2010 Big 10/Big East Baseball Challenge Preview

February 25, 2010
By

Second Annual Event Starts Friday

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Three frost-free days of baseball await teams from the Big Ten and Big East Conferences in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater, FL  area this weekend at the second annual Big Ten/Big East Baseball Challenge.   Most of the teams playing this weekend started their seasons last weekend, but a handful will play their season-openers this Friday-Sunday.

Collegebaseball360.com will provide live webcasts of 9 games at this year’s Challenge.  CLICK HERE for the video streaming schedule.  We will also provide continuous coverage of the event throughout the weekend on our Big Ten/Big East Challenge Page.  All 30 of this weekend’s match-ups can currently be found on that page.

Below are capsules for every team participating in this weekend’s event (for the second time in as many years Georgetown and Pittsburgh will not participate).  We have included results for each team from last week’s games.

Cincinnati

2009 Record:  (29-29, 13-14)

Mascot:  Bearcats

Head Coach:  Brian Cleary

Location:  Cincinnati, OH

Vitals:  .285 BA, 72 HR, .382 OBP, .965 Fld%…6.73 ERA, 1 CG, 12 SV, 376 K, 194 BB, .318 opp. BA

Thefts Are Down:  After stealing 130 and 133 bases in 2007 and 2008, respectively, the Bearcats swiped just 33 bases last year.  The only Big East team with fewer stolen bases was West Virginia with 23.

Long Gone Spina:  Cincinnati has a big hole to fill in the middle of the order with the loss of Mike Spina (.342, 23 HR, 69 RBIs).  The third baseman was taken in the 11th round of last year’s MLB Draft by the Oakland A’s.  His home run total was second in the Big East to Louisville’s Chris Dominguez (25).  Spina had an 1.121 OPS last year.

More Losses:  The Bearcats also lose Lance Durham, whose .427 average was the second-best in the conference last year.  Durham was drafted in the 14th round by Toronto last June.  His 99 hits set the UC single-season record formerly held by Boston Red Sox infielder Kevin Youklis.  Cincinnati also loses its top pitcher, Jake Geglein (6-1, 2.97 ERA, 9 SV), who signed a free agent contract with the Texas Rangers.  Geglein was the only Bearcat pitcher with either a winning record or a sub-3.00 ERA last year.

Across The Pond:  Cincinnati head coach Brian Cleary served as the pitching coach for the British National Baseball Team at the 2009 Baseball World Cup.  He served in the same role when the team won the silver medal at the 2007 European Championships.

Opening Weekend:  The Bearcats were 1-2 last weekend in a 3-game series vs. Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton, FL.  Cincy won the opener 5-3, but lost the last two games by a combined 12-0.

Connecticut

2009 Record:  (36-24, 14-13)

Mascot:  Huskies

Head Coach:  Jim Penders

Location:  Storrs, CT

Vitals:  .318 BA, 51 HR, .393 OBP, .959 Fld%…4.39 ERA, 1 CG, 14 SV, 455 K, 197 BB, .269 opp. BA

Hungry Huskies:  UConn returns eight batters from a scrappy line-up who hit .301 or better last year, including George Springer (.358, 16 HR, 57 RBIs, 1.133 OPS), Mike Nemeth (.346, 6 HR, 47 RBIs, 22 doubles), Pierre LePage (.340, 1 HR, 38 RBIs), and Mike Olt (.301, 8 HR, 40 RBIs).  LePage helped the Bourne Braves win the Cape Cod League Championship last summer.  The biggest loss is that of Pete Fatse (.354, 11 HR, 54 RBIs).  CLICK HERE to listen to a podcast interview with LePage.

Husky Hurlers:  The Huskies lose key relievers David Erickson (3.21 ERA, 12 SV), Dusty Odenbach (2-3, 3.34 ERA) and Dennis Accomando (1-1, 3.46 ERA), who combined to make 75 relief appearances last year.  They also lose John Folino whose six wins led the staff.   Top returnees to the staff include Soph. Scott Oberg, who was 4-0 with a team-best 1.78 ERA, Matt Barnes (5-3), and Elliott Glynn (5-4, 4.76 ERA).  Glynn led the team with 12 starts and also hit .266 while making 24 starts as an outfielder.

Coast To Coast:  After opening its season in Florida at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge UConn heads to California for a four-game series with Cal State Northridge followed by a game at USC.  The Huskies then play Tennessee, Marshall and Ohio State in Knoxville, TN.

Illinois

2009 Record:  (34-20, 16-8)

Mascot:  Fighting Illini

Head Coach:  Dan Hartleb

Location:  Champaign, IL

Vitals:  .316 BA, 42 HR, .394 OBP, .970 Fld%…5.32 ERA, 2 CG, 11 SV, 297 K, 201 BB, .298 opp BA

Thunder Sticks:  Illinois returns seven of its top nine hitters from a 2009 team that came-up just short of an NCAA Regional bid.  Senior catcher Aaron Johnson (.333, 10 HR, 52 RBIs) and sophomore OF Willie Argo (.355, 12 HR, 47 RBIs, 1.072 OPS) provide the biggest pop among the returnees who combined for 34 of the team’s 42 home runs last year.  Junior Pete Cappetta’s .382 average also ranked sixth among Big 10 batters in ‘09

Big SplashArgo homered in his first three collegiate at-bats in a March 7 loss at LSU last year.  The Illini shocked the eventual national champions by winning the other two series games in Baton Rouge.

