Off The Bat: ACC Delivers Excitement And UCSB Sweeps
Teddy Cahill runs through the biggest storylines. To see the updated Top 25, click here.
- ACC opening weekend provides highlights
- UCSB has perfect weekend against Pac-12
- Eight for Omaha
- Weekend Standouts
- Looking Ahead
Opening Weekend Of ACC Play Provides Plenty Of Highlights
The ACC placed eight teams in the Preseason Top 25, the most of any conference. We projected it to put 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament and seriously talked about whether to include an 11th, which would be a record. I felt like nearly every team in the conference had improved, especially the teams that finished last season in the bottom half.
But the ACC sputtered out of the gate this season. Louisville and Miami, the conference’s best national championship contenders and division favorites, lost high-profile series to SEC teams in the first two weeks (Louisville at Mississippi, Miami at home against Florida). Wake Forest got swept at Long Beach State and Georgia Tech got swept by Georgia. North Carolina lost a home series to Dallas Baptist. Duke and Florida State lost Opening Day games to Army and Niagara.
By the time ACC play began this weekend, the conference was down to six teams in the Top 25 and the SEC had passed it for the most representatives in the rankings. Louisville and Miami still looked like the favorites, but uncertainty reigned throughout the conference.
One weekend of conference play isn’t enough to draw sweeping conclusions about any individual team, but the ACC’s opening weekend did show how entertaining the conference can be this spring. Consider just a handful of the weekend’s headlines from around the league.
Virginia won a series against previously unbeaten North Carolina State. After the teams split the first two games, the Cavaliers rolled to a 10-3 victory Sunday to claim the series. Since losing an Opening Weekend series in Pensacola against Oklahoma, Virginia is 11-2 and this week entered the Top 25 at No. 17.
As it usually does for Virginia, it started on the mound. NC State came into the series averaging 10.4 runs per game but was held to 12 total this weekend. Righthander Mike Vasil delivered a quality start Saturday and while righthander Griff McGarry and lefthander Nate Savino only combined for eight innings Friday and Sunday, they also combined to hold the Wolfpack to three runs (two earned). Virginia’s bullpen did the rest, with the formidable combination of lefthander Andrew Abbott and righthander Stephen Schoch combining to allow just one run in 6.2 innings over the two days.
The Cavaliers’ offense flexed its own muscles scoring 19 runs on the weekend. It’s a relatively young group – of the eight players who have started more than half Virginia’s 16 games, five are in their first or second year in the program – but has shown it can score runs in multiple ways. The Cavaliers have stolen 30 bases and hit 19 home runs, two of which came Sunday from third baseman Zack Gelof. His second homer was a missile that cleared the left field bleachers and went an estimated 452 feet.
Virginia has shown good overall balance and has come together well early in the season. After missing the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons, the Cavaliers look to be back on track to where they’re accustomed to being under coach Brian O’Connor – competing at the top of the ACC and beyond.
“Where we’re at in this season, this is a big step for us certainly,” O’Connor said. “We wanted to go down the opening week against Oklahoma and win the series against those guys, a ranked opponent, and couldn’t pull it off but this this weekend I thought we played really, really good baseball and I’m really happy with what I saw.”
Duke won a series against Florida State and righthander Bryce Jarvis on Friday carried a perfect game into the seventh inning.
Behind Jarvis, who completed a perfect game two weeks ago against Cornell and against the Seminoles retired the first 20 batters, the Blue Devils won the first two games of the series. Despite a loss in Sunday’s finale, they climbed to No. 10 in the Top 25.
With Jarvis (3-1, 0.67) and righthander Cooper Stinson (3-0, .042) at the front of the rotation and closer Thomas Girard (1-0, 2.31, 4 SV) anchoring the bullpen, the Blue Devils are formidable on the mound. They entered the weekend first in the nation in ERA (1.42) and while that number ticked up after the Seminoles scored 10 runs Sunday, the Blue Devils’ front-end arms are going to be hard to beat this season. Developing some more depth will be important but righthander Jack Carey has been solid since taking over as the Sunday starter and Duke can call on reliable relievers Matt Dockman and Eli Herrick.
Offensively, Duke is not and will not be a juggernaut this season. It’s hitting .242 as a team and still searching for its best lineup. But it can build around Matt Mervis (.288/.448/.577, 3 HR) and Michael Rothenberg (.341/.531/.585) and trust that its pitching staff will keep it in games long enough to scratch out a few runs.
The Blue Devils passed a difficult test this weekend and will have more as conference play continues. For now, at least, they’re flying high.
