Saturday Roundup: Louisville, Vanderbilt Among Strong Finishers

Vanderbilt set a new record for Southeastern Conference wins in a season Saturday, beating Alabama 14-10 to clinch the series and finish 26-3 in SEC play. The previous record was set by South Carolina in 2000 (25-5). The top-ranked Commodores are 48-7 overall, and they have won 18 consecutive weekend series dating back to last April. When the dust settles, this Vandy campaign might go down as the most remarkable regular-season accomplishment of the 64-team era to date.

Tim Corbin

Tim Corbin (photo by Larry Goren)

“You don’t start out a season thinking that that’s going to happen, but at the same time, it’s just a mix of continuous practices and attitudes and consistency,” Vandy coach Tim Corbin told reporters afterward. “I’m just proud of them. They’ll enjoy it for the next 24 hours or so, and maybe something that they can talk about years from now. But it’s quite a feat—it is quite a feat. You sit back and look at it, and it just means playing a lot of good baseball on the road, finishing up series when it’s so difficult to do so in a conference that’s very difficult to play in. That’s the kids and that’s the staff. I’m proud of them all.”

Eight Commodores recorded hits as part of a balanced nine-hit attack Saturday, and Conrad Gregor led the offense with two runs and three RBIs. Tyler Beede (3.2 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 K) saw his remarkable streak of victories in 14 consecutive starts end Saturday, but Steven Rice (2.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R) continued to contribute valuable innings out of the bullpen, earning the win.

We’ll have a full Stock Report on Tuesday, but Saturday’s results did bring the postseason picture into more focus. Here are our current picks for national seeds and regional hosts, keeping in mind that the last week could still shift things.

National seeds: Vanderbilt, North Carolina, Louisiana State, Virginia, Florida State, Oregon State, Cal State Fullerton, Oregon.

Eight other hosts: Louisville, Indiana, North Carolina State, Clemson, UCLA, Kansas State, Mississippi State, South Carolina.

On to Saturday’s highlights, including an analysis of how the day’s big games impacted postseason positioning.

Top 25 Showdowns

• (24) Mississippi at (2) Louisiana State: The Tigers rested all of their regulars Saturday (although Raph Rhymes and Mason Katz logged one at-bat apiece), and the backups took a five-run lead with seven runs in the second, but Ole Miss rallied back and took the lead for good with five in the seventh, en route to an 11-9 win. Ryan Eades (4 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 2 K) was lackluster in a no-decision for the Tigers, while Rebels ace Bobby Wahl (2.2 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 K) was knocked around. Preston Overbey (2-for-4, 2 R, 5 RBI) hit two of Mississippi’s four home runs in the game to lead a 14-hit attack. The Rebels finished 15-15 in the SEC to earn the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament; they’ll face No. 11 Kentucky in Tuesday’s single-elimination round. Second-seeded LSU awaits the Auburn/Alabama winner.

• (7) Virginia at (3) North Carolina: The Cavs won an intense, back-and-forth game 8-7 in 11 innings to clinch the series and cement their national seed credentials. The teams finished in a virtual tie atop the ACC standings, but UNC won the ACC Coastal Division by percentage points (.750 to .733) to earn the top seed in the conference tournament. Hobbs Johnson (7.1 IP, 2 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 K) carried a one-hitter into the eighth, when Virginia chased him and took a 4-1 lead. The Tar Heels answered with two in the eighth and another in the ninth to force extra innings. Virginia scored four in the top of the 11th, and UNC answered with three in the bottom of the frame, but Skye Bolt flew out to the wall in left field with one out, and pinch-runner Michael Massardo was doubled off first base to give the game a bizarre ending. Both bullpens showed leaks in this series, but these are also two of college baseball’s best offenses. Brandon Downes and John LaPrise had two RBIs apiece for Virginia, while Colin Moran (4-for-5, R, 3 RBI) led the UNC offense.

Mike Martin

Mike Martin

• (17) Clemson at (9) Florida State: The Seminoles clinched their seventh straight Atlantic Division title with a 6-1 win, giving them their first series win against Clemson since 2009. Nine Seminoles recorded hits as part of a balanced 13-hit attack in support of Brandon Leibrandt (5 IP, 9 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K), and Billy Strode (4 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K) was outstanding in relief to pick up his first save. With back-to-back series wins against N.C. State and Clemson to end the regular season, Florida State effectively sewed up a national seed, in our view. Pretty remarkable considering all the losses to the draft, graduation and injury that Florida State sustained from last year. FSU’s Mike Martin was the BA Coach of the Year in 2012, but this might be his best coaching job yet. He just gets better with age.

