2023 College Baseball Conference Tournament Roundup (May 25)
Here's a look at what happened in college baseball conference tournaments on Thursday.
North Carolina toppled Virginia, 10-2, to win its pool and advance to the tournament semifinals. The Tar Heels led 4-2 at the end of six innings, but would go on to score three runs in both the seventh and eighth innings to pull away. Tomas Frick went 3-for-5 with a double and five RBIs to pace the offense, while Dalton Pence spun 3.2 shutout innings out of the bullpen to close the game.
The result of the game had no real NCAA Tournament implications, although Virginia is no longer a sure bet to be a top-eight national seed. North Carolina is solidly a two seed, but if it is able to take home the conference championship it will thrust itself into the hosting conversation. Even with an ACC Championship under their belts it will be tough for the Tar Heels to host, but at the very least they will be discussed as such.
The final contest of the day featured Miami and North Carolina State, and the Hurricanes played their way to a hard-fought 4-2 victory. The first inning was filled with action as Edgardo Villegas hit a two-run home run for the Hurricanes in the top half, while Eli Serrano laced a two-run single for the Wolfpack in the bottom half. Renzo Gonzalez broke the tie in the fourth inning with a run-scoring single, and the Hurricanes were able to add an insurance run in the eighth inning thanks to a passed ball. Andrew Walters fired 2.1 scoreless innings to slam the door and punch Miami's ticket to the semifinal round.
With the win, Miami has solidified itself as a host but could even play its way into a top-eight seed with a conference championship. As for North Carolina State, it is in for an anxious 72 hours on the bubble. The Wolfpack have a sub-.500 conference record, but their RPI of 23 might be just enough to sneak into the tournament field.
In what was a bit of a surprise result, Xavier comfortably beat regular season champion Connecticut, 10-2. The Musketeers advance to the championship round, where they will need to win just one game to take home the conference championship. UConn and Georgetown will battle it out this evening for the right to face Xavier, but whoever comes out on top will need to beat the Musketeers twice in a row to win the conference title. The Huskies did not play their best baseball yesterday and Xavier was able to build an 8-2 lead by the end of the fifth inning, with the big blow being a Jack Housinger two-run home run.
Xavier all of a sudden is now on the right side of the bubble as a projected three-seed and while a Big East championship would clinch an NCAA Tournament berth for the Musketeers, they can feel pretty good about their resume thanks to their 36 wins, top-50 RPI and a non-conference strength of schedule of 57.
It was always going to be an uphill battle for UConn to host and while it does have 41 wins and could still win the conference, its RPI of 25 will be tough to overcome at this point.
Entering Wednesday's slate of games, there was still a path for Texas, West Virginia, or Oklahoma State to host. By the late afternoon, however, both the Longhorns and Mountaineers were eliminated from the conference tournament and neither will host. Kansas State shut out Texas, 6-0, behind excellent pitching from Ty Ruhl and Tyson Neighbors. The duo combined to strike out 12 Longhorns and held them to just two hits on the afternoon. This was a huge win for Kansas State as it came into yesterday on the wrong side of the bubble, but is now projected as one of the last four teams in the Field of 64.
Oklahoma State took down West Virginia, 3-2, in what was a highly competitive game throughout. The Cowboys were able to manufacture a pair of runs in the first inning, but the Mountaineers eventually tied the game in the sixth inning after a Sam White RBI groundout. The score would remain tied until Roc Riggio laced a game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning.
It was a bit of a role reversal game on the mound for Oklahoma State as usual closer Nolan McLean made just his second start of the season, while Friday night ace Juaron Watts-Brown threw three shutout innings with seven strikeouts to seal the victory. West Virginia is no longer in contention to host and although the Cowboys must win the conference tournament to even be considered, there is still a path.
In the night cap, Oklahoma and Texas Tech squared off in what was a roller coaster of a game. Oklahoma went up 5-0 in the top of the fourth inning, but the Red Raiders responded with four runs of their own in the bottom half of the inning to make it a one-run game. The Sooners were able to extend their lead to 9-5 heading into the later innings, but Texas Tech would go on to score five unanswered runs and win in thrilling fashion. Dylan Maxcey crushed a two-run home run in the seventh inning to cut the Oklahoma lead to 9-7, which is where it stood until the Red Raiders were down to their last out. Tracer Lopez and Nolen Hester hit back-to-back RBI singles to tie the game before Kevin Bazzell hit a walkoff single to lift Texas Tech to a 10-9 victory.
