SEE ALSO: Top 25 Coverage
SEE ALSO: Weekend Preview Coverage
Strike One: Auburn Stays Disciplined, Routs Florida
AUBURN, Ala.—No. 5 Florida traveled to Auburn on opening weekend of Southeastern Conference play for what was expected to be a battle of pitching. The Gators entered the weekend with a 2.45 team ERA, the 15th best in the country, while the Tigers’ top two starters Keegan Thompson and Casey Mize had combined to start the season 5-0, 0.53.
But Friday’s expected pitchers’ duel between righthander Alex Faedo, a first-team Preseason All-American, and Thompson, never materialized. Faedo typically pitches with above-average control, but didn’t have it Friday and Auburn was ready to make him pay.
|HOW TOP 25 FARED|
|(1) Louisville: won, 6-0, vs. Boston College|
|(2) Florida State: won, 9-2, at Virginia Tech|
|(3) Texas Christian: won, 3-1, vs. Kansas|
|(4) Oregon State: won, 10-1, at Arizona State|
|(5) Florida: lost, 14-3, at Auburn|
|(6) Louisiana State: won, 22-9, vs. Georgia|
|(7) Cal State Fullerton: won, 2-1, vs. New Mexico|
|(8) East Carolina: swept in DH vs. Mercer, lost 10-7 and 7-5|
|(9) Clemson: lost, 2-0, vs. (15) Virginia|
|(10) South Carolina: won, 7-1, at Tennessee|
|(11) Texas Tech: won, 2-1, at Texas|
|(12) Arizona: suspended at UCLA, 0-0 in the second|
|(13) North Carolina: won, 6-5, at Georgia Tech|
|(14) Louisiana-Lafayette: won, 3-0, vs. Appalachian State|
|(15) Virginia: won, 2-0, at (9) Clemson|
|(16) Baylor: lost, 7-1, vs. West Virginia|
|(17) Stanford: off|
|(18) Mississippi: won, 1-0, vs. Vanderbilt|
|(19) St. John’s: won, 4-3, vs. Iona|
|(20) Coastal Carolina: lost, 5-4, at Texas State in 14 innings|
|(21) Florida Gulf Coast: won, 5-2, vs. Rutgers|
|(22) Texas A&M: lost, 6-0, vs. Kentucky|
|(23) Oklahoma State: won, 6-3, vs. Northwestern State|
|(24) Michigan: postponed vs. Northern Illinois|
|(25) Washington: postponed vs. Utah|
The Tigers drew six walks against Faedo and knocked him out in the fifth inning. They went on to a 14-3 victory to start SEC play.
Coach Butch Thompson said Auburn (15-5) displayed impressive focus both at the plate and on the mound.
“Bottom line, for at least one game, that was the highest focus I’ve seen our ball club have, pitch by pitch by pitch,” Thompson said. “That’s a requirement of a great ball club to be able to do that.”
Faedo’s best pitch is his well-above average slider, which is a swing-and-miss offering. Auburn, however, managed to lay off it most of the night, executing its game plan to sit on fastballs. Faedo sat in the low 90s, but without his typical ability to locate it, the Tigers were able to make him work deep in counts and made hard contact.
Second baseman Will Holland, Auburn’s nine-hole hitter, went 2-for-4 with two runs and four RBIs. He hit a two-run home run off a fastball from Faedo in the fourth inning.
“(Hitting coach Doug Sisson) told all of us, ‘Just try to hit the fastball. Key in on the fastball and spit on everything else,’” Holland said.
The Tigers broke the game open the following inning, as they scored eight runs and sent 13 batters to the plate. Faedo’s night came to an end after allowing six runs on four hits and six walks in 4.1 innings. He struck out five batters and threw 106 pitches.
But Auburn continued to hit against Florida’s bullpen. The Tigers scored eight runs on 10 hits in 3.2 innings against a trio of Gators’ relievers, preventing Florida (13-6) from ever getting back into the game.
It was a remarkable performance, as Auburn matched its record for largest margin of victory against Florida, which it last accomplished in 1956. In the postgame press conference, Holland was asked if the Tigers “ever expected” to score 14 runs against Florida. Sitting next to Holland as he answered the question, Thompson shook his head “No.”
Thompson had plenty of support as he continued his strong return from Tommy John surgery. The redshirt junior held Florida to two runs (one earned) on three hits and two walks in 6.1 innings. He struck out eight batters, as he improved to 4-0, 0.88.
For Auburn, Friday’s victory was important as it looks to rebound from its disappointing 2016 season. The Tigers went 23-33 last season and missed the SEC Tournament. But Thompson knows the Tigers are in for two more tough games this weekend, and will need to match their performance from Friday night.
“I know the Florida Gators, I know (coach) Kevin O’Sullivan and I know we’re coming right back out here (Saturday) and I know how great of a ball club that is,” Thompson said. “We’ll have to continue to have that type of focus to have a chance to win a series.”
