Feb. 19, 2009

By Douglas Kroll



Midnight Madness: It’s not too often that you see 12:01am on a sports schedule, but that’s the case for Central Michigan and Florida Gulf Coast as the two teams kick off the Division I college baseball season Feb. 20 under the lights in Fort Myers, Fla. The FGCU Invite at Swanson Stadium will also feature Wichita State, Temple and Samford, but in an unusual twist, Central Michigan and FGCU will redefine the meaning of split-doubleheader.


After the two teams battle into the wee hours of Friday morning, they’ll meet again later in the day at 8pm. The Chippewas look to build upon last year’s 29-27-1 campaign, while the Eagles hope to wreak havoc once again in the Atlantic Sun after finishing the season with a 38-18 record, despite being ineligible for postseason play as they continue to reclassify from Division II.


Ducks Fly Together: For the first time in 28 years, the Oregon Ducks took the baseball field for spring practice and on Friday they travel to Saint Mary’s for what should be a very memorable evening. Led by former Cal State Fullerton coach George Horton, the Ducks will play a full Pac-10 schedule at brand new P.K. Park. The new facility cost an estimated $21 million and holds 4,500 seats in picturesque Eugene. After its three-game opening weekend series in Moraga, Calif., the Ducks will open play in impressive fashion when they’ll play host to the defending national champion Fresno State Bulldogs. Not a bad way to kick things off in front of the home fans. Horton brought in two of the best freshmen the Pac-10 will see in 2009 plus a whole crop of JUCO transfers.


Battle Of The Bigs: Taking an idea from your basketball brethren is never a bad idea, and the Big East and Big Ten have done just that. The two conferences will meet the first weekend of the year in sunny Florida for the inaugural Big East/Big Ten Baseball Challenge. All 10 Big Ten schools will compete while eight Big East institutions will be represented, playing a total of 27 games at various Spring Training facilities in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area. There will be eight inter-conference contests daily, with the two extra Big Ten teams competing against each other in non-league games.  


Keep An Eye On (NCBWA Rankings)


UIC at No. 8 Texas:

The defending Horizon League champions head to Austin to face Texas for the first time in school history for a four game series, including a doubleheader on Saturday. The Flames’ 2008 season came to an end in the Lone Star State, going 1-2 in the College Station Regional, but UIC is once again the coaches’ pick to win the league after four titles in the last six seasons. Meanwhile, the Longhorns will be without legendary coach Augie Garrido, as he will miss all four games due to a suspension that stems from an off-season DUI arrest. The owner of 1,629 career victories and five national championships will return when the ‘Horns face UT-Arlington in the middle of next week. The Flames have snuck up on teams in the past, just ask Vanderbilt when the Commodores fell at home to UIC last March. Friday night will feature a solid pitching matchup with the Flames returning a whole slew of arms while the Longhorns will send out sophomore Chance Ruffin. The right hander led the Big 12 with a 1.96 ERA as a freshman while going 8-3 last season.

Series History: First Ever Meeting

Texas 2008 Record: 39-22 (Lost In Houston Regional)

UIC 2008 Record: 35-22 (Won Horizon League, Lost In College Station Regional)


No. 32 TCU at No. 10 Cal State Fullerton:

The Horned Frogs make the return trip to Fullerton to open the 2009 season for a three game series, a year after they entertained the Titans for three to start the ’08 campaign. While the Titans took 2-of-3 on the road, TCU still went on to capture its third straight MWC title and eventually fell in the Stillwater Regional. This year looks to be much of the same for the Horned Frogs, picked once again win the conference title thanks in large part to the return of senior Matt Carpenter who led the team with 11 HR last season. As for Fullerton, 2008 ended sourly thanks to a Super Regional loss to Stanford, but head coach Dave Serrano has this team stacked with talent especially shortstop Christian Colon, one of the best defensive players in the nation.

Series History: Cal State Fullerton Leads 6-1
Cal State Fullerton 2008 Record:
41-21 (Won Big West, Lost In Fullerton Super Regional)

TCU 2008 Record: 44-19 (Won Mountain West Conference, Lost In Stillwater Regional)


No. 11 Louisville at No. 24 Florida

Perhaps the most anticipated matchup of the first weekend pits a recent Big East power against a sleeping SEC giant when the Cardinals and Gators meet for three games. The Cards, the unanimous pick to win the conference, will toss junior lefthander Justin Marks on opening night in what should be a great early season test for both teams. Marks was voted as the Preseason Big East Pitcher of the Year after compiling a 9-2 record with a 2.37 ERA in 2008, helping Louisville make its second straight appearance in the NCAA tournament. Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan begins his second season in Gainesville with high aspirations after he led the Gators to their first winning season since 2005 and a berth in the Field of 64. The Orange and Blue return six position players from last year’s squad, highlighted by 3B Josh Adams and CF Matt den Dekker.

Series History: Tied at 1-1 (2000)

Louisville 2008 Record: 41-21 (Lost In Athens Regional)

Florida 2008 Record: 34-24 (Lost In Tallahassee Regional)


Charlotte at No. 26 Clemson

If it seemed weird not to have Clemson in the NCAA tournament in 2008, it wasn’t just you. The Tigers missed the postseason for the first time since 1986, a 21-year stretch that is the third longest in NCAA history. But things should be different for head coach Jack Leggett and his Tigers in ’09, since many believe last year’s problems were just a matter of being bitten by the injury bug one too many times. On the bump for Clemson, senior Trey Delk will look to get things off on the right foot on Friday night, while the Tigers’ version of the bash brothers hope to do the same at the plate. First baseman Ben Paulsen and right fielder Kyle Parker combined for 27 home runs last season, and are as tough of a power duo as you’ll find in any lineup. The 49ers are coming off two consecutive Atlantic 10 titles, and a third straight would make conference history. They’ve been picked to do so, thanks to third baseman Aaron Bray who will anchor the lineup in his senior season after hitting .340 a year ago. This three-game series is exactly what both teams need: a highly contested matchup of two squads that could easily see each other in June.

Series History: Clemson Leads 8-2

Charlotte 2008 Record: 43-16 (Won Atlantic 10, Lost In Raleigh Regional)

Clemson 2008 Record: 31-27-1