College Baseball Roundup: Mississippi State, Texas, UCLA Start Conference Play With Top-10 Wins

Image credit: Mississippi State lefthander Ethan Small (Kelly Donoho, Mississippi State Athletics)

Mississippi State Scores Road Win At Florida

Southeastern Conference play gets underway with a bang this weekend. With No. 25 Tennessee taking on No. 17 Auburn and No. 15 Georgia hitting the road to play No. 20 South Carolina, plus top-ranked Vanderbilt traveling for a tough road series against Texas A&M, there are plenty of marquee matchups on offer.

But there are none better this weekend than the series between No. 7 Mississippi State and No. 4 Florida in Gainesville, and on Friday night, the Bulldogs grabbed a 6-5 victory in the opener.

Mississippi State lefthander Ethan Small crafted what is only the latest masterpiece in a month full of them, throwing six innings, giving up two hits and one run with three walks and 11 strikeouts. With Florida’s lone run off of Small coming on a Wil Dalton fourth-inning home run, the lefty only had to deal with a runner in scoring position on one occasion.

On the season, Small is now 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA and a 52-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30 innings. It’s a crowded field right now because conference play has just begun, but any conversation about the best starting pitcher in the league has to involve Small.

Offensively, the Bulldogs (17-1) got off to a slow start against Florida righthander Tommy Mace, but they got to him in the fifth inning for a run on a Justin Foscue home run, plated another in the sixth on a wild pitch and then chased him with one out in the seventh after scoring a third run, this time on a Jake Mangum RBI single.

To their credit, the Bulldogs kept their foot on the gas from there, scoring one more in the eighth and then two more in the ninth, which they ended up needing as Florida (14-6) mounted a ninth-inning comeback against closer Cole Gordon, getting the winning run to the plate before falling short.

Mississippi State is set up well to come away with what would be a massive road series win, as they have freshman phenom righthander JT Ginn set to take the mound in Game 2.

Ginn has to be considered the leader in the race for Freshman of the Year honors, but at the same time, he hasn’t faced a true road SEC test against an offense like Florida’s yet. And that specific matchup is what will make this the game to watch in the SEC once again on Saturday.

UCLA Cruises Past Oregon State In Top-10 Matchup

Pac-12 Conference play began Friday, and the schedule-makers treated everyone to a blockbuster opening weekend series, as No. 6 Oregon State, the defending national champion, visited No. 2 UCLA, the preseason conference favorite.

On Friday night, the Bruins showed what the preseason hype was all about. They opened the series with an 8-0 victory in a game they controlled throughout. It was their sixth shutout of the season, tying them with Tennessee for the most in the nation.

UCLA (13-3) got an excellent start from sophomore righthander Zach Pettway, who struck out eight batters in seven scoreless innings. He scattered three hits and two walks to improve to 1-1, 2.21 this season. Righthander Kyle Mora followed with two scoreless innings of relief to complete the shutout.

After shutting out Long Beach State, 2-0, on Tuesday, UCLA’s pitching staff has now combined for 18 straight scoreless innings. Their team ERA now stands at 1.68 and they have a 0.93 WHIP.

Oregon State ace Kevin Abel missed his second straight start as he continues to be sidelined by a strained back. Junior righthander Grant Gambrell filled in ably last week against Minnesota, but this week gave up six runs on 10 hits and two walks in 6.1 innings.

Five different Bruins had two hits, including junior first baseman Michael Toglia and freshman center fielder Matt McLain, who have both gotten off to slow starts this season. They both went 2-for-4 with a stolen base in an encouraging sign for UCLA.

The victory was coach John Savage’s 500th at UCLA, making him the third coach to reach that milestone in program history.

It was a night to remember for UCLA, but Oregon State (13-2-1) will look to put the loss behind it quickly. Only two Beavers recorded a hit—catcher Adley Rutschman (1-for-3 with a walk) and third baseman George Mendoza (3-for-3 with a double). The rest of the lineup combined to go 0-for-25 with one walk and eight strikeouts.

Oregon State on Saturday will look to senior righthander Bryce Fehmel (3-0, 3.12) to get it back on track. But the Beavers really need their offense to bounce back, which will be no easy task against righthander Jack Ralston (3-0, 1.96).

Texas Rallies For Win Over Texas Tech

There’s no better salve for the wound that No. 10 Texas suffered in losing a series at Stanford last weekend then beginning Big 12 Conference play with a 4-3 win over No. 9 Texas Tech.

