Strike One: Seminoles, State Get Wins They Needed
Florida State entered this final weekend of the regular season needing wins, but it certainly wasn’t going to come easy. The Seminoles had to face the No. 2 Cardinals and in Louisville, where the Cards were 29-2 entering Thursday. Tougher still, FSU would go up against ace lefthander Brendan McKay.
Thursday’s game didn’t begin well for Florida State, as it found itself down 3-1 and then 6-3 to McKay after three-run homers by Josh Stowers and Drew Ellis.
But the lefthander was uncommonly wild with four walks in five innings and the Seminoles capitalized, scoring four times in the fifth for a 7-6 lead they wouldn’t relinquish en route to a 12-9 win that bolsters their shot at a regional berth.
Senior Quincy Nieporte, who drove in five runs, had a two-run double in that inning, while junior Dylan Busby was 4-for-5 with a homer and two RBIs for the winners. The Seminoles' Nos. 1-5 hitters were 12-for-22 with two homers, 10 RBIs and 11 runs, and the seven runs allowed were a career worst for McKay.
"Any win in the league is important, and that’s a good win for us," coach Mike Martin told seminoles.com. "You’re in an environment like this, it’s quite a challenge, but our guys lived up to it."
The Cardinals had a shot to tie it in the ninth but Stowers popped out to end it.
Nieporte is 8-for-9 over the past two games after going 5-for-5 in the home finale against Wake Forest on Sunday. The senior’s batting average is up to .303.
Meanwhile, in Raleigh, N.C., both No. 14 Clemson and host North Carolina State needed victories for different reasons. The Tigers were coming off being swept in back-to-back weekends by North Carolina and Louisville, while the Wolfpack is on the NCAA bubble despite winning 11 of its past 12 and seven straight in the ACC.
Those trends continued as junior Joe Dunand scored on a wild pitch in the eighth to break a 2-2 tie and send the Wolfpack to the 3-2 win.
“I told the guys that I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve been a part of a lot of great games over the years and that was one of the best games I’ve ever been in,” coach Elliott Avent told gopack.com. “It was really intense on both sides with a lot of emotion shown by both teams. That’s what college athletics is all about and I thought both teams laid everything out on the field and I’m fortunate we got the win tonight.”
Clemson got homers from Weston Jackson and Seth Beer, but Dunand doubled in the eighth and went to third on a groundout before scoring on the wild pitch with two outs. The N.C. State bullpen threw five scoreless innings in relief of redshirt senior Johnny Piedmonte, who allowed four hits and two runs in four frames.
Strike Two: Kentucky, LSU Road Warriors
As Teddy Cahill wrote in Weekend Preview, there is plenty on the line this weekend in the Southeastern Conference.
No. 8 Kentucky headed to Gainesville just a game back of No. 5 Florida in the SEC East, but facing prohibitive first-rounder Alex Faedo. It was a matchup of the SEC’s best-hitting club against the man leading the conference in strikeouts. On Friday, the bats won out.
The Wildcats hit Faedo hard for season highs in hits (13) and earned runs (seven) on their way to a 12-4 win. The win left UK, the Gators and Louisiana State all at 19-9 in the SEC with two games left.
Sophomore Tristan Pompey’s grand slam—all nine of his homers have come in conference–in the fourth helped Kentucky overcome a 3-0 deficit and juniors Evan White and Riley Mahan each had three hits as UK rapped out 20 in total. No. 8 hitter Marcus Carson, who led off earlier in the season, had three hits and scored three times.
"It definitely made a more balanced lineup," the senior told ukathletics.com of his move down in the order. "(Hitters) Six, seven, eight and nine, we kind of talk about we're a 'Murderer's Row' back there and whenever we're all on, then it's fun. Then the leadoff and all of those guys get pressure taken off of them."
"The strength of our team is our team," coach Nick Mingione told the website. "The definition of a good offense is your ability to score runs when you're not hitting. It doesn't matter what inning you get your big inning, it can be in the first or the ninth."
