College : : Story
Thursday, February 23, 2012

Making early statements

Kendall Rogers        
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It’s easy to see why Boston College has such a hard-nosed mentality.

Talk to second-year head coach Mike Gambino for 10 minutes and it becomes very apparent; these Eagles take pride in being a scrappy bunch. They, and Gambino, also aren’t particularly concerned with what people on the national stage think about their program.

Call it a rough around the edges mentality or whatever else you want, Gambino and his coaching staff simply don’t care to be self-promoters. Instead, they’d rather BC promote itself by going out on the baseball diamond and taking care of business.

That’s precisely what they did last weekend down at Coastal Carolina.

The Eagles didn’t enter the weekend with incredibly high expectations. This is a program that finished last season with a 17-33 overall record, 7-22 mark in the ACC. And this also is a program that entered the spring picked sixth in the ACC Atlantic Division behind programs such Maryland and Wake Forest.

Perhaps it’s already time to update the Eagles’ forecast. They shocked everyone by controlling Virginia on the way to a 5-3 triumph in the season opener. BC then defeated James Madison 8-5 in the second game, before finishing the tourney with an impressive 8-3 win over tourney host Coastal Carolina.

“I was pretty happy with the way our guys played. As long as we keep playing hard, fundamental baseball, we’re going to be just fine,” Gambino said. “The leadership on this team is outstanding. The captains do a tremendous job of keeping everyone else focused. We’re just a hard-working team trying to go out there and win.”

Fresh off that impressive showing at Coastal, the Eagles now have everyone’s attention as they once again hit the road this weekend to face a Central Florida squad that -- barring a surprise -- will be in the NCAA postseason in June.

Boston College’s hot start can be attributed to leadership and a host of other factors, but it all starts with the starting rotation, which did a tremendous job last weekend with right-handers Eric Stevens, Matt Alvarez and Hunter Gordon in charge.

Stevens outdueled Virginia stud ace Branden Kline in the first game, allowing just three runs on seven hits in six innings. Meanwhile, Matt Alvarez set the tone in the second game, allowing just one earned run and one hit in 5 2/3 innings. Then, in the finale against Coastal Carolina, Gordon allowed just three hits in five shutout innings. He also struck out six batters.

“Stevens really does a nice job of moving his fastball around and getting groundballs. He’s only 87-88, but he really has a nice fastball with sink,” he said. “Alvarez did a nice job of scattering his fastball, and has the ability to run up to 93 mph on the gun, while Gordon has a very solid three-pitch mix with a fastball, changeup and curveball. He has the ability to run it up to 91.”

The Eagles also have some reasons to be confident about their offense. Though they finished the first weekend with just a .280 average, some key cogs rose to the occasion in clutch situations.

Gambino is incredibly high on shortstop Anthony Melchionda, who he believes is one of the league’s elite hitters. Melchionda enters the UCF series with a .429 average, while Tom Bourdon leads the way with a .571 average.

“I thought we did a pretty good job in our situational hitting. We were very efficient in that department,” he said. “We did a good job with runners in scoring position, and we’re going to be pretty good if we can consistently do that.”

Should the Eagles fare well this weekend and enter ACC play with a winning record, you’d have to call that a success. After this weekend’s series against a very solid UCF club, the Eagles once again hit the road to face Florida Gulf Coast, Florida Atlantic and Florida International before facing Miami on the road to begin ACC play. In all, the Eagles play their next 14 games on the road, opening their home schedule March 20, with a bout against Holy Cross.

Even if the Eagles continue winning with their tough schedule, don’t look for Gambino to magically become vocal about his program.

The Eagles spent the entire offseason flying under the radar, expected to do very little by everyone around the nation. Now they’re flying higher than they have in a couple of seasons.

Call it self-promotion of the on-field variety.


Baylor: The Bears couldn’t have asked for a better start. They’ve allowed just seven runs in five games. And oh yeah, they’re also an impressive 5-0.

Southern California: The Trojans have had issues establish positive consistency the past few seasons, but perhaps that’s changing. They’re 4-0 and playing a great brand of baseball. Freshman starting pitcher Stephen Tarpley has been a solid boost thus far.

Santa Clara: Just a season ago, the Broncos were an afterthought at the bottom of the West Coast Conference. Now they’ve got everyone’s attention after starting 4-0 with new coach Dan O’Brien leading the way.

Stanford: Sure, it’s still very early in the season, but the Cardinal is doing a tremendous job of living up to their hype thus far. They crushed Vanderbilt last weekend before beating Pacific in the midweek. Stud third baseman Stephen Piscotty has already hit three home runs.