Solid Arms:  Sophomores Bryan Roberts (5-4, 6.72 ERA) and Will Strack (6-1, 3.84 ERA) are Illinois’ top returning starters from a year ago.  Strack made 9 starts and picked-up a pair of saves as well with six relief outings.  Three other pitchers who combined for six saves and six wins return as well.

South Carolina Swing:  While Illinois doesn’t play the likes of LSU this year they start their spring trip on March 5 in Greenville, SC vs. 2009 Super Regional team East Carolina.  The Illini also plays two games vs. Big South Conference preseason favorite Coastal Carolina in Conway, SC

Opening Weekend:  After the start date to the 2010 season was pushed-up a week Illinois scheduled two home games vs. Bradley.  Those game were cancelled last weekend due to snow and freezing temperatures.

Indiana

2009 Record:  (32-27, 16-7)

Mascot:  Hoosiers

Head Coach:  Tracy Smith

Location:  Bloomington, IN

Vitals:  .321 BA, 62 HR, .402 OBP, .960 Fld%…5.15 ERA, 7 CG, 10 SV, 439 K, 216 BB, .284 opp. BA

Arnett-less:  The Hoosiers lose staff ace Eric Arnett (12-2, 2.50 ERA) who tied the IU record for wins and set a new program mark with 109 Ks, which ranked second in the Big 10.  He was named co-Big 10 Pitcher of the Year with Ohio State’s Alex Wimmers.  Arnett, who also pitched six of the staff’s seven complete games last year,  is the first Indiana pitcher to earn conference pitcher of the year honors and to be named All-American.  He was a first round pick by Milwaukee in last year’s MLB Draft.

Hoosier HolesArnett is among eight Hoosier players who signed professional contracts after their 2009 Big Ten Tournament Championship seson.  Leading hitter Kipp Schutz (.392) and slugging catcher Josh Phegley (.344, 17 HR, 66 RBIs) are the top offensive losses.

Young SluggerFreshman All-American outfielder Alex Dickerson (.370, 14 HR, 57 RBIs, 1.044 OPS) heads a list of four returning starters who hit .314 or better last season.

On The Mound:  Senior reliever Chris Squires (2-2, 3.93 ERA, 8 SV) and weekend starter Blake Monar (5-3, 4.64 ERA) are the top returning IU pitchers.  Freshman Casey Smith and redshirt sophomore Matt Ernest are two newcomers to the Hoosier staff in 2010.  Smith is head coach Tracy Smith’s son, while Ernest has played wide receiver for the IU football team for the last two seasons.  He had seven catches for 69 yards and a TD in 2009.

Opening Weekend:  Lost their first three games at #24 San Diego by a combined 34-16 before winning the series finale 7-5.

Iowa

2009 Record:  (16-36, 4-19)

Mascot:  Hawkeyes

Head Coach:  Jack Dahm

Location:  Iowa City, IA

Vitals:  .293 BA, 40 HR, .380 OBP, .951 Fld%…6.25 ERA, 0 CG, 7 SV, 330 K, 230 BB, .312 opp. BA

Line-Up Losses: The Hawkeyes return six of their top nine batters from a year ago, but they lose both Justin Toole (.346, 15 SB) and Wes Freie (.289, 9 HR, 44 RBIs).

Key ReturnsAll-Big Ten outfielder Ryan Durant (.370) is back to lead the offense.  He’s joined by Mike McQuillan (.363), team stolen base leader Kurtis Muller (19) and Sean Flanagan (.310), who played in 27 games and started just 18, but still managed 6 home runs.  Flanagan had a .696 slg % in Big Ten games.

Young Arms:  No Iowa pitcher made more than nine starts last year, but the three who each started nine games all return.  Sophomores Phil Schreiber (2-2, 4.57 ERA), Jarred Hippen (3-4, 4.87 ERA) and Nick Brown (2-4, 6.35 ERA) combined to win seven of Iowa’s 13 wins in 2009.

Big 12 Bound:  Iowa plays eight straight games vs. a pair of Big 12 teams that made the NCAA Tournament in early March.  The Hawkeyes start a four-game series at Kansas on March 5, and then head to Austin, TX to start another four-game set vs. 2009 College World Series runner-up Texas.  Each series includes a day two doubleheader.  They host another Big 12 team, Nebraska, on April 27.

Opening Weekend:  Iowa split two games in Clarksville, TN to open the season.  The Hawkeyes debuted with a 19-11 win over Illinois State and lost to Austin Peay 13-8.

