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College Weekend Preview: April 1-3
by Will Kimmey
The population of Oregon is just more than 3.5 million people. That's about the same size as Arizona's Maricopa County, which encompasses the Phoenix-Mesa area. Los Angeles County's population nearly triples that at around 10 million.
That leaves Oregon State's Pacific-10 Conference competition with much larger local recruiting bases. And the Beavers also lost Portland native Trevor Crowe to Arizona and Salem native Jed Lowrie to Stanford.
"There's better baseball in the Northwest over the last 15 years," Oregon State coach Pat Casey said, "but the players are getting away because with showcases the Arizona and California guys don't have to come up here to recruit. Plus, when a kid from the Northwest goes to Arizona and it's 75 degrees in January, we can't compete with that."
Still, succeeding at the state's flagship baseball program--the University of Oregon doesn't sponsor the sport--requires Casey to find local talent. The Beavers' roster features 23 in-state players, including the top two hitters (Jacoby Ellsbury and Andy Jenkins are batting .427 and .400) and four of the top five pitchers.
An all-sophomore rotation of Dallas Buck (5-0, 0.77), Jonah Nickerson (5-0, 0.90) and Anton Maxwell (4-0, 4.19) have combined with top relievers Nate Fogle (3-1, 1.48) and Kevin Gunderson (2-1, 3.04) to work more than 79 percent of the Beavers innings, and Anchorage, Alaska, native Maxwell is the only one not pitching in his home state. The team's 2.89 ERA leads the Pac-10 and stands as a large reason the Beavers are off to their best start in 30 years at 21-4 and are enjoying their highest-ever ranking at No. 18.
"They're proud of being from Oregon," Casey said. "That's important for our guys to accept this challenge. They're creating a name for themselves."
Buck did that as a freshman before using his low-90s fastball and slider to lead the Cape Cod League with a 0.77 ERA last summer and earn second-team All-America status before this season. The 6-foot-2 righthander has continued the success thus far, recording a 63-15 strikeout-walk ratio in 47 innings to go along with his league-best ERA. The rest of the staff doesn't feature quite the same stuff but does possess similar command. Nickerson and Maxwell can work both sides of the plate with their fastballs and throw three pitches for strikes. Both relievers could also move to the rotation if needed. The lefthanded Gunderson's movement, velocity and knack for pitching lead to his success, while Fogle is a classic sinker-slider righthander who throws from a three-quarters arm slot.
"Certainly, you don't expect people to go through the season and have ERAs around 2.00; that's unthinkable in an aluminum bat world," Casey said. "But, hey, if they last all year, that'd be pretty wild."
Heck, if Oregon State keeps those numbers near 3.00 and continues getting timely hitting and solid defense, it could threaten the school record for wins (39 under Jack Riley in 1986) and reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1986. But Casey, who won 38 games at OSU in 1997, doesn't like looking ahead.
"I don't have a feeling about anything other than (playing California at home this weekend)," he said. "That's how I really look at it."
Harold Reynolds, the former major leaguer and current ESPN analyst who grew up in Corvallis, Ore., and played with Casey in the Mariners farm system, doesn't mind looking ahead. He wondered aloud during last year's regionals how he could get some games played in his hometown. Reynolds found out the NCAA's minimum bid was $35,000, and that a fairly competitive bid could come in between $50,000 and $75,000, and decided he would lay out all or part of the money for the Beavers if they were in contention come this May.
"Tell Pat Casey I'm in," Reynolds said Wednesday, reaffirming his position and noting Oregon State's current record. "I'd love to do that. It'd be great."
Casey said he and Reynolds discussed the idea last season, but he stayed true to his own form and didn't want to get ahead of himself. But Goss Stadium at Coleman Field, built in 1907 before having a major renovation in 1999, seats 2,000 and could prove a strong site if the school can get the capacity a bit closer to the required 3,000.
"An opportunity to host a regional, that'd be fun and that'd be great," Casey said. "But we're about to start play in a great conference and it's going to be a very long haul."
AROUND THE NATION
No. 9 Arkansas lost two of three at home last weekend to Mississippi State and also has lost its top two hitters and top reliever for this weekend's series at No. 23 Auburn. Coach Dave Van Horn suspended seniors Casey Rowlett (.473, 16 steals) and Scott Bridges (.410, 22 steals) for violating team rules. Lefthander Trey Holloway (3-0, 1.17) has a stress fracture in his elbow and won't return until May at the earliest. Craig Gentry and John Marquardt will replace Rowlett and Bridges on the field.
"I would say there is a slim, slim possibility (they will return)," Van Horn told the Northwest Arkansas Times. "Well just have to wait and see. They are suspended indefinitely because there is a problem. And since there is a possibility of a problem, Im not playing them and were going to go with the guys we've got.
