15 Takeaways From A Thrilling College Baseball Opening Weekend (Off The Bat)


Image credit: Duke's Jonathan Santucci (Photo by Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images)

College baseball returned with a big weekend of action around the country. While there weren’t any marquee series and even the tournament fields were a little lackluster, after a long offseason, it was good just to have the games back.

After the first of 15 weekends before Selection Monday, here are 15 takeaways from around the country.

1. The story of opening weekend came Friday in Greenville, when ECU redshirt freshman Parker Byrd made his college debut. Byrd suffered serious injuries in a boating accident in July 2022 and part of his right leg was amputated. He never gave up his dream of playing for the Pirates, however, and they stuck with him and helped him through his recovery.

Coming into the season, it was anticipated that Byrd would at some point get a chance to play. As it turned out, he didn’t have to wait long. Byrd appeared as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning of ECU’s 16-2 victory against Rider, becoming the first Division I athlete to play in a game with a prosthetic leg. He received a standing ovation from the crowd of 5,221 fans at Clark-LeClair Stadium before drawing a five-pitch walk. He was then removed for a pinch runner.

Byrd said he got chills while walking to the plate.

“It was unreal,” he said. “I really can’t put it into words. It’s phenomenal.”

ECU went on to sweep the series against the reigning Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament champions. The schedule ratchets up from here, as the Pirates on Tuesday visit Campbell and then take on North Carolina on the weekend.

But for the first weekend, it was all about Byrd’s emotional debut.

2. The most intriguing tournament of opening weekend was Coastal Carolina’s Baseball at the Beach. And Duke came away as the weekend’s big winner.

The Blue Devils went 3-0 in Conway, beating Indiana, 6-3; George Mason, 23-5; and Coastal, 5-3. The way Duke pitched against some good offensive teams in a hitter’s park wasn’t surprising considering that was supposed to be the strength of the team. The way the Duke bats erupted was a great sign for its 2024 hopes. It hit 11 home runs in Saturday’s win against GMU and totaled 16 on the weekend. Seemingly everyone on the roster got into the offensive fun, showcasing a deep, veteran lineup.

There will be harder weekends ahead for Duke and both the Hoosiers and Chanticleers are young on the mound. But this was a very exciting start to a season with some big expectations.

3. Coastal went 1-2 in its tournament, beating only George Mason. That’s not what the Chants wanted this weekend, but it’s also not cause for panic. IU and Duke are Top 25 teams with potent offenses, not who you’d ideally be facing on opening weekend when you’re trying to rebuild a pitching staff.

The early season key for Coastal will be finding the right mix on the mound and it got some encouraging signs on that front. Righthander Riley Eikhoff started the season off with six hitless innings against GMU. Righthander Alexander Meckley, a junior college transfer, had a solid first start against Indiana (4.1 IP, 2 R, 6 K). Graduate transfers Trevor Hinkel and Will Smith combined to strike out seven of the eight Duke batters they faced.

The Chants need a few more pieces of the puzzle and a more consistent offensive performance, but all in all, there was a lot to take from the weekend.

“I saw way more encouraging things than negative things,” coach Gary Gilmore said.

4. The Shriners Hospitals for Children College Showdown brought an intriguing slate to Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, and it also produced a solid weekend. Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas Tech all finished 2-1, while Nebraska went 1-2 and Baylor was swept.

It didn’t feel like anyone went away as a big winner, but the four teams that got two wins all have something to hang their hat on from the weekend. Oklahoma and Texas Tech both bounced back well from Opening Day losses. Oregon can feel good about its two wins to start the weekend. Tennessee can feel great about its pitching staff after AJ Russell (4.1 IP, 2 R, 10 K) and AJ Causey (4.2 IP, 0 R, 7 K) combined to shut down Texas Tech’s potent offense Friday.

5. Nebraska, meanwhile, will rue its missed opportunities. The Cornhuskers beat Baylor, 4-1, on Friday. They then were tied going to the ninth Saturday against Texas Tech, only to give up three runs and lose, 6-3. On Sunday against Oklahoma, they were ahead 6-3 at the stretch and 6-5 going to the ninth, only to lose, 7-6.

Nebraska last year finished a respectable 33-23-1 and fourth place in the Big Ten, but poor early season results meant they never were able to build a postseason worthy RPI. This weekend’s losses won’t cost the Huskers, but they also don’t have that many chances to grab quality non-conference wins. Nebraska will look to bounce back this weekend with a tricky four-game series at Grand Canyon.

