Mississippi State Stays Hot, Pac-12 Builds Drama
Mississippi State Continues Dominance over Ole Miss
It’s said that Mississippi State senior center fielder Jake Mangum simply doesn’t lose to Mississippi, and frankly, the evidence is pretty compelling.
With a 2-0 win on Friday night, which came after a two-hour rain delay, the Bulldogs (40-10, 16-9) moved to 12-2 in the last four seasons against their archrival.
Mangum went 1-for-4 with a double to do his part in the win, but he got plenty of help from his friends, most notably, lefthander Ethan Small.
Small threw five innings, giving up three hits and one walk with 10 strikeouts on just 82 pitches. He was going strong and was efficient enough through five to continue on, but a fog delay in the sixth inning pressed pause on things long enough to force him from the game.
Still, it was yet another gem from a pitcher who has turned in a number of them this season, and he improved to 7-1, 1.63 with 132 strikeouts and 19 walks in 78 innings.
Small’s departure turned out to be not such a bad thing in the end, because righthander Jared Liebelt enjoyed his best outing of the season, throwing four scoreless innings with three hits allowed on 40 pitches. For his part, Liebelt has been a workhorse in the bullpen this season, and he has a 2.23 ERA in 40.1 innings.
Just about all of Mississippi State's offense came from first baseman Tanner Allen. His RBI double in the third inning put the Bulldogs up 1-0, and it was his RBI single in the fifth that put the team up 2-0.
With the win, Mississippi State improves what is already an outstanding resume for a top-eight overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. At 16-9, the Bulldogs sit second in the SEC West, behind only Arkansas, which is playing as well as anyone in the country right now, and their RPI ranks third in the country.
The Rebels (32-18, 15-10), meanwhile, will look to rally back in the series to help their chances of holding their place as a regional host. In the latest Field of 64 projection, they were the 16th overall seed, but this loss dropped their RPI out of the top 20, which leaves them with work to do in the season’s final weeks.
The good news for Ole Miss is that the Ethan Small start in the series is now behind them. The bad news is that Jake Mangum is still around, and that’s typically not been a good omen for Ole Miss in the last four years.
Pac-12 Contenders Strengthen Positions
Across the Pac-12 on Friday, the teams contending for the conference title or pushing for spots in the NCAA Tournament took care of business. It made for a straightforward night, but it was a good night for the league and, with a few more nights like this one, will set the stage for a dramatic stretch run.
At the top of the conference, No. 1 UCLA cruised to a 6-2 victory at last-place Washington State. The victory was not all good news, however. Washington State (10-34-1) ranks outside the top 200 in RPI and that, combined with Vanderbilt’s victory against Missouri, was enough for the Commodores to edge ahead of the Bruins for the top spot in RPI.
While UCLA has been the top-ranked team in the nation for two months, Stanford and Oregon State are the Pac-12’s co-leaders, holding a one-game lead on the Bruins. They both won rivalry games on the road to hold on to that lead and strengthen their RPIs, which both needed for their hosting hopes.
No. 3 Stanford (36-8, 18-4) fell behind early at California, but scored six straight runs to comeback for a 10-7 victory in Berkeley. The Cardinal crushed five home runs, including a two-homer night from Duke Kinamon to engineer the victory. For its part, Cal remains safely in the NCAA Tournament field, but it could all but lock that spot up if it can bounce back in this series.
No. 12 Oregon State (32-14-1, 18-4) continued its dominance of archrival Oregon with a 4-1 victory in Eugene. Senior righthander Bryce Fehmel scattered eight hits and a walk in a complete-game effort to earn his 33rd career win, more than any other active player in the nation.
The Cardinal and Beavers meet next weekend at Stanford for a pivotal series. If both teams can finish off their rivalry series this weekend, a top-eight overall seed could be on the line next weekend.
No. 24 Arizona State (35-12) opened its non-conference series at Nebraska with a 15-6 victory. The Sun Devils aren’t on the tournament bubble, but they’ve been in a funk for the last month, losing four of their last five series, and a series win in Lincoln could get them back on track going into the stretch run. Friday was a strong start as Hunter Bishop, Trevor Hauver, Spencer Torkelson and Gage Workman all blasted home runs.
Washington (25-19, 10-12) also blasted its way past Utah with a 12-5 victory that saw catcher Nick Kahle hit two home runs. The Huskies are still on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, but they’ve won eight of their last 10 games and are again closing hard this season after a second-half surge got them into the tournament and all the way to Omaha a year ago. Finishing a third straight series win this weekend is critical to keep its hopes alive going into the final two weekends against UCLA and Cal.
Arizona (23-24, 11-14) has even more work to do, but the Wildcats are in a very favorable part of their schedule. They won their fourth straight conference game (Tuesday’s loss to Arizona State was a non-conference game), beating Southern California, 12-4. It’s a long shot, but if Arizona can finish off USC this weekend and then take care of road series at Penn State and Washington State, it can make quite the finishing statement for the selection committee.
All might be straightforward for now in the Pac-12, but the conference is setting up for a dramatic stretch run with implications on everything from the No. 1 overall seed to the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Pac-12 Stock Watch
Team-by-team analysis for every team in the Pac-12, as well as the trajectory of the program this season.
Friday night is for college baseball's aces. Here we highlight some of the best pitching performances of the day.
Bear Bellomy, RHP, Wright State: In a 5-0 victory against Northern Kentucky, Beallomy threw a two-hit shutout. He struck out eight batters, walked one and threw 105 pitches to complete the Raiders’ first shutout since 2016. Beallomy is 7-3, 3.19 with 64 strikeouts and 20 walks in 84.2 innings this season.
