Friday, May 2, 2008
Kasparek fires no-hitter for Texas
There was a pretty light slate this week due to several schools breaking for finals, but that didn't mean a reduction in interesting storylines.
Around the Horn: Midweek Spotlight
• Another brick in the wall: Florida was forced to cancel a two-game midweek set against Florida Gulf Coast this week, but it wasn't because of bad weather. The Southeastern Conference has a policy that prohibits athletic teams from competing in non-league contests during exam periods, and the Gators were in the midst of finals. How did nobody notice then when the schedule was being created? The Gators look to stay near the top of the SEC standings when they travel to No. 17 South Carolina this weekend.
• Once and future king: Kenn Kasparek opened the year as a weekend starter for Texas before being moved into the midweek role in mid-April. The junior returned to form on Tuesday, throwing the 20th no-hitter in Longhorn history in an 11-0 win over Texas State. He faced the minimum 27 batters during the contest; the lone blemish was when he hit Thomas Field to lead off the seventh inning, and the runner was erased three pitches later on a double play.
• The mighty have fallen: Three ranked teams limped to 0-2 marks in midweek games this week. No. 3 Stanford dropped two contests against bubble teams, losing 10-9 at Santa Clara on Monday and 10-8 at UC Davis on Wednesday. The Big 12 was not kind to No. 14 Wichita State, as the Shockers lost 3-2 against Kansas State on Tuesday before falling 12-11 in 10 innings at Oklahoma the following night after the Sooners scored three runs on an Aaron Baker homer in the ninth. And with one postponement and one suspension earlier in April, No. 23 Oregon State hadn't completed a midweek game since March 31 before dropping two games at Gonzaga.
• Heavyweight bout: In the lone matchup between ranked teams this week, No. 12 Cal State Fullerton snapped No. 8 San Diego's 16-game winning streak with a 12-3 victory on Tuesday. The Titans scored the last nine runs of the game after the Toreros held an early 3-2 lead. Fullerton's two through four hitters combined for seven hits and seven runs, while Khris Davis added the cherry on top with a pinch-hit three-run homer in the eighth.
• Cajun cooking: For the first time since 2002, rivals Louisiana-Lafayette and LSU met on the baseball diamond on Tuesday. LSU scored five runs in the fifth to rally from an early 3-0 deficit and a 5-3 win for its third straight victory in the series. The series was suspended after the 2002 season when things came to a boil during the Baton Rouge Regional. The Cajuns forced the Tigers into the losers' bracket with a 5-0 victory on a Saturday, so LSU needed to win twice on Sunday. Louisiana-Lafayette's coach and pitcher were ejected after a batter was beaned in the ninth, while an LSU player was ejected later in the inning for throwing a bat into the opposing dugout. The Tigers won both games on Sunday by identical 12-2 scores to advance to the super regional.
• Relief is in sight: You don't see many teams win when their starting pitcher fails to record an out, but Lafayette pulled it off against Temple on Wednesday. The first five runners reached based against Leopard starter Joseph Verdon, and four came around to score in the top of the first. But Jason Morytko shut the door, allowing just two unearned runs in the seventh as Lafayette rallied for an 8-6 win. The Leopards were outhit 15-12 by the Owls, but three home runs proved to be the difference as Lafayette improved to 22-21 on the season.
• So Long, Farewell: Less than two months after picking up the 1,200th victory of his career, Jay Bergman is no longer the coach at UCF. Coach Bergman was fired with three weeks remaining in the season after compiling a record of 1,210-707-3 over 32 seasons, including 994 wins in 26 seasons at UCF. After qualifying for eight regionals in 12 years, the school has missed the NCAA tournament each of the past three years. The Knights won 19 of their first 20 games this season, but have faded to 27-19 and are just 5-13 in Conference USA. Associate head coach Craig Cozart will finish out the year as interim head coach.
• Greased lightning: After starting the year 3-10, it didn't look like Kent State would be able to match last year's NCAA tournament bid. But after beating Pittsburgh and Youngstown State this week, the Golden Flashes have gone 16-2 since April 5 and improved to 26-17 overall. With three weeks remaining in the regular season, Kent State is in first in the MAC East with a 9-6 mark and two games behind West leader Eastern Michigan for the overall conference lead. The Golden Flashes and Eagles were supposed to open the conference season in Ypsilanti, but played less than two innings before the series was canceled due to snow.
• Anchors Aweigh: Navy head coach Paul Kostacopoulos won for the 600th time on Tuesday as the Midshipmen downed Delaware State 17-5 in Dover. Over 19 seasons as coach, he has compiled an overall record of 600-394-3 while leading Navy to a 96-62-1 mark over the last three seasons. Seven different batters recorded multiple hits as Navy blasted out 23 hits to improve to 29-21 on the season.
What to Watch For: Weekend Edition
There are only two ACC series this week during finals and, while they're all important for tournament positioning, none of the SEC series jump off the page as must see. Some defining series in the Pac-10 hunt (notably Arizona at No. 16 California and No. 4 Arizona State at UCLA), but let's focus on some other conferences this week:
• Columbia at Dartmouth: The first bid to the NCAA tournament is on the line as the Ivy League championship series takes place in Hanover, N.H. this weekend. Both schools finished conference play with a 15-5 mark, and they split a two-game set in Hanover in early April. Dartmouth is looking to qualify for a regional for the sixth time (first time since 1987), while Columbia's only previous appearance was in 1976.
• No. 8 San Diego at Pepperdine: After dropping their conference-opening series to Santa Clara, the Toreros have gotten hot and are three games ahead of the second-place Waves. San Diego swept last year's series and has taken eight of the last 12 games between the schools, and the series could hinge on how Pepperdine's bats perform in the opener against Brian Matusz (9-1, 1.59 ERA).
• Dallas Baptist at No. 10 Texas A&M: The Patriots try to make their case for an invitation to the tournament while the Aggies try to make theirs for a national seed. The two teams have met 21 times before this weekend (all in College Station), and the Aggies hold a 17-4 advantage in the series. This series started Thursday night, and all but one Patriot starter recorded multiple hits in a 20-hit onslaught as they downed Texas A&M 12-6.
• No. 12 Cal State Fullerton at UC Santa Barbara: It's the big old bully against the new kid on the block, as the Titans are 11-4 and hold a 1 ½ game advantage over the Gauchos. Last year, UCSB shocked Fullerton by taking the series at Goodwin Field after losing 14 of the previous 16 games in the series. This year, the Gauchos are trying to play their way into the postseason behind a .321 team average and a strong starting trio of Mike Ford (5-3, 2.84), Mario Hollands (5-2, 3.12) and Chuck Huggins (7-1, 3.38).
• Southern at Prairie View: For the second time in the last three years, this season-ending series will determine the champion in the Western Division of the SWAC. In 2006, the Panthers knocked Southern off the perch by taking the series two games to one. Last year, they didn't play on the last weekend, but Prairie View's 4-2 series win was the key to winning the division. Southern took two of three from Prairie View in Baton Rouge earlier this season, and holds a one-game lead heading into the weekend.
36: Fewest wins by a No. 1 seed heading into the NCAA tournament in the last five seasons. In 2005, Long Beach State hosted a regional with a 36-20 record against one of the toughest schedules in the nation. That mark could be lowered this year, as Stanford (25-15) and Oregon State (20-16) have both played extremely difficult schedules and will be in contention for top seeds despite less gaudy win totals than other contenders.