Meanwhile, LSU kept pace with Kentucky and Florida and extended its SEC West lead by beating Mississippi State 3-1 behind Alex Lange. The junior righthander struck out 11 in seven innings and allowed just a run on six hits, although he walked five.
"It was a tremendous victory for the Tigers tonight," LSU coach Paul Mainieri told lsusports.net. "The stage was set with Alex Lange against Konnor Pilkington. I thought our guys did a tremendous job against Pilkington. We hit the ball so hard and forced him to throw a lot of pitches but didn’t have a lot to show for it. We hit so many balls right at people, and they made some terrific plays.
Ryan Gridley homered in the first for the Bulldogs, but LSU took a 2-1 lead in the fourth as third baseman Josh Smith had a sacrifice fly and center fielder Zach Watson hit an RBI single.
Despite Thursday’s loss, Florida can win its first conference title since 2014 by winning the series against UK, as it holds the head-to-head tiebreaker against LSU. Kentucky also holds the head-to-head tie breaker against LSU, leaving the Tigers in need of a sweep to win their second conference championship in three years. Kentucky would win its first SEC title since 2006 with a sweep, or a series win and an LSU series win.
Strike Three: Thrilling AACtion
Merrell ends up at third on a throwing error following the hit. Jordan Scheftz now pitching. pic.twitter.com/5yzRjlXno0
— USF Baseball (@USFBaseball) May 19, 2017
All season, the American Athletic Conference has been a model of parity, and that continued into the final weekend with a three-way tie for first between No. 25 South Florida (39-13, 13-8), Central Florida (36-17, 13-8) and Houston (34-18, 13-8).
South Florida and UCF met up Thursday in Orlando and South Florida came out on top, winning 7-4 in 11 innings as shortstop Kevin Merrell’s double—paired with an error—cleared the bases. The victory was the Bulls’ 40th of the season, the first time they have reached that milestone since 1996.
Meanwhile, in Houston, Cincinnati upset UH, 8-6, in 10 innings. Houston’s loss means the winner of the War on I-4 will be AAC champions, as both South Florida and UCF hold the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Cougars.
Newsmakers from Thursday’s action
— TCU Baseball (@TCU_Baseball) May 19, 2017
Jared Janczak, rhp, TCU. The sophomore ace returned to the mound Thursday at California after missing about a month with right shoulder soreness. Janczak was eased back in, pitching three innings, but did not look rusty, striking out four of the nine batters he faced.
Duke: The Blue Devils clinched a spot in the ACC tournament by knocking off rival and No. 3 North Carolina 8-4 at Boshamer Stadium. Sophomore Jimmy Herron and graduate student Jalen Phillips combined for seven hits.
Keegan Thompson, rhp, Auburn: It’s possible a weather delay was all that stood between the redshirt junior and a no-hitter. Thompson pitched six no-hit innings against Ole Miss before a weather delay halted the game and his no-hit bid. Cole Lipscomb followed Thompson and kept the no-hit bid alive until eighth. Thompson struck out eight and walked two and Auburn went on to a 4-1 win.
Casey Mize, rhp, Auburn: Meanwhile, Auburn coach Butch Thompson said sophomore righthander Casey Mize “didn’t feel right” today and will not start Friday, and in fact is doubtful for the weekend. Mize had talked of arm fatigue last month in sitting out a weekend series against Arkansas.
Penn State: Teddy Cahill wrote about the wild Big Ten Conference in Weekend Preview and that held true Thursday. Penn State, the only school eliminated from conference tournament contention, beat No. 22 Nebraska 8-7 in walk-off fashion on Nick Riotto’s two-out RBI double. The loss was a blow to Nebraska’s hopes for its first-ever Big Ten title.
Andrew Crane, rhp, Troy. The redshirt junior pitched three shutout innings Thursday against South Alabama to extend his consecutive scoreless inning streak to 39.2. He is 7.1 innings from the most in the NCAA since the transition to aluminum bats.