Marceaux, Green develop into high picks
The Southland Conference consists of 10 schools nestled in Louisiana and Texas, outposts in between better-known programs from the Big 12 and Southeastern conferences. It has served as a proving ground for coaches who have ascended to top jobs at top programs. Smoke Laval, Dave Van Horn and Jim Wells all coached there in the 1990s before later leading Louisiana State, Nebraska and Arkansas, and Alabama to Omaha.
The Southland has proved just as fertile in spitting out professional players, many of them entering college with little acclaim before leaving as top draft picks. Louisiana-Monroe's Ben Sheets (1999), Texas State's Blake Williams (2000) and UT San Antonio's Mark Schramek (2002) each became first-round selections after three years in the league. McNeese State's Ben Broussard (1999) and UT-Arlington's Hunter Pence (2004) developed into second-rounders.
"There's always some guy popping out of there, some late developers that didn't get in the draft [out of high school] or to LSU or somewhere like that," an American League scout said.
Right-handers Jacob Marceaux of McNeese State and Matt Green of Louisiana-Monroe should join that group this season. Both Louisiana natives showcased their arm strength in high school but had yet to mature as pitchers. Three seasons in the Southland and the help of a former major-leaguer have both in position to get selected in the draft's first five rounds. They meet Friday night as Monroe visits McNeese State.
"Both of us throw hard with good breaking stuff," Marceaux said. "I'm looking forward to competing against him this year, and who knows when else in the future."
Marceaux was home-schooled in Jennings, La., until his senior year, when he enrolled at Northside Christian High. Just two scouts even thought about signing the 6-foot-2 right-hander then. But he could end up a supplemental first-rounder or second-rounder this year after going 3-5 with a 3.31 ERA and a 75-18 strikeout-walk ratio in 71 innings. Those numbers stand out more when you consider that the rest of McNeese State's staff carries a 14-23 record with a 6.51 ERA.
Coach Chad Clement regrets that his team hasn't been able to support its ace for more wins. He also acknowledges cutting into Marceaux's strikeout totals.
"I'm trying to keep his pitch count down and keep him in the game," said Clement, who urges Marceaux to induce contact in the first three pitches of an at-bat when possible.
"We're struggling in the bullpen, so the best thing we can do is keep him out there until the ninth."
Marceaux spent time in that bullpen as a freshman and sophomore. His lively sinking fastball has reached the low- to mid-90s throughout his college career, but he barely threw a breaking ball his first two years in school, mostly working as a fastball-changeup pitcher. That changed this summer when Marceaux pitched for former Tigers closer Mike Henneman in the Texas Collegiate League. There, he developed a spike curveball with a traditional downward power break at 76-78 mph and an 84- to 87-mph slider that he calls a cutter. He returned to school a completely different pitcher, Clement said.
"I added a couple more bullets to my gun," Marceaux said. "Before hitters were guessing right 50 percent of the time, now they just have a 25 percent chance of guessing what's coming in there."
"I think he's one of the fastest guys to the big leagues in this class," the scout said. "His stuff is that good. I'd project him as a reliever, and in two-inning spurts, his velocity can go up to 96 with pitchability and a hard slider. Everything is above-average."
Marceaux's stuff, style and size draw comparisons to Astros right-hander Roy Oswalt, a pitcher Marceaux has added to his list of favorite pitchers to watch, along with Roger Clemens.
"The [Tulane] fans clapped for me when I came out of the game," Marceaux said. "I've never had that happen to me before on the road. After that game, I knew this was going to be a special year."
Marceaux hit a slight snag March 15 when he pulled an intercostal muscle between his ribs while pitching on a cold night at Wichita State. The pain stretched across his left side to his back, and he missed two starts before returning.
The injury gave Marceaux a scare and put the fragility of his health and baseball career in perspective, but it was nothing like what Green experienced as a freshman at Louisiana-Monroe in 2002. He got hit in the forehead with a batted ball while throwing a changeup during live batting practice. He ended up missing the entire season and found it difficult to return to the mound at first, especially throwing a changeup.
