ESPNU's Thursday night SEC game of the week showcased college baseball at its best last night. No. 17 South Carolina visited No. 18 Vanderbilt in a battle between two teams with legitimate national seed ambitions, and the level of play on both sides matched the high intensity level. Both teams made one sterling defensive play after another, and South Carolina made its usual ninth-inning comeback to tie the game, then won it 4-3 on Joey Pankake's solo homer in the 10th.
Aces Jordan Montgomery (7 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 8 K) and Tyler Beede (8.1 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 6 K) each turned in solid outings, repeatedly pitching out of trouble. Beede carried a 3-2 lead into the top of the ninth, when he issued a leadoff walk to Gene Cone. The Gamecocks bunted Cone to second, and Vandy called upon closer Brian Miller. With two outs, a visibly hobbled Max Schrock came to the plate and delivered a game-tying RBI single through the right side.
Vandy nearly won the game in the bottom of the ninth, but Tanner English threw out Rhett Wiseman at the plate to preserve the tie. That set the stage for Pankake's missile over the left-field fence against Miller in the 10th.
"That was a great college baseball game," South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook told reporters afterward. "Our kids battled and competed until the last pitch, their kids did too. We made some great plays, they made some great plays. Tanner made an unbelievable throw to save the game and Max with a hurt back, barely can walk, gets the game-tying hit with two outs and two strikes. Incredible baseball game to be a part of, and our guys found a way to win."
The Gamecocks moved to 17-11 in the SEC, a game ahead of Vandy for second place in the East. Winning one more game to clinch the road series would put South Carolina back in strong position for a national seed.
Top 25 Showdowns
(20) Mississippi State at (19) Alabama: The Bulldogs cruised to a 9-4 win, their sixth victory in their last seven games, all in SEC play. MSU improved to 17-11, a game behind Mississippi in the SEC West. The Bulldogs broke a 1-1 tie with three runs in the fifth, then tacked on three more in the sixth and two in the seventh to win. C.T. Bradford (3-for-4, 3 R, RBI) and Alex Detz (2-for-4, 5 RBI) led MSU's 14-hit attack against Geoffrey Bramblett (4.2 IP, 7 H, 4 ER) and the Bama bullpen.
Top 25 Upsets
Minnesota at (9) Indiana: Minnesota's Alec Crawford (8 IP, 3 H, 1 ER) went toe-to-toe with IU's Joey DeNato (9 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 5 BB, 7 K) in a fine pitchers' duel, and the Gophers scored a run in the 10th to win 2-1. Connor Schaefbauer (3-for-4, 2 RBI) delivered a game-winning RBI double off Scott Effross.
(13) Texas Christian at Baylor: Brandon Finnegan (3.1 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 K) started and struggled for the Frogs, as Baylor put up three-spots in the second and fourth innings en route to a 6-3 win. Aaron Dodson (2-for-4, 2 R, 3 RBI, HR) led the Baylor offense behind Dillon Newman (6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER).
(16) Houston at Temple: In its final homestand before the program is eliminated, Temple earned an emotional 4-1 win, its second victory in as many weeks against a Top 25 foe (the Owls knocked off Louisville once last weekend). Jimmy Kerrigan (3-for-3, 2 RBI) led Temple's 11-hit attack against Jake Lemoine (3.1 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 ER) and the Cougars, while Matt Hockenberry (6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) held the UH bats in check. The Owls, playing with just 22 men on their roster after after six players transferred before the season, improved to 14-29 overall and 9-13 in the AAC. The Philadelphia Inquirer had a nice piece yesterday detailing Temple's fight to the end.
Other Top 25 Results
(1) Virginia at Wake Forest: Postponed by rain.
Louisiana-Monroe at (3) Louisiana-Lafayette: The Cajuns overcame a 9-7 deficit with three runs in the sixth and went on to a 12-9 victory. Greg Davis (2-for-5, 2 R, 5 RBI, HR) and Caleb Adams (3-for-5, R, 2 RBI) led ULL's 13-hit attack. Greg Milhorn (2.2 IP, 8 H, 6 ER) started and struggled, but Ryan Wilson (3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K) turned in stellar relief for the save.
Duke at (4) Florida State: In one of the most remarkable achievements in sports, Florida State reached the 40-win plateau for the 37th consecutive year—including all 35 seasons of the Mike Martin era—with a 3-0 win behind Luke Weaver (7 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K). FSU did all its scoring in a three-run third.
North Carolina at (7) Miami: Postponed by rain.
(8) Florida at Tennessee: The Gators built a 4-1 lead through five innings behind Logan Shore (5.1 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K), but Tennessee surged back with three runs in the sixth and took the lead with another in the eighth, only to see Florida tie it in the ninth and win 6-5 in the 11th. Harrison Bader's RBI double in the ninth tied the game. Bader singled with one out in the 11th, stole second and scored on two errors. With the victory, the Gators secured at least a share of the SEC title and clinched the East title outright.
Cincinnati at (10) Louisville: The Cardinals clinched at least a share of the AAC title with a 5-1 win behind Kyle Funkhouser (6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 7 K), who has not allowed an earned run in his last 40 innings dating back to April 11. Funkhouser improved to 11-2, 1.74, tying the school record for wins in a season shared by Justin Marks and Jeff Thompson. UCF was swept in a doubleheader at UConn, reducing Louisville's magic number for an outright AAC title to one.
