Less than a week away from selection Monday and we enter the last week with some great storylines. The race for the top eight national seeds seems to be a race for the final two spots. Texas, Arizona St., Virginia, Florida, Coastal Carolina and Louisville have locked up spots in my opinion. The top three have been set for a few weeks, and each has strengthened their hold recently as well. Florida locked it up with a series win in Columbia, and the Coastal sweep at Liberty and undefeated run through the Big South has solidified their hold. For Louisville, the consistency all year has been impressive. I still think the trip to Oxford was a key. Although Ole Miss has stumbled down the stretch, Louisville won that series with Clark and Richmond on the bench. They are back now and the top seven in the Cardinal lineup will match up with any in the country.
The last two spots should be between six others. In the end, you can make pretty good arguments for and against the next six teams. This is truly a case where the last week of the season makes a huge difference in the race for the final two seeds.
I had South Carolina solidly in before this weekend, and I still think that they will end up as one of the eight. At least one win in Hoover will go a ways though, and two wins should make them a lock. They have really pitched this year and the lineup has some youth and experience with a very solid balance top to bottom. Sam Dyson could be a difference makes in the postseason. If he is on, his stuff is pretty filthy.
After a midseason lull, UCLA has finished with a flourish and now finds themselves squarely back in the mix for a national seed. After getting swept in Tempe, the Bruins have gone 11-1 down the stretch and have won nine games in a row in a solid Pac-10 conference. The catch might just the mid week game at Fullerton, which the Titans won 5-2. It’s not an RPI killer, but the squad that beat them is in the national seed mix too.
Fullerton is officially back, and the Titans’ past six weeks has them clicking at the right time. With the staff that Fullerton returned, and a solid mix of Gary Brown, Christian Colon and others back in the lineup, Fullerton looked to be a one of the top teams in the country heading into the season. They sputtered out of the gate though, and sat just 12-11 as they entered April. Since then, Fullerton is 25-4 and they have clinched the Big West prior to the last week in the conference. The Titans’ record against the Top 50 RPI teams is not stellar, but they are as hot as anyone in the country. Also, Fullerton won both mid-week games against the Bruins this year, that could figure into the discussion too.
TCU seems to be overlooked in every national seed projection right now, but I still think that they belong in the discussion. They ran away with the Mountain West crown, but have dropped a few games in conference that have buried their RPI. I have been more impressed with their non-conference slate though, as they played ten games against the Big 12 and took 2/3 in Fullerton at the beginning of the year. They were hurt by the overall struggles within the conference and in the end I think that will drag the RPI down too far to finish with a national seed on Monday.
Auburn is the newest addition to the discussion but five straight winning weekends in the SEC will do just that. The season ending run by the Tigers has forced them into the national spotlight. They won the SEC West with a convincing sweep of Ole Miss in Oxford last week, and a SEC tournament championship could vault them over South Carolina into a national seed. Even though it was a few months back, one win in Tempe would have really helped.
The last team in the discussion is Georgia Tech. The Wreck could win 46-48 games while playing in the ACC, which is a great feat. The non-conference slate as not great and that could cost them in the end. Catching Georgia on a down year did not help the non-conference strength either, but that is something they could not control. They can really score, and if they run through the ACC tourney and win it they have a very good argument.
The bubble argument heats up this week two and in the end it is an absolute coin flip. If you are a bubble team, go grab your Florida Gulf Coast, Rice and Coastal Carolina. gear. Each is a lock for the tourney, and each of their respective conferences is potentially a one bid league if the above win the tourney. The past few years have shown that just getting in the dance gives you a chance. Fresno St. won it all as a four seed and Oregon St. was reportedly the last team in the tourney when they won their second national title in a row.
Enjoy the week, it is the most entertaining of the season prior to Memorial Day. I head to Hoover this weekend for the SEC Championship game on Sunday then on to Bristol for the selection show on Memorial Day. I am planning on posting a play by play of the lead-up to the selection show sometime early next week. Memorial Day in the studio is one of my favorite days of the year. I’ll take you through everything that goes into the show, and the limited time that we have to put it all together. Until then, enjoy the tourneys and the last week of the regular season. It should be a great ride from here on in…
First and most definitely foremost, let me welcome the fabulous Stitch to ESPN. His take on the game is always a great read and it is a great addition to ESPN’s college coverage.
It’s time to focus on the mid majors as we head closer to selection Monday. As we near Memorial Day, two mid-majors are squarely in the discussion for national seeds. TCU passed an impressive test this week by winning two of three at New Mexico, then winning two so far this weekend against Air Force. The Frogs put 26 on the board to win the series clincher on Sunday and essentially clinch the regular season crown in the Mountain West. I think that TCU deserves a national seed. They travelled out of conference and played a very tough non-conference tilt. In addition, the one thing that a team cannot control is the yearly strength of schedule within the conference. I discussed their resume a little last week, but they have not ducked anyone out of conference and have fared pretty well against most. Barring a late season let down, the Frogs should be hosting throughout in my opinion.
Coastal Carolina heads to Liberty this weekend in a battle of the top two teams in the Big South. With a solid outing by Anthony Meo, the Chants won game one and pushed their Big South record to 21-0. You better keep their 1-2 off the bases, because Rico Noel and Scott Woodward have now combined to steal 89 bases this year. Liberty now stands at 18-4 in conference, and they probably need to win one of the final two games this weekend to punch their post season ticket. The RPI is respectable, and the season resume is impressive. Jim Toman’s club has a great argument now and should be on solid ground, but a winning weekend against the clear leaders in the conference will go a long ways. For the Chants, a national seed could mean two straight weeks in Conway and a chance at their first ever trip to Omaha. This first trip will happen in the next few years, and a national seed might be the boost that Coastal needs. To attain it though, they almost assuredly have to win the series this weekend against the Flames.