"It was hard sitting out for a whole year," Green said. "The first time I went back out there after being hit, a guy hits a ball right between my legs. It was scary, but now I'm fine. I just hope it never happens again."
Now a redshirt junior, 6-foot-5 Green said things couldn't have worked out much better. The Monroe native stayed close to home for the opportunity to pitch right away, and also because his 6-foot-8 father, Roger, played basketball there when the school was known as Northeast Louisiana. The younger Green's low-to-mid-90s velocity had teams scouting him as an eligible sophomore a year ago, but his high signing price left him undrafted, and he eschewed free-agent offers after ranking as the Jayhawk League's top prospect last summer.
Green should become a third- to fifth-round pick this June after an 8-1, 1.98 season. Monroe has won all but one conference game in which he has pitched and lost all but one of the others.
"Matty's our Ben Sheets of this year," said Monroe coach Brad Holland, who served as an assistant at the school under Laval during Sheets' tenure.
Green actually has benefited more from another former Monroe star, local product Chuck Finley, who has returned to his alma mater to serve as the volunteer assistant. Finley and pitching coach Jeff Schexnaider have helped Green mature as a pitcher and emerge from his high school mind-set of "just throwing the ball up there, not knowing what I was doing."
The raw power of a fastball that tops out at 95 mph and an 81- to 83-mph slider weren't enough during his first two years because he insisted on being too fine and not believing in his stuff. That resulted in a combined 6-6 record with a 5.25 ERA and a 116-75 strikeout-walk ratio in 120 innings. He has posted a 107-17 ratio in 77 innings this season and ranks 10th nationally in strikeouts per nine innings.
"The potential has been there," Holland said. "He was just not in the [strike] zone enough. You've got to be willing to fail. If it's stealing bases, you're going to get thrown out at second. Pitching, if you're not in the zone, guys aren't going to swing. You can't be afraid to get hit, not with his stuff.
"Now he's throwing more strikes early in the count, and guys chase out of the zone. He's given himself room for error. How many curveballs did Ben Sheets bounce when he struck out 18 Braves?"
In a few years, Holland could be detailing similar stories about the pro careers of Marceaux and Green. The hard-throwing duo can serve as the example to the next crop, and Clement feels pretty certain there will be a next crop.
"Even with Jake and Matt Green [likely] leaving after this year," Clement said, "this conference always produces such great players."
Around The Nation
The first NCAA Tournament bid gets handed out this weekend in Orlando, where the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference holds its tournament. Bethune-Cookman has won this tournament six consecutive seasons but enters as the No. 2 seed behind North Carolina A&T, which went 13-6 in conference compared with B-C's 11-6 mark.
The Wildcats missed a pair of chances to finish first, losing a series at A&T early in the year, then dropping two of three last weekend against Delaware State. The seeding looms large because the seven-team double-elimination format allows the top seed a first-round bye but forces all the other teams into immediate action.
Who's the favorite? B-C thinks it is, having already scheduled a series against Jacksonville next weekend and a single game with Stetson on May 21. That's not coach Mervyl Melendez's ego, just smart scheduling based on his team's past success and the need to play games to avoid a three-week layoff before the NCAA Tournament.
Left-hander J.R. Crowell and right-handers Billy Mohl and Daniel Latham combined for a no-hitter Wednesday as No. 3 Tulane topped Nicholls State 3-0. Crowell cut the start short, as he will start Sunday at South Florida in place of Brandon Gomes. He threw the first two innings, Mohl worked six and Latham earned a save with a perfect ninth. None walked a batter, though Mohl hit Josh Thomas with two outs in the eighth inning to end the perfect game.
"Pitching-wise and defensively, we were tremendous," Tulane coach Rick Jones said. "That's how we won the game. Three guys pitched it well. I've had no-hitters pitched, and while I've never been part of a perfect game, we came real close."
