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Juco : : Story
Junior College Notebook
Published: Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Junior College Top 50 Teams (updated 2/28)

Louisburg Flying High With Perfect 17-0 Mark

Taking over a 26-27 team with only one returning starter, new Louisburg (N.C.) College coach Mike McGuire knew it would be a formidable challenge to turn around a once-storied junior-college program in short order.

But McGuire, a former assistant head coach at Winthrop, was hardly daunted by the task at hand and has led his team to a sparkling 17-0 record to begin the 2012 season. The Hurricanes were ranked No. 38 in Perfect Game’s pre-season ranking of the nation’s Top 50 Junior College teams, but have jumped all the way to No. 5 in PG’s first in-season ranking with their fast start.

I got the job in June, hired a staff and we hit the ground running,” McGuire said. “We went about recruiting like we had no players coming back. We just tried to sign as many quality baseball players as we could find, with an emphasis on arms. We also focused on several transfers still looking for a school.”

The payoff was 32 newcomers on this year’s club, including nine with NCAA Division I experience. Three of the D-I transfers—ex-Rutgers shortstop Steve Nyisztor, ex-South Carolina second baseman Jake Watson and ex-North Carolina righthander Tim Brechbuehler—came in at the Christmas break, and have been difference-makers in Louisburg’s fast start.

Nyisztor is hitting .400 and leads the team in homers (4), RBIs (19) and stolen bases (8), while the 6-foot-8 Brechbuehler shares the team lead in wins (3) and is tops in strikeouts (22). Watson (.280-1-11) has been steady in all phases.

In addition to that trio, Louisburg has gotten significant mileage from hard-hitting first baseman Chris King (.420-2-19), a Coastal Carolina transfer who was forced to red-shirt in 2011 while recovering from shoulder surgery; and three freshmen pitchers, righthanders Josh Roeder (2-0, 1.04, 4 SV) and Cody Johnson (3-0, 0.57), and lefthander Tony Urban (3-0, 0.43). Urban, a New Jersey recruit, tossed a 7-inning no-hitter against Lackawanna (Pa.) JC for his first career win.

We thought we’d be good, based on how well we played in the fall,” McGuire said, “but with the players we got after Christmas, that put us over the hump. We became a team with a chance to really compete right away.”

The Hurricanes biggest catch was Nyisztor, who projected as a possible future first-round pick off his play as a freshman in 2010 at Rutgers and that summer as the top prospect in the Northwoods League.

But Nyisztor’s star faded badly a year ago when he left the Rutgers program early in the season for reasons that went unexplained publicly and later tried to resume his career in summer ball with brief and unsuccessful stints in the Cape Cod and Northwoods Leagues. Those who saw him play were unimpressed, and openly questioned his attitude and commitment to the game.

Nyisztor returned to Rutgers last fall, intent on picking up the pieces, but didn’t take part in regular team activities and when it was determined that he would be academically ineligible for the 2012 season, he looked for a place to transfer and conveniently landed at Louisburg. Not only has Nyisztor shown flashes of his old form on the field, but McGuire says he is dealing effectively with a personal issue that undermined his performance and approach a year ago.

He’s been solid in all phases of his game, and getting better every day,” McGuire said. “He was just trying to get his feet under him at the start, and may still not be in mid-season form, but all the tools are there. He has excellent speed, and while he has been knocking in runs all along, he is just starting to drive balls over the wall with more consistency. Admittedly, he has struggled in the field (12 errors in 14 games), but most of his errors stem from his inactivity and getting into bad habits with his throwing motion and footwork. But he has all the actions you look for in a shortstop.

Moreover, his attitude has not been an issue. He’s very serious about his career and his work habits have been exemplary. He’s been a model citizen.”

Because of his checkered background, McGuire acknowledges that Nyisztor will need to be forthcoming with scouts in the weeks leading up to this year’s draft about the reasons why his once-promising career went astray a year ago. McGuire also admits that teams may be reluctant to invest an early-round draft pick on Nyisztor, but McGuire says his undisclosed personal issues are in the past and haven’t hampered his current performance.