• (6) Oregon State at (10) Oregon: Andrew Moore (9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 K) threw his second shutout of the year and improved to 11-1, and the Beavers broke open a close game in the late innings to even the series with a 9-0 win. Moore won the battle of stellar freshmen against Cole Irvin (7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K). Andy Peterson (4-for-5, 2 R, 2 RBI) led Oregon State’s 12-hit attack, and the Beavers got solo homers from Michael Conforto and Ryan Barnes. OSU regained sole possession of first place by a game over Oregon. Sunday’s rubber game is particularly important for Oregon, which could find itself pushed out of national seed position if it loses its fifth series of the year (Louisville and Indiana look like the strongest challengers, with South Carolina also in the mix). But if the Ducks win Sunday, we like the chances for the Beavers and Ducks to each earn national seeds.

• (21) Pittsburgh at (12) Louisville: The Cardinals completed the sweep with a 7-4 win, giving them the Big East regular-season title outright. Louisville has won 16 straight games and matched the school record for regular-season victories (46) set in 2010. Jeff Gardner’s two-run triple highlighted Louisville’s five-run third in support of Dace Kime (4.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 K), and four UofL relievers worked a combined 5.1 innings of four-hit relief to preserve the victory. The Cardinals (up to No. 13 in the updated Warren Nolan RPI rankings) have put themselves in the thick of the national seed race; if Oregon loses Sunday, we’ll move Louisville into national seed position in Tuesday’s Stock Report. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is in trouble at No. 64 in the RPI. The Panthers needed a series win to firm up their at-large credentials, and instead they got swept, pushing them out of at-large position.

• (14) South Carolina at (24) Mississippi State: Demarcus Henderson (3-for-3, 2 R, 2 RBI) led MSU’s 11-hit attack, and the Bulldogs got solid pitching from Jacob Lindgren (4.1 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) and Ross Mitchell (4.2 IP, 2 H, 1 ER) in a series-clinching 7-2 win. L.B. Dantzler hit a pair of solo homers to account for all of South Carolina’s scoring. MSU finished 16-14 in the SEC and 19-14 against the top 50 in the RPI (more top 50 wins than any team except LSU, Vanderbilt and North Carolina), and we think this series win puts the Bulldogs into hosting position despite their six series losses. South Carolina, the No. 4 seed in the SEC tournament with a 17-12 conference mark, also is in strong hosting position. The two teams are back-to-back in the RPI (MSU is No. 10, South Carolina is No. 11).

• (25) Oklahoma at (19) Kansas State: The Wildcats clinched the series and shored up their hosting credentials with a 5-2 win behind Joe Flattery (5.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K). Shane Conlon and Blair DeBord had three hits apiece, and Mitch Meyer contributed two hits and two RBIs to lead the K-State offense. The Wildcats go for their first sweep of the Sooners since 1990 on Sunday. Ralph Garza (5.1 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER) took his first loss for Oklahoma, which is on very precarious at-large ground at 12-11 in the Big 12 and No. 57 in the RPI.

Top 25 Upsets

• (11) Arkansas at Auburn: The Tigers won the rubber game 11-6 to finish the year with three straight series wins, against Mississippi, Florida and Arkansas. Auburn finished the regular season 13-17 in the SEC and No. 33 in the Warren Nolan RPI, and we’ll include the Tigers in our field of 64 in Tuesday’s Stock Report. Arkansas, the national ERA leader entering Saturday, surrendered a season-high 11 runs, as Auburn took control of the game with eight runs in the fifth. Jordan Ebert, Patrick Savage and Blake Austin combined for nine hits and seven RBIs to lead the Auburn offense. The Tigers earned the No. 10 seed in the SEC tournament and will face rival Alabama in Tuesday’s single-elimination round; both teams could get at-large bids, but the winner of that game will have to sweat a lot less on Selection Monday. Arkansas, meanwhile, finishes third in the SEC but is still just No. 48 in the Warren Nolan RPI rankings. As we see it, this series loss knocks the Razorbacks out of hosting position heading into Hoover, even though they went a combined 5-1 against Mississippi State and South Carolina.

• Troy at (18) South Alabama: The Trojans took the rubber game of the series, 6-3, to share the Sun Belt regular-season title with the Jaguars. Both teams went 20-10 in the SBC and they split a pair of three-game series, but tie-breakers awarded Troy the top seed in the conference tournament. Logan Pierce set the tone with a two-run homer in the first inning against Jarron Cito (2.2 IP, 4 H, 4 ER); Pierce has three doubles, four homers and nine RBIs in his last five games. Thomas Austin (2 IP, 1 H, 0 R) and Tanner Hicks (4 IP, 4 H, 1 ER) provided strong relief for Troy. Saturday’s loss was a setback for South Alabama’s hosting ambitions, but the Jaguars are still in the mix thanks to a No. 16 RPI and a regular-season co-championship in the No. 5 RPI conference. But right now, we’ll keep South Alabama outside of hosting position.

