Three Strikes

Strike One: Mississippi State rolls on

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.

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.

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

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

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.