Ryan Lawlor (Georgia)

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Ten Thoughts: Saturday, Feb. 21

1. MOVING THE SEASON BACK? NOT SO FAST, MY FRIEND

We like to have plenty of fun here at D1Baseball.com, and on Friday, my esteemed colleague Aaron Fitt brought up some very interesting, and frankly, good points about the start date in college baseball and how he supports legislation from West Virginia head coach Randy Mazey to move the season back to start either in late March or early April.

Those points are absolutely valid and well taken, but those things aren’t, at least in my opinion, what is best for college baseball. Let’s place a heavy emphasis on the word “college” in that sentence.

Yes, college. College Baseball.

The growth of college baseball over the last decade is undeniable. ESPN continues to funnel millions of dollars into broadcasting the sport, and the Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, and even the Pac-12 and Big Ten Conferences have made conscious efforts to aggressively increase television exposure.

So, now that we’ve experienced a couple of poor weeks of weather in the southern United States, we’re suddenly ready to move the season back? I say no, unless we’re willing to be honest about the weather situation. Sure, I’m the first to admit that the weather situation for the northern teams absolutely stinks early in the season. But guess what? Everyone deals with weather issues. Let’s say the season doesn’t end until late July or early August. Do the northerners that get to experience some low-to-mid 80s temperatures in the summer (though I understand it gets much hotter than that at times) realize just how hot it is in Texas, Louisiana, Arizona and other states where college baseball is prevalent? If not, I more than welcome you to come hangout in my paradise of Houston, Texas, where the heat and humidity isn’t for the week and timid.

So, there’s a weather disadvantage for the southern and southwest schools. See how that works against you, folks?

That section is more tongue in cheek, but college baseball is c-o-l-l-e-g-e baseball, meaning that student attendance is a big part of the equation. Whether it’s Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and even Arizona State, which had a full student section, mind you, Friday night against TCU, student attendance is a huge part of the college baseball experience. So, with most schools finishing in late April and early May, we’re essentially turning college baseball from a student-led experience to one that mimics the often-boring atmospheres surrounding Minor League Baseball. No thanks, and that’s coming from someone who grew up around college baseball in front of 7-8,000 fans. People around the country are living in a naive world if they think students will flock to Swayze Field in Oxford, Miss., in the middle of the summer to watch college baseball while they’re at home in Jackson, Miss., or far beyond — and not in school.

That’s not to say that I’m not for moving the season back somewhat. I’m all for moving the season back a couple of weeks to start March 1, but even that wouldn’t make many people happy, many of those who wouldn’t get good attendance or interest if the weather was 75, sunny, and free beer was included in the ticket stub.

Moving forward, I think there needs to be a happy medium in college baseball. I’m damn tired of changing something about college baseball at every turn and every time the sport seems to be making progress. Look, could things be a bit better? Absolutely. But the Big Ten is at an all-time high right now, and the league continues to improve as it puts millions of more dollars into college baseball. Perhaps moving the season back a couple of more weeks would increase fan support a bit more, but do we really think that fan attendance in those towns would skyrocket with the University of Michigan, Ohio State University and Indiana University out of session?

I could be proven wrong someday, but I’d take my odds and lay a lot of money on that in Las Vegas if given the opportunity.

Let’s work on solutions that make college baseball an even better sport than it already is, but let’s use some critical thinking, too. Let’s think about this for a second: Are college hockey and lacrosse, both sports that are huge in the northern, northeastern and mid-atlantic parts of the country big in the southern part of the country? Absolutely not. Why? Because people in the southern part of the country have other preferences besides those college sports.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the folks in that part of the country love going to watch the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, but don’t have the same affinity for Boston College baseball, or any other college baseball for that matter.

Hindering fan support in the areas that support our great sport the most isn’t the way to approach this issue, but there are plenty of alternatives, such as moving the season back a couple of weeks, or perhaps compacting the season just a bit.

Either way, I’m not sure about everyone else, but our sport loses legitimacy every time we making sweeping changes, that, in this case, may hurt more than it helps.