The most visible series this weekend is in Atlanta, where Jim Morris returns to Georgia Tech to take on the Ramblin Wreck. The winner of the series re-enters the national seed discussion, while the loser has to fight next weekend to hold on to a 1 seed. Miami seems to be a forgotten team this year and I am not sure why. Yasmani Grandal is one of the top players in the land and Jim Morris’ crew has put up solid numbers all year. For Tech, the early start garnered headlines but the late season results will determine whether they travel or stay put in early June. Game one was an impressive night again for Deck McGuire, and the Wreck’s offense banged out 15 hits. If Tech finishes 4-1 in conference the rest of the way, they are right in the national seed discussion as well. For the Canes, it would probably take winning the last two in Atlanta and then 2 of 3 against UVA next weekend in Coral Gables.
Staying in the ACC, the Carolina trip to UVA this weekend might determine their post-season fate as well. Some have the Heels on the outside looking in right now and this weekend does not make things any easier. It does give us possibly the top Saturday pitching matchup in the country though, as Harvey v. Hultzen should be something to watch. Those that have seen Hultzen this year are raving again, and Harvey has been as good as anyone in the country over the past six weeks.
Interesting night in the SEC last night as well. South Carolina and Blake Cooper taking game one in Fayetteville is the headliner. The USC RPI will jump with a series win this weekend, Boydsworld.com had them at 15 this morning. If the Gamecocks win the series, next weekend’s conference finale against Florida will allow them to control their own destiny in the national seed race. I think Florida is a lock national seed right now, and the 9th inning rally last night against Georgia should give them a boost the rest of the weekend. You almost feel sorry for Dave Perno and the Dogs right now, they have figured out numerous ways to lose close games all year. The most interesting topic in the SEC right now is the race for the 8th and final spot in Hoover. Kentucky’s walk off win in Lexington last night off of Matty Ott gives them a two game lead over Alabama and Tennessee with 5 to play. There is a decent chance that the 9th place team gets in the dance. Tennessee has been on fire the past few weeks and a strong finish could be enough, even if they miss the SEC tourney. One last note, watch out for Vandy as they try to make a late run to host. They will play two less conference games because of the rain in Nashville a few weeks ago…those two games against Georgia could have bumped their conference record.
While the Big 12 and Pac-10 conference races appear to be over, the bubble discussion has taken center stage in each conference. In the Pac, six should be safe. Arizona St. is a lock for a national seed, and UCLA, Stanford, Cal, Arizona and Oregon should be in. I expect a seventh team to come out of the Pac and Washington St. and Oregon St. might be fighting for that spot. The Beavers are all over the map, but have played better the past two weeks now. A series sweep of Oregon threw them back into the discussion and they won game one last night against UW. The kicker…they go to Tucson and then host the Devils to finish out the regular season. A strong finish gets them in. Wazzu dropped game one last night in Palo Alto as the Cardinal scored 5 in the 8th to win 8-7. One last note…a strong finish for UCLA and they are right back in the hunt for one of the last national seeds.
In the Big 12, Texas has locked up the regular season crown and a national seed. K St. and Oklahoma are absolutely in and A&M and Texas Tech should be comfortably in as well. Kansas needs a hot finish, and a few wins in the Big 12 tourney, to get back into the mix. One note in the Big 12, the tourney is set up as two 4 team brackets, with seeds 1,4,5 and 8 on one side and seeds 2,3,6 and 7 on the other. I point this out because there is a clear advantage to having the 6 or 7 seeds as opposed to 4 or 5. You avoid Texas in the first round of the tourney, which should lead to an easier route to the finals.
One last note on the national seed hunt, Louisville was stung last night by St. Johns as super frosh Jeremy Baltz went deep four times. He now has 18 jacks this year as the Johnnies try to stun Louisville at home this weekend. The Cards dropped a mid-week game to Vandy this week as well and still need to finish strong to claim a national seed. UConn dropping game one at USF stings their hosting chances as well. It might come down to UConn and Vandy for one of the last host locations in the country this year.
I will try to post later tonight after game two of the Ole Miss v. Alabama series in Tuscaloosa. 4 PM Eastern start time on ESPN2. Tune in, we will have plenty of national discussion about the last few weeks as well.
By the way, give me Super Saver to win the Preakness as Calvin Borel wins on the rail again…talk to you soon.
The race for the top eight national seeds is officially in full swing, and the suspects are thinning. For me, there are three clear leaders in the discussion…Arizona St., Texas and Virginia have virtually locked up three of the eight. UT and ASU are among the hottest teams in the land, and UVA has lost only one series all year and leads the ACC conference. They will head to Miami to finish the season, with Miami a contender to claim a national seed as well. The Canes visit Georgia Tech this coming weekend before hosting the Cavs.
