Friday Roundup: Kansas State Clinches First Big 12 Title

No. 19 Kansas State clinched its first-ever Big 12 title, and its first regular-season championship in any conference since 1933, with a thrilling 6-5 win Friday against No. 25 Oklahoma.

The Wildcats trailed 4-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth before rallying back to tie the game against the No. 1 2013 draft prospect, Jonathan Gray (6.1 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 3 K). K-State went ahead with a run in the eighth, and Oklahoma answered with a run in the top of the ninth to tie it, but Tanner Witt walked to lead off the bottom of the ninth, eventually scoring the winning run on a passed ball. Ross Kivett, Jared King and Jon Davis had two hits apiece to lead the K-State offense, while Mitch Meyer had two RBIs.

At 15-7 in the Big 12 (two games ahead of second-place Oklahoma State, which has just one game remaining) and No. 19 in the updated Ratings Percentage Index rankings at WarrenNolan.com, Kansas State is in strong position to host a regional. One more win against the Sooners to finish the season with four straight series wins would just about clinch it for Kansas State, in our estimation. Oklahoma, meanwhile, is playing for its postseason life thanks to an RPI ranking of No. 58.

Plenty of other teams clinched conference titles Friday. Here’s a look at the day’s action, and how it affected the postseason picture.

Top 25 Showdowns

• (24) Mississippi at (2) Louisiana State: On the night LSU’s baseball facility was renamed “Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field,” the Tigers did something Bertman’s LSU teams never did. Raph Rhymes blasted a two-run homer in the eighth inning to propel the Tigers to a 5-4 win against Mississippi, giving LSU its school-record 48th regular-season victory and its school-record 23rd SEC win. Kurt McCune (4 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K) was solid in place of a resting Aaron Nola. The Tigers chased Sam Smith (3.1 IP, 4 H, 2 ER) in a two-run fourth, but Ole Miss rallied  from behind to take the lead in the top of the eighth, only to lose on Rhymes’ homer. If Ole Miss fans harbored any lingering hope that the Rebels could sneak into a regional hosting spot, they have now been dashed.

• (7) Virginia at (3) North Carolina: The Tar Heels stormed back from a 5-2 deficit with six runs in the eighth to win 8-5, clinching their first ACC regular-season title since 1990. Virginia entered the game 37-0 when leading after seven innings, but UNC rallied back against heretofore dominant closer Kyle Crockett (0.2 IP, 3 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, who threw 33 pitches over two scoreless innings Thursday. Michael Russell (4-for-4, 2 R, RBI) and Mike Zolk (2-for-4, 4 RBI) hit back-to-back triples (driving in a combined three runs) to highlight the eighth-inning rally. Derek Fisher went 4-for-4 in a losing cause, while Mike Papi and Brandon Downes each homered.

• (17) Clemson at (9) Florida State: Marcus Davis put Florida State ahead with a two-run single in the first, and that proved enough support for Luke Weaver (7.1 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K) and the FSU bullpen, as the Seminoles evened the series with a 2-1 win. Matthew Crownover (4.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K) took the loss for Clemson, which got stellar relief work from Clate Schmidt (3.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K). The ‘Noles can clinch the ACC Atlantic Division outright with a win Saturday, and we think that would be enough to just about sew up a national seed for the ‘Noles, giving them back-to-back series wins against NCSU and Clemson. The Tigers can still win the division with a win Saturday coupled with an N.C. State loss.

• (6) Oregon State at (10) Oregon: Tommy Thorpe (8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K) was masterful in Oregon’s 3-0 win, moving the Ducks into a tie with the Beavers atop the Pac-12 standings at 20-5. Thorpe allowed just a pair of infield singles in the second and third innings, and Jimmie Sherfy fanned two in a scoreless ninth to pick up his 20th save, completing the two-hit shutout. Matt Boyd (8 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 K) was strong in a losing cause, keeping the Ducks off the board after they scored three runs over the first two innings. But that proved enough support for Thorpe.

• (21) Pittsburgh at (12) Louisville: The Cardinals clinched their fourth Big East regular-season championship in the last five years with a 12-4 win against Pittsburgh. Jeff Gardner (2-for-4, 2 R, 4 RBI) hit two home runs, including a three-run shot to highlight Louisville’s six-run third inning against Matt Wotherspoon (4.2 IP, 8 H, 10 ER). Jeff Thompson (7 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 7 K) improved to 10-1 for the Cardinals, who own the nation’s longest active winning streak at 15 games—the second longest in school history, trailing only a 20-game streak in 1950. We’ve been saying for weeks that we think Louisville will host a regional if it wins the Big East regular-season title; the Cardinals are up to No. 16 in the updated Warren Nolan RPI rankings, and their red-hot finish will look great to the committee. They’ll host—count on it.

