Off The Bat: Louisville Makes Statement, Florida Wins Big

Image credit: Christian Knapczyk (Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images)

The third weekend of the season always delivers plenty of exciting action thanks to a heavy slate of tournaments and rivalry series. This year was no different with action at the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic and in the Sunshine State highlighting the weekend.

Here are 17 thoughts on the weekend that was around college baseball.

1. Louisville came into the season as the ACC favorites, as picked by both the conference coaches’ poll and Baseball America. But through two weeks of the season, the Cardinals hadn’t done much to change the mind of any skeptics. They hadn’t played poorly; they just had gone 7-1 at home against a soft schedule.

That changed in a big way over the weekend at the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Louisville drubbed Texas A&M, 14-5, on Friday in a rematch of last year’s College Station Super Regional. It then edged TCU, 3-2, Saturday and completed the weekend with a 10-0 victory in seven innings Sunday against Michigan. It all amounted to a statement weekend for the Cardinals.

Louisville excelled in all facets of the game. It pounded out 37 runs on 37 hits and made just one error on the weekend, but perhaps its most impressive work came on the mound. The Cardinals rotation of Ryan Hawks, Greg Farone and Carson Liggett combined to hold opponents to one run on five hits in 20 innings. Hawks struck out eight batters and scattered two hits and four walks in six scoreless innings against A&M. Farone struck out nine batters and gave up one run in seven innings against TCU and Liggett threw a seven-inning, one-hit shutout against Michigan.

Hawks and Liggett have been strong throughout the season at either end of the rotation. Farone, a junior college transfer, made his starting debut for Louisville on Saturday after coming out of the bullpen in the first two weeks. Listed at 6-foot-6, the lefthander makes for a difficult matchup, and he stymied the Horned Frogs with his fastball-curveball combination.

Louisville has the bullpen depth to account for Farone moving into the rotation and it was fourth-year junior lefthander Tate Kuehner who coach Dan McDonnell called out of the bullpen for a two-inning save against TCU. Veterans Alex Galvan and Evan Webster are off to strong starts and freshman Tucker Biven has shown exciting upside.

The Cardinals’ offense is flying high early this season, averaging 8.64 runs per game, with catcher Jack Payton (.463/.531/.878, 4 HR) and shortstop Christian Knapczyk (.372/.481/.488, 3 SB) leading the way. They’re fielding .981 as a team. If Louisville is also going to pitch at a high level, especially in the rotation, it looks like a complete team. That was always the Cardinals’ ceiling, but to see them already hitting these highs makes it even easier to imagine them playing deep into June.

2. Louisville made a clear statement at Minute Maid Park. TCU had a solid weekend, going 2-1 with shutouts of Michigan (7-0) and Rice (6-0) sandwiched around a one-run loss to Louisville. Rice landed a 3-2 upset Friday of Texas Tech before getting blown out the rest of the weekend, losing to A&M and TCU by a combined score of 20-1. Michigan struggled, getting outscored 26-7 in three losses.

Determining what to make of the weekends A&M and Texas Tech produced is much harder to discern. The Aggies went 2-1 on the weekend, bouncing back from their tough loss Friday to Louisville to on Saturday rout Rice and then edge past Texas Tech, 4-2, in 16 innings. Was that the get-right weekend A&M (7-4) needed after losing a home series to Portland last week or are its offensive struggles still a concern? In 16 innings against the Red Raiders, the Aggies walked 16 times, but collected just seven hits (none for extra bases) and went 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position. Against Louisville, A&M did score five runs, but they all came after the Cardinals had taken a 14-0 lead and only served to avoid getting run-ruled.

Meanwhile, Texas Tech was 10-0 going into the weekend. It was held to four hits by Rice in Friday’s opener, as Parker Smith stymied the Red Raiders for six innings and Justin Long came out of the bullpen to finish them off. Tech beat Michigan, 10-7, on Saturday and then found itself in a dogfight with A&M on Sunday. The Red Raiders (11-2) couldn’t hold a 2-1 lead going into the ninth and then left the bases loaded in both the ninth and 10th innings, missing an opportunity to walk off with a win.

