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College : : Story
State of College Baseball
Published: Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Winners

North Carolina: The Tar Heels might still be without freshman outfielder Skye Bolt, but that once again didn't seem to matter over the weekend in a series sweep over rival Duke. The Heels, thanks to outstanding pitching, swept the Blue Devils, outscoring their opponent 21-3 in the three-game series. With the series win, the ridiculously hot Tar Heels are now 39-2 on the season.

Cal State Fullerton: The Titans dropped the series opener to Cal Poly over the weekend, but responded in impressive fashion in the final two games of the series, outscoring the Mustangs 16-9 in Games 2 and 3. Meanwhile, starting pitcher Grahamm Wiest, who has flown a bit under the radar this spring, put together a solid start in the series finale, allowing just two runs in six innings of work.

Virginia: It's safe to say Virginia coach Brian O'Connor is doing his best coaching job this season. What a year the Cavaliers are having, putting together their most dominant weekend of action against Florida State. Not only did the Cavaliers sweep the Seminoles, they outscored them 16-4 in the three-game series. Two-way player Nick Howard was impressive in the series finale, taming the FSU bats by striking out four and allowing just a run on five hits in 6 2/3 innings.

Derek Fisher and Virginia did a clean sweep of Florida State. (UVA photo)

UCLA: After losing back-to-back series to Arizona State and Oregon State, the Bruins have put things together the past couple of weekends with series wins over Loyola Marymount and Oregon this past weekend. UCLA's pitching was particularly strong against the Ducks, as right-handed pitcher Adam Plutko struck out eight and allowed just three hits in seven shutout innings, and fellow righty Nick Vander Tuig struck out six in seven shutout innings.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks appeared to be in some trouble a couple of weeks ago when they were swept on the road by Florida. However, they responded in impressive fashion this past weekend with a home series sweep over Kentucky. It was particularly impressive that freshman left-handed pitcher Jack Wynkoop, in a big situation, tossed eight strong innings to preserve the sweep.

North Carolina State: Along with arch-rival North Carolina, whom the Wolfpack faces this weekend in a huge ACC series, N.C. State has now won 14-straight games after sweeping Georgia Tech on the road over the weekend. The offense clicked throughout the weekend. But easily more important was the performance put together by left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon, who struck out 10 and allowed just two runs on eight hits in a complete game performance.

Rice: Apparently losing the series opener to Houston angered the Owls. After all, they proceeded to outscore the Cougars 15-1 in the final two games of the series. Austin Kubitza struck out 10 in seven shutout frames to get the first win of the weekend, while in the series finale, right-handed pitcher John Simms struck out three and allowed just a run on six hits in seven innings.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs had a week to remember, and one worthy of catapulting them into our College Top 25. They began the week with a midweek win over Washington State before hitting the road and taking two of three from Pepperdine. Left-handed veteran pitcher Tyler Olson was particularly impressive against the Waves, striking out six and allowing just four hits in a complete game shutout.

New Mexico: The Lobos have shown signs of greatness this season, but they're finally getting into a total groove. UNM extended its winning streak to seven games over the weekend by doing a clean sweep of Nevada on the road. In the matchup of the weekend, UNM third baseman DJ Peterson went 2-for-5 with a double and an RBI against Nevada right-handed pitcher Braden Shipley.

Nebraska: Boy, what a week it was for the Huskers. They still need to finish strong down the stretch to make the NCAA postseason, as they're currently just .500 for the season. However, things obviously are heading the right direction. Not only did the Huskers no-hit SEC power Arkansas in midweek action, they also hit the road and did a clean sweep of Purdue.


 

Losers

Coastal Carolina: The Chanticleers had a chance to make a statement last week with a midweek win over North Carolina, but were unable to do so. They also dropped a weekend series to Radford despite getting a terrific performance from Ben Smith to start the weekend. He struck out nine, walked two and allowed just one hit in seven shutout innings in the opener against the Highlanders.

Belmont: The Bruins have been very consistent this season, but took a step back last week with a 1-3 record. The week included a midweek setback to Middle Tennessee, along with a weekend series loss to new conference rival Austin Peay. BU is rather banged up right now, as veteran starting pitcher Chase Brookshire is on the shelf with an elbow injury, while fellow starting pitcher Austin Coley likely will miss the rest of the season after breaking his hand over the weekend.

