College Roundup: Aces Shine On Opening Day

WILMINGTON, N.C.--Top-ranked Virginia is going to win a lot of games this spring. But it won’t win them all. “We just found out we’re not going to go 56-0 in the regular season,” Cavaliers coach Brian O’Connor said.

Kentucky took it to the Cavs, out-hitting their dangerous lineup 11-5 in an 8-3 win at the Hughes Bros. Challenge at UNC Wilmington. The Wildcats played with passion and energy, and they pounced on Virginia ace Brandon Waddell for four runs in the fourth inning, then added two more in the fifth to chase him and take a commanding 6-1 lead.

Brandon Waddell, Virginia

Brandon Waddell was knocked out in the fifth inning Friday in Virginia’s opener. (Photo by Tony Farlow)

“In all fairness to our kids, we have spent a lot of time emphasizing playing with energy, and what it means, not just the term, but lived the spirit of it,” Kentucky coach Gary Henderson said. “I think they’ve bought in, and it’s just one game, you know that, but I think they’ll carry it with them.”

Kentucky knows it can count on lefthanded hitters Kyle Barrett and Austin Cousino to spark the offense out of the first two spots in the lineup, and A.J. Reed to drive in runs in the cleanup spot, but Henderson said it is critical that his team gets more production out of his righties. No. 3-hole hitter Max Kuhn doubled to each gap during the fourth- and fifth-inning rallies, and Thomas Bernal delivered two hits, two runs and an RBI in the No. 5 hole. In fact, every member of the Kentucky lineup contributed something positive, including freshmen JaVon Shelby and Connor Heady in the bottom two spots of the lineup. Each had an RBI in the fourth.

“That’s really, really encouraging,” Henderson said. “Those are really talented freshmen, but they’re freshmen, and Waddell is really good. So to see them come through, I was really glad to see that.”

Kentucky’s own lefty ace, first-team preseason All-America two-way player Reed, battled through five innings, making big pitches to strand runners in scoring position in four of his frames. He worked in the 87-90 range with his fastball and flashed a sharper curveball than he has in the past, part of a four-pitch mix that was somewhat inconsistent Friday.

“He has an ability to concentrate at a really high level, better than most college kids,” Henderson said. “His ability to concentrate when guys are on base is good. Now we’ve got to get that same level of intensity with nobody on and we’ve got to be able to command the secondary stuff for a longer period of time. It was 50-50 today with the secondary stuff, and he’s got really good secondary stuff. We’ve seen it, it’s been there for a long time, but it just wasn’t there today, and our game’s like that. Some days you just don’t have your best stuff, but I thought his competitiveness, his mound presence, his body language was outstanding.”

All in all, it was a very encouraging day for the Wildcats, who have the front-line talent and balance to make noise in the Southeastern Conference if they can play like this consistently.

In the nightcap, UNC Wilmington scrapped its way to a 5-3 win against Virginia Military Institute. Senior ace lefty Mat Batts fought his way through five innings, allowing three runs but stranding runners at third base in each of his last four frames. The Keydets were just 6-for-22 with runners on base and 0-for-4 with the bases loaded. Corey Dick broke a 3-3 tie with a two-run single in the seventh, and Wilmington’s veteran bullpen nailed down the win, as three relievers combined to work four scoreless frames. William Prince was strong in the ninth, running his fastball up to 95 mph. He threw exclusively fastballs until his final pitch of the game, when he froze Red Dowdell with a 77 mph curveball for strike three.

Let’s touch on some of Friday’s other highlights from around the country, starting with some stellar season debuts from some of college baseball’s best arms.

Dominant Aces

(22) Kansas State at Cal Poly: Matt Imhof (7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 14 K) was overpowering against Kansas State’s elite offense, leading the Mustangs to a 3-0 win. Cal Poly is counting on him to pitch deep into games to keep pressure off its bullpen and the rest of its rotation, which is inexperienced, and he came up big. Kansas State got an encouraging start from Levi MaVorhis (5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K), who got a no-decision. Jimmy Allen’s two-run single highlighted Cal Poly’s three-run sixth.

Luke Weaver

Luke Weaver (Photo by Cliff Welch)

• Niagara at (6) Florida State: First-team preseason All-American Luke Weaver walked the first batter of the game, then retired 18 straight, departing after six innings of no-hit ball, striking out seven. Fellow All-American D.J. Stewart (4-for-5, 2 R, RBI, 2 2B) led FSU’s 15-hit attack in a 13-2 rout.

• Jacksonville at (19) Texas Christian: Second-team preseason All-American Brandon Finnegan (7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 13 K) was utterly dominant in TCU’s 5-0 victory. Finnegan has already eclipsed last season’s win total (he went 0-8 a year ago).

• New Orleans at (9) Louisiana State: Aaron Nola (6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K) was characteristically efficient and dominant in an 81-pitch outing, and two relievers combined with him on a four-hitter as the Tigers won 2-0. Alex Bregman had two hits and an RBI.

• (10) Vanderbilt at Long Beach State: Tyler Beede (5 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K) pounded the strike zone in Vandy’s 5-2 win. Xavier Turner had two RBIs to lead the Vandy offense.

• (3) Indiana at Texas Tech: Will Nolden doubled and scored on Sam Travis’ sacrifice fly in the first inning, giving Indiana all the support it needed in a 1-0 victory. Joey DeNato, Scott Effross and Ryan Halstead combined on a four-hitter.