Notre Dame completed a sweep of North Carolina in Chapel Hill to improve to 10-2 under first-year coach Link Jarrett.
It was the first ACC road sweep for the Fighting Irish since 2016 and the first time the Tar Heels had been swept in Boshamer Stadium by an ACC foe since 2015.
The Irish were tough to get a read on in the first few weeks. They had run off a 7-2 record but hadn’t played a team that projected to be in regionals or even one that finished in the top 100 of RPI last season. But against North Carolina, Notre Dame made a loud statement. It scored 33 runs against UNC. And while this may not be a vintage Tar Heels’ pitching staff, it’s still a solid one.
Jarrett is a well-respected hitting coach and the early results have been excellent. Preseason All-American Niko Kavadas already has six home runs despite hitting just .220/.311/.580. Spencer Myers is running wild with 15 stolen bases and is hitting .423/.492/.462.
The Irish are trying out a lot of players in the lineup – 12 players have at least 20 at bats – and they’re getting production from just about all of them, as they did again Sunday when they scored 14 runs.
“Offensively from top to bottom, the quality of our at bats was excellent,” Jarrett said. “I thought we were tough and did a lot of things well throughout the lineup.”
The pitching staff has been Notre Dame’s strength the last few years but it’s still coming together at this point. Lefthander Tommy Sheehan (3-0, 2.70) has been excellent at the front of the rotation and lefthander Tommy Vail (2-0, 2.25) is a reliable bullpen ace. To keep up this hot start, Notre Dame is going to need more from the rest of its rotation and remain strong in the bullpen. Preseason All-American reliever Joe Boyle (1-1, 3.38) has been better this season and has 16 strikeouts in eight innings, but also has 13 walks. Getting him even more consistent would be a big boost.
But, as it stands, Notre Dame looks significantly improved this season. It has a big test this weekend at No. 6 Louisville before finally returning home the following week. It’s early, but this weekend was a strong start as the Irish look to get back to regionals for the first time since 2015.
Louisville lefthander Reid Detmers struck out 15 batters Friday night at Wake Forest.
The Demon Deacons lineup is full of good, veteran hitters but Detmers and the rest of the Cardinals staff handled it well this weekend.
It started with Detmers striking out 15 batters in six innings in a 4-1 victory. He worked around four hits and two walks before turning the ball over to Adam Elliott and Michael Kirian to close out the win. Detmers, a Preseason All-American, is now 3-0, 1.23 with 48 strikeouts and six walks in 22 innings this season.
Louisville built on that performance with quality starts from Bobby Miller and Luke Smith the next two days to win the series. In all, the Cardinals held the Demon Deacons to 19 hits and eight runs on the weekend.
After a bit of a slow start – it was giving up more than five runs per game through the season’s first two weeks – Louisville has locked in on the mound. It looks to have the best pitching staff in the ACC, though Miami and maybe Virginia will probably have something to say about that by the end of the season. Pitching like they showed this weekend is what makes the Cardinals a national title contender.
Can the ACC produce this kind of excitement all season long? With the kind of depth the conference appears to have, that certainly seems possible. It's a good thing the ACC Network launched in time for this spring.
UCSB Produces Perfect Week Against Pac-12 Competition
Looking at the week’s schedule last Monday, UC Santa Barbara coach Andrew Checketts knew his team was in for a challenge. The Gauchos would be faced with a game Tuesday against undefeated UCLA and then a series at Oregon State. Checketts figured he would get to see how his team, which was 9-2, handled some adversity.
A week later, that punch in the nose was nowhere to be found. UCSB had gone 4-0 against UCLA and Oregon State to improve to 13-2 and move to the cusp of the Top 25.
As he began the trip home, Checketts was feeling fantastic.
“Going into it, I knew it was going to be a challenging week,” he said. “We exceeded my expectations in terms of the win-loss column.”
After beating UCLA, 8-5, on Tuesday to knock the Bruins from the ranks of the undefeated, UCSB turned its attention north.
Checketts was the 1994 Oregon high school player of the year, went to Oregon State and then coached at Oregon for three years. When he first pulled up the weather forecast for the weekend, he saw a familiar “Northwest Special.” He admitted living in sunny Santa Barbara for the last decade has made him “soft,” but the Gauchos were ready for the cold, wet conditions.
The Beavers uncharacteristically made nine errors on the weekend. The Gauchos made just one. They also had the advantage in walks – drawing 18 to the Beavers’ 14.
Those two factors played heavily on the weekend. Oregon State outhit UCSB in every game and 18-11 on the weekend but was only able to score two runs and was shut out in the first two games of the series.