The Aggies can feel good about grinding out a win Sunday and perhaps that will help kickstart things going forward. But it’s probably best not to try to extrapolate too much from the weekend for either A&M or Tech. In both cases, this weekend was their first time playing away from home and the tournament finale in Houston has a history of turning into a weird game. Tech’s offense probably isn’t as good as it looked in its first 10 games in Lubbock (when it averaged 10.3 runs per game) and A&M’s offense probably will eventually find its gear against high-level pitching.

In the end, you’ll probably see both these teams playing significant baseball games in June.

3. Florida again won its rivalry series against Miami. The teams split the first two games—Florida winning Friday, 10-4, and Miami bouncing back for a 14-6 win Saturday—before the Gators routed the Hurricanes, 14-4, in eight innings Sunday. Florida jumped out to a 9-0 lead after three innings and never looked back.

Under coach Kevin O’Sullivan, Florida has traditionally outpitched Miami and while it again had the advantage on the mound, the Gators really outclassed the Hurricanes with their offense. The 30 runs Florida scored this weekend are the most it has scored in a series against Miami since the teams adopted the current format in 2004.

Outfielder Wyatt Langford went 6-for-11 with three home runs and scored seven runs on the weekend and is hitting .438/.554/.979 with six home runs. Second baseman Cade Kurland went 6-for-14 and scored five runs and the freshman is now hitting .449/.500/.837 with five home runs. First baseman/lefthander Jac Caglianone hit two home runs, bringing his season total to 10.

Florida is averaging 11.3 runs per game and has six regulars hitting better than .300. Between the depth and power the Gators boast, they have what looks like one of the best lineups in the country.

Right now, however, the Gators need their offense to keep slugging because their pitching—especially in the bullpen—has not been as good as expected. Miami scored 12 runs in eight innings against Florida relievers—and that includes 3.2 scoreless innings from lefthander Cade Fisher. Florida also split a midweek home-and-home series against Jacksonville, giving up 18 runs in the process. Seventeen of those runs came in the 14 innings after starter Ryan Slater exited Tuesday’s win.

With Florida’s rotation of Brandon Sproat, Hurston Waldrep and Caglianone, the Gators can win a lot of games, regardless of whether they put together an elite bullpen. But Florida is going to have to find more pitchers it can trust in high-leverage innings. Florida has no shortage of talent in the bullpen, and, in time, O’Sullivan will find the right combination. The Gators have one more week to work on things before SEC play begins.

4. O’Sullivan has now coached 56 games against Miami—the equivalent of a full season—in his 16 seasons as Florida’s head coach. He is 39-17 against the Hurricanes, a .696 winning percentage. O’Sullivan’s overall winning percentage at Florida is .676, fourth highest among all active coaches (minimum five years as a Division I coach).

Florida’s domination of the rivalry under O’Sullivan is remarkable. Prior to his arrival in Gainesville, Miami led the all-time series 117-93-1 (.555). Now, the Gators are winning nearly 70% of their games against the Hurricanes.

Considering that Miami has been to the College World Series three times during O’Sullivan’s tenure, it’s hard to imagine a more lopsided rivalry right now between two high-level college baseball teams.

5. Miami came into the week looking to build on its seven-game winning streak with games at Florida Atlantic and Florida. Instead, the Hurricanes went a disappointing 1-3 and now need to rebuild momentum ahead of the start of ACC play this weekend against North Carolina State.

Miami lost, 6-5, at FAU on Tuesday in a game it led 5-4 at the stretch. It then gave up 30 runs on the weekend and never really was in Sunday’s rubber game, which saw Florida jump out to a 9-0 lead in the first three innings.