2. GEORGIA GETS MARQUEE SERIES WIN

You knew there would come a point when coach Scott Stricklin and Georgia would lay in the weeds and eventually strike, and perhaps this weekend was that time. Georgia took a big step forward in the Stricklin era by winning a home series against Florida State, taking the first game of a doubleheader 4-1 while winning the series finale 10-5.

“Our players really believed we could win this series, and they competed well,” Stricklin said late Saturday night. “Coming back to win both games today after a tough series-opening loss said a lot about out toughness.”

While the offense led the way in the series finale, the guy who got everything started in the first game of the doubleheader was lefthander Ryan Lawlor, who struck out a career-high 10 batters and allowed just a run on four hits in six innings, sitting 89-91 with his fastball with plus command.

“That was the best he’s thrown in the last two years,” Stricklin said. “The bullpen was outstanding the last three games, and I thought we showed some depth.”

We’re not ready to proclaim the Georgia Bulldogs a postseason team just yet, but what a step forward this team took on Saturday with the wins over FSU.

3. UC SANTA BARBARA DOMINATES … AGAIN

Dillon Tate (UCSB)Dillon Tate was very good again against Kentucky on Saturday. (UCSB)

One of the great stories in college baseball might be coming together in picturesque, Utopian, Santa Barbara, Calif. For a place known as paradise to many, it’s perhaps becoming a destination in college baseball with the Gauchos on cruise control early this season, pounding Kentucky 11-0 to improve to 6-0 on the season.

The Gauchos went with righthander Dillon Tate against the Wildcats, and hilariously, without his best stuff, he struck out nine, walked two and allowed just four hits in seven shutout innings. Yeah, not bad. Tate sat anywhere from 95-97 early in the game with his fastball, while it dipped to 93-95 as the game progressed. Checketts said Tate’s slider was very good, but his changeup and curveball weren’t the same as they were last weekend. Pretty impressive to put together that type of performance without being at your best.

I know we’ve talked so much about just how good UCLA is, but could the Gauchos be California’s bell cow? We’ll find out soon enough.

4. LOUISVILLE LOSES TWO TO … ARKANSAS STATE?

Take note of Tommy Raffo’s Red Wolves, because every report I’ve gotten from the Perfect Game Complex in Emerson, Ga., are very positive about Arkansas State, and perhaps that’s a team that could be a sleeper in the Sun Belt race.

Arkansas State surprised the country in the series opener on Friday by lighting up Louisville ace righthander Kyle Funkhouser, but it took another step forward Saturday by splitting a doubleheader and winning the series by taking the opening game of the doubleheader.

The Red Wolves were led by sophomore righthander Tyler Zuber, who struck out three, walked two and allowed just two hits in eight shutout innings. Zuber, we’re told, was 88-90 with his fastball, but it was his command of his multiple-pitch mix that led to his success, especially with the Cardinals playing from behind.

Louisville finished the series with a 14-8 come-from-behind triumph, but it was too late, as the Red Wolves made a bold statement and helped the Sun Belt’s profile.

5. MIAMI SHOWS SERIOUS GRIT

We all know how difficult it can be to move on from a tough series-opening loss. Well, the Hurricanes, in very familiar fashion, suffered heartache against Florida in the series opener on Friday, but bounced back in much warmer conditions Saturday for a dominant 7-2 triumph over the Gators.

Zack Collins (Florida)Miami’s Zack Collins

Miami starting pitcher Thomas Woodrey struck out just one batter, but allowed just five hits in 6 2/3 innings in the win, while reliever Derik Beauprez was up to 92 and tossed 2 1/3 shutout innings out of the bullpen. Miami’s Zack Collins had a big-time blast in the game and finished with three RBIs, while the rest of the lineup played some key roles in the victory.

The Hurricanes haven’t had the most success against the Gators over the years, but this looks like an offensive club under Jim Morris that could be ready to explode even more in the series finale.

Stay tuned.

6. UCF ON A ROLL, FOLKS

In the weeks leading up to the season, you didn’t see UCF head coach Terry Rooney resorting to many tactics to get the word out about his team. His thought was, in essence, to just let the national media see his club and make observations from there. Smart move, coach, smart veteran move.

The Knights are the talk of the town on the Gulf Coast after improving to 2-0 in the Mobile, Ala., tournament with a 7-6 win over Maryland, scoring five runs the first four innings to take total control of the contest.

