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February 22, 2009

Wacky weekend sends some falling

GAINESVILLE, Fla. Florida made the first big impression this weekend.

The Gators entered this weekend's series against Louisville with high hopes. But while the Gators were breaking in a pair of new arms in the weekend rotation, UL had seasoned players at key positions around the field.

Florida was the most veteran-like team at the end of the weekend. And yeah, those two freshmen, Alex Panteliodis and Nick Maronde, they passed their first tests in impressive fashion.

While Florida highlights the winners from the weekend, there are several surprising losers, including ranked teams such as Alabama, Mississippi, Rice, Missouri and Cal State Fullerton.

The first wacky weekend is in the books.

Winners

Cal Poly: The Mustangs have had trouble taking the next step the past few seasons, but perhaps '09 will be the year. Cal Poly dropped the opening game of the Rice series, but really showed a lot of fight by battling back to win Games 2 and 3 Saturday afternoon. Shortstop Kyle Smith put together a good performance in Game Three to lead the Mustangs to the series win. After beating the Owls, the Mustangs shouldn't have a confidence problem this season. Perhaps this could be what gets coach Larry Lee and his program going.

Kansas pitcher Shaeffer Hall: The Jayhawks and Hall had an opening day to remember Friday afternoon against Air Force. Hall, a junior left-handed pitcher, tossed a no-hitter against the Falcons en route to a 5-0 victory. It was the fifth no-hitter recorded in program history. Hall threw a complete game and also struck out seven and walked three.

Florida: The Gators did just what the doctor ordered Opening Weekend. Veteran pitcher Patrick Keating tossed a gem in the series opener Friday night, while freshmen pitchers Alex Panteliodis and Nick Maronde put together solid performances on Saturday and Sunday. The Gators played clutch baseball throughout the weekend and the two young freshmen pitchers showed they're ready for big-time college baseball. UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan has to be ecstatic with the way his team played this weekend.

Texas A&M pitcher Alex Wilson: After sitting out last season because of an arm injury, Wilson, the hard-throwing junior, returned to the mound Saturday afternoon for the first time in two seasons. He was masterful against Wright State. Wilson threw 6 2/3 innings and allowed no runs on just three hits. He also struck out 14 and walked on. Obviously Wilson will face better competition at the Astros College Classic next weekend, but what a great start for the righty.

Middle Tennessee State: You're probably a little surprised to see the Blue Raiders on this list opening weekend. I'm in the same boat. MTSU welcomed Missouri Valley favorite Missouri State to Murfreesboro, Tenn., and the three-game series was not pretty for the visiting Bears. The Blue Raiders, however, have got to be feeling good. The Raiders touched up MSU ace pitcher Tim Clubb for eight runs in four innings in Friday's 19-4 victory. MTSU also won Games 2 and 3 by scores of 12-6 and 7-6 to earn the sweep.

Michigan: The Wolverines entered the season as the Big Ten favorites, but some wondered if they could withstand the departure of several key players. Well, the Wolverines provided an answer down in Florida this weekend. The Wolverines battled past South Florida 6-5 on Friday and won games over Purdue and Cincinnati by scores of 4-3 and 6-1 on Saturday. Sunday, the Wolverines recorded another impressive win with a 4-2 triumph over Big East power St. John's. Michigan made a statement this weekend.

TCU: Horned Frogs coach Jim Schlossnagle realized a long time ago that his program, as a member of the Mountain West, would never reach its ultimate goals without playing a strong non-conference schedule. With three-game series against Ole Miss and Wichita State looming the next two weekends, the Horned Frogs picked up a huge series win over Cal State Fullerton. The pitching wasn't particularly great, but the offense was a huge surprise, totaling 25 runs in three games against the No. 4 Titans.

Oklahoma State pitcher Andy Oliver: After a drawn-out legal case against the NCAA the past few months, the talented left-handed pitcher returned to the mound for the first time since his suspension during last year's Stillwater regional. Oliver didn't disappoint. The lefty worked six innings against BYU and allowed just two runs on two hits. He also struck out 11 and walked one batter. Give Oliver credit for staying focused.

Fresno State: The defending champions picked up a solid home series win against Washington. The biggest question mark facing the Bulldogs entering the first weekend was the pitching staff, particularly the starting pitching. However, starters Holden Sprague and Jake Floethe were exceptional against the Huskies. Sprague allowed a run on six hits in six innings of work en route to a 5-4 victory in Game One. He also struck out six batters. Floethe picked up the win in Sunday's series finale by allowing no runs and just six hits in six innings of work. He also struck out five and walked two. It was a great weekend for Fresno.

Arkansas: Sweeping Washington State this weekend may not seem like a huge feat to some, but it's impressive to me. The Razorbacks defeated the Cougars 4-2 in the series opener and captured a 7-5 extra-inning win in Game 2. Game 3, meanwhile, ended with a 4-3 Arkansas triumph. Most encouraging about the weekend was Friday's performance by ace pitcher Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel allowed just two runs on four hits in six innings of work. He also struck out five and walked two. Arkansas is a prime candidate to move into this week's top-25 rankings.