I expect that two of the remaining 5 will come from the SEC, with Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina now in the discussion. The Hogs losing two of three this past weekend to Auburn will bump them down a little. For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that two of the above three SCE teams emerge with national seeds and Miami claims one as well. That leaves two to go, with Coastal Carolina, UCLA, Louisville and TCU all in the mix. I think that Louisville’s RPI will be tough to pass up, and the series win at Ole Miss continues to look better as the season moves along. The last is the most interesting to me for a variety of reasons. Let’s go team by team…
Start with Coastal, who could will win 50 games prior to regionals this year. The non-conference schedule has been impressive, with wins over Virginia Tech, UC Irvine (twice), NC State, Pitt, Clemson and North Carolina. The only series loss of the year was to San Diego at home, and they are now 17-0 in the Big South this year. The challenge for the Chants is keeping the RPI where it is (currently about 7th). If Coastal finishes the season with a top eight RPI, it will be very tough for the committee not to award them a national seed.
To UCLA, who just three weeks ago would have been in the discussion for top overall seed in the nation. The Bruins have gone 3-6 in the league over the past three weeks though and this weekend’s sweep at the hands of the Devils will not help. It will take some work over the last four conference series’ for the Bruins to re-enter the national seed discussion.
Finally to TCU, which seems to be getting hurt by the RPI the most. The Frogs have a series win at Fullerton and are 7-3 against the Big 12 this year. Granted, the Big 12 is down overall, but that is still an impressive number. They will host New Mexico next weekend in a series that should determine the league champ. I suspect that even with a great finish, the Frogs will be just outside of the top 8 but there is a very good argument to include them in the mix. If the SEC or ACC contenders slip up, the Frogs could sneak in to the 8th spot, but it looks like the will be hosting regardless.
I was in Gainesville this past weekend for LSU at Florida and came away very impressed with the Gators. There are not a lot of holes on this club. Defensively they are very sharp up this middle, with the freshman shortstop Fontana fielding .995 so far this year. I talked about it a lot on the air today, but that is an amazing number. He also leads off, and was impressive in that role as well. The rotation all pitched well this weekend, and Kevin Chapman came in throwing 95 on Saturday night to shut down an LSU rally. Matt den Dekker looked good in the 2 hole, and the youngsters in the middle of the lineup can really swing it themselves. I think that Florida will be there at the end of the year, and the last weekend series in Columbia against South Carolina could help determine who gets a national seed.
LSU on the other hand is really scuffling right now. Paul Mainieri went to Matty Ott for the first time in his career today (he has 57 career appearances out of the pen prior to the start today). Ott really struggled to keep the ball down consistently and UF made him pay today. The fact that they started Ott says a lot about the spot they are in right now. I also say Ranaudo on Friday night and he struggled again. The velocity was getting back to where it was last year (he hit 94 during the game), but he took a liner off his leg and that led to an early exit. I did not see the control of the fastball that I saw last year and the ball is still not sinking consistently. For LSU to make any run at the end of the year they will need Ranaudo to anchor them on Friday nights. Micah Gibbs impressed me again and Mahtook showed why he should be a first rounder next year. He hit the first pitch of the game into the seats on Saturday and took some impressive swings over the course of the weekend.
More later this week, I head to Oxford again this coming weekend for Ole Miss and Arkansas. That should be quite a setting this weekend as the eastern division lead in the SEC is on the line.
I have written earlier this year about midweek games and how misleading they can be. Let me clarify that statement, since yesterday’s action proved again why these games really do matter. I still think that the weekend series’ over the course of the year prove who the real contenders are. That being said, midweek games can help decide where you play in early June. Take yesterday for example…Coastal Carolina entered yesterday’s action with the top RPI in the country. Both Boydsworld.com and the NCAA had the Chants as the top RPI team in the country, but after a midweek loss to UVA they Chants now stand at 5th. UVA moves up one spot to 2nd. If you get a chance, go check out Boydsworld.com’s RPi needs report for the remainder of the season, it is a great read on who is in the best position to host at the end of the year. Due to the RPI struggles of the Big South, Coastal has to nearly run the table to stay in the top 8 of the RPI. UVA on the other hand has some room for error due to the strength of the ACC. My point; the midweek games can go a long way to determining RPI strength at the end of the year, and the mid-week loss to UVA could prove costly come selection Monday. For the record, if Coastal wins the conference and takes 2 of 3 from Liberty, I think they should be a national seed. The body of work is there, but the RPI could be a little light in a few weeks.
I had the biggest let down of my broadcasting career this weekend when the LSU- Ole Miss game was rained out on Friday night. The crowd was supposed to be giant, and the setting was perfect for a matchup of two of the top arms in the college game. Instead, we watched it rain for a few hours. The matchup ended up a letdown in the mound, and the series as a whole sent LSU to a point that few thought they would be in just a few weeks ago. If the season ended today, LSU would not be a national seed. A sweep at the hands of the Rebs pushed the Tigers to an unfamiliar spot. The get their chance to re-enter the discussion this weekend though as the travel to Gainesville to face Florida. Kevin O’Sullivan’s club now sports the top RPI in the land, and LSU can make up some serious ground with a solid showing this weekend. For Ole Miss, the sweep if LSU brought them back to the hosting discussion. This past weekend was my first trip to Oxford. Solid spot, and the renovations to the ballpark were very well done. I look forward to the return trip next weekend when the Rebs take on Arkansas.
To last weekend, when Texas proved again why they are the most balanced team in the land. I looked today, UT leads the nation in ERA and Fielding percentage…not a bad 1-2 punch. They are also near the top of the Big 12 in HR’s and the offense has been a pleasant surprise this year for the Horns. On top of that, while Jungmann has been lights out this year, Cole Green may be the national pitcher of the year. 9-0 with a 1.82 ERA and more then 20 less hits then innings pitched. Chance Ruffin has been pretty salty in the closer’s role too…An ERA right at 1 with 60 k’s in 42 ip. The Horns are the team to beat right now in my opinion.
