Friday, June 15, 2007

College World Series Preview - Rice and Arizona State

Today we have another doubleheader.....first up is Moisekapenda Bower of the Houston Chronicle who gives his thoughts about the Rice Owls baseball team......he is followed by Jeff Metcalfe of the Arizona Republic who covers the Arizona State Sun batting first, Moisekapenda Bower...

Q1. The Rice Owls are headed back to the College World Series again. Last season they finished third. How would you compare this year's team to that of last year's?
The Owls' pitching depth is superior this time around. Last season, All-American lefthander Joe Savery was unable to take the mound because of lingering shoulder discomfort, and while he hasn't dominated this season, he has been stout on the hill. Toss in Freshman Pitcher of the Year (as named by Collegiate Baseball) Ryan Berry and Matt Langwell, who has been virtually untouchable for six weeks, and the Owls have a strong three-man rotation. Their fourth starter, Chris Kelley, has yet to pitch in the NCAA Tournament, but he closed the season on a roll. Relievers Cole St. Clair and Bobby Bramhall, both lefthanders, have been exceptional, too. Of course, the Owls' pitching wasn't the problem when they were shut out in back-to-back games by eventual national champion Oregon State at the 2006 College World Series. Their offense has less power this season (.466 slugging percentage as compared to .504 in 2006), and the Owls have slumped at the plate in the NCAA Tournament (22 runs and a .275 average in five games).

Q2. Joe Savery is the star of this team. What can you tell the readers about Savery?
Savery has been the focal point of his teams since Little League. He was a two-sport standout athlete in high school, and has shouldered an enormous burden in his three seasons at Rice. He was the most ballyhooed recruit of the Owls' current crop of talented juniors, and is arguably the top two-way player in the nation. When one takes into account what is asked of Savery - shut down the opposition when on the mound, and hit in the heart of the order while producing runs, it's hard to imagine any one player nationally having more responsibility.

Q3. What type of coach is Wayne Graham? Does he manage "by the book" or is he a "gut-type" of manager?
Graham certainly does things by feel. Of course, he, like any other coach/manager, plays the percentages in most situations, but he does occasionally make moves that go contrary to the book. He'll tinker with his lineup depending on the opposing starter, but he doesn't automatically go lefty-vs-righty in every scenario. He shows trust in his players, and that impacts who pitches, who runs the bases, who plays defense, and who takes a bat to the plate.

Q4. What other Rice players, besides Savery, should people keep an eye on?
Junior shortstop Brian Friday may be the most versatile hitter on the team, and when he is in sync defensively, he can be brilliant. Junior catcher Danny Lehmann is an outstanding handler of pitchers and a sound situational hitter - he has only 14 strikeouts in 177 at-bats. Sophomore left fielder/second baseman/designated hitter Aaron Luna is mired in a miserable slump in the NCAA Tournament, but he was scorching at the Conference USA tournament. Junior reliever Bobby Bramhall has an exceptional changeup, and junior closer Cole St. Clair has shown a flair of the dramatic while escaping jams. He missed the first two months of the season with a shoulder injury, and while he hasn't returned to his 2006 All-American form, has been solid nonetheless.

Q5. Rice will more than likely be one of the top seeds, if not the #1 seed. What is your prediction for Rice in the tournament?
The Owls certainly have the pitching to win it all. What remains to be seen is whether they can muster the offense to win five games in Omaha. Their half of the bracket is manageable, but they will need a jolt of offense to beat a team like Arizona State in the championship series.

Now up is Jeff Metcalfe about the Arizona State Sun Devils....

Q1. You wrote that this may be ASU's best team since the 1981 team. Why is that? What are their strengths?
Arizona State hits .350 as a team, not far off the school record .356 set by the 1981 and '99 teams. The Sun Devils don't have as much power as the '81 team, which slammed 110 home runs. But they have 150 doubles to go with 75 homers and lead the nation with a 9.5-run scoring average.

Q2. Brent Wallace was the PAC-10 Player of the Year. What can you tell us about him?
Wallace hit .371 as a freshman only to be overshadowed by (teammate and son for former major leaguer Ron Day) Ike Davis, 2006 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. This season it's been the reverse. Wallace is hitting .423 and dominated the Pac-10 in every significant offensive category. He's a team-first guy from Sonoma, Calif., who grew up wanting to play for ASU. The best thing about Wallace is that no matter how eye-popping his stats, it's never about him but rather about what he can do for the Sun Devils.

Q3. Who are some of the other key players for the Sun Devils who we need to keep an eye on? Who has major-league baseball potential?
Second baseman Eric Sogard, undrafted out of high school, was a second-round pick last week by San Diego. He is a Phoenix-area player who epitomizes the kind of improvement that can occur at an elite level college program. The addition of former major league infielder Andy Stankiewicz turned Wallace (first base), Sogard, Andrew Romine (shortstop) and Matt Hall (among others at third base) into a stellar defensive unit. ASU leads the nation in fielding percentage. Others to watch include outfielder Matt Spencer, who reached the 2006 College World Series championship series with North Carolina; Davis, son of former major league pitcher Ron Davis; Romine, whose father Kevin was on the 1981 ASU title team and is the only regular returning from the Sun Devils' 2005 CWS third-place team; and the pitching foursome of Mike Leake, Josh Satow, Brian Flores and closer Jason Jarvis.

Q4. What type of coach is Pat Murphy? Does he manage "by the book" or is he a "gut-type" of manager?
Murphy, in his 13th season at ASU and going to Omaha for the third time, is a media dream. He's just as likely to go off about Springsteen or boxing as he is about baseball although get him started on respect/the game and the sport's place in the cosmos and be prepared for a long conversation. He can play traditional small ball early in a game to get a lead but certainly can't be labeled as a by-the-book coach. He makes creative use of his entire roster and during the postseason switched to CJ Retherford at third base, who has come through with his first three home runs of the season. The Sun Devils are good enough to win by playing it straight, but Murphy takes chances on the base paths to force action and loves to tinker with defensive replacements. He'll give up the designated hitter at times and let Jarvis hit in that spot, who's come through with four doubles in 15 at-bats.

Q5. What is your prediction for Omaha? Who will win it all?
ASU lost in a regional at Rice last year without getting a chance to play the Owls. The Sun Devils also came within a game of the CWS championship series in 2005, but fell short of playing Texas for the title. I like ASU's chances of getting out of its bracket into the best-of-3 final and hopefully facing Rice to make up for the missed opportunity in '06. Murphy's teams were second in 1998 and third in 2005. This feels like the breakthrough team that puts him into national-championship company with ASU's College Baseball Hall of Fame coaches Bobby Winkles and Jim Brock.

I want to thank both reporters for taking their time to is much are some links to check out...

San Antonio News-Express sports columnist Buck Harvey salutes the four-time champion Spurs...

  • Buck Harvey

  • It was a day of joy and disappointment for LeBron...
  • Bill Livingston

  • N.Y. Daily News basketball writer Mitch Lawrence rips LeBron for his game 4 performance and also takes a shot at the Spurs for being "dull"...
  • Mitch Lawrence

  • N.Y. Post basketball columnist Pete Vecsey gives his final thoughts on The Finals...
  • Pete Vecsey

  • Washington Post columnist Tom Boswell gives his thoughts on the first day of the U.S. Open...
  • Tom Boswell

  • The N.Y. Post previews the big Subway Series between the Mets and Yankees...
  • Yankees-Mets Preview

  • For those who like reading about serial killers, the N.Y. Daily News is doing a special on The Son of Sam -- 30 years later...
  • Son of Sam

  • No comments: