College Baseball Takeaways: Thrilling Start To ACC, Pac-12 Play

Image credit: Oregon OF Tanner Smith (Photo courtesy of Oregon)

Oregon Fights Back To Win At Stanford

Oregon had one of the toughest assignments of the Pac-12’s opening weekend, as it traveled to No. 2 Stanford. It wasn’t easy, but the Ducks came away with a 4-3 victory Friday in the series opener.

Without No. 1 starter Adam Maier, who left last week’s start injured, Oregon turned to Caleb Sloan for the start. He gave up a pair of unearned runs in the first inning, but the Cardinal couldn’t expand on that edge. Sloan threw a scoreless second inning before giving the ball to RJ Gordon, who threw 4.2 scoreless innings of relief.

That gave the Ducks time to tie the game at 2 in the fifth and then push into the lead with a run in the top of the eighth. The Cardinal tied the game in the bottom of the inning and had the bases loaded with one out, but Stone Churby got an inning-ending double play to keep the score tied.

That set the stage for Oregon left fielder Tanner Smith. He led off the ninth inning with a home run to right field to give the Ducks a 4-3 lead. Veteran closer Kolby Sommers worked around a pair of walks in the ninth inning (one was intentional) to close out his first save of the year.

Oregon (9-5, 1-0) started the season with three straight losses at San Diego but has since found its stride and on Friday picked up its biggest win yet. Stanford (8-4, 0-1), meanwhile, has not been at its best since sweeping through the Round Rock Classic in the second weekend of the season. The Cardinal are 2-3 since the end of the tournament and are averaging just four runs per game. With two more games against Oregon on tap this weekend and then a trip to Arizona, the reigning Pac-12 champion, slated for next weekend, Stanford must quickly get back on track.

Notre Dame Shows Championship DNA In Win At NC State

The value of intangibles are, by definition, hard to pinpoint during any given game, but you couldn’t help but feel that the intangibles derived from being a veteran team coming off of an ACC regular-season championship played a role Friday in No. 3 Notre Dame’s 8-4, 12-inning win at No. 25 North Carolina State. 

The Wolfpack (9-5, 0-1) got out to a quick start, scoring two runs in the first on a Josh Hood RBI groundout and a Devonte Brown RBI single and two more in the third on a two-RBI single for Hood. And at the same time, NC State righthander Sam Highfill was cruising early and put up zeroes in the first six innings. 

But the Irish (10-1, 1-0) were undeterred. First, they stopped the bleeding by turning to the bullpen relatively early. Lefthander Aidan Tyrell made it through four innings, and from there, a quartet of righthanders in Alex Rao (1.2 IP, 1 H), Radek Birkholz (1.1 IP, 1 H), Ryan McLinskey (3.1 IP, 1 H) and Jack Brannigan (1.2 IP, 0 H) held NC State at bay for the remainder of the game. 

Offensively, they finally got to Highfill in the seventh with three runs on a Carter Putz solo homer, a wild pitch that scored Brannigan and a Zach Prajzner RBI single, and Brannigan tied it in the eighth on an RBI single. 

Lefthander Chris Villaman out of the NC State bullpen also mostly stemmed the scoring tide as the game moved into extra innings, but the Irish got to him in the 12th, with Prazjner breaking the tie on a solo homer and three more runs coming home on a wild pitch, a Hood throwing error and an RBI double off the bat of catcher Danny Neri. 

NC State controlled Friday’s game for most of the evening, but Notre Dame came up big when it mattered most, and that’s often the mark of a championship team. 

Virginia, Nate Savino Shuts Down Duke

One of the big keys for Virginia reaching its ceiling in 2022 is lefthander Nate Savino taking a step forward and becoming a frontline starting pitcher, the kind that the Cavaliers anticipated getting when Savino chose to graduate high school early and join the program for the 2020 season. 

In the first big test of his third college season, a road series opener against Duke to begin ACC play, Savino looked like precisely that kind of starting pitcher. He threw a five-hit shutout with no walks and seven strikeouts in a 5-0 win for the No. 5 Cavaliers (13-0, 1-0). On the season, Savino has a 1.21 ERA and 27 strikeouts compared to two walks in 22.1 innings. 

Duke (8-6, 0-1) was not without some opportunities early, as it put a runner on in each of the first four innings, and all five of its hits came in the first six frames, but it was never able to turn those runners into any sort of threat. 

Offensively, it was the Jake Gelof Show for Virginia. The third baseman hit a three-run homer in the fourth off of Duke starter Marcus Johnson and then got the righthander again in the sixth with a solo homer. 

Friday’s win was a big statement for Savino personally, and with another win this weekend, Virginia will have collectively made a big statement to begin ACC play. 

USC Upsets UCLA In Crosstown Showdown

The Pac-12 began conference play Friday, and the action featured a major rivalry, as Southern California made the trip across Los Angeles to take on No. 15 UCLA. The Trojans made the most of their trip, as they beat the Bruins, 7-4, at Jackie Robinson Stadium.

USC got off to a strong start to the season in non-conference play, but it had not faced an opponent like UCLA, which last weekend went 2-1 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic, including a win against No. 1 Texas.

The Trojans (10-2, 1-0) on Friday showed they were ready for conference play. They took the lead with four runs in the second inning off righthander Jake Brooks, highlighted by a two-run home run from Tyler Lozano, who was hitting in the nine-hole. USC never looked back and added important insurance runs in the eighth and ninth innings.

UCLA (9-5, 0-1) rallied in the ninth inning, pushing two runs across and bringing the tying run to the plate, but it couldn’t complete the comeback. With cleanup hitter Ethan Gourson at the plate representing the tying run, Nate Clow came out of the bullpen and won a nine-pitch battle, getting a pop up to short to end the game.

USC is off to its best start to a season since 2015, when it began the year 15-0. The Trojans will look to continue those winning vibes the rest of the weekend in Westwood and has a chance to win a series against the Bruins for the first time since 2016.

Wake Forest Handles Florida State

Wake Forest fell behind early but waited things out well enough to get to Florida State pitching and secure a 9-3 win for a big win to open ACC play.

The Demon Deacons (13-1, 1-0) were slow to get out of the gate. The No. 10 Seminoles (8-5, 0-1) jumped out to a 2-0 lead after three innings thanks to a bases-loaded walk in the second and a Logan Lacey RBI double in the third, and FSU lefthander Parker Messick cruised through four innings. 

The tide turned in the fifth, however. Wake Forest freshman second baseman Danny Corona hit a solo homer to get his team on the board, and later in the inning, left fielder Adam Cecere singled home two runs to give the Demon Deacons a lead that, as it turns out, they would not relinquish. 

Not satisfied with that 3-2 lead, however, Wake played add-on in the sixth with four more runs, three of them on a three-run blast by Corona. And in the eighth, the Demon Deacons added a couple more on a two-run single by, you guessed it, Corona. Impressively, they ended up scoring nine runs on a day when Preseason All-American third baseman Brock Wilken went 0-for-5. 

On the mound, righthander Rhett Lowder was solid, giving up five hits and two runs with four walks and four strikeouts in six innings. 

This is the kind of start Wake Forest