Strike One: LSU Pushes Into National Seed Race
No. 15 Louisiana State continued its late-season push Saturday, completing a sweep of No. 13 Auburn with a 9-1 victory. LSU has won three straight series, including two sweeps, to push into first place in the Southeastern Conference West Division and to No. 12 in RPI.
Freshman righthander Eric Walker (6-1, 3.77) on Saturday delivered another stellar start for LSU. He carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning before finally surrendering a hit. He worked efficiently, throwing 98 pitches in eight innings.
LSU’s offense gave Walker plenty of support, scoring five runs in four innings against righthander Casey Mize (6-2, 1.97). Third baseman Josh Smith (2-for-3, 3 R) and DH Beau Jordan (2-for-3, 2 R, 2 RBI) led the Tigers’ lineup.
LSU has won eight of its last 10 games to go from the bubble of the hosting race to the bubble of the national seed race.
It has the third-best RPI in the conference, behind Florida (No. 5) and Kentucky (No. 7) and the second-best record, behind only Florida.
LSU’s victory combined with No. 6 Mississippi State’s 4-1 loss at Georgia on Saturday gave the Tigers sole possession of first place in the division. The Bulldogs can pull even again with a victory Sunday, but the two teams are set for a de facto SEC West championship series next weekend in Starkville regardless. The series will have no shortage of intrigue, as it will mark the first meeting between LSU coach Paul Mainieri and Andy Cannizaro, who left LSU in November after two seasons as hitting coach to take over as head coach of Mississippi State.
Strike Two: Pac-12 Upheaval
— Oregon St. Baseball (@BeaverBaseball) May 14, 2017
No. 1 Oregon State clinched the Pac-12 Conference championship on Friday and completed a sweep of the Civil War series against Oregon with a 1-0 victory Saturday. The Beavers hold a 7 1/2-game lead on second-place Stanford, which opened its series against archrival California with a 6-5 victory in 10 innings Saturday.
No. 17 Arizona is playing a nonconference series at College of Charleston this weekend and lost the opener, 3-1, on Friday. It avoided another loss Saturday with a comeback, 4-3 victory. The Wildcats are still in the mix to host a regional, adding importance to Sunday’s rubber game in Charleston.
The trio of Oregon State (41-4, 23-3), Stanford (32-13, 14-8) and Arizona (32-17, 12-12) all rank in the top 20 in RPI and are safely in the NCAA Tournament. Behind them, however, the Pac-12 is collapsing into parity. No other team in the conference ranks in the top 50 in RPI and UCLA is the only other team to have a winning record in the conference.
Washington State defeated UCLA, 7-3, clinching the series win after a 7-1 victory Friday. The Cougars have won their last four conference series for the first time since 1995 and have climbed out of the cellar. The Bruins remain in third place in the conference, but their RPI has fallen to No. 64 and they are just one game above .500, leaving them with very little margin of error over the final two weeks of the regular season.
Washington snapped its four-game losing streak with a 4-0 victory Friday against Arizona State, but lost, 8-5, on Saturday. The Huskies have lost six of their last eight games, which has plummeted their RPI to No. 74. Washington can ill afford to let its skid continue any longer with a critical rubber game Sunday against Arizona State before traveling to Stanford next weekend.
With no conference tournament, teams in the Pac-12’s burgeoning middle class have two weekends left to make their case for regionals. If none are able to do so, the conference may get only three NCAA Tournament bids, which would be tis fewest since 2009.
Strike Three: Surging Sun Belt
Coastal Carolina and Louisiana-Lafayette gave the Sun Belt Conference two teams ranked in the top 15 coming into the season. Both teams have struggled with consistency this season, however, and the conference has at times looked like a one-bid league.
But with some hard-charging teams, the Sun Belt’s NCAA Tournament fortunes are looking up. After beating No. 15 LSU on Tuesday, South Alabama swept on Saturday a doubleheader at Appalachian State and has won 13 of its last 16 games. Coastal beat Texas-Arlington, 4-1, to clinch the series. The Chanticleers (33-17-1, 18-7-1) have won nine of their last 11 games.
Saturday’s results leave South Alabama (33-18, 19-7) in first place in the East Division, a half-game ahead of Coastal, and tied with UTA (29-20, 19-7), the West Division leader, for the conference’s overall lead. The Jaguars (No. 41) and the Chanticleers (No. 50) both rank in the top 50 in the RPI, as does Louisiana (49), though the Ragin’ Cajuns (31-20-1, 15-10-1) are 3 1/2 games out of first place.
After a shaky first half of the season, the Sun Belt is shaping up largely as expected. The conference title race looks destined to come down to the final day of the season, as the top teams fight it out over the final four conference games.
