Last season may have been the nadir for the state of college baseball in Texas. No team from Texas hosted a regional for the first time since 1995 and only one (Rice) finished the season ranked in the Top 25. However, things are looking considerably brighter in 2014.
The Houston College Classic has typically attracted its share of high-profile programs from around the country, making it a hot spot for scouts. Although this year's event is an entirely in-state affair, the quality of the field is as good as the event has had, as Aaron Fitt noted in this week's Weekend Preview. Four Lone Star State teams reside in our current Top 25, and three of them (No. 12 Rice, No. 15 Texas and No. 16 Texas Christian) have converged on Minute Maid Park. But before any of those teams took the field, the event kicked off with a matchup between a pair of teams knocking on the door to the Top 25 after hot starts in 7-0 Houston and 8-1 Texas Tech.
Both teams have thrived on the mound and it figured to be a low-scoring afternoon, which it was—for six innings. After carrying a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning stretch, Houston exploded for eight runs in the bottom of the frame, a rally that took advantage of four walks handed out by Tech pitching and was highlighted by senior Jacob Luenenburg's (3-for-4, 2 2B, 3 RBIs) bases-clearing double. How unlikely was that outburst? The most runs Texas Tech had allowed in any of its first nine games was five, and they'd allowed two or less in seven of them.
The final score would end up staying there at 9-0, as Houston remained undefeated and Tech's eight-game winning streak was snapped.
However, that big inning may not have even been necessary the way junior righty Aaron Garza pitched. Garza (8.2 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 7 K, 0 BB) didn't allow a hit until the fourth inning and went on to lower his ERA to 0.41 in 22 innings. The junior succeeds more on the strength of his command than necessarily missing bats (his seven strikeouts Friday were a career high), and he duly pounded the zone against the Red Raiders, throwing 82 of his 115 pitches for strikes.
"I wanted to command the zone today," Garza told reporters. "I had the two-seam fastball and the slider working for me today. I mostly wanted to just live down in the zone. It was working pretty well by keeping them off balanced."
Texas Tech never even put a runner in scoring position against Garza until the ninth, when he was relieved by Tyler Ford to finish the shutout. It was UH's fifth shutout in eight games this year, which is already the most they've had in a season since 2002.
Top 25 Showdowns
(14) Miami at (2) Florida State: The Seminoles scratched across an unearned run in the first inning, but Miami's Chris Diaz (7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 6 K, 2 BB) shut them down from there as the Hurricanes took a 3-1 win in the opener of what's officially a non-conference series between the two ACC rivals. Luke Weaver (6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 7 K, 2 BB) pitched well for FSU, but two errors by the Seminoles in the sixth inning led to two unearned runs for the Canes, which proved to be the difference.
(11) Clemson at (3) South Carolina: The Tigers knocked around Gamecocks ace Jordan Montgomery (5.1 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 9 K, 5 BB) and raced out to a 6-1 lead, but the game turned on Grayson Greiner's (3-for-4, 5 RBIs) sixth-inning grand slam as South Carolina came back for a 9-6 win. Aaron Fitt is on the road following this series around the Palmetto State, and you can read more about Friday's game here.
(5) Cal State Fullerton at (9) Oregon: Fullerton stars Matt Chapman (2-for-4, HR, 2B, 3 RBIs) and Thomas Eshelman (8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 7 K, 1 BB) led the way to a decisive 9-2 win in Eugene, handing Oregon its first loss of the season. The Titans outhit the Ducks 14-4 and took the drama out quickly by opening up a 6-0 lead through four innings, highlighted by Chapman's three-run homer. Tommy Thorpe (5.1 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 6 ER) was hit hard for the Ducks.
(21) Alabama at (10) Louisiana-Lafayette: Austin Robichaux (9 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 11 K, 1 BB) twirled his second career shutout as Louisiana-Lafayette edged Alabama 2-0. Alabama's Spencer Turnbull (6.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 0 ER) stifled the explosive ULL offense, but his fielding error on a sac bunt attempt in the bottom of the seventh opened the door for two unearned runs. Robichaux closed it down from there, retiring 11 of the final 12 Crimson Tide hitters. A capacity crowd of 4,040 turned out for the game, as ULL hosts a weekend series against an SEC team for the first time.
(12) Rice vs (15) Texas: The nightcap in Houston featured the pair of traditional powers. Texas rode a dominant outing from Dillon Peters (8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 6 K) to a 2-0 win, its fourth straight against the Owls. The Longhorns got both their runs in the fourth on two-out RBI doubles from Tres Barrera and Ben Johnson. Rice had a chance to come back, loading the bases with two outs in the ninth against Nathan Thornhill, but Blake Fox struck out looking to end it. Of greater concern for the Owls, ace righthander Jordan Stephens came out of the game after just two innings. Coach Wayne Graham declined to give details after the game.
Top 25 Upsets
Sam Houston State vs (16) Texas Christian: Not to be overlooked in the Houston College Classic field, Sam Houston State is legitimate in its own right and knocked off Texas Christian 9-4 in the second of the three games at Minute Maid. The Bearkats got to Brandon Finnegan (6.2 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 11 K, 2 BB) for three runs in the fourth then opened it up late. TCU had its chances against Tyler Eppler (6 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 5 K, 3 BB) and the SHSU bullpen, but the Horned Frogs stranded 14 runners on the night.
