Three Strikes

See also: Top 25 Tracker
See also: Will Kimmey’s Chat Wrap

STRIKE ONE: Gorsett Goes Gonzo

Who needs
Alex Gordon? OK, the Royals do. And Nebraska
could also still use the 2005 College Player of the Year. But Luke Gorsett is
doing a fine Gordon impression this season. He went 11-for-18 with two homers
and eight RBIs last week, including game-winning RBIs in Nebraska‘s
first two wins of a series sweep of Missouri.
The junior right fielder transferred to Nebraska
after leading all junior college hitters with 24 home runs at Garden City (Kan.) CC in 2005, and he
leads the Big 12 with 14 homers this year. He’s also fourth in batting and
fifth in RBIs. Actually, all of his numbers through Nebraska‘s 29 games (he’s played in 28 of
them) compare favorably to Gordon’s 2005.

 Gorsett ’06
113  .407  .461  .858  7 14 36  10  16  4-7
 Gordon ’05 253 .372 .518 .715 22 19 66 63 38 23-26

pace looks a little faster, but he still must face Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor
and Oklahoma’"four teams with very strong pitching staffs–and make his way
through the postseason, where the pitching will at least be above-average. So
Gorsett’s numbers could end up very similar to those of Gordon a year ago.

STRIKE TWO: Well-Armed Alabama 

Conference coaches picked Alabama
to finish fifth in the SEC West in a preseason poll, but after winning a series
against then-No. 1 Mississippi State two weeks
ago and former No. 2 South Carolina this past weekend, Alabama
is 9-3 and tied with South Carolina
for the league’s best record. The thought was that Alabama might not boast enough bats to
battle with the big boys in the often offensive SEC. Well, Alabama does rank seventh among SEC teams in
on-base percentage and ninth in runs scored, but the Crimson Tide pitching
staff has proven stingy enough to make those figures not matter as much.

A rotation
of junior lefthander Wade LeBlanc (6-0, 2.47), junior righthander Bernard
Robert (5-1, 2.79) and freshman righty Tommy Hunter (5-2, 2.95) has helped Alabama to a 3.01 team
ERA and .225 opponents average. Sophomore closer David Robertson, who led the
league in strikeouts per nine innings last year, has helped Alabama win the tight ones, as has a veteran
lineup led by senior catcher Kody Valverde (.292-8-31) that scores key runs,
plays solid defense and rarely panics. So while Alabama’s formula isn’™t the
heavy-hitting one that normally leads to SEC success, this one’s working well
and looks fairly similar to the one used by Texas, Rice and Cal State Fullerton
in recent years. And those teams have won the last four College World Series. 

STRIKE THREE: Tough Schedules Breed
Tough Teams

Houston and Southern California
both lost on St. Patrick’s Day, with the Cougars dropping to 12-10 and the
Trojans sliding to 12-11. Houston has gone 9-4
since, including 7-2 in Conference USA
with series wins at East Carolina and against
Tulane, to improve to 21-14. USC is 8-3 since that point, improving to 20-14,
7-2 in the Pacific-10 with series wins against OregonState, Stanford and California.

The common
theme for both clubs is that the early .500 records weren’t signs of average
clubs, but teams that were playing two of the nation’s more difficult
non-conference schedules. According to Boyd’s World, Southern
‘s strength of schedule ranks fourth overall and its
non-conference schedule ranks seventh. Houston‘s
schedule ranks 33rd overall and 17th against non-conference teams.

So playing
tough opponents added more losses to the Cougars’™ and Trojans’™ records, but the
tactic also looks to have made both teams more battle ready early on in
conference play. And the two teams join Stanford,
and UCLA in a group of
five teams with winning percentages of .600 or lower that rank among the Top 30
in Ratings Percentage Index. That standing should help with seeding come NCAA
tournament time.


• James
Madison averages 9.6 runs per game and has reached double figures in scoring 15
times in 34 games. That makes the no-hitter Adam Ottavino threw against the Dukes in a 2-0 Northeastern win
Friday all that more impressive. The junior righthander walked three batters
and struck out a career-high 14 hitters. He’s 3-2, 3.76 with 58 strikeouts in
43 innings and needs 13 more strikeouts to tie the Northeastern career record
of 241. 

• Le Moyne
junior lefthander T.J. Sheridan
threw a seven-inning no-hitter with seven strikeouts in a 1-0 win against Manhattan in the second
game of a doubleheader. Manhattan
senior lefthander Chris Cody held
LeMoyne to only one hit while recording 10 strikeouts in leading his team to a
2-1 victory in the opener.

• The
Standard-Times of New Bedford,
, reported the 10-team Cape
Cod League will consider expanding by two teams. The new teams wouldn’t begin
play until 2007 at the earliest, with 2008 a more realistic goal. Eastham, Mashpee,
Sandwich, Nantucket, New Bedford and South Plymouth all have expressed interest in fielding
teams. The Cape last expanded in 1988.