Through five innings, things were really going the Red Raiders’ way. On offense, they put a crooked number on Texas righthander Bryce Elder with three runs in the third on a Cameron Warren two-RBI double and a Cody Masters RBI single, helping to chase Elder after five innings of work.

On the mound, their solid, veteran lefthander Erikson Lanning led them through five innings of his own, giving up three hits and one run.

It was after that point, though, that some of the familiar bugaboos from Texas Tech’s (11-4) losses earlier this season cropped back up.

Three of the first four Texas batters to face lefthander Dane Haveman reached base in the sixth, and all three of them scored, although to be fair, two Red Raiders’ errors in the frame contributed to the big inning.

And although those were the last runs that the Longhorns (14-6) would score on the night, it ended up being enough because the Texas Tech bats went cold the rest of the way, with the Texas righthanded relief duo of Ty Madden and Kamron Fields combining to throw four perfect frames with six strikeouts to close out the win.

Both Madden and Fields have been revelations for Texas this season. Madden, just a freshman, has a 0.54 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 16.2 innings. Fields, a sophomore, is channeling his dynamic stuff better this season to the tune of a 1.46 ERA and .051 opponent batting average in 12.1 innings.

The winner of this series has to be considered to be in pole position in the Big 12 race, and Texas needs just one more win this weekend in the friendly confines of Disch-Falk Field to be that team.  

Ace Watch

Friday night is for college baseball’s aces. Here we highlight some of the best pitching performances of the day.

Isaiah Campbell, RHP, Arkansas: Campbell was excellent again for No. 16 Arkansas, which opened SEC play with a 2-0 win against Missouri. The redshirt junior struck out 11 batters in seven scoreless innings and limited the Tigers to two hits and a walk. Campbell improved to 4-0, 2.37 with 44 strikeouts and four walks in 30.1 innings.

Hunter Gaddis, RHP, Georgia State: In a 2-0 victory at Appalachian State, Gaddis struck out 10 batters in eight scoreless innings, working around four hits and three walks. The junior, who has a chance to be a top-five rounds pick in June, won his 14th career game, the 10th most in program history. Gaddis improved to 1-1, 4.50 with 34 strikeouts and five walks in 34 innings on the season.

Nick Lodolo, LHP, Texas Christian: Lodolo continues to pitch like the best college arm in the draft class, this time matching his career high with 13 strikeouts in a 12-2 victory against Eastern Michigan. The junior scattered one hit and four walks in seven scoreless innings to improve to 3-2, 1.36. He has struck out 46 batters in 33 innings, while surrendering just 15 hits and seven walks.

Max Meyer, RHP, Minnesota: Meyer last year was a Freshman All-American as a closer and he opened the season back in that role, though the Gophers had him stretched out in case they needed him in the rotation. Minnesota made that move last week and Meyer handled the assignment well against Oregon State. He turned in another strong start Friday at Long Beach State and Minnesota won, 6-2. Meyer held the Dirtbags to one hit in 7.2 scoreless innings, struck out nine batters and walked two. For good measure, he also went 3-for-3 with a double and three RBIs at the plate.

Jason Parker, RHP, North Carolina State: The Wolfpack thumped Florida State, 16-0, and Parker gave them a strong start. The junior struck out 10 batters in seven innings and scattered five hits and two walks. No. 21 NC State improved to 18-0, and Parker is now 3-0, 0.68 with 26 strikeouts and six walks in 26.1 innings.

Aron Solis, RHP, Texas Southern: In a taut, 1-0 victory against Southern, Solis threw a three-hit shutout to lead Texas Southern to victory. The senior struck out 11 batters and walked four. Solis improved to 1-3, 6.75 with 35 strikeouts and seven walks in 26.2 innings on the year.

Levi Stoudt, RHP, Lehigh: Stoudt didn’t factor into the decision as Lehigh beat Virginia Military Institute, 1-0, in 11 innings, but he did turn in an excellent start. The junior threw seven scoreless innings, striking out seven batters, walking none and scattering four hits. Stoudt projects as a top-five rounds pick in June and is starting to round into form. He’s now 1-2, 3.20 with 28 strikeouts and five walks in 19.2 innings and has thrown 13 straight scoreless innings.

Around The Horn

Notre Dame (7-9) upset No. 18 Clemson (13-4) to get off to a surprising 3-1 start in Atlantic Coast Conference play. Lefthander Tommy Sheehan tossed a complete game for the Irish, giving up seven hits and two runs with three walks and four strikeouts, quieting the Clemson bats. Senior outfielder Eric Gilgenbach had another big game, going 3-for-5 with a home run, his sixth of the year, and three RBIs. The quick start in conference play for Notre Dame is all the more impressive when you consider that each of their first two weekends, against Wake Forest and Clemson, have been on the road. The Tigers, meanwhile, continue to ride a bit of a roller coaster. They’ll have to rally to win the last two games to avoid suffering two series losses in their last three weekends, sandwiched around a sweep of North Carolina. 