• (14) South Carolina at (24) Mississippi State: Grayson Greiner (3-for-4, 2 R, 2 RBI) hit a tie-breaking two-run homer in the top of the 10th to lift the Gamecocks to a 5-3 win, leveling the series and clinching the No. 4 seed (and a bye into the double-elimination portion) in the SEC tournament for South Carolina. Jordan Montgomery (7 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) was strong in a no-decision for South Carolina, which answered MSU’s two-run seventh with a run in the eighth to tie it. Mississippi State had been 35-0 when leading after seven innings this year. Alex Detz (4-for-4, 2B) led the Mississippi State offense, and Kendall Graveman (6.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) was strong in a no-decision. Whichever team wins Saturday’s rubber game should feel great about its chances to host a regional, and the Gamecocks have a very good chance to host even if they lose. We don’t like MSU’s hosting chances if it loses Saturday to finish .500 (15-15) in the SEC, and with seven series losses overall.

Top 25 Upsets

• Alabama at (1) Vanderbilt: The Crimson Tide leveled the series with a 5-4 win in 10 innings. Freshman Mikey White (3-for-5, 2 R, RBI) singled to lead off the Alabama 10th, and fellow freshman Georgie Salem singled him home four batters later, as the Tide handed Vandy closer Brian Miller (1.2 IP, 2 H, 1 ER) his first loss of the season. Spencer Turnbull (5.1 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 3 K) and Kevin Ziomek (5 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 10 K) were solid in no-decisions, though neither was particularly efficient. Alabama improved to 14-14 in the SEC, giving its at-large resume a huge boost. We say the Tide will make a regional. The Commodores (25-3) get one more game to try to break the record for most SEC victories in a season.

• Arizona at (13) Arizona State: Brandon Dixon (2-for-4, 2 R, 4 RBI) led Arizona’s 13-hit attack against Trevor Williams (6 IP, 12 H, 10 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) and the Sun Devils, as the Wildcats won the series opener 10-7. ASU rallied from behind with three runs in the eighth to make things interesting, but Mathew Troupe got Nathaniel Causey to fly out with the bases loaded to end the threat, as center fielder Johnny Field made a game-saving diving catch.

• Troy at (18) South Alabama: Danny Collins (5-for-5, 3 R, 3 RBI, 2B, HR) and Logan Pierce (3-for-4, 3 R, 2 RBI, 2 2B, HR) spearheaded Troy’s 16-hit attack behind Shane McClain (5.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 6 K), leading the Trojans to a series-leveling 8-3 win. Troy broke a 3-3 tie with two runs in the seventh against Dylan Stamey (1.2 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 2 ER).

Other Top 25 Results

• UC Irvine at (4) Cal State Fullerton: Michael Lorenzen broke up a no-hit bid by Andrew Thurman (6.2 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 5 BB, 8 K) with a seventh-inning single, sparking a five-run rally that propelled the Titans to a 5-2 win. Lorenzen (1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K) also recorded five outs to pick up his 17th save, pumping 96-98 mph heat in the eighth inning and working at 94-95 in the ninth. Thomas Eshelman (7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 7 K) improved to 10-2, 1.51 with a 66-2 K-BB mark in 96 innings this year. More on Eshelman and the Titans later this weekend or Monday.

• (5) North Carolina State at Duke: Bryan Adametz (2-for-5, 2 R) led off the 10th with an infield single and eventually scored the winning run on a wild pitch, as the Wolfpack clinched the series with a 7-6 win. Carlos Rodon (9 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 15 K) labored early but was dominant in his last four innings of work, striking out nine of the last 12 hitters he faced while holding the Blue Devils hitless and scoreless. With the win, the Wolfpack moved to 18-10 in the ACC, a half-game behind Florida State but a half-game ahead of Clemson. If N.C. State wins Saturday while Clemson beats FSU, the ‘Pack wins the ACC Atlantic.

• (8) UCLA at Southern California: The Bruins scratched out an unearned run in the ninth to win the series opener 2-1. Adam Plutko (6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 K) was strong in a no-decision for the Bruins, who got three hitless innings of relief from James Kaprielian, Zack Weiss and David Berg. UCLA moved within two games of first place Oregon State and Oregon in the Pac-12.

• (11) Arkansas at Auburn: The Razorbacks leveled the series and clinched the No. 3 seed in the SEC tournament with a 1-0 win behind Ryne Stanek (7.2 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 4 K), who lowered his ERA in SEC action to 0.97. Dominic Ficociello provided all the scoring with an RBI single in the third against Michael O’Neal (7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER). Saturday’s rubber game is huge for both teams; the Tigers need it to feel good about their at-large chances heading into the SEC tournament, while the Hogs need it to boost their hosting resume, which is tarnished by a No. 46 ranking in the updated Warren Nolan RPI.

• (15) Indiana at Ohio State: The Hoosiers evened the series with a 7-2 win in 10 innings, clinching at least a share of their first Big 10 title in 64 years. Indiana rallied for two runs in the ninth to tie the game against Ohio State closer Trace Dempsey, who carried a 0.28 ERA and 17 saves into the contest. IU scored the go-ahead run in the 10th after executing a perfect hit-and-run and safety squeeze, and Nick Ramos (who tied the game with a sacrifice fly in the ninth) punctuated the rally later in the frame with a grand slam. Indiana leads the Big Ten by a game over Ohio State heading into Saturday’s rubber game, and the Hoosiers can win their first outright conference title since 1932 with another victory.