Louisville

2009 Record:  (47-18, 19-7)

Mascot:  Cardinals

Head Coach:  Dan McDonnell

Location:  Louisville, KY

Vitals:  .304 BA, 85 HR, .394 OBP, .970 Fld%…4.32 ERA, 2 CG, 13 SV, 536 K, 182 BB, .261 opp. BA

Cardinals Trending Hot: Louisville enters 2010 with two straight Big East Tournament championships, and the Cardinals are fresh off their second Super Regional appearance in the last three years.  They won the BE regular season & tournament titles last year.  The program’s 135 wins over the last three seasons rank sixth in the nation.  The Cardinals have made three straight NCAA appearances, including two Super Regionals and a College World Series trip, under head coach Dan McDonnell.  Cal State Fullerton beat Louisville last year in the Fullerton Super Regional to advance to Omaha.

Loaded Line-Up:  The Cardinals return seven of eight everyday players from last year’s Super Regional squad.  All-American junior Phil Wunderlich (.367, 18 HR, 68 RBIs, 1.113 OPS) leads the group of returnees.  Seniors Andrew Clark (.350, 9 HR, 55 RBIs) and Adam Duvall (.328, 11 HR, 51 RBIs, 12 SB) are back as well.

Ready To Return:  Outfielder Stewart Ijames is back after last season with a shoulder injury.  Ijames was a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American in 2008 after hitting .351 with 8 home runs, 11 doubles and 39 RBIs.  He led the Coastal Plain League with 12 home runs for the Thomasville HiToms last summer.

Pitching Prowess:  Louisville returns 12 of the 15 pitchers who saw action last year, but they do lose their ace, Justin Marks (11-3, 3.77 ERA, 129 K in 105 IP).  The left was taken by Oakland in the 3rd round of last year’s MLB draft. Dean Kiekhefer (6-5, 5.00 ERA),  Gabriel Shaw (3-1, 3.73 ERA, 3 SV), Tony Zych (6-2, 3.25 ERA, 2 SV) and Thomas Royse (3-2, 3.48 ERA, 2 SV) lead the group of returnees.

Gone But Not Forgotten:  The Cardinals also lose 6′4, 240 lb. Chris Dominguez (.345, 25 HR, 82 RBIs) who hit 61 home runs with a school record 218 RBIs in his three-year career (he only played three games in 2006 due to a broken forearm).  He was taken in with the 86th overall pick by San Francisco in last year’s draft.  His 25 home runs in ‘09 are a single-season school record, while his 61 career long balls are second in the Louisville record books.

Opening Week: Louisville swept a 3-game series vs. Bowling Green last weekend.  The improved to 4-0 with a 7-2 win Tuesday night over Morehead State.

Michigan

2009 Record:  (30-25, 9-15)

Mascot:  Wolverines

Head Coach:  Rich Maloney

Location:  Ann Arbor, MI

Vitals:  .294 BA, 55 HR, .387 OBP, .968 Fld%…4.82 ERA, 3 CG, 12 SV, 421 K, 205 BB, .293 BB

Out Of The Blue:  Michigan has been one of the most successful teams from the north over the last seven years, but 2009 broke that recent trend.  After winning three straight Big Ten titles from 2006-2008 Michigan didn’t even qualify for the league’s postseason tournament last year.

Dominant Duo:  Preseason All-American OF Ryan LaMarre (.344, 12 HR, 62 RBIs) and 2009 All-Big Ten first baseman Mike Dufek (.304, 17 HR, 59 RBIs, 19 doubles) head the list of seven returning Wolverines who started at least 30 games last year.  Dufek was also 1-1 on the mound with a 2.70 ERA and three saves.

Plethora Of Pitching:  The Wolverines return 11 of their 14 pitchers who saw action last year, although staff ace Chris Fetter (7-3, 3.26 ERA) is the top loss.  Fetter had all three of the pitching staff’s complete games last year, and he struckout 103 in 94 IP.  Senior LHP Eric Katzman (7-4, 3.53 ERA) returns to lead the rotation, while Matt Miller (3.70 ERA, 3 SV) and Tyler Burgoon (4-2, 4.84 ERA, 4 SV) join Dufek in the bullpen.

Carolina Challenge:  Michigan plays a 3-game series at North Carolina, which has made four straight College World Series Appearances, March 5-7.  The Wolverines also play two games vs. Coastal Carolina in Myrtle Beach March 13 & 14.

Crankin’ It: Coley Crank hit .467 (7-for-15) with four home runs and nine runs batted in at the Red Raider Invitational (Feb. 19-21). He is believed to be the first player in the modern era of Division I baseball to hit three home runs on opening day after blasting out a trio of balls against Jacksonville State (Feb. 19). Crank reached base in all four games, playing primarily as a designated hitter.  Named a Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week.

Opening Weekend:  Went 2-2 at the Red Raider Shootout in Lubbock, TX.  Won first two games vs. Jacksonville State, but lost last two games vs. Texas Tech.

Michigan State

2009 Record:  (23-31, 13-11)

Mascot:  Spartans

Head Coach:  Jake Boss, Jr.

Location:  East Lansing, MI

Vitals:  .284 BA, 30 HR, .366 OBP, .966 Fld%…5.19 ERA, 2 CG, 7 SV, 302 K, 244 BB, .294 opp. BA

Who’s The Boss:  Second year Michigan State head coach Jake Boss, Jr.’s dad, Jake Boss, Sr., is the Spartans’ volunteer assistant coach.  The elder boss has 29 years of head coaching experience was inducted into the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1994.  He has also served as a Major League scout for the Toronto Blue Jays and L.A. Dodgers.