Texas: The Longhorns again are struggling immensely in Big 12 play, dropping a rather surprising home series to West Virginia over the weekend. UT has now dropped eight-straight conference series. Despite the rough weekend, sophomore right-handed pitcher Parker French was a bright spot, striking out seven and allowing just one run on five hits in 7 1/3 innings.

Texas A&M: Barring a really strong finish to SEC play, it looks like the Aggies likely will miss the NCAA postseason. The Aggies dropped yet another conference series over the weekend, a road set to Arkansas. Rafael Pineda and Parker Ray each pitched well in the series finale against the Razorbacks, but the A&M offense was unable to get much going off Arkansas left-handed pitcher Randall Fant, who fanned eight and allowed a run on two hits in six innings.

Boston College: The Eagles probably wouldn't mind turning the page to next season. They have yet to win a conference game after getting swept by Wake Forest and finishing the week 0-4 overall. BC is now 0-20 in the ACC, 6-33 overall, and to make matters worse, it is hitting .207 with a brutal 6.20 team ERA.

College of Charleston: The Cougars seemed to be in good postseason shape a few weeks ago, but things have taken a turn for the worse for Monte Lee's club. C of C dropped a series to Furman over the weekend and now has just an overall record of 21-18. Like many teams, the Cougars must finish the season on a very high note to have a chance at an at-large berth.

Duke: It only was a couple of weeks ago the Blue Devils were in the postseason hunt, but they've since struggled, getting swept by rival North Carolina over the weekend. The Blue Devils now have an 8-13 conference record with just a 22-20 overall record and RPI of 62. A strong finish is imperative for a postseason bid.

Georgia Southern: Very much like fellow Southern Conference foe College of Charleston, the Eagles appeared to be in good shape postseason wise just a few weeks ago. However, they're in some real trouble headed down the stretch after going 0-5 last week, including a weekend series loss to Western Carolina.

Indiana State: The Sycamores really struggled last week, going 0-4 for the week and falling to .500 overall. ISU was swept by Illinois State with ace left-handed pitcher Sean Manaea having just an OK start against the Redbirds. He struck out nine, walked three and allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits in 5 1/3 innings of work.

Santa Clara: The Broncos are having a rather tough campaign this season. They dropped to 9-28 overall after going 0-4 last week with a midweek loss to Cal Poly and tough series loss to San Diego. SCU is hitting .249 so far this season, along with a rather rough 5.36 ERA.


 

Going streaking

Here are some notable streaks on the national stage:

 

Winning streaks:

North Carolina (14)

North Carolina State (14)

South Florida (12)

Siena (9)

Canisius (7)

New Mexico (7)

Rhode Island (7)

The Citadel (7)

Western Carolina (7)

 

Road winning streaks:

North Carolina (17)

North Carolina State (9)

Saint Louis (7)

San Francisco (7)

High Point (6)

Oregon (6)

Siena (6)

UNC Wilmington (5)

 

Most impressive road records:

North Carolina (10-0)

Cal State Fullerton (19-2)

Saint Louis (12-2)

Campbell (11-3)

LSU (11-3)

Ole Miss (11-3)

Vanderbilt (11-3)

Virginia (9-3)

 

Did you know? 

Texas is one of college baseball's most historic programs, but again is struggling this season. The Longhorns dropped another Big 12 series over the weekend, this time to West Virginia. But even more surprising than that series loss is the simple fact the Longhorns have lost eight-straight Big 12 series, dating back to last season when the Longhorns took two of three from Kansas in late April. The 'Horns, by the way, likely will miss the NCAA postseason again this year with a last place standing in the Big 12, along with a 5-10 league mark and 21-17 overall record.


 

Postseason picture

Sure, the league has been the object of some jokes in the past, but ask SEC power Arkansas about the Big Ten this season. The Hogs, of course, hit the road for midweek action against the Huskers last week, getting swept in the two-game set. The Big Ten also got a nice boost earlier this season when Illinois hit the road and swept Baylor.

Some of the Big Ten's wins certainly have helped the league's RPI. For instance, the Big Ten has the nation's sixth-best conference RPI. That might not sound overly impressive, but also throw in the league has a better RPI than the Big East, Conference USA and Big West. Pretty impressive to say the least.

