Friday, March 18, 2011

The Real Season Starts Tonight

E-mail Ricky Hazel

So far, the 2011 baseball season has been great for the Troy Trojans. With the exception of one rain-soaked night in Tuscaloosa, no one could have expected more from the team when the year started.

Now that the preliminaries are over, it is time for the team to get down to the serious business of conference play. Like in any sport, the most important games during the season are the ones you play against conference foes.

I've heard Coach Larry Blakeney talk about the important of league play literally hundreds of times. He makes a valid argument that without conference play, teams literally have nothing to play for but pride.

But more than pride will be at stakes when the Trojans host South Alabama this weekend in baseball and ULM this weekend in softball. Both series will begin the road to a conference title, which is something every college student-athlete wants to accomplish.

For the baseball series, it will be the first of two times for Troy and South Alabama to face off. The teams will meet in another three-game set in Mobile at the end of the season. That series will mark the final home games for Jaguars coach Steve Kittrell, who is retiring after this year.

But, before that big season-ending series, the Trojans have nine weeks of conference play to deal with. The Trojans have the advantage of opening the season with not only the first three league games at home, but the first six.

After the first two weeks, Troy will alternate road and home series until the tough final stretch of the year. The last three weeks of the season will include a trip to Monroe, a trip to Mobile and then, hopefully, another trip to Monroe for the Sun Belt Conference Championship.

Speaking of the tournament in Monroe, the event will have a new format this year. There will be two four-team pools. Each team will play the other three squads in their pool and, after round-robin play is completed, the teams with the best records in pool play will meet for the league title.

The benefit of the new format is there will only be three games played each day, so no more midnight or later starts. No team will have to play more than once on any day, and every team will have a day off during the week.

The new format should make the games more competitive and should also leave any teams advancing to NCAA Regional play with healthy pitching.

Pitching and defense have been the reasons Troy is off to a 14-3 start this year, the best since the 1990 team opened 19-1. The Trojans lead the Sun Belt in both ERA and fielding percentage, and those categories are always the best indicators of success.

I didn't get a chance to post my National Collegiate Baseball Writers Poll vote last week, but I'll make every effort to update my blog each week with that vote as well as the results of the poll. You can see all of the national college baseball polls in the game notes for each weeks series, or you can find them on the various college baseball sites.

One site I use almost every day is www.d1baseball.com. In addition to live scoring updates from every game played, there are also plenty of links to other items of interest.

Here is how I voted this week as well as how the poll turned out.
RankTeamRecord
1Vanderbilt16-1
2Florida State15-1
3Florida14-2
4Virginia16-1
5Oklahoma16-1
6LSU15-1
7South Carolina11-2
8Arizona State11-3
9Arizona13-3
10Texas A&M12-4
11College of Charleston14-3
12Texas11-5
13UC Irvine12-1
14Arkansas13-2
15Auburn11-5
16Fresno State11-2
17Troy13-3
18Southern Mississippi11-3
19Mississippi13-4
20TCU10-5
21North Carolina14-3
22Rice10-8
23Stanford6-5
24Clemson7-6
25Louisville11-3
26Oregon State13-3
27UCF13-3
28UNLV16-3
29Oklahoma State12-3
30Georgia Tech12-4

And here is how the voting turned out.

No School Record Pvs
1 Vanderbilt 16-1 2
2 Florida 14-2 1
3 Oklahoma 16-1 3
4 Florida State 15-1 5
5 Virginia ACC 16-1 6
6 South Carolina 11-2 4
7 LSU 15-1 10
8 Arizona State 11-3 7
9 TCU 10-5 9
10 Texas 11-5 12
11 Arkansas 13-2 15
12 Texas A&M 12-4 16
13 Arizona 13-3 18
14 Clemson 7-6 8
15 UC Irvine 12-1 21
16 UCLA 8-6 11
17 North Carolina 14-3 14
18 Stanford 6-5 17
19 Louisville 11-3 20
20 Cal State Fullerton 8-6 13
21 College of Charleston 14-3 22
22 Georgia Tech 12-4 25
23 Coastal Carolina 11-5 24
24 Rice 10-8 19
25 Fresno State 11-2 26
26 Auburn 11-5 23
27 California 10-4 29
28 Oregon 8-7 27
29 Baylor 11-5 NR
30 Oregon State 13-3 NR

I don't understand why so many voters choose to vote for teams with bad records just because of who they are (Rice, Oregon, UCLA, Stanford, Clemson, Cal State Fullerton). To me, rankings should always be about performance on the field. Obviously, quality competition plays a factor, which is why I do have Stanford and Clemson in my vote, although they are both in the bottom 10.

I can tell you that Clemson, without a big weekend, will be out next week after dropping mid-week games again this week. Stanford is on the verge of dropping out as well because the Cardinal hasn't played much in a while.

I hope to see you at the ball park this weekend. I'd also like to send out a big congratulations to former Troy punter, and media relations graduate assistant, Jason Wright and his fiance Amy Adams on their wedding, which will be on Saturday.

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