The Hurricanes have to get their rotation right in a hurry. Sophomore righthander Gage Ziehl, who this season moved from the bullpen to the front of the rotation, is 1-2, 11.25 and opponents are hitting .397 against him. Righthander Alejandro Rosario, the team’s No. 3 starter, is 1-1, 7.82 and is now 9-8, 6.25 in three years in Coral Gables. Sophomore righthander Karson Ligon (2-0, 3.20) has been solid on Saturdays for the Hurricanes, but he gave up six runs in six innings against the Gators. This series didn’t go well for any of the trio, but games against Penn State and Dartmouth have also been challenging over the last two weekends.

Miami has some real bright spots in the early going—its Preseason All-American duo of Yohandy Morales (.467/.528/.867, 5 HR) and Andrew Walters (1-0, 0.00, 1 SV) are delivering in a big way and freshmen Blake Cyr (.412/.474/.882, 5 HR) and Chris Scinta (1-0, 1.29) have made an immediate impact—but if they don’t improve their starting pitching, the Hurricanes are in for a difficult spring.

6. Historically, Dick Howser Stadium has been a fortress for Florida State. For 20 years, the Seminoles had not lost a weekend non-conference series at home. That streak, however, is over.

Florida Gulf Coast went to Tallahassee and won a series, becoming the first team since Stanford in February 2002 to do so. The Eagles won Friday’s opener, 10-8, and on Saturday clinched the series with an 11-10 victory. While FGCU (10-2) couldn’t finish off the sweep Sunday, seeing its six-game winning streak snapped, it still returned home with a statement series win.

A week ago, Florida State’s pitching staff went on the road and quieted TCU’s powerful offense. Over the weekend, however, FGCU’s lineup was too much for it. Alejandro Figueredo went 6-for-15 with two doubles and a home run and Harrison Povey went 5-for-14 with four doubles and a home run to lead the way.

The Eagles are averaging 9.08 runs per game and have hit 26 home runs in 12 games. First baseman Joe Kinker (.420/.466/.760, 4 HR), second baseman Edrick Felix (.408/.464/.857, 6 HR) and Figueredo (.404/.500/.702) are all hitting above .400 to lead the way and there’s strong depth to the lineup. The schedule hadn’t been imposing prior to this weekend, but FGCU showed it’s not a product of beating up on inferior pitching by scoring 29 runs in Tallahassee.

“That is a physical, experienced, tough offensive team,” Florida State coach Link Jarrett said. “I was very impressed. They have an older group, very experienced, very physical.”

FGCU isn’t as imposing on the mound—it has a 5.03 team ERA—but it runs out a solid staff. Righthander Jason Woodward (2-0, 1.32) and lefthander Mason Miller (1-0, 3.38) make for an exciting 1-2 punch and righthander LJ McDonough (0-0, 0.00, 3 SV), a transfer from Wichita State, has locked down the back of the bullpen.

I included FGCU in the Preseason Projected Field of 64, believing the Eagles could contend with Liberty at the top of the ASUN Conference. After this weekend, I’m feeling even better about that prediction and FGCU is ranked for the first time since 2017. This could be a fun spring in Fort Myers.

7. So, what then, to make of Florida State? A week after winning a series at TCU and excelling on the mound in Fort Worth, the Seminoles came home and fought it all week. They needed 13 innings to beat South Florida on Wednesday and then gave up 29 runs in three games to FGCU.

Jarrett said this weekend that this is the thinnest pitching staff he’s had in five years, a time span that goes back to his time as coach at UNC Greensboro. This weekend, none of the starters got more than seven outs, forcing the Seminoles to lean on the bullpen too much. Lefthander Wyatt Crowell threw 5.2 strong innings in relief on Sunday to earn the win, but that’s not a sustainable path to success.

That’s coming off a weekend when it looked like righthander Jackson Baumeister was ready to take over as a true Friday starter. Clearly, there are still growing pains to be had in Tallahassee and part of that is nearly the whole staff is pitching in new roles this spring. That’s ok—the Seminoles are a relatively young team with a new coaching staff—but ACC play starts this weekend with a series against Pittsburgh. Bouncing back quickly from the series loss will be critical.