Sparty’s Charges:  The Spartans return the bulk of their starting position players, although they do lose their top overall hitter Eric Roof (.345, 6 HR, 41 RBIs), who led the team in nearly every offensive category.  Outfielder Eli Boike (.310, 36 RBIs, 12 SB), who led MSU with 8 home runs heads the list of returnees.  Jeff Holm (16), Jonathon Roof (11) and Brandon Eckerle (13) combined with Boike to help the Spartans steal 71 bases last year.

Two For One:  Two of three weekend starters, Soph. Tony Bucciferro (5-2, 3.55 ERA) and Jr.  A.J. Achter (3-6, 3.76 ERA), return to spearhead the pitching staff.  They do lose Nolan Moody (6-5, 4.53 ERA), who led the staff with his six wins and tossed the team’s only two complete games.

Opening Weekend: Beat Furman & Miami (OH), but lost 10-2 to Clemson in Greenville, SC.  MS.  Shortstop Jonathon Roof was named Big Ten Player of the Week. Roof went 7-for-11 at the plate over the weekend with two homers, three RBIs and four runs scored.

Minnesota

2009 Record:  (40-19, 17-6)

Mascot:  Golden Gophers

Head Coach:  John Anderson

Location:  Minneapolis, MN

Vitals:  .314 BA, 55 HR, .391 OBP, .971 Fld%…4.85 ERA, 1 CG, 18 SV, 392 K, 192 BB, .285 opp. BA

Slow And Steady:  Minnesota didn’t make a big early splash like Illinois, but the Gophers had just a pair of two-game losing streaks and one three-game skid during the regular season en-route to 40 wins in 2009.  Minnesota has won at least 40 games and gone to an NCAA Regional in two of the last three seasons.

Minnesota Milestone:  Head coach John Anderson got his 1,000th career win last May with a 7-6 win at Penn State.  Anderson is the 20th head coach to win 1,000 games with the same team and the first Big Ten coach to accomplish the feat.

Iron Men:  Senior Michael Kvasnicka (.341, 10 HR, 65 RBIs) leads trio of returning Minnesota players who started all 59 games last year.  Redshirt Soph. Nick O’Shea (.287, 11 HR, 44 RBIs) started every game last year as well, while A.J. Petterson (.353) started all but one game.  The Golden Gophers do lose Derek McCallum (.409, 18 HR, 86 RBIs), who also started every game last year and then was taken by the Minnesota Twins in the fourth round of last year’s MLB Draft.

Golden Arm:   Closer Scott Matyas (0-1, 2.22 ERA, 15 SV) is back to lead the pitching staff.  The junior finished second in the Big Ten with his 15 saves last year to Ohio State’s Jake Hale.  He struckout 45 of the 104 batters he faced in 28 1/3 innings last year.  Matyas was drafted by the Yankees last year in the 29th round, but he opted to return for his jurnio season (he redshirted in 2007). Fellow junior Seth Rosin (7-1, 4.21 ERA) is the lone returning weekend starter.

Opening Weekend: Took 2 of 3 games from Akron in Ft. Myers, FL.  The two wins were by finals of 6-0 and 1-0.  Michael Kvasnicka scored the only run of the series finale with a walk-off home run.  It was the Golden Gopher’s first walk-off HR since 2005.

Northwestern

2009 Record:  (14-35-1, 5-17)

Mascot:  Wildcats

Head Coach:  Paul Stevens

Location:  Evanston, IL

Vitals:  .264 BA, 35 HR, .333 OBP, .964 Fld%…6.39 ERA, 6 CG, 4 SV, 274 K, 182 BB, .318 opp. BA

Big League Digs:  The Wildcats will play a doubleheader vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Milwaukee’s Miller Park on April 28.  The twin bill will be played after the Milwaukee Brewers play the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 12:10 pm game.

Wildcat Workhorses:  Northwestern returns it entire weekend pitching rotation from 2009.  Senior LHP Joe Muraski (3-5, 5.31 ERA) led the staff with 65 Ks in 81 1/3 IP, while posting a team-best .276 opponent batting average, junior LHP Eric Jokisch (4-7, 5.48 ERA) pitched five of the staff’s six complete games en-route to a team-leading 88 2/3 IP and sophomore RHP Eric Morton (2-7, 5.65 ERA) was the only other Wildcat to pitch more than 57 innings in ‘09.    Relievers Michael Jahns (1-1, 3.56 ERA) and Francis Brooke (2-2, 3.68 ERA) are back as well.

Long Ball Loss:  The Wildcats return most of their line-up from 2009, but they lose home run and RBI leader Tony Vercelli (.258, 11 HR, 40 RBIs).  Paul Snieder (.244, 6 HR, 25 RBIs) is the team’s top returning home run hitter, Kenneth Avila (.293) hit for the best average last year, while Chris Lashmet (.296, 5 HR, 30 RBIs) returns as well.

No Home Cookin’:  For the second straight year Northwestern will play just 15 home games.

