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HOUSTON -- After not recording a hit the first three innings against Rice junior right-handed pitcher Austin Kubitza, North Carolina head coach Mike Fox wasn’t real sure if his Tar Heels were going to get a hit all night.
Good thing UNC had junior left-handed pitcher Kent Emanuel on the mound.
Emanuel certainly doesn’t receive some of the same fanfare as other power arms, and perhaps better prospects, in college baseball. But there’s no doubting his continued elite status on this stage, especially after performances like the one he put together against the Owls in a thrilling 2-1 victory.
“That was very typical of a Kent Emanuel type of performance,” North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. “He’s not going to walk you, but we need to play a little better defense behind him out there. Kent got into some trouble at times, but he knows to dial it up in certain situations.”
Emanuel wasn’t overpowering against the Owls, but the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder, showed good overall stuff, and probably most impressive, good poise. For instance, Emanuel missed some of his spots throughout the night, but never deviated from his pitching plan. The Owls put runners in scoring position in five of the seven innings Emanuel pitched, and only scored in one of them, a sacrifice bunt off the bat of Leon Byrd in the second inning.
“It was all right. I felt pretty good, and my stuff was moving well, but like I said, I wasn’t sharp in terms of hitting my spots tonight,” Emanuel said. “They capitalized on that, and that was the big thing for me.”
Emanuel finished the contest with five strikeouts, one walk, and allowed that one run and eight hits in seven innings of work. From a stuff standpoint, the talented left-hander, who showed off a high leg kick in his motion, was consistently 87-88 with his fastball, getting up to 89 at times. Meanwhile, he also flashed a 72-76 soft changeup, a 76-79 slider and a hard breaking 69-71 mph curveball that he has developed over the past couple of seasons.
While Emanuel was the more consistent commodity entering Friday’s contest against the Owls, there were plenty of eyeballs on Rice’s Kubitza, who certainly has been increasing his stock in the eyes of some professional scouts with his performances the past two weekends.
Kubitza dazzled us a couple of weeks ago when he shut down Stanford’s potent offensive lineup with a plus slider and a fastball that sat 88-91, and up to 92 mph at times. Interestingly, Kubitza was equally nasty at times against the Tar Heels, but did so with a lower than normal velocity with his fastball.
Kubitza got off to a hot start against the Tar Heels, striking out eight of the first 12 batters he faced in the game. And very much like Emanuel, he did a tremendous job throughout the night of working out of jams with runners in scoring position.
The talented right-hander struck out nine batters, walked two and allowed just one run on four hits in 6 2/3 innings of work.
“That sinker was sinking a lot, and they were struggling with it, too,” Rice coach Wayne Graham said. “He’s just got really good stuff at good angles. When you’re up top with your arm and throwing the sinker and slider, it’s tough.”
Kubitza showed good overall stuff against the Tar Heels. Though he started the game shaky in the first inning, he got out of that frame unscathed and settled into a groove with a fastball sitting 85-88 to go along with a nasty slider with late life at 80-83, a pitch that was particularly tough on left-handed hitters.
“I knew runs were going to be hard to come by tonight, and they certainly were. Just a terrific game, as I thought Kubitza was sensational,” Fox said. “He was really good, and did a great job of moving the ball on both sides of the plate. Kent matched him and was able to hang in there.”
As usually is the case when Kent Emanuel is on the mound, the Tar Heels again were on the side of good fortune.
Energetic Houston knocks off Texas A&M
Houston is showing signs of finally righting the ship under coach Todd Whitting.
The Cougars entered the spring with more question marks than you could probably imagine. UH was left with some holes after losing four recruits to the MLB draft last summer, while it lost key hitter Jacob Lueneburg for the year because of injury, and Casey Grayson is severely limited in his role because of an injury.
Still, as the Cougars captured a locally important, and internally boosting, 7-6 victory over the SEC’s Texas A&M Aggies, it was a special crop of new players that essentially guided this program to victory, hopefully building the foundation to a bright future.
“With both teams fighting like crazy, I told our guys before the game they play as hard as anyone in the country, and I told them they’re going to play with some intensity,” Whitting said. “We’ve been like this [intense] since day one this season. I’m not sure if we’re just young, dumb or just stupid, but that’s just the way we play.”
Perhaps the Cougars were just too young, or naïve, to understand how badly the first inning went against the Aggies. UH starting pitcher Matt Hernandez ran into trouble immediately, as the Aggies were smacking his pitches around the field at Minute Maid Park on the way to a three-run frame, and a 3-1 lead after just an inning.
But the young Cougars didn’t lose their way, instead waiting for a perfect opportunity to strike at A&M senior right-handed pitcher Kyle Martin and the bullpen.
That happened in the fourth and fifth innings, as the Cougars scored a run in the fourth and a whopping five runs in the fifth frame to take a 7-5 lead -- a lead they wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the way. UH touched up Martin, A&M’s ace, for seven runs on nine hits in just four innings of work.