South Carolina continues their impressive run and Virginia Tech should have punched their ticket to the post season barring a late season collapse. The Hokies travelled south to Georgia Tech and promptly took 2 of 3. They have now gone through a three weekend gauntlet and emerged 5-4 against Miami, Virginia and Georgia Tech. I am impressed, I know that. Rice made a statement too with a home sweep of East Carolina. Doubt Wayne Graham at your own risk, the man knows how to coach. Stanford stayed hot with a 3 game sweep of Cal. A three run ninth inning sealed the Bears’ fate this past weekend and Stanford has now won their last seven conference games to climb into 2nd place.
More this weekend from Gainesville, I look forward to seeing the talented Gators for the first time this year. Keep an eye on UCLA v. Arizona St in Westwood this weekend too. That should be a beauty.
The mid season mayhem portion of the college baseball schedule is now in full swing. As I write this on Saturday night, Oregon has taken the first two in Westwood, the Cardinal have taken the first two in Corvallis, Texas continues to pitch out of their minds and the ACC and SEC races are starting to really take shape. Let me start in Fayetteville, where I had the chance to see Arkansas and Georgia last night during my first trip to Baum stadium.
As I wrote earlier this week, the Arkansas trek this weekend was a family affair. My dad and son Teddy made the trip with me and we had a blast. I do want to thank the fine folks at the hotel for posting a Medieval Times brochure at the eye level of a five year old. The only problem, the restaurant was in Dallas. As we entered the hotel, Teddy grabbed the brochure and seemingly had dinner planned out for the night. Try explaining to a five year old that Dallas is not a dinner trip from Fayetteville. Miniature golf got the call instead and I took two Gatorades from Teddy on the back nine. He did crush the White River on Friday though as he pulled a few Crappies and one White Bass out (catch and release of course). This takes the cake for trip of the year, nothing beats a father-son squared weekend on the road.
To the game…and the atmosphere. My first trip to the Natural State did not disappoint. Dave Van Horn has created a monster in Fayetteville. Most college fans know of Baum stadium, but the growth since Van Horn took over is pretty impressive. They now have 32 luxury suites (all sold out) that extend down each baseline and the feeling is still collegiate. He also has a pretty salty squad this year. Zack Cox is the headliner and rightfully so. Show me a more complete hitter in college baseball right now. What impressed me even more though were the guys that surrounded him. I saw many of them in Omaha last year, but the lineup right now is very offensive. Bo Bigham was the sparkplug as he reached base five times. He is a perfect guy to hit in front of Cox, Wilkins and Eibner. He showed patience and really seemed to get his role…all with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Wilkins has big time power and his 3 run HR in the first really spun the game early. Oh, Drew Smyly was pretty good himself. The lefthander gave up two in the first and then cruised through the last eight innings for his first career complete game. His variance with the fastball probably impressed me the most. The velocity on the fastball was between 84-93 mph, a range that I don’t know that I have ever seen. The top end velo was better than I remembered and he proved why he is a true Friday night guy. Arkansas is for real, I would be very surprised if they are not hosting throughout and fighting for another trip to Omaha.
One quick note on Georgia. They are obviously scuffling right now, but I do think that they will get it turned around next year. The pitching struggles and injury problems have been too much to overcome but I really like Dave Perno and his staff. There is some talent there, but there are pretty beat down right now.
On the national front, give me George Horton as the coach of the year thus far but keep Brad Hill in the discussion. No one could have imagined the success that the Ducks have had this year. They were the first team to best Arizona St., and have now taken the first two from UCLA on the road after a series win at Stanford last weekend. They did not have a program three years ago, and definitely took their lumps last year during the first year on the field. But with a pitching staff that ranks among the deepest (and best statistically) in the country, Horton’s crew has thrust themselves into the post season mix and no one will want to play them in early June. In Manhattan, Brad Hill has succeeded this year in a year that most thought the Cats would take a step back. They lost AJ Morris and his 14 wins from a team that won 43 games last year. The Cats have won the first two this weekend against Baylor and now sit at 8-3 in the Big 12 thus far. They have a tough road ahead with series’ against Texas, Oklahoma, KU and A&M still to come but the resume thus far is still pretty impressive.
One stat note, check out the top team era’s in the country when you have a minute. Last year, the top four team era’s, and five of the top nine nationally, were represented in Omaha at the end of the year. Pitching still gets you to the top and this year is starting to look like the same formula.
Have a great night, I will recap the weekend more in depth early this week.
I now get why parents pace when their kids are playing sports. This past weekend, my 5 year old son Teddy strapped on his Easton spikes for the first time and the Omaha Suburban Brewers took the field in our first official practice. My pre-season email that encouraged parents to follow a strict 8 week strength and conditioning program was met with some interesting looks. Only after I told them that I was completely kidding did they trust me with their sons. Teddy’s dad forgot the bases in the garage so we had to settle for a makeshift first base. The first practice highlights included numerous mid-drill bathroom breaks, a crossfire during catch that has to be among the very best ever, and a dirt house extravaganza that the Ancient Greeks would have been proud of that took shape sometime during batting practice. Next week, we venture into the field for the first time to talk about positions. Stay tuned…my wonderful ride through T-Ball season number one is just beginning.
