Sorenson: The Unbeaten’s Have Tough TestsColumns
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As you college baseball honks might notice, the week after the Frisco Classic and the Shriners College Classic usually has the schedule take a noticeable dip in quality. But that is certainly not the case this season. Thanks in large part to the Seattle Baseball Showcase at SafeCo Park, the DodgerTown Classic in Los Angeles and the fact that ACC play tips off this weekend. Sure it seems a little early for conference play to start, but with the matchups it will give us I’m not going to hassle it.
In addition to that, the two winning teams I saw play last weekend – Stanford (who swept Cal State Fullerton in a DH on Friday) and Texas (who I saw down LSU on Saturday and Sunday) – will be facing off with each other in a beauty of a four-game weekend on The Farm in Palo Alto. Hell, considering the weather wreaking havoc last weekend, this will be a much better weekend of baseball.
But what am I most looking forward to? Think palm trees, bikinis, beautiful sand beaches, world class surfing, volcanoes, Magnum P.I., etc. Yes, I’m heading for our 50th state once again to see visiting Oregon take on Hawaii for a couple of games at Les Murakami Stadium.
More on that in a minute, let’s get to the five things for this weekend first…
FIVE QUICK HITS
A few things that I am keeping a keen eye on in college baseball this weekend.
– Is there a hangover effect for Texas?
After a highly emotional weekend sweep of then-No. 2 LSU, how will the Longhorns react to going on the road and playing a tough four-game series at No. 6 Stanford? And by the way, I saw both of these teams play last weekend and am impressed with both. The Longhorns have been a little bit more consistent on the mound, including some impressive performances against LSU. But that Cardinal batting order is Vanderbilt-esque, every batter steps into the box looking like a linebacker in there. Very impressive ball club.
– The Seattle Baseball Showcase is the place to be.
Damn you Aaron Fitt, you beat me to this assignment. Lucky dude too because the Seattle Mariner home park will see Washington, Oregon State, Coastal Carolina, Indiana, Minnesota and San Diego come to the Pacific Northwest for some good baseball this weekend. There are plenty of things to look at here. My three biggest questions: 1- Washington is quietly 7-2 and had an impressive domination of Cal Poly last week, so are they for real? 2- I think Minnesota is going to be a good team, but is this where the Gophers get off the skids? And 3- After an impressive weekend vs. Illinois, UConn and Indiana, how will Coastal Carolina fare against those Pacific Northwest teams?
– No wait, Dodger Stadium is the place to be.
I always love the DodgerTown Classic. Seeing college teams play in Dodger Stadium under swaying palm trees and with the San Gabriel Mountains gleaming beyond centerfield is so cool. Though they may have to dodge some rain drops, Michigan-Oklahoma State and USC-UCLA will be great to see on Sunday at the home park of Vin Scully.. I am also interested to see how the Wolverines (who finally lost at CSUN on Sunday) handle playing as the No. 16-ranked team and taking on UCLA, USC and OSU.
– ACC play kicks off and there are some great matchups.
I think the most intriguing is Virginia Tech going to Florida State. Got to see the refurbished Hokies baseballers on opening weekend and looked impressive in wins over Stetson, Manhattan and Sam Houston. How will their arms fare going into the launching pad that is Dick Howser Stadium? Head coach John Szecf told me he had “some ACC-ready newcomers on his team” so here is where that starts. Also, No. 3 North Carolina travels to Clemson, who looks to make amends for losing that series to South Carolina. And how about that Georgia Tech-Miami matchup? These are two programs who appear to be “back” to contending for a post-season spot after spending the last two post-seasons sitting at home.
– “Prove it” time for some promising Mid-Majors.
Big tests lay ahead for a handful of programs looking to notch some big upsets as they ratchet up the competition.
Xavier (5-5) at Arizona State (12-0).
The Musketeers have already been skunked pretty badly in the season opening weekend at North Carolina. But they also beat Louisville and are coming off a weekend sweep at Lipscomb, so they are trending in the right direction. But why do they get mention here? Because in the way-way-way-too-early RPI rankings, the Musketeers are actually ranked at No. 5. Again, I know it’s too early for that stuff. But still.
Coastal Carolina (12-2) at the Seattle Baseball Showcase.
The Chanticleers already own wins over Illinois, UConn, Indiana and Wake Forest. But they’ll get Washington and Oregon State on a neutral site this weekend.
UC Santa Barbara (8-2) at Tulane (10-3)
This could be considered a big step up for both programs, who are sitting on the cusp of breaking out. But I had the Gauchos as one of my off-piste teams to watch in the preseason.
College of Charleston (9-3) at Arizona (8-5)
Not sure what to make of the Wildcats so far, especially after nearly losing the series vs. Milwaukee and losing to Michigan State in the midweek. But the Cougars still will be making a real long haul to the Mountain Time Zone here.
