Thursday Roundup: Virginia, Clemson Win Key ACC Road Games

Many teams are jockeying for postseason position this weekend, so in today’s roundup we’ll not only recap the action but discuss how key games might have shifted the postseason landscape. Many teams were in action Thursday, but the Pac-12 and Big West series don’t begin until Friday (and the same goes for the Kansas State-Oklahoma showdown in the Big 12).

Top 25 Showdowns

• (24) Mississippi at (2) Louisiana State: Cody Glenn (7 IP, 8 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K) turned in his third straight strong outing, leading LSU to a 7-1 win. Raph Rhymes (3-for-4, 3 R, 2 RBI, HR) and Mason Katz (3-for-4, 3 R, RBI, HR, 2 2B) led the LSU attack against Mike Mayers (6 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 7 K). LSU reached the 22-win mark in SEC play for the third time ever, matching the 1986 and 1997 Tigers. Their 47 overall regular-season victories ties the school record set by the 1986 team, which won 47 of its 59 regular-season games prior to the adoption of the 56-game schedule in 1992. In other words, this LSU team is historically good.

Mike Papi (Photo by Brian Westerholt)

Mike Papi (Photo by Brian Westerholt)

• (7) Virginia at (3) North Carolina: All nine UVa. starters recorded hits as part of a 17-hit barrage, as the Cavaliers knocked around Kent Emanuel (5 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 6 K) in a 10-4 win in Chapel Hill. Mike Papi and Nate Irving had three hits apiece to lead the Virginia offense in support of Brandon Waddell (7 IP, 8 H, 4 ER), who settled down after allowing four runs over the first three innings. Virginia moved into a virtual tie atop the ACC Coastal standings with UNC, which still leads by percentage points (.769 to .750). UNC is 7-5 over its last 12 games since starting the season 39-2, and Emanuel has lost back-to-back starts, allowing 11 runs (nine earned) in 13.1 innings.

• (17) Clemson at (9) Florida State: Clemson ace Daniel Gossett (6 IP, 3 H, 0 R) was strong in a win against FSU’s No. 4 starter, Peter Miller (1.1 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 2 BB), as the Tigers cruised to an 8-2 victory in Tallahassee. Clemson and Florida State are now tied atop the ACC Atlantic Division standings, with North Carolina State a half-game back. Shane Kennedy (2-for-5, R, 2 RBI) helped lead Clemson’s balanced 11-hit attack, and Thomas Brittle delivered a two-run inside-the-park home run to break the game open in the third.

• (21) Pittsburgh at (12) Louisville: Ty Young (2-for-3, 2 RBI) hit a two-run single to cap Louisville’s four-run fourth in support of Chad Green (5 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K), and the Cardinals went on to a 5-2 win to draw even with the Panthers atop the Big East standings. Ethan Mildren (7 IP, 8 H, 5 ER) fell to 9-3 for Pitt.

• (14) South Carolina at (24) Mississippi State: The Bulldogs overcame a 4-1 deficit with four runs in the eighth, capped by Brett Pirtle’s go-ahead bases-loaded walk against Tyler Webb (1 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 BB), as MSU won the crucial series opener, 5-4. Nolan Belcher (6.1 IP, 9 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 K) was strong in a no-decision for the Gamecocks, but Webb blew the save to sustain just his second loss of the season. C.T. Bradford, Demarcus Henderson and Nick Ammirati had three hits apiece to lead MSU’s 14-hit attack, and four Bulldog relievers combined to work 4.1 innings of two-hit, shutout relief after taking over for Luis Pollorena (4.2 IP, 5 H, 4 ER). Mississippi State (15-13 in the SEC) is one win away from effectively clinching a regional hosting spot, in our estimation.

Top 25 Upsets

• (11) Arkansas at Auburn: The upstart Tigers continued their late-season surge with a 3-0 win behind Conner Kendrick (7.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K). Garrett Cooper drove in two runs to lead the Auburn attack against Barrett Astin (6.1 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K), who fell to 4-4. Arkansas really must win the next two games to keep its hosting ambitions intact, considering it now sits at No. 46 in the updated RPI rankings. Auburn, meanwhile, climbed inside the top 30 in the RPI and improved to 12-16 in the league. WIth another win this weekend, the Tigers reach the important 13-win mark in the SEC and clinch their third straight quality series win to end the regular season (Ole Miss, at Florida, Arkansas). Combined with an RPI in the top 30, that might be enough to get the Tigers into a regional—especially if Alabama gets swept at Vanderbilt. Auburn’s strong finish could be bad news for Alabama, because we don’t expect both teams to get into regionals and make the SEC a 10-bid league.

• (15) Indiana at Ohio State: This series is a must-win for the Buckeyes to have a shot at an at-large bid, and they got off to a good start with a 2-1 win behind Brad Goldberg (6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 3 K). Patrick Porter’s RBI triple against Joey DeNato (8 IP, 9 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 2 K) broke a 1-1 tie in the seventh. The Hoosiers and Buckeyes are now tied atop the Big Ten at 15-7, with Nebraska one game back.

Other Top 25 Results

• Alabama at (1) Vanderbilt: Connor Harrell (2-for-4, 2 RBI) and Kyle Smith (2-for-3, 3 R, 2 RBI) each homered in support of Walker Buehler (7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K), as the Commodores (25-2) tied the record for SEC wins in a 7-6 victory. Given the inconsistency of T.J. Pecoraro and Philip Pfeifer, Buehler seems like a strong candidate to move into Vanderbilt’s No. 3 starter role heading into the postseason.

• (5) North Carolina State at Duke: Brett Williams’ two-run triple highlighted N.C. State’s three-run first inning, and the Wolfpack never looked back, winning 5-2. Ryan Wilkins (3.2 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K) earned the win in relief of Ethan Ogburn (2.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER), while Brad Stone (3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 K) returned to the bullpen and sparkled to pick up his first save. The Wolfpack is still alive in the ACC Atlantic race (and the national seed hunt), trailing Clemson and FSU by just a half-game with two games to go. If the Seminoles and Tigers split the two remaining games of their series while N.C. State sweeps Duke (which is just 9-19 in the ACC), the ‘Pack takes the division by a half-game. That would throw the national seed race into chaos, considering N.C. State lost the head-to-head series against both FSU and Clemson—and both series were in Raleigh.

• (16) New Mexico at San Diego State: Luke Campbell (2-for-4, 5 RBI) and Alex Real (2-for-4, 2 R, 2 RBI) each homered in support of Josh Walker (5 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 0 K), who improved to 10-0 in UNM’s 14-6 win against Michael Cederoth (6 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 5 K) and the Aztecs.

Jordan Patterson

Jordan Patterson

• Troy at (18) South Alabama: The Jaguars clinched at least a share of the Sun Belt Conference title with a convincing 8-1 win. Jordan Patterson (3-for-4, 2 R, 2 2B, RBI) and Nick Zaharion (2-for-5, HR, 3 RBI) led South Alabama’s 17-hit barrage, as the Jaguars improved to 3-1 this year against Troy.

• West Virginia at (20) Oklahoma State: Donnie Walton (2-for-3, 2 R, 3 RBI, HR) led the OSU offense behind Jason Hursh (6 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 5 K), as the Cowboys beat Dan Dierdorff (7 IP, 10 H, 7 ER) and the Mountaineers 7-4. OSU moved into a tie with idle Oklahoma for second place in the Big 12, two games behind Kansas State.

• Wake Forest at (22) Virginia Tech: Tyler Horan (4-for-4, 4 R, 3 RBI, 2B, HR) led Virginia Tech’s 15-hit onslaught in support of Joe Mantiply (6 IP, 6 H, 2 ER), as the Hokies bludgeoned Wake Forest 13-2.

Other Highlights

• Sam Houston State clinched a share of the Southland Conference title with a 7-3 win against Central Arkansas. Anthony Azar (2-for-4, 2 R, 3 RBI, 2 2B) led the SHSU offense in support of Tyler Eppler (7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K). The Bearkats have won 12 of their last 13 to build a two-game lead over second-place Texas A&M-Corpus Christi with two games remaining. They also climbed to No. 48 in the updated Warren Nolan RPI rankings—they look more and more like a strong bet to earn an at-large bid if they fail to win the Southland automatic bid.

• Charlotte clinched a share of the Atlantic 10 Conference title with a 10-7 win at Saint Louis. The red-hot 49ers have won 10 straight to improve to 34-19 overall, 17-5 in the A-10. They lead the Billikens and La Salle by two games with two games left to play. Shane Basen (4-for-6, 2 R, 3 RBI) and Tony Montalbano (4-for-4, 2 R, RBI) led Charlotte’s 14-hit attack.

• Delaware State was the preseason favorite to win the MEAC, and the Hornets lived up to their billing during the regular season, going 21-3 to earn the top seed in this week’s conference tournament. But Delaware State went 2-and-barbecue in the tourney, losing a 5-1 decision against second-seeded Bethune-Cookman in Friday’s elimination game.