Illinois at (25) Florida: Kevin Duchene tossed a three-hit shutout as Illinois took down scuffling Florida 6-0. The Illinois sophomore lefty needed 100 pitches to go the distance and was seriously threatened only once, when Florida loaded the bases with one out in the fourth. Illini leadoff man Will Krug (4-for-5, 2 RBIs) led the offense against Gators starter Bobby Poyner (4.2 IP, 6 H, 2 ER), who took his second loss. Florida fell to 0-2 in its home tournament, having already lost to Florida Gulf Coast on Thursday, and has dropped four of its last five games after losing last week's series in Miami.
Other Top 25 Results
Monmouth at (1) Virginia: Friday's series opener was rained out. The teams will make it up with a doubleheader Sunday.
Wright State at (4) Oregon State: Andrew Moore (7.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 6 K) and Kevin Flemer combined on a two-hitter as the Beavers breezed past Wright State 7-0 in their home opener. Kavin Keyes (3-for-4, 3 R) and Dylan Davis (2-for-3, 4 RBIs) led the OSU offense. At one point, Keyes had recorded hits in eight consecutive at-bats, going back over his previous two games, before flying out in the seventh inning Friday.
Michigan at (6) North Carolina State: With the Wolfpack saving Carlos Rodon for Saturday's marquee matchup with UCLA, Logan Jernigan (7.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 4 K, 1 BB) took the ball against Michigan and extended a personal shutout streak to 15.1 innings. N.C. State did all of its scoring in the first two innings en route to its eighth straight win, 3-0. Note that this game was technically part of the USA Baseball-Irish Classic but was played at NCSU's home park in Raleigh. Saturday's NCSU-UCLA game will take place down the road at the USA complex in Cary.
Yale at (7) Louisiana State: A 10-run first inning propelled the Tigers to a 19-0 rout against Yale, which was playing its first game of the season. Christian Ibarra, Kade Scivicque and Danny Zardon all homered for LSU, while Aaron Nola (6 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 10 K) extended his streak of innings without allowing an earned run to 45, dating back to last year.
Stanford at (8) Vanderbilt: The Commodores halted a two-game losing skid with a 4-1 win behind Tyler Beede (7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 6 K, 3 BB), who's living up to his preseason All-American status in allowing five hits over his first three starts, covering 18 innings. 'Dores sophomore leadoff man Dansby Swanson hit his first career homer in the fifth inning, as eight different VU hitters had one hit apiece.
(13) Cal Poly at Southern California: Not even usually sunny SoCal can escape the bad weather jinx. This game and many others around the state were washed out Friday. The Mustangs and Trojans will wait until Saturday night to open one of the weekend's most intriguing series, then play a doubleheader Sunday.
Michigan State at (18) Mississippi State: A splendid relief outing from Ross Mitchell (6.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R) kept the Bulldogs in it against Michigan State, and after trailing 2-1 most of the night, they rallied for three runs in the bottom of the eighth to win 4-2. Brett Pirtle (2-for-4) and C.T. Bradford (4-for-4) accounted for six of the Bulldogs' eight hits on the night, but it was Daniel Garner's pinch-hit single in the eighth that brought in the go-ahead run. The Bulldog rally spoiled a strong effort from Spartans starter Mick VanVossen (7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 7 K).
(19) UCLA vs Notre Dame: The Bruins opened their weekend at the Irish Classic in Cary, N.C., with a vintage 2-1 win. James Kaprielian (8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 11 K, 2 BB) turned in a gem, carrying a no-hitter into the fifth and setting a career-high for strikeouts, while the UCLA offense managed just two hits but was able to push across an unearned run in the second inning, which proved to be the difference. Bruins closer David Berg ran into some trouble in the ninth, allowing a run on two hits and a walk, but induced a key double play and ended the game by picking a runner off first base.
Toledo at (20) Louisville: The Cardinals took care of Toledo 6-2 in the opening game of their home tournament, which also includes No. 17 Indiana, though the Hoosiers were off Friday. Louisville scored five of its runs in the first three innings Friday, which was more than enough support for Joe Filomeno (6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 5 K, 1 BB). It was the longest career outing for the junior Filomeno, a reliever turned starter.
North Florida at (22) North Carolina: The Tar Heels' offense may not be setting the world on fire in the early going, but they've shown they can certainly, as usual, pitch. Trent Thornton (7.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 6 K, 0 BB) got his first Friday start and led the Heels to a 3-0 win in their series opener at home against North Florida. It was the fifth straight game UNC has held its opponent to two runs or less.
(23) Texas A&M at Fresno State: As with Poly-USC, bad weather nixed the scheduled series opener. Doubleheader Saturday.
South Alabama at (24) Arkansas: Arkansas stayed among the ranks of the unbeaten with a 12-1 blowout win. Left fielder Joe Serrano (4-for-4, 3 2B, 4 RBIs) led the charge as the Razorbacks pounded out 14 hits.