Sunday's player/prospect scoop (coming Monday)
The college baseball season finally has begun, and with the action heating up all over the country, we’re dedicated to taking you inside the action like no other.
We hope you, the fans, players, parents and scouts, enjoy our new weekend content format that will be present each Friday, Saturday and Sunday over the weekend.
There will also be some premium content (CBT) added as an additional supplement over the weekends. For instance, Monday morning, we’ll unveil some in-depth thoughts on top prospects viewed at Sunday’s Big East/Big Ten Challenge.
Here’s our inside look at Sunday’s college baseball action.
TEAM OF THE DAY: Rice
The Owls welcomed back several key cogs this season and played like a team on a mission this weekend against Florida International. The Owls won the first two games of the series before cruising to a dominant 8-1 win in the series finale. Freshman starting pitcher Jordan Stephens had a solid debut, allowing just a run on four hits in 4 1/3 innings, while the bullpen did a good job with John and Trevor Simms leading the way. Rice had a terrific Sunday and weekend against a team that likely ends the season in the NCAA tournament.
PLAYER OF THE DAY: Brett Harman, rhp, Maryland
For the most part, players that missed last season because of an injury performed at a pretty high level this weekend. Few performed at a higher level than the Terrapins senior right-handed pitcher. Harman was terrific against UCLA in a contest that helped the Terps clinch a huge road series over a ranked team. Harman struck out eight batters and allowed just two hits in five shutout innings of work. Maryland is a team worth watching if it can pitch like it did against UCLA throughout the spring.
UPSET OF THE DAY: Maryland over UCLA
Offensive production was the biggest issue when UCLA got off to a slow start last season. Well, that same issue seems to once again be rearing its ugly head. The Bruins dropped a disappointing 5-1 decision to Maryland in the rubber match of that series, losing the three-game set. UCLA starting pitcher Zack Weiss allowed three runs (none earned) in five innings, while only shortstop Pat Valaika put together a two-hit performance. UCLA hit .237 for the weekend.
BEST FIVE TEAMS
Pepperdine: The Waves have been victims of some very slow starts the past couple of seasons, but perhaps the shoe is now on the other foot. They began the season on a high note with a series win over Oklahoma, winning the finale 7-6. Reliever Andrew Alvarez tossed four shutout innings, while freshman two-way star Aaron Brown finished the contest with a fastball in the 90-92 mph range.
Baylor: The Bears couldn’t have asked for more this weekend. They played well in many phases in the game, particularly on the mound. On Sunday, Brad Kuntz allowed just a run in five innings in one game, while the bullpen arms of Tyler Bremer and Joey Hainsfurther shined in the other contest. BU outscored Oral Roberts 14-5 in the three-game series.
USC: What a fantastic opening weekend it was for Frank Cruz’s club over a very solid Jacksonville squad. The Trojans won the first two contests before sweeping the series with a 4-3 triumph on Sunday. Freshman left-handed pitcher Stephen Tarpley was outstanding, striking out nine batters and allowing just two runs on five hits in 5 2/3 innings. Offensively, Garrett Stubbs, Matt Foat and Kevin Swick each had two hits. Perhaps the Trojans finally are ready to take a step forward.
Purdue: We picked the Boilermakers to win the Big Ten regular season title for a reason. You saw many of those reasons this weekend at the Big East/Big Ten Challenge. Purdue capped off the weekend in style with a 15-8 triumph over Notre Dame. The Boilermakers’ pitching staff wasn’t particularly great, but the offense was outstanding. Stud third baseman Cam Perkins went 2-for-6 with five RBIs, while right fielder Barrett Serrato had two doubles and two RBIs, and imposing catcher Kevin Plawecki recorded a pair of hits. Purdue went 3-0 this weekend.
Cal Poly: We thought the Mustangs would be solid this season, but perhaps they’re in line to be much better than anyone expected. CP absolutely crushed Oklahoma State throughout the weekend, winning the series finale 6-0 to complete the three-game sweep. Mustangs starting pitcher Kyle Brueggemann struck out seven batters and allowed just six hits in 6 2/3 shutout innings. Cal Poly outscored OSU 23-3 on the weekend.
FIVE WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE
San Diego: The Toreros must avoid finding themselves in a familiar situation of having to win a lot of games at the end of the season to get into the NCAA postseason hunt. USD finished the weekend on a negative note with a 10-3 loss to Sam Houston State to lose the series. Starting pitcher Dylan Covey allowed two runs in five innings, while the bullpen imploded in ugly fashion.
Wichita State: The Shockers would love to forget about opening weekend. They headed down to Texas with hopes of winning three, perhaps two games, minimum, at the Texas State tournament. Instead, they head home with three losses. WSU lost the tournament finale on Sunday, 7-4 to the host Bobcats. WSU starting pitcher Mitch Mormann had a poor debut, allowing five runs on three hits in 1 2/3 innings. Reliever A.J. Ladwig was the silver lining, allowing just a run on four hits in 5 1/3 innings.