“It was rough this weekend,” Checketts said. “It was cold, wet, not conducive to offense, a little sloppy. Our guys did a good job taking care of the baseball and throwing enough strikes.”
That started Friday night in a strange 6-0 victory. The Gauchos got one-hit by the Beavers but still managed to plate six runs, taking advantage of nine walks and four errors. Checketts said even the one hit UCSB got – a triple from shortstop McClain O’Connor – could have been scored as an error and he wouldn’t have complained.
But UCSB’s trio on the mound was just as good. Lefthander Rodney Boone and relievers Conner Roberts and Alex Schrier combined for a two-hitter and the Gauchos scored a big win – one unlike Checketts had ever seen.
“It was remarkable,” he said. “It was really tough to hit, a lot of strikeouts, not a lot of strikes on both sides, but we took care of the baseball better.”
UCSB won 4-0 Saturday in a little more conventional fashion. Lefthander Zach Torra and Conner David combined for a six-hit shutout and the Gauchos did enough offensively, with O’Connor tripling again and third baseman Cole Cummings providing two hits.
In Sunday’s finale, UCSB fell behind early, as Oregon State pushed two runs across in the second inning to snap a 19-inning scoreless drought in the series. But righthander Michael McGreevy held the Beavers at bay into the sixth inning before turning the game over to the bullpen. Kyle Johnson homered and UCSB took advantage of Oregon State’s three errors in the seventh inning to push across two more runs, which proved to be the difference in a 3-2 victory.
Impressive pitching, timely hitting and sound defense – a tried and true recipe for victory. And one that worked to perfection this week for the Gauchos.
“Pitching and defense have carried us,” Checketts said. “When you pitch well and play defense, you have a shot. Our offense is a bit of a work in progress. Some is we lost a lot of guys, we’re battling some injuries and some of our projected starting lineup is not out there. The offense is going to take some time.
“This weekend I don’t know if it mattered who was hitting, hits were hard to come by on both sides of the field. But based on how we pitched and played defense, we’ve got a shot.”
After last year winning its first Big West title in 45 years, UCSB was expected by many to take a step back this season. It had 10 players drafted and signed off that team and in the preseason coaches’ poll, it was picked fourth.
But it doesn’t look like UCSB needs to take a step back. Boone (2-1, 2.53), Torra (3-0, 0.36) and McGreevy (2-0, 0.99) make for a strong rotation and Checketts has options in the bullpen. Though the Gauchos aren’t a finished product offensively, they have potential. McClain (.238/.324/.381, 5 SB) gives them a trusted senior in the middle of the infield and second baseman Marcos Castanon (.288/.354/.525, 4 HR) has developed into a middle-of-the-order threat as a junior.
In some ways, this year’s team reminds Checketts of the 2016 Gauchos. They were also expected to take a step back after the 2015 hosted a regional but that was the team that reached the College World Series. It’s not a perfect comparison because that team had Shane Bieber, who has gone on to show just how special he was.
This year’s Gauchos will in time prove if they have that kind of upside. For now, however, they’re well positioned to keep exceeding expectations, just like they did this week.
Florida State Baseball: Five Questions to Answer Entering 2021
Florida State again has all the pieces to contend for an ACC title and more in 2021.
Eight For Omaha
Arizona State, Florida, Louisville, Miami, Mississippi, Texas Tech, UCLA, Vanderbilt
I want to sit here and be stubborn about Michigan and say that it’ll get better, that center fielder Jesse Franklin will come back and energize the offense, that righthander Jeff Criswell will round into form at the front of the rotation to give the Wolverines an electric 1-2 punch with lefthander Steve Hajjar, that the Wolverines have yet to play a home game and are road weary. I still believe all of that to be true. I believe in Michigan’s ceiling and am understanding that it’s pretty banged up right now. But the Wolverines are in this strange rut where they’ve won every second game since Opening Weekend and are coming off a series loss at Pepperdine. They aren’t playing like an Omaha team right now. And until the things I outlined above come to pass, that’s not likely to change.
So, it’s time to move Michigan out and Ole Miss in. I gave the nod to Ole Miss over Georgia because while the Bulldogs may have the edge in run prevention, I think the Rebels’ offensive upside is enough to make up for it – and they’re really good on the mound themselves. And while I could have included both and dropped Vanderbilt following a 1-2 weekend at the Southern California College Baseball Classic, forgive me for being more patient with the reigning national champions that are still breaking in the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class and were missing Austin Martin most of the weekend due to a hamstring injury.
