What’s at stake this weekend?
As the 2010 regular season comes to a close this week, there is still a lot of uncertainty when it comes to the A-Sun Tournament field. What complicates things even more this season, is that fact that all but one school (USC Upstate) is eligible for the postseason. Now 10 teams are battling for six spots in Nashville. FGCU (22-5) clinched the No. 1 seed with its third consecutive regular season title. UNF (14-9) has also guaranteed a bid to the postseason and currently sits second by percentage points. ETSU (14-10) and Mercer (14-10) are tied for the third spot while Stetson (13-11) is currently fourth. Belmont (12-11) and JU (12-11) are tied for the final spot and in a tiebreaker, the Dolphins would advance. Looming in the background is Kennesaw State (10-14). In a cut-and-dry scenario, the winner of the Stetson/JU series would earn an automatic bid to the tournament. With ETSU facing Kennesaw State and Belmont squaring off with Mercer, other scenarios can also arise if JU does not win but the most significant thing is for the Dolphins to match what Belmont does this weekend to keep the tiebreaker in play.
With a 23-26 mark, JU is in jeopardy of finishing below .500 for the first time since 2008 (27-29)...with an 8-4 win over FGCU on May 15, head coach Terry Alexander earned his 300th career A-Sun victory...the Dolphins are 0-3 on the year in extra inning games...in the extra-inning loss to FSU, JU tallied 10 runs for the second straight game at Dick Howser Stadium for the first time in program history. The highest run tally in program history was 12 in 1973...with a 4-0 win over FIU, the Dolphins earned their first shutout since a 3-0 decision over Belmont on March 9, 2008 at John Sessions Stadium...the Dolphins are 15-1 on the year when scoring 10 or more runs...JU has a pair of four-game winning streaks on the year....the Dolphins are 4-16 when not hitting a home runs as opposed to an 19-10 record with a home run...the Dolphins are 3-7 in their last 10 games against ranked opponents - including a 2-3 mark in 2010.
The “Southpaw Silencer”
Expected to be a complimentary point of the rotation in 2010, junior Matt Tomshaw has emerged as the stopper for the Dolphins with efficient consistency. Showing improvement each season (6.38 ERA - Fr., 4.50 ERA - So.) as he progressed from the bullpen to starter, Tomshaw currently leads the squad with a 7-1 record (5-0 in conference play) and leads the staff with 72.1 innings. He also notched his first complete-game victory over ETSU on April 10 in which he struck out eight batters. Tomshaw recorded his second complete-game win against Kennesaw State on May 8. With his third complete game win against FGCU on May 15, Tomshaw has now gone the distance in three of his last four starts. With his three complete games on the season, he becomes the first Dolphin to tally more than two since Dennis Robinson (7) during the 2004 season.
Who is “Freshman of the Year”?
Thus far in 2010, the Wisconsin freshman duo of Dan Gulbransen and Adam Brett Walker are making Dolphin fans contemplate Cheesehead gear despite the Jacksonville Jaguars living across the St. John’s River. The initial thought process for the JU coaching staff was to bring the duo along slowly to get them used to the college game. Instead of battling for playing time, the duo is battling for the title of Atlantic Sun Conference “Freshman of the Year.” Gulbransen, a 5-foot-10, 205 pound, center fielder from Appleton, currently leads the squad with a .402 batting average, 70 hits, 49 runs, two triples, a .512 on-base percentage and 37 walks. He also ranks third with 44 RBI and eight home runs. A four-year starter at Fox Valley Lutheran HS, Gulbransen finished his prep career with 126 hits and 26 home runs. A four-time all-conference selection, he was named first team all-state and all-area while garnering Eastern Valley Conference “Player of the Year” honors. Walker, a 6-foot-5, 225 pound, DH/1B from Milwaukee, leads JU with 14 home runs, 50 RBI, 109 total bases and a.657 slugging percentage while ranking fourth with a .331 batting average. A three-year starter at Milwaukee Lutheran HS, Walker was named all-state, all-area and all-conference as a junior and senior. He played in the Brewer Classic at MIller Park and was an invitee to the 2009 Powerhouse Showcase Home Run Derby at Tropicana Field.
“Wild Thing” is back
JU has been in desperate need of a closer since Hunter Davis tallied 11 saves in 2005 and now the Dolphins have one in junior Chris Kaminski. The Richmond, Texas native joined JU in 2009 after going 6-0 with a 3.86 ERA, four saves and 54 strikeouts as a freshman at Weatherford Junior College. Kaminski lived up to the hype by leading the A-Sun with eight saves in nine opportunities last season while topping the bullpen with 25 appearances, a 2.70 ERA, five wins and 33.1 innings, helping the squad to a 28-1 record when leading after eight innings. For his efforts, he earned A-Sun second team all-conference honors and was named to the 2010 preseason all-conference team. With a save against FIU on April 28, he pulled to within one save of Joe Ausanio (16, 1985-88) as the programs top closer. He was recently named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) “Stopper of the Year” Watch List.
Murphy breaks out
An A-Sun all-freshman team selection last season, sophomore outfielder Jonathan Murphy had high expectations n 2010 but it took a while to get started. After starting the year on in 0-for-13 slump, Murphy saw himself playing sparingly and was hitting a paltry .103 (4-39) with only one extra-base hit (triple) on March 23. The coaching staff decided to make a change and keep him in the lineup to work his way out of it and the move has proved beneficial for both parties. Since being inserted into the lineup on a regular basis on March 23, Murphy is hitting .365 (45-125) with seven doubles, a triple, four home runs, 27 RBI and a .533 slugging percentage. During that period, he has raised his batting average over 190 points to .301.
Hold on Loosen
Junior Matt Loosen has returned from injury and is showing people why he was a unanimous preseason selection as he was among three Dolphins to be named to the 2010 A-Sun all-preseason team. After missing the first week of the season with a knee injury, Loosen made his first appearance against Richmond on Feb. 28. He followed that up with his first start on March 3 at Bethune-Cookman - allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits with a walk and three strikeouts in five innings. He looks to be in mid-season form after his performance against No. 2 Florida State on March 8. The Noles entered the contest scoring at least 10 runs in nine of its 10 games but Loosen allowed only one run on six hits while striking out a career-best 11 batters in seven innings. Loosen increased his record to 3-1 on the year after allowing only one run on four hits with 10 strikeouts at USC Upstate on April 2.
Senior Chuck Opachich is in his final year in a Dolphin uniform and is primed to etch his name in the JU history book. A major cog in the program’s most successful run in the last four years, Opachich has garnered several honors including A-Sun all-freshman (2007), A-Sun preseason all-conference (2008, 2010), A-Sun all-tournament (2007, 2009) and A-Sun first team all-conference (2009) accolades. Last season, Opachich set a milestone by tying Talmadge Nunnari (1997) with a program record 27-game hitting streak. In the JU single-season record book, he also tied Nunnari (1997) with 90 hits. After getting off to a hot start, he has been hampered by a hamstring injury which caused him to miss five games (3/10-17). Currently fifth in the career book, he is currently 63 hits behind Ernie Carr (1985-88) for the program record. He is 16 hits shy of surpassing Chris Hayes (1992-95) for fourth on the all-time list.