Here's a quick look at teams vying for postseason bids out of the Big Ten:

Nebraska: The Huskers lead the conference with an 11-4 league mark, a game ahead of Minnesota in the standings. However, even with an RPI of 36, they'll need to finish the season strong, currently sitting with a .500 record, which if the season ended today, would make them ineligible for an at-large postseason bid. NU is 3-9 vs. RPI Top 50 clubs.

Minnesota: The Golden Gophers have a pair of excellent starting pitchers in Tom Windle and DJ Snelten, but will need an incredible finish to earn an at-large bid with an RPI of 90. Minnesota has a respectable 4-4 mark vs. RPI Top 50, but again, the RPI will be determining factor with this club. Losing that Michigan State series to weather over the weekend might be a killer.

Michigan: The Wolverines have been playing an impressive brand of baseball as of late, but is it too late to earn at-large bid? Likely so. Michigan has a good 8-4 league mark with a 22-16 overall record. However, it also has an RPI of 129 with a surprisingly good 6-3 mark vs. RPI Top 50 clubs. It'll be interesting to see how Michigan's RPI moves the final month of the season.

Indiana: The Hoosiers have pretty much clinched a spot in the NCAA postseason no matter what happens the rest of the year. They're also in terrific shape to earn an NCAA host site. IU is 8-4 in the league, 29-8 overall and has an RPI of 14 along with a 7-5 mark vs. RPI Top 50 clubs. Indiana also is still in the mix for a national seed, albeit, those chances have decreased over the past couple of weeks.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes recorded a huge series win over Illinois this past weekend. The Bucks are 9-6 in the Big Ten (two games out of first) with an RPI of 38. The Bucks also are 6-7 vs. RPI Top 50. OSU has moved squarely onto the NCAA postseason projections bubble this week with that Illinois series win.

Michigan State: The Spartans could've used that series against Minnesota to bolster their resume. The Spartans have an RPI of 25 and a solid 7-5 mark vs. RPI Top 50 clubs, but a 5-4 league mark could scare some NCAA committee members. MSU needs to finish the season strong in conference play to leave little doubt. For now, the Spartans probably would be in the field of 64.

Illinois: The Fighting Illini really had an opportunity to help their postseason case against the Buckeyes over the weekend, but are now just .500 in the league after that series. With that said, Illinois' RPI will give it a chance with a strong finish. The Illini is 24-12 with an RPI of 49. They're also 3-6 vs. RPI Top 50.


 

Prospect watch: Oklahoma RHP Jonathan Gray

Oklahoma junior right-handed pitcher Jonathan Gray has made the full transition.

The hype surrounding Gray during the early part of the spring certainly was warranted. After all, the imposing right-handed pitcher touched 100 on the gun during fall workouts, and also reportedly did the same at home earlier this year.

But the story this season for Gray is not simply that he’s a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher who can sit in the upper-90s for an entire game, even in cold elements, it’s the fact he has become a mature, and coincidentally, a much better overall pitcher and prospect.

Having seen Gray a couple of times during his sophomore campaign last season, it’s obvious the tools were there. He had a stocky frame that just screamed durability, and he had that power fastball to go with the plus slider. However, last season, he had a tendency to have a few good innings, then suddenly resort to bad mechanics, causing opposing teams to have huge innings to knock him out of games. Even with those issues, he still managed to tally a very respectable 3.16 ERA in 102 2/3 innings, along with 104 strikeouts and 42 walks.

The Jonathan Gray of old is no more. That much has been clear so far this season, as evidenced by the fact he has climbed from No. 58 preseason in our Top 100 prospect rankings, to the likely No. 2 pick in the MLB draft behind Stanford right-handed pitcher Mark Appel.

“You know, he’s the type of guy who can go 97-99 for 120 pitches, then punch you out with an 87-88 slider. That’s pretty special stuff right there,” Baylor coach Steve Smith said about Gray. “They tend to pitch him the way he’s going to pitch at the big league level, and he’s pretty effective going about things that way.”

With Gray and the Sooners down at Baylor a couple of weekends ago, it was the perfect opportunity to see what the new and improved right-handed pitcher was all about.

To begin the game, it seemed like Gray might have a rough night on the mound. Command of his fastball, slider and changeup was spotty, and he was pushing hard to the left during his follow through, causing many of his pitches to sail outside.