I did something this past Friday that I rarely do…I became a fan again. Don’t misunderstand me, I always enjoy watching the games that I cover. As a former pitcher though, I got caught up in the Pomeranz v. Grimm spectacle this past Friday in Athens. Both were impressive, but Pomeranz was just a little better this night. The Ole Miss ace punched out 15 over 8+ innings and was absolutely dominant. The fastball was 90-94 but what impressed me most was the ability to go inside to a RH hitter. The ability to throw a fastball to the opposite arm side of the plate is a skill that few can brag of. Pomeranz not only commanded the pitch, he used it as a pitch to finish hitters off when ahead in the count. The curve ball is pretty filthy too…a knuckle curve that is thrown in a way that really decreases the stress on his throwing elbow. Pomeranz does not turn the ball over, rather he flicks the ball out of his hand with his index knuckle and the result is true 12/6 spin. I have Pomeranz v. Renaudo in Oxford a week from this Friday on ESPNU…if you are a college baseball fan this really is appointment viewing. They should be the top two college pitchers taken in this year’s draft.
Justin Grimm from UGA was pretty darn good himself. Grimm gave up 2 earned in 8 IP and he really cruised until the 7th inning. Grimm was consistently in the low to mid 90’s with solid control of a plus curve ball. `A Kevin Mort HR in the 7th got Ole Miss on the board…nice to have power from the 9 hole if you are Mike Bianco. What impressed me most about Grimm was the way he battled when he was in a jam…and this is the 2nd week that I have seen it. Last week against LSU his struggled more with his stuff but he never gave in. This week, his control was better, but he pitched out of a jam in the 8th to still give UGA a chance. I liked Ole Miss, although I do want to see the rest of their rotation in person. Huber looked pretty good out of the pen. Georgia is still showing some growing pains but I do think they will be markedly better next year. They have some kids that can really play. Kyle Farmer has two hits against Pomeranz and the approach each time was veteran. The freshman took a breaking ball and a fastball the other way for hits in separate at bats and I have really been impressed with him over the past two weeks. Colby May is still scuffling and just looks like he is trying to do too much. A plus for Georgia was their pitching over the weekend…The Dogs gave up only 11 runs in 3 games. One last note…if you get to Athens sometime in the near future make sure you bring your sticks. The University Course is a great track, and the good folks in the pro shop let me sneak out on the back side to play 9 holes by myself on Friday morning. I followed that up with a memorable Chik-Fil-A lunch complete with sweet tea…I could not have drawn up my 34th birthday any better.
Around the rest of the country, Washington St. had perhaps the most important series win of the entire weekend. The Cougs were probably not in the regional discussion quite yet before the weekend, but taking 2 of 3 from the Devils has thrust them right back in it. UVA taking 2 of 3 at home against Georgia Tech sticks out as well as the Cavs continue to impress in the ACC. Texas is still on fire and if the season ended today they would be my pick to win the National Title. The rotation is sick, no real drop in effectiveness from Friday to Sunday and Ruffin on the back end has been lights out. Throw Pitt into the discussion for most impressive weekend as well. The Panthers needed a solid performance against Louisville to jump back into the potential at large regional discussion. The series win moves their RPI to around 50 and gets them two giant wins against one of the nation’s top teams.
As far as teams that are back on the at large radar, throw Oregon, Cal, the aforementioned Pitt Panthers and Kentucky in the mix. UK took 2 of 3 from Alabama in what was probably their most important series of the year. The Cats entered the series with a 2-7 mark in the SEC and while they still have plenty of work to do, a series win against a solid Bama team was a good first step. The Ducks took 2 of 3 from Stanford in Palo Alto and are now comfortably in the regional field as of today. George Horton is my coach of the year. This is unbelievable. In just its second year back, Oregon is proving plenty of people wrong right now. Dave Esquer’s Cal Bears have had a solid few weeks themselves. Series sweeps over U of A and USC have Cal tied with Arizona St. for the conference lead at 6-3. Cal has now won 8 in a row and they host Washington this coming weekend.
Plenty more to talk about across the country, I’ll fire another update up later this week. I am going to try and grab Arkansas head man Dave Van Horn this week for an interview that I will post as well. I head to Baum stadium this week for a trip that I have been looking forward to all Spring. My dad and son are making the trek with me, and Teddy is pretty fired up. The fishing pole is making the trip as well. I have never seen Baum Stadium so I am really looking forward to it. More later this week, fire away with questions if you have them.
Just arrived at Carolina Stadium for the first time…they did this one right. A great shot of downtown Columbia beyond centerfield, all brick façade around the exterior and a rod iron fence beyond the right field wall that allows fans to peek in from the street. Dyson v. Chris Stratton in game two of the series from Columbia today, then I will have game three tomorrow with Justin Kutcher on ESPNU at 2:00 Eastern.
To last night, where I saw Anthony Renaudo look healthy and two teams that looked pretty evenly matched on Friday night. To start, Renaudo looks fine. The arm action was free and easy, although I did not get a chance to see what his velocity was. The breaking ball was a little inconsistent, but you have to expect that given the last few weeks. For now, I think the most important thing for Renaudo is showing that he is healthy. He has already shown that he can pitch. The Tigers are impressive, but they were not overly offensive last night. A lot of that was due to Justin Grimm from UGA who dodged some bullets but kept Georgia in the game. I liked the balance of the LSU line-up, but the injury to Trey Watkins could really put a dent in that balance. He looked like a true leadoff hitter; patient, good speed and he looked good on the base paths too. He and Austin Nola collided down the left field line on a fly ball and the result did not look good. Watkins left the field with his arm being held by Paul Mainieri. It looked like a wrist injury but there was no confirmation last night.
