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College Baseball Roundup: USC Knocks Off No. 1, ACC Action Produces Upsets

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USC righthander Connor Lunn (Photo courtesy of USC Athletics)

USC Upsets No. 1 UCLA To Open Crosstown Rivalry Series

In their crosstown rivalry series, Southern California struck first against top-ranked UCLA. The Trojans jumped out to a first-inning lead against the Bruins and never looked back as they rolled to a 7-2 victory.

Righthander Connor Lunn stepped up to lead USC (10-14, 3-4 Pac-12). He held UCLA (18-5, 5-2 Pac-12) to two runs in 8.2 innings, working around seven hits and four walks. He struck out eight batters and fell just shy of his first career complete game, as coach Dan Hubbs went to the bullpen when Lunn reached the 125-pitch mark.

Lunn has spent most of his college career as a reliever but has made a strong transition to the front of the rotation in recent weeks. He improved to 3-1, 2.97 with Friday’s victory.

USC’s offense provided Lunn with plenty of support, as the Trojans tagged UCLA righthander Zach Pettway for seven runs in seven innings. Outfielders Manny Acosta and Blake Sabol and shortstop Chase Bushor paced the offense with two hits apiece, and Acosta added a key home run.

Friday was a big game for the Trojans. Coach Dan Hubbs said it was their most complete game of the year, as they combined strong pitching and hitting with a clean defensive performance.

It’s been a tough start to the year for USC. It was 5-10 going into the start of Pac-12 Conference play and lost a home series against Grand Canyon. The Trojans started conference play well, winning a series at California, but last weekend were swept at Washington, losing the last two games of the series in extra innings.

USC played its first two Pac-12 series on the road, a part of a stretch that saw it play nine of 10 games away from home. Now, USC is back at Dedeaux Field, but the competition presents a stiff challenge. Following this weekend’s series against UCLA is a series against Arizona State. A series win against No. 1 UCLA would be huge for USC as it looks to get its season back on track.

For UCLA, Friday’s loss was a tough one. Not only did Pettway get knocked around by a team hitting .259/.356/.357 this season, but it made two errors, an uncharacteristically poor defensive performance.

Despite the Bruins’ impressive performance this season (it is the second-best start in John Savage’s 15-year tenure), Friday night has been a bit of a bugaboo. This was the third time in seven weeks they have lost the first game of the weekend. In both previous instances (at Georgia Tech and in the Dodger Stadium Classic), UCLA rebounded to win the next two games. Pettway (2-2, 3.59) has been solid this year, but those Friday struggles perhaps underscore the importance of the return of righthander Ryan Garcia, who was slated to be UCLA’s Opening Day starter until he suffered an injury that sidelined him the first month of the season.

UCLA will look to bounce back Saturday with righthander Jack Ralston (3-0, 3.09) before turning to Garcia (1-0, 1.20) on Sunday to finish the series.

Upsets Abound in Wild Day Around the ACC

Perhaps there is no better avatar for the unpredictability of the 2019 college baseball season so far than the Atlantic Coast Conference. On any given weekend, it truly appears that any team can beat any other.

No team has been more surprising to this point than Notre Dame. A series win over Wake Forest to begin their ACC slate was notable, but easy to brush off as taking advantage of a struggling Demon Deacons team.

But since then, the Fighting Irish (11-12) have won a series with Clemson, took Florida State to extra innings in a rubber game, and on Friday, collected a 9-6 win on the road against Georgia Tech (17-9), which was last seen winning a series at Louisville.

DH Carter Putz connected for a three-run home run in the first inning against Yellow Jackets righthander Xzavion Curry, and after Georgia Tech took a 5-4 lead in the middle innings, right fielder Eric Gilgenbach hit a three-run homer of his own to put the Irish ahead for good.

Lefthander Tommy Vail was nothing short of outstanding out of the bullpen, as he threw 3.1 perfect innings, striking out seven, to close out the win.

It’s still relatively early, sure, but with a 6-4 league record, it seems safe to say that Notre Dame is, at the very least, going to be competitive throughout the ACC season. They’ve simply been too good against good competition in the league to be written off.

And don’t look now, but you can see their path to a postseason appearance taking shape. Their RPI has been cut in half in just two weeks’ time, from 124 to about 60 after the win Friday, and with each passing victory, it’s getting easier to imagine them getting to the 15 or so ACC wins you figure it would take for them to feel comfortable with their fate. Any postseason hopes are incumbent upon Notre Dame continuing to win, but it’s getting tougher to bet against them.

