Three Strikes

Strike One: Let’s Go Mo (Valley)

was a big weekend for the Missouri Valley Conference. It earned four
bids (three at-large) in the men’s basketball tournament, a happening
that engendered plenty of coverage for the league.

While it’s
not likely to earn that many NCAA bids in baseball, the MVC boasts two
clubs on double-digit winning streaks. Wichita State (17-2) has reeled
off wins in its last 13 games and broke into the rankings at No. 23
this week. The Shockers boast the nation’s most versatile middle
infield, with second baseman Damon Sublett and shortstop Noah Krol
batting .408-4-16 and .326-1-5 while combining to allow only one run in
15 innings of relief. Sublett has earned a win and three saves while
recording 12 strikeouts, while Krol has notched 11 strikeouts and two

Creighton started the season 0-3 but has run off 11
straight wins. Creighton won the MVC a year ago thanks to its pitching
and defense. This year’s club has out-slugged opponents thus far. The
Bluejays have scored eight or more runs in eight of their 11 wins, with
junior catcher Chris Gradoville (.448-8-26) and senior third baseman
Zach Daeges (.360-5-14) leading the way. Gradoville hit six homers and
drove in 18 runs last week in a five-game road trip through Tennessee.

Strike Two: Baby Bruins

teams in the Top 25 earned the focus in Friday’s weekend preview, but
the impact of first-year players extends beyond the rankings. UCLA is
11-11, but has won six of its last eight games, including series wins
at North Carolina State and against Mississippi to knock both teams out
of the rankings. The Bruins already have played 11 games against ranked
teams, going 6-5.

UCLA went 15-41 a year ago in coach John
Savage’s first year. He restocked the club with one of the nation’s
best recruiting classes, and rather than let the players learn through
practice and watching from the bench, he’s stuck tons of freshman in
the everyday lineup. As many as six freshman have filled the batting
order at times, and UCLA has started freshmen at all four infield
positions and catcher on three occasions.

Shortstop Brandon
Crawford (.337-2-10), third baseman Jermaine Curtis (.277-0-6) and
catcher Ryan Babineau (.219-2-9) have started nearly every game, with
second baseman Eddie Murray, first baseman Cody Decker and DH Blair
Dunlap also seeing time. Yet another freshman, Tim Murphy, started six
games in the outfield and was batting .300-1-4 when he broke his wrist
in mid-February.

Junior starters Hector Ambriz, Dave Huff and
Tyson Brummett have pitched well enough to keep the games close so the
young hitters don’t have the pressure of needing to score 10 runs per

Strike Three: Here Come The Hurricanes

sure was weird to see Miami with a 6-6 record in mid-February. But it
was–and is–a young Hurricanes team, and five of those defeats came
against veteran clubs in Winthrop and Florida. Miami hasn’t lost since,
running its win streak to 10 games. And though its opponents during the
stretch–Bethune-Cookman, Indiana, Michigan State and Virginia
Tech–aren’t likely to show up in a super-regional this year, Miami
continues to mature and build confidence.

Catcher Eddy
Rodriguez (batting a team-best .367 after a week of four multi-hit
games) and center fielder Jon Jay (.319-3-16) are performing as
expected in their junior seasons, while three freshmen have quickly
become producers: first baseman Yonder Alonso leads the team with 31
RBIs to go with a .364 average, while left fielder Blake Tekotte (.346
with seven steals) and second baseman Jemile Weeks (.304, three steals)
have proven solid table settlers. Meanwhile, sophomores Carlos
Gutierrez and Manny Miguelez have combined to go 9-2, 2.05 in 88