College Baseball 360 Week 5 Notebook

March 19, 2012
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Latest Week Light On Upsets…

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Kentucky made the biggest weekend statement by sweeping South Carolina in the first SEC series for both teams (photo courtesy UK athletics).

It’s almost unbelievable, but the fifth full weekend of the college baseball season is in the books. Conference play is now under way in most of the warm weather conferences around the country.

Underdogs took just six of 32 series of three games or more over the weekend, with two more series still to be decided on Monday.

While March Madness has taken center stage over the last four days, college baseball got its first ESPN exposure over the weekend as well. Game one of the Virginia-Florida State series was on ESPNU and tonight’s series finale will be on the same channel. Virginia will try to salvage a game after losses in the first two games. Tonight’s first pitch is set for 7 p.m. Eastern.

Here’s a look at more from the weekend…

The Wild, Wild Wildcats…

Who saw Kentucky coming? We’re not talking John Calipari’s Wildcat basketball team, we’re talking Gary Henderson’s baseball club –the one that just took its SEC-opening series from two-time defending national champion South Carolina.

Despite a run of 18 straight wins to open the season heading into the weekend’s series in Lexington against the Gamecocks, it was hard to know what to make of the Wildcats, because their schedule was as soft as the spot where Kim Kardashian sits.

If you live outside the Bluegrass State and you saw Kentucky’s 21-0 run to start the season coming then you obviously knew that little twist/cameo at the end of the new 21 Jump Street movie was coming too (I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it).

The guy who has been as big a part of the Wildcat resurgence has been the sudden impact of A.J. Reed. The freshman two-way player has been as versatile in his first season at Kentucky as Jonah Hill has been on the big screen in his last two big box office hits. Reed might never get an Oscar nomination like Hill did for his rotund role as a saber stat dude in Moneyball  or chase down high school hipsters gone bad as the slimmed-down Hill did in Jump Street, but he’s been big time just the same.

Reed delivered the game-winning hit in Saturday’s 4-3 win over South Carolina (the ‘Cats’ second by that score in as many days) and also earned the win on the mound by pitching 2.0 shutout innings of relief. For the season Reed (remember a freshman from Terre Haute, IN) is batting .386 with two home runs and a team-leading 28 RBIs at the plate, while boasting a 4-0 record with a 1.83 ERA in 19 2/3 innings and five appearances (three starts) on the mound.

Reed is far from the only reason the Wildcats are averaging better than eight runs a game. Zac Zellers (.393) and Cameron Flynn (.383) are both scorching the ball. Flynn leads the club with six HR. Austin Cousino is batting .382 and Luke Maile, who had the walk-off home run to beat South Carolina in Friday’s opener, is batting .360 with five home runs and 27 RBIs.

The pitching staff has been great as well, with a 2.95 ERA, 200 strikeouts and just 55 walks in 189.0 IP. The Wildcat bullpen was huge in the South Carolina series with 10 2/3 shutout innings and wins in all three victories.

Terps Slowed…

While it took Kentucky a month to get most of the country to take it seriously, Maryland grabbed attention early on by taking two of three games at UCLA on opening weekend. The Terps road that momentum to a nine-game winning streak, but they have now gone back in their shell after being swept by Wake Forest and dropping two of three games to North Carolina since opening ACC play last week (they did win a couple midweek games vs. St. Peter’s in between).

Things won’t get any easier for Erik Bakich’s club anytime soon. All but two ACC opponents (Duke and Virginia Tech) the rest of the season has been ranked in the College Baseball 360 Composite Top 50 this season. Virginia Tech could join that club soon and Duke beat Miami on Friday.

Bruins Bouncing Back…

Most people kind of left the Bruins for dead after they dropped that season-opening home series to Maryland, but they’ve been plugging away ever since. UCLA had rattled-off 12 consecutive victories since losing the Feb. 19 finale vs. the Terps. The streak ended with Sunday’s 4-3 loss to Arizona State, but the Bruins (15-4, 2-1 Pac-12) bounced-back to take the series finale 4-2. Sophomore Kevin Williams hit a walk-off home run on Saturday vs. ASU to send the streak to 12 games. His first career homer came earlier in the week in a 7-2 win over USC at Dodger Stadium. The Sun Devils (12-7, 1-2 Pac-12) hit just .163 in the series.

Red River Victory…

The Longhorns lost five straight games at one point after being swept at Stanford three weeks ago. Things didn’t get much better after that, with losses in eight of their last 13 games before this past weekend’s series against Oklahoma. Augie Garrido got the herd pointed back in the right direction though by sweeping the Sooners in their Big 12 opening series in Austin.

The sweep started with a 7-6 12-inning victory on Friday and concluded with Sunday’s less dramatic 9-4 win. The three game sweep is Texas’ seventh over the Sooners since 1999. It also runs their current overall winning streak to five games.

Milestones

Georgia Tech head coach Danny Hall notched his 1,000th career victory with Friday’s 12-3 victory over Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets won the series 2-1.

Tennessee dropped two of its three games in its SEC opening series at Georgia, but the Vols salvaged a win in Sunday’s series finale. It was new head coach Dave Serrano’s first career SEC victory and also the 300th win of his career.

Done Dancing?

Purdue is one of a handful of schools in the country that had a Top 50 college baseball team and a team playing in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, but the weekend was not kind to the Boilermakers.

Doug Schreiber’s baseball team got the weekend started on the right foot by winning the first two games of its series at Wichita State to run it winning streak to 10 games. The Shockers swept a Saturday doubleheader though to earn a series split to hand the Boilermakers (14-3) their first back-to-back losses of the season.

Meanwhile, Matt Painter’s basketball team – the No. 10 seed in the Midwest Region, had No. 2 seed Kansas on the ropes Sunday night with a berth in the Sweet 16 on the line. Purdue led throughout most of the game in Omaha, but the Jayhawks pulled out a last minute 63-60 win.

Think Schreiber would trade a couple losses this weekend if his season could end in Omaha too?

CLICK HERE to see the complete list of schools with Top 50 baseball teams and a team in the NCAA Basketball Tourney as compiled by CB360 co-editor Pete LaFleur. Six of them have basketball teams in the Sweet 16.

Down In The Valley

While Wichita State(12-10) is off to a disappointing start, Indiana State (16-4) is the hottest team in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Sycamores have won 11 straight, including four wins over the weekend in San Antonio.

Robby Ort (.403) and Jeremy Lucas (.392) have combined for eight home runs and 45 RBIs to lead the the offense, but five other Sycamores have double digit RBIs as well.  Pitchers Kyle Rupe and Ryan Torgerson are a combined 7-0 with a 1.54 ERA as well.

Sagging Zags

Since starting the season with 10 straight wins, Gonzaga has cooled-off considerably over the last week. The Bulldogs lost all three games at New Mexico last week and then dropped a pair of midweek games at Arkansas to see their losing streak reach five games before winning two of three over the weekend against Pacific.

The Zags play at Washington on Tuesday and then host four games with Hawaii before opening West Coast Conference play at the end of this month.

The two hottest teams in the WCC right now are Portland (13-3) and Santa Clara (13-4), which have each won eight of their last 10 games. The conference race looks to be a good one this year with those three teams along with San Diego (17-6) and Pepperdine (14-5) both playing well too.

 

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