Monday, February 18, 2013

A look back at opening weekend in NCAA Division I

After beautiful opening-day weather in much of the state on Friday, fans got a reminder on Saturday that winter's not over for a few weeks yet.

One weekend into the season, every team has some things to feel good about and some areas of concern.

Palmetto State DI schools were 10-2 on Friday, with Presbyterian's doubleheader loss to Savannah State the lone blemish.

Coastal Carolina, Furman and Wofford came out of the weekend with 2-0 records. USC Upstate won the only game it played, coasting to a 23-6 victory over Niagara. Both Wofford and Upstate will play makeup games today.

Here's a team-by-team recap in order of how I have the teams ranked this week:

* Coastal Carolina (2-0) won a pair of one-run games, giving up a late lead before rallying in the ninth inning on Sunday against James Madison. The Chanticleers totaled just 12 hits in two games. Three errors in Sunday's game helped give James Madison to escape with a series split, but Coastal responded to the challenge with two runs in the ninth. Coach Gary Gilmore showed he's already thinking strength of schedule and honing his squad against top competition by adding a game at North Carolina today.

* South Carolina (2-1) took a tight series against a solid Liberty team and was fortunate to do so. The Gamecocks entered the eighth inning of Sunday's first game trailing 7-0 before rallying for an 8-7 victory. The Gamecocks' defense was spotty and the offense got just 17 hits in three games. The starting pitching was generally good. Jordan Montgomery had a lot of deep counts but got through six shutout innings on Friday. Nolan Belcher was outstanding - striking out nine in 5 2/3 innings - except for a fourth-inning hiccup. USC will need better hitting and better defense to be a factor in the SEC, much less nationally.

* Clemson (2-1) left the weekend on a high, with its offense coming alive in Sunday's 12-2 victory over William & Mary to clinch a series victory. The Tigers' got outstanding starting pitching from Daniel Gossett and an eighth-inning two-run homer from Shane Kennedy to take the opener. The 11-2 loss on Saturday had its positives - Clemson got 10 hits and coach Jack Leggett was able to get some of his new pitchers work in game situations. Other than the offense not getting cranked up until the sixth inning, there was little to quibble with on Sunday. Scott Firth was stellar in his seven-inning start.

* College of Charleston (2-1) got three great performances from its starting pitchers in the series win over Xavier. Matt Pegler struck out six and allowed four hits and an unearned run in five innings on Friday. Jake Zokan struck out eight batters in 4 2/3 innings on Friday, but also allowed seven hits and was victimized by spotty defense. Brandon Murray lived up to the expectations that he be an offensive lead. He went 4-for-9 and also drew four walks. Eight errors in three games is not a path to success, so the Cougars will need to trim that number.

* USC Upstate (1-0) got scored a weekend's worth of runs in its 23-6 route of Niagara before the remaining two games were postponed. The Spartans pounded out 20 hits, including eight doubles. They also received eight walks and were hit by pitches six times. Gaither Bumgardner had five hits and Trey Richardson drove in eight runs with two doubles and a home run. Spartans pitchers struck out 15 Niagara batters. Upstate likely will get a stiffer test today when it faces SEC member and nationally ranked Kentucky at 1 p.m. at Harley Field.

* Furman (2-0) was down to its last strike before a ninth-inning rally to beat Michigan State. Among the good things coach Ron Smith could take away from the game were he got three shutout innings from the bullpen and Paladins pitchers struck out 10 and walked none. 1-2 hitters Will Muzika and Hunter Burton combined for five hits and cleanup hitter Paul Nitto fulfilled his role with five RBIs in Sunday's 6-5 win over Miami (Ohio). Furman's middle relief was shaky in that game, but Ben Carlson and Matt Solter combined to shut out the RedHawks over the final two innings. The Paladins got out of the weekend committing error, allowing two walks and hitting a batter. If Furman can continue to avoid giving opponents free baserunners, some good things could happen this year.

* The Citadel (2-1) was in position for a 3-0 weekend before High Point scored five unearned runs in the eighth inning of Sunday's game. The Bulldogs hit .346 as a team for the weekend, lead by .500 marks by Joe Jackson, Tyler Griffin and Houston Armstrong. Jackson drove in seven runs. The starting pitching was pretty good. The five errors came from the left side of the infield.

* Charleston Southern (2-1) got production from the top of the batting order in its two victories and didn't in its loss. Buccaneers pitchers combined for 31 strikeouts, although the starting pitching was mostly average. Some of the relief pitching was very good and some was awful. The Buccaneers committed just two errors and turned three double plays. Good defense helps win games.

* Wofford (2-0) had a .327 team batting average and a 1.20 ERA in beating Georgetown and Niagara. Freshman Alex Paradowski had a nice debut, going 4-for-6 with a double and three runs scored. He also had two sacrifices. Starting pitcher Brandon Yarusi lived up to his billing, striking out seven in six innings. The staff's 13 walks in 15 innings is not a good ratio.

* Presbyterian (1-3) has some head-scratching statistics after its weekend at Savannah State. The Blue Hose had a higher team batting average and lower team ERA than Savannah State, but the numbers were skewed by PC's lone victory, 17-3. Brandon Paul and Brandon Martin were effective in the middle of the lineup, but some of the Blue Hose's veteran players didn't have the offense production coach Elton Pollock needs. The starting pitching was good, especially Chandler Knox and Bud Jeter. The Blue Hose need to reduce errors (5) and stolen bases allowed (7).

* Winthrop (1-1) found runs hard to come by in its series against Maryland Eastern Shore. The Eagles had a .254 team batting average and pushed across just six runs. A positive was Winthrop batters struck out just nine times in two games. That's a bearable number if the offense is getting production out of the balls it puts in play. Eagles pitchers had a superb 29-3 strikeouts-walks. UMES baserunners stole five bases.

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