Big 12, Big Ten Produce Impactful Friday Night
Oklahoma State’s Upset Tops Big 12’s Busy Night
The Big 12 provided a little something for everyone Friday night. There was a top-five upset, a high-profile pitchers’ duel and a late comeback with implications on the title race.
Let’s start with Oklahoma State, which is off from conference play this week and traveled to No. 4 Oregon State for a series between two teams with ambitions of making deep postseason runs. Friday’s opener produced a game worthy of a super regional, as Oklahoma State edged Oregon State, 1-0, behind an excellent pitching performance from righthanders Jensen Elliott and Peyton Battenfield.
Elliott and Battenfield combined to throw a two-hitter, as they led the Cowboys to their first win against a top-five opponent in two years. Elliott threw seven scoreless innings, striking out four batters and holding the Beavers to two hits and two walks. Battenfield worked the final two innings to preserve the shutout and earn his first save of the season. He struck out the side in the ninth, finishing the game by striking out Adley Rutschman.
Elliott has now sandwiched his best two starts of the season around his worst. He threw a one-hit shutout against Texas two weeks ago before last week getting knocked out of the game at Texas Tech having given up seven runs in two innings. But he was able to bounce back from that outing to deliver a gem in Corvallis. The redshirt junior improved to 6-3, 4.24 on the season.
Oklahoma State scratched out a run against lefthander Brandon Eisert on first baseman Alix Garcia’s two-out single in the seventh inning. Eisert scattered nine hits, struck out eight and walked none in eight innings, but with the way Elliott and Battenfield were throwing, it wasn’t quite enough.
With the victory, Oklahoma State (26-16, 10-8) is up to No. 21 in the RPI and is third in the Big 12 standings. That has the Cowboys in the mix to host a regional in the final season of Allie P. Reynolds Stadium if they can finish the season strong. Another win this weekend in Corvallis would be a nice boost to their resume.
The Elliott-Eisert matchup turned out to be the best of the day in the conference, but the showdown between Texas Christian lefthander Nick Lodolo and West Virginia righthander Alek Manoah produced more buzz going into the day. Lodolo and Manoah are vying to be the top pitcher drafted next month, making Friday’s meeting in Morgantown a must-see event.
Neither Lodolo nor Manoah were at their best Friday, but it was Lodolo and TCU that came out on top with a 14-5 victory. Lodolo struck out nine batters in six innings and held West Virginia to three runs on five hits and two walks. Manoah struck out five and gave up five runs (four earned) on eight hits and four walks.
Lodolo got off to a rough start as he gave up a double, single and home run to the first three batters of the game. He gave up one more hit in the first inning but was then able to settle into the game. He finished his outing strong, striking out five of the last seven hitters he faced. He is now 6-4, 2.34 with 89 strikeouts and 16 walks in 77 innings this season.
Manoah, however, started strong but ultimately had one of his worst outings of the year. After starting the game with three scoreless innings, TCU was able to get to him in the middle innings and then knock him out in the seventh. It was just the third time this season Manoah (6-3, 2.07, 108 SO) did not produce a quality start.
The victory was a much needed one for TCU (25-19, 7-9), which was 2-8 in its last 10 games entering Friday. Ranked No. 82 in RPI, it still has a lot of work to do to make the NCAA Tournament, but Friday was a good start. No. 17 West Virginia (27-16, 10-9) is aiming to host a regional and needs to bounce back this weekend to keep that hope alive.
The Big 12 race nearly got a further shakeup Friday night, as Oklahoma led No. 11 Texas Tech going into the final third of the game. But the Red Raiders scored seven unanswered runs and went on to a 10-6 victory. They are now a game behind first-place Baylor, which was tied at three with Kansas State in the sixth inning when rain forced the game to be suspended.
Texas Tech got big games from infielder Josh Jung and first baseman Cameron Warren, who form a fearsome duo in the heart of its order. Jung, who started the game at shortstop before moving to third base late, went 3-for-4 with two doubles and four runs. Warren went 4-for-4 with two home runs, a double and four runs. Together, they combined for seven of Texas Tech’s 13 hits.
The Red Raiders (31-14, 12-7) are trying to chase down Baylor (30-12, 12-5) for the Big 12 title and are also looking to snag a top-eight overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. They’ve struggled away from Lubbock at times this season, which would make a series win this weekend at Oklahoma (30-16, 8-8)—an expected regional team—all the more significant.