Pepperdine: The Waves have taken a couple of year hiatus from the NCAA postseason discussion, but that trend could finally end this season. They’re off to a tremendous start, sitting at 4-1 with a series win over Oklahoma. Freshman two-way player Aaron Brown has been a huge boost.


UCLA: The Bruins pitched well on opening weekend without Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, but their offense once again sputtered. Fortunately, perhaps a 19-run explosion in midweek action against Cal State Northridge got things going for good. Bruins have a big series against Baylor coming up this weekend.

Wichita State: The Shockers headed to the Lone Star State to begin the season, where they dropped three games to Santa Clara, Louisiana-Lafayette and Texas State. Fortunately for the Shockers, they responded with a solid midweek win over Oral Roberts. But still, a slow start for the Shockers.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide hope to turn the tide this weekend when they face Arkansas-Pine Bluff at home for a three-game series. The Tide was surprised last weekend when they lost all three games of a home series against Florida Atlantic. ‘Bama must avoid another non-conference series loss.

Indiana State: The Sycamores have some legitimate talent this season and entered the season as a team expected to take a step forward. Well, they’ve already taken a step back by getting swept at Southeastern Louisiana last weekend.

Jacksonville: Easily one of the top disappointments the first week and a half of the season. The Dolphins were swept last weekend by USC before getting trashed by Florida State in midweek action. They should get back to their winning ways this weekend with a home series against Northeastern.


Stanford’s hot start
We can’t tell you how many teams we’ve seen get hyped in the preseason, only to fall flat on their face in the spring. Well, the Cardinal is doing anything but that right now. They’re 4-0 and absolutely dominated Vandy to begin the spring. The Cardinal is hitting .329 with sophomore slugger Brian Ragira (.529) leading the way at the plate. Meanwhile, it was nice to see starting pitcher Brett Mooneyham return to the mound last week. He allowed just three runs in six innings returning from a finger injury that sidelined him last season. As well as the Cardinal continues to play, they get another test this weekend as Texas comes calling to California. Chances are good they’ll earn another great series win.

Contrast of feelings with Baylor/UCLA
Texas A&M and Texas, and to some extent, Oklahoma, were the Big 12’s headliners entering last weekend. But while those teams still have everyone’s attention, the Bears certainly are coming on strong. They’ve played an exceptional brand of baseball so far this season with both clutch pitching and hitting. It’s worth noting that veteran catcher Josh Ludy has done a tremendous job of helping set the stage along with hard-hitting first baseman Max Muncy … While BU feels great right now, the Bruins are on the other end of the spectrum. The same lack of clutch hitting that plagued them all of last season had reared its ugly head until a midweek bout against Northridge. Of course, we now wonder if that was UCLA breaking out of its shell, or simply the Matadors just being that bad.

TCU, Cal State Fullerton have lots on the line
Usually this time of year, you don’t look at a series and consider it to be huge when it comes to the postseason picture in May. However, the series between the Frogs and Titans definitely has that feel. Both programs take pride in being in good position on the national stage come postseason time, always fighting for NCAA Regional host sites. Given the happenings of last weekend, this is an important series for both teams. The Frogs split a series with Ole Miss, while the Titans hit the road and dropped two of three to Florida. Both teams hope to earn a marquee series win this weekend.

Boston College aims for another impressive weekend
The Eagles raised plenty of eyebrows with their play on opening weekend. BC wasn’t expected to do much in the Coastal Carolina tournament. Instead, they won the four-team tourney, which included Virginia, James Madison and Coastal Carolina. The Eagles used a trio of solid starts from pitchers Eric Stevens, Hunter Gordon and Matt Alvarez to get the job done, going 3-0, most notably winning a 5-3 decision over Virginia. The Eagles hit the road this weekend to face a very solid Central Florida squad. BC has yet another opportunity to make a huge statement in its series against UCF.

Florida International needs big weekend
Life as a mid-major can be extremely difficult. You’re asked to schedule tough non-conference series. But should you lose them, you’re way behind the curve no matter how well you do in conference play. For the Panthers, this weekend’s series against Florida State is a big one. They hit the road last weekend with hopes of upsetting Rice. Instead, they headed home with a trio of losses to the Owls. Now, with an 0-3 record, they head to Tallahassee, Fla., hoping to knock off the red-hot Seminoles. FIU can’t afford to drop to 0-6 with series coming up against Brown and Fordham; two teams that won’t help its RPI come May.