6. The traditional season-opening series between Cal State Fullerton and Stanford had a bit more intrigue this year thanks to the turnover both teams had experienced from last season. It was the Titans who put down an early marker, on Friday sweeping a doubleheader on the road to claim the series. The Cardinal rebounded with a win Sunday to salvage the series.

Fullerton was picked sixth in the preseason Big West coaches’ poll, a nod to how inexperienced the team is on paper. It’s just one weekend, but the Titans showed something at Stanford. Outfielder Colby Wallace, who got 93 at-bats in 2023, went 6-for-13 and hit two home runs to lead the offense. Draven Nushida, who got just 14 at-bats a year ago, went 4-for-13 with a double and a triple. On the mound, righthander Christian Rodriguez threw six scoreless innings in the opener to lead the way. It was his first appearance since April 2, 2022, as he had been sidelined by Tommy John surgery.

It looks like the top tier of the Big West will be quite tough this season (more on that in a second), but if Fullerton can continue to count on players like Wallace and Rodriguez it doesn’t need to take a step back in 2024.

7. We were aggressive with our preseason ranking of Stanford and that had a lot to do with my optimism about the Cardinal. I’m not hitting the panic button after one weekend, but the offense is going to have to get better. Preseason All-American Malcolm Moore went just 2-for-11 on the weekend, and he won’t do that too often. But the Cardinal need to find someone to help him shoulder the burden. Maybe that will be outfielder Saborn Campbell, who scored three of the team’s 10 runs this weekend, or shortstop Trevor Haskins, who doubled twice Sunday, but they’ll need the offense to come from somewhere.

8. As a whole, the Big West had a nice opening weekend. In addition to Fullerton taking down Stanford, Long Beach State went 2-0-1 against Washington, Cal Poly won a series against Missouri and Hawaii split with Mississippi. No. 21 UC Irvine swept North Dakota State and UC San Diego, the reigning champion, swept San Jose State. Those are the kinds of results the conference needs if it is going to build the RPI to support at-large NCAA Tournament teams.

9. A series that wasn’t quite so good for the Big West was UC Santa Barbara’s setback at Campbell. The Gauchos on Friday routed the Camels, 20-8, in a sloppy game that saw the teams combine for 31 walks (third most in Division I history). Campbell bounced back to win the next two games, winning 5-4 on Saturday and 7-3 in the finale.

I’m not going to jump to conclusions about either team. While control was an issue for UCSB pitchers all weekend, it’s something you would expect to improve for a staff of its quality. Campbell will get better Friday pitching than it did this weekend. Both teams should be able to build off this series.

10. No. 1 Wake Forest swept through its weekend tournament, proving to be too much for Fordham, Illinois and Akron. While the Demon Deacons did outscore their opponents 28-8 on the weekend, they got out-hit in each of the first two games. That’s nothing particularly concerning nowthey drew 15 walks in those two games and three of their nine hits went for home runsbut it is a reminder of how much changed in the lineup in the last year and how it might take the Deacs a few weeks to put everything together again.

More notable was Preseason All-American righthander Chase Burns’ debut Saturday. Facing Illinois, he struck out 10 batters in six scoreless innings and held the Illini to three hits and a walk. He touched 101 mph and his fastball averaged 98 mph to go with his devastating slider. It was everything you’d want to see from arguably the most talented pitcher in the country, especially one who has something to prove as a high-end starter. And the Wake Forest social media team didn’t miss an opportunity to let everyone know.

I’ve seen those posts interpreted as a shot at Tennessee. The Volunteers last year removed Burns from the rotation midseason and turned him into a relief ace. The decision worked out for the Vols, who reached the College World Series. Andrew Lindsey, who replaced Burns in the rotation, turned into an All-American and Burns was exceptional in his new role. But that move also contributed to Burns’ decision to enter the transfer portal following the season.

So, that’s one way to take it. But I think it was more directed at the scouting community. MLB evaluators have been trying for years to figure out if Burns was more of a starter or a reliever. One start in February isn’t going to put those concerns to bed, but it sure looked like the start of something.

11. Sam Houston State beat Oklahoma State on Friday and Saturday to score a big series win. The Bearkats got impressive pitching in those games, holding the Cowboys to a total of three runs on 11 hits. While Oklahoma State broke out for a 19-2 win in Sunday’s finale, what Sam Houston got from its piggyback tandems of Coltin Atkinson (5 IP, 2 R, 1 ER) and Logan Hewitt (4 IP, 0 R), and Marshall Wales (4 IP, 1 R, 0 ER) and Wyatt Tucker (4 IP, 0 R) sets them up well this season as they enter Conference USA.

