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Stanford maintains hot start

2/28/2012

The glitz, the glamour, the klieg lights, the red carpet. It must be Oscars weekend, right? Well, yeah, but we're talking about the celebration of the second weekend of the 2012 college baseball season.

We're two weeks into the new season and there's a lot of star power starting to emerge in front of the college baseball paparazzi. Stanford is becoming the "it" team at the dish. South Carolina is proving to have the best supporting cast with its uber-talented mound crew. And, of course, Florida still has its leading-man good looks with its star-studded lineup racing out to a hot start.

What twists and turns will the plot take next? Like any good cliffhanger, you've just got to grab the edge of your seat and hang on for the ride. Meanwhile, the limos are pulling up to the red carpet, so here are some of the memorable moments about to make the parade of stars in front of us.

Three things we learned

1. Stanford is becoming that 100-foot-tall monster that is knocking down buildings and powerlines and has people running away screaming.

2. Some big-money programs got punched by cold weather also-rans, exposing a soft underbelly.

3. While pitching and defense are still paramount, it appears as if offense and home runs are making big comebacks.

Team of the weekend: Stanford

Well, here we go again. While Stanford keeps bludgeoning its high-profile competition, we're left to do the math on whether its opponents' are really worth a wooden nickel or not. This weekend it was Texas going 0-for-3 in Palo Alto, Calif., with not a single game being close. The Cardinal outscored the Longhorns 28-5 and outhit them 40-13. Sure, it's very early and Vandy and Texas could be in major rebuilding mode, but it's hard to find a weakness with this Stanford team. So far.

Off-radar team of the weekend: Appalachian State

Hard to believe this team could go into Alex Box Stadium and beat then-No. 7 LSU twice. On Saturday, Ryan Arrowood and Nathan Hyatt combined to hold the Tigers to three hits with 13 strikeouts. Then on Sunday, Rob Marcello and David Port held them to four hits with five K's. Yep, that's seven hits given up in the final 18 innings of the weekend. Wow. Just … wow.

Biggest disappointment: The other malaise-ridden top-10 teams

LSU wasn't the only top-10 team to unexpectedly face-plant against a team it has twice the talent level over.

• Texas A&M: The Aggies were pushed to extra innings twice by Holy Cross, even losing the Saturday game 7-3. Not sure what kind of sign this is, but it's not like the Aggies played badly, considering they didn't commit an error all weekend and issued only nine walks.

• Arkansas:
The Razorbacks lost to the snowbirds from Valparaiso on Sunday and won a one-run game versus the Crusaders on Saturday. And yes, Valpo is considered a Horizon League also-ran and had very little pitching returning this season.

• Florida State:
Not to confuse FIU with Holy Cross or Valpo -- the Panthers have a pretty good team. But the Seminoles' 8-5 loss to the Panthers on Friday raises a big red flag. FSU then struggled to pull out a pair of wins on Saturday and Sunday by 3-1 and 2-1 scores, respectively.

Best series: TCU-Cal State Fullerton

A lot of similarities between these two teams filled with new faces and lots of new arms. Each game had its own version of the "magic eighth" as TCU scored three runs in the eighth frame to win Friday's game 3-2, then the Titans answered with a two-run eighth on Saturday to even the series with a 4-2 win. Sadly, this evenly matched weekend had to come to a close after eight innings on Sunday due to a travel curfew (Fullerton won 11-10). Both teams will hit a bump or two this year, but should play a part in the postseason with their gutty hustle and developing arms.

Heating up: The state of Mississippi

While Ole Miss is making a big jump this week thanks to a dominating weekend vs. UNC Wilmington, rivals Mississippi State and Southern Mississippi were forging ahead as well. The Bulldogs swept a pair of games from both Kansas and Mississippi Valley, allowing just five earned runs in 36 innings of play. USM survived a Friday night shutdown from Troy ace Tyler Ray and took the weekend series by rallying to win the Saturday and Sunday games, 2-1 and 8-1 respectively.

