The Associated Press
The Meridian Star
It's been a dominant season for pitching in the Southeastern Conference thanks to a group of starters who have turned talent into results after a year or two in the league.
"The past few years, you've had a lot of pitchers who turned down (professional) money and decided to come to the SEC," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "Now those guys have matured and it's the best pitching I've seen in 11 years in this league. There are low scores every day."
The 14-team league has a combined 3.29 ERA, which is down from 3.54 a year ago. Five of the NCAA's top 15 teams in ERA reside in the SEC.
Mississippi's Bobby Wahl is among the league's best.
His fastball allowed him to make an impact for the Rebels from the moment he stepped on the mound his freshman season.
Now that he's added a little more confidence, experience and poise, the junior right-hander (9-0, 1.21 ERA) is nearly untouchable.
"I relish every opportunity to walk out on the mound on a Friday night and
compete," Wahl said. "I enjoy every second of being out there and I'm having a lot of fun."
A lot of SEC pitchers could say the same thing.
Vanderbilt's Tyler Beede (12-0, 1.73), LSU's Aaron Nola (9-0, 1.92) and Arkansas' Ryne Stanek (6-2, 1.87) have enjoyed the same type of success as Wahl.
Wahl — a Springfield, Va., native — has gotten better each year.
He was considered a top prospect in 2011, but nagging injuries kept him in the bullpen as a freshman. Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco moved Wahl into the rotation in 2012, and he responded with a solid 7-4 record and 2.55 ERA.
This year, the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder seems to be on another level.
"His stuff has always been tremendous," Bianco said. "Now he's developed some traits that can't be taught — especially the ability to make a crucial pitch in a big moment to get out of a tough situation. Nothing rattles him."
Wahl is not alone in that regard. Beede's progression has been even faster.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander decided to come to Vanderbilt despite being selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the first round of the 2011 draft. He struggled as a freshman, finishing with a 1-5 record and 4.52 ERA.
Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin has experience developing talented pitchers — including David Price (Tampa Bay Rays) and Mike Minor (Atlanta Braves) — and said Beede simply needed a chance to grow. His sophomore season has been spectacular.
Corbin said Beede's cerebral approach to the game requires meticulous planning, and it took time for the pitcher to adjust to the hoopla of SEC baseball and hostile opposing crowds. Beede also had to deal with constant scrutiny after being one of the rare MLB draft picks who decides to go to college.
"He put a lot of pressure on himself at first, which is completely understandable," Corbin said. "He's an intelligent kid, an extremely hard worker and he wants to please. It took a while for him to realize he didn't have to explain himself or please anyone else. He just has to please himself."
Beede and Kevin Ziomek (9-2, 2.03) have been a huge reason the Commodores have a 41-6 overall record and are easily leading the SEC's Eastern Division with a 21-2 record. Vanderbilt is almost certain to earn one of eight national seeds when the NCAA's 64-team bracket is announced in late May.
"We love giving our team a chance to win and our defense is making SportsCenter-quality plays every night," Beede said. "Those are things you don't take for granted. As pitchers, we just make sure we've got the right mental preparation and stay with our routine."
Stanek might have the most pro potential of the bunch. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound right-hander routinely throws his fastball in the mid-90s and has improved his standing among professional scouts after three years that have yielded progressively better results.
He was selected in the third round of the 2010 draft by the Seattle Mariners, but could be a top 10 overall selection in June.
Stanek said his steady progression is closely related to his fastball. He not only throws it hard, but now also has command.
"When you're throwing the ball where you want, you're not wasting pitches and that allows you to go deeper into the game," Stanek said. "I've also developed to the point where I can throw three or four pitches for strikes, so if one or two pitches aren't working that day, I can still get results with my other stuff."
The Razorbacks lead the country with a 1.77 ERA. Opposing batters are hitting just .201.
Stanek said part of his success is related to the team's depth on the mound. The coaches don't ask him to go deep into the game very often because the bullpen is so good.
"It's been a luxury," Van Horn said. "Sometimes I feel like I'm managing a professional club. We have multiple righties and lefties who can do the job and on top of that they're versatile. We can ask them to get two outs or go two innings so we don't have to overuse our starters."