Strike One: Florida, LSU Finish Atop SEC Standings
Florida and Louisiana State came into the season as the favorites to win the Southeastern Conference's East and West divisions. And, after big series wins on the final weekend of the regular season, that is just where both teams finished the season.
No. 5 Florida defeated No. 8 Kentucky, 6-4, and No. 10 LSU defeated No. 11 Mississippi State, 11-7, on Saturday to finish with identical 21-9 SEC records. Both won their divisions and have positioned themselves to be national seeds in the NCAA Tournament. By virtue of their series win against the Tigers, the Gators will be the No. 1 seed in next week's SEC Tournament. The title is Florida's first since 2014 and fourth in 10 years under coach Kevin O'Sullivan. LSU has won 17 SEC titles and two in three years.
Florida (40-15) wrapped up its championship early in the day. After falling behind 2-0 after three innings, the Gators' offense broke through in the fourth against righthander Justin Lewis. After Daulton Guthrie led off the inning with an infield single and J.J. Schwarz followed with a double, Nelson Maldonado drove an opposite field home run just inside the right field foul pole to give Florida the lead.
The Gators wouldn't relinquish it the rest of the day. They added three more runs over the next two innings, giving their pitching staff enough cushion. Righthander Jackson Kowar (10-0, 3.84) held Kentucky to two runs in 6.1 innings to earn the victory, while three relievers combined to get the final eight outs.
The victory did come with a price, however. Guthrie sprained his ankle while legging out his infield single in the fourth and will miss the SEC Tournament. Coach Kevin O'Sullivan said they hope to have Guthrie back in time for regionals.
LSU's finale in Starkville was delayed by rain Saturday, but the Tigers (39-17) made the wait worth it. Their offense continued to roll, scoring 11 runs for the second straight day. LSU piled up 14 hits and 10 walks, led by Cole Freeman (3-for-3, 2B, 2 BB) and Greg Deichmann (2-for-3, 3 BB).
LSU swept its final two SEC series of the season and has won 11 of its last 12 conference games.
Mississippi State (34-22, 17-13), meanwhile, has lost five straight SEC series. Its RPI fell to No. 30 and it finishes the season third in the SEC West, behind Arkansas. Its poor finish to the season will likely cost it a chance to host a regional. Kentucky (38-18, 19-11) is still in good shape to host a regional, but its national seed hopes took a hit this weekend, despite its No. 7 RPI.
Strike Two: Texas Tech Wins Back-to-Back Big 12 Titles
-- Texas Tech Baseball (@TTU_Baseball) May 21, 2017
While on its finals break last weekend, Texas Tech could only watch while Texas Christian attempted to clinch the Big 12 Conference regular-season championship with a series win at Oklahoma. The Horned Frogs nearly did so, winning the series opener before suffering back-to-back walk-off losses in Norman.
Those two losses gave No. 4 Texas Tech all the opportunity it needed. It went into this weekend's series against Kansas needing a sweep at home to win its second straight Big 12 title. The Red Raiders did just that, finishing off the sweep with a 9-4 victory Saturday.
Texas Tech (42-13) and TCU (39-14) finished the season with identical 16-8 Big 12 records, but by virtue of their series win against the Horned Frogs, the Red Raiders hoisted the trophy Saturday. It is the first time they have won back-to-back regular-season titles. The Red Raiders have likely also assured themselves of a national seed for the second year in a row.
Texas Tech got its offense started early Saturday and held a 5-0 lead by the end of the third inning. Left fielder Grant Little led the Red Raiders' offense, going 3-for-5 with three doubles. Shortstop Orlando Garcia and second baseman Brian Klein added two hits each.
Kansas (29-26, 11-13) went into the weekend on the NCAA Tournament bubble, but was unable to get what would have been a key road win in Lubbock. It marked the first time this season the Jayhawks were swept in Big 12 paly. With an RPI of 59, Kansas will go to next week's Big 12 Tournament needing to make a run to reach regionals.
Strike Three: Gonzaga Claims WCC Title Share
-- WestCoastConference (@WCCsports) May 21, 2017
Gonzaga went into the weekend needing to sweep Brigham Young to tie the Cougars for first place in the West Coast Conference. It was a difficult task, as BYU had won seven straight series and hadn't been swept all season.
But Gonzaga capitalized on its home-field advantage and completed the sweep with a 6-2 victory Saturday. The victory gave the Bulldogs (31-17, 20-7) a share of the WCC title for the second year in a row. Last year, Gonzaga was a part of a three-way tie atop the WCC. If Loyola Marymount (36-16, 19-7) defeats last-place Portland on Sunday, the WCC championship will again be split three ways.
Gonzaga kept BYU's high-powered offense in check all weekend, holding the Cougars to a total of eight runs. In the finale, the Bulldogs got a solid start from righthander Daniel Bies (5.2 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 5 K) and an excellent relief outing from closer Wyatt Mills. The senior threw 3.2 scoreless innings to close out the victory and earn his 11th save of the season. Neither Bies nor Mills issued a walk in the game.