UCF freshman righthander Cre Finfrock, who’s already a member of the D1Baseball.com All-Name Hotlist, had a big day, striking out three and allowing just two runs on four hits in 5 2/3 innings, while offensively, third baseman Tommy Williams hit a double and went 3-for-4 with two RBIs.

UCF is on rankings watch as we head into Sunday’s national action.

You’ve got our attention, Knights.

7. UHH, UC IRVINE?

There are few head coaches in college baseball than UC Irvine’s Mike “Skip” Gillespie, but he has some serious work to do with this year’s club, as they’ve started out 0-6 after losing both ends of a doubleheader against California.

The Anteaters lost the finale game of the doubleheader 4-1 as righthander Matt Esparza struggled in his start against the Golden Bears, allowing four runs on seven hits in five innings, while the bright spot was Sean Sparling allowing just two hits in three shutout innings of work.

UC Irvine has plenty of time to turn the corner, but with a rigorous midweek and weekend schedule remaining, the tide needs to be turned sooner rather than later.

8. IN JAY JOHNSON NEVADA TRUSTS

Let’s face it, the Wolf Pack could fall back into reality at some point as the season progresses, but for now, this team is catching our attention in a big way. Nevada captured a series win over Fresno State on Saturday, beating the Bulldogs 12-7 to solidify the series triumph.

Amazingly, the Wolf Pack got the job done using six pitchers in the victory. Why, you ask? Well, Nevada hit two more homers with Kyle Hunt and Bryce Greager leading the charge. Meanwhile, Trenton Brooks had another hit and this team scored 12 runs with power-hitting Austin Byler walking three times and not getting a hit.

Nevada is 6-0 and there’s a long way to go, but what a start.

“We’ve just got a lot of guys contributing right now,” Johnson said late Saturday night. “We’ve got 12 homers as an offense, a high OPS, and we’ve got a lot of guys who are just getting the job done on the mound, too. We’ve got a good mix of seniors and freshmen getting the job done right now.”

Here’s to you, Jay Johnson and Company.

9. UHH, PART TWO, SAN DIEGO?

We’re so accustomed to seeing coach Rich Hill’s clubs shine early in the season that we’re not real sure what to think about the Toreros, as they dropped to 1-5 on the year with a 9-4 home loss to Dallas Baptist to lose the series.

While the Patriots are a team we will heavily consider in our Top 25 rankings this week, the Toreros are in a world of hurt right now with no end in sight, or so it seems. USD starting pitcher Gary Cornish was lifted after allowing four runs on seven hits in four innings, while reliever Jacob Hill also struggled, allowing four runs on five hits in three innings. Meanwhile, DBU starting pitcher Landon Wilson wasn’t great, but reliever Trevor Conn allowed just a hit in five shutout frames out of the pen.

Dan Heefner’s DBU club is looking pretty salty … the Toreros? They want to press the Buffalo Wild Wings replay button.

10. HOUSTON GETS A MARQUEE SERIES WIN

Alabama appeared to be well in control and in business to tie the Houston series at 1-1 on Saturday night, leading 9-5 going to the bottom of the seventh inning. However, the scrappy Cougars erupted for six runs in the seventh and three more in the eighth to take home a 14-9 win over Alabama, and an always important series win over the mighty SEC.

Jake Lemoine wasn't great against Alabama, but the offense took care of business. (Houston)Jake Lemoine wasn’t great against Alabama, but the offense took care of business. (Houston)

UH righthander Jake Lemoine and Alabama righty Will Carter struggled on the night, Lemoine allowing four runs on three hits in four innings, while Carter allowed four runs on six hit sin 3 1/3 innings of work.

Offensively, the hard-hitting Cougars were led by talented JUCO transfer designated hitter Chris Iriart, who had a double and went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Meanwhile, leadoff hitter Kyle Survance finished the night with a pair of hits, first baseman Justin Montemayor also had two hits, and Zac Taylor finished the night with three hits.

Lemoine will be very good as the season progresses, so the Cougars shining brought offensively in his virtual absence is a huge step in the right direction.

Look for upward movement from these guys in the rankings.

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