Opening Weekend:  Northwestern went 0-4 at the Bojangles Baseball Classic in Rock Hill, SC.  The Wildcats were outscored 58-9 in their four games vs. Winthrop, Marist and George Mason (twice).

Notre Dame

2009 Record:  (36-23, 15-12)

Mascot:  Fighting Irish

Head Coach:  Dave Schrage

Location:  Notre Dame, IN

Vitals:  .309 BA, 51 HR, .392 OBP, .966 Fld%…5.36 ERA, 7 CG, 12 SV, 328 BB, 220, .286 opp. BA

Line-Up Losses:  The Irish lose their top three hitters, including their top two run producers from 2009. CF  A.J. Pollock (.365, 10 HR, 52 RBIs, 21 SB) was taken by Arizona with the 17th overall pick in last year’s MLB draft.  He was the highest Irish player drafted since 1965.  SS Jeremy Barnes (.353, 15 HR, 70 RBIs) was drafted in the 11th round by Philadelphia.  Barnes was Notre Dame’s RBI leader in 3 of his 4 years.  Meanwhile, OF Golden Tate (.329, 45 R, 13 SB), who won the Biletnikoff Award on the football field last fall, won’t play baseball this year to prepare for April’s NFL Draft.

Solid Nucleus:  Despite the significant losses Notre Dame still returns six players who hit .301 or better in 2009, including Jr. INF Mick Doyle (.327) and Sr. OF David Mills (.325), who was also 2-1 with a save as a relief pitcher.

Plenty Of Pitching:  Virtually every significant pitcher from 2009 is back this season, including the entire weekend rotation of Jr. Cole Johnson(7-3, 4.47 ERA),  Jr. Brian Dupra (6-5, 3 CG) and Sr. Eric Maust (6-3, 4.94) who has also doubled as a punter on the Irish football team.  Relievers Will Hudgins (2-0, 3.65 ERA, 3 SV), Todd Miller (1-2, 5.40 ERA, 5 SV) and Ryan Richter (5-2, 3.85 ERA) return as well.  RHP Ryan Sharpley is also back after missing all of 2009 due to injury.

Addition By Addition:  Collegiate coaching veteran Dave Dengler joins the Irish staff as the pitching coach for 2010.  As a head coach he led Linn-Blinton CC and Yavapai JC to a combined five Junior College World Series appearances, including the 1993 NJCAA National Championship (Yavapai).  Dengler was also the head coach at Portland State for four years before the program was disbanded.  In his 23 years as a college coach Dengler had 23 pitchers, including World Series MVP Curt Schilling, selected in the MLB Draft.

Opening Weekend: The Fighting Irish swept three games vs. Mississippi Valley State.  Notre Dame swept the games played in Itta Bena and Greenville, MS by a combined 39-10.  First baseman Casey Martin was named Big East Player of the Week after going 8-for-16 with two home runs and 7 RBIs.

Ohio State

2009 Record:  (42-19, 18-6)

Mascot:  Buckeyes

Head Coach:  Bob Todd

Location:  Columbus, OH

Vitals:  .328 BA, 66 HR, .400 BA, .963 Fld%…6.39 ERA, 5 CG, 21 SV, 462 K, 265 BB, .300 opp. BA

Dynamic Duo:  Reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Dan Burkhart (.354, 10 HR, 62 RBIs) and co-Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Alex Wimmers (9-2, 3.27 ERA) return to spearhead the Buckeyes in 2010.  The juniors were not only high school teammates at Cincinnati’s Archbishop Moeller high school, but also teammates back to their Little League days.  Burkhart started 57 of OSU’s 61 games last year, while serving as the battery mate for Wimmers’ May 2, 2009 no-hitter in a 6-0 win over arch-rival Michigan.

Buckeyes Back:  Including Burkhart OSU returns 8 of its top 10 hitters from last year’s NCAA Regional team.  Among them are outfielder Michael Stephens (.346, 14 HR, 63 RBIs), team batting leader Ryan Dew (.388), Zach Hurley (.346, 14 SB), Cory Kovanda (.341), and Matt Streng (.308, 8 HR).  Starting pitchers Eric Best (7-4, 5.95 ERA) and and Dean Wolosiansky (11-2, 6.04 ERA) are back as well.

There’s A Hole In The Pen:  The biggest hole to fill for the Buckeyes in 2010 will be the one left by closer Jake Hale (0-1, 1.31 ERA, 18 SV).  The All-American led the Big Ten and ranked second in the nation last year with his 18 saves.

Bad Aftertaste:  Despite the thrill of a trip to the Tallahassee NCAA Regional last year, Ohio State ended the season on a sour note with a 37-4 loss to host Florida State.  The Seminoles set NCAA Tournament records for runs, hits (38), total bases (66), and doubles (15) against a team that was playing its fourth game in three days.  33 of the FSU runs were earned.  Without those runs the OSU staff ERA would drop nearly half a run to 5.93.