After the Fighting Irish gave Florida State all they could handle last weekend, the No. 21 Seminoles (17-8) lost, 10-7, to Boston College (13-12) to start this weekend.

Pitching has been the biggest issue for FSU of late, and that was a struggle again Friday. Lefthander Drew Parrish lasted just 1.1 innings, having given up five hits and five runs, and lefthander Austin Pollock came on after Parrish and gave up two more runs in 1.2 innings. In all, eight different FSU pitchers were used on the night.

Boston College third baseman Gian Martellini connected for a three-run home run in the first, and although the Seminoles’ offense battled and got the team back in the game, BC never surrendered the lead at any point.

The Eagles don’t yet have the marquee series win that Notre Dame has, but at 4-6 in the league, with wins in each of their weekend series against Louisville, Wake Forest, Clemson and now Florida State, they’ve already been peskier than many anticipated.

The Seminoles, at just 5-5 in conference play, are struggling to find consistency. They’ve allowed nine or more runs to the opposition six times since ACC play got underway on March 8th, and over that same span of time, they’ve only won back-to-back games once, when a midweek win over Florida International came just before a series-opening win at Notre Dame.

Another team searching for consistency in that same way is Virginia, and perhaps their 4-3 win at No. 5 North Carolina State (25-2) will help it on its way.

The Cavaliers (16-10) got a good team effort on the mound. Righthander Griff McGarry wasn’t perfect, as he walked five batters in 4.1 innings, but he struck out eight and limited the Wolfpack to just one run. Lefthander Andrew Abbott came on in relief and threw 3.1 innings, giving up four hits and one run, and righthander Kyle Whitten allowed NC State to pull within one in the ninth, but ultimately closed the door.

Offensively, they got big games from third baseman Zack Gelof, who went 3-for-5, and shortstop Tanner Morris, who was 2-for-3 with two walks.

There is still an entire half of the season remaining, and its 6-4 ACC record actually leads the Coastal Division, but Virginia has already dug a pretty deep hole from a postseason resume perspective.

Even after this win, Virginia’s RPI is still well over 100, and it has already let toss-up series in league play against Duke and Georgia Tech slip away, leaving in front of them mostly series in which it will be an underdog, at least viewed through the context of where everything stands today.

To make up that ground, the Cavaliers will have to score upsets and, with one more victory this weekend, they’ll have a significant one.

With most ACC teams having played ten games now (Louisville and Wake Forest have played 11), nine of the 14 teams in the league have four, five, or six wins, showing the type of parity that we can probably expect the rest of the way.

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Ace Watch

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

Jake Agnos, LHP, East Carolina: Agnos threw six scoreless innings to help No. 13 ECU to a 4-0 victory at South Florida and extend its winning streak to seven games. He struck out 11 batters, matching his career high, and scattered three hits and two walks. Agnos is 4-1, 2.92 with 61 strikeouts and 12 walks in 40 innings.

Tyler Baum, RHP, North Carolina: Baum opened North Carolina’s rivalry series against Duke with perhaps the best start of his career in a 1-0 victory. The junior threw 8.2 scoreless innings, striking out six and holding the Blue Devils to two hits and two walks. Baum improved to 5-2, 3.63 with 48 strikeouts and 11 walks in 39.2 innings.

Quinn Lavelle, LHP, Northwestern: In a 1-0 victory against San Jose Stata, Lavelle threw a two-hit shutout, his second career shutout. Neither hit left the infield and he sophomore struck out seven and walked one. Lavelle improved to 2-3, 3.66 with 28 strikeouts and 10 walks in 39.1 innings.

Adam Lukas, RHP, Evansville: Lukas this year moved from the bullpen to the front of the Aces’ rotation, a move that has had up-and-down results. Friday was a highlight, however, as Evansville opened Missouri Valley Conference play with a 1-0 victory against Bradley and Lukas playing a leading role. He struck out nine batters in six scoreless innings and worked around two hits and four walks. Lukas projects as a top-10 rounds draft pick and is 3-2, 4.71 with 45 strikeouts and 16 walks in 36.1 innings.

Zack Thompson, LHP, Kentucky: Thompson, a potential first-round pick, turned in the best pitching performance of the day. He threw a two-hitter against No. 6 Georgia to lead Kentucky to a 5-0 victory. Neither of Georgia’s hits left the infield and Thompson struck out 13 batters and walked four. He improved to 2-0, 2.06 with 68 strikeouts and 14 walks in 43.2 innings.