Strike Two: West Virginia Opens Big 12 Play With Key Win
West Virginia came into the season with increased expectations after reaching the championship game of the 2016 Big 12 Conference Tournament. The Mountaineers even received one first-place vote in the conference’s preseason coaches’ poll.
West Virginia came out of the gate slowly, losing series at Charlotte, Tulane and Old Dominion and entering conference play at 8-7. But it bounced back Friday at No. 16 Baylor with a 7-1 victory, handing the Bears (15-3) just their second loss in 12 home games.
“Couldn’t ask for anything better,” coach Randy Mazey said. “We really needed B.J. (Myers) to get back to being B.J., we needed a win, a conference win.”
Myers, the Mountaineers’ ace, came into the game 1-1, 5.18. But he delivered an outstanding start, holding the Bears to one run on five hits and no walks in eight innings. He struck out six batters.
First baseman Jackson Cramer led West Virginia offensively. He went 2-for-2 with two runs, two walks and two RBIs. Third baseman Cole Austin added three hits.
While West Virginia (9-7) has had mixed results this season, it has played its best against ranked opponents. It also beat Coastal Carolina twice earlier this season and is now 3-0 against Top 25 teams, with all three games coming on the road.
Strike Three: Old Dominion, Southern Miss Make CUSA Statements
Opening weekend in Conference USA provided some intriguing matchups, as Rice traveled to Old Dominion and Southern Mississippi visited Louisiana Tech. Friday, ODU made a big statement by sweeping Rice in a doubleheader, while Southern Miss started the weekend with a 5-2 victory to extend its winning streak to five games.
Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech are two of the four CUSA teams that made regionals last season and entered the weekend with the two best records in the league. The Golden Eagles (14-4) grabbed a key road victory Friday, joining Arkansas as the only teams to beat the Bulldogs (15-3) in Ruston, La., this season.
With bad weather in the forecast later this weekend, ODU and Rice played a doubleheader Friday. The Monarchs came away with a pair of one-run wins, 6-5 and 3-2. ODU (14-4) improved to 6-1 this season in one-run games. Rice (6-15) remains winless in weekend series this season, though it did split four-game sets with Texas and Stanford.
CUSA looks to be competitive again this season. Florida Atlantic (12-5), the defending champion, defeated Middle Tennessee State, 7-6, Friday, and Charlotte (12-6) continued its strong start to the season with a 4-0 victory at Florida International.
Newsmakers from Friday night
Antoine Duplantis, of, Louisiana State: Duplantis went 6-for-6 with four runs and seven RBIs in a 22-9 victory against Georgia to set the LSU record for most hits in a game. The sophomore reached base in all seven of his plate appearances as he also drew a walk, and is now hitting .383/.419/.481.
Brendan McKay, lhp, Louisville: McKay and No. 1 Louisville continued their outstanding starts to the season in a 6-0 victory against Boston College. McKay struck out 12 batters in seven scoreless innings to improve to 4-0, 0.36 with 41 strikeouts and six walks in 25 innings this season. The Cardinals improved to 17-0, matching the best start in program history.
Ryan Newman, 1b, Texas State: Newman (5-for-7) capped a stellar day at the plate with a walk-off home run in the 14th inning to lead Texas State to a 5-4 victory against No. 20 Coastal Carolina. Newman, a sophomore, on Friday raised his batting line from .245/.300/.396 to .300/.343/.500.
Nick Madrigal, 2b, Oregon State: Madrigal helped lead No. 3 Oregon State to a 10-1 victory at Arizona State to clinch its first series victory in Phoenix since 2008. The first-team Preseason All-American went 3-for-4 with a double, two walks and four runs, and is now hitting .429/.513/.651 with 20 runs.
Eli Morgan, rhp, Gonzaga: Morgan continued his fantastic start to the season with a one-hit shutout in a 4-0 victory against Pacific. The junior struck out 13 batters and walked none, improving to 3-1, 1.95 with 54 strikeouts and seven walks in 37 innings.
Sean Hjelle, rhp, Kentucky: Making his first career Southeastern Conference start, Hjelle threw a four-hit shutout in a 6-0 victory at No. 22 Texas A&M. Hjelle struck out nine batters and walked one to improve to 3-1, 4.99 with 29 strikeouts and five walks.
Brian Shaffer, rhp, Maryland: In a 4-0 win against Princeton, Shaffer (2-1, 1.65) struck out a career-high 10 batters in eight scoreless innings. Beginning with one out in the second inning, he retired 17 straight batters, as he and lefthander Andrew Miller combined for a three-hit shutout.
J.T. Thomas, c/dh, Mercer: Thomas helped lead Mercer to a doubleheader sweep at No. 8 East Carolina. In a 10-7 victory in the first game, he went 4-for-4 with two home runs, a double, three runs and six RBIs, and scored another run in the Bears’ 7-5 victory in the nightcap.
Jimmy Murphy, rhp, Fordham: Murphy (1-3, 4.38) threw eight scoreless innings against Sacred Heart to earn his first victory of the season, as Fordham won 1-0 and went on to sweep the doubleheader. The senior struck out a career-high 14 batters, the most for a Rams pitcher since 2006.