Several players rose to the occasion in those two frames, including youngsters Kyle Kirk and Kyle Survance, who each knocked in runs with singles. However, there’s no question that freshman leadoff hitter Josh Vidales and former Miami Hurricanes infielder, shortstop Frankie Ratcliff, led the charge.
Vidales was a spark plug atop the UH lineup throughout the night, starting the game with a long at-bat that resulted in a walk. He also had a pair of singles, knocking in the lone run in the fourth inning.
“There are lots of games where he’ll have eight or 10 pitch at bats. He just does a really good job as a spark plug atop this lineup,” Whitting said. “You look at this guy, you’re talking about someone who was the Conference USA hitter of the week his first time out there.”
As for Ratcliff, his wild ride around the Sunshine State is well documented, but the 5-foot-9, 185-pounder, has finally found a comfortable home and stable program for which to show off his abilities.
Ratcliff really couldn’t have been more impressive against the Aggies. He went 3-for-4 and launched a solo home run in the fifth inning that kick-started UH’s massive rally. Meanwhile, he showed good range and was crisp in the field.
“Frankie. He just kind of makes our team go, along with Landon Appling,” Whitting said. “He has lots of energy and he loves to play baseball. He has a great opportunity here at UH and I really appreciate how he is with the team, and in the classroom. He’s exactly what you want in a college baseball player.”
Given recent history, the Cougars won’t be warming up the lights in the trophy cases at Cougar Field anytime soon. But this win at least signifies something.
The Cougars certainly have taken a step forward from last season.
Newman becomes the man for Baylor
Baylor junior right-handed pitcher Dillon Newman is no stranger to stepping up in big-time situations.
After all, the talented righty made his mark the last two seasons as a key reliever for the Bears, with 34 total appearances, only two of them being starts. But on the first day of the Astros Foundation College Classic, much like last weekend against UCLA, Newman stepped up again in his new and suddenly unexpected role as the team's staff ace.
Newman put together another outstanding start for the second-straight week in a 9-0 dominant win over the California Golden Bears.
"I think the thing about him is that he's consistently throwing strikes. I don't think he has walked a guy to this point. Doing that makes him pretty special on this staff," Baylor coach Steve Smith said. "Today, he was sharp, as he had pretty good breaking stuff to go along with good fastball command. We also played rather good defense behind him."
For Baylor fans who remember the talented, but not overly powerful, arms of Josh Turley and Trent Blank last season, Newman's stuff won't come as much of a shocker. Though Newman can get his fastball into the upper 80s at times, the right-hander stayed primarily 84-86 with his fastball against the Golden Bears, also hitting 87 at times.
Newman also flashed good breaking stuff with a changeup sitting 78-81 and good slider at 76-77.
"He had both that slider and changeup working tonight. Dillon has always had a pretty special changeup, and it's an unusual changeup. When [hitters] they go back to the dugout, they might even call it a split-finger at times.
"He has fallen in love with that pitch at times in the past. What [pitching coach] Trevor Mote is trying to do is having him not rely on it so much."
Newman's rise as a starting pitcher the past couple of weeks has been interesting to watch. Newman was quickly ousted from his first start of the season against UC Irvine, allowing three runs in just 4 2/3 innings of work. However, he bounced back in impressive fashion last weekend against a very good UCLA club, striking out two in five innings of work.
Against the Golden Bears, Newman struck out a career-high eight batters and allowed just three hits in seven shutout frames. He threw 97 pitches, 70 for strikes.
"I would say I'm getting more comfortable with the starting role, all two years I've been here, I've been coming out of the pen, so I'm still taking on that role," Newman said. "My changeup is by far my best pitch right now, and I know it's a pitch that we're trying to stay away from early in contests."
While Newman shined for the Bears, the Golden Bears got an all-too-familiar rough start from senior left-handed pitcher Justin Jones.
Jones has had quite a fall from grace since his sophomore campaign. The lefty finished his second season with an impressive 2.93 ERA in 119 2/3 innings of work. However, an arm injury before last season caused Jones to lose velocity on his fastball and have a less than stellar 2012 campaign, going 4-9 with a 4.57 ERA in 80 2/3 innings of work.
During that special sophomore campaign, Jones routinely sat in the upper 80s with his fastball, sometimes even getting up to speeds like 90 or 91. However, he has been a different pitcher so far this season and only sat 83-84 with the fastball against Baylor, with his curveball 72-74.
California coach Dave Esquer said not having a consistent delivery has hampered Jones so far this season, while it also has caused his velocity to dip.
"You've got to get your Friday night starting pitcher to go more than four innings. When we get that taken care of, we'll have a better chance to play," Esquer said. "He just needs to continue to work at the issue and roll with it. Having an outing like he had today isn't going to set you up very well for the weekends.
"He just had no swing and miss stuff today," he continued. "That kind of lets you know where he is right now."
While one starting pitcher is rising, the other undoubtedly has fallen ... for now.