Six of the nine LSU hitters were regulars last year, but the power this year has come from a senior that was not on the 35 man roster last year. Matt Gaudet leads LSU with 10 HR’s but was held in check last night. I liked the way Blake Dean looked at 1B. Dean made the move this year and he impressed me. He moved around the bag well and made a great running catch down the right field line. The outfield can really fly and Nola is a solid defensive first baseman. He is a guy that grows on you the more that you see him play…he can really defend.
For Georgia, the youth really showed last night. They are very talented, and this team should be a contender in the conference next year. Cone has a chance to be a star, both at the college level and the next level as well. I thought Grimm battled through a night when his stuff was inconsistent, and those are the nights you really need your Friday guys to battle. He hides the ball very well and there were not many comfortable swings by LSU the entire night. The Dogs used six or seven arms, but all of the bullpen guys should be ready to pitch today. The relief appearances were all very short. The biggest difference between the two teams was mound depth and base running. Georgia ran themselves out of two innings and in the end it was the difference in the game. They started three freshmen and six sophomores in the order, so mistakes are going to happen. The talent level is absolutely there though, and I expect them to get better as the season moves along. Injuries have really hurt thus far but they are finally getting back to full strength.
Around the rest of the country, big opening wins for Virginia Tech and NC State in the ACC over Florida St. and UVA respectively. No more undefeated clubs either…Jordan Pries of Stanford beat the Bruins with a complete game effort and Oregon knocks off A St in the 12th. Fullerton wins the first two from UC Davis and scores 43 runs in the two games, Texas Tech wins games one and two against K St at home and Texas shuts out OU for the second day in a row. Big win for Kentucky in game one at Arkansas as well. More on Monday. Remember, Mississippi St. v. South Carolina tomorrow at 2:00 Eastern on ESPNU…
Back from Mexico and ready to get out on the road. Took the family to Cancun for a week and returned to 75 degree weather in Omaha. It is now starting to feel like baseball weather! I am in Baton Rouge tonight for Georgia at LSU on ESPNU at 8:30 Eastern, then head to Columbia tomorrow for the Mississippi St. v. South Carolina finale on Easter. Then Ole Miss at Georgia next Friday and the trek starts this year. It should be a great run and I will see a lot of SEC action through the regular season. More on tonight’s game a little later on…
Let me start with a brief look at last weekend. First, ASU and UCLA stay undefeated and we are almost ½ through the regular season. Each has set records for the fastest start in school history and each have played some pretty good clubs. This weekend, the Cardinal head to Westwood for UCLA’s first conference series of the year; Stanford is coming off a series win over USC at home. The Bruins took game one in extras and still sit undefeated. The Devils headed north to take on George Horton’s Ducks and a 1-0 game one win kept the Devils spotless as well. Drew Maggi’s first HR of the year was the difference as the teams combined for 9 hits. U of A took 2/3 from Oregon at home, after winning two midweek games against New Mexico. Andy Lopez’ club is off to a great start. I see as many as 7 Pac-10 teams solidly in the regional discussion right now, quite a statement for a conference that did have some struggles last year.
To last weekend’s best series, where UVA continued to show why they are one of the top teams in the country and Clemson showed why they are in the discussion as well. Each side put 12 runs on the board over the weekend, with UVA winning the series 2-1. Virginia had 10 hits in game 2 (and lost), that was the only double digit hit total for either team all weekend. Both should be hosts at the end of the year, and I would be very surprised if the ACC does not have at least 2 national seeds. Georgia Tech and FSU are the other two teams that are right there with Miami knocking on the door. The Wreck swept UNC in Chapel Hill to move to 8-1 in the conference. Deck McGuire and Matt Harvey went pitch for pitch on Friday, with McGuire getting the win. Harvey gave up just one earned run though and Tech won with three hits on the night. They then scored 24 runs over the next two games to sweep the series. The Noles swept Maryland at home, then beat Florida in a mid week game as well. Mike McGee leads FSU with 5 HR’s and has settled into the closer’s role as well. In 10 1/3 IP so far, he has given up just one hit.
There are some teams over the years that you remember in Omaha, even if they don’t go on to win the CWS. The Citadel’s run in 1990 is one that I will always remember. Georgia won the Series that year, but The Citadel was definitely the fan favorite in Omaha. Fred Jordan’s club is a great story this year too, with a 9-0 start in the SoCon and 19 wins already this year. Pretty impressive stuff for the Bulldogs.
In the SEC, the class of the conference is starting to show itself early. LSU, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Florida, South Carolina and Vandy are all in the discussion to host as we hit the halfway point of the season. South Carolina’s series win at Auburn was impressive and I will see them on Sunday in Columbia for the series finale against Mississippi St. More on both teams early next week. LSU got Anthony Renaudo back and he impressed in two innings at Tennessee. Renaudo will start again tonight and should go 40-45 pitches. The LSU lineup has some familiar faces, with Blake Dean and Micah Gibbs anchoring in the middle. Dean’s transition to 1B has been a good transition thus far, I look forward to seeing him over there tonight. I talked with Paul Mainieri today about his club, and he mentioned that Dean had never played 1B until this year. You don’t hear that very often with LH power hitters. A few notes on Georgia, they have really struggled but are getting close to 100%. The Dogs had 11 players drafted last year, but the toughest situation for all was the heartbreaking incident with Chance Veazey. I hope to see Chance next week when I head to Athens. I look forward to seeing Grimm tonight and a Georgia starting line-up that is all freshmen and sophomores. They got Farmer and Hyams back last weekend after injuries and that should help as the season moves on.