“I learned we still have a lot to learn,” Jarrett said. “Our pitching staff is a little bit of a work in progress.”

8. It was the tale of two series over the weekend between Clemson and South Carolina. The Tigers won at home Friday night, 5-2. In Saturday’s neutral-site game in Greenville, they led, 7-3, at the stretch. From there, however, the series flipped toward the Gamecocks. South Carolina came back to win, 11-9, and then claimed the rivalry series with a 7-1 victory at home in the rubber game.

South Carolina (11-1) over the weekend passed an important test. It was 9-0 going into the series but had played nothing but home games against an uninspiring slate. Penn, who South Carolina swept last weekend, last year won the Ivy League, but was playing its first games of the season. Otherwise, the Gamecocks’ opponents all were last season in the bottom half of RPI.

So, facing Clemson in one of college baseball’s best rivalry environments represented a step up for South Carolina. The Gamecocks also had to face some adversity along the way, between Friday’s loss and Saturday’s deficit. They got the response they needed to claim an important series win.

“Friday night was the first little bit of adversity that we had to handle this year,” coach Mark Kingston said. “I thought how we dealt with it in the dugout on Friday night after the game was over was perfect. We just said, ‘It was one of those games, come out ready to go tomorrow.’ Obviously, for the first six innings (Saturday) it wasn’t really going our way, but we just kept grinding and playing the game the best that we could.”

9. I wrote about Clemson’s win Friday night and what it might mean. The Tigers (5-6) weren’t able to build on that success to claim the series, but there are still positives to be taken from the weekend.

For the first 14 innings of the weekend, Clemson held South Carolina to two runs. The Tigers did that without righthander Ryan Ammons, who is out for a few weeks due to a forearm strain, and first baseman/lefthander Caden Grice, who was in line to pitch Sunday until he was ejected Saturday for arguing balls and strikes, leading to a suspension Sunday. Righthander Billy Barlow started Sunday, but has thrown just three innings this season as he tries to work back to full health after experiencing shoulder discomfort in January.

Clemson’s clearly a little short on the mound right now—not what you want to be while facing the team that came into the weekend with the most home runs in the country—but it handled the Gamecocks’ powerful bats for most of the first two games.

“I think we have some guys we can definitely count on on the mound,” coach Erik Bakich said. “Austin Gordon and Tristan Smith, the way they pitched this weekend as starters without Ryan Ammons available for a couple weeks, they gave us the type of starts to help us win games.”

Clemson has some things to work on, which is to be expected. The Tigers have one more week before ACC play begins, but they’ll need to keep finding a way to improve all season long.

10. Southern Mississippi has had an up-and-down start to the season. It started the year with a sweep of Liberty before losing a home series to Illinois. It dropped a wild, back-and-forth affair, 10-9, Tuesday against Mississippi State in Pearl, Miss., and was 5-3 going into a tough series against Dallas Baptist. Would the Golden Eagles be able to bounce back or would their skid get worse?

Southern Miss bounced back in a big way. It swept DBU in a low-scoring series, winning one-run games on Friday and Saturday before completing the sweep with a relatively stress-free, 7-2 victory. The Golden Eagles are now 8-3 and own sweeps of DBU and Liberty, both of which are consistent NCAA Tournament teams.

It’s still very early and Southern Miss has yet to play a road game (though that changes Tuesday when it travels to Oxford), but the weekend’s sweep goes a long way to showing what kind of team the Golden Eagles will be this spring.

11. This was a tough weekend for the Big Ten around the country. There were a few bright spots—Nebraska went 2-1 at the Cambria College Classic in Minneapolis and opened the event with a win against Vanderbilt, Iowa improved to 9-1 and Ohio State beat Mississippi State and Oklahoma at the Frisco College Classic—but things are not looking up for the conference coming out of the weekend.