Louisiana Tech (9-3) at Arkansas (10-1)
This is the biggest step of any of these teams this weekend as the Bulldogs will have to deal with not only the wildly-talented Razorbacks but also the 10,000-plus wild Hog fans. Will be really interesting to see how they handle it.
BASEBALL ALOHA STYLE
People talk all the time about these pockets of Division I where baseball is surprisingly a big deal. Make no mistake, the University of Hawai’i is one of those hidden gems in our sport. The first time I came here in 2013 I was shocked at how passionate and well-versed the fans are at Murakami Stadium. And when they are able to bring in top-flight competition, there are sellout crowds.
Tonight wasn’t a sellout type of crowd as the Rainbows hosted Oregon for the first of a four-game set here in Manoa, but they still pulled in 2,430 fans to the old stadium. And yes the crowd was still loud and raucous when it needed to be to help the Rainbows pull out an unlikely 7-6 win.
As I have discovered the other three times I’ve made the hop over the pond to come to Hawaii baseball games, the fans are locked in here. They roar at every hit, cheer every display of hustle and bemoan every close call against them. As I wrote in an ESPN article in 2015, when the Rainbows score or get a rally going, the sound bounces off the steel grandstand roof and make it as loud as any college baseball stadium I’ve ever been in.
Here’s the feature about Hawaii baseball:
The Ducks made a lot of headlines by winning the opening game of the season at Texas Tech, who opened at No. 3 in the country. UO made that series vs. the Red Raiders a real knock-down donnybrook, eventually dropping the last two games, which could’ve gone either way. After last year’s 26-29 mark, that opening weekend was a statement for coach George Horton’s charges.
Tonight looked like it was going to be another strong statement for the Ducks, jumping out to a 4-0 lead through five innings and holding off charge after charge from the Rainbow Warriors, who never gave in. Oregon three-hole hitter Spencer Steer led the offense, going 4-for-4 with a walk, hitting for the short cycle with a double and a triple in the game. And starting pitcher Robert Ahlstrom was making his first start of the season, after coming out of the ‘pen four previous times, and he looked invincible by holding the Bows to four hits with no walks and five strikeouts in his 5.0 innings.
But Hawaii would keep the pressure on, scoring two runs in the sixth, two runs in the seventh and then rallying for three runs in the decisive eighth inning. All three runs were knocked in when Daylen Calicdan chopped a bases-loaded double down the left field line. Ethan Lopez added three addition runs batted in for the Warrior offense.
Colin Ashworth came on to close down the final two Oregon innings, not allowing a single hit and getting two strikeouts in his seven batters faced. Good win for the Rainbows, who improve to 8-5 with the win. Oregon drops to 7-4.
There are only four of them left in our sport who have experienced nothing but the thrill of victory. Here is where they are this weekend and their chances of getting pegged with a loss…
– Arizona State
This Weekend: vs. Xavier
Chances of Losing: 20%
As mentioned above, I’m pretty sure the Sun Devils will sweep the Musketeers. But just a slight word of warning here, The X isn’t going to be a free ride here. They can play. But practice-wise, ASU is in midseason form compared to Xavier, who has barely been able to find a way to have outdoor practices so far this season. Plus, I don’t think the Musketeers will face a batting order like this all season.
This Weekend: vs. Fresno State
Chances of Losing: 40%
One of the biggest stories of this early season has been the Volunteers and their nation-leading pitching staff, with its ERA of 0.57. That is the reason the Big Orange has raced out to an unbeaten mark. But don’t sleep on the Bulldogs. They are a little off the beaten path but also a much-improved team, sitting at 6-and-3 now, which included a sweep of Kansas State, Cal State Fullerton and Missouri State at the Tony Gwynn Classic two weeks ago. Coach Mike Batesole likes the makeup of his 2019 team and this will be a series he can use to showcase the improvements they have made.
– North Carolina State
This Weekend: vs. Pitt
Chances of Losing: 10%
The Wolfpack get a bit of a break by opening the ACC slate with one of the snowbound members of the conference. A 12-and-0 start is good and all but this team has also shown some resolve, winning five of their 12 wins by a single run. Three of those wins went extra innings. So don’t expect a lot of blowouts here, NC State just knows how to get it done when necessary. This is a savvy club.
– Florida State
This Weekend: vs. Virginia Tech
Chances of Losing: 60%
Can we just have the Seminoles go unbeaten from now until June 26th? Wouldn’t that be great? Mike Martin would surely get that oh-so-elusive national title and then ride off into the retirement sunset. Awwwww. But reality hits this weekend. No more Maine. No more Youngstown State. This is a Hokies team I like a lot after seeing them on opening weekend. They are ninth in the country with a team ERA of 1.83. FSU entered the week with a .318 team average, good for 14th in D1. Something has got to give here.
