, leading it in strikeouts and ranking as its top prospect.

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