Upstate Set To Host Courtyard By Marriott Baseball Classic
Feb. 21, 2008
SPARTANBURG, S.C. - USC Upstate's baseball team will enter the Division I era by hosting the Courtyard by Marriott Baseball Classic this weekend at Cleveland S. Harley Park. Upstate will host NJIT, UT Martin and George Washington in the three-day, six-game classic. All games will will have live stats posted through Gametracker and all three Upstate games will be on A-Sun.TV. Below is a look at this weekend's schedule:
Friday, Feb. 22 4:00 NJIT vs. USC Upstate Saturday, Feb. 23 11:00 George Washington vs. NJIT 2:30 UT Martin vs. USC Upstate 6:00 UT Martin vs. George Washington Sunday, Feb. 24 10:00 NJIT vs. UT Martin 2:00 George Washington vs. USC UpstateThe home team is listed first and will occupy the third base dugout and wear the white uniform.
A Mid-Week of Tournament Teams
After the Courtyard by Marriott Baseball Classic, USC Upstate will take the field against two teams that made the NCAA Tournament during the 2007 season. On Tuesday, the Spartans will take the short trip downtown to face Wofford, the defending Southern Conference champions before the visiting Atlantic 10 champions, Charlotte, comes to visit Harley Park on Wednesday.
Bowley Bowling For Records
Already possibly the most accomplished two-way player in school history, senior Kyle Bowley enters his last year at Upstate in position to enter the top 10 in at least eight offensive categories and four pitching categories. Bowley is just 53 hits away from becoming the seventh player in school history to reach 200 hits in a career and he is already tied for sixth with 38 career doubles. On the mound, Bowley's 12 wins is already tied for seventh in school history and his 173.1 innings pitched is eighth.
Senior Andrew Runion has enjoyed two fine seasons in a Spartan uniform after playing in just seven games as a freshman. The corner infielder has provided some pop to the Spartans' lineup, having posted 38 doubles and nine homers in his career. He enters the season with 87 RBIs, just 13 shy of becoming the 11th player in school history to drive in 100 batters in a career. He has also been solid at first base, posting a .988 career fielding percentage, which is second-best in school history.
Already At The Top Of The List
Senior pitcher Scott Eckard enters the 2008 season already having written his name all over the Upstate record book. He struck out seven in a 10-4 win over Armstrong Atlantic State on April 21, 2007 to give him 206 career strikeouts to become the school's strikeout king. Eckard surpassed former Spartan Brandon Williams, who compiled 202 strikeouts from 2003-06 and is currently in the minor leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. It was even more impressive that Eckard was very effective in the win since he was making his first start since an emergency appendectomy 10 days earlier. Eckard finished the season the school's all-time leader in complete games (12), shutouts (4) and strikeouts (212).
Ready To Get To The Top Of The List
Senior pitcher Scott Eckard still has a few more records to chase during the 2008 season, even though he already holds the school record for complete games, shutouts and strikeouts. he needs just two wins to give him 20 in his career, which would surpass Eric Hunter, who went 19-6 from 1986-89, for the top slot in school history. He also needs to toss just 32.1 innings to pass Trevor Berryhill (2002-05) for the top spot and his 3.11 ERA is currently the best in school history, but Chris Fowler (1989-92) is close behind at 3.15.
A Summer Superstar
Senior Kyle Bowley was named to the National team in the Coastal Plains League All-Star game, finishing second during the All-Star Game's Home Run Derby and earning the game's Offensive MVP award. Bowley, a first baseman for the Stingers, hit four homers during the Home Run Derby at Columbia's Capitol City Stadium. In the All-Star game, Bowley came on as a sub in the top of the sixth inning and keyed a five-run rally with a no-out double that drove in a run from third. He scored two batters later on a single. In the seventh inning, he added another RBI single up the middle with no outs to give the National team its final run in a 9-3 victory. Bowley finished the game 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a run scored to earn the Offensive MVP honor.