Others that impressed this week include Kansas St. with a 3 game sweep at home against Oklahoma St. Brad Hill’s club then beat Wichita St. in a mid week game but was clipped by Texas tech last night in the series opener in Lubbock. Hill has done a masterful job the past two years in Manhattan. UT and Oklahoma meet this weekend in Norman (the Saturday game is on ESPNU). The Horns took game one thanks to a combined shutout by Taylor Jungmann and Chance Ruffin.
A few last notes, congrats to Randy Fontanez from USF on the no-hitter last weekend against Notre Dame. Fontanez struck out 12 and helped Lelo Prado’s club sweep the Irish. Lastly, it was a sad day for college baseball earlier this week when Jack Diesing Sr. passed away in Omaha at the age of 92. Jack is the reason that the CWS grew in Omaha and his efforts in building the tournament, and as a result the college game, are still seen today. Diesing’s drive and determination, and belief that Omaha could become a first class and permanent home to the CWS, allowed the event to become one of the NCAA’s banner championships. There was a great article on Omaha.com earlier this week that spoke of Jack’s dedication to the sport, the city and the event. Jack’s son, Jack Diesing Jr., has continued his father’s fine work over the past few decades and the Series continues to grow year after year. Have a great weekend, I’ll talk to you in the next few days.
Let the conference seasons begin. I know that we are not entirely there, but many of the major conferences are off and running. I will get there in a minute, but let’s start in the midwest this week.
First, it is starting to warm up…snow is finally off the ground here in Omaha. We had a scare this week with another 2 inches on Friday, but 50 degrees today did away with all of it. It matters because midwest teams will finally get outside for an extended period of time starting about now…and it’s about time. Give midwestern and northern team’s credit for travelling to warm weather schools early. I know that most do not have a choice, but playing top teams early is a tough task. There is no replacement for getting outside, no matter how impressive a school’s indoor facilities. Enough about the weather, on to the week.
We start in Tempe as the Devils put together quite a week. I know that I have written about the relative unimportance of mid-week games. Let me amend that a little. It can show a team’s strengths and weaknesses as far as depth. Arizona St has answered that question thanks to a mid-week sweep in Fullerton and a sweep of a game Houston club at home, all of this coming after a home sweep of Auburn. The Devils showed why they are among the country’s elite. The stats are interesting to say the least…48 stolen bases, more walks (116) then strikeouts (111), and just 17 home runs in the first 20 games. The team era is sub-3 as well. That is balance, and that is without Josh Spence. It sounds like Spence will be back in a few weeks at the latest. UCLA kept up their winning ways as well, and both now stand undefeated through the first month+ of the season. The Bruins have wins over Vandy, Long Beach, USC, Nebraska, Riverside, Mississippi St. Oklahoma and Oral Roberts. That is a pretty impressive list. Arizona, Stanford, Oregon and Oregon St. all swept weekend series’ as well and the Pac-10 race could be a crowded one this year.
Give Pacific some credit for their start as well. Stockton native Ed Sprague has had quite a run this year as UOP has won all 4 of their weekend series so far this year, and won 3 of 4 in the Irish classic as well. A solid Big West run could put the Tigers in the regional discussion this year.
UC Irvine had a good week and weekend as well, with a mid-week win over USD and a weekend sweep of Gonzaga. Daniel Bibona remains one of the top Friday arms in the country. Irvine’s overall numbers will not amaze anyone but any Mike Gillespie team will force you to beat you, they will rarely beat themselves. Fullerton responded from a mid-week sweep at the hands of Arizona St. by sweeping UW in Seattle. Don’t be surprised if the Titans get on a roll now entering Big West play. USD took 2 of 3 at home against Rice and had the lead in the 9th on Sunday with a chance to sweep. Rich Hill’s club has been up and down and they make the eastern trek this week to take on Coastal Carolina. That will be a test, 3 time zones and a tough Chants team to beat at home.
Heading east, Oklahoma stays hot after a 3-0 week. The Sooners were rained out in the final 2 games against Baylor, although they trailed game two 5-0 when it was called. Kansas struggled over the past week after the series win in Baton Rouge. An 0-4 week with two losses each to Tulane and St. Louis have brought the Jayhawks back down to earth. Kansas St. was supposed to be rebuilding this year but it has not looked that way so far. After losing their top two arms off a regional club from last year, the Wildcats sit at 15-3 and they open Big 12 play this weekend at home against Oklahoma St. Texas’ mid week loss to Rice was evened out by a series win to start conference play over Nebraska.
Outside of the Big 12, TCU continues to be a solid national story, and is positioning themselves nicely to enter the national seed discussion in late May. The Frogs had a 7 game winning streak snapped in the series finale against BYU, but they won the weekend series and had another solid outing from frosh Matt Purke. I love the goggles by the way, pitchers with glasses have to stick together. New Mexico losing 2 of 3 at home to Utah is a step back, but Ray Birmingham’s club was bound to have a down weekend. They have been pretty consistent thus far. Two mid-week games at Arizona will be a solid test as Andy Lopez’ club has been playing some pretty good baseball. U of A is a tough place to play, the gaps are some of the biggest in all of college baseball and the Wildcats always play well at their home park. On the down side, Wichita St’s trip out west was a tough one, losing 4 of 5 to Long Beach and Arizona. They get into Mo. Valley play this coming weekend at home against Bradley…and they hope to be done with snow outs!
