Baseball America takes a look back at the good and the bad from this past weekend in Three Strikes.
Cats claw to top of SEC
Look atop the SEC standings, and there's Kentucky with a one-game lead on Alabama for the league's best record at 37-11, 16-8. Oh, this isn't basketball, either. These are the Bat Cats, a program that's made just two NCAA appearances in its history (1988, 1993). That figure should -- no, will -- change this year. Mississippi entered Lexington as the SEC's hottest team with an 11-game winning streak and left with three straight losses. Yes, Kentucky's powerful offense leads the SEC in runs (406), on-base percentage (.416) and slugging (.522), but the real surprise is the pitching staff, with a 3.52 ERA that ranks second in the league while allowing the fewest walks (101) and home runs (23) of any league member.
"We don't throw it 90 mph, and we don't really look the part, but somehow, some way," Kentucky coach John Cohen said of his pitching staff. "I'm not shocked [at the team's success], but at same time, I'm kind of pleasantly surprised.
"We have a very good offensive club. If you would have told me the offense was going to do what it's doing, I could believe that. The defense, yes. But the pitching is hard to believe. We've thrown a lot more strikes than I thought we would, and we're hitting the bottom of the zone more than I thought we would."
Sophomore right-hander Greg Dombrowski leads the way, with a 9-1 record and league-leading 2.28 ERA after holding Mississippi to five hits in a complete-game victory Sunday. He has 44 strikeouts in 83 innings, but has walked just eight batters and allowed two homers thanks to a two-seam fastball that tumbles downward like a knuckleball.
LSU and Long Beach State each looked as though they were heading toward the same fate as Stanford and Florida before recent rallies. The Tigers (29-17) last missed the regionals in 1988, and they scored a big victory toward keeping that streak alive with a series win against Arkansas that moved them into fifth place in the SEC West at 11-13. It's still not an enviable position, but tradition and the Ratings Percentage Index could help LSU if it can claw up one more spot in the SEC. Long Beach State was below .500 in mid-April, but has won a season-best seven straight games to improve to 23-18 and into a solid second place in the Big West at 7-1. Long Beach State has made the NCAAs each year since 2000, and that streak should continue.
While Rice and North Carolina took the week off for exams, Elon played on and won four times to tie those schools for the national lead with 39 wins. Elon (39-13, 19-5), which set a school record for Division I wins last week, swept Furman to move into first place in the Southern Conference, percentage points ahead of College of Charleston (33-11, 15-4). Charleston finishes its weekend series against Georgia Southern with a Monday doubleheader and then faces third-place Furman and local rival The Citadel to finish the season.
That gives Elon a chance to still win the regular season title, despite having lost its head-to-head series at Charleston. If that happens, and Elon puts forth a strong effort in the SoCon tournament, then it would have a chance to usurp CofC and follow last year's Coastal Carolina team as a mid-major No. 1 seed come NCAA tournament time. Elon sits among the Top 15 teams in the RPI thanks to its winning percentage and victories at South Carolina, at Auburn (two) and against Wake Forest.
• Princeton swept a Saturday doubleheader at Harvard to win the Ivy League's championship series and the first automatic berth in the 2006 NCAA tournament. This marks the fifth regional bid for the Tigers (18-23-1) since 2000.
• Max Scherzer made his first start for Missouri since April 8 on Saturday. The junior right-hander allowed two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out seven batters over six innings. Scherzer, who has missed six starts because of finger and shoulder problems, improved to 5-1, 2.36 with a 54-16 strikeout-walk ratio in 46 innings.
• Oral Roberts senior right-hander Nick Jones threw a seven-inning no-hitter Sunday against Chicago State. He threw 79 pitches, struck out nine batters and walked one in the 9-0 win.
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