There have been a lot of rumors out there about his situation,” McGuire said, “but I don’t think things are as bad as they’ve been made out to be. He’s been a pleasure to coach, he loves being at the ball park and he’s displayed exemplary work habits.”

Louisburg’s lone returning player with any tangible experience was infielder Zach Houchins, an unsigned 15
th-round pick of the Washington Nationals in last year’s draft. Houchins played shortstop for the Hurricanes in 2011 and spent most of fall practice at the position, but was quickly shifted to third this season to accommodate the gifted Nyisztor.

Zach was the centerpiece to build around,” McGuire said, “and he’s been fine with the move to third. He projects as a third baseman at the next level anyway, whether at East Carolina or in pro ball, and he recognizes he doesn’t have the footwork or the lateral quickness that Steve has at shortstop.”

While McGuire’s club is off to a faster start that even he imagined, he knows he still has his work cut out for him to live up to the school’s long-standing reputation as a baseball power—even as the program struggled on the field in recent years, leading to the departure of John Thomas as coach last season after three years on the job.

Legendary Hall of Fame coach Russ Frazier guided the Louisburg program for 41 years from 1959-99, compiling a 1,034-390 record while leading the Hurricanes to nine appearances in the Junior College World Series. His successor, Billy Godwin, led the school to a record 51 wins in 2002 and its last World Series appearance before leaving to take over the head coaching job at East Carolina in 2005.

The Hurricanes have enjoyed little tangible success since the departure of Frazier and Godwin, but McGuire had designs on restoring the program to its past glory from the moment he was hired last June.

The program has a lot of history, and I always thought this was an ideal place where we could win, and compete for a national championship,” McGuire said. “We plan to return Louisburg to a position of prominence on the landscape of junior-college baseball.”

JC Notebook

Neosho County Remains Unbeaten

Beyond Louisburg’s perfect 17-0 mark, Kansas’ Neosho County JC is the nation’s other most-prominent junior-college team that has assembled a perfect record to date. The Panthers are 12-0, but climbed only marginally in the rankings, from No. 33 to 25, because of an all non-Division I schedule, though they did whip NJCAA D-II traditional power Des Moines Area CC in four straight games to open the season.

Tennessee-bound first baseman/righthander Adam Giacalone, who hit .396-18-102 and went 10-1, 2.10 as a freshman, continues to be one of the most indispensable players in the JC ranks. He again leads the Panthers with a .483 average and 14 RBIs, while also going 2-0, 1.27 with 15 strikeouts in 11 innings. But Nebraska-bound lefthander Matt Strahm is considered the top prospect for this year’s draft in the Kansas junior-college ranks.

The 6-foot-3, 170-pound Strahm has two dominant pitches in his 92-mph fastball and hard slider, along with a solid-average change, and is 2-0, 0.00 through his first two starts. In 14 innings, he has walked four and struck out 23.

Eastern’s Power Arms

No. 26 Eastern Oklahoma State has won just eight of its first 12 games, but no junior-college team around may have the depth of power arms that the Mountaineers have.

Sophomore righthanders Logan Taylor, a transfer from Arkansas at the Christmas break, and Mason Justice, a 21
st-round pick out of high school, both have been clocked at 94 mph this spring, while Blake Logan, another sophomore righthander, and Dalton Bell and Koda Glover, both freshmen righthanders and products of Oklahoma high schools, have clocked in at 92. Two other arms on the Eastern staff have peaked at 90.

The Wichita State-bound Logan (3-1, 0.47, 19 IP, 24 SO) and Taylor (1-0, 0.00, 1 SV, 14 IP, 18 SO) have been the team’s most-dominant arms to date.

The Mountaineers expected to have another significant power arm on its staff this season in righthander Jonathan Gray, a 10
th-round pick of the New York Yankees in last year’s draft, but he transferred to Oklahoma for his sophomore season. Gray’s fastball has reached 96-97 mph.

