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Good Starts

Publication Date: April 9, 2002

The Flip Side

Since I spent last week looking at teams who were struggling unexpectedly, I thought I'd do the companion piece this week and take a look at some surprising success stories. Next week, I'll do my annual giving in and begin to look at the postseason; we'll be far enough along to be able to pick out 75% or so of the field, assuming that last year was any indication.

Since I began with Miami last year, I'll start off this week with one of their annual opponents. Every year, there's a lower mid-major team that no one's ever heard of except me who plays well enough to deserve an at-large bid. Since the difference in, say, #100 and #35 isn't huge but #35 is a good bit more likely to beat a top team at times, this leads to a few surprising scores each year before everyone figures out that these guys can play. Last year, that team was Winthrop; they played most of the year in the 30's in the ISR's and beat a few SEC teams. This year that team comes from the same conference -- the Elon Phoenix have dropped off a bit in the last week, but they're 21-8, still at #49 in the ISR's, and beat Miami two of three this year for the first time. They're only in a tie for their conference lead at the moment, so they may still slide down below at-large range, but they're sitting at #29 in the RPI's. The program has made steady progress over the last few years since joining Division I, and they'll help lead the progressing Big South over the next few years, I suspect.

The Richmond Spiders are off to a fantastic start at 28-3, albeit against a somewhat suspect schedule; their best wins to date have been two over another surprising team, #36 James Madison, who appears to be the best of the reconfigured CAA this year. Richmond appears to be set to be a major player in the Atlantic 10 over the next few years, much the same way that Virginia Tech did during their short time in the conference.

Oklahoma State has not been overwhelming out of conference (at #30 in the ISR's, they're only the sixth best Big 12 team by that measure, but they're currently hanging on to first place in the conference, and they show signs of having a chance to hang on to that spot. While they could still fall back to the still respectable spot they finished in last year -- mid-pack in the conference but deserving of an at-large bid -- their early success deserves celebrating. Likewise, Oklahoma has come back from an uncharacteristically down year last year to a fourth-place tie in conference and a #32 ISR.

Southern Mississippi, one of those teams who's usually close but not quite significant, is currently sitting in first place in their conference, which won't last, and at #40 in the ISR's, which could. As Tulane and East Carolina have gone through unusual struggles, the Eagles could end up as the conference's second best team.

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
Mar 29 Texas Justin Simmons Stanford 10.0 5 0 0 3 5 35 38 147
Mar 29 Stanford Tim Cunningham Texas 9.0 7 0 0 3 8 33 37 141
April 5 Louisiana State Lane Mestepey Auburn 6.2 10 4 2 2 4 31 35 130
April 6 Youngstown State Corey Ohalek Illinois-Chicago 10.0 9 2 2 2 4 35 37 145
April 7 Alabama Shane Sanders Florida 8.2 7 4 3 5 6 31 37 142

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