Stanford Strikes First In Showdown With UCLA, Big 12 Produces Wild Friday

Image credit: Stanford hero Will Matthiessen celebrates (Courtesy of Stanford)

Stanford Walks Off With Win In First Game Of Showdown Between Top-Ranked Teams

This weekend’s series between No. 1 UCLA and No. 2 Stanford on The Farm in Stanford marks the first time since 2016 and just the 13th time in the 39-year history of the Baseball America Top 25 that the top two teams are meeting during the regular season. On Friday night, the first game of that series lived up to the hype.

Stanford walked off with a 3-2 victory thanks to Will Matthiessen’s two-out, bases-loaded single in the ninth inning. The victory extended the Cardinal’s winning streak to 11 games and kept them perfect in Pac-12 Conference play.

“We cracked a little bit there, but those are all points that we can learn from, they weren’t points that cost us the game,” Stanford coach David Esquer said. “Hey, it’s better to learn from those types of mistakes when you’re able to come back and dig out a win and I’m proud of our guys for being able to do that.”

Stanford (20-3, 7-0 Pac-12) took an early lead as Brandon Wulff hit a solo home run in the first inning and the score stayed that way most of the night as UCLA righthander Zach Pettway settled into the game and Stanford righthander Brendan Beck kept putting up zeroes.

But after the Cardinal pushed their lead to 2-0 on Kyle Stowers’ RBI double in the eighth inning, the Bruins answered in the ninth. Facing All-American closer Jack Little, UCLA (21-6, 7-3 Pac-12) put together a rally, getting big hits from Ryan Kreidler and R.J. Teijeiro. It got the go-ahead run to third base on a daring delayed double steal with Kreidler and Teijeiro, but lefthander Austin Weiermiller escaped the jam.

In the bottom of the ninth, Stanford bounced back. Christian Robinson struck out against righthander Kyle Mora to start the inning but reached first when the ball got away from Teijeiro. Mora got two outs but then walked two batters (one intentionally) to bring Matthiessen to the plate. He got ahead in the count, 2-0, and then dumped a hit into left field to bring home Robinson and set off a celebration at Sunken Diamond.

Esquer said the game was a stress test for the Cardinal.

“I give our guys credit,” he said. “We’ve been talking about you’ve got to be able to take a punch and not go down and then punch back, and our guys did a great job in the bottom of the inning coming back after that.”

As good as UCLA has been this season, Friday nights have become a problem. Four of its six losses have come in its first game of the weekend. The Bruins have bounced back to win the next two games the last three times it lost on Friday night, but they are putting themselves in a tough position too often. Pettway (2-2, 3.42) has been solid this season, but the return of righthander Ryan Garcia (2-0, 1.35), who was slated to be UCLA’s Opening Day starter until he suffered an injury that sidelined him for the first month of the season, has been key. He has been eased back into the rotation on Sundays, but he may be due for a promotion soon.

These two teams appeared to be very evenly matched coming into the weekend and Friday’s game only reinforced that notion. For UCLA, it was a disappointing loss after its impressive ninth-inning comeback, but it, like Stanford, should be able to learn from the game.

The two teams resume their series Saturday at 5 p.m. ET. Righthander Jack Ralston will start for the Bruins, while lefthander Jacob Palisch will counter for the Cardinal.

Wild Friday Night in the Unpredictable Big 12

The Big 12 has made an early case to be the most unpredictable power conference in college baseball, and Friday night’s results are just the latest piece of compelling evidence.

No. 11 Texas Tech (20-8, 4-3) claimed a 5-4 win at home against Kansas (15-14, 1-6), but otherwise, the in-league results provided plenty of surprises and drama.

Oklahoma State scored a big series win over Texas Christian last weekend to vault the Cowboys (18-10, 5-2) into the Top 25 at No. 23, but on Friday night, it lost, 11-1, at home against West Virginia (18-11, 3-4).

What is not that much of a surprise is that Oklahoma State struggled to put up runs against righthander Alek Manoah, who threw eight shutout innings with no walks and 11 strikeouts.

Friday’s performance is just the latest strong outing from Manoah, who has seen his draft stock take off this year as he’s been more consistent than he has ever been in a Mountaineers uniform. On the season, he’s now 4-2 with a 2.44 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 51.2 innings.

What was more surprising was the way the Mountaineers were able to take it to Cowboys’ pitching, as they plated five runs (four earned) off righthander Jensen Elliott in three innings. Then they scored five more in three innings off of steady righty C.J. Varela to jump out to a big lead that kept them from ever being challenged.