— It’s not a huge shock that No. 21 North Carolina State (18-0) scored a win over No. 5 Florida State (13-3) on Friday night, but it is shocking that they did so by blowing the Seminoles out 16-0. FSU lefthander Drew Parrish wore it in this one, giving up ten hits and nine runs (seven earned) in five innings of work, with eight of those runs scoring in the second inning alone. NC State catcher Patrick Bailey went 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs, and center fielder Tyler McDonough went 4-for-5 with three RBIs.

— No. 13 Louisville (14-4) moved to 3-1 in ACC play with an 8-3 road win at No. 24 Duke (12-6). Blue Devils lefthander Graeme Stinson has been effective this season despite his stuff being a bit down over last season, but the Cardinals jumped on him on Friday for three runs in the first inning on the way to hanging four runs on him in four innings. Louisville lefthander Reid Detmers had no such trouble, as he limited Duke to six hits and one run in six innings.

— In a matchup of the projected top two teams in Conference USA, Southern Mississippi (9-6) claimed a wild, 12-9 win at Louisiana Tech (11-6). Simply put, both teams struggled to get outs. Of the nine pitchers who took the mound on Friday, only three exited without allowing a run, and even that’s a bit deceiving, as one of those pitchers, La Tech’s Beau Billings, faced only one batter and walked him. Southern Miss got big games from their biggest stars, with right fielder Matt Wallner going 3-for-5 with a double and a home run and first baseman Hunter Slater slugging two homers. Righthander J.C. Keys has become a real weapon at the back of the Golden Eagles’ bullpen. With two scoreless innings on Friday night, he’s struck out 17 and given up just two runs in 11.2 innings.

Miami (15-3) is a team working its way toward Top 25 consideration with the help of a 6-4 win over No. 8 North Carolina (14-5). After the UNC offense got to righthander Evan McKendry for four runs in 5.2 innings, the Miami bullpen trio of J.P. Gates, Greg Veliz and Daniel Federman threw 3.2 scoreless innings to shut down the Tar Heels. The Hurricanes’ offense continues to hum right along, as they pounded out ten hits as a team, with third baseman Raymond Gil going 3-for-3 with a walk. UNC will look to the rest of the weekend as a chance to get up off the mat, as they’re off to an 0-4 start in ACC play.

— A quick show of hands for all those who saw Utah (7-6) going on the road and putting 21 runs on Arizona (10-7) in a 21-10 win. The Utes scored in each of the first seven innings of the game, including a three-run first, a six-run third, and a five-run fourth. In addition to pounding out 21 hits, Utah added ten more baserunners by way of walk (six) and hit by pitch (four). Quietly, because of his own team’s offensive output and Arizona’s late push to score double-digit runs, Utah lefthander Kyle Robenial did a nice job, limiting the Wildcats to three runs in his six innings on the mound.

Houston (9-7), with an 8-6 win at Dallas Baptist (13-4) is one step closer to a much-needed quality series win over a projected regional team. The Cougars couldn’t break through against DBU lefthander Jordan Martinson, who threw six shutout innings, but they came alive against the Patriots’ bullpen, scoring three runs in the seventh, four in the eighth, and a final tally in the ninth. Veteran slugger Joe Davis led the UH offense with a 2-for-4 day with three RBIs.

Arizona State (17-0) kept pace with NC State for a place among the unbeaten in college baseball with a 6-0 win against Washington State (6-11). Lefthander Alec Marsh tossed 6.1 shutout innings while scattering six hits and two walks. Offensively, four Sun Devils enjoyed multi-hit games—Myles Denson (3-for-4), Gage Workman (2-for-4, 2 HR), Hunter Bishop (2-for-4), and Trevor Hauver (2-for-4). With his two-hit day, Bishop’s batting average is all the way up to .455.

— More off the beaten path, Western Carolina (10-5) is quietly having a resurgent season after winning just 11 games last season. On Friday, they took down Elon (9-8) by getting to Preseason All-American righthander Kyle Brnovich for seven hits and three runs in six innings. The Catamounts are hitting .318 as a team after Friday’s win, led by third baseman Justice Bigbie, who is hitting .411/.507/.696 with four home runs. The Southern Conference is a highly competitive league and six teams have double-digit wins already, but perhaps Western Carolina can factor into the title race.

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