Some Big Match-Ups Highlight The Start Of 2010 Campaign
We’re almost there. The 2010 college baseball season starts tomorrow. Most of the nearly 300 teams that open their seasons Friday haven’t played together in a real game since last May.
Not every team is playing this weekend. Maine is the only team from the America East Conference that has a series scheduled. The Black Bears are in Beaumont, TX to face Lamar. There are a lot of Northern teams that didn’t add a week to their schedules this year even though the NCAA decided to do so last summer after Feb. 26th was the originally scheduled starting point. In fact, all eight Ivy League teams don’t get 2010 started until the weekend of March 5th, while none of the nine Northeast Conference teams will take the field this weekend either.
A majority of teams are playing this weekend though. Here’s a look at some intriguing interconference games across the country.
(CLICK HERE to see any of the 301 Division I college baseball schedules.)
Virginia at East Carolina
Bam! Right off the bat a prime time match-up. Q: How did East Carolina end its 2009 season? A: With a Super Regional loss to ACC power North Carolina, which earned a fourth straight CWS berth. Q: Where did Virginia end its 2009 season? A: Omaha after a trip to the program’s first ever College World Series appearance.
With a young squad last year Brian O’Connor eased into the start of the season by winning its first 19 games against the likes of Bucknell, Fordham, and Canisius. That’s not the case this year though. The Cavaliers go to Greenville, NC at
Clark-LeClair Stadium, where East Carolina beat South Carolina in last year’s NCAA Regional, in what is likely to be Super Regional-like atmosphere in week one.
Danny Hultzen, meet Kyle Roller. Brad Mincey, this is Jarrett Parker. If you can’t get excited about this one you probably liked the movie “Valentine’s Day” (my wife drug me there and she didn’t like it either).
New Mexico at Texas
This is a classic match-up of hitting vs. pitching. New Mexico led the nation last year with its .363 team batting average while Texas had the second-best ERA in the land at 2.95. The Lobos haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1962, but the Longhorns have been to the College World Series 26 times with four National Championships in the time since then.
On the flip side, New Mexico had a 5.26 ERA while Texas sported just a .288 team batting average last year. Augie Garrido’s Longhorns thrived on “small ball” last year with 104 sacrifice bunts compared to 54 home runs. New Mexico only hit 51 long balls, but they led the nation by legging-out 47 triples.
Texas returns the bulk of its pitching staff, including Taylor Jungmann (11-3, 2.00 ERA) and Chance Ruffin (10-2, 3.32 ERA), and is the consensus #1 team in the nation entering the season. Catcher Rafael Neda (.415, 1.133 OPS) and Ryan Honeycutt (.406, 6 HR, 53 RBIs) lead the Lobo offense.
UNM head coach Ray Birmingham knows he’s putting his team’s feet to the fire with this series and other road trips to Arkansas and Arizona this season, but he hopes the tough tests pay off by season’s end.
Rice at Stanford
Talk about tradition. This is a College World Series match-up in February between two teams that traditionally thrive on pitching. Stanford has been to Omaha 16 times, including five times in the last decade. Rice has seven CWS appearances of its own, and they have all been since 1997.
Stanford missed the NCAA Tournament last year after joining Rice in Omaha in 2008, and they had trouble scoring
runs last year. The Cardinal ranked seventh in the Pac 10 with 341 runs scored. Their .416 slugging percentage was also seventh in the league, while they were sixth with a .360 on-base percentage. That didn’t combine well with a 5.12 ERA that ranked seventh as well.
Rice is led by 2009 National Freshman of the Year Anthony Rendon (.388, 20 HR, 72 RBIs) at the plate and Mike Ojala (5-0, 2.17 ERA) on the mound. Rendon is one of eight returning starters from last year’s Super Regional team. Sophomore LHP Brett Mooneyham (6-3, 4.14 ERA) gets the Friday start for Stanford. Cardinal shortstop Jake Schlander is the reigning Pac 10 Defensive Player of the Year. OF Kellen Kilsgaard (.313, 9 HR, 46 RBIs) is Stanford’s top overall returning offensive player.
This is just the third meeting between Wayne Graham and Mark Marquess’ teams. The Cardinal swept a series at Sunken Diamond in 1991, while Rice won two out of three games at the 2003 College World Series.
Rhode Island at Mississippi State
Rhode Island was the team that was perceived as the biggest snub last year after the NCAA Tournament bids were announced. Jim Foster’s Rams won 37 games in 2009, but won neither the Atlantic 10′s regular season nor tournament titles. Oliver Palmer (.342, 11 HR, 44 RBIs) and Mike LeBel (.323, 7 HR, 41 RBIs, 17 SB) lead the URI offense. The pitching staff must replace its top two starters and its closer from last year’s squad.
Mississippi State has missed the last two NCAA Tournaments after going to the 2007 College World Series. The Bulldogs have finished a combined 14 games under .500 with back-to-back 9-win seasons in SEC play in John Cohen’s first two years as the MSU head coach. Connor Powers (.301, 19 HR, 63 RBIs) and Ryan Duffy (.339, 10 HR, 33 RBIs) head a group of solid returning players in the line-up.
Oregon at Cal State Fullerton
This is just a one-game match-up to open the season on Friday. Both teams aslo play Pepperdine and Long Beach State over the weekend. The season-opener is a homecoming for Oregon head coach George Horton, who graduated from Fullerton in 1978 and later coached the Titans for 11 seasons. Horton played on Fullerton’s first College World Series team in 1975 and later coaches the Titans to six CWS berths, including the 2004 National Championship. He is one of just nine men to appear in Omaha as a player and head coach. He left his alma mater after the 2007 College World Series when he was hired to revive a program at Oregon that had been
defunct since 1981.
Current Titan head coach Dave Serrano was an assistant under Horton at Cal State Fullerton from 1997 to 2004. He coached UC Irvine to the 2007 CWS, and prevailed against Horton and the Titans in a 5-4 13 inning game that’s the longest game (in time) in CWS history. Horton has a 7-6 head to head advantage when the two have met as head coach.
Horton, known as “The Commissioner” at Fullerton, ranks 19th among active head coaches with a .665 career winning percentage, while Serrano ranks 25th at .660.