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Rain typically means bad news. It also typically doesn’t strike Southern California—at least according to a certain popular song.
But this isn’t a typical weekend.
|TOP 25 SERIES|
|Penn State at (1) Texas Christian|
|Virginia Commonwealth at (2) Florida State|
|William & Mary (3) Florida|
|UNC Greensboro at (5) South Carolina|
|(6) East Carolina at Mississippi|
|(23) Stanford at (8) Cal State Fullerton|
|Wright State at (10) Clemson|
|(11) Vanderbilt at San Diego|
|(12) Washington at Santa Clara|
|(14) North Carolina State at Hawaii|
|Kentucky at (17) North Carolina|
|(18) Oklahoma State at Grand Canyon|
|(19) UC Santa Barbara at Loyola Marymount|
|(20) Long Beach State at Oklahoma|
|Eastern Kentucky at (22) Arizona|
With poor weather in the forecast for much of Southern California, rain has provided a gift of sorts: the college baseball season will begin early. The NCAA granted a waiver to a few schools in Southern California to allow them to open the season Thursday as they try to beat inclement weather this weekend. No. 8 Cal State Fullerton will host No. 23 Stanford beginning Thursday night instead of Friday; No. 19 UC Santa Barbara will open on the road instead of at home, traveling to Loyola Marymount and opening on Thursday afternoon, as well. No. 20 Long Beach State will maintain its Friday opener against Oklahoma but will move the series to Norman, Okla., instead of playing at home.
San Diego coach Rich Hill, whose Toreros will open the season on Thursday against No. 11 Vanderbilt instead of Friday, said he applauded the NCAA for approving the scheduling changes.
“We’re all fired up, man,” Hill said. “Rather than have Vanderbilt sit in a hotel room when it’s clear and perfect weather to play night baseball, we get to play a game, and the rest is going to be hit-and-miss. We’re supposed to get a ton of rain here in Southern California over the next 72 hours. We just have to find those little windows.”
Whether or not the remainder of the series is played as scheduled, Hill said he’s looking forward to the challenge of facing the talented Commodores, whom the Toreros also played in Nashville to start last season. The series kicks off a rigorous non-conference slate for San Diego, who will play the likes of Notre Dame, Oregon, Southern California, UCLA, Michigan, Louisiana State and Tulane in the season’s first four weeks.
Those early battles should serve as a valuable barometer.
“We have a saying, ‘If you wanna be a millionaire, hang around millionaires,’” Hill said. “If you wanna be an Omaha team, let’s see what it looks like.”
Vanderbilt could certainly be an Omaha team come June—as it was in 2014 and 2015—with a roster loaded with talent, namely first-team Preseason All-America outfielder Jeren Kendall and righthander Kyle Wright (No. 2 and No. 5, respectively, in the BA College Top 100). Wright (8-4, 3.09) will get the Opening Day nod against San Diego sophomore Nick Sprengel (5-7, 5.92), a hard-throwing lefthander whose command and secondary stuff have taken a jump, Hill said.
Behind Wright, the Commodores will likely turn to sophomore righthanders Patrick Raby (7-1, 2.61) and Chandler Day (2-1. 4.26) to round out the rotation. Hill, on the other hand, didn’t commit to a set rotation behind Sprengel, saying he plans to mix and match out of the bullpen. The Toreros have several talented arms at their disposal, including touted freshman lefthander Miles Sandum.
“’There is no Game 8,’ to quote Joe Maddon,” Hill said. “So that is our rotation. It’s Nick Sprengel and then TBA, TBA. Mississippi State had a great model (a couple of years ago) where the relievers had more innings than the starters. And that’s I think how we’re going to go about this thing. We have seven guys who can go between three and five innings and be very effective, righties and lefties. And we’ll probably use that model for a while and see how that goes.”
The series should be a competitive one, with several high-velocity arms and draft prospects on both sides. Hill said he’s excited about the return of speedy center fielder Colton Waltner from a torn UCL a year ago, and junior Riley Adams (.327/.443/.512) was voted a first-team Preseason All-American catcher by scouting directors and could impact the series with his bat.
“This is as cohesive a unit as I’ve ever been around,” Hill said. “I love being around these guys. They’re fun to coach, extremely focused, and that usually leads to good things.”
— Michael Lananna
Coastal Carolina begins championship defense: For the first time in program history, Coastal Carolina opens the season as defending national champions. Senior righthander Andrew Beckwith, the Most Outstanding Player at last year’s College World Series, leads the No. 15 Chanticleers as they open their title defense with the Caravelle Resort’s Baseball at the Beach tournament, hosted at Coastal’s Springs Brooks Stadium and TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Park in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Coastal will face Richmond on Opening Day, with Western Carolina, James Madison and St. John’s following later in the weekend. Before Saturday’s game against WCU, Coastal will celebrate the national championship team and hold its ring ceremony.