Five players or programs who put together big weekends
Peyton Graham, 3B, Oklahoma: In a series win against San Diego State, Graham went 6-for-13 with two home runs, two doubles, six runs and three RBI. The freshman hit two home runs in Saturday’s 8-4 victory and collected two hits in all three games. Graham is hitting .359/.455/.625 with three home runs and eight stolen bases this season.
Navy: The Midshipmen (12-1) this weekend swept through the Navy Tournament, beating Penn State, Fairleigh Dickinson and Maryland-Baltimore County, to extend their winning streak to 12 games. Navy started the weekend with a wild 2-1 victory in 11 innings against Penn State despite getting no-hit. The winning streak is tied for the third longest in the nation and has the Midshipmen riding a wavy of momentum going into the start of Patriot League play next weekend.
Gavin Stone, RHP, Central Arkansas: Stone on Friday threw a no-hitter against Southeastern Louisiana in a 2-0 victory. He struck out 13 batters and faced just one batter more than the minimum, his only blemish a leadoff walk in the fifth inning. The no-hitter was the third in program history. Central Arkansas (7-8) went on to win the series to open Southland Conference play.
Wichita State: The Shockers (13-2) swept Louisiana Tech to extend their winning streak to 12 games, tied for the third longest in the nation. Wichita State completed the sweep with a wild 10-9 victory Sunday that saw it take an early 8-0 lead only to blow it and go into the ninth trailing, 9-8. The Shockers battled back to walk off with the win and extend their longest winning streak since 2008, an impressive start for first-year coach Eric Wedge.
Wright State: The Raiders (5-9) have played a brutally tough schedule so far, including 10 road games against ACC and SEC teams, but started to see it all click together this week. On Friday, Wright State beat Tennessee, 5-4, to hand the Volunteers their first loss of the season. After Tennessee evened the series Saturday, Wright State bounced back to win Sunday’s rubber game to win their first series of the season.
Three weekend series we’re most excited for
(3) Georgia at (1) Florida: The Gators (16-0) are the last remaining undefeated team in the country and face a huge rivalry week in Gainesville. First, they face Florida State on Tuesday before welcoming Georgia (14-2) to McKethan Stadium to open SEC play. The Bulldogs and Gators squared off this fall in Jacksonville on the eve of the two schools’ rivalry football game, drawing 8,640 fans. It should be another fun atmosphere this weekend with plenty of premium talent on the diamond, especially on the mound.
Notre Dame at (6) Louisville: The Fighting Irish (10-2, 3-0) made this series a lot more interesting when they this weekend swept North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The Cardinals (11-4, 2-1) won a series at Wake Forest and are looked like the national title contenders they were expected to be coming into the season. Notre Dame presents a tricky test for Louisville, which will be happy to be back in Patterson Stadium as three of its first four ACC series are on the road.
(12) Long Beach State at Tulane: The Dirtbags (10-5) have won their first four series, including a sweep of Wake Forest and a series win against Mississippi State, to push into the top 15 for the first time since 2017. But they have played just one road game so far – a loss at San Diego State. Now Beach must leave the friendly confines of Blair Field and travel to Tulane (13-2). The Green Wave is off to a strong start of its own. This weekend represents a good test for both teams.
Two weekend series to watch
Iowa at Cal State Northridge: The Hawkeyes (8-5) and Matadors (10-5) are both off to encouraging starts to the season and have a chance this weekend to add a quality series victory to their resumes. Iowa has three winning weekends, including a 2-1 showing against ACC competition at the Cambria College Classic in Minneapolis. CSUN started the season 7-0 before facing a couple tough four-game series at Central Florida and Gonzaga. It’ll be happy to return home after 11 straight games away from Matador Field.
Loyola Marymount at Brigham Young: The West Coast Conference looks to be stout this season and delivers a solid series to open conference play. BYU (7-9) last season won the regular-season title, while LMU (8-8) won the conference tournament. Both teams figure to be in the mix again this season, though could use an early dose of momentum to keep pace with Pepperdine, which has emerged as the favorite.
One midweek series to keep an eye on
(2) Texas Tech vs. (13) Mississippi State, Tuesday-Wednesday in Biloxi: Both the Red Raiders (16-1) and Bulldogs (10-4) will start conference play this weekend. Before that, however, they’ll square off in an intriguing midweek series at MGM Park, the home of Double-A Biloxi. Texas Tech is riding a 12-game winning streak, tied for the third longest in the country, while Mississippi State is looking to build some momentum after a hard-earned sweep of Quinnipiac.