Cooling down: The Sun Belt Conference

The SBC started the weekend like train robbers getting away with a ton of loot, going 10-0 in Friday action, including FIU's upset of Florida State and Troy's win at Southern Miss. But after that, the 10 teams went into the deep freeze, going a combined 10-13 the rest of the way. And yes, FIU and Troy came up snake-eyes in their upset bids from there.

Raised an eyebrow: The Top 10 of the RPI

Yeah, yeah, I know, it's too early to put any stock in an RPI ranking at this time. But a quick peruse of the top 10 of Warren Nolan's new RPI shows no Stanfords, no South Carolinas and no Floridas. Check out who IS in there, though:

• Maryland is ranked No. 1 with the No. 5 strength of schedule in the country.

• Gonzaga is No. 2, coming off a 4-0 weekend vs. Illinois and Lamar.

• Maryland's opening weekend victim, UCLA, is ranked at No. 3.

• Southeastern Louisiana, which is 7-0 so far, is fourth.

• Creighton is eighth, despite having its three wins come against Central Arkansas.

• Portland, which beat the Bluejays twice this weekend, is No. 9.

• Rounding out the top 10 is Cal Poly. More on that team below.

In case you were wondering, South Carolina checks in at No. 11, Florida is No. 13 and Stanford is way down at No. 60. Yep, no real reason to think these early RPIs are wholly accurate or anything, but it is fun to talk about.

Of note

USC:
The Trojans swept Akron over the weekend to improve to 7-0, the best start for the Men of Troy since 1988. But games at Pepperdine and North Carolina follow.

Texas Tech: Sweeping through the field in their own Brooks Wallace Classic, the Raiders beat St. John's twice and Northern Illinois three times. At 8-1, Tech is now ranked in one of the major polls for the first time since March 2005.

Preston Tucker: The lumberjacking Florida outfielder set the school record for career RBIs after blasting a solo dinger vs. William & Mary in Saturday's 5-1 win. Tucker now has 215 RBIs, surpassing the great Brad Wilkinson (1995-1998).

Bucknell: It's not often we get to talk about the Bison, but they won three straight games over Colonial favorite James Madison this weekend, outscoring the Dukes 43-18 in the process to improve to 4-2. Outfielder Bob Donato was named Patriot League player of the week, hitting .476 with 11 RBIs.

Illinois State: Who said the bats were dead? The Redbirds beat Tennessee Tech 28-2 on Sunday, hitting seven home runs in the process. Also, Kyle Stanton and Zac Johnson both hit grand slams to pace the barrage. After an 0-3 start, ISU has won four straight, outscoring its opponents 56-11.

Without further ado, here are this week's Power Rankings …

1. Stanford (7-0)

Of note: This is the second weekend in a row in which the Cardinal wiped the floor with a high-profile, College World Series alum. This time, pitching was huge, too, as UT managed just 13 hits in three games. Mark Appel: three hits, 10 K's in 7.0 innings. Brett Mooneyham: three hits, seven K's in 8.0 innings.

2. Florida (7-1)

Of note: Gators had a busy week, going 5-0. But it was more of a tweener weekend for them as they had three games vs. William & Mary as they anticipate a trip to Coral Gables to take on Miami.

3. South Carolina (6-0)

Of note: This sounds like a broken record, but the Gamecocks pitched and defended incredibly well again. In a three-game sweep of Elon, the totals were 32 strikeouts, eight walks and just two errors. Now, will the offense amp things up for Clemson?

4. Rice (8-0)

Of note: Nice sweep of Dallas Baptist. The good news: Saturday starter Matthew Reckling threw 8.1 innings of two-hit ball with 11 K's. The bad news: Friday starter Austin Kubitza went just 4.2 innings, allowing five hits, three walks and four earned runs.

5. Miami (7-0)

Of note: Back in the midweek, Steven Ewing threw 7.0 innings of one-hit ball vs. Florida Gulf Coast, giving further credence to the depth of the pitching staff. Catcher Peter O'Brien is heating up as well. Perfect time to host Florida?