Sam Houston is now 2-0 in weekend series at home against Big 12 competition. Something to consider the next time you see a series like this weekend’s on the Bearkats’ schedule.

12. If you had told me last Thursday that Oklahoma State pitching would hold Sam Houston to 11 runs on the weekend, I would have assumed the Cowboys won the series, if not swept it. Pitching is supposed to the be their question mark, but they mostly looked pretty good on the mound in Huntsville. Lefthander Sam Garcia (4.1 IP, 4 R) will need to get better at the front of the rotation, but righthander Janzen Keisel (5 IP, 0 R, 6 K) and righthander Brian Holiday (6 IP, 0 R) followed with strong starts.

You’ve got to figure that Oklahoma State will hit better than it did the first two days of the series. If it is able to do that and still get those kinds of starts from Keisel and Holiday, the Cowboys will have much better days ahead.

13. Northeastern, picked to win the Coastal Athletic Association and debuting in the Top 25 at No. 24, had a tough opening weekend assignment in a series at Arizona. While the Wildcats were picked ninth in the preseason Pac-12 coaches’ poll, they still are a program with a wealth of tradition and are coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance. To top it off, the Huskies are a northern team traveling cross country for their first games of the season.

None of that is going to make the series loss feel any better for the Huskies, but it’s important to take into context. They’ll go off the radar for a few weeksnext weekend they play Minnesota in Fort Myers, Fla., before traveling to Mercer and Old Dominionbut don’t write them off for a bad opening weekend.

14. Arizona got no buzz coming into the season. Coming off an eighth-place finish in the conference and a two-and-out performance in regionals, the Wildcats had five players drafted in the top 10 rounds. All of that led to a lot of uncertainty, and they were picked ninth in the preseason Pac-12 coaches’ poll, their lowest ranking since 2016 – Jay Johnson’s first season in Tucson.

After one weekend, however, I’m wondering if Arizona didn’t get overlooked. Northeastern has a strong rotation and the Wildcats tagged them for 15 runs in 7.1 innings. Meanwhile, Arizona’s own trio of Jackson Kent (6 IP, 1 R, 8 K), Clark Candiotti (5 IP, 3 R, 2 ER) and Anthony Susac (4 IP, 0 R) looked strong. The Pac-12 is relatively open behind Oregon State. Perhaps Arizona will take advantage of that vacuum and surprise this spring.

15. South Carolina on Sunday threw a combined, seven-inning no-hitter in a 14-0 victory against Miami (Ohio). RHP Roman Kimball, RHP Ty Good, LHP Tyler Pitzer, RHP Parker Marlatt and RHP Tyler Dean combined for the eighth no-hitter in program history.

On the weekend, the Gamecocks held the RedHawks to five runs on 12 hits. Miami is obviously not the best offense South Carolina will face this spring, but given that the Gamecocks’ biggest question mark coming into the season was pitching, it was an encouraging series.

Eight for Omaha

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

No changes to the version of this I did in January. Nothing to be too reactionary too this weekend, though I will say that righthander AJ Russell’s performance on Friday has me even more bullish than I already was on Tennessee. So, consider the Volunteers as next up.

Looking Ahead

No. 15 ECU, No. 16 North Carolina set for top-20 showdown. The Pirates and Tar Heels will play their annual rivalry series, starting Friday in Chapel Hill before moving onto Fayetteville on Saturday and Greenville for Sunday’s finale. Both teams started the season with sweeps and have high expectations for the year. This is the first top-20 series of the year, and it looks like a great one.

No. 10 Virginia, No. 18 Iowa, No. 20 Auburn head for Jacksonville. The inaugural Jax College Baseball Classic, hosted by Double-A Jacksonville, has an intriguing field, rounded out by Wichita State. The Friday night showdown between the Hawkeyes and the Tigers is probably the headliner, with powerful righthanders Brody Brecht and Chase Allsup set to duel, and the Sunday finale of Auburn and Virginia is intriguing as well.

A big weekend of baseball in the Metroplex. Globe Life Field hosts a tournament field of No. 3 Arkansas, No. 4 Oregon State, Michigan and Oklahoma State. The highlight there is the Friday night showdown between the Razorbacks and Beavers. In Fort Worth, No. 6 TCU hosts No. 24 UCLA for a series. And, for good measure, Central Michigan travels to No. 25 Dallas Baptist and Boston College heads to Texas-Arlington.

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