Maryland, the reigning Big Ten champion and 2023 favorite, went 0-3 at the Cambria College Classic to fall to 4-7 and drop out of the Top 25. Rutgers, picked to finish second in the conference, was swept at UNC Greensboro and is 3-7. Michigan, the reigning Big Ten Tournament champion and perennial contender, went 0-3 at the Shriners College Classic, was shut out twice and is 4-7. Indiana, another perennial contender, went 1-2 at the Keith LeClair Classic in Greenville, N.C., and has yet to have a winning weekend. Minnesota and Northwestern both remain winless on the season and look like they could be RPI anchors for the rest of the conference.

It’s early and the whole league has been on the road for all but a couple midweeks (with the exception of Minnesota). The Big Ten often is sluggish out of the gates and several of the teams taking on water early have played aggressive schedules. Four of Maryland’s seven losses, for instance, have come against Ole Miss or Vanderbilt.

But coming off a year in which the Big Ten only got two NCAA Tournament bids, its least since 2014, this kind of start is not what the conference needed. It’s now missed on its best opportunities to make statement wins and bank RPI credit that would pay dividends all season long. That’s not to say the conference is doomed to another two-bid season, but it needs its contenders to right the ship—and quickly.

12. While the Big Ten has floundered early, the Big West is back. Seven of the league’s 11 teams are above .500 in the early going. UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine, the conference’s top two teams coming into the year, both already have road sweeps of Pac-12 schools (UCSB at Oregon, UCI at Arizona State). Long Beach State went 3-0 in the LeClair Classic, Hawaii went 2-1 against Big Ten competition at the Cambria College Classic and Cal State Fullerton won a series against Texas.

The Big West has been a one-bid league in three of the last four NCAA Tournaments, but the early results have it set up for a better spring.

13. UC Irvine has stormed out to a 10-1 start on the season after sweeping Arizona State over the weekend in Phoenix Municipal Stadium. The Anteaters are off to their best start since 2011, when they started 13-1, went on to win 43 games and reach super regionals.

UCI is rolling offensively in the early going. The Anteaters have won five straight and have scored 62 runs during the winning streak. They’re averaging 8.82 runs per game on the season, a big increase after averaging 5.96 runs per game in 2022.

Their offense won’t run this hot all season long, but UCI looks more dangerous this season thanks to some key additions. Freshman first baseman Anthony Martinez (.386/.518/.841, 4 HR) has hit the ground swinging for the Anteaters and is leading the team in batting and slugging. Infielders Jo Oyama (.326/.407/.609, 4 SB) and Will Bermudez (.310/.444/.548), junior college transfers, have been a dynamic 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup.

With the newcomers joining with returners like Dub Gleed (.273/.346/.341) and Caden Kendle (.286/.368/.531), the Anteaters suddenly have a deep, multi-faceted lineup. As a team, they’ve hit 12 home runs, swiped 12 stolen bases and are showing strong on-base skills. The Anteaters look like a team that can compete at the top of the Big West and beyond.

14. Long Beach traveled more than 5,000 miles round trip over the weekend to Greenville, N.C., one of the longest trips any team will take this season. It was worth it in the end, as the Dirtbags (7-3) swept the LeClair Classic, earning solid wins against East Carolina, Indiana and Georgetown.

LBSU sandwiched routs of Georgetown (18-3) and Indiana (10-4) around a tense, 3-2 victory Saturday against ECU. The Dirtbags beat righthander Carter Spivey, the 2022 American Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year, peppering him for three runs (two earned) on seven hits. Veteran lefthander Graham Osman pitched into the fifth for LBSU, but it was the bullpen that truly shined on the day, holding the Pirates scoreless for 4.2 innings to close out the win. The bullpen was impressive all weekend for LBSU. It allowed just one run on 11 hits and five walks in 14 innings.

LBSU has a 3.71 team ERA, the second-best mark in the Big West behind only UCSB. The Dirtbags’ start to the season on the mound is even more impressive considering that they lost their top seven pitchers by innings pitched from 2022. With so much new, LBSU has used 17 pitchers already this season, as coach Eric Valenzuela gets a feel for his new staff.

