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The Home Stretch

Publication Date: May 7, 2002

That Time of Year

Every year about this time, I'm happier than most fans. OK, I'm exaggerating, but I approach things differently than most folks seem to, and I think it's a good thing. Most college baseball fans seem to start focusing on the postseason around February 20th; the entire season is just about getting ready for trying to win the College World Series. This leads to a lot of disappointment -- there's only one winner by that definition each year, after all, and it's seldom the best team. I, on the other hand, really enjoy watching the regular season, especially the different conference races. That way I get a dozen or so good long-term competitions each year, each with the potential to build from way back in early March to a crescendo in May. Each year there are surprises and darkhorses, teams digging out of an early hole, rabbits running away and then trying to hold on; I don't remember a season without at least a half-dozen great races going into the last weekend. Admittedly, this leaves me with a bit of an anti-climax during the conference tournaments, but most of those are a little dull anyway, and that gets me recharged (bile ducts and all) before the regional field is announced.

There are either two or three weeks left in most of the conference seasons (yes, I know Southern is already in the NCAA; they're a good 1AA team this year, but I'm not going to get all that excited about it) depending on the presence of a conference tournament, so it's time to take a look at who's coming down to the wire and how fast. If you're really jonesing for tournament predictions, head over to Southeastern Baseball, where their guess is as good as mine (how's that for an advertising slogan?).


                   W  L  Remaining

Wake Forest       15  5  Duke
Clemson           13  5  Virginia, Florida State
North Carolina    13  5  Duke, Georgia Tech
Florida State     11  6  Maryland, Clemson
Georgia Tech      12  8  North Carolina

While Clemson has been beating almost everyone in the universe and is a quite reasonable consensus #1 (this may be the first time a team has been #1 in all the polls, the ISR's, and the RPI's at the same time; I'll have to check), Wake Forest has most likely won the conference championship. It's a funny game, and all sort of interesting things could still happen, but they're certainly a prohibitive favorite at this point.

Big East

                   W  L  Remaining

Virginia Tech     14  6  Boston College, West Virginia
Notre Dame        13  7  Villanova, Boston College
Boston College    13  7  Virginia Tech, Notre Dame
Rutgers           14  9  St. John's
Pittsburgh        11  9  West Virginia, Connecticut
Connecticut       12 10  Pittsburgh

Well, it's not pretty, but it sure is fun. I like the fact that the top three are playing each other, for the most part, the last two weekends, although that's mostly a happy accident since nobody expected BC to be here. I like Notre Dame's chances at the moment.

Big 12

                   W  L  Remaining

Texas             16  8  Texas A&M
Nebraska          16 11  none (yes, that's right, none)
Baylor            13 10  Texas Tech
Oklahoma State    11  9  Texas A&M, Oklahoma
Texas Tech        13 11  Baylor
Texas A&M         11 10  Oklahoma State, Texas
Oklahoma          11 10  Kansas, Oklahoma State

Texas basically only needs to avoid a sweep against A&M to win this one, but if they slip, the possibilities are almost endless.

Big West

                   W  L  Remaining

CS Northridge     15  3  Long Beach State, Cal-Irvine
CS Fullerton      12  6  UC Riverside, Long Beach State
Cal-Irvine        10  5  CS Sacramento, CS Northridge, UC Riverside
Cal Poly          11  7  Cal-Riverside, Cal-Santa Barbara
Long Beach State   9  6  CS Northridge, Pacific, CS Fullerton

Three weeks to go here, sort of, so there's a lot of breathing room left. Northridge is in the driver's seat, but has the toughest remaining schedule. One of the more interesting possibilities is Cal Poly, who has been essentially invisible all year but snuck into contention last week and has two second-division teams left on the schedule.

Conference USA

                   W  L  Remaining

Houston           16  7  North Carolina-Charlotte, Texas Christian
Southern Miss     16  7  East Carolina, Tulane
Texas Christian   16  8  Cincinnati, Houston
Louisville        16  8  Alabama-Birmingham, East Carolina
East Carolina     14  9  Southern Mississippi, Louisville
South Florida     13 11  Tulane, Alabama-Birmingham

Well, that got awfully interesting awfully quickly. Houston is the best team here, by a fairly large margin. They've also been completely unable to pull away from the pack, leaving it anybody's guess who will win. I like this one.

Pac 10

                   W  L  Remaining

Southern Cal      11  4  Washington, Arizona State, UCLA
Washington        10  5  Southern California, Oregon State, Arizona
Stanford           9  6  Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State
Oregon State       9  6  California, Washington, Arizona State
Arizona State      9  6  Stanford, Southern California, Oregon State

Schedule-wise, I like Stanford's chances. Schedule-wise, I don't like Washington's chances. Things have been just a bit screwy here lately, though, so I'm not sure the Huskies can't hang on to second at least.


                   W  L  Remaining

Alabama           17  7  Mississippi State, Louisiana State
South Carolina    16  7  Tennessee, Georgia
Florida           16  8  Louisiana State, Kentucky
Louisiana State   14  9  Florida, Alabama
Georgia           14 10  Auburn, South Carolina
Mississippi       14 10  Arkansas, Mississippi State

Remember those fond days of a month ago, when this race was over? Alabama has now lost two of their last three series and are fighting for their lives. Nobody but possibly Ole Miss has a decided schedule advantage, so you can take your pick on how this one turns out.

Sun Belt

                   W  L  Remaining

South Alabama     13  3  Louisiana-Lafayette, Western Kentucky
UL-Lafayette      14  4  South Alabama, Arkansas State
Western Kentucky  12  5  New Mexico State, South Alabama

Now, that's good scheduling! No weaseling, no ducking, just stand up and fight it out at the end. Nicely done. I think USA will win, but I get to watch and find out, and that's nice.

Pitch Count Watch

Rather than keep returning to the subject of pitch counts and pitcher usage in general too often for my main theme, I'm just going to run a standard feature down here where I point out potential problems; feel free to stop reading above this if the subject doesn't interest you. This will just be a quick listing of questionable starts that have caught my eye or, on the other hand, starts where pitchers were pulled according to plan early despite pitching extremely well in close games.

Date Team Pitcher Opponent IP H R ER BB SO AB BF Pitches
May 1 Howard Causey Georgetown 11.0 20 13 12 7 7 49 59 172 (*)
May 3 Michigan Bobby Korecky Ohio State 8.2 17 10 6 2 6 44 47 160 (*)
May 3 Air Force Matt Kaercher San Diego State 9.0 11 7 7 5 7 37 42 173
May 4 Air Force Johnny Koegel San Diego State 9.0 12 3 3 4 6 37 39 149
May 5 Air Force Erik Fisher San Diego State 9.0 9 4 4 3 10 35 38 162
May 4 Xavier Sean Finnegan Dayton 7.0 2 0 0 4 4 21 25 89
May 4 Xavier Sean Finnegan Dayton 3.0 3 4 2 2 0 12 14 40
May 5 Vanderbilt Jeremy Sowers Auburn 9.0 12 6 6 2 4 36 39 138 (*)

Causey, by the way, was the winning pitcher with that line. Finnegan, a freshman, also had a 45-minute delay between games.

(*) Pitch count is estimated.

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