On the other end of the spectrum, here are those unfortunate few that have tasted nothing but the agony of defeat.
– Youngstown State
This Weekend: at Miami (Ohio)
Chances of Winning: 0%
The highest ranked winless team in the RPI at No. 173. The forecast for Friday is 39º for a high and snow. So there’s not a guarantee any of these games are going to get played to begin with.
This Weekend: at Cal Poly (2-9)
Chances of Winning: 15%
The Mustangs have struggled out to a 2-9 start and are chomping at the bit to get a few wins under their belt. And here is their chance.
This Weekend: At No. 7 Mississippi State (11-1)
Chances of Winning: 0%
Poor Black Bears, they’ve played the 27th-toughest schedule in the country and have also been shutout in each of their first three Friday night games so far.
This Weekend: at George Washington (5-5)
Chances of Winning: 70%
Talk about being subjected to a horrid schedule, the River Hawks have played at Georgia, at Arizona and at North Carolina so far this season. They actually have a better RPI than GW, so things look good here.
This Weekend: at Navy (5-6)
Chances of Winning: 10%
The chances of winning actually fluctuate from “not a chance in hell” on Friday against Navy ace Noah Song, to “meh… you never know” the rest of the weekend.
This Weekend: vs. Fairfield (0-6)
Chances of Winning: 95%
Something has got to give here. Winless on Winless. The only thing that could ruin this occasion is some kind of terrible weather. Mother Nature…. we’re watching you on this one.
This Weekend: at Delaware (0-11)
Chances of Winning: 70%
I see both teams getting a good chance to win a game in this three-game series this weekend. And every player will get a trophy.
This Weekend: at Eastern Kentucky (7-5)
Chances of Winning: 10%
Oh my. The Colonels have the 20th-ranked offense, hitting at a .311 pace. That doesn’t bode well
This Weekend: at Lipscomb (4-6)
Chances of Winning: 45%
Hey look, Hartford actually has a comparable RPI rating with the Bison, 282 vs. 271. That’s gotta give the Hawks some confidence.
– Norfolk State
This Weekend: at Savannah State (2-4-1)
Chances of Winning: 33%
The Spartans and the Tigers are traditional HBCUs
This Weekend: at Fordham (5-6)
Chances of Winning: 5%
Obviously these two New York City-based programs were hoping for an unseasonable warm front to move into the Big Apple when they scheduled this. They could be in luck. Saturday’s forecast is partly sunny and 45º.
– Central Connecticut State
This Weekend: vs. St. Bonaventure (1-2)
Chances of Winning: 80%
Now THIS is how Northern programs should do it; schedule a fellow snowbird school and give yourselves a chance to pull off a few Ws. By the way, did you know the Blue Devils have the 20th-best pitching staff in the country? Yep, sure ‘nuff. They have a 2.00 team ERA so far this year. Who knew?
– St. Peter’s
This Weekend: Do Not Play
Chances of Winning: 0%
Good news for my Peacocks. They may be winless so far, but there are three teams lower than them in the RPI. Yes, STP is ranked No. 296, one position better than Santa Clara.
THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE BASEBALL HISTORY
On March 6th in 1981, Tony Gwynn played his final basketball game for San Diego State. Yes, basketball. The future Hall of Fame baseballer was the point guard on the Aztecs hoops team – which also included future NBA star Michael Cage – and was an All-WAC performer. In his final game vs. New Mexico, Gwynn scored 16 points and dished out 16 assists as they beat the Lobos 92-84.
Two days later Gwynn would be back on the diamond and went 3-for-7 in a doubleheader sweep of Southern California College, 12-0 and 13-1. I guess that was actually an “off” day for the All American hitter.
EIGHT FOR OMAHA
If the season ended today, these are the eight teams that would go to TD Ameritrade Park and have the pleasant experience of being interviewed by Laura Rutledge… or, gulp, Mike Rooney.
– North Carolina
– Florida State
– Oregon State
– Mississippi State
CURRENTLY IN OMAHA:
Today it is 25º and overcast.
We are 100 days away from the start of the College World Series.
WHEN IN AUSTIN…
Gotta give HUGE props to former D1Baseball.com contributor Dustin McComas. Last weekend when I was there for the LSU-Texas series he pointed me toward a restaurant called “Ranch 616” in downtown Austin and told me that was a great place for some genuine Tex-Mex and libations. He knocked it out of the park. I got the very tasty chicken enchiladas which came with pinto beans covered in real shredded cheese and rice. Then I washed it down with a Ranch 616 staple, the Ranch Water. That drink entails Sauza Hornitos Respado Tequila, Patron Citronge, fresh lime and as much Topo Chico as you want to add. Damn tasty.
If you’re in the Austin area for some Longhorn games, do yourself a favor and hit up Ranch 616. You’ll thank me… then I’ll thank Dustin again.