6. Cal State Fullerton (3-3)

Of note: The Titans dug out a hard-fought weekend series win vs. TCU, further raising the confidence level in their new players. Michael Lorenzen got the save on Saturday and went 4-for-5 with three RBIs on Sunday.

7. Georgia (7-0)

Of note: Almost South Carolina-like, the Bulldogs' pitching staff was on clamp-down mode all this past week. It threw a trio of three-hitters this week, including a Tuesday midweek win over Georgia State, then twice pulling the trick in wins over Winthrop.

8. Oregon (7-1)

Of note: The Ducks have now taken a series from both Hawaii and Vanderbilt on the road, the latter being a three-game sweep. Sunday's 7-6 win came despite giving up more walks (10) than hits (nine).

9. Ole Miss (5-1)

Of note: If this was a season full of Fridays, the Rebels will go unbeaten and maybe even win the national title, right? Well that's how good staff ace Bobby Wahl has been, this time going seven innings and giving up just one hit with nine K's in a 2-0 win over UNCW.

10. Florida State (5-1)

Of note: The Seminoles' hold on a top-10 spot is a bit shaky after a hard-fought 2-1 series win over FIU. The better news is that they have found a real gem in freshman Sunday starter Mike Compton, who threw 6.0 innings of two-hit ball with no runs.

11. Arizona State (5-1)

Of note: In their five wins, the Devils have outscored their opponents 12.4 to 1.4 and averaged 14.4 hits a game. In their Saturday loss to UC Riverside, they scored one run on eight hits.

12. Cal Poly (7-1)

Of note: As the best-kept secret in the country, the Mustangs came back from their first loss of the season with a strong weekend sweep at LMU, where the pitching staff had a combined three-hitter and a four-hitter included in their four wins.

13. Clemson (4-2)

Of note: If so many other teams hadn't looked so ordinary this weekend, the Tigers might not have stayed at the lucky 13 spot. They ran into a buzzsaw as Maine came down and beat them 6-5 in their first game of the season. Saturday and Sunday wins saved face.

14. North Carolina (5-1)

Of note: After getting torched by Xavier in Week 1 (22 runs, 37 hits and 12 walks), the Tar Heels pitchers had two shutouts, and gave up a total of three runs and 19 hits in three wins over Wright State. Unbeaten USC comes in this weekend.

15. Florida Atlantic (6-1)

Of note: Is there such a thing as "America's sweethearts" in college baseball? Well, the Owls didn't cool off much after their sweep of Alabama, going 3-1 against better-than-you-think Manhattan, where the only blip on the radar was an extra-inning loss.

16. Maryland (5-1)

Of note: Welcome to the Power Rankings Terrapins. It was a second great weekend as Erik Bakich's crew swept the field in the Keith LeClair Classic, giving up just 15 combined hits in wins over Western Carolina, Purdue and host East Carolina.

17. California (4-2)

Of note: Despite the offense nearly taking the weekend off, the good news is Matt Flemer and Logan Scott combined on a three-hitter in a 2-1, 10-inning win and Michael Theofanopoulus and Joey Donofio combined on a two-hitter in Sunday's 2-1 loss.

18. Texas A&M (6-1)

Of note: Holy Cross? Really, guys? The Crusaders came into College Station and pushed the Aggies to an 11-inning loss on Friday, followed by a Saturday win in 10 innings. This should've been one of those three-blowout weekends for the Maroons instead.

19. Arkansas (7-1)

Of note: Like A&M above, the Hogs are still ranked in the top 10 in the regular polls despite playing toe-to-toe with Valparaiso all weekend before losing on Sunday. C'mon guys, those results don't match the talent level here, so we'll just write you a warning citation.

20. Pepperdine (6-2)

Of note: It's almost as if the entire top-half of the WCC could be placed in this 20-spot, but series wins over Oklahoma and Fresno State give the Waves the drop over teams like Gonzaga, San Francisco and Portland.

Dropped Out: UC Irvine, LSU, Boston College, Texas.

Bubble Wrap: Georgia Tech, Gonzaga, Long Beach State, San Francisco, Tennessee.