Spartans Succeed In Summer Leagues
Six other Spartans also enjoyed decent summers playing baseball in various collegiate summer baseball leagues. Sophomore Matt Branham, a 6-5 right-hander, was a vital part of the Columbia Blowfish' bullpen in the Coastal Plains League. In 12 appearances and 27.2 innings pitched, Branham picked up one save while striking out 14 and walking just six. Senior Scott Eckerd, a 6-1 left-hander, led the Sanford River Rats on the hill all season, posting a 1-1 record and a 1.80 ERA in five starts. He has tossed 25 innings, allowing just 17 hits for a paltry opponents' .200 batting average. He has also added 33 strikeouts, which was 10th in the league, and walked just eight.
Junior Dennis McCraney, a 6-1 southpaw, was a key left-handed gun in the Carolina Sox' arsenal in the Southern Collegiate League. He was 1-0 with a 4.07 ERA, having appeared in eight games and tossing 24.1 innings. Sophomore Jimmy Tanner, a 5-11 catcher/first baseman, played primarily first base for the Battle Creek Bombers in the Northwoods League. He posted a .288 average, notching 46 hits, adding eight doubles and 19 RBIs to go along with 13 runs scored. Junior Phillip Myers also found success with the Bombers, going 2-3 for the team, appearing in 14 games and starting four. The 6-5 southpaw struck out 20 and walked 17. Junior Phillip Morgan played summer ball with the Spartanburg Crickets at USC Upstate's Harley Park. He posted eight doubles, 22 hits, 10 runs and two homers.
Nowak Moving Up The Chain
Former USC Upstate baseball star Chris Nowak has continued to shine during his professional baseball career, as he led the Montgomery Biscuits to its second-straight Class AA Southern League Championship in 2007. The 6-4 infielder was named the unanimous Southern League Championship Series MVP after hitting .611 (11-for-18) with three home runs during the series. Nowak finished his first full season at Double-A with a .304 batting average, seven homers and 55 RBIs. He also stole 18 bases and added a hefty .396 on-base percentage. In his final 15 games, Nowak was on fire, hitting five homers and batting .467 (28-for-60). Nowak is expected to begin this season in AAA Durham for the Devil Rays.
A Rough Schedule
In a 54-game schedule, the Spartans won't play just the six games against 2007 NCAA Tournament teams dictated by the conference schedule, but four more games against tournament teams in what could easily be the toughest entrance to the ranks of Division I for any of Upstate's athletic programs. The numbers look stacked against the Spartans, with 17 games against teams that finished 2007 in the top 115 in RPI according to Boyd'sWorld.com and only nine games against teams with RPIs above 200. For Upstate, though, it's nothing new. In their last season in Division II, the Spartans played 22 of their 59 games against teams ranked in Collegiate Baseball's Top 30.
A History of Upsets
In his decade at the helm, head coach Matt Fincher's clubs proved a thorn in the side of many of the best baseball teams in Division II. Fincher's Spartans have beaten 48 teams ranked in the Collegiate Baseball Magazine Top 30 and 20 wins have come against teams in the top 10. The Spartans even pulled off historic wins on March 23, 2003, when Upstate downed top-ranked Kennesaw State, 8-7, and on March 18, 2006 when Upstate beat top-ranked Georgia College & State University, 11-1. In all, the Spartans won at least one game against a team inside the top 25 in each of Fincher's years with the program and have won at least one game against a team ranked in the top 10 in each of the last five years.
Since opening in 2004, Harley Park has been no picnic for opposing teams to enter. The 500-seat complex has helped make Upstate a formidable force in Division II before moving up to Division I in 2008. In four seasons at Harley Park, the Spartans have produced a 76-47 (.618) record, with 19 of those wins coming against teams ranked in the Collegiate Baseball Top 30.
Union University Disaster Relief Fund
All proceeds earned from each game's Pass The Hat during this weekend's Courtyard by Marriott Baseball Classic will be donated to the Union University Disaster Relief Fund in honor of the University of Tennessee Martin. After the devastating tornadoes hit Union University and the whole Jackson community on Feb. 4, 2008 that caused damage that made the university close for two weeks, UTM's athletic department opened its arms to the Union University softball team, giving the team dorms, supplies and a place to practice.