Big East Challenge, Part II:  In addition to its games vs. Notre Dame, USF and Cincinnati at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge Ohio State has five more match-ups with Big East teams during the regular season.  The Buckeyes play UConn on March 14 in Knoxville, TN,  USF again in Winter Haven on March 24, two games vs. Louisville in Columbus May 4 & 5, and then welcome Pittsburgh to town for a May 18 contest.

Opening Weekend: The Buckeyes were 3-0 last weekend in Jacksonville, FL.  They out scored North Florida, Florida A&M and Richmond by a combined 40-12.  The three wins gave head coach Bob Todd 1,000 career victories.  Alex Wimmers earned Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honors he fanned 9 with one walk in 6 innings in the season-opening 4-2 win over North Florida.

Penn State

2009 Record:  (25-26, 8-16)

Mascot:  Nittany Lions

Head Coach:  Robbie Wine

Location:  State College, PA

Vitals:  .294 BA, 29 HR, .371 OBP, .964 Fld%…5.78 ERA, 1 CG, 10 SV, 339 K, 219 BB, .300 opp. BA

Staying & Going:  Penn State returns its top two hitters, but loses two of its top run producers from last year’s team.  sophomore Jordan Sternaka led the Nittany Lions in batting average (.365), home runs (6), RBIs (42), slg% (.536), and triples (3) as a true freshman.  He also tied fellow returnee Blake Lynd (.356) for the team lead with 39 runs scored.  PSU does lose coach’s son Cory Wine (.307, 5 HR, 41 RBIs) and Mike Deese (.301, 5 HR, 40 RBIs).

PSU Pitching:  The pitching staff loses its top three starters from 2009, but three top relievers return.  Sophomore Ryan Ignas (5-1, 5.31 ERA, 5 SV) led the staff in wins and saves last year, Sr. LHP David Lutz (4-2, 3.38 ERA, 3 SV) had the staff’s best ERA and Jr. Jesse Alfreno’s (1-0, 4.44 ERA, SV) 20 appearances were the team’s third-most behind Lutz (26) and Ignas (22).  Alfreno is also a cornerback on the Penn State football team.

Texas Two Step:  Penn State plays five straight games against 2009 NCAA Tournament teams in March with two games vs. Texas A&M in College Station, TX followed by a 3-game set vs. Texas State in San Marcos.

Opening Weekend: Penn State’s three scheduled games last weekend were canceled due to snow.  The Nittany Lions were to have played a neutral site game vs. Coppin State and two games at Longwood.

Purdue

2009 Record:  (25-26, 11-12)

Mascot:  Boilermakers

Head Coach:  Doug Schreiber

Location:  West Lafayette, IN

Vitals:  .316 BA, 40 RBIs, .405 OBP, .954 Fld%…5.96 ERA, 4 CG, 10 SV, 341 K, 199 BB, .301 opp. BA

Big Boiler Losses:  Purdue loses three vital cogs from last year’s team.  Brandon Haveman (.422, 20 doubles), John Cummins (.400) and slugger Dan Black (.310, 15 HR, 51 RBIs) are all gone.  Black’s 62 walks were second in the nation in 2009.

Top Returners:  Sophomore infielder Eric Charles (.371, 45 Runs) is the Boilermakers top returning hitter.  He’s joined in the line-up by David Blount (.322) and Drew Madia (.290, 6 HR, 32 RBIs), whose home run and RBI totals were both second to Black last year.

Plenty Of Pitching:  All three weekend starters, seniors Matt Bischoff (4-5, 5.54 ERA) & Matt Jansen (4-6, 6.62 ERA) and junior Matt Morgan (6-5, 4.75 ERA), are back for the Boilermakers this year.  Bischoff has received All-Big Ten recognition in each of his first three seasons.  Saves leader Kevin Cahill (3-2, 6.40 ERA, 6 SV) is back in the bullpen along with Drew Wurdack (4-1, 5.45 ERA, 2 SV)

Home Grown:  23 players on Purdue’s official web site roster are from the state of Indiana.

Out Of The Gate:  Purdue’s three games this weekend vs. Villanova, Cincinnati and Rutgers are its first three games of the 2010 season.

Rutgers

2009 Record:  (22-31, 8-19)

Mascot:  Scarlet Knights

Head Coach:  Fred Hill

Location:  Piscataway, NJ

Vitals:  .292 BA, 35 HR, 52 SB, .374 OBP, .956 Fld%…6.24 ERA, 1 CG, 10 SV, 311 K, 236 BB, .310 opp BA

King Of The Hill:  Entering his 27th season at Rutgers, Fred Hill is easily the longest tenured head coach in the Big East.  Hill became just the third person to have his jersey retired at Montclair State at a Feb. 13 ceremony.  He started his head coaching career there and guided Montclair to the 1983 NCAA Division III World Series.  Hill enters 2010 just 20 wins away from 1,000. Hill’s  brother Brian is currently an assistant coach for the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, and his son, Fred, is the head coach of the Rutgers men’s basketball team.

A Lot In The Line-Up:  The Scarlet Knights return eight position players, a DH and 10 of their top 11 hitters from last year’s team.  Michael Lang (.343, 8 HR, 38 RBIs, 10 SB and Jaren Matthews (.328, 6 HR, 28 RBIs, 10 SB) head the pack.