After getting swept by Baylor to begin league play, West Virginia is now one win away from winning back-to-back series against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. That type of run in Big 12 play, coupled with an RPI that is already quite strong, would really start to build a foundation for West Virginia to put together a postseason-worthy resume.

Oklahoma, meanwhile, has a big home series with Texas Christian this weekend, and it got off on the right foot with a 7-6 win in what was a roller coaster of a game.

The Sooners (23-8, 5-2) jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning against lefthander Nick Lodolo, who has been nothing short of spectacular this season, and they had to feel pretty good about being able to run away with things.

But then the Horned Frogs (18-10, 3-4) made it a close game in the middle innings, and heading into the ninth inning, Oklahoma was clinging to a 6-5 lead.

With one out in the ninth, TCU center fielder Johnny Rizer homered to tie things up and bring his team all the way back. But then OU counterpunched and walked it off in the bottom half of the ninth on a Brylie Ware RBI single.

It was quite the dramatic way for Oklahoma to begin bouncing back from that series loss to West Virginia last weekend.

The other walk-off in the Big 12 came in Waco, where Baylor (22-7, 6-1) took home a 6-5 win against No. 8 Texas (20-14, 3-4).

The teams traded big innings early, as the Longhorns scored four in the top of the second, with the big blow coming on a two-run homer from shortstop Masen Hibbeler. Baylor answered back with four of their own in the bottom of the third, with two of those runs coming on a single from left fielder Cole Haring.

With Baylor plating a single run in the fifth and Texas adding one in the seventh, the teams went to the bottom of the ninth tied 5-5.

The Bears quickly loaded the bases on a Richard Cunningham single, a Davis Wendzel walk and an Andy Thomas walk. After Texas righthander Cole Quintanilla got Preseason All-American catcher Shea Langeliers to pop out harmlessly, right fielder Davion Downey lined a single into right field to bring home the winning run.

With the win and the Oklahoma State loss, Baylor now sits alone in the first place in the Big 12 at 6-1, and after its loss, Texas, the highest-ranked team in the league, is 3-4 and in a tie with TCU and West Virginia for fifth place.

If what we’ve seen through parts of three weekends of league play is any indication, strap in for a wild season in the Big 12.

Ace Watch

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

Kyle Brnovich, RHP, Elon: In a 9-1 victory at Towson, Brnovich struck out 10 batters and held the Tigers to one run (unearned) in seven innings. The Preseason All-American scattered two hits and three walks. Brnovich is 3-3, 3.31 with 65 strikeouts and 29 walks in 49 innings.

Mason Erla, RHP, Michigan State: Erla threw nine scoreless innings but settled for a no decision as it took Michigan State 10 innings to defeat Indiana State, 1-0. He struck out six batters and scattered two hits and three walks in the longest outing of his career. The game also was the first home night game in program history, as Michigan State debuted its newly installed lights in fashion.

Sam Finnerty, RHP, Alabama: In the first game of Alabama’s doubleheader sweep of South Carolina, Finnerty threw a four-hit shutout to lead the Crimson Tide to a 9-0 victory. The senior struck out five, walked none and didn’t allow a runner to advance past second base. He threw just 79 pitches and at one point retired 16 straight batters. Finnerty is 5-3, 3.19 with 36 strikeouts and six walks in 48 innings.

Evan McKendry, RHP, Miami: in an 11-0 rout of rival Florida State, McKendry threw seven scoreless innings and struck out nine. He held the Seminoles to three hits and two walks. In starts against Florida and Florida State this season, McKendry has combined to strike out 18 batters in 14 innings and held opponents to two runs on seven hits and three walks. Miami has beaten both of its Sunshine State rivals with McKendry on the mound.

Ken Waldichuk, LHP, Saint Mary’s: In a 4-2 victory against Portland, Waldichuk struck out 12 batters and held the Pilots to two runs (one earned) on six hits and a walk. At one point, the junior struck out five straight batters. Waldichuk improved to 3-3, 3.47 with 53 strikeouts and 17 walks in 46.2 innings.

Around The Horn

— No. 3 Vanderbilt won an 11-inning marathon with No. 6 Georgia (25-6) by a 3-2 score. Bulldogs righthander Emerson Hancock was outstanding, throwing seven innings, giving up four hits and one run with four walks and eight strikeouts, and he left with his team up 2-1, but the Commodores (24-6) were able to get things done offensively against the Georgia bullpen. In the top of the ninth, pinch-hitter Walker Grisanti connected for a game-tying solo homer off of closer Aaron Schunk, and in the 11th, shortstop Ethan Paul got to Schunk for another solo blast to give Vanderbilt the go-ahead run. The Commodores got great relief work from lefty Zach King and righty Tyler Brown, as the duo combined to throw four scoreless innings to give the offense time to come alive.