The Chanticleers are replacing much of their powerful lineup from last season, but return several key members of the pitching staff. Beckwith (15-1, 1.85 last season) is again joined in the rotation by righthanders Alex Cunningham (10-4, 3.62) and Jason Bilous (3-1, 4.43). Righthander Bobby Holmes (7-2, 4.20) takes on the closer’s role after setting up Michael Morrison last season.
Mississippi’s top-ranked recruiting class debuts: The Rebels brought in the No. 1 recruiting class in the country in the fall. Now those 17 precocious newcomers will begin their college careers at home against No. 6 East Carolina. Freshmen such as outfielder Thomas Dillard, catcher Cooper Johnson and shortstop Grae Kessinger will quickly be asked to step into key roles after six players from last season’s team, which hosted a regional, were drafted.
This weekend’s series also sees East Carolina coach Cliff Godwin return to Mississippi, where he was an assistant coach from 2011-14. The Pirates are looking to get off to a strong start as they set their sights on the program’s first ever College World Series appearance.
Pierce debuts at Texas: David Pierce begins his tenure as head coach at Texas this weekend when Rice travels to Austin. Pierce was hired in June to replace Augie Garrido, who stepped down following last season. Pierce led Tulane to the NCAA tournament in both of his seasons as head coach of the Green Wave, and now takes over from the winningest coach in Division I history. The Longhorns are trying to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing last season.
Pierce’s debut comes against Rice, where he was an assistant coach in 1991 and from 2003-2011. The Owls, the favorites in Conference USA, represent a tough challenge, particularly if closer Glenn Otto (9-2, 2.26, 8 saves) is cleared to pitch. The junior righthander has been slowed by an injury during the preseason, but threw a bullpen last week, an encouraging sign of progress.
Off the Wall
Arizona’s latest video from infielder/director Sawyer Gieseke is a take on “Major League.” The Wildcats play in Hi-Corbett Field, which used to be the Indians’ spring training home and was used in the iconic movie. Arizona’s video is nearly a shot-for-shot remake of the scene of the players arriving for spring training. It stars coach Jay Johnson playing the role of Indians manager Lou Brown and freshman outfielder Matt Fraizer as the Wildcats’ version of Willie Mays Hayes.
Baseball America caught up with Fraizer to talk about playing the famous character and the start of his college career. No. 22 Arizona hosts Eastern Kentucky this weekend.
How much preparation did you do for the video?
Matt Fraizer: “Sawyer brought it up earlier in the fall and talked about shooting it. I had already watched the movie, so I was like, ‘Oh, ok.’ Then we came back for spring after our winter break, we came back and he was like, ‘All right, I want to start shooting this video soon.’ So the night before he sent me the scene. I watched it a couple times. The next day right before practice, we took two hours, an hour and a half just to shoot it all. We got it nailed down pretty quickly.”
What did you think when you saw the video the first time?
“I didn’t think I did that well of acting, but I asked him and he said it was pretty good. I was always asking him every other day, ‘when is the video going to come out? When is it going to go on Twitter?’ because I knew it was going to be a good video so I just kept bugging him. Finally it got released (Tuesday).”
What did you think of Willie Mays Hayes the first time you watched the movie?
“He was like the more funny character and he showed it throughout the whole movie. I tried to portray his actions and having a live, energetic feel to it, too.”
What did you think when you watched the videos Sawyer did last year with Arizona?
“I thought it was a bunch of guys just having fun. Baseball is a sport, you’re supposed to have fun. I just remember watching it like, ‘Wow these guys really have fun.’ They’re all close knit, they’re like a family in all their videos, especially the ‘Clubhouse Matters’ one. It was cool watching it back then, but then when you finally got here you understand the personalities of everybody and what the whole video is. It was cool to see how that worked out.”
What’s your favorite part of playing for Jay Johnson?
“He keeps it fun. I don’t feel like I have practice today, it’s more I get to go to practice today. They make the field a good environment. You spend a lot of time at the field having fun with the family.”
What are you looking forward to about Opening Weekend?
“Being able to be in the atmosphere of the game. Your first college game, you’ve been waiting for this your whole life. Making sure I just take it slow and try to stay in the moment. First college, game first college weekend, first series, just really observe and see how all the older guys who have been there before, how they handle it.”
— Teddy Cahill