Gray attributed the slow start to being amped up, and that made sense because he was nasty as usual once he settled in against the Bears. Gray was consistently 94-99 throughout the game, even touching a couple of 97s in the eighth inning.

The elite right-hander also flashed good secondary stuff. His changeup was 80-82 and just sick when commanded well with that fastball, while his slider was interesting to say the least. He sometimes threw the pitch at 82-84, and others at 85-87, with great tailing action against right-handed hitters.

“You know, sometimes in games, I get a little too amped out and tend not to stay back on the rubber. That happened in the game, but was fine once I settled in,” Gray said. “As for my pitches, the development of the slider has really helped me a lot this year. Sometimes, when I just need a strike I’ll throw that thing 83-84, but when I need to punch someone out, will go 85-87 with it. I really try to mix speeds with that pitch.”

Moving forward, it’s pretty much a slam-dunk Gray is a top-five overall pick in the upcoming MLB draft, barring some late-season collapse or some other occurrence. For the season, Gray has a 1.09 ERA in 74 1/3 innings of work, along with 91 strikeouts and just 13 walks. He’s also limiting opposing teams to a .159 batting average, whereas teams hit .267 last year.

“The big thing for me this year is I’m going out there each week and trust my stuff. As long as I do that, I’m going to be fine,” he said. “I just stay within myself and not try to do too much. As long as my mechanics are there, everything will be all right.”

Transformation complete.


 

National notes

* North Carolina freshman outfielder Skye Bolt has missed the past couple of weeks because of a foot fracture, and it looks like he'll at least be out a couple more weeks. The Tar Heels plan to reevaluate Bolt next week, and for now, are pinpointing a mid-May return against Georgia Tech. Bolt, one of the nation's elite freshmen, was hitting .392 with six homers and 41 RBIs when he went down with an injury.

* Belmont was a prime candidate to earn an NCAA postseason at-large berth, but injuries have really taken their toll. The Bruins have been without ace starting pitcher Chase Brookshire the past couple of weeks because of an elbow ailment, while there's a good chance right-handed pitcher Austin Coley misses the rest of the season after taking a line drive off his hand this past weekend against Austin Peay.

* Long Island head coach Don Maines earned his 400th career win over the weekend as the Blackbirds captured a solid 10-3 win over Mount St. Mary's. Maines is in his eighth season as the helm of the LIU-Brooklyn program.

* California head coach David Esquer captured his 400th career win over the weekend in a 4-2 win over Washington State. Esquer has created quite a legacy for himself the past couple of seasons. From helping the Golden Bears keep the baseball program to reaching the College World Series, Esquer absolutely deserves to be highly recognized.

* Maine head coach Steve Trimper earned his 400th career win over the weekend in a 3-2 win over Stony Brook. Trimper is in his eighth season with the Black Bears, and has the program in position to win the America East this season, sitting 13-4 in league play with a 24-15 overall mark.

* Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn, in his 11th season with the program, has been named the head coach for the USA Collegiate National Team for the 2014 summer. Van Horn is no stranger to the USA Baseball circuit, though, as he served  as an assistant for the 2011 club, which ended the summer with an 11-2 record.

* And our weekly look at some intriguing national statistics:

* We've spent the past few weeks looking at some of the top individual leaders around the country, but what about in the team department? First off, here's a list of the nation's top five offenses: Kansas State (.331), Georgia State (.326), New Mexico (.325), North Florida (.325) and Delaware (.324). Of the top five teams nationally, North Carolina ranks sixth with a .318 batting average.

* In terms of team ERA, here's how the top five nationally stacks up: Arkansas (1.81), North Carolina (2.13), Oregon State (2.18), Mississippi State (2.37) and Central Arkansas (2.38).

* While pitching and offense are important aspects of winning teams, how about teams from a defensive standpoint? In order: Oregon (.986), Lamar (.985), UC Irvine (.984), Mercer (.982) and LSU (.982). It's also worth noting that Dartmouth has a very impressive .981 fielding percentage.

* Home runs have certainly been tougher to come by the past couple of years, but there still are some teams having some success in the power department. The top five home run hitting teams nationally include Samford (45), Mercer (45), Dallas Baptist (44), Arkansas-Little Rock (41) and Pittsburgh (40) and New Mexico State (40). Also worth noting, North Carolina (36) and LSU (33) also have impressive home run totals on the national stage.



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