Three Strikes: April 21-23

STRIKE ONE: Taking Texas’ Tricks

Augie Garrido talks about having no expectations for his team and his players, a philosophy that he feels has allowed role players such as David Maroul to end up as the College World Series MVP. The same circumstance happened over the weekend in Austin, but it was a pair of Nebraska players that made the leap from obscurity to headliners: freshman righthander Charlie Shirek and sophomore third baseman Jake Mort.

Shirek helped win the second game of the weekend with 4 2/3 strong innings in which he allowed a run on three hits, keeping Texas at bay while the Cornhuskers rallied from a four-run deficit to take a 7-5 win. Mort, who had 11 RBIs in 25 starts entering the game, drove in four runs in Sunday’s clincher, including a three-run double in the sixth inning to put the game away.

Nebraska also took another page from the Garrido playbook in that it capitalized on defensive miscues. Texas made four errors in the series that led to three unearned runs; Nebraska made two and allowed one. The entire series turned on a misplayed ball by Texas center fielder Drew Stubbs. Ryan Werhle singled to center field with the bases loaded, and the ball got past Stubbs allowing a third run to score as Nebraska took a 5-4 lead. Wehrle eventually scored to cap a six-run inning.

STRIKE TWO: Daniel Deals

North Carolina held North Carolina State, the Atlantic Coast Conference leader in batting, runs, on-base percentage and slugging, to five runs and a .174 average in 32 innings in a series sweep. The sweep puts UNC in control of its own destiny to win the ACC’s regular season title. As good as outings by lefthander Andrew Miller and righthander Robert Woodard were in the first two games, Daniel Bard’s Sunday start was the best, and most important for the Tar Heels. Bard threw a four-hit shutout with eight strikeouts and no walks, and UNC coach Mike Fox called it the best game of the junior righthander’s career. It marked the second win in as many starts for Bard, who hadn’t won consecutive games since early March.

It brought a restoration of confidence and command to a pitcher who said he had never recovered from allowing 10 runs on 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings to Maryland in a March 17 loss. If this outing marks the start of prolonged success for Bard, a power pitcher with a sinking low-90s fastball and slider, North Carolina’s postseason possibilities are limitless.

STRIKE THREE: Injury Updates

Three Top 50 draft prospects suffered injuries over the weekend. An MRI revealed a strained ligament in the right arm of Arizona closer Mark Melancon (No. 14). He won’t need surgery, just three weeks of rest. Melancon missed Arizona’s series two weeks ago with a stomach virus and reported tightness in his arm last Monday. Missouri State righthander Brett Sinkbeil (No. 17) left his Friday start in the first inning with a strained oblique muscle. He threw a bullpen Monday, looked fine and will start this week as scheduled. Virginia Commonwealth righthander Harold Mozingo (No. 35) missed his start Friday after taking a line drive off his hand in his last start, April 14 against William & Mary. He’s wearing a temporary cast but hopes to pitch this weekend.

Catcher Chad Tracy served as DH for the final two games of Pepperdine’s series win against San Diego. He’s not hurt; coach Steve Rodriguez just wanted to give him some extra rest. Additionally, James Madison sophomore center fielder Kellen Kulbacki, he of the outrageous 1.014 slugging percentage, pulled a right oblique muscle Tuesday against Richmond and didn’t play in the series loss at Hofstra, where the cold weather had an impact on JMU’s level of precaution with its star. Expect Kulbacki back this weekend.