Other Top 25 Results

• UC Irvine at (4) Cal State Fullerton: The Anteaters came from behind with two runs in the ninth against Michael Lorenzen to tie it, but Carlos Lopez crushed a walk-off solo homer in the bottom of the frame to lift the Titans to a 3-2 win, clinching the series and at least a share of the Big West regular-season title. Fullerton leads second-place Cal State Northridge by four games with four games to play (including a series between the Titans and Matadors next weekend). Lorenzen’s third blown save of the season cost Justin Garza (7.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K) his 12th win of the season, which would have set a Fullerton freshman record. But Lorenzen had given the Titans the lead in the first place with a two-run double in the third. I was on hand for this one, and I’ll have more on the Titans in Monday’s Three Strikes.

• (5) North Carolina State at Duke: The Wolfpack completed the sweep with a 9-1 win to finish 19-10 in the ACC, a half-game behind Florida State in the Atlantic Division. N.C. State earned the No. 4 seed in the ACC tournament. The ‘Pack is a lock to host a regional, but UNC, Virginia and Florida State are clearly ahead in the conference pecking order. A 3-7 record against the ACC’s four other powers (the top three seeds plus Clemson) probably dooms N.C. State’s national seed hopes. NCSU tied the school record for ACC wins in a season (set last year) and won their 42nd overall game, tied for second-most regular-season wins in program history (behind the 43-win 1988 team). Logan Jernigan (4.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K) got a no-decision in his return to the weekend rotation, and Bryan Adametz (3-for-5, 4 RBI) led N.C. State’s 15-hit attack.

• (8) UCLA at Southern California: Eric Filia’s go-ahead three-run double highlighted UCLA’s five-run seventh, helping Nick Vander Tuig (6 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K) improve to 10-3 in the Bruins’ 7-6 win. David Berg (2.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R) dominated as usual to pick up his 15th save. The Bruins clinched their sixth straight series win. They look just about locked in to hosting a regional.

• Arizona at (13) Arizona State: Trever Allen (3-for-4, R, 3 RBI) led the ASU offense in support of Ryan Kellogg (6.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K), as the Sun Devils leveled the series with a 6-3 win. ASU broke a 3-3 tie with three runs in the bottom of the eighth.

• (15) Indiana at Ohio State: The Hoosiers dominated the rubber game 8-1 to clinch their first outright Big Ten title since 1932. Kyle Schwarber (3-for-4, 2 R, 2 RBI, HR) led IU’s 11-hit attack in support of Kyle Hart (8.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER). The Hoosiers are a lock to host a regional and remain in the national seed mix heading into the Big Ten tournament. Ohio State fell to No. 62 in the RPI and needs a deep run in the conference tournament to have a chance at an at-large spot.

• (16) New Mexico at San Diego State: Josh Melendez (2-for-6, 4 RBI) and Chase Harris (3-for-4, 2 R, RBI, 2 2B, 3B) led New Mexico’s 14-hit attack, as the Lobos completed the sweep with an 11-7 win. New Mexico set a Mountain West Conference record by going 25-5 in the league, which it won by seven games over UNLV. The Lobos also climbed to No. 45 in the Warren Nolan RPI rankings, putting them in good at-large position heading into the conference tournament.

• West Virginia at (20) Oklahoma State: Back-to-back solo homers by Tanner Krietemeier and Randy McCurry in the ninth weren’t enough to bring Oklahoma State back, as West Virginia avoided a sweep with a 5-4 win. Mark Robinette (5.1 IP, 6 H, 3 ER) took his first loss of the year for the Cowboys, who will be the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 tournament.

• Wake Forest at (22) Virginia Tech: The series finale was rained out. Virginia Tech finishes the regular season 15-14 in the ACC and No. 15 in the RPI, making the Hokies a rock-solid regional team, but not a host.

Other Highlights

Rice• Rice kept its streak alive. The Owls blanked Marshall 6-0 to capture a share of the Conference USA regular-season title; Rice has now won or shared a regular-season or conference tournament title in 18 consecutive years. Christian Stringer (4-for-5, 2 R, 2 RBI) led an 11-hit attack in support of John Simms (7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 K), as the Owls threw their school-record 11th shutout of the season. Rice shares the C-USA title with Southern Miss, which beat Houston 6-5 to avoid the sweep. But the Owls get the top seed in the conference tournament by virtue of the head-to-head tie-breaker. At No. 47 in the RPI and 0-4 against the top 50, the Owls remain on the at-large bubble, but the C-USA regular-season title gives their resume an important boost.

