Three Strikes

Strike One: JC jump start

Entering the
season, it seemed as if a great deal of South Carolina’s success would
depend on how its freshman class fared. Coach Ray Tanner joked that he
needed top recruits Justin Smoak and Reese Havens to play like juniors.
Well, those two are batting .266 and .256, but here’s South Carolina at
22-3, 5-1 and tied for first place in the Southeastern Conference. How?
Why? Look to success in the junior college recruiting race, which has
often paid dividends for South Carolina in recent years with all-SEC
players including Chad Blackwell, Billy Buckner, Steve Pearce and Yaron

Seniors Neil Giesler and Chris Brown joined the
program in 2005 but have really gotten hot this year. Giesler hit
.254-6-24 as a junior, but a 17-game hit streak has him at .506-2-21
and leading the SEC in batting. Brown’s .375 average is about 100
points better than his mark a year ago. Cheyne Hurst (.358) and Robbie
Grinestaff (team highs of eight homers and 32 RBIs) are excelling as
members of this year’s JC class. Hurst and Grinestaff drove in five
runs apiece in the 21-4 win that capped South Carolina’s weekend sweep
of Florida.

Strike Two: Colonial Times

Mason mauled everyone’s NCAA basketball brackets by advancing to the
Final Four, and now those pesky baseballers of the Colonial Athletic
Association are knocking on the Top 25’s door. Old Dominion has won 14
games in a row and is 25-3 overall, while James Madison authored a
16-game win streak as part of its 19-5 start. Both teams are 9-0 in the
conference after missing the CAA tournament last year. They meet this
weekend at Old Dominion in a well-timed showdown.

ODU’s start
matches its 1994 club for the best start to a season since moving to
Division I in 1977. Current Florida coach Pat McMahon guided the
Monarchs then, and now it’s Jerry Meyers, in his second year after
serving as South Carolina’s pitching coach for eight seasons. Like at
South Carolina, Meyers’ rotation racks up the strikeouts: senior
righthander Kevin Gunter (4-2, 3.64) has recorded 45 strikeouts in 47
innings, junior righty Jason Godin (6-0, 3.74) has 59 in 53 innings and
freshman righthander Dan Hudson (4-0, 1.85) has 39 in 44 innings.

Madison has slugged its way to most of its wins thus far (with 13
homers and counting for Kellen Kulbacki), but also showed it could
pitch a little over the weekend. Junior righthander Travis Miller and
senior lefthander Greg Nesbitt threw consecutive four-hit complete-game
shutouts against Virginia Commonwealth before sophomore righty Ryan
Reid allowed his ration of four hits over eight innings to complete the

Strike Three: Finally, TV

released its schedule of regular season telecasts for 2006. Now, wait a
minute as we yawn. The 12-game schedule features only one game on ESPN,
with all the rest on ESPNU. By comparison, last year’s slate comprised
35 games, with 19 on ESPN or ESPN2 and 16 on ESPNU. The need to fill
air time created by the NHL strike led to last season’s largesse, and
while the ratings weren’t insane, cutting 22 games off the overall
schedule and 18 from the national networks seems a bit much if ESPN was
hoping to build a following leading up to its postseason coverage. This
year’s slate also offers fewer sexy matchups when compared to last
year’s. And while fans of the Metro Atlantic Athletic and Southwestern
Athletic conferences might enjoy their air time, these are hardly games
that will shed much light on the race to Omaha.

March 31 Texas at Oklahoma ESPNU
April 1 Texas at Oklahoma ESPNU
April 2 Texas at Oklahoma ESPNU
April 14 Birmingham-Southern at Coastal Carolina ESPNU
April 16 Missouri State at Wichita State ESPNU
April 25 Purdue at Notre Dame ESPNU
April 29 Alcorn State at Jackson State ESPNU
April 30 Delaware State at North Carolina A&T ESPNU
May 12 Tennessee at South Carolina ESPNU
May 13 Tennessee at South Carolina ESPN
May 13 High Point at Winthrop ESPNU
May 27 Big East Tournament Championship ESPNU


Long Beach State has lost seven straight games and stands 12-15 on the
year. It hasn’t been under .500 this late in the season since the
program adopted the nickname Dirtbags in 1989. There was some good news
in Bagland, however, as junior third baseman Evan Longoria, who left Sunday’s game after getting hit in the head by a Dustin Miller pitch, suffered no ill effects and will play this weekend against UC Irvine.

Fear the Turtle. Maryland stopped James Madison’s win streak at 16
games Wednesday before ending Miami’s 16-game streak on Saturday.
Fresno State (15), Old Dominion (14) and West Virginia (13) own the
nation’s longest active streaks, and ODU plays host to Maryland on

• Shoulder tendinitis cost Missouri junior righthander Max Scherzer his second consecutive start over the weekend. The Tigers still beat Kansas State twice in three games.

• Michigan freshman righthander Zach Putnam earned his first career win Friday by holding Oakland to two unearned runs on two hits over five innings. Older brother Dylan Putnam had a great view of Zach’s five strikeouts–he’s Oakland’s first-year head coach.

• From the stats are fun department comes this nugget: Western Carolina junior catcher Blake Murphy
drove in 19 runs last week, including 10 in a Tuesday doubleheader. He
totaled 12 RBIs in all of 2005. Despite that, he couldn’t even win one
of those superfluous conference player of the week awards as the
Southern Conference went with teammate Trey McDaniel’s week of three homers, 13 runs, 12 RBIs and nine walks.

• Arkansas used its third- and fourth-string second basemen in a series loss to Georgia. Ben Tschepikow is out indefinitely with a back injury, and freshman James Ewing will miss at least three weeks with a stress fracture in his foot. Stephen Robison and Logan Forsythe manned the spot in their stead.