I am heading south for a few days with the family, back with more next week. The ESPN schedule kicks off on April 2nd in Baton Rouge when Georgia takes on LSU. Then Texas v. Oklahoma the following night with Mississippi St. at South Carolina to finish off the weekend. ESPN and ESPNU will have college baseball on every weekend starting the first weekend of April through the CWS and I am excited to get things started. Also, I will have podcasts of interviews with coaches and players from around the game following every weekend as well. Lastly, I am proud to call Omaha home and this summer will bring an additional college baseball game to Rosenblatt Stadium. We will announce a game between Team USA and Team Japan tomorrow here in Omaha and the game will be played on July 21st. It should be another great event for the city and will give Rosenblatt one more great college game before they close the doors. I had a chance to hang with Warren Morris and the guys from USA baseball tonight in Omaha and I am fired up for the game this summer.
Get your questions in, I’ll answer some towards the end of next week. By the way…give me Kentucky, Tennessee., the ‘Cuse and Duke in the final four with Syracuse and UK in the final. I think the frosh get it done and Calipari hoists the trophy in year one.
To start, we are now up and running and I am excited to partner with the folks from Easton. Fire away with comments and suggestions, I will read them and respond when I can. I also want to acknowledge the guys around the country that do such a complete job of covering the college game. I am proud to call guys like Eric Sorenson, Kendall Rogers, Aaron Fitt and others colleagues and their work in the game is exceptional. My TV work will start in Baton Rouge in a few weeks with Georgia at LSU on April 2. I look forward to getting back at it and the coverage on ESPN will continue to grow this year. Now to the action…
The ACC got a jump on most of the country this past weekend with the start of conference play, and UVA v. FSU was the marquis matchup in week five. Credit the Cavs for solidifying their spot atop the national rankings by taking two of three in Tallahassee. Virginia has now won series’ at East Carolina and Florida St. already this year, Brian O’Connor’s team is in fact that good. The Noles had scored double digit runs in 9 of their first 12 games coming in, and Danny Hultzen and company shut them out on three hits in the opener. This speaks to a larger point…the importance of a consistent Friday starter. A deep Friday start sets a staff up for the entire weekend. A rested bullpen is often needed more on Saturday and Sunday. The mentality of a Friday guy is important as well. You will always see the other side’s ace, and that can bring true character out. A Friday night win is obviously a great start to the weekend too. One last thing on UVA, they have played the part of favorite pretty well thus far. The ranking will put a target on their backs the rest of the season and they have responded well to this point.
Next, on the Baton Rouge, where Ritch Price’s Jayhawks announced their presence with a series win against LSU. Not to take anything away from KU because this was a huge weekend, but I think it speaks to the loss of Renaudo very strongly. LSU has struggled on Friday night this year without Renaudo. If you burn a bullpen on Friday it changes the course of the entire weekend. That being said, KU has a series that they can build on, and they did it without Tony Thompson. KU will challenge for the Big 12 title this year.
On to Oxford, where the fightin’ McDonnels won two of three at Ole Miss. Louisville is really good, and a road series win against a team that could host will look very good on Memorial Day. Adam Duvall had a big weekend for Louisville at the dish and the offense was impressive with Clark and Richmond out. No rest for the Rebels, they head to Knoxville to take on a Kentucky team that has been impressive so far.
Let’s talk about some others that are flying under that radar a little bit. SE Louisiana stayed hot with a conference sweep over UT San Antonio. The sweep in Starkville was no fluke. Brandon Efferson has won all four starts and Janway and Franklin have dominated at the back end of the bullpen. The stat that jumps out to me…they have walked just over 3 per 9 innings as a staff this season and have an era just over 3…that translates to wins.
Western Kentucky and Liberty have turned heads too. Jim Toman’s club took two of three from St. John’s this weekend and they look to give Coastal a challenge in the Big South race this year. The Hilltoppers swept New Orleans on the road and have a tough test mid week with a home and home against Vandy.
Elsewhere, Clemson and Georgia Tech stayed hot with series sweeps. Deck McGuire continued to dominate with a CG three hitter on Friday night. His start on the mound might be the most impressive in the country. A sub one era and five walks in 31 innings is a pretty good combination. Offensively, the Jackets have hit 27 jacks in 14 games and Tony Plagman leads the way with six so far. For Clemson, Jack Leggett’s club has left the yard plenty themselves. Tony Parker’s six hr’s paces Clemson.
In the SEC, there are some pretty gaudy win totals across the board. Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks head to Baton Rouge this weekend in what should be one of the premier series this weekend. I will be in Fayetteville in mid April and look forward to seeing Baum Stadium in person. Alabama has impressed so far too but the true test will come in conference. They open at home against Vandy this weekend. Auburn stumbled on the road against an Arizona St. team that remains undefeated. I’ll touch on the Devils later this week. Florida wins a series at home and faces in state rival Florida St. mid week. For the Gators, the pitching depth has stood out so far, a trait that will prove important in conference if it continues.
That’s it for tonight, I’ll get to the Midwest and West later this week. I head to Charlotte this week to tape some teaching elements that we will use during the ESPN telecasts this year. Get the questions rolling in, I’ll start the Q and A sometime next week.