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Tuesday, March 13, 2012
UCLA sweeps UGA to extend streak

By Eric Sorenson
Special to ESPN.com

UCLA Bruins
UCLA's offense came alive during a three-game sweep at Georgia over the weekend.

Three things we learned

1. We should all applaud Rice-Stanford and Cal State Fullerton-Texas A&M for scheduling what turned out to be great series.
2. The ACC looks to be as deep as any conference in the country and should be a donnybrook to the finish.
3. Apparently Florida and South Carolina wait until they play big-time opponents to play their best.

Team of the weekend: UCLA

The Bruins' three-game sweep at Georgia, extending their winning streak to 10 games, is about as high-quality a weekend as it gets. Friday ace Adam Plutko threw his second complete-game shutout, striking out 11 and walking none in the 2-0 win. From there, it was the Bruins' bullpen and the bats that came up with enough quality plays to pull out their first nonconference road sweep since pulling the trick at North Carolina State in 2006. The offense, an albatross for the Bruins last year, is hitting .303 so far this season.

Off-radar team of the weekend: Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons have to be downright giddy about taking three straight games from a highly regarded Maryland team, which seemed to the season's early underdog darling. The best part was that it seemed as if there was a new hero stepping up in each game, including Mark Rhine and Brett Armour hitting their first home runs of the season to pull out a 4-3 win Sunday. Wake is now on a 13-game win streak, its longest streak since 1999.

Biggest disappointment: Gonzaga

The Zags came into the weekend like Bo Derek -- a perfect 10. But that unbeaten mark took a trio of hits with a stunning weekend sweep at the hands of New Mexico, which came in at 2-9. An injury to Friday ace Marco Gonzales didn't help, though he is expected back soon. Redemption for the Zags could come quickly if they can grab a win at Arkansas during a two-game midweek series.

Best series: Rice-Stanford

Those poor fingernails on the throngs of fans at Sunken Diamond. This series was a pressure cooker almost all weekend long between two top-five programs with top-flight pitching playing in a great atmosphere. Friday's game was decided in Hollywood fashion, with first-time starter Justin Ringo smashing a two-run home run in the 11th inning to give Stanford a win and setting off a wild celebration. The Cardinal took Game 2 11-6, opening up their notorious offense. Sunday's game was a thing of beauty on the mound, with Jordan Stephens and J.T. Chargois out-dueling the freshman combo of John Hochstatter and David Schmidt for a 1-0 Owls win. I wouldn't be shocked to see these two meet in Omaha.

Heating up: Louisiana-Monroe

Rice Baseball
Rice lost two of three games at Stanford over the weekend in one of the best series so far this season.

The Warhawks have raced out to an 11-6 start, with a few ups and downs. But they've certainly been on an upswing this past weekend after they took two games from Memphis at midweek and then went to Knoxville and took Tennessee down in two of three games, including a 10-inning thriller that was decided on a go-ahead RBI single from Joey Rapp. Included in their 11 wins, the Hawks have also beaten Tulane, Southern Miss and won a series with Sam Houston State as part of the 32nd-toughest schedule in the country.

Cooling down: Boston College

OK, we all know how tough it is for any team not named Florida to win in Coral Gables, but the Eagles lost all three games to Miami, continuing their recent skid. After a 6-2 start that included wins over Virginia, Costal Carolina and UCF, the Eagles have now lost seven straight to fall to 6-8. And it could get worse, as they will travel to Clemson next weekend.

Raised an eyebrow: Bethune-Cookman's reign is done

Nobody has dominated a conference as much as the Wildcats have in MEAC play the last decade or so. You have to go back to 2005 to find the last time the Wildcats lost a weekend series in MEAC play. But this past weekend BCU got dropped in two of three games at Florida A&M, both coming in the Rattlers' final at-bat and both taking place in a Saturday doubleheader by scores of 3-2 and 5-4. The last time FAMU swept two games from BCU was in 1999. Coming into this weekend, Bethune had gone 100-4 in its last four MEAC seasons.

