12 Takeaways From College Baseball’s Second Weekend (Off The Bat)

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Image credit: Travis Bazzana (37) Oregon State Beavers vs Texas Tech Red Raiders in a non-conference NCAA baseball game at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas on Wednesday, February 21, 2024 (Photo by Eddie Kelly / ProLook Photos)

After a relatively slow opening weekend, the action kicked up this weekend with some high-profile matchups. Here are 12 takeaways from around the country on the weekend that was in college baseball.

1. Arkansas beat Oregon State on Friday night in thrilling fashion at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, but I would argue the Beavers were the big winners of the week. They lost a one-run game at a neutral site to Arkansas on a night that lefthander Hagen Smith looked like he should be pitching for the Rangers, not the Razorbacks. Sometimes, that’ll happen.

All Oregon State (7-1) did the rest of the week, however, was bash its opponents by a combined score of 35-7 in four games. And it was a quality slate of opponentsMinnesota, Texas Tech, Michigan and Oklahoma State.

Through eight games this season, Oregon State is averaging 9.38 runs per game and has hit 19 home runs, with All-American Travis Bazzana (.438/.526/1.031, 5 HR) leading the way. Those numbers will calm down a bit as the season continues, particularly once Oregon State gets into colder weather and conference play. But it’s been playing in big league stadiums against almost exclusively Power Five opponents, and the Beavers are well on pace to shatter their offensive record book.

If you don’t have Beaver Fever yet, there’s still time to hop on the bandwagon.

2. None of that is meant to in any way belittle what Arkansas did this week. The Razorbacks did, after all, get the better of the Beavers, 5-4, on Friday night and they held their opponents to nine runs in four games.

Arkansas (5-2) pitched exceptionally well all week. Smith led the way, as he turned in the best pitching performance of the early season. He on Friday struck out 17 batters in six innings to match the program’s single-game record. It was the perfect way for the junior to bounce back after a tough Opening Day. Righthander Brady Tygart followed with six scoreless innings Saturday against Oklahoma State and lefthander Mason Molina struck out 10 batters in five hitless innings Sunday against Michigan. That rotation can be the best in the nation, with maybe only top-ranked Wake Forest able to match it. The bullpen was solid and showed off plenty of big stuff of its own.

Despite all that goodness on the mound, Arkansas needed an eighth-inning RBI triple from Peyton Holt on Friday to beat Oregon State. It lost to Oklahoma State, 2-1, in 14 innings on a night it left 15 runners on base. It beat Michigan, 4-3, and never trailed but the Wolverines had the winning run in scoring position in the ninth inning.

The Razorbacks are still rounding into form offensively and that’s okit’s February and there are a lot of new faces in the lineup. But they’re hitting .248/.385/.378 and fielding .966 as a team. If Arkansas is going to continue to pitch at this elite level all season, it won’t need its offense to carry the load, but it will need some more from its position players as the season unfolds.

3. The competition at Globe Life Field was high level, but my attention this weekend was continually drawn to the rivalry series between ECU and North Carolina. These early season, non-conference tournaments are nice, but they can’t match the intensity of a quality on-campus series, especially a rivalry.

ECU and UNC drew impressive crowds across the state all weekend, drawing more than 15,000 fans in total. And there were big crowds all over the country. Florida and Texas on Saturday each set their program record for regular-season attendance for relatively nondescript matchups against Columbia and Cal Poly, respectively.

I understand why coaches like to mix in a non-conference tournamentneutral site games help from an RPI standpoint, you get some of the benefits of going on the road without the risk of playing a true road game and playing a different team each day helps prepare players for the environment of regionalsbut bring me more on-campus series.

4. In addition to the outstanding atmosphere, ECU and UNC delivered in a big way on the field. UNC edged ECU, 2-1, on Friday night in Chapel Hill thanks to a home run from Preseason All-American Vance Honeycutt. The Pirates bounced back to win 7-4 Saturday in the neutral site game in Fayetteville, N.C. That set the stage for a wild, back-and-forth rubber game Sunday in Greenville.

ECU jumped out to an early advantage, and it led 4-0 after five innings. But UNC battled back to take the lead in the seventh, the first of four lead changes in the final three innings. The teams threw punch after punch in the late stages of the game and, finally, ECU came out on top when freshman Bristol Carter hit a walk-off, bases-loaded single for a 10-9 victory.