#9 Texas at #2 Stanford: The Longhorns struggled at times against Duke last weekend, but still came away with a 2-1 series win. The ‘Horns have several talented arms, but they’re a little inexperienced. UT has a very difficult chore on the road against the Cardinal, who’s playing a terrific brand of baseball. Nathan Thornhill must start the weekend on the right foot for UT. PG Pick: Stanford

#44 Florida International at #12 Florida State: The Panthers must be much better than they were last weekend against Rice if they want to surprise Florida State this weekend. FIU, which has a potent offensive lineup, finished last weekend with a dismal .243 batting average. And even worse, they finished the Rice series with a 6.00 ERA. It won’t be a fun weekend if that doesn’t change, as FSU is playing very well with first baseman Jayce Boyd leading the way. PG Pick: Florida State

#18 TCU at #22 Cal State Fullerton: The Horned Frogs hoped to get a good measuring stick last weekend against Ole Miss, but the series ended in a 1-1 split. Now, the Frogs test their luck on the road against the Titans. Fullerton actually looked solid against top-ranked Florida last weekend, particularly in the series finale. The Titans had an opportunity to win the series, but couldn’t seal the deal. Freshman hurlers Grahamm Wiest and Kenny Mathews must be solid. PG Pick: Cal State Fullerton

Auburn at #11 Arizona: Despite dropping a tough home series to Missouri last weekend, the Tigers actually played a good brand of baseball throughout the weekend. Ace pitcher Derek Varnadore was terrific in the series, but the Tigers were unable to take care of business the rest of the weekend. Meanwhile, Arizona was in somewhat the same boat as it dropped a single game to North Dakota State. Both teams should play at a high level this weekend. PG Pick: Arizona

Boston College at #24 UCF: Just a week ago, there’s no doubt this series wouldn’t have resonated much on the national stage. But things have changed after the Eagles had a fantastic opening weekend. The Eagles used a trio of solid starters from Eric Stevens, Matt Alvarez and Hunter Gordon to go 3-0 in the Coastal Carolina tournament last weekend. Meanwhile, UCF made easy work of Long Island. BC is playing extremely well, but the Knights will be ready for the challenge. PG Pick: UCF

#25 Baylor at #33 UCLA: The Bears certainly were expected to experience success this season, but we didn’t think they’d be in this good of shape. BU got a pair of outstanding pitching performances from Josh Turley and Brad Kuntz last weekend against Oral Roberts. Now it hits the road to face a UCLA club that failed to get key hits in last weekend’s series loss to Maryland. I’d look for a little urgency from the Bruins this weekend. PG Pick: UCLA

#48 Troy at Southern Mississippi: This was an important series from a postseason standpoint last season, and that importance won’t change this season. The Trojans could use a marquee road series win with third baseman Tyler Hannah and stud ace pitcher Tyler Ray leading the way. Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles, who will only get better as the season progresses with an influx of young talent, hope to leave more of a positive impression than they did against Nicholls State last week. PG Pick: Troy

#43 Missouri at #39 San Francisco: There’s a lot of buzz about the Dons these days, as ace pitcher Kyle Zimmer dazzled observers last weekend with a fastball that touched 98 mph. Oh yeah, the Dons also happen to be a solid overall club, capturing a series win over San Jose State last weekend. Meanwhile, the Tigers played extremely well in a road series at Auburn, setting the stage for what should be a very well played three-game set. PG Pick: San Francisco

Oregon at #17 Vanderbilt: Both the Ducks and Commodores are coming off surprising opening weekends. The Ducks hit the road and won a solid series over Hawaii, while the ‘Dores were thoroughly surprised by just how bad the Stanford series went. UO could capture a huge road series that could propel a team that previously was considered an afterthought in the Pac-12 race. Meanwhile, Vandy needs to take care of business at home, building confidence in its inexperienced players.  PG Pick: Vanderbilt

#40 Fresno State at #50 Pepperdine: This should be one of the more entertaining series of the weekend. The Bulldogs are coming off a home series win over Butler, with impressive ace pitcher Tyler Linehan and two-way stud Aaron Judge leading the way. Meanwhile, the Waves have surprised everyone, perhaps even coach Steve Rodriguez, with their fast start. Pepperdine earned a series win over Oklahoma last weekend, with freshman two-way player Aaron Brown certainly living up to the hype. PG Pick: Pepperdine

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball managing editor for Perfect Game and can be reached at

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