The Green Wave travel to South Florida for a Conference USA series this weekend.
We Didn't Make This Up
Brigham Young improved to 29-14-1 with a win Wednesday against Northern Colorado, surpassing its wins total from 2004. It stands tied with Nevada-Las Vegas atop the Mountain West Conference with a 14-4 record. The Cougars' success lies partly in the fact that they lead the league in runs per game and ERA while ranking second in fielding percentage.
The rest of the explanation comes from an idea pitching coach Bobby Applegate brought with him from the Air Force Academy. He had the entire team climb a mountain near the BYU campus. When they reached the white "Y" on the mountain, each player and coach received a coin to commemorate the climb. They carry the coins at all times, and if a team member shows his coin to another who doesn't have his with him, the offender must buy a drink for any team members who happen to be around.
"It sounds kind of corny," BYU coach Vance Law said. "But we rely on each other. We ran up to the 'Y' together and it was a total team effort. Guys didn't leave each other behind; we ran together."
BYU visits Air Force this weekend for a three-game league series.
Fun With Numbers
Speed is on the rise and power is on the decline, according to the midseason statistical trend report released by the NCAA this week. Home runs are down about 8 percent (0.74 per game at this point in 2004 compared with 0.68 this year), but stolen bases have increased by about 4 percent (1.19 per game in '04 vs. 1.24 this year). Those figures stood at 0.71 and 1.17 at the midpoint of 2003.
Teams still are scoring runs at about the same rate, with 6.19 runs per game this season compared with 6.23 last year, less than a 1 percent difference. Overall ERA has dropped about 3 percent, from 5.28 last year to 5.14, while fielding percentage remains basically the same (.957 this year and .958 last year).
Known for its offense, the Southeastern Conference led all leagues with a .306 batting average and 7.22 runs per game a year ago but doesn't appear among the top three in either category this season. The Mountain West has usurped it as the offensive juggernaut, with a collective .312 average and 7.31 runs per game.
The Big 12, Pac-10 and Big West rate as the top three fielding conferences for the second year running.
Rest Of The Ranked
(14) Missouri at (1) Texas
UC Santa Barbara at (2) Cal State Fullerton
Maryland at (5) Miami
(17) Arizona State at (6) Oregon State
Texas Tech at (11) Baylor
UC Davis at (12) Long Beach State
Fresno State at (15) Rice
Auburn at (19) South Carolina
(20) Stanford is idle
Arkansas-Little Rock at (21) Louisiana-Lafayette
(23) Arkansas at Kentucky
Virginia at (24) Florida State
• The Southwestern Athletic Conference plays its tournament next weekend in Houston, but all six spots already have been secured for the event. The final weekend of league play will only serve to establish seeding. At 18-6, Mississippi Valley State has clinched the top seed. Eastern Division cohorts Alcorn State and Jackson State are both 13-8, while Southern and Texas Southern are both 15-6 in the Western Division. Prairie View A&M (12-9) also has qualified for the tournament.
Alcorn State's 5-foot-8 sophomore second baseman, Corey Wimberly, has become something of a new version of Rickie Weeks, who set the NCAA career record for batting average while playing in the SWAC for Southern. Wimberly leads the nation with a .470 batting average, ranks second in steals per game (he has 39 in 43 attempts), sixth in runs per game (47) and is the fifth-most difficult player to strike out with five K's in 115 at-bats. He even has his own Web site, www.coreywimberly.com.
• Houston visits Texas Christian this weekend in a series with NCAA Tournament implications. The Horned Frogs can boost their RPI and strengthen their grip on third place in Conference USA with a series win. That scenario makes TCU a near lock for the tournament. Houston just needs wins. The Cougars again have played a rigorous schedule but sit below .500 overall at 18-22. Houston missed last year's postseason despite a top 50 RPI because its record was just 30-29.