Of note

Appalachian State: While a lot of attention has been given to the win streaks of UCLA and Wake Forest, the Mountaineers haven't just rested on the laurels of their series win at LSU in late February. They've now won 11 straight, including sweeping Davidson in their Southern Conference opener this past weekend, ASU could be the new favorite to win the SoCon.

Illinois: The Illini could be prepping to give Purdue a run for the Big Ten title, especially after going 3-1 at the Nike Showcase in Eugene, Ore., this weekend. Kevin Johnson threw a complete-game four-hitter to down host Oregon 2-1 for Illinois' second win over a ranked team this season.

The last of the unbeatens: With losses by Gonzaga (10-3) and Cornell (7-1) this weekend, the last perfect records belong to Kentucky (16-0) and UT Pan American (8-0). The Wildcats had a Sunday scare with Canisius, escaping with a comeback win on a ninth-inning game-winning RBI single from Luke Maile. The Broncos were off last week but will play a pair of midweek games at Texas A&M.

Indiana self-destructs: The Hoosiers seemed to have a good trip to Cal State Northridge going, winning the Friday game 7-3. But Saturday's game saw IU walk seven batters and commit seven errors, accounting for eight unearned runs to score in a 12-4 loss. Then on Sunday, three unearned Matadors runs spelled curtains for the Hoosiers in a 5-3 loss.

The best steal of the season: In Monday's 7-4 loss at TCU, Texas Tech had one of the better highlights of the season when the mercurial Barrett Barnes stole home Jackie Robinson-style, easily evading the tag of Horned Frogs catcher Josh Elander. On the season, Barnes is now 9-for-9 on stolen-base attempts and leads the Raiders with a .357 batting average.

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

1. Florida (15-1)

Of note: Can we hurry up and get to the Florida-South Carolina series in two weeks? It's tough to keep the Gators at No. 1 when they are barely escaping with wins over the likes of Florida Gulf Coast, which matched them hit-for-hit and kept most everyone not named Mike Zunino handcuffed all weekend.

2. Stanford (13-2)

Of note: Stanford found the perfect way to enter a 13-day break for exams, with a series win over a top-five opponent like Rice. The Cardinal had their three weekend starters give up just 15 hits in 22.1 innings in this series against a potent Owls batting order. Friday starter Mark Appel added 14 K's to that.

3. North Carolina (13-2)

Of note: The Tar Heels went into the Tiger's Den and came away completely unscathed, downing Clemson in three straight. Just an odd thought here: How may teams over the last 25 to 30 years can say they've swept Clemson at home?

4. South Carolina (13-1)

Of note: Things just don't change for the Gamecocks. Sure, this sounds like a broken record, but in the three-game sweep of Princeton, the Gamecocks' arms struck out 35 Tiger batters and gave up just six hits in each game and the defense committed a combined one error. Again … wow.

5. Rice (13-4)

Of note: Wayne Graham's charges have taken their lumps versus teams from the Golden State, going 15-21 in the last five seasons. But the Owls came inches away from pulling out a Friday 10-inning game and got a great pitching effort from Jordan Stephens for a Sunday 1-0 win.

6. Cal State Fullerton (10-5)

Of note: After giving his team a verbal tongue-lashing following a Tuesday loss at USC, telling them to be mentally tougher, Rick Vanderhook's crew took the final two games at Texas A&M on Sunday (one was a completion from Saturday). So whatever works for a coach, right?

7. Florida State (14-1)

Of note: Considering their schedule, don't be shocked at the Seminoles' record. But this was certainly a good weekend sweep at Duke, particularly in beating the Devils with Marcus Stroman on the mound Friday. However, Florida, Virginia, Stetson and Wake Forest are on deck.