ECU (5-2) got a marquee non-conference series win, one that could pay dividends on Selection Monday. The American looks to be solid this year, but it’s likely not going to provide the Pirates with an opponent at the level of UNC. So, banking this kind of series win in February is a big deal. It also is significant for the Pirates that they were able to bounce back after a pair of one-run losses to start the week (they lost Tuesday at Campbell, 7-6). That speaks to their resiliency, which is no surprise for a team coached by Cliff Godwin.

5. UNC (5-2) won’t feel good about losing the series after winning Friday night. The loss Sunday in Greenville especially hurts given how hard they fought, only to see the Pirates answer every one of their punches.

It’s early and I don’t want to leap to conclusions, but the way in which UNC lost the series made me think back to the Tar Heels losing righthander Jake Knapp to injury before the season began. He was projected to lead the rotation and UNC right now looks to be short in the rotation. Freshman lefthander Folger Boaz (1-0, 1.86) has done a good job on Friday nights and UNC is building its staff from the back with a strong bullpen, but it’s going to need to find another couple consistent starters.

6. The weekend’s other Top 25 series wasn’t quite as dramatic, as TCU swept UCLA in Fort Worth. Not only did TCU sweep the series, it never trailed. The Horned Frogs are 7-0, their best start since 1994.

The offense jumped all over UCLA’s starters throughout the weekend. TCU is averaging 9.0 runs per game, a torrid start to the season. But the best news for the Horned Frogs was their own starting pitching. Its trio of Payton Tolle, Kole Klecker and Zack Morris combined to hold the Bruins to five runs, a marked improvement on a tough opening weekend against Florida Gulf Coast.

7. UCLA (3-3) is still clearly trying to find itself this season. Even with its midweek game getting rained out last week, it has used 19 position players and 10 pitchers. The Bruins have a deep, young roster and coach John Savage has to find out what he’s got before Pac-12 play starts in two weeks.

At this stage, what stands out the most about UCLA is shortstop Cody Schrier. After missing the end of last season due to injury, he’s come back with a vengeance and is 11-for-22 with two home runs and two stolen bases. Getting him back in the lineup and the middle of the diamond is a big plus for the Bruins.

8. Virginia didn’t make it look east at the Jax Classic, but it emerged with three quality victories and the championship belt. The Cavaliers needed a pair of late comebacks to beat Wichita State, 5-4, in 10 innings on Friday. They spotted Iowa six runs in the first inning Saturday before finishing the comeback with three runs in the ninth to win, 12-9. Things were more straightforward in Sunday’s de facto championship game against Auburn, but it was still a tight, 6-4 win.

While Virginia didn’t max out on style points, it is 7-0 on the season and passed its big non-conference test of the season. The Cavaliers have looked pretty much like they were expected to in the early going: a strong, deep offense, but a bit of a work in progress on the mound. Coach Brian O’Connor and pitching coach Drew Dickinson are still working out the best arrangement for the staff but have had some positive building blocks. Sophomore lefthander Evan Blanco (1-0, 3.68) has looked solid in the rotation. Junior righthander Jay Woolfolk struggled opening weekend in his first career start but on Saturday threw 4.1 strong innings out of the bullpen against Iowa. Sophomore righthander Aidan Teel (1-0, 1.93, 3 SV) has established himself as the team’s closer.

Virginia isn’t a finished product, but while it’s working out some of its rough edges, it keeps winning games. There’s a lot to be said for that when you look around the country and see that we’re already down to just 16 undefeated teams.

9. Iowa went 0-3 in Jacksonville, and it was an ugly 0-3. The Hawkeyes began the season ranked No. 20 on the strength of their premium rotation and a solid lineup. This weekend, those groups largely delivered. Ace Brody Brecht struck out 11 in six innings and held Auburn to two runs (one earned). Righthander Marcus Morgan (3 IP, 4 R) was knocked out early against Virginia, but lefthander Cade Obermueller threw five scoreless innings Sunday. The Hawkeyes’ offense scored 20 runs on the weekend, and it led all three games after five innings.

The trouble for Iowa came from its bullpen. In 13 innings, the Hawkeyes’ relievers gave up 25 runs and gave up the lead in all three games.

Iowa could use a bit more depth from its starters, who all have a tendency to run higher pitch counts due to the number of strikeouts and walks they issue, and you don’t want to overreact to one bad weekend. But this was a weekend to forget for the Hawkeyes’ relievers, who are still trying to settle into their new roles for 2024.

