Feb. 25, 2013


Around the Nation

By Sean Ryan & Phil Stanton

sean@collegebaseballinsider.com @collbaseball

phil@collegebaseballinsider.com @roadtoomaha


The pitchers often are ahead of the hitters early in the season.


Four staffs that entered the season as diverse as the other – Cal State Fullerton, Louisville, Vanderbilt and Virginia – have been nothing short of brilliant the first two weeks of the season.


At Fullerton, coach Rick Vanderhook (right) said a few days before the season opener, “I can’t remember a freshman starting Opening Night.” That freshman, Thomas Eshelman, has started his career 2-0 with wins over USC and TCU, working 11.1 innings with no runs, no walks and 14 strikeouts (opponents are hitting .163). Fellow frosh Justin Garza also is 2-0 with a 0.68 ERA, 13.1 innings, one walk and 11 strikeouts. In all, the Titans (8-0) boast a 1.62 ERA and have 69 strikeouts and nine walks in 72 innings – they allowed four runs in a weekend sweep of TCU.


Vanderhook is not surprised by the success of his rookie pair. “We wouldn’t have pitched them Friday and Saturday if we didn’t think they were good. They both are semi-polished pitchers.


“Eshelman went up to the West Coast League and pitched in a collegiate league in the summer and threw 30 innings up there, kind of got his feet wet. He’s doing the same thing right now that he did in the summertime. He’s what I would call a prototypical Cal State Fullerton pitcher. He throws strikes, he competes and he’s really intelligent on the mound. Nothing really bothers him. Through the last 15 years a lot of freshmen have come into college baseball and pitched really well in big programs and I’m hoping he can be one of those guys. Right now he’s doing it.


“Garza was really touted coming out of high school and has done about everything he was supposed to do. He’s focused on the mound, hasn’t had anything really bother him.


“They haven’t had anything happen yet to bother them. It’s going to happen to them sooner or later. I tell them every day, somebody’s going to whack you around. It’s not about them whacking you, it’s about how you respond the next time you go out after they whack you.”


At Louisville, junior Jeff Thompson leads an experienced staff that is off to a fantastic start – a 1.43 ERA, 72 strikeouts and 17 walks in 63 innings for the 6-1 Cardinals. Thompson is 2-0 with a zero ERA and 17 strikeouts and four walks in 11 innings, and Dace Kime, Chad Green and Jared Ruxer have combined for 23 strikeouts and five walks. Reliever Anthony Kidston has been lights out, picking up two wins and striking out 10 in 5.1 innings – he’s yet to allow a hit or run.


At Virginia, the Cavaliers are a mix of new and old. Freshman Brandon Waddell (1-0, 0.84, 10.2 IP, 3 BB, 20 K) is joined by reliever-turned-starter Nick Howard (1-0, 0.00, 10 IP) and senior Scott Silverstein (1-0, 1.59, 11.1 IP). The Cavaliers boast a team ERA of 2.14 after allowing three runs in a three-game weekend sweep of Toledo.


Coach Brian O’Connor said you’re a little apprehensive going into the season anytime you have a young and inexperienced staff, but his pitchers have responded.


“I’m not surprised because I think we have quite a bit of talent both on the mound and position-wise,” O’Connor said, adding that the Cavaliers still are in the process of figuring out the different roles for their pitchers.


And at Vanderbilt, the promise of junior Kevin Ziomek and sophomore Tyler Beede may be becoming realized. Ziomek (2-0, 1.38, 13 IP, 3 BB, 18 K) and Beede (2-0, 1.50, 12 IP, 6 BB, 12 K), along with sophomore Philip Pfeifer (2-0, 0.64, 14 IP, 4 BB, 17 K), led a Commodores staff that shut down Monmouth over the weekend to the tune of three runs.


Hawks coach Dean Ehehalt texted before boarding a flight Sunday night that Vandy has the best pitching staff he’s faced in his 20 years with Monmouth. “From a velocity standpoint, no doubt the best,” he said.




And then there’s Oregon State, which improved to 8-0 on Sunday, completing a four-game sweep at San Diego State for the best start in 51 years.


The Beavers have allowed just 13 runs (nine earned) in eight games, good for a 1.12 ERA. Although the Beavers haven’t been striking guys out like the staffs above (47 in 72 innings), they’ve practically been unhittable, yielding a .179 batting average.  Amazingly, the bullpen – Max Engelbrekt, Scott Schultz, Tyler Painton, Brandon Jackson, Tony Bryant, Zack Reser and Cole Brocker – has yet to allow an earned run in 30 innings, with Engelbrekt (1-0, 1 SV, 7.2 IP) and Schultz (2 SV, 6.2 IP) leading the way.