• Saint Louis won Saturday’s rubber game against Charlotte, 2-1, and Rhode Island finished off a sweep of St. Josephs, landing the Billikens, 49ers and Rams in a three-way tie for the Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season title (17-7). Saint Louis earns the top seed in the conference tournament through tie-breakers, but none of these teams will earn an at-large bid.

• Mercer beat Northern Kentucky 13-4 to claim the Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season title outright. Florida Gulf Coast beat Stetson 15-2 to finish second, while North Florida lost to South Carolina-Upstate to finish third. The Eagles and Ospreys remain on the at-large bubble (but probably on the wrong side of it), with RPIs in the 50s heading into the conference tournament.

• Illinois State beat Southern Illinois 9-8 in 10 innings to secure its first outright Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title in program history. The Redbirds shared the MVC title in 2010, in coach Mark Kingston’s first year at the helm. Illinois State rallied from behind with two runs in the ninth to force extra innings, then went ahead for good on Jack Czeszewski’s RBI single in the 10th. The Redbirds have tied the program record for most wins in a regular season (36) and gone 16-5 in MVC play to finish a game ahead of Wichita State.

• Minnesota avoided a sweep with a 2-0 win against Illinois, but the Illini’s road series win still gave its at-large resume the boost it needed. At No. 31 in the RPI and 14-10 in the Big Ten, Illinois is a very strong bet to join Indiana in regionals.

• Kansas lost its fourth straight game, dropping the series opener at Utah, 1-0. Baylor avoided getting swept at Texas Tech, but neither the Jayhawks nor the Bears will get an at-large bid, in all likelihood. The Big 12 could be a two- or three-bid league.

• Notre Dame’s second-half meltdown culminated in an 11-5 loss to Cincinnati (No. 233 in the RPI), giving the Bearcats the series win. The Irish lost its last three series, finished 10-14 in the Big East, and do not deserve an at-large spot, despite an RPI that remains inside the top 50 (No. 46). Meanwhile, Seton Hall won its rubber game against St. John’s, 4-2, to cement its at-large case. And South Florida missed out on a chance to sweep Rutgers, losing 10-6. The Bulls are on the bubble, but their No. 61 RPI and 2-10 record against the top 50 keep them on the wrong side of it.

• UC Santa Barbara’s at-large case sustained a crippling blow with Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Pacific (No. 242 in the RPI), dropping the Gauchos to No. 63 in the RPI. But Cal Poly clinched a series win against Cal State Northridge to climb to No. 23 in the RPI. The Big West looks like a two-bid league.

• Rider spilt a doubleheader at Marist, losing the opener 11-5 but winning the second game 4-0 in seven innings, to claim the MAAC regular-season title. The Broncs reached the 34-win mark to set a new school record and captured their first regular-season title since joining the MAAC in 1998, when they won the league’s South Division in their first year.

• Kent State beat Akron 4-1 to complete a sweep, and Bowling Green State came from behind to beat Buffalo on a walk-off triple in the ninth, giving the Golden Flashes the Mid-American Conference regular-season title. Kent State finished 20-7 in the MAC, a half-game ahead of the Bulls (19-7). The Flashes have won a MAC regular-season or tournament title in 13 of the last 14 years, including three straight regular-season titles.

• In the MEAC tournament, Savannah State beat Coppin State 14-7 to remain unbeaten in the double-elimination tournament and reach the championship round. Later, Bethune-Cookman sent Coppin State packing with a 4-1 win, setting up a Savannah State-Bethune matchup for the league’s automatic bid Sunday. The Wildcats, who lost to Coppin State on the tournament’s first day, need to beat Savannah State twice.

• In the SWAC tournament, Prairie View A&M knocked out Alabama State, 8-3, to reach Sunday’s championship game against top-seeded Jackson State. Prairie View had been routed by Alabama State 16-0 on the tournament’s first day, but the Panthers ran through the loser’s bracket with four straight wins. Jackson State went 3-0 to reach the finals, keeping it fresher.

• Sam Houston State finished off a sweep of Central Arkansas with a 6-5 win. The Bearkats won the Southland by three games and have boosted their RPI to No. 41. They are sitting pretty for an at-large spot if they fail to win the SLC tournament.

• Cal State Bakersfield beat San Jose State 14-6 to clinch the Western Athletic Conference regular-season title in its first season in the league. The Roadrunners broke open a 6-3 game by sending 13 men to the plate in an eight-run ninth inning.  Bakersfield leads Texas-Arlington by a half-game heading into the series finale against San Jose State on Sunday, so CSUB can win the title outright with a win Sunday. But the Roadrunners will be the top seed in the WAC tourney even if they lose, because they own the head-to-head tie-breaker against the Mavericks.