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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Roundup: Opening Day frenzy

Kendall Rogers        
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ALSO SEE: Allan Simpson's report on UNC's Kent Emanuel

Team of the day


Stanford starting pitcher Mark Appel was the big story entering Friday's season opener against Rice, but it was Owls junior right-handed pitcher Austin Kubitza who stole the show in a 5-1 triumph over the Cardinal. Kubitza, who struggled with his command last season, was terrific in the series opener against the Cardinal, flashing a fastball up to 93 and a plus slider. He struck out 12 hitters and allowed just four hits in six shutout frames. Meanwhile, a much heralded Appel flashed a fastball up to 97, but struggled with his command. He struck out just three and allowed five runs on seven hits in five innings of work.

Player of the Day

Virginia DH/3B Kenny Towns

Towns is a perfect example of what can happen with some patience. Towns had zero home runs in just 51 at bats last season. But after his magical performance against East Carolina to begin the 2013 campaign, chances are good he'll earn significant playing time. Towns smacked not only two homers against the Pirates, but both were grand slams on the way to a dominant 14-4 win for the Cavaliers. The Hoos entered the season with plenty of question marks, but what a way to begin the season.

Upset of the day

Appalachian State

First-year head coach Billy Jones couldn't have asked for a bigger statement in his inaugural game with the Mountaineers. The Mountaineers touched up outstanding North Carolina State left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon for five runs on five hits in six innings of work in a 6-3 triumph. Rodon finished the contest with eight strikeouts, but plenty of damage was done. Appalachian State starting pitcher Jamie Nunn struck out five, walked two and allowed just two runs on three hits in six innings of work. Meanwhile, outfielder Jaylin Davis had a huge day with a home run, two hits and three RBIs. Perhaps the Mountaineers already are ready to move forward without previous coach Scott Pollard.

Teams feeling good

Vanderbilt: The Commodores enter the season with high hopes and started the campaign in impressive fashion with a 10-4 triumph over Long Beach State. VU junior left-handed pitcher Kevin Ziomek was very impressive against the Dirtbags, sitting in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball, and striking out seven, walking one, and allowing just one run on four hits in six innings of work. Ziomek threw 91 pitches in the contest, 51 for strikes, while electric outfielder Mike Yastrzemski led the offense with two hits (one a triple) and two RBIs.

Mississippi: The Rebels and Horned Frogs finished last season in the College Station Regional title game. The two teams began the 2013 campaign with an intense bout, one the Rebels captured 1-0 in wild fashion. TCU sophomore left-handed pitcher Brandon Finnegan touched 97 with his fastball, struck out four and allowed just one run (none earned) on five hits in six innings of work. Meanwhile, Ole Miss junior right-hander Bobby Wahl, who also has a mid 90s fastball, struck out eight, walked three and allowed just three hits (no runs) in 6 1/3 innings.

Virginia: The Cavaliers really couldn't have been much more impressive in their season debut on the road against East Carolina. Virginia freshman starting pitcher Brandon Waddell struck out five batters, walked two and allowed two runs (one earned run) on five hits in 4 2/3 innings of work. He also flashed a fastball sitting 86-90. But the story of the day was the performance put together by designated hitter/third baseman Kenny Towns, who smacked a pair of homers in the contest. Also impressive is the fact the Cavaliers touched up ECU stud sophomore pitcher Jeff Hoffman for four runs on four hits in 4 2/3 innings of work.

Indiana: There are several teams to watch in the Big Ten this season, but the Hoosiers lead the charge as the preseason favorite to win the regular season title. The Hoosiers were very impressive in their season-opening 2-0 win over highly ranked Louisville. IU junior left-handed pitcher Joey DeNato was terrific in his start, striking out three and allowing just four hits in four shutout innings, while reliever Evan Bell was equally impressive, striking out two and allowing just two hits in four innings.

