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July 30, 2007

Rising programs: No. 10 Memphis

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    With fall workouts in the not too distant future, we continue our inside look at many programs around the country.

    In our latest series, we breakdown the nation's Top 10 Rising Programs.

    Though the top spot won't be unveiled until next week, we begin the countdown with one of the best stories in college baseball - No. 10 Memphis.

    When coach Daron Schoenrock took the reins of the Memphis program, they were in bad shape. In his first season, Schoenrock guided the Tigers to a 13-42 finish. However, year two was a much different story with the Tigers finishing 32-28 in 2006.

    In 2007, the Tigers earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

    Once considered a perennial cellar dweller, Memphis is now a program on the rise.

    Rising Programs: No. 10 Memphis
    Why are they rising?
    When coach Daron Schoenrock arrived at Memphis, he inherited a poor program with inferior facilities. Schoenrock and the Tigers still haven't been able to solve the facility issue, but major improvements have occurred on the baseball diamond. In Schoenrock's first season in Memphis, he guided the Tigers to a dismal 13-42 record. But after just one season with the program, Schoenrock began to turn the tide by leading the Tigers to a 32-28 record and a fifth place conference finish in 2006. After impressing observers in '06, the Tigers took yet another step in 2007. Schoenrock and Memphis still have much work to do, but their plan for success has been implemented in just three seasons.

    2007 Year in Review
    After surprising many with a record above .500 in 2006, the Tigers entered 2007 with even more to prove. They also upgraded their schedule in hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year. That plan worked like a charm. While injuries caused depth issues for the pitching staff, the Tigers still managed to put together an impressive campaign. Memphis ended the year with a 36-27 overall record. They also finished fourth in Conference USA with a 12-12 record. In one of the many debates surrounding the NCAA Tournament selections, the Tigers earned a postseason berth. Memphis failed to win a game in Nashville, but took another step toward possibly becoming a postseason regular.

    What the future holds
    Even with some major issues on the mound, the Tigers still managed to reach the postseason in 2007. While injuries took their toll on the pitching staff, coach Daron Schoenrock isn't one to make excuses. As the Tigers move forward, they should enter 2008 with a much improved pitching staff, thanks to the return of junior right-hander Scott McGregor and others. The Tigers also welcome back Brach Davis and Philip Utley, who each missed most of last season because of injuries. While the pitching staff promises to be improved, the Tigers should once again have a powerful offense. In 2007, Memphis had a productive lineup with veteran Bill Moss and speedy outfielder K.K. Chalmers leading the charge. Moss is now in the professional ranks, but Chalmers' return should pay dividends for the Tigers. Schoenrock and Memphis also welcome a surprisingly talented recruiting class to campus in the fall.

    Kendall's analysis
    If you were to ask Memphis coach Daron Schoenrock if he was pleased with his program's progress, he'd probably say yes. However, the talented head coach would also note that his program can and will do more in the future. I got my first taste of Memphis during the 2006 Conference USA Tournament in Houston, Texas. There, I was thoroughly impressed with the Tigers' offense along with their coaching staff. It didn't take long to realize how the Tigers made one of the nation's most amazing turnarounds in just one season under Schoenrock. In 2007, the Tigers made even more of an impression when they reached the NCAA Tournament. Sure, they could've performed at a higher level at the Nashville Regional. But remember, this was a team with several pitchers on the shelf because of injuries. Overall, the State of Memphis baseball is good. However, the athletic administration must soon make a stronger commitment to upgrading their facilities. If they don't, another school will nab Schoenrock.

    Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at kendall@rivals.com.