Gophers, Lobos Make Statements In Fullerton

FULLERTON, Calif.—Making their first NCAA regional appearance since 1962, the New Mexico Lobos upset Stanford, 9-5, in the opening game of the Fullerton Regional here at Goodwin Field on Friday.

Continuing the trend, fourth-seeded Minnesota upset No. 1 Cal State Fullerton, 3-1, in the nightcap. Stanford and Fullerton now face off in the losers' bracket game, New Mexico and Minnesota in the winners' bracket game.

Colorful and opinionated, New Mexico coach Ray Birmingham held court in the interview tent after his club’s surprise victory.

“When I came to New Mexico, our practice facility had no air conditioning, no working toilets and no running water,” said Birmingham, who succeeded Rich Alday in 2008.

Matters seem to have fallen into place nicely since then. “We were very fortunate to beat Stanford,” Birmingham added.

The Cardinal out-hit the Lobos, 14-10, but Stanford pitchers issued seven walks to New Mexico’s one—a key factor in the contest, according to Birmingham. “I pitch personalities, not abilities," he said. "I want a pitcher with the personality of a guy drinking ice tea in a nuclear firestorm.”

Previous New Mexico ballclubs took advantage of the Albuquerque altitude to score runs in bunches.  Birmingham has readjusted his offensive strategy to play not only at heights but at sea level as well.

“We have patient hitters who hit line drives,” Birmingham said. “We’re not as big as Stanford—heck, we look like ninth graders compared to Stanford; they look like seniors.”

Minnesota ace Seth Rosin shut down Fullerton in the evening contest. The Brad Penny-sized righty allowed just three hits and one run in eight innings, struck out seven and—most critically—did not issue a walk. In fact, Rosin walked just 12 batters in 95 innings of regular-season work.

Rosin fires a fastball that sits in the 90-92 mph range, and he adds a 75 curve and a 77 change. While he does not possess blazing velocity, Rosin is a strike-throwing machine, moving the ball around all sections of the zone. Fullerton hitters could not square up Rosin’s fastball all evening. That pitch would either dart away at the last instant, or buzz in on the hands. To his credit, Rosin can effectively pitch inside to hitters using metal bats—a rarity in college baseball. Rosin projects as a top-three-rounds choice in next week’s draft.

Golden Gophers closer Scott Matyas tossed a perfect ninth against the Titans, who are without center fielder Gary Brown. Brown suffered a broken left middle finger in a regular-season game and will not play in this regional. Without question, the Titans are a different offensive club without the speedy Brown, who in addition to his .438 batting average has swiped 31 bases this year. He is expected to be a first-round selection in Monday’s draft.

Two first-round candidates did not fare so well Friday night. Titans shortstop Christian Colon went a soft 0-for-4 and made an error in the field. Early-round draft rumors are surrounding Minnesota right fielder/catcher Michael Kvasnicka; the Mets are believed to have interest in him with the No. 7 overall pick.

Kvasnicka had a single in five at-bats, but did show flashes of early-round talent.  At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, he is a mature-framed switch-hitter who in build and swing resembles David Cooper, taken by the Blue Jays out of California in the first round in 2008.

Exhibiting a smooth, easy, sweeping uppercut swing, Kvasnicka generates fine bat speed from a spread and balanced stance. Atypically, Kvasnicka struggled from the left side with low pitches Friday, failing to track the ball onto his bat. Despite that flaw and a few other minor technical concerns, Kvasnicka profiles as an average to plus hitter in pro ball with average power.

On Friday, Kvasnicka played right field, and while he displays an excellent arm, he is not particularly fast and has substantially more draft value as a catcher.

In the other Southern California regional, Louisiana State outlasted UC Irvine, 11-10 in 11 innings, and UCLA blasted Kent State, 15-1. LSU, with Anthony Ranaudo pitching, will face the Bruins in today’s highly anticipated winners' bracket game.