Texas Tech was safely in the tournament to begin with, but after its loss Oklahoma is now just barely on the wrong side of the bubble and is projected as one of the first four teams out. The Sooners could really help their tournament chances with a win over Oklahoma State Friday.
Rutgers yesterday had its tournament hopes erased, as it lost 6-4 to Michigan State, while Maryland beat Nebraska 2-1 in 10 innings. Nick Lorusso delivered the biggest swing of the day for the Terrapins, as he belted a walkoff home run in the bottom of the 10th. Lorusso now has 22 home runs and 98 RBIs on the season and between the remainder of the conference tournament and regional play, has a very realistic shot to eclipse the 100-RBI mark.
Three-seed Ball State defeated one-seed Kent State, 6-1, to advance to the championship game behind a complete game effort from Trennor O'Donnell. The Golden Flashes now have a difficult path to a potential conference championship as they will need to beat Central Michigan Friday afternoon and then take two games in a row from Ball State.
Arizona State exploded for 14 runs on 20 hits to beat Oregon State in what was a must-win game for the Sun Devils. All nine hitters in the ASU lineup recorded at least one hit, while five had multi-RBI performances. Likely day one draft pick Luke Keaschall went 3-for-6 with a home run and four RBIs, freshman Nu'u Contrades went 5-for-6 with a triple and three RBIs and Nick McLain went 3-for-6 with a double, two triples, and three RBIs. Even though the Sun Devils lost three of their last four regular season series and failed to make it out of pool play in the conference tournament, Thursday's win has them just barely on the right side of the bubble heading into this weekend.
Oregon last night beat Stanford, 8-6, in 10 innings to both advance to the conference semifinals and secure an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks trailed 6-4 entering the ninth inning, but were able to tie the game thanks to a Rikuu Nishida sacrifice fly and a Colby Shade little league home run. Shade lifted a ball just beyond the outstretched glove of Stanford right fielder Braden Montgomery and was on his way to third base, but cutoff man Drew Bowser airmailed his throw out of play which allowed Shade to score.
Sabin Ceballos hit a majestic, game-winning home run in the top of the 10th inning to put the Ducks up for good.
Texas A&M continued its strong play in Hoover, shutting out a potent South Carolina offense, 5-0. The Aggies' pitching staff held the Gamecocks to just one hit on the day, and it was the second time in three days that they held an opposing offense to one hit.
In the baseball version of the Iron Bowl, Alabama took down rival Auburn, 7-4. It felt as if Alabama was in control of the game for its entirety and while Auburn kept it close, the offense was unable to come through with the clutch hit it needed. With the loss, Auburn is now eliminated from the conference tournament but is still projected as a regional host. Alabama continues to solidify itself as a host and could even thrust itself into the national seed discussion if it is able to win the conference championship.
In the first of two marquee matchups, Arkansas notched a big 5-4 win over Louisiana State. Paul Skenes was not as dominant as he has been in previous outings, but he did hit 103 mph with his fastball on the stadium gun.
The Razorbacks were kept off the scoreboard until a five-run outburst in the fourth inning thanks to RBI singles by Caleb Cali, Peyton Holt and Jace Bohrofen.
LSU trimmed Arkansas' lead to 5-4 in the ninth inning after a solo blast by potential No. 1 overall pick Dylan Crews, but Hunter Hollan retired each of the next two hitters to secure the win. Hagen Smith (9) and Hunter Hollan (8) combined for 17 strikeouts on the day, and Hollan was particularly impressive as he allowed only two earned runs in his 5.1 innings of relief.
In the final game of the day, Florida beat Vanderbilt 6-3 behind another monster day at the plate by catcher BT Riopelle. After hitting a walkoff, three-run home run on Wednesday against Alabama, Riopelle on Thursday went 2-for-3 with two home runs and five RBIs. After a solo blast by the veteran backstop gave Florida a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning, Vanderbilt tied it in the fifth thanks to a Davis Diaz RBI single.
With the game still tied at two in the bottom of the sixth inning, Riopelle crushed a 424-foot grand slam out to left-center field to give Florida the lead for good.
Both Florida and Arkansas have advanced to the semifinal round. Florida will get the winner of Friday's Alabama-Vanderbilt game, while Arkansas will get the winner of Texas A&M-LSU.
The top two seeds in the WAC, (1) Grand Canyon and (2) Sam Houston State, each lost last night. Grand Canyon fell to six-seed Texas-Arlington, 6-5, and Sam Houston State lost to three-seed Utah Valley, 10-6. UT-Arlington and Utah Valley square off Friday in the semifinals, and the winner will face either Grand Canyon, Sam Houston State, or Abilene Christian in Saturday's conference championship.