• (16) New Mexico at San Diego State: Luke Campbell’s two-run homer in the seventh broke a scoreless tie, and Sam Wolff (6.1 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K) turned in another excellent start, leading the Lobos to a 3-1 win. New Mexico has now won all 10 Mountain West series it has played this year.

• West Virginia at (20) Oklahoma State: Tyler Nurdin (9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K) threw his second career shutout to lead Oklahoma State to a series-clinching 5-0 win. The Cowboys did all of their scoring in a five-run fifth, recording all four of their hits in that inning. WVU committed two of its four errors in the frame. Oklahoma State is assured of finishing no worse than third in the Big 12 and is just one win shy of its first 40-win campaign since 2008. At No. 27 in the RPI, the Cowboys are a secure at-large team—one of only two such teams in the Big 12.

• Wake Forest at (22) Virginia Tech: Andrew Rash bashed a go-ahead three-run homer in the eighth to power the Hokies to a series-clinching 5-3 win. Devin Burke (6.2 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 7 K) was solid in a no-decision for Virginia Tech, which got a combined five hits and four runs out of Chad Pinder and Mark Zagunis.

Other Highlights

• Miami clinched a huge series against Georgia Tech with an 11-7 win. The Hurricanes improved to 14-15 in the ACC and No. 17 in the RPI, and they appear safe for an at-large bid. The Yellow Jackets (14-15 in the conference, No. 22 in the RPI) should also be safe, despite their maddening, baffling inconsistency.

• Mercer clinched at least a share of the Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season title with a 9-5 win at Northern Kentucky. North Florida and Florida Gulf Coast also won to remain a game back of the Bears. The Ospreys are No. 51 in the RPI, keeping their at-large alive.

• Despite its stellar Big East campaign and its first 40-win mark in school history, Pittsburgh’s at-large hopes could be in jeopardy because of its No. 65 RPI. But fellow Big East at-large-contenders Seton Hall, South Florida and Notre Dame all won Friday. The Pirates are just about a lock for an at-large spot at No. 36 in the RPI and 17-6 in the league. South Florida (No. 53, 17-6) is on the bubble, and Notre Dame (No. 43, 10-13) needs a run in the conference tournament to offset its poor stretch run and sixth- or seventh-place finish in the conference standings. Saturday’s games are must-wins for the Bulls and Irish.

• Rice moved into a tie for first place in Conference USA with a 13-0 shellacking of Marshall (and potential first-rounder Aaron Blair) combined with Southern Mississippi’s 7-5 loss to Houston. The top six teams in C-USA are separated by just a game heading into the season’s final day. Good luck sorting out tie-breaker scenarios for C-USA tournament seeding—we’ll just wait for the dust to settle. Of note: Houston has managed to resuscitate its at-large hopes with three straight series wins (at Tulane, vs UAB, vs. Southern Miss) to end the regular season. The Cougars are now. No. 54 in the RPI, and 13-10 in C-USA—not exactly sitting pretty, but alive. The Owls (No. 48 in the RPI and 14-9 in C-USA) are in slightly better position, but a Conference USA title would be a huge boost to a Rice resume that does not feature a single win against a top 50 team (0-4).

• Illinois State remained a half-game ahead of Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference after the Redbirds got a four-hit shutout from Dan Savas to beat Southern Illinois, 2-0. Neither team has an at-large-caliber RPI, however.

• Tennessee Tech clinched its eighth Ohio Valley Conference regular-season title with a 14-6 win against Belmont. The Golden Eagles tied the school record for wins in a season (39) and broke the OVC record for league wins in a season (24). Tennessee Tech will be favored to win the OVC tournament, but its No. 82 RPI keeps it from being an at-large contender. Austin Peay State is 2.5 games behind TTU in the standings, but its No. 31 RPI gives it a strong chance at an at-large spot, giving the OVC a real shot at sending two-teams to regionals.

• Top-seeded Jackson State advanced to the championship round of the SWAC tournament with a 7-4 win against Texas Southern. The winner of Saturday’s Alabama State-Prairie View A&M elimination game will face Jackson State in Sunday’s title game, with a trip to regionals at stake.

• Friday was a mixed bag for SEC bubble teams. Texas A&M clinched its do-or-die road series at Tennessee with an 8-4 win, but Florida lost to Georgia 3-1, and Kentucky dropped a 4-3 decision at Missouri. The Gators are still in solid at-large shape but could use another win Saturday to shore up their credentials. Kentucky dropped the first two games of its must-win series at Missouri, dropping it to 10-19 in the SEC. Even a deep run in the SEC tournament might not save the Wildcats at this point; their at-large chances look shot. The Aggies stand to benefit from Kentucky’s implosion. If A&M can complete the sweep Saturday to get to 14-15 in the conference, they stand a solid chance to grab a ninth regional bid out of the SEC.

• Sam Houston State clinched its second straight outright Southland Conference title with a 4-0 win against Central Arkansas. Cody Dickson (9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 10 K) was brilliant for the Bearkats, who have won 13 of their last 14 and vaulted four more spots up to No. 44 in the RPI with Friday’s win. We already liked SHSU’s at-large prospects, but now they are looking very rosy.