• Washington State at (4) Cal State Fullerton: Greg Velazquez (3-for-3, 4 RBI) led a balanced 17-hit barrage in support of a dominant Thomas Eshelman (7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K), as the Titans rolled to a 12-0 victory. Phil Bickford worked two hitless innings in his collegiate debut to finish the three-hitter.

Daniel Mengden

Daniel Mengden (Photo by Danny Parker)

• Northeastern at (24) Texas A&M: Daniel Mengden (6 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 11 K) was outstanding in the Aggies’ 10-2 win. Logan Nottebrok and Blake Allemand combined for five hits, five RBIs and four runs to lead the A&M offense.

• Central Michigan at UNLV: In Friday’s best matchup between high-profile 2014 draft prospects, UNLV preseason All-American Erick Fedde (7.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 11 K) was sublime, besting Central Michigan’s Jordan Foley (5.1, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) in the Rebels’ 5-0 win.

• Fresno State at UC Irvine: Jordan Brink is focusing exclusively on pitching after two seasons as a two-way player, and he looks ready to run with Fresno State’s Friday starter job. The junior righthander allowed just one hit in 6.1 shutout innings, walking two and fanning six to lead the Bulldogs to a 2-0 win. Andrew Morales (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K) was excellent in a no-decision for the Anteaters, but Fresno scored twice in the 10th to break the scoreless tie and win Friday’s best pitcher’s duel.

Top 25 Upsets

• Western Carolina at (8) Mississippi State: Winter Storm Pax prevented Hofstra from reaching Starkville and canceled WCU’s originally scheduled home series against Ohio, so WCU arranged a series at MSU on Thursday night, then made the eight-hour trip to Starkville on Friday. The Catamounts proceeded to knock off the Bulldogs 3-2 behind a superb outing from ace Jeremy Null (8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 12 K), the SoCon preseason pitcher of the year. Brandon Woodruff (1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 3 K) was wild for Mississippi State, which got terrific long relief work from Ross Mitchell (8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K)--but what else is new?

• Portland at (12) UCLA: Travis Radke (4.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K) and four relievers combined on a four-hit shutout against injury-ravaged UCLA, as the Pilots pulled off the 1-0 upset. After the game, Bruins coach John Savage told reporters that shortstop Kevin Kramer will miss the entire season with a shoulder injury. He is one of UCLA’s two best players, and the other--outfielder Eric Filia--will also miss the season with his own shoulder injury, the Bruins announced this week. And senior second baseman Kevin Williams will be out at least a month with another injury. Obviously, the Bruins will be very hard-pressed to defend their national title without that crucial trio.

• Eastern Michigan at (13) Clemson: Daniel Gossett (5 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) left with a 3-1 lead, but EMU surged ahead with four runs in the sixth against the Clemson bullpen, then scored an unearned run in the 10th to win 6-5. Adam Sonabend had two RBIs to lead the Eastern Michigan offense.

• Eastern Illinois at (14) Louisiana-Lafayette: Jake Johansmeier (6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 K) handcuffed the Cajuns’ explosive offense, leading Eastern Illinois to a 5-1 upset. Austin Robichaux (5 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K) took the loss.

• (18) Texas at California: Talented freshman Daulton Jefferies (6 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K) was strong in his debut, leading Cal to a 7-0 win against sloppy Texas, which committed five errors, leading to six unearned runs against Parker French. French made two of the errors himself, and UT’s three freshman infielders committed one apiece. Cal leadoff man Derek Campbell went 3-for-4 with two runs to spark the offense.

• Saint Louis at (21) Alabama: Nick Bates (4.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R) earned the win with strong relief work, as the Billikens knocked off the Tide 2-1. A one-hour, 41-minute rain delay shortened the outings for aces Clay Smith and Spencer Turnbull (3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K), who came out sharp.

Other Top 25 Results

• Gonzaga vs. (2) Oregon State: With Ben Wetzler sidelined with eligibility issues, Andrew Moore (6 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) was solid in the Friday starter spot for Oregon State, which overcame a 3-1 deficit in the late innings to win 4-3. Jeff Hendrix had three hits and two RBIs out of the leadoff spot, and Dylan Davis added two hits and two RBIs from the cleanup hole.

• (15) Rice at Stanford: Skyler Ewing (3-for-4, 4 RBI) led an 11-hit attack in support of Jordan Stephens (5 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K), and Matt Ditman (4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 K) was filthy in relief to lead the Owls to a 10-3 rout. Blue-chip freshman Cal Quantrill (4.2 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) started and took the loss for Stanford.

• Maine at (16) Miami: Tyler Palmer (3-for-4, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI) led the Miami offense in support of Chris Diaz (5 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 K), as the Hurricanes beat reigning America East pitcher of the year Tommy Lawrence and Maine, 6-3.

• West Virginia vs. (20) Louisville: Jeff Gardner delivered an RBI double and scored the tying run in the eighth, then hit a walk-off homer in the 10th to lift Louisville to a 7-6 victory. Gardner looks poised for a big year in the middle of Louisville’s lineup.

• Maryland at (23) Florida: Bobby Poyner (5.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K) and two relievers combined on a three-hit shutout, and Taylor Gushue had two RBIs to lead Florida’s offense in a 4-0 win.

• Appalachian State at (25) Arkansas: Jalen Beeks (6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K) handled his move into a starting role with aplomb, as the Hogs cruised to a 12-2 victory. Brian Anderson (3-for-5, 3 RBI) and KrisJon Wilkerson (3-for-5, 2 R, 2 RBI, HR) led Arkansas’ 13-hit attack.