(11) Mississippi at Texas A&M: The Rebels capitalized on three A&M errors to put up six runs (five unearned) in the fifth inning against Daniel Mengden, en route to an 8-4 win. Chris Ellis (6.2 IP, 8 H, 3 ER) improved to 9-0, and Ole Miss supported him with a balanced 12-hit attack.
(12) Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma: The Cowboys clinched the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 tournament with a 4-2 win against Oklahoma, coupled with TCU's loss to Baylor. Jon Perrin (7.1 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 K) was strong for the Cowboys, who got three hits apiece from Gage Green and Zach Fish, along with a big three-run homer from Conor Costello in the fifth inning.
Louisiana Tech at (14) Rice: Keenan Cook (2-for-3, 2B, 3B, 3 RBI), John Clay Reeves (2-for-5, HR, 4 RBI) and Michael Aquino (3-for-5, 2 R, 2 RBI, HR) led Rice's 18-hit barrage in support of Kevin McCanna (8 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K), as the Owls cruised to an 11-2 win.
(15) Louisiana State at Auburn: LSU steamrolled Auburn 10-0 behind Jared Poche' (8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K). Five LSU starters recorded multiple hits, and Andrew Stevenson and Tyler Moore delivered three RBIs apiece. LSU has outscored its opponents 37-0 in its last two games, and Thursday's shutout was its 16th of the year, extending a team record.
Other Notable Results
• Ball State clinched the Mid-American Conference regular-season championship with a 4-3 win at Northern Illinois. It is the first MAC title since 2001 for the Cardinals (34-16, 20-4 in the MAC), who have quietly climbed into the at-large mix at No. 57 in the RPI.
"This is a special group of young men who play for each other and truly are a team," Ball State coach Rich Maloney said afterward. "Winning a MAC championship is special. I am especially happy for our seniors, who bought in to what we are doing and now will receive the prize."
Ace T.J. Weir (7.2 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 8 K) improved to 8-2 for Ball State, which got back-to-back homers in the second inning from Caleb Stayton and Brandon Estep.
• Kyle Freeland (7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 11 K) was characteristically dominant in Evansville's 1-0 win at Missouri State. Freeland, a potential top five overall pick next month, improved to 10-1, as the Purple Aces clinched the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season championship. Evansville climbed to No. 52 in the RPI, and its at-large case should be in good shape if it can win another game this weekend to take the road series.
• In a matchup between two teams tied for second place in the Big Ten entering the weekend, Nebraska won the opener against Illinois, 2-1. Chance Sinclair (7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K) improved to 9-1 for the Huskers, who got three hits from Ryan Boldt.
• In the Atlantic Sun, third-place Lipscomb knocked off first-place Florida Gulf Coast 11-6, while second-place Mercer lost at East Tennessee State 7-2. FGCU (18-7) remains a game ahead of Mercer (17-8) and two games up on Lipscomb (16-9).
• Top-seeded Delaware State was eliminated from the MEAC tournament with a 6-1 loss to Coppin State. The Hornets were the only MEAC team to reach 30 overall wins this year and won the conference by three games (17-7), but they went down quietly in the conference tournament, going 0-2. Perennial power Bethune-Cookman, meanwhile, is 2-0 after beating Maryland-Eastern Shore behind Montana Durapau (8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 14 K) on Wednesday and pounding Norfolk State 10-2 yesterday.
• The No. 1 seed is faring better in the SWAC tourney, where Alabama State is 2-0 after beating Grambling State 11-10 and Alcorn State 6-2. Joseph Camacho (9 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 K) went the distance and improved to 10-1 in Thursday's win against Alcorn. Alabam State is the heavy favorite after going 21-3 in the regular season.
• All three Mountain West Conference at-large contenders won Thursday, as New Mexico beat Air Force 2-1 in 10 innings; UNLV beat Nevada 8-1; and San Diego State won 9-2 at Fresno State. The Aztecs climbed to No. 47 in the RPI with the victory; New Mexico is up to No. 53, while UNLV remains in strong shape at No. 31.
• The road team won all seven SEC games Thursday night, including the two games between unranked teams. A.J. Reed had four hits and threw eight shutout innings to improve to 10-2 on the year in Kentucky's 13-0 win at Georgia. And Brian Anderson (3-for-5, 3 R, 5 RBI) powered the Arkansas offense behind Trey Killian (6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 9 K) in a 9-4 win at Missouri.
• Western Carolina won the opener of its SoCon showdown series against Davidson, 8-6, moving the Catamounts (18-6) a half-game ahead of the Wildcats (17-6) in the standings. Davidson led 6-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh, when Adam Martin's grand slam cut the lead to one, and WCU surged ahead with three more runs in the eighth.
• Sam Houston State beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 9-2, putting the Bearkats in sole possession of first place in the Southland Conference, a game ahead of Corpus Christi, Northwestern State and Nicholls State. Corey Toups (3-for-3, 2 R, 4 RBI) led the SHSU offense in support of Tyler Eppler (8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K). Sam Houston State has won 12 of its last 13 games and sits comfortably at No. 38 in the RPI.