Friday also saw Kansas defeat Texas, 4-1. The Longhorns (25-23, 6-12) are mired in an awful slump and have fallen into last place in the Big 12 standings, a game behind Kansas (24-21, 6-10). The last place team in the standings is left out of the conference tournament, making the final two games this weekend in Lawrence critical for both teams, but especially Texas.
Iowa, Illinois Collect Pivotal Victories
Iowa and Illinois came into the weekend with huge series ahead of them, for slightly different reasons, and both got off on the right foot with big wins Friday night.
Iowa is looking to build a regional-worthy resume. With quality series wins, such as those against Oklahoma State, Illinois and Nebraska, it has shown it is good enough, but with an RPI that began the day Friday hovering around 60, there was some catching up to do in the metrics.
With a 6-3 win against No. 19 UC Irvine on Friday, the Hawkeyes (26-16, 11-7) took a big step in the right direction in what is their last chance in the regular season for RPI-boosting wins and a marquee series win.
With righthander Andre Pallante toeing the rubber for the Anteaters (28-12, 10-5), it was a safe bet that runs were going to be at a premium, but the Hawkeyes were able to get things going against him early.
Iowa scored a run in the first on an RBI groundout from right fielder Connor McCaffery, but the big blows came in the third and fifth innings, when first baseman Izaya Fullard connected for a solo homer and two-run shot, respectively.
The homers were a lot alike. Both came with two outs and came on similar pitches. In each case, Fullard took a pitch on the inner half and yanked it down the line in left. There was some doubt with the first ball, but the second homer was gone as soon as it hit the bat.
“Similar location. It was kind of low and in on both pitches and I just got my barrel out,” Fullard said.
By the time Pallante’s outing was done, he’d allowed four earned runs in six innings, tied for the highest number of earned runs he’s allowed in a start this season.
On the other side, Iowa righthander Cole McDonald was up to the task, throwing seven innings, giving up five hits and two runs (one earned) with two walks and five strikeouts.
He found himself in trouble twice. One such jam came in the fourth inning, when two singles and a walk loaded the bases for UCI with one out. But he quickly extinguished that threat by inducing a double play off the bat of designated hitter Jacob Castro.
It wasn’t what McDonald was looking for in that moment, but he’ll certainly take it.
“Obviously, I was trying to go for a strikeout there,” McDonald said. “I didn’t want to miss over (the plate) middle and have him hammer one, but I’m just happy I got the double play and I didn’t have to face another hitter for a potential hit, RBI, run scored.”
The other was in his seventh and final inning, when UCI scored a pair of runs to get back in the game, but McDonald was able to limit the damage there and finish the frame to turn things over to the bullpen in the eighth.
“With a lot of guys (in the UCI lineup), it was kind of mixing up speeds, mixing up locations,” McDonald said. “They’re good hitters, so you really don’t want to stick with one pitch, one location because they’re going to adjust and put a good swing on it.”
Friday’s performance was just the latest in a string of fantastic starts for McDonald. In his last five starts, he’s thrown at least six innings, giving up no more than two runs in any of those outings, which has brought his ERA down from 5.02 after a March 29 start against Illinois to 3.42 as it stands now.
“He has all the intangibles that you look for in a Friday night guy,” Iowa coach Rick Heller said. “His makeup is off the chart, he’s the hardest worker on the team, he’s the captain, he’s the leader.”
With the victory, Iowa saw its RPI shoot up to 51. That’s a big jump for one game, and with another win this weekend, the Hawkeyes will undoubtedly feel good about where things sit heading into the final two weekends of the regular season.
The series between Indiana and Illinois is big in the Big Ten standings. With a 4-0 win Friday, the Illini (30-15, 9-7) are moving up at the expense of the Hoosiers (30-15, 11-5).
Illinois lefthander Andy Fisher was outstanding in his start, throwing eight innings, giving up three hits and two walks with nine strikeouts. Like McDonald, he’s been nearly untouchable of late. He’s allowed no more than two runs in each of his last five starts, helping to run his record to 6-1, 2.66.
Offensively, the Illini weren’t overpowering, but they scratched and clawed their way to four runs, three of which came against Indiana righthander Pauly Milto in his 5.1 innings.