If the new-look Dirtbags’ staff can maintain this level as it gets into Big West play, the top of the conference could start to look pretty crowded between LBSU, UCSB and UCI.

15. Vanderbilt closed out the weekend at the Cambria College Classic by no-hitting host Minnesota in a 4-0 win Sunday night. Righthander Greysen Carter made his first career weekend start and threw the first 3.1 innings. Righthander Sam Hliboki followed with 3.2 innings of relief. Lefthander Ryan Ginther threw the eighth inning and righthander Nick Maldonado closed the game out.

Sunday marked the Commodores’ fourth no-hitter since 2019. Vanderbilt has now thrown a no-hitter in each of the last four full seasons, and it should come as no surprise that it has more no-hitters in that stretch than any team in the country. Perhaps more impressively, all four no-hitters have come against Power Five opponents (Duke, Missouri, Kentucky and Minnesota).

While Sunday is a nice feather in Vanderbilt’s cap no matter what happens the rest of the way, it could take on greater significance if it gets Hliboki on track after a few tough outings to open the season. He struck out eight of the 13 batters he faced and has the potential to further deepen the staff if he can be counted on in big spots or for extended outings.

16. Georgia (8-3) won its rivalry series against Georgia Tech (10-2), winning the first two games (one in Athens, one in Atlanta) before falling in Sunday’s finale at Triple-A Gwinnett’s ballpark. The Bulldogs opened the year 6-2 against Jacksonville State, Princeton and Presbyterian, but this past weekend was a much bigger test.

The Bulldogs handled it well, getting solid starts from lefthanders Jaden Woods (6 IP, 0 R) and Liam Sullivan (5.1 IP, 2 R, 1 ER) in the wins. Offensively, redshirt freshman Charlie Condon stayed red hot. He’s hitting .538/.612/.974 with four home runs to lead the Bulldogs. After taking an 0-for-4 on Opening Day, he’s 21-for-35 (.600) in the last 10 games.

17. Connecticut came into the weekend at 3-3 after splitting a four-game, neutral site series against Ohio State on Opening Weekend and then having a game at California rained out last weekend. A tricky series at Florida Atlantic, which had lost just once and was coming off a win Tuesday against Miami, was on tap for the Huskies. If they wanted to start to build a potential at-large NCAA Tournament resume, they couldn’t afford to stay stuck in first gear.

UConn rose to the challenge and swept FAU in Boca Raton. The Huskies (6-3) never trailed in the series, played clean defense and went home with three big wins. UConn won’t start Big East play until next month, giving it plenty of time to build off the weekend.

Eight for Omaha

Florida, LSU, Louisville, Ole Miss, Stanford, Tennessee, TCU, Virginia Tech

I’m riding with this eight for the third straight week. There are some concerns for each team to work out in the early going, but they’re passing early tests. Things figure to get more interesting next week with a few starting conference play.

Looking Ahead

ACC play begins with a pair of Top 25 showdowns. Conference play gets underway in the ACC, highlighted by No. 14 Virginia at No. 19 North Carolina and No. 21 North Carolina State at No. 17 Miami. Don’t sleep on Boston College (8-1) visiting No. 11 Virginia Tech, however. The Eagles play at No. 5 Tennessee on Tuesday, but at least for now are on an eight-game winning streak.

Conference play begins in the Pac-12. The conference doesn’t supply a Top 25 series to open the season, but No. 13 UCLA (9-2) at Oregon (8-3) and Washington State (10-1) at No. 15 Oregon State (9-2) make for an interesting weekend in the Beaver State.

The week’s non-conference slate is highlighted by Iowa at No. 25 Texas Tech. The Hawkeyes (9-1) are playing like the best team in the Big Ten and are the only team to have beaten No. 1 LSU. The Red Raiders (11-2) are smarting after a 1-2 weekend at the Shriners College Classic but are undefeated at home. These teams split an abbreviated series in Iowa City last year, adding to the intrigue.

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