Including Oregon State, there are 13 undefeated teams among those who have begun their seasons. Mississippi State and Oklahoma are both 9-0, while Cal State Fullerton joins the Beavers at 8-0. The 7-0 squads include Cal Poly, Florida State, Miami (Fla.), Ole Miss, South Alabama and Virginia. North Carolina is 6-0, VCU is 5-0 and Creighton sits at 3-0 after being forced to cancel its weekend trip to Lamar.


Teams beginning their seasons this week include CCSU, Fairleigh Dickinson, Massachusetts, NYIT, Omaha, Quinnipiac, Sacred Heart and UMBC, as well as seven of the eight schools in the Ivy League. Yale opens play on March 9.




Florida Gulf Coast entered the weekend 1-6 against Florida. After Sean Dwyer’s three-run homer in the 11th inning on Sunday, the Eagles (5-1) had pulled off a sweep of the Gators in Gainesville.


Good things came in threes for FGCU, as in homers. In the opener, Brooks Beisner blasted a three-run homer in the sixth inning for a 3-1 lead, and ace Ricky Knapp tossed a complete game to improve to 2-0. On Saturday, Michael Suchy hit a three-run homer in the sixth inning to break from a 2-1 game. And on Sunday, it was Dwyer’s turn. He may never have had the chance if not for junior Harrison Cooney, who tossed five scoreless innings of relief. In the 10th inning, Cooney loaded the bases, only to get a fly out to center, a fielder’s choice at the plate and another fly out to give the Eagles a shot in the 11th.




By now, you’ve likely heard about the benches-clearing brawl during UC Riverside’s game at Sacramento State on Friday, when Sacramento State’s Andrew Ayers tagged out Riverside’s Eddie Young, who retaliated with a pair of punches after Ayers shoved him away. According to the Sacramento Bee, both players, and Highlanders catcher Drake Zarate, were suspended four games per NCAA rules.




NC State sophomore ace Carlos Rodon rebounded from the first loss since his junior year in grand fashion – he tossed the first seven innings of a no-hitter, with Karl Keglovits working the final two innings against La Salle. The combined no-no was the first for the Wolfpack since 2005.




Akron coach Rick Rembielak is one of those coaches who believes that to be the best, you have to play the best.


He’s backing that up with an early-season gauntlet for his Zips.


Last week, Akron dropped three games at No. 17 Georgia Tech, including a 5-3 defeat last Sunday. Over the weekend, the Zips fell three times to No. 18 Louisville, including a 2-1 setback yesterday. Up next? A three-game set at No. 9 Kentucky. 


“[We] want to build this program by our players understanding how precise you need to play to compete at the highest level,” Rembielak texted on the bus ride back to Akron. “Early schedule is designed to expose them to the highest caliber of play in preparation of [the] MAC season. [The] goal is to win MAC tournament and be prepared to play the same competition we faced at the start of the season.”




East Tennessee State is off to a 6-1 start after a sweep of Seton Hall that included walk-off wins on Saturday and Sunday. The Bucs have had plenty of heroes, but none bigger than Clinton Freeman, who’s meant as much to his team as any player in the country.


Freeman, a junior outfielder/pitcher, has gone 12 for 24 with nine extra-base hits – six homers, two doubles and a triple – and 11 RBI. On the mound, the lefty has gone 2-0 with two saves in 5.1 innings of relief.


ETSU coach Tony Skole said that Freeman pretty much put the Bucs on his shoulders and carried them over the first five games.


“It’s just an amazing start, he was squaring up everything he saw…he just hasn’t been missing the center of the ball,” Skole said.


And on the mound, Freeman, whose fastball reaches the upper 80s, hasn’t allowed a run.


“He’s just throwing strikes, three pitches for strikes,” Skole said. “The thing that makes him so good on the mound is that he’s a competitor.”




Air Force reached a milestone on Saturday, defeating Navy 8-7 in the Freedom Classic at Grainger Stadium in Kinston, N.C. It was the 1,000th win in program history. The Falcons began play in 1957. LSU head coach Paul Mainieri accounted for 152 of those victories. He led the Air Force program from 1989-94 before becoming head coach at Notre Dame.




Another example of pitching being ahead of hitting early in the season is the number of no-hitters so far. TJ Renda of Alabama State no-hit Chicago State on Opening Night. This past Saturday, Carlos Rodon and Karl Keglovits of NC State combined on a no-hitter against visiting La Salle. On Sunday, Colby Holmes, Forrest Koumas and Josh Knab of South Carolina worked together to no-hit Albany. Bryce Biggerstaff also accomplished the feat on Sunday, not allowing a hit to Jackson State. In the near-miss category, Ohio State was one out away from a combined no-hitter against Mount St. Mary’s on Saturday.


(photo by Matt Brown)