Oklahoma State: The Josh Holliday era couldn't have gotten off to a better start. The Cowboys were very impressive on Friday, as they captured a 4-2 road win over a very good New Mexico club. OSU starting pitcher, redshirt-sophomore right-hander Jason Hursh, had plenty of eyeballs on him entering the contest after suffering from injuries the past two seasons. Hursh didn't disappoint in the contest with a FB up to 96 and good command. He struck out five batters, walked three and allowed just two runs on four hits in six innings of work. Much credit also should go to reliever Brendan McCurry, who allowed just two hits in two scoreless frames.

Missouri State: Bears leadoff hitter Dylan Becker hit an RBI single in the 11th inning to help capture a huge and thrilling 3-2 win over Texas State. But the story in this game was the pitching duel between Missouri State's Nick Petree and Texas State fireballer Kyle Finnegan. Neither disappointed, and both were fantastic. Petree struck out five, walked three and allowed just two hits in five shutout frames, while Finnegan flashed big-time stuff, striking out 11, walking four and allowing just two runs on three hits in six innings of work.

Teams wanting a do-over

San Diego: Always be careful scheduling rivals to open new ballparks. The Toreros expected opening day to be a grand event with a great result. However, San Diego State obviously didn't get the memo as it captured a rather surprising 8-1 victory. SDSU starting pitcher Michael Cederoth struggled with command at times, but still struck out six and allowed just one run on four hits in five innings. Meanwhile, reliever Justin Hepner, who was up to 92 for the Aztecs, was very effective out of the bullpen. As for the Toreros, starting pitcher Dylan Covey allowed six runs on eight hits in three innings.

North Carolina State: The Wolfpack enters the season with incredibly high hopes, but is disappointed with the way opening day unfolded. N.C. State ace left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon had a tough opener against Appalachian State, allowing five runs on five hits in six innings of work. Meanwhile, the offense did very little against Mountaineers pitching outside of outstanding and scrappy shortstop Trea Turner tallying a couple of hits.

Texas A&M: The Aggies talked most of the offseason about moving senior right-handed pitcher Kyle Martin to the weekend rotation. Martin's first start in that role was a success, with the veteran striking out 10 batters and allowing just two runs (none earned) on five hits in 6 2/3 innings of work. However, the Aggies still managed to drop a 2-0 contest to Illinois-Chicago. UIC starting pitcher Tomas Michelson was brilliant with five strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings of work, while reliever Ian Lewandowski, who has a fastball that can reach the low 90s, tossed 1 1/3 shutout innings out of the bullpen.

UCLA: The Bruins are well aware offensive production could be a concern throughout the spring, so don't be too surprised they didn't touch up Minnesota pitching in a tough 10-inning, 6-2 setback. UCLA starting pitcher Adam Plutko struck out six batters, topping out at 92, also allowed just two runs on seven hits in six innings of work. On the flip side, Minnesota junior left-handed pitcher Tom Windle was impressive in his debut, tossing four shutout innings. But it was the bullpen duo of Billy Soule and Kevin Kray that most impressed for the Golden Gophers. Soule, a bulldog-type of pitcher, struck out three in two shutout innings while Kray tossed two hitless frames to finish the contest.

Florida: It has been a rather tough week for the Florida Gators. The Gators found out yesterday that No. 2 starting pitcher, right-hander Karsten Whitson, will miss the rest of the season because of an injury. Then, before the game on Friday, UF found out Jacksonville University transfer Taylor Ratliff was deemed ineligible to play by the NCAA. Florida's night got even tougher in a disappointing 4-3 loss to Duke. UF starting pitcher Jonathon Crawford was lifted from the contest after allowing two runs on three hits in 3 2/3 innings, while Duke was led by its starting pitcher, Trent Swart, who allowed just two runs on four hits in six innings. Duke reliever Andrew Istler also came up big with 1 1/3 shutout frames to end the game.

Kent State: The Golden Flashes certainly have no cause for concern one day into the season, but coach Scott Stricklin has to be disappointed with the fact his club was unable to capture a win in a pair of one-run contests, losses to Virginia Tech and UNC Wilmington by scores of 10-9 and 7-6, respectively. Kent State ace pitcher Tyler Skulina allowed seven runs in five innings in the first game, while hard-throwing junior college transfer Taylor Williams had an OK start, striking out five and allowing four runs (one earned) in seven innings.