Corey Gaconi, RHP, Southeastern Louisiana: Gaconi threw a four-hit shutout in a 3-0 victory to open a crucial Southland Conference series against Sam Houston State. The senior struck out six batters, walked none and faced just three batters more than the minimum. Gaconi improved to 7-2, 1.87 on the season and Southeastern moved into sole possession of first place with the victory.
Brent Headrick, LHP, Illinois State: Headrick and Illinois State came out on top in a pitchers' duel against Bradley, edging the Braves, 1-0. He struck out eight batters and scattered five hits and a walk in eight scoreless innings. The victory, combined with Indiana State’s loss at Dallas Baptist, moved the Redbirds back into a first-place tie in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Alek Manoah, RHP, West Virginia: After a hiccup last week in his high-profile start against Texas Christian lefthander Nick Lodolo, Manoah was back to dominating Friday night at Kansas State. The big righthander struck out 13 batters in eight scoreless innings and held the Wildcats to three hits and one walk in a 6-0 victory. Despite all the strikeouts, he worked efficiently and threw 102 pitches. Manoah improved to 7-3, 1.89 with 121 strikeouts and 22 walks in 90.2 innings this season.
Andre Pallante, RHP, UC Irvine: Facing one of the best offenses in the Big West, Pallante threw six scoreless innings and helped lead UCI to a 7-3 victory against Cal Poly. The junior struck out eight batters and scattered three hits and a walk. Pallante improved to 8-4, 2.68 with 75 strikeouts and 26 walks in 80.2 innings.
Around The Horn
— No. 4 Arkansas continues to swing it incredibly well, as the Razorbacks (39-12, 19-7 SEC) claimed an 11-6 win against No. 16 Louisiana State (30-21, 14-12 SEC) on Friday night, one day after beating the Tigers, 14-4. Right fielder Heston Kjerstad went 2-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs, and center fielder Dominic Fletcher added a 2-for-4 day with a double and three RBIs. LSU actually jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead, but Arkansas righthander Kevin Kopps came on after lefty Patrick Wicklander threw the first 3.1 innings and shut down the Tigers for four innings, allowing just one hit and one walk with four strikeouts while the Razorbacks’ offense went to work. With the win, Arkansas moved closer to nailing down a top-eight overall seed, while LSU has some work to do to stay in the hosting picture.
— Another Friday night, another routine win for No. 8 East Carolina, this time a 6-1 victory at Wichita State (22-27, 6-13). This one meant a little bit more, as it clinched the American Athletic Conference title for the Pirates. It is ECU’s first regular season conference title since winning Conference USA in 2009 and is a key part of its resume to be a top-eight overall seed. The Pirates (38-11, 17-2) got seven scoreless innings from lefthander Jake Agnos, who walked five and gave up four hits but managed to keep the Shockers off the scoreboard. As he so often does, utility player Alec Burleson paced the offense, going 3-for-4 with four RBIs.
— Indiana (32-17, 13-6) scored a huge 10-4 victory at No. 23 Michigan (36-12, 14-4) to nudge itself closer to the top of the Big Ten standings. The Hoosiers offense applied pressure to righthander Karl Kauffman early and often, eventually hanging eight runs on 11 hits in five innings. Left fielder Elijah Dunham went 3-for-5 and third baseman Cole Barr was 3-for-4 to serve as the catalysts in the order. IU also got outstanding relief work from righthander Gabe Bierman, who struck out eight of the nine batters he faced in three perfect innings.
— If Virginia is going to convert on its slim chance to get into the NCAA Tournament, a series win against No. 6 Louisville (40-11, 19-7) is all but imperative. After a 15-7 defeat in the first game of a Friday doubleheader, things didn’t look great, but the Cavaliers (28-21, 11-15) bounced back in the nightcap with a 10-2 win to keep those hopes alive, at least for another day. The Cavs jumped all over Cardinals righthander Bobby Miller, scoring eight runs against him in his 2.1 innings, with the final blow coming in the third on a solo homer off the bat of outfielder Cayman Richardson. Shortstop Tanner Morris went 3-for-4 out of the leadoff spot to pace the Virginia offense. With the victory, the Cavs find themselves in the low 50s in RPI, and a series win would have them firmly on the bubble.
— With a 7-1 win, Pittsburgh greeted No. 14 North Carolina (35-14, 15-10) rudely in the Tar Heels’ return to ACC play after a weekend off for finals. The Panthers (19-30, 6-19) got six solid innings from righthander Derek West, who danced around three hits and five walks to hold UNC to one run. Offensively, first baseman Bryce O’Farrell had a big day, going 3-for-5 with a double, and three other Pitt batters had two-hit games. The Tar Heels can ill afford another loss in this series if they want to host a regional, as this single loss has already dropped their RPI outside the top 20 after beginning the day at 16.
— Dallas Baptist (34-15, 10-6) kept the pressure on Indiana State (34-12, 11-5) at the top of the Missouri Valley Conference standings, and moved to one game off the pace, with a 12-2 win against the Sycamores. What was a relatively close 5-2 game after six innings got blown open with a five-run seventh and two-run eighth for the Patriots, which served to make it a run rule-induced walk-off win. DBU second baseman Blayne Jones went 4-for-4 with a double, a home run, and four RBIs, and lefthander Jordan Martinson was solid in his start, giving up five hits and two runs with seven strikeouts in seven innings.