For the Hoosiers, the bad news is that they will have to come back to win the final two games in order to win the series, but the good news is that they’ve done that before. Already this season, Indiana has lost series-opening games to Maryland, Penn State and Minnesota, only to come back to win the series.
With Michigan beating Maryland, 10-7, the Wolverines now lead the conference standings by 1.5 games, which only makes it more important that Indiana bounces back.
Illinois is still 3.5 games out of first place in the standings, but this win was more about rounding out its postseason resume. With an RPI of 20 and a 10-4 record against the RPI top 50, the Illini are in great shape in many aspects, but it’s important that they continue to put more space between the win column and the loss column in Big Ten play. On Friday, that mission was accomplished.
Bubble Watch: Southern Miss, UCF Score Needed Wins
As conference tournaments heat up, teams have just a few more chances to improve their standing in the NCAA Tournament race. We look at the winners and losers from Wednesday’s action.
Friday night is for college baseball's aces. Here we highlight some of the best pitching performances of the day.
Ty Barnes, RHP, Louisiana-Monroe: Barnes scattered seven hits and threw a shutout in an 8-0 victory against Texas-Arlington. He struck out three batters and walked just one, working efficiently to complete the game in 106 pitches. Barnes’ shutout was the first for ULM in Sun Belt play since 2012.
Ryan Coleman, RHP, Florida A&M: Coleman threw a two-hit shutout in a 3-0 victory against North Carolina Central. He faced just two batters over the minimum as he struck out eight batters and walked just one. Coleman improved 3-5, 3.61 with 60 strikeouts and 29 walks in 72.1 innings.
Mason Feole, LHP, Connecticut: Feole authored his best start of the season Friday, throwing seven scoreless innings in a 4-0 victory against Wichita State. The junior struck out a season-high 10 batters and scattered two hits and two walks. Feole finished Friday with 250 career strikeouts, passing Ed Baird and Matt Barnes for third on UConn’s all-time leaderboard. Only Tim Cate (270) and Anthony Kay (263) have more.
Ethan Small, LHP, Mississippi State: Small turned in the pitching performance of the night, retiring the first 19 batters he faced at No. 15 Texas A&M and finishing his night with seven hitless innings. Small struck out eight batters and walked one before turning the ball over to righthander Jared Liebelt for the final two innings. Ty Coleman broke up the no-hitter for the Aggies with an eight-inning double, but that was all they could muster, as Small and Liebelt combined for a one-hitter in a 4-0 victory. It was the fewest hits allowed in a game by Mississippi State since 2011, when it one-hit Akron.
Around The Horn
— No. 1 UCLA (36-7, 15-4) continued its push to secure the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament with a hard-fought 3-2 win at No. 20 Arizona State (32-11, 13-9). Righthander Ryan Garcia gave the Bruins a great start by throwing seven innings, giving up six hits and two runs with two walks and eight strikeouts, and the lineup did just enough to beat Arizona State righthander Alec Marsh. Right fielder Garrett Mitchell, first baseman Michael Toglia and shortstop Kevin Kendall paced the offense with two-hit days. As UCLA continues to surge, Arizona State is looking to stop the bleeding. It has lost three of its last four Pac-12 series and is just .500 after starting the season 21-0.
— Tennessee doesn’t have much more margin for error if it wants to break its streak of 13 seasons without a regional appearance, so its win against No. 24 Missouri (31-16-1, 10-11-1) was a big step toward reaching that goal. The Volunteers (32-14, 10-12) fell behind 5-1 after the top of the fourth but scored in five of the last six half-innings in which they came to bat to run away with the victory. DH Evan Russell went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, and left fielder Alerick Soularie was 2-for-3 with four RBIs. Tennessee got just 4.1 innings out of righthander Garrett Stallings, but the duo of righthander Sean Hunley and lefthander Redmond Walsh picked him up by throwing a combined 4.2 scoreless innings with just three hits and two walks allowed.
— Speaking of teams without a ton of margin for error, Florida State (28-16, 14-11) got its weekend off to a rough start with a 10-0 loss at home to Pittsburgh (17-28, 5-17). Pitt righthander Derek West shut down the Seminoles, throwing seven scoreless innings, giving up five hits and one walk with nine strikeouts. Offensively, the Panthers got a big game from right fielder Nico Popa, who went 3-for-5 with a double, a home run and four RBIs. It was an extra special victory for Pitt coach Mike Bell, who played at Florida State under Mike Martin and then served as the Seminoles’ pitching coach for seven years. With the loss, FSU’s RPI is nearing 60. Even if the Seminoles finish with an ACC record above .500, it’s hard to imagine them getting into regionals without that RPI figure showing significant improvement.