Southern California has proven to be a tough matchup for highly ranked teams on Friday night. One week after taking down top-ranked UCLA, it claimed a 10-6 win against No. 10 Arizona State (25-3). The Trojans (11-17) scored eight runs on ten hits against righthander Alec Marsh to stake the team to an early lead, and on the mound, the USC pitching staff did an outstanding job of limiting the powerful ASU offense.

Houston desperately needed a spark going into this weekend, and perhaps its 2-0 win against No. 13 East Carolina (22-7) will provide it. Lefthander Lael Lockhart silenced the ECU bats with 7.2 scoreless innings, allowing just four hits and one walk. Offensively, the Cougars (17-13) got a big day from infielder Jared Triolo, who went 3-for-4 with a home run. A win in either of the last two games of the series would give UH their first series win in American Athletic Conference play.

— No. 21 Clemson, in a 5-1 victory against No. 17 Louisville (23-7), did what few have done this season, get to lefthander Reid Detmers. The Tigers (23-7) scored five runs off the sophomore ace in six innings, all of them coming on home runs from shortstop Logan Davidson, catcher Kyle Wilkie and left fielder Elijah Henderson. On the mound, Clemson freshman righthander Davis Sharpe threw 6.2 innings, giving up four hits and one run with one walk and seven strikeouts.

— No. 20 Mississippi made a big statement with an emphatic 12-4 win against No. 16 Florida. The Rebels (21-10) chased righthander Tommy Mace in the fourth inning, having tagged him with six runs on 12 hits. Ole Miss righty Will Ethridge was also lifted in the fourth, although his departure was due to a blister on his finger. Pressed into early duty, righthander Tyler Myers, who hadn’t allowed a run in eight innings of SEC play coming into the day, did allow two home runs to the Gators (21-11), but he was solid overall, going 5.1 innings with just two hits and two runs allowed.

— Alex Box magic struck again in Baton Rouge, as No. 15 Louisiana State (22-9) came back to score a 2-1 win over No. 14 Texas A&M (24-7). Down 1-0, LSU scored the tying run in the seventh when A&M right fielder Cam Blake committed two errors on one play on a ball off the bat of Brandt Broussard. The go-ahead run in the eighth scored in a more conventional way, as a solo home run from shortstop Josh Smith put LSU up 2-1. It was also good news for the Tigers that they got another quality start from righthander Zack Hess, who threw six innings, giving up five hits and one run with three walks and five strikeouts.

Cincinnati played spoiler in No. 22 Connecticut’s first weekend series after breaking into the Top 25 rankings, scoring a 5-4 win. Senior righty A.J. Kullman threw six innings for the Bearcats (12-16), giving up six hits and one run with no walks and four strikeouts in the start, while left fielder Joey Wiemer provided an early lead with a three-run homer in the third inning, his second round-tripper of the season. The Huskies (18-11) will look to bounce back to win their third consecutive conference series.

Minnesota is looking more and more like the team it was projected to be before the season began. With a 6-4 win at Michigan (20-8) to begin a three-game set, the Gophers (13-14) moved to 6-1 in conference play. Righty Max Meyer continues to handle the Friday night role with aplomb, throwing seven innings, giving up seven hits and three runs (two earned) with three walks and five strikeouts. Offensively, the Gophers got to lefty Tommy Henry to the tune of six hits, six runs, and four walks in 6.1 innings of work. Minnesota shortstop Jordan Kozicky connected for a three-run homer in the fifth inning to open things up, his fifth of the season.

Brigham Young (21-8) came into the weekend as one of the hottest teams in college baseball, but San Diego (21-10) has cooled it off. After a 15-5 win Thursday, the Toreros claimed the series win with a 6-5 win Friday. Tied 5-5 heading into extra innings, the winning run for USD came home when BYU catcher Noah Hill dropped a throw home on what would have been a force play at the plate. Center fielder Paul Kunst had a big game for the Toreros, going 3-for-4 with two RBI.

— With a wild 12-10 win over South Dakota State, Nebraska-Omaha (18-6-1) moved to 10-0 in Summit League play and continued to provide evidence that it may be the most serious challenger to perennial power Oral Roberts in the conference. The Mavericks were trailing the Jackrabbits (14-11) by a 10-1 score as late as the end of the sixth inning but rallied back to win it with an eight-run seventh inning and a three-run ninth. Home runs by catcher Brett Bonal, a three-run shot, and designated hitter Parker Smejkal, a two-run blast, were the big blows in the seventh, and RBI singles from third baseman Breyden Eckhout and left fielder Jack Lombardi did the trick in the ninth.

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