10. No pitching staff had a better weekend than Texas. The Longhorns did not allow a single run in their three-game series against Cal Poly (2-5), marking the first time Texas had shut out an opponent for an entire three-game series since 2002, when it did it against Texas-Pan American.

Righthander Lebarron Johnson Jr. set the tone Friday night with eight scoreless innings, as he struck out eight and held the Mustangs to two hits and two walks. Righthander Charlie Hurley threw six scoreless innings Saturday and righthander Cody Howard threw five scoreless Sunday in his first career start. The bullpen did its part as well, as five different relievers appeared in the series.

Notably, Texas (6-1) did this without righthander Tanner Witt, who didn’t make it out of the second inning on Opening Weekend and has struggled in his return from Tommy John surgery. The depth Texas has shown early this season, however, has been impressive and is a big part of why the Longhorns are off to such a strong start to the spring.

11. The nation’s leaders in wins on the young season are Alabama and Arkansas State, both of which are 8-0. The Crimson Tide are no strangers to hot starts, having gone undefeated in the month of February for three straight years.

The Red Wolves, however, are off to their best start since 1997, when they began the season 9-0. Arkansas State’s biggest win of the early going came Wednesday, when it beat Mississippi, 4-2, in Oxford. It this weekend ran its winning streak to 11 games (dating to last season) with a sweep of Lindenwood, completing it with a dramatic, 6-5, walk-off victory Sunday.

Arkansas State faces a challenging week ahead, starting with a game Tuesday against Central Arkansas (4-4), followed by a series at Missouri State (4-3).

12. Penn State (5-2) won a series at Stanford (2-5) thanks to an offensive explosion on Friday and Saturday. The Nittany Lions won 15-4 on Friday and 13-2 in seven innings on Saturday before the Cardinal won Sunday’s series finale. It marked the first time they have won back-to-back games by at least 10 runs since 2010.

PSU’s offense has been led by a quartet of transfers, J.T. Marr (.455/.457/.515), Adam Cecere (.412/.667/.882), Joe Jaconski (.381/.567/.571) and Matt Maloney (.467/.545/.733). That infusion of talent this summer following the hire of coach Mike Gambino has remade the PSU lineup and, perhaps with it, the program’s expectations. The Nittany Lions haven’t had a winning record in a full season since 2016, but they’re emerging as a team to watch in the Big Ten.

Eight for Omaha

Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Oregon State, Texas, TCU, Virginia, Wake Forest

No changes to the field this week, as these eight teams combined to go 30-3 on the week (not including Arkansas’ win against Oregon State). I said last week in this space that Tennessee was next up for me and after watching the Volunteers go 5-0, nothing has changed on that front either.

Looking Ahead

Big matchups at the Astros Foundation Classic. The grandaddy of college baseball’s non-conference tournaments has a new title sponsor this year, but it’s the same high-quality field for the event that has been held at Minute Maid Park since 2001. This year, No. 2 LSU, No. 9 Vanderbilt, No. 14 Texas, Houston, Louisiana-Lafayette and Texas State make up the field. The weekend’s highlight is the Friday night game between LSU and Texas, but don’t sleep on Saturday’s regional rivalry showdowns between Texas and Texas State and LSU and Louisiana.

No. 10 Clemson and No. 12 South Carolina set for cross-state showdown. One of college baseball’s best rivalries is set to be renewed this weekend in the Palmetto State, as the Tigers (6-1) and Gamecocks (7-1) face off, beginning at South Carolina’s Founders Park, before moving Saturday to Segra Park, home of low Class A Columbia, and finishing Sunday at in Clemson at Kingsmore Stadium. Both Clemson and South Carolina this weekend were pushed harder than anticipated at home by Kennesaw State and Belmont, respectively, but this rivalry series tends to bring out the best in both teams. A fun subplot to the weekend is the matchup between South Carolina’s Ethan Petry and Clemson’s Cam Cannarella, two of the best sophomores in the country and early favorites to be top-10 picks in 2025.

Indiana State visits Southern Miss. This is going to fly a little under the radar on a busy weekend because neither team is ranked, but don’t let that fool you. Two of the nation’s premier mid-major programs will meet this weekend at Pete Taylor Park for a series that could have lasting NCAA Tournament ramifications. The Sycamores (7-0) this week landed just on the outside of the Top 25 and the Golden Eagles (6-2) are squarely in the mix as well. Expect a high-level matchup with a lot of good pitching in this one.

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