Losers

Rice: I said earlier this week to watch out for a Cal Poly upset over Rice and that result came to fruition on the West Coast this weekend. After winning the first game of the series with impressive offensive production, the Owls collapsed in games two and three. They dropped the second game of the series 10-3 and had a commanding lead late in game three. Cal Poly, however, battered the Rice bullpen and scratched a 7-6 victory and the series win. The Owls head back to the drawing board with a tough slate at the Astros College Classic coming up.

N.C. State: Even with several newcomers this season, N.C. State still is expected to a regional contender and a possible contender for the ACC crown. If Opening Weekend is any indication, though, the Wolfpack will have trouble accomplishing any of their major goals. The Pack dropped the season opener to Rhode Island 11-8 and also dropped Saturday's contest to Xavier 8-3. They did salvage a win over Santa Clara Sunday afternoon. Still, 1-2 isn't exactly the way coach Elliott Avent wanted to start the season.

Louisville: Coach Dan McDonnell said earlier this week the series at Florida was more about his team establishing consistency than wins and losses. The Cardinals did neither. The Cardinals dropped the first game in close fashion and were dismal in Game 2 on Saturday. Sunday's series finale was a well-played affair, but the Cardinals lost again. After a tough weekend in the Sunshine State, UL heads back to the drawing board.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide was supposed to have one of the nation's best offenses, and at some point this season they probably will go back to their old ways. But this weekend's series against Southeast Missouri was abysmal. After winning the series opener 5-1 Friday, the Alabama offense went to sleep on Saturday and Sunday, dropping both contests by scores of 8-3 and 8-4. The Crimson Tide has a history of scheduling poor non-conference opponents, and perhaps the lack of motivation factor came into play. What an embarrassing way to start the season for the Crimson Tide.

Mississippi: The Rebels joined the lengthy list of SEC disappointments on opening weekend. The Rebels started the weekend on the right foot by beating scrappy Liberty 6-5, but the rest of the weekend was a blur. The Rebels did not pitch well in a 13-11 loss to Mercer on Saturday, and the offense was less-than-stellar in Sunday's 3-2 loss to South Alabama. The Rebels, as with several SEC teams, must find a way to bounce back next weekend. Opening weekend was one to forget for coach Mike Bianco.

Missouri: The Big 12 had a productive weekend. Missouri was the exception. The Tigers looked very good in Game 1 against Nevada, but struggled the rest of the weekend out in Arizona. They dropped a 9-3 decision to Gonzaga on Saturday and had a dismal Sunday, dropping contests to Nevada and Gonzaga by scores of 8-4 and 13-9, respectively. Missouri's schedule only gets tougher this week, so it must find a way to regroup sooner rather than later.

Houston: The Cougars are right there with C-USA foe Tulane as a team that may or may not make a regional at the end of the season. But if opening weekend against Kansas State is any indication, the Cougars won't have to worry about being on any NCAA bubble in late May. After dropping the series opener 16-2 with ace pitcher Wes Musick giving up three runs in just four innings, the Cougars also dropped Game 2 by a score of 9-2. Fortunately for UH, they recorded a 3-2 win in the series finale Sunday afternoon. Perhaps that win can be a rallying point.

Creighton: With Missouri State going down hard at Middle Tennessee, the Missouri Valley looked to Creighton, the preseason No. 2 team in the league, to provide some good results. That didn't happen. The Bluejays played Sam Houston State and were unable to record a victory in four contests. The Bluejays dropped Friday's season opener 8-6 and lost both games of Saturday's doubleheader, 4-3 and 7-5. They also lost the series finale 5-4. As with Missouri State, the Bluejays need to go back to the drawing board and find a way to rebound out in Arizona this weekend.

Stetson: The Hatters are one of the favorites to win the Atlantic Sun but had an opening weekend to forget. Stetson played host to Boston College and were the opposite of impressive. The Hatters lost Friday's series opener 8-7 and dropped a pair of games Saturday by scores of 14-10 and 6-0. They dropped the finale 7-2. Though the Hatters still have plenty of time to regroup, getting swept at home to a team that probably hasn't practiced for a week outdoors is inexcusable.

Cal State Fullerton: We've heard for a while that Cal State Fullerton's pitching staff was supposed to be much better than people expected. But against TCU this past weekend, the pitching staff was the opposite of impressive. After winning the first game against the Horned Frogs, the Titans went to sleep on the mound. In game two, starting pitcher Kyle Witten allowed four runs in 4 1/3 innings en route to an 8-6 loss. Sunday, meanwhile, starter Tyler Pill allowed four runs in 3 1/3 innings and reliever Nick Ramirez allowed six runs in 1 2/3 innings en route to a disappointing 11-6 defeat.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sports. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.