"I feel really bad for them. They are seniors and naturally distraught over everything because this is it for them. I feel bad for anybody that works as hard as those two guys do who screwed up. They are not bad people. They are good guys, liked and respected by their teammates."
It's hard to have a bad time in Hawaii, especially on an all-expenses paid trip there. But it has not been a fun destination this season for pitchers named Chris, or Kris. Winthrop righthander Chris Leroux and Wichita State lefthander Kris Johnson both received early indications that they'd need Tommy John surgery while on the island. Leroux (2-0, 3.70) felt a pop in his elbow during a start at Pepperdine just before the team traveled to Hawaii, where he was first examined. The junior spent most of his first two college seasons as a catcher, but unleashed a low-90s fastball and power breaking ball in the Cape Cod League over the summer. Leroux was serving as the team's fourth starter this season to gain experience and allow scouts a chance to see him pitch more frequently before the draft.
Johnson (3-0, 0.98), a sophomore, was injured in Honolulu against Sacramento State. He followed Mike Pelfrey in the Shockers' rotation, and his loss strikes at the strength of a team that doesn't have the offensive power of a typical Wichita State club this year.
Rice will play short-handed at Fresno State this weekend after taking an unintentional power play last weekend against Nevada. The Owls violated a Western Athletic Conference rule by using a non-roster player in the ninth inning of a 14-6 win Saturday. Home teams are allowed to dress 32 players for a conference series, but just 25 are eligible to participate in the series, and those players must be declared prior to the first game of the series. As a result, No. 13 Rice will be limited to 23 players this weekend on its trip to Fresno State. Coach Wayne Graham took full responsibility for the mistake but said he doesn't anticipate the roster limitation to affect his team this weekend, as he normally doesn't use more than 22 players in a series.
Graham said he had the names of all 29 players who were dressed Saturday on his lineup card because he didn't want to make any players feel excluded. He said wasn't trying to bend the rules when he sent Will McDaniel to the mound with two outs and a 14-3 lead in the game, he just wanted to get the freshman some experience.
"It's something that never should happen, but we've all made a clerical error," he said. "I made a stupid mistake and feel bad that I could hurt this team and these kids."
No. 2 Cal State Fullerton welcomes Dave Serrano and UC Irvine to town this weekend to open Big West Conference play. Serrrano served as a Fullerton pitching coach from 1997-2004, winning the assistant coach of the year award and earning a head job last season. He recruited and helped develop most of the current Titans roster, but won't have to face junior lefthander Ryan Schreppel (4-0, 2.00). The normal Fullerton Saturday starter won't pitch after injuring his knee last week while covering first base on a ground ball.
South Carolina plays host to Georgia this weekend in a series matching two teams with fan bases that probably expected better starts; both have sub-.500 Southeastern Conference records. Georgia won two games at Kentucky last weekend to pull to 2-3 in the league, while South Carolina lost its second straight SEC series and is 2-4. The No. 14 Gamecocks also lost junior catcher Cory Vanderbook for three to six weeks after he had surgery Thursday to repair the medial meniscus in his left knee. Team home run leader Brendan Winn missed both midweek wins this week with a back injury but is expected to play against the Bulldogs.
Long Beach State expected to get All-America shortstop Troy Tulowitzki back this week to open conference play at home against UC Riverside, but received an earlier return than planned after breaking the hamate bone in his left hand. The junior batted cleanup last weekend in the series victory against Cal State Fullerton, and though he went 1-for-12 over three games, his name in the lineup gave the No. 22 Dirtbags a mental boost.
"Just the presence he brings to the game is uplifting," lefthander Cesar Ramos said. "He's always grinding and wanting to win. It's always good to have a guy that's going to be a high first-round pick back. When he was out, he was really frustrated at not being able to play. He wanted to rip off his cast."
Wright State visits No. 24 Arizona State this weekend, and Sun Devils sophomore righthander Zech Zinicola, who has the best stuff on the team, isn't listed among the probable starters. Zinicola started the series opener last weekend at Southern California but left in the third inning after getting hit in the shin by a line drive. He's healthy enough to pitch this weekend, and probably will, but coach Pat Murphy is holding him as the trump card to use in relief either on Friday or Saturday, or as the TBA starter Sunday.
Temple coach Skip Wilson fell at practice and will be away from duty for an indefinite period of time. Assistant John McArdle will run the club in Wilson's absence. Wilson and Virginia Tech's Chuck Hartman are in each their 46th seasons as head coaches, the longest tenures in Division I history. "I wish Skip a speedy recovery and hope to see him back in the dugout in a couple of weeks," said Bill Bradshaw, Temple director of athletics.
Penn named John Cole of Division III Rowan (N.J.) the successor to Bob Seddon, who will retire following the 2005 season, his 34th as a coach.