Déjà vu For Orange Coast

California’s No.-2 ranked Orange Coast College ran off 14 straight wins a year ago, before finally losing its first game of the season to the College of the Canyons. In a nearly-identical scenario, Orange Coast was unbeaten in its first 14 games this season at 13-0-1 before dropping its first game again to the same College of the Canyons squad.

The Pirates were dominated by Canyons righthander Cory Jones, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound sophomore who allowed a walk and two infield singles while striking out 10 in eight innings in a 4-1 win. Jones improved to 3-0, 1.17 on the season with 28 strikeouts in 23 innings, and dominated Orange Coast with a 93-95 mph fastball.

Until being stymied by Jones, Orange Coast was sailing along behind the hot hitting of its three outfielders, freshmen Boog Powell (.542-0-8, 7 SB) and Bijan Rademacher (.314-2-13), and sophomore Chris Carlson (.396-1-19). Powell leads the powerful Orange Empire Conference in hitting, while the New Mexico State-bound Carlson is tops in RBIs. Rademacher, the team leader in homers, is a Cal State Fullerton transfer.

In addition to its potent offense, Orange Coast has gotten big seasons from its top two starters, New Mexico State-bound righthander Keegan Yuhl (4-0, 1.14), a UC Irvine transfer, and Houston-bound righthander Brandon Brennan (4-0, 0.32). Brennan, a transfer from Oregon and a potential early-round draft in June, has been clocked consistently in the mid-90s this spring.

Orange Coast has enjoyed significant success this season, despite the absence of potentially its best talent, catcher/third baseman Stefan Sabol, a transfer from Oregon who was expected to hit third in the Pioneers order. Sabol, an Oklahoma State signee, broke the hamate bone in his hand just prior to the season and was finally clearly to play again Monday.

Hot Pitchers

Florida’s Polk State is off to a hot start at 16-4, thanks largely to the efforts of sophomore RHP Alec Asher, who is 4-0 and hasn’t allowed an earned run in his first 33 innings while striking out 39. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Asher, whose fastball has touched 96 mph, was a 23
rd-round draft pick of the Giants in 2010 and is committed to Division II Tampa.

Arizona’s Yavapai College started the season at 0-4, but had rebounded to 9-7 behind freshman RHP Matt Smith, who shut out GateWay, Glendale and Central Arizona in three consecutive starts.

Palm Beach State has gone 16-5 this season, mainly on the strength of one of the best arms in the Florida JC ranks, Florida Atlantic-bound sophomore RHP Brandon Welch (2-1, 1.99).

Despite its mediocre 11-10 start, Chipola JC has gotten a solid effort from Florida State-bound RHP Robbie Coles (2-0, 0.75, 24 IP/22 SO), who has a solid 3-pitch mix with a fastball that reaches 92.

No. 6-ranked Santa Fe has become the top JC team in Florida, mainly because of the efforts of 6-foot-5 LHP Ryan Yarbrough (4-0, 30 IP, 3 BB/30 SO), whose success stems primarily from his exceptional ability to throw a changeup.

Middle Georgia freshman RHP J.B. Wendelken has a 0.00 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 11 innings, largely on the strength of a 95-mph fastball.

Western Nevada has two potential Top 10 draft picks in sophomore RHP Dylan Baker (3-0, 0.68), a product of an Alaska high school by way of Tacoma (Wash.) CC, and RHP Tyler Spencer (3-1, 1.53), an Oregon prep product. Baker’s fastball has been a steady 92-95, Spencer’s 91-94.

RHP Tyler Smith, a Tennessee-bound RHP with a 95-mph fastball, is 3-0, 1.00 with 24 K’s in 18 innings this season for No. 14 USC Sumter.

Despite not being one of the 3-4 best arms on the staff for No. 3 Walters State, sophomore LHP England Smith is 3-0, 0.00 with 20 K’s in 19 IPs.

RHP Eric Brooks, a transfer from Houston and the top-ranked JC prospect in Texas, is 5-0, 0.74 with 31 strikeouts in 24 innings for red-hot McLennan (16-2), the nation’s No. 7 team. The 6-2, 195 Brooks has topped out at 96.



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