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April 21, 2008
Wait 'Til Next Year
Seminole Supremacy and Beaver Bouncebacks
As a Miami/Florida State series might symbolize, the consistent theme throughout college baseball this past weekend was the battling between top 25 teams in huge conference series. While Miami proved to be the class of the ACC, we also had Rice and East Carolina battling for the Conference USA, and about a dozen other series where teams were fighting to hold their place as the second- or third-best in their conferences. We saw UC Riverside earn another huge Big West series win over Irvine, and Stanford's Erik Davis pitch his fourth consecutive complete game as Stanford took care of business against UCLA. Michigan scored 27 runs in a game against rival Michigan State, and Pepperdine scored 22 on Saturday en route to a series win on the road against Loyola Marymount.
If There was Any Doubt: Miami is now definitively the top team in the nation. On the road in Tallahassee against the Florida State Seminoles, Miami scored 27 runs to take two out of three games. It wasn't easy, though, as Miami had to stop a late Florida State rally to win Sunday's seven-inning shortened game 11-10. The rubber match featured seven home runs, including two from Yonder Alonso and round-trippers from both Jemile Weeks and Buster Posey. Starting pitchers suffered through a miserable weekend, as the two team's rotations combined to allow 28 earned runs in 25 2/3 innings. Both Alonso and Dennis Raben proved why Miami's middle of the order is the nation's best; Alonso went 5-for-9 with four walks, while Raben hit 5-for-9 as well, with a home run. At least the Seminoles got the benefit of the fact that there is no stopping red-hot Buster Posey, who went 5-for-10. While it's not as if this series wasn't close-a one-run, seven-inning game decided the outcome-it does seem clear which team is better built for June, and that's the deeper, more talented Hurricanes.
The Beaver Revival: Just when you think it might be okay to count out Oregon State, Pat Casey's team found a way to win. They were almost pronounced dead last season, but a run in May continued on into June, and the team walked away with a back-to-back championship. This season, after bad performances in a pair of invitationals and competing in the most competitive Pac-10 season yet, Oregon State's tournament hopes have seemed far-fetched at time. No longer, however, as the Beavers traveled into Tempe, Arizona, and took the first weekend series from the Sun Devils. On Friday, Mike Stutes carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning, but entering the ninth, the Beavers found themselves down 4-1. However, Arizona State's problematic bullpen nipped them again, as Thomas Rafferty and Reyes Dorado failed to close out the game, and Oregon State scored five runs to come from behind. On Saturday it was freshman Tanner Robles' turn for the Beavers, and the lefty was brilliant for six innings, allowing just one run in the first. The offense had an unlikely hero in senior second baseman Lonnie Lechelt, who had a pinch-hit, two-run triple in the ninth on Friday, a three-run home run on Saturday, and finally three hits in Sunday's 15-12 loss. After weekend series victories over Arizona State and Georgia, the Beavers seem like a lock for the postseason.
College Baseball's Hottest Team: It seems like a rite of spring at this point. Rice enters April and the Conference-USA part of their schedule, and a winning streak ensues. Last year, no team entered the tournament hotter than Rice, who trounced their C-USA competition. This season the conference looked to be much closer, as Southern Miss traveled into Houston and beat Rice in a pair of one-run games at the end of March. The next weekend, however, Rice started a winning streak against Memphis that has now reached 12 games, including a sweep of C-USA rival East Carolina. Despite allowing 25 hits in 16 2/3 innings, the Rice starters allowed just six earned runs, compared to 14 runs in 15 1/3 innings for the Pirates' starting pitchers. Catcher Adam Zornes had the biggest weekend, hitting a pair of home runs in his 6-for-11 series. Sunday's game ball goes to Matt Langwell, who threw a brilliant complete game fro the win. Now 13-2 in the conference, Rice enters the hard part of the conference schedule, with two road series and a home series against rival Houston left on the schedule. Nevertheless, no team seems more ready for the end of the season than Wayne Graham's.
College Baseball's Hottest Team, v. 2.0: It took the nation's hottest team, Rice, to unseat the second-hottest team, Texas A&M, or we'd be looking at a 17-game win streak; still, 16-1 works, as A&M's sweep of Baylor was far more important than their 11-2 loss on Tuesday to Rice. On Friday, despite a great outing from sophomore Kendal Volz, Baylor opened the door for Texas A&M with an untimely error and hit by pitch, and Aggies starter Brooks Raley was brilliant in 7 2/3 innings as the Aggies won 2-1. The bats would not be quiet the rest of the weekend as the series moved to Waco, and Texas A&M would collect 36 hits in two games. Saturday's 11-1 victory was a bloodbath thanks to freshman Barret Loux's great start and five Aggie home runs. Sunday was the game to watch, however, as A&M won 13-12 in 11 innings in a wild come-from-behind victory. After scoring six in the ninth to tie the game, Blake Stouffer delivered the win with a single in the eleventh. The weekends keep getting harder for the Aggies, as the Aggies have Big 12 series left against Missouri, Nebraska (in Lincoln), and Texas. We'll know where they stand in a month, but for now, we'll let Aggie fans revel in the fact that this is not the same team that dropped their opening series to Northern Colorado.
Another Series Loss in Austin: It doesn't seem like an Augie Garrido team in Texas this season, as Texas was swept at home by Oklahoma State this weekend. The Longhorns have now lost three series at home (Stanford, Nebraska, Oklahoma State), and their record is just 14-10 in Austin and just 8-10 in conference games. The series was hard-fought, with just five runs deciding the weekend's outcome, including two one-run losses at the start. Friday involved a wonderful pitcher's duel, as Oklahoma State's Andy Oliver allowed just one run in eight innings, but he was upstaged by Texas' Chance Ruffin, who needed just 104 pitches to get through 10 innings. The wheels came off when he handed things to his bullpen in the 11th, however, as the Cowboys used small ball to turn a leadoff walk and error to take the game; the game ball award goes to Matt Hague, the team's usual right fielder, who shut out the Longhorns for three innings in relief. On Saturday, the Cowboys scored three runs in the ninth to win the game 8-7, as neither Brandon Belt or Pat McCrory could close things out for Texas, spoiling a brilliant relief effort from Cole Green. Another position player, two-way shortstop Jordy Mercer, was key in relief for Oklahoma State, notching his sixth save in the ninth. He would get his seventh on Sunday, as another come-from-behind victory sealed the sweep, mostly thanks to a two-homer day from first baseman Rebel Ridling.
Taking Care of Business: Parity reigns supreme in the Southeastern Conference this season, which means that for every team winning home series crucial. Thus, it can't be said enough how big a weekend it was for South Carolina after taking two of three from a resurgent Ole Miss team in Columbia. They needed a complete game from Blake Cooper on Sunday to do it, as Cooper beat the more talented Cody Satterwhite. Friday was a similar story, as South Carolina battered around Lance Lynn, mostly using Justin Smoak (4-for-4, two doubles) and James Darnell (2-for-4, grand slam) to do the damage. Saturday showcased the continued brilliance from the Rebels' newfound second starter, Drew Pomeranz, who scattered four hits and a run in six innings to earn his fourth win of the season. Cody Overbeck homered, and would again on Sunday, but this was another weekend series in which it seemed that only Overbeck making consistent, hard contact. The Gamecocks still have Florida and Tennessee at home on their conference schedule, and given the depth of the SEC, they'll need to win both to get the credit they deserve come regionals.
The BP College 12