Bull Market

Wednesday was almost a big day for the Big South, as Winthrop and Coastal Carolina went on the road and gave the top two teams in the nation all they could handle. The Eagles took a 4-1 lead against No. 2 Clemson in the fifth inning, and with ace righthander Alex Wilson on the mound that lead seemed fairly secure. But Wilson, who beat the Tigers a year ago, left a 3-and-1 fastball over the middle of the plate against against Andy D’Alessio in the sixth inning, and the senior first baseman hit it over the right field fence for a two-run homer, his first long ball of the year. Junior Taylor Harbin–moved from second base to shortstop while Stan Widmann battles a neck injury–followed with his first homer of the year in the seventh, a another two-run shot on a hanging slider. That provided Clemson with a 6-4 lead, and its strong bullpen made sure that was the end of the scoring. Nearly all of the damage came on those two mistake pitches.

“Any time you beat Alex Wilson it’s a good win,” Clemson assistant coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He’s a really good competitor, as good a guy as we’re going to face this year to be honest with you.”

The 22nd-ranked Chanticleers, meanwhile, came from behind against No. 1 North Carolina, scoring a run in the ninth inning against UNC closer Andrew Carignan to tie the score at 3-3 and force extra innings. Coastal had the bases loaded with one out in the ninth, but Carignan induced an inning-ending double play. The Tar Heels loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth and could not score, but they loaded them again in the 10th. Coastal closer Travis Risser couldn’t wriggle his way out of that one, hitting Reid Fronk with a pitch to force the winning run in from third base. Still, it was clear that Coastal is a team to be reckoned with. The Chanticleers are well coached, they play hard and there are no easy outs in the lineup.

“This is a good competitive club,” Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore said of his team. “We have a chance to be OK. Where (the Tar Heels) are ranked and some of the other teams we’ve played, we’re not better than them by any means, but we’re not light years off of them either. We had a chance to win. When we come to North Carolina or Clemson or go to Virginia later in the year, if we have a chance to win the game late in the game then we’re doing our job, and that’s all I can ask of these kids.”

Keep an eye on Coastal sophomore David Anderson, who held the Tar Heels at bay with five solid innings of work in his first start of the year. Anderson evokes comparisons to former Chanticleer star Mike Costanzo for his big, powerful frame (6-foot-5, 220) and his two-way prowess, though he went 0-for-4 at the plate yesterday. The righthander looked good off the mound, throwing strikes with an 87-89 mph fastball, a decent breaking ball and an occasional changeup.

On to this week’s mailbag:

University of South Florida has some great arms on their pitching staff and now with a new coaching staff they are on a roll. How many of them do you think will be in this year’s draft and how far do you think they can go as a team despite losing some key pitchers to the 2006 draft and a two-way guy who transferred?

Gary Bernstein

The Bulls are off to a 9-2 start, with their only losses coming in midweek games against Stetson and Florida. Their pitching staff is a big part of their early success, as righthanders Danny Otero (3-1, 0.76), Daniel Thomas (2-0, 1.12) and Chris Delaney (2-0, 1.12) make for a formidable weekend rotation. We highlighted Otero in Weekend Preview two weeks ago; here’s what South Florida coach Lelo Prado said then:

“Otero might be the best pitcher I’ve had beside Sam Militello. (He) has great control and doesn’t miss his spots . . . This guy can pitch for anyone in America and be their Friday starter.”

With a fastball that reached 89 mph and a quality slider in the 79-81 range, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Otero figures to be a solid senior draft, perhaps somewhere in the 10th-15th round range. But Thomas is the better pro prospect, even though he’s slightly undersized at 6-foot-1, 195. Thomas wasn’t drafted out of high school, having missed his entire senior season after having Tommy John surgery. But he could go somewhere between the sixth and 10th rounds this June, thanks to a fastball in the 90-93 range and a very good, hard slider in the low to mid-80s.

“He’s always had shaky command, but when he throws strikes with his fastball and slider he can be pretty good,” an American League scout said. “His fastball is straight unless he keeps it down, but when he keeps the ball down he can be effective.”

The Bulls have a very intriguing series this weekend against Central Michigan, which has plenty of pitching in its own right. The Friday night matchup between Otero and Central Michigan junior righty Josh Collmenter could be a good one.