May 31, 2013 9:38:55 AM
STARKVILLE - No. 2 South Alabama (42-18, 20-10 in Sun Belt) 25th appearance (last in 2006), At-large, Sun Belt Conference regular-season co-champion.
On the one hand, Mark Calvi's club would be justified in feeling nervous as today will represent the first NCAA regional game since he took over the Jaguars program two years ago.
"I couldn't be more thrilled for a great group of guys and seniors," Calvi said. "It's been a fun ride since I got here in 2010. It has been a lot of work, but it's been a great ride and our guys are excited to be here."
On the other hand, Calvi had been around winning in the postseason before taking the USA job, most recently with being the pitching coach for six seasons at the University of South Carolina under then-head coach Ray Tanner. In 2010, Calvi's pitching staff led the Gamecocks to the national championship by posting a 2.15 ERA in seven College World Series contests, which was nearly a point lower than the next best team in Omaha, Neb.
"You can't argue with success but everyone needs to be themselves," Calvi said. "I've never sat in the dugout and thought 'what would Coach Tanner do here' but I found myself talking to a player and then said afterwards 'man I just sounded like Ray right there'."
The Jaguars are breaking a seven-year NCAA tournament drought with its biggest strength being an offense that is ironically made for Dudy Noble Field. USA ranks 21st in the nation in scoring (6.9 runs per game) and 29th in batting average (.302). The centerpiece of the lineup is Sun Belt Conference player of the year Jordan Patterson (.360, 4 HR, 49 RBIs) but the entire lineup isn't dependent on the home run.
Jeff DeBlieux leads the nation with 10 triples, and is hitting .407 with four doubles, five triples, two home runs and 11 RBIs during his current 14-game hitting streak.
"Our strengths are keeping a game close for our bullpen and when we keep games close are within striking distance in the final innings is where we're most dangerous," Calvi said. "We try to be very good at the things you can't manufacture during a game and that is pitching and defense."
The bullpen gives USA a bid edge against most opponents in the late innings (though not against Mississippi State). Kyle Bartsch (3-0, 2.52, 12 SV) gives USA a power-armed lefty at the back of the bullpen with an 89-92 miles-per-hour fastball and a good curveball. Righty Dylan Stamey (5-2, 2.23) can dominate hitters mostly with his deceptive 90-94 mph fastball, which has helped him compile a 60-9 strikeout-walk mark in 36 innings.
For the first time since leaving Gulf Coast Community College Anthony Izzio will get a chance to pitch his home state.
The University of South Alabama senior right handed pitcher was tabbed Thursday afternoon as the starter by coach Mark Calvi as the two-seed Jaguars (42-18) face Mercer University in the 2 p.m. opening game of the 2013 NCAA Starkville Regional at Dudy Noble Field.
Izzio (3-0, 4.21), a 5-foot-9 side-arm thrower, was recently named to the Sun Belt Conference all-tournament team Sunday. Izzio led USA to a tournament-opening win over the University of Arkansas at Little Rock after allowing two runs and scattering seven hits while striking out three in a career-high eight innings. If USA can win Friday afternoon with Izzio, they'll likely have all of its weekend rotation left for the rest of the weekend.
"Anthony started the season as our top starting pitcher and last year was probably our best starter but had to shut him down for the last six weeks of the year because of some elbow tendinitis," Calvi said.
Sunday's win marked his third win in as many appearances for Izzio after picking up his first two wins of the season in relief. Izzio has allowed only two runs, two walks and nine hits with 12 strikeouts in his last 19 2/3 innings pitched. Izzio went 7-4 with two saves and a 2.62 ERA in 75 2/3 innings as a sophomore at Gulf Coast Community College. He struck out 82 batters while issuing just 26 walks to earn first-team Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges honors.
"We certainly feel good with who we have running out there," Calvi said. "He is not going to light up a radar gun but he is a pitcher with composure and poise."
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