St. John’s: It’s back to the drawing board for the Johnnies. They entered the weekend looking to snag a couple of wins in the Big East/Big Ten Challenge. Instead, they went 1-2 on the weekend, dropping the tourney finale Sunday, 9-4 to Illinois. St. John’s starting pitcher James Lomangino allowed four runs on five hits in 3 2/3 innings, while the bullpen outside of Jake Woodward didn’t do much better.
UCLA: Yeah, the Bruins have a little work to do at the plate. They were unable to do much against Maryland starting pitcher Brett Harman. On top of that, starting pitcher Zack Weiss was just OK in five innings of work, and reliever Eric Jaffe walked two batters, while fellow reliever David Berg allowed two runs on two hits in 1 2/3 innings. The Bruins must avoid falling into an early hole this spring.
Nebraska: The Huskers hoped to hit the road and take care of business against Gonzaga, but that simply didn’t happen. They finished the weekend 0-3, losing the series finale 5-4 in heartbreaking fashion. NU starting pitcher Kyle Kubat actually put together a solid start, allowing no runs in five innings, but the bullpen was unable to seal the deal. It certainly wasn’t memorable first weekend for coach Darin Erstad.
FIVE QUICK THOUGHTS
* Overall, it was a very busy weekend for yours truly in the Sunshine State. I had a full day of action at the Big East/Big Ten Challenge on Friday before shifting things upstate for the matchup between Florida and Cal State Fullerton on Saturday. On Sunday, we finished things off with Purdue and Notre Dame and a couple of innings of South Florida and Minnesota. Purdue’s offense looked fantastic against the Fighting Irish, who certainly helped out the Boilermakers with a dismal nine-error performance. Purdue third baseman Cam Perkins has a slender than expected frame, but really pounded the baseball, while catcher Kevin Plawecki definitely passed the eyeball test and finished the contest with a pair of hits. Pitching-wise, right-handed closer Nick Wittgren was just OK. He allowed some hits and was just 89-91 with his fastball with decent off speed stuff. Meanwhile, for the Irish, first baseman Trey Mancini once again was impressive with a two-hit performance. Mancini is a guy whose stock only will continue to rise. He definitely lives up to the hype. Meanwhile, catcher Joe Hudson left a strong impression this weekend. He was fantastic against Illinois on Friday, and finished the tournament Sunday with two hits and two RBIs. Pitching-wise, the Irish didn’t impress, but senior left-hander Joe Spano was up to 91 on the gun in his limited work. Overall, Purdue definitely fit the bill of a team that will contend for an NCAA postseason spot, while Notre Dame will give teams fits throughout the spring if it can pitch and play defense on a consistent basis … In the few innings I watched of the second game at Al Lang Field, it was fantastic to see South Florida left-hander Andrew Barbosa back on the hill. He topped out at 93 for the Bulls and was solid the first couple of innings. Speaking of USF, it finished the weekend a perfect 3-0.
* I absolutely love comeback stories. Maryland starting pitcher Brett Harman, the squad’s former ace, returned to the mound against UCLA on Sunday. He missed last season because of an arm injury, so Sunday’s performance was big for him. He didn’t disappoint, absolutely shutting down the Bruins throughout the afternoon. Also worthy of praise was the performance put together by Texas A&M right-hander Rafael Pineda, who missed last season because of Tommy John surgery. Pineda carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Illinois-Chicago. He finished the afternoon striking out three batters and allowing just a hit in seven innings of work.
* It’s certainly way too early to be talking about how some teams may fit in to the NCAA postseason picture in May, but the series between Missouri and Auburn could’ve been big from that standpoint. Both Missouri and AU are expected to finish in the middle of the pack in their respective conferences, making the series potentially important from an at-large bid perspective. AU starting pitcher Derek Varnadore set the tone in the season opener, but Missouri responded in a big way Sunday with a pair of wins by scores of 6-4 and 4-3. Time will tell if this ends up being a huge series, but just remember it when it comes time for the NCAA’s Selection Monday.
* Sure, it was only the first weekend of the college baseball season, but boy did Stanford live up to all the hype in its opening series against Vanderbilt. The offense was very productive and the pitching staff, for the most part, was solid outside of AJ Vanegas. And even when Vanegas left something to be desired on Sunday, reliever John Hochstatter entered the game and didn’t allow a hit in 6 1/3 innings of work. Meanwhile, starting pitchers Mark Appel and Brett Mooneyham performed admirably in the previous two contests against the Commodores. Stanford gets another test next weekend against Texas, but that series, too, is at the friendly confines of Sunken Diamond. Oh yeah, Stanford outscored Vanderbilt 35-13 in the three contests.
* I’m always looking for under-the-radar mid-major programs to keep track of during the college baseball season. New Mexico State could very well be that team this spring. The Aggies entered the campaign ranked in the PG Top 100 with a good offense and some legitimate pitchers back from last year’s club. The Aggies had a solid first weekend with a trio of wins over Wake Forest at home. But most interesting about the weekend is the fact they held the Demon Deacons to just four runs in two of the three wins. NMSU gets another stiff test this week when it faces Rice on the road. Keep an eye on this club moving forward, as coach Rocky Ward was excited about this group in the preseason.