Mound Presence2009 Cape Cod All-Star Casey Gaynor (2-9, 5.54 ERA) is among the pitching staff’s top three pitchers who return.  Gaynor was the pitching staff’s workhorse, with the team’s only complete game.  Willie Beard (0-2, 2.28 ERA) thrived as the team’s closer with 8 saves as a freshman, while senior RHP Matt Giannini returns after missing 2009 due to injury.

Challenges Abound:  Rutgers makes its Big Ten/Big East Challenge debut this year, but it has a pair of challenges sandwiched around the second weekend of the season.  The Scarlet Knights open 2010 with three games vs. the Miami Hurricanes in Coral Gables, FL and then face another ACC power with three more games vs. Georgia Tech in Atlanta March 5-7.

Opening Weekend:  The Scarlet Knights lost their three games to Miami last weekend.  The Hurricanes outscored Rutgers 31-16 in the series.

St. John’s

2009 Record:  (30-22, 16-11)

Mascot:  Red Storm

Head Coach:  Ed Blankmeyer

Location:  Queens, NY

Vitals:  .349 BA, 42 HR, .422 OBP, .963 Fld%…6.20 ERA, 1 CG, 10 SV, 328 K, 235 BB, .315 opp. BA

Red, White & Blue:  Head coach Ed Blankmeyer will serve as an assistant coach this summer for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team.  The 2010 schedule is highlighted by the V FISU World University Championships in Japan.

Red Storm Regulars:  St. John’s returns five players who made at least 34 starts and hit .331 or better.  Soph. OF Jimmy Parque (.360, 5 HR, 61 RBIs) and Jr. third baseman Greg Hopkins (.349, 7 HR, 45 RBIs).  They lose Tim Morris (.415, 12 HR) and Matt Kemp (.379, 16 SB) who were selected in the 11th and 19th rounds, respectively, in last year’s MLB Draft.

Plus Pitching:  The Red Storm returns a group of pitchers that accounted for 44 of the staff’s 52 starts last year, including Nick Cenatiempo (5-3, 7 starts), Eddie Medina (5-3, 4 starts, 1 SV), Brendan Lobban (4-2, 7 starts) and Bruce Kern (5-4, 11 starts) who had the team’s only complete game.  Senior closer Ryan Cole (2-0, 3.49 ERA, 5 SV) is back as well.

Opening Weekend: St. John’s opened its season by sweeping a 3-game series at New Orleans. The weekend was highlighted by a 31-6 win in the series finale.  The 31 runs scored are the most in a game for the Red Storm since 1954.  Paul Karmas was 4-for-7 in the game with 3 home runs and 10 RBIs.   This will be the Privateers’ last season of Division I competition as they transition to Division III in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Seton Hall

2009 Record:  (25-24, 13-14)

Mascot:  Pirates

Head Coach:  Rob Sheppard

Location:  South Orange, NJ

Vitals:  .274 BA, 20 HR, .371 OBP, .954 Fld%…4.33 ERA, 9 CG, 5 SV, 307 K, 199 BB, .282 opp. BA

All In The Family:  Head coach Rob Sheppard’s brother, Mike Sheppard, Jr., is the head baseball coach at Seton Hall Prep.  Their father, Mike Sheppard, Sr., coached the Pirates from 1974-2003.

All In The Family II:  Seton Hall volunteer assistant Zach Porcello’s younger brothers, Rick and Jake Porcello, both played for Mike Sheppard, Jr. at Seton Hall Prep.  Rick Porcello was a first round draft pick by the Detroit Tigers in 2007.  He was 14-9 with a 3.96 ERA for the Tigers last year.   Jake Porcello is now a freshman pitcher on the Seton Hall roster.

Tale Of The Tape:  The Pirates lose their top two hitters, Matt Smedberg (.382, 2 HR, 26 RBIs) and Chris Affinito (.324, 9 HR, 50 RBIs), as well as two of their weekend starters, Sean Black (4-6, 3.99 ERA, 2 CG) and Keith Cantwell (6-3, 3.48 ERA, 5 CG), from last year’s team.   Their top returners are Sr. OF Michael Rogers (.299, HR, 23 RBIs), Jr. SS A.J. Rusbarsky (.271, 1 HR, 20 RBIs) and Jr. RHP Joe DiRocco (4-3, 4.46 ERA, 2 CG).

Opening Weekend:  Seton Hall opened the season by being swept in a 3-game series at Texas A&M.  The Aggies outscored the Pirates 30-11.

South Florida

2009 Record:  (34-25, 18-9)

Mascot:  Bulls

Head Coach:  Lelo Prado

Location:  Tampa, FL

Vitals:  .315 BA, 36 HR, .407 OBP, .968 Fld%…4.79 ERA, 8 CG, 11 SV, 402 K, 204 BB, .274 opp. BA

Big Plans:  Plans are in the works for a new baseball stadium at USF.  The stadium is part of a $30 million facilities upgrade that will benefit other sports as well.  The overall capacity of the stadium is expected to exceed 3,000 and is being designed to accommodate additional seating that will enable USF to host NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals.l The new home plate and press box area will be built on what is currently the right field foul pole area of Red McEwen Field.