8. Miami (12-3)

Of note: It was a nice rebound weekend for the Canes, coming off last week's sweep at the hands of Florida. Miami vanquishes one early-season upstart (Boston College) and now goes up against another ACC upstart (Duke), who looks to right the ship from this past weekend's beatdown from FSU.

9. UCLA (12-3)

Of note: With Georgia ranked at No. 12 in the coaches' poll, it was hard to imagine the Bruins stealing all three games in Athens, Ga., but the Men of Westwood have now won 10 straight. During that stretch, outfielder Jeff Gelalich has hit .571, including a 4-for-4 effort in Friday's 2-0 win.

10. Ole Miss (13-2)

Of note: The Rebels played as solidly as they could in three wins over Houston, outscoring the Cougars 28-3 and seeing their pitching staff pull 30 strikeouts and giving up just 17 hits. The Rebels' bats really woke up this week, hitting .364 in four games.

11. Arizona State (10-4)

Of note: The Sun Devils were up and down again, losing to Texas Tech and winning a series at Long Beach State. If their hot and cold results continue, this high ranking could be in jeopardy. ASU will go up against UCLA, Cal, Fullerton, Oregon and Oregon State in the next four weeks.

12. Oregon (12-3)

Of note: The Ducks lost a pair of one-run games to Illinois and Oklahoma, while also throwing shutouts on West Virginia and UConn. The wins over the Mountaineers and Huskies saw Jeff Gold and Brando Tessar both toss complete-game four-hitters with a combined total of two walks.

13. Texas A&M (13-3)

Of note: The Aggies finally had a true test, but couldn't hold three-run leads in the two losses to Fullerton at home. Meanwhile, the offense had a wee bit of trouble figuring out the Titans' bullpen, going just 2-for-19 in the final three innings of those two losses.

14. Purdue (11-1)

Of note: Once again, the Boilers swung the steel well, hitting .437 in a weekend sweep of Murray State. Nine-hole hitter Stephen Talbott was 10-for-17 with a pair of triples and a home run. But the pitching and defense did their jobs too, holding the Racers to four runs in three games.

15. Arkansas (14-2)

Of note: This is still a mystery team. I mean, really, what can we glean from three wins over Binghamton? The talent level hints that the Razorbacks will be Omaha-caliber this year. But the No. 229-ranked strength of schedule and losses to Valparaiso and Houston tell us to hold our horses for now.

16. California (11-4)

Of note: Just like their last trip to the state of Nebraska at the CWS, the Bears lost twice, though this time Dave Esquer's crew split a four-game series with an improving Cornhuskers team. But don't hold it against them too much. Really, who else is willing to travel to Lincoln, Neb., in early March?

17. East Carolina (11-3)

Of note: The Pirate ship is starting to sail the high seas again after sweeping Alabama, Oral Roberts and Louisville this weekend. When he hasn't been locking down wins this season (seven saves), Drew Reynolds was the Pirates' stud at the dish, going 7-for-11 on the week.

18. Pepperdine (11-4)

Of note: Not going to make any comparisons to the 1992 national title team just yet, but the Waves are living off their pitching (2.59 team ERA) and defense (.983 fielding), as most good Pepperdine teams of the past have. Stay tuned here. Kent State, Texas A&M and Gonzaga are on deck.

19. USC (12-3)

Of note: Wins over Fullerton and Bakersfield this week help prove that this program is emerging on the national scene once again under Frank Cruz. The cool nerves of freshman LHP Stephen Tarpley, who threw 10 K's in 8.0 innings versus the Roadrunners, has been a big key.

20. Texas State (11-4)

Of note: Even though they lost their shutout streak, the Bobcats added top-five Rice to their list of victims this past week. They are still pounding the strike zone and holding opposing numbers down (.210 average, 1.50 team ERA), keying their 11 wins, all versus top-100 RPI teams.

Dropped out: Maryland, Clemson, Gonzaga, Georgia Tech

Bubble wrap: Wake Forest, Gonzaga, Appalachian State, Liberty, NC State