The sweep pushed Gonzaga onto the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. Its RPI has risen to 52 this week, giving it a chance to earn an at-large bid should it falter in next week's WCC Tournament. BYU (33-18, 20-7), meanwhile, tumbled to No. 77 and will need to win the conference tournament to advance to regionals.
Newsmakers from Saturday’s action
Scott Hurst, of, Cal State Fullerton: Hurst exploded at the plate for four home runs in a 16-7 victory against Cal State Northridge. The junior became just the second player in the country this spring to homer four times in a game, joining Louisville's Brendan McKay. Hurst went 5-for-5 with a double, six runs and seven RBIs. He is now hitting .341/.427/.595 with 10 home runs, all team bests.
Jake Thompson, rhp, Oregon State: Thompson continued his remarkable season with a two-hit shutout against Washington State to lead No. 1 Oregon State to a 5-0 victory. The junior threw the first complete game of his career and improved to 12-0, 1.01 this season, becoming the nation's first 12-game winner this season. Thompson is now two victories shy of matching the program's single-season record.
Casey Kulina, lhp, Jacksonville: Kulina (5-1, 2.37) threw a four-hit shutout to lead Jacksonville to a 4-0 victory against North Florida, clinching Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season title and the series against their crosstown rivals. The redshirt senior struck out five batters and scattered four hits and four walks as North Florida was shut out for the first time this season.
Josh Hassell, of, Holy Cross: Hassell (4-for-6, 2 RBIs) helped Holy Cross defeat Bucknell, 11-7, in the second game of the Patriot League championship series to clinch the Crusaders' first-ever Patriot League Tournament title and first NCAA Tournament berth since 1978. Hassell is hitting .291/.379/.386 this season.
Demetrius Sims, ss, Bethune-Cookman: Sims (3-for-4, 2B, 3 R) led Bethune-Cookman's offense in a 11-1 victory against Norfolk State in the championship game of the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference Tournament. The Wildcats have won back-to-back MEAC Tournament titles and three in the last four years.
Jake Meyers, lhp, Nebraska: With the Big Ten Conference title on the line, Meyers delivered on the mound and at the plate as Nebraska routed Penn State, 21-3, to clinch its first championship since joining the league in 2012. Meyers threw six scoreless innings, holding the Nittany Lions to one hit, and helped his own cause by drawing three walks and scoring two runs.
Mitchell Rogers, 1b, McNeese State: Rogers went 4-for-4 and homered twice to help McNeese State to a 16-6 rout against Lamar. It was the second two-homer game of the season for the junior, who is hitting .297/.347/.532 with nine home runs.
Wade Bailey, 2b, Georgia Tech: Bailey went 5-for-6 with a home run, but it wasn't quite enough for Georgia Tech, which lost, 10-9, to No. 12 Virginia. Bailey extended his hitting streak to 15 games and is now hitting .347/.420/.542 with six home runs this season.
Kirk Morgan, rhp, East Carolina: Morgan threw eight scoreless innings to help East Carolina defeat Connecticut, 3-0. The senior held the Huskies to two hits, walked none and struck out five to improve to 3-0, 1.82.
|How the Top 25 Fared|
|(1) Oregon State: won, 5-0, vs. Washington State|
|(2) Louisville: cancelled vs. Florida State|
|(3) North Carolina: won, 9-7, vs. Duke|
|(4) Texas Tech: won, 9-4, vs. Kansas|
|(5) Florida: won, 6-4, vs. (8) Kentucky|
|(6) Texas Christian: lost, 8-3, at California|
|(7) Long Beach State: won, 8-4, vs. Hawaii|
|(8) Kentucky: lost, 6-4, at (5) Florida|
|(9) Stanford: won, 7-5, vs. Washington|
|(10) Louisiana State: won, 11-7, at (11) Mississippi State|
|(11) Mississippi State: lost, 11-7, vs. (10) Louisiana State|
|(12) Virginia: won, 10-9, at Georgia Tech|
|(13) Cal State Fullerton: won, 16-7, at Cal State Northridge|
|(14) Clemson: won, 15-6, at North Carolina State|
|(15) Wake Forest: won, 14-4, vs. Pittsburgh|
|(16) Arkansas: won, 8-0, at (23) Texas A&M|
|(17) Arizona: won, 9-5, at Arizona State|
|(18) Southern Mississippi: off|
|(19) Michigan: won, 2-1, in 10 innings at Michigan State|
|(20) Oklahoma: swept in DH vs. Oklahoma State in Oklahoma City, lost 9-7 and 5-2|
|(21) St. John's: lost, 9-6, vs. Villanova|
|(22) Nebraska: won, 21-3, at Penn State|
|(23) Texas A&M: lost, 8-0, vs. (16) Arkansas|
|(24) Auburn: lost, 8-4, vs. Mississippi|
|(25) South Florida: lost, 3-2, at Central Florida|