• Maybe the Crazy Eight Curse is a self-fulfilling prophecy or simply the law of averages, but it worked again last week when Baylor lost three times, including a series against Nebraska. The curse has afflicted Baylor twice this season, maybe because media-relations man Larry Little was the first to point out the phenomenon. There was discussion in the Haymarket Park press box that the Huskers' win could vault them to No. 8 this week, and indeed it did. Nebraska visits Oklahoma, where it will try to become just the second team ranked No. 8 this year to avoid at least a two-loss week. It won't be easy for the Huskers, because even though the Sooners are 22-18 overall, they're 17-3 at home this season. It's a Thursday-Saturday series as both schools prepare for upcoming final exams.
• If the Southeastern Conference tournament started today, there would be several forfeits because only No. 13 Alabama and visiting Georgia are anywhere near the event site of Hoover, Ala., this weekend. But if someone wanted to see the actual field as of today, last year's regular-season co-champions Arkansas and Georgia would have to buy tickets as the 10th and 11th teams in an eight-team field. Nine teams have league records between 11-7 and 8-10, meaning things could change in an instant. And that makes the final three weeks very important for the 11 clubs that could make legitimate NCAA Tournament claims. There probably won't be more than nine spots for the league.
In the weekend's most intriguing matchup, No. 18 Tennessee visits No. 4 Florida in a meeting of the top teams in the Eastern Division. No. 16 Louisiana State takes a five-game SEC win streak to face No. 25 Vanderbilt, which has defeated South Carolina and Tennessee in consecutive series. Mississippi State (9-8) visits Mississippi (9-9) in a series that could push the loser out of the conference tournament.
• On a related note, Tennessee catcher J.P. Arencibia hit two home runs in a doubleheader sweep against Tennessee Temple to tie the school's freshman record of 11 homers. He needs one more to break a tie with Todd Helton, who hit 11 in 1993.
• Freshman right-hander Anthony Encinas (3-2, 3.63) makes his first weekend start for No. 22 Southern California against No. 9 Arizona in a game televised on ESPN. Encinas moves in because junior right-hander Brett Bannister (4-2, 4.91) will miss the series with elbow inflammation. He's listed as week-to-week the rest of the way. Remember, the Trojans already had been playing without two starting position players since late March. Freshman first baseman Lucas Duda broke his left wrist March 25 against Arizona State but could return sometime in the next three weeks. Sophomore outfielder Danny Perales injured his back before that ASU series and won't play again this year.
• Welcome to Atlantic Coast Conference baseball, Andrew Brackman. North Carolina State will start the 6-foot-10 freshman right-hander Friday night at home against ace North Carolina left-hander Andrew Miller. It's not often the 6-foot-6 sophomore faces an opposing pitcher taller than he is, but how many college basketball centers also hit 95 mph off the mound? "He's an amazing athlete," Wolfpack closer Joey Devine said.
• Georgia Tech doesn't list junior right-hander Jason Neighborgall among its probable starters for this weekend's series at Clemson. Lee Hyde and Blake Wood will start the first two games, and the No. 7 Yellow Jackets will decide the final starter Sunday. Neighborgall seemed to put his control problems behind him early in the season but has struggled in ACC play, going 3-2 with a 7.67 ERA (plus 39 strikeouts and 35 walks) in 27 innings.
• Illinois junior Chris Robinson's defensive skills help him rank as one of the best catchers available in the June draft, but his bat has started coming to life lately after a slow start this year. He tallied four hits (two homers), four runs and seven RBI Tuesday in an 18-11 win against Eastern Illinois. "The first one, I didn't think I got enough of it, but the second one I knew was gone because of the way the wind was blowing," said Robinson, who's batting .345-5-25 and has thrown out 11 of 31 base stealers, including one Tuesday. The Illini, tied with Minnesota for first place in the Big Ten at 12-4, visit Penn State for a four-game conference series.
Editor's note: ESPN.com has entered a partnership with Baseball America, which will provide weekly updates, analysis and Friday notebooks on college baseball.
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