Upsets At The LeClair

Both ranked teams participating in the Keith LeClair Classic in Greenville, N.C., went down Friday against frisky teams from the Tar Heel state. In the first game, Western Carolina toppled No. 24 North Carolina State 6-5, and in the nightcap East Carolina overcame an early 4-1 deficit to beat No. 17 Pepperdine. As usual, it’s a quality field assembled for the LeClair classic, and the first day of games did not disappoint. Some observations:

  • The Catamounts have now won consecutive games against ranked Atlantic Coast Conference foes, having beaten Georgia Tech 10-7 earlier this week. WCU will be a major factor in the Southern Conference this year thanks to a solid pitching staff and a veteran lineup powered by junior outfielder Steven Strausbaugh (17 homers a year ago, an RBI double Friday) and junior catcher Blake Murphy (14 homers in 2006, an RBI double Friday). The arms aren’t bad either–junior righthander Tyler Sexton kept the Wolfpack at bay Friday, and sophomore lefty Drew Saberhagen pitches with the guile of father Bret, if not the stuff. Also keep an eye on closer Greg Holland, who has a power arm, though he struggled a bit with his command Friday. “I think our pitching’s a little better than people give us credit for,” Catamounts coach Todd Raleigh said. “Traditionally we’re an offensive school, but our pitching’s a little bit better than people think. We’ve got a legitimate closer–Holland’s going to be a big-time player–and we’ve got three good starters.”
  • N.C. State starter Jeff Stallings didn’t have his good stuff, but freshman righty Sam Brown was impressive in relief. The Raleigh native worked two scoreless innings late in the game, striking out two and allowing just one hit. He ran his fastball up to the 90-91 range, but more notably he threw his curveball for strikes. “If he threw like that last year, he would have been taken in the first five rounds,” a scout said. Brown was drafted in the seventh round by the Nationals and has the stuff to pitch on Fridays in the not-so-distant future.
  • The Pirates took an early 1-0 lead against Pepperdine ace Barry Enright, who entered the game riding a 21.3-inning scoreless streak. The Waves answered with four in the second, keyed by freshman catcher Travis Tartamella’s two-run triple off the right-center field fence, and it looked like ECU was in trouble against Enright. But the Pirates showed considerable moxie, tying the score on a two-run double by outfielder Ryan Toulsey in the fifth and taking a 5-4 lead on Toulsey’s RBI single in the seventh. Enright worked with an 87-90 mph fastball with decent life, two separate breaking balls and a changeup that he mixed in more as the game progressed. But he left a changeup high in the zone on Toulsey’s game-tying double. “He wasn’t his sharpest today, I’m not going to lie,” Pepperdine coach Steve Rodriguez said. “Even in the second inning, we were looking at him like, ‘What’s wrong with him?’ But that’s what’s great about Barry is he’ll find a way to compete. That’s all I ask of our starters is to get us to the seventh inning with a chance to win, and he did that. When you get a chance to win like that, you’ve got to take advantage of it.”
  • Pirates starter T.J. Hose, a sophomore righthander, settled down after the rough second inning and finished with seven strikeouts and one walk over 7.2 innings. He wasn’t overpowering, with an 86-87 mph fastball, but he got the Waves to chase a number of breaking balls in the dirt, and he showed plenty of fire on the mound, pumping his fist and jumping up and down after big outs. More impressive was junior closer Shane Matthews, who struck out a pair in a scoreless ninth to preserve the win. Matthews sat in the 90-93 range with his fastball, touching 94, and the 6-foot-3 righty recorded the final out of the game with a strikeout of Ryan Heroy on an 81 mph slider. “That’s why we put Shane Matthews there last year,” East Carolina coach Billy Godwin said. “To have that guy come out of the bullpen and to hear that final countdown, that’s a great feeling. And that’s what he thrives on.”