Around The Horn

— No. 16 Louisville (21-6) wasted no time bouncing back from a series loss to Georgia Tech last weekend with a doubleheader sweep of Wake Forest (15-13) by scores of 6-1 and 10-7. Lefthander Reid Detmers spun another gem in Game 1, striking out ten and allowing just one run in 7.1 innings of work. In his seven starts this season, the sophomore is 5-1, 0.92 with a 76-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 48.2 innings. The Cardinals fell behind 4-0 early in the nightcap but rallied back with help from home runs by first baseman Logan Wyatt and third baseman Justin Lavey.

— Perhaps the start of the Big Ten play was just the reset Minnesota (10-13) needed, as its off to a 4-0 start in league play after a 5-2, 10-inning win over Nebraska (12-8). Tied 2-2 going to the bottom of the 10th, catcher Eli Wilson connected for a three-run walk-off home run to hand the Gophers the victory and cap off his own 4-for-5 day at the plate. Righthander Max Meyer struck out 11 and allowed seven hits and two runs over eight innings of work, and righthander Brett Schulze recorded all six of his outs via strikeout over the final two innings.

— No. 7 Texas (18-11) came away with a win against Xavier (9-16), but the Longhorns were pushed by the Musketeers, as it took them 12 innings to come away with a 6-5 win. Twice in extra innings Xavier took a lead, but twice Texas bounced back to either tie it, as they did in the 10th, or take the lead, as they did to walk it off with three runs in the 12th, the final two runs coming home on a single by center fielder Duke Ellis. Righthander Bryce Elder did a nice job in his start for the Longhorns, throwing six shutout innings with six hits and one walk allowed.

Arkansas State continues to impress in Sun Belt Conference play. After sweeping Troy to begin league play and then winning two of three against South Alabama, the Red Wolves (18-8) beat No. 20 Coastal Carolina (19-7-1), 4-2, for a massive series-opening road win. Steady righthander Zach Jackson held the Chanticleers’ offense at bay, throwing seven innings, giving up eight hits and one run with one walk and six strikeouts. Third baseman Alex Howard and first baseman Kyle MacDonald had home runs to pace the A-State offense. With a 6-1 record, the Red Wolves are now all alone in first place in the league, and a series win in Conway would put them in pole position for the rest of the season.

— With preseason Atlantic-10 Conference favorite Saint Louis stumbling a bit out of the gate, Virginia Commonwealth and Davidson have emerged as two of the upstart contenders at the top of the A-10. In a series between the two in Richmond, the visiting Wildcats (14-7) took a close, 4-3 win over the Rams (19-7). Righty Casey Sutherland set the tone with his start, throwing seven innings, giving up five hits and two runs with one walk and seven strikeouts.

Ball State (17-9) moved to 4-0 in Mid-American Conference play with a wild, 9-8 win against Kent State (10-14) in 13 innings. Leading 5-1 heading to the ninth and with righthander Drey Jameson rolling, BSU gave up six runs in the top of the ninth, only to answer back with two in the bottom half of the ninth to send it to extra innings. After the teams traded single tallies in the 12th, the Cardinals walked off with the win in the 13th when right fielder Ross Messina was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. While Jameson ran out of gas in the ninth, he produced another strong start. In eight innings of work, he struck out 13 and until the ninth, he had given up just two hits and one run to Kent State. The Golden Flashes will probably have something to say about how the MAC plays out this season, but right now, the preseason favorites in the league are sitting at 1-3.

— With a doubleheader sweep against Charlotte, Western Kentucky moved to 7-1 in Conference USA, which puts it atop the league standings, percentage points ahead of Southern Mississippi and Florida Atlantic, which are both 6-1. In Game 1, the Hilltoppers (14-11) got 7.2 scoreless innings of relief from lefthander Dalton Shoemake in an 8-4 win over the 49ers (11-15). In the nightcap, the outfield duo of Ray Zuberer and Jake Sanford went off. The former went 3-for-5 with a double and a home run, while the latter was 4-for-5 with a homer of his own in an 8-5 WKU victory.

McNeese State completed a rally against Sam Houston State to win, 4-3, in Huntsville. Down 3-1 heading to the ninth, the Cowboys (15-11) scored three times against Bearkats pitching, with one run coming home on a Jake Dickerson RBI double and two runs scoring on a Brett Whelton single. At 3-4 now in Southland Conference play, McNeese certainly hopes a potential series win on the road against SHSU (15-8) will serve as a catalyst to propel it out of the crowded middle portion of the league standings.

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