— No. 12 Louisiana State (30-15, 14-8) got off to a fast start in its series against No. 18 Mississippi (30-17, 13-9) with an 8-3 win. The Tigers got a pair of quality efforts from righthanders Zack Hess and Ma’Khail Hilliard, who effectively piggy-backed their outings. Hess threw four innings, giving up six hits and two runs, while Hilliard started and threw four innings of his own, allowing three hits and one run. Shortstop Josh Smith led the way with a 3-for-4 game at the plate, but it was arguably a bigger day for Drew Bianco, who pinch-hit in the eighth inning and connected for a solo home run in his first at-bat against his father Mike Bianco’s Ole Miss team, on his father’s birthday, no less.
— No. 3 Vanderbilt (36-9, 16-6) poured it on in a 22-11 win over South Carolina (24-21, 5-17). Usually, when you score 11 runs, you feel pretty confident in coming away with a win, but the Commodores put together a seven-run fourth, a nine-run sixth and a five-run seventh to bury Gamecocks pitching. Out of the leadoff spot, third baseman Austin Martin went 3-for-4 with two doubles, and Julian Infante, in the nine spot, went 3-for-4 with a homer and six RBIs. Right fielder J.J. Bleday also added his 22nd home run of the season. He moved into sole possession of first place in the national home run race, edging ahead of Tulane’s Kody Hoese.
— After Gonzaga’s 12-0 loss to Saint Mary’s, No. 25 Brigham Young (30-12, 14-6), with an 8-5 win against Loyola Marymount (27-19, 14-9), moved into a virtual tie with the Bulldogs atop the West Coast Conference standings. Shortstop Jackson Cluff went 2-for-4 on the day, as did center fielder Danny Gelalich. Righthander Easton Walker wasn’t at his best, as he allowed three runs on six hits in four innings, but he was picked up in the bullpen by righty Jarod Lessar, who threw 2.1 scoreless innings.
— Florida Atlantic bolstered its postseason hopes with an 8-5 win at Conference USA-leading Southern Mississippi (30-14, 17-5). FAU (31-14, 16-6) took the lead, 5-4, in the top of the eighth on an RBI single from left fielder Andru Summerall and then broke it open a bit with three in the ninth, two on a single by center fielder Eric Rivera and one on a Diamond Johnson RBI single. With the win, the Owls soared all the way up to 39 in the RPI after beginning the day at 52, which moves them much closer to the good side of the bubble, at least for now.
— In a matchup of the two teams tied for first place in the Missouri Valley Conference entering the weekend, Illinois State (28-18, 10-3) walked off Indiana State (32-11, 9-4) for a 4-3 win. The winning run for the Redbirds came home when, on the same play, a wild pitch moved pinch runner Jeremy Gaines to third and a throwing error on Sycamores catcher Max Wright scored him. Lefthander Brent Headrick threw a complete game for Illinois State, giving up five hits and three runs with two walks and nine strikeouts. The Redbirds are all alone in first place in the MVC standings, a full game up on Indiana State and Dallas Baptist.
— New Mexico State (32-11, 14-5) pulled into a tie with Texas-Rio Grande Valley (29-16, 14-5) for the lead in the Western Athletic Conference thanks to a 17-8 win against the Vaqueros. UTRGV actually led 6-5 after four innings, but the Aggies chased righthander Trevelle Hill in the fifth inning and then really took it to the Vaqueros’ bullpen to blow the game open. NMSU second baseman Nick Gonzales went 5-for-6 and hit for the cycle. He’s now hitting an absurd .446/.538/.817 with 17 doubles and 14 home runs on the season.
— Coppin State (24-20, 15-8), which came into the day leading the MEAC, dropped both ends of a doubleheader to Delaware State (16-23, 11-12) by 5-4 and 18-1 scores. The first game, a 10-inning affair, featured a walk-off for DSU on an RBI single by left fielder Rich Roundtree. The second game was a blowout from the start, as the Hornets jumped out to a 7-0 lead after the first inning and never looked back. With the pair of losses, the Eagles fell a half-game behind Norfolk State in both the MEAC’s Northern Division and overall standings.