Sophomore Slump:  Junior OF Ryan Lockwood will look for a big bounce-back season in 2010.  He hit .415 and was named Collegiate Baseball’s 2008 National Freshman of the Year, but slumped to just a .289 average last year.

The Champ Is Back:  Lockwood and 2009 Big East batting champion (conference games only) Junior Carlin (.384 overall/.471 Big East games)) are among five line-up regulars who return in 2010.  57 of Carlin’s hits last year were singles, which contributed to USF’s .441 ranking 8th in the 12-team Big East.

Great Expectations:  League coaches named Jr. RHP Randy Fontanez (7-3, 3.09 ERA, 6 CG) the Preseason Big East Pitcher of the Year.  Fontanez made 13 starts in 2009, while holding opponents to a .250 average.  He tossed six of the staff’s eight complete games.   USF also returns starters Derrick Stultz (5-4, 4.48 ERA) and Teddy Kauffman (3-5, 5.86 ERA) as well as reliever Kevin Quackenbush (2-2, 3.94 ERA, 6 SV).

Opening Weekend:  USF lost three games in Gainesville, FL last weekend.  The Gators outscored the Bulls 22-9.

Villanova

2009 Record:  (22-28, 6-20)

Mascot:  Wildcats

Head Coach:  Joe Godri

Location:  Villanova, PA

Vitals:  .282 BA, 23 HR, .384 OBP, .970 Fld%…6.15 ERA, 4 CG, 8 SV, 283 K, 206 BB, .308 opp. BA

Hail Szczur:  OF/C Matt Szczur (pronounced like Julius Caesar) helped lead the Villanova football team to the 2009 FCS Division I National Championship in December.  He was named both the CAA’s Offensive and Special Teams Player of the Year this for the season.  The junior ran for 810 yards and 10 touchdowns, passed for 22 yards and 2 TDs, averaged 27.2 yards on 30 kickoff returns, and had 51 catches for 610 yards and 4 more TDs in 2009.  Szczur missed his freshman baseball season due to injury, but he led the Wildcats with a .346 average and 18 stolen bases last year.  More ExperienceSzczur is one of five returning position playing starters for VU, including Jr. INF David Koczirka (.340, HR, 39 RBIs) 12 of 14 pitchers who saw action for the Wildcats last year are back as well.  The group combined to make all 50 starts in 2009.  Senior RHP Brian Streilein (5-8, 5.46 ERA, 2 CG) leads the rotation, while Jr. LHP Mike Francisco (1-2, 4.24 ERA, 4 SV) leads the relief corps.

Challenge Debut:  Villanova opened the 2009 season by playing eventual national champion LSU in the first games in the new Alex Box Stadium, making this year the team’s debut in the Big Ten/Big East Challenge.

Opening Weekend: The Wildcats opened the 2010 season by sweeping a 3-game series at Norfolk State.  They outscored the Spartans by a combined 30-6.  Brian Streilein earned Big East Pitcher of the Week recognition by pitching 6 2/3 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts in the season-opening 13-2 win.  Ten Wildcats had at least one hit in the game.

West Virginia

2009 Record:  (37-18, 17-10)

Mascot:  Mountaineers

Head Coach:  Greg Van Zant

Location:  Morgantown, WV

Vitals:  .360 BA, 68 HR, .443 OBP, .966 Fld%…5.40 ERA, 7 CG, 10 SV, 375 K, 199 BB, .300 opp. BA

Dinging It:  The Mountaineers led the Big East in batting average (.360), slugging percentage (.564), on-base percentage (.443), and runs scored (525) in 2009.

.400 Or Bust:  Two of the top three hitters in the Big East return to lead the West Virginia offense this year.  Dan DiBartolomeo’s .439 overall average led the conference, while Jedd Gyorko’s .421 avg. was third.  Gyorko is a 2009 Cape Cod League All-Star who was the 2008 Big East Freshman of the Year.  Big East coaches voted him the 2010 Preseason Player of the YearLine-Up Losses:  WVU loses its top two home run hitters in Justin Parks and Austin Markel who hit 12 and 15 HR, respectively last year.

Mound Men:  Weekend starters Jr. RHP Jarryd Summers (7-3, 3.06 ERA, 2 CG) andLHP Jonathon Jones (6-2, 6.57 ERA) are joined by workhorse closer Chris Enourato (6-2, 3.66 ERA, 6 SV) as the top returnees on the pitching staff.  Enourato made 20 relief appearances last year and averaged more than two innings per outing.  The senior has been named to the NCBWA’s Preseason Stopper of the Year watch list.

Phantom Starts:  WVU pitchers Jarryd Summers, Jonathon Jones and Billy Gross were credited with a combined 15 “starts” on the offensive scorecard last season, but none of them had an at-bat or any offensive stat during the year.  Head coach Greg Van Zant’s custom is to substitute his DH for the pitcher when that spot in the batting order is due at the plate for the first time in a game.

Opening Weekend:  The Mountaineers lost three games in Conway, SC to Coastal Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia Tech.  They were outscored 24-5 in the trio of losses.

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