Loyola Marymount: The West Coast Conference should be very solid this spring, and the Lions are one of those teams that have a chance to take a significant step forward. LMU suffered a disappointing 6-3 loss to Utah to begin the season. LMU starting pitcher Colin Welmon struck out five, walked two, and allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits in six innings of work, while he was bested by Utes senior right-handed pitcher Brock Duke, who allowed just two runs (one earned) on three hits in 6 1/3 innings of work.

Individual performances to remember

DH/3B Kenny Towns, Virginia -- Towns, a talented sophomore, had quite an afternoon to remember against East Carolina, as he smacked two homers to help the Cavaliers capture a dominant opening day win over the Pirates.

LHP Kent Emanuel, North Carolina -- The Tar Heels started the season on the right foot against Seton Hall with Emanuel leading the charge. The junior lefty struck out five batters and allowed just four hits in a complete-game performance. He threw 106 pitches, 78 of those for strikes.

RHP Buck Farmer, Georgia Tech -- Farmer entered last season as an expected top two or three-round pick in the MLB draft. Instead, he was chosen by Milwaukee in the 15th round and decided to return to college for his senior season. Farmer pitched like someone possessed against Akron on Friday, striking out 14 and allowing just four hits in eight shutout frames. The righty threw 97 pitches, 76 for strikes.

RHP Kyle Finnegan, Texas State -- The Bobcats might've fallen short against Missouri State, but Finnegan was terrific in his performance. The hard-throwing right-hander struck out 11 batters and allowed just two runs on three hits in six innings of work. Finnegan threw 104 pitches, 65 for strikes.

RHP Austin Kubitza, Rice -- Kubitza's highest strikeout total in a game last season was nine. Well, the junior right-hander had nine strikeouts against Stanford by the fifth inning on Friday. Kubitza was terrific against the Cardinal, touching 93, striking out 12, and allowing four hits in six shutout frames.

RHP Bobby Wahl, Mississippi -- Wahl showed off his big-time arm against TCU with a big-time performance. The hard-throwing right-hander struck out eight, walked three, and allowed three hits in 6 1/3 innings of work. He threw 96 pitches, 57 for strikes.

RHP Aaron Nola, Louisiana State -- Nola becomes LSU's premier arm after Kevin Gausman signed in the MLB draft last summer. He didn't disappoint in his first start as the Tigers' ace, striking out nine, walking one, and allowing just two hits in 6 2/3 innings of work.

RHP Jake Reed, Oregon -- The Ducks were the last team to record a victory on opening day in a 3-0 triumph over Hawaii on the islands. UO sophomore right-handed hurler Jake Reed didn't disappoint, striking out seven, walking two and allowing just four hits in six innings of work.

RHP Thomas Eshelman, Cal State Fullerton -- Titans head coach Rick Vanderhook has made no bones about it, he felt before tonight that Eshelman had off the charts maturity and poise for someone his age. That hunch proved true in the opener against Southern California, as the righty struck out six and allowed just two runs on four hits in six innings of work.

RHP Tony Rizzotti, Tulane -- The Green Wave coaching staff raved about Rizzotti throughout fall workouts for a good reason. He showed poise and big-time stuff with a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s. Rizzotti was fantastic in his debut against Sam Houston State, striking out five, walking one, and allowing just one hit in a complete-game performance.

3B Chad Pinder, Virginia Tech -- The Hokies had a terrific start to the 2013 campaign with a 10-9 win over Kent State, and Pinder did a great job at the plate. The talented infielder hit a home run, a double, scored two runs and finished the afternoon with five RBIs on the way to an impressive victory.

LHP Jerry Keel, Cal State Northridge -- The Matadors could be a surprise team in the Big West this spring if Keel pitches like he did on opening day every Friday during the season. Keel was fantastic in a win over St. Mary's, striking out seven and allowing just four hits in seven shutout frames. He threw 92 pitches, 58 for strikes.

RHP Chris Anderson, Jacksonville -- Anderson couldn't have put together a more impressive campaign in his 2013 debut for the Dolphins. He topped out in the mid 90s, struck out 13, walked just one, and allowed a hit in seven innings of work. 

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