Kyle Wright, rhp, Vanderbilt: Wright’s torrid second half continued Saturday at Arkansas. The junior struck out 11 batters in seven scoreless innings to help Vanderbilt defeat No. 18 Arkansas, 6-2. Wright is pitching his way back up draft boards, as he has struck out 51 batters and posted a 1.14 ERA over his last five starts.
Colby Fitch, c, Louisville: Fitch (4-for-5, 2 R, 2 RBIs) homered twice, including a game-tying shot in the eighth, to help lead No. 2 Louisville to a series-clinching, 6-4 victory at No. 11 Clemson. With the victory, the Cardinals also clinched the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division title for the third straight season since joining the league.
Tyler Holton, lhp, Florida State: Holton threw a four-hit shutout to lead Florida State to a 4-0 victory against No. 16 Wake Forest and even the series. The sophomore struck out nine, walked none and threw 124 pitches. Holton’s shutout was the first of the season for the Seminoles, and he improved to 7-2, 2.69.
Cory Abbott, rhp, Loyola Marymount: Abbott continued his domination of the West Coast Conference with a five-hit shutout to lead Loyola Marymount to a 4-0 victory at Gonzaga. The junior struck out 12 batters and walked three, while improving to 8-0, 0.15 in conference play. He is 11-1, 1.60 with 103 strikeouts and 22 walks in 84.1 innings overall.
Zach Rutherford, ss, Old Dominion: Rutherford collected seven hits Saturday, as Old Dominion split a doubleheader against Florida International. The junior went 5-for-6 with two doubles, two runs and four RBIs in the first game, a 21-1 victory for the Monarchs, and added two hits and a run in the nightcap. Rutherford is hitting .355/.418/.502 with 22 doubles this season.
Peter Strzelecki, rhp, South Florida: In the series finale at Connecticut, Strzelecki threw a two-hit shutout to lead No. 23 South Florida to a 2-0 victory. The redshirt junior struck out eight, walked one and threw 109 pitches. He improved to 3-2, 2.21.
Jake Dahlberg, lhp, Illinois-Chicago: Dahlberg (7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 K) celebrated his senior day by helping lead UIC to a doubleheader sweep of Wright State. With Dahlbeg (9-1, 1.80) in control of the first game, the Flames won, 5-0, and took the nightcap, 6-3. The Flames are now in sole possession of first place in the Horizon League, holding a two-game lead on Wright State with five games to play.
Trevor Puzig, 3b, Tennessee Tech: With a 9-2 victory against Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee Tech clinched its first Ohio Valley Conference regular season championship since 2013. Puzig (2-for-4, HR, 3 R) led the Golden Eagles’ high-powered offense Saturday, as he has all season. The junior is hitting .397/.437/.598 with six home runs this spring.
Jared Akins, of, Fresno State: In a 16-2 victory against Mountain West Conference leader New Mexico, Akins (3-for-4) homered twice and drove in six runs to help Fresno State clinch a spot in the conference tournament. The junior is hitting .315/.357/.503 with six home runs this season.
|How the Top 25 Fared|
|(1) Oregon State: won, 1-0, at Oregon|
|(2) Louisville: won, 6-4, at (11) Clemson|
|(3) North Carolina: split DH at Virginia Tech, won 9-4 and lost 8-4|
|(4) Texas Tech: off|
|(5) Texas Christian: lost, 9-8, at (24) Oklahoma|
|(6) Mississippi State: lost, 4-1, at Georgia|
|(7) Florida: won, 13-6, at Alabama|
|(8) Long Beach State: lost, 12-6, at Minnesota|
|(9) Kentucky: won, 8-3, vs. Tennessee|
|(10) Stanford: won, 6-5, in 10 innings at California|
|(11) Clemson: lost, 6-4, vs. (2) Louisville|
|(12) Virginia: split DH vs. Miami, lost 5-1 and won 13-6|
|(13) Auburn: lost, 9-1, at (15) Louisiana State|
|(14) Cal State Fullerton: lost, 6-3, vs. UC Santa Barbara|
|(15) Louisiana State: won, 9-1, vs. (13) Auburn|
|(16) Wake Forest: split DH at Florida State, won 4-3 and lost 4-0|
|(17) Arizona: won, 4-3, at College of Charleston|
|(18) Arkansas: lost, 6-2, vs. Vanderbilt|
|(19) Southern Mississippi: won, 9-4, vs. Alabama Birmingham|
|(20) Texas A&M: lost, 6-4, at Mississippi|
|(21) Michigan: won, 9-4, at Purdue|
|(22) St. John’s: off|
|(23) South Florida: won, 2-0, at Connecticut|
|(24) Oklahoma: won, 9-8, vs. (5) Texas Christian|
|(25) Nebraska: won, 5-2, vs. Michigan State|