• It’s official: Texas will finish in last place in the Big 12, the one team that misses out on the eight-team conference tournament. The Longhorns fell to 6-16 in the Big 12 with a 5-1 loss at TCU, while eighth-place Texas Tech improved to 8-14 with a 17-5 win against Baylor (and the Red Raiders have the tie-breaker over Texas by virtue of winning the head-to-head-series). What an utter disaster this season has been for Texas, which is just two years removed from the College World Series, lest you forget. Baylor, meanwhile, fell to 26-24 overall, 11-10 in the Big 12 and No. 62 in the RPI. The Bears aren’t looking so good for an at-large spot.

• Another struggling traditional power is in better position to get to regionals. Miami earned a key 8-3 win against Georgia Tech, improving the Hurricanes to 13-15 in the ACC. Eric Whaley (5 IP, 2 H, 0 R) was strong for Miami, while Buck Farmer (6 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 6 K) struggled for Tech—which has followed up its series win against UNC by allowing 22 runs in two losses to Georgia and Miami (two teams that average less than five runs per game).

• Thanks to its strong RPI (No. 33), Illinois could put itself in a great position to capture an at-large berth with a series win at Minnesota this weekend, and the Fighting Illini got off to a good start Thursday, beating the Gophers 6-2. Kevin Duchene (6 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 K) improved to 8-1, matching the school record for most wins by a freshman and pulling him into a tie for most victories in the Big Ten this season.

• Status quo holds for now in the race for the sixth and final spot in the Big Ten tournament, as Illinois (13-9), Michigan (13-9) and Michigan State (11-8) all won. The Illini and Wolverines are currently tied for fifth place, so the Spartans need to pass one of them this weekend to sneak into the conference tournament (and to bolster their at-large chances). The Spartans blasted Penn State 16-1 on Thursday, while the Wolverines knocked off Nebraska 7-5.

• Notre Dame’s at-large chances continue to fade. the Irish dropped a 9-5 decision at Cincinnati (No. 236 in the RPI), which improved to 5-17 in the Big East. We regarded this series as just about must-sweep for Notre Dame, which is just 9-13 in the Big East.

• Seton Hall also lost Thursday, 4-3 against St. John’s, but the Pirates are in much better at-large position than Notre Dame. The Red Storm jumped on Jon Prosinski (7.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) for three runs in the first, and Sean Hagan (6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 ER) was solid. The Pirates would be well served to win the next two games of this series in order to firm up their at-large credentials, but they should have a decent shot to get in even if they lose two of three. South Florida, meanwhile, moved back into a tie for third with Seton Hall by beating Rutgers 11-4. The Bulls are up to No. 54 in the Warren Nolan RPI, keeping their at-large hopes afloat.

• The race for the Conference USA regular-season title looks like it will come down to the season’s last day. Houston knocked off first-place Southern MIss, 3-2, to pull within two games of the Golden Eagles. But in between the two teams, Memphis, Rice and UCF are all just a game out of first place. All three of those teams won Thursday—the Owls beat Marshall 4-2, the Knights blanked East Carolina 2-0, and the Tigers won a nonconference game against Southeast Missouri State, 8-6. Memphis is in the clubhouse at 14-10, while Southern Miss is 14-8, and Rice and UCF are 13-9. The Owls remain the conference’s best at-large contender with an RPI ranking of No. 44, but Houston (No. 57) is still alive, too.

• A tip of the cap to East Tennessee State Kerry Doane, who tied a 13-year-old school record with his 11th complete game of the season in a 3-2 win against Jacksonville. Doane (9 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K) improved to 12-1, becoming the first A-Sun pitcher to reach the 12-win plateau since Stetson’s Corey Kluber in 2007.

• Speaking of mid-major standouts, Bradley left fielder Mike Tauchman had a pair of hits against Indiana State ace Sean Manaea (5 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K) to improve his Division I-best batting average to .441. Tauchman is hitting .500 in Missouri Valley Conference play and an absurd .636 against lefthanded pitching. But the Sycamores won the game, 9-5.

• Western Carolina already clinched the SoCon regular-season title, but the Catamounts kept rolling with a 23-5 demolition of Appalachian State. Tyler White (4-for-6, 4 R, 4 RBI) homered twice and doubled, giving him 13 long balls and 24 doubles on the season. Julian Ridings and Jacob Hoyle also each homered and combined for nine RBIs. WCU has won 10 straight and climbed to No. 50 in the updated Warren Nolan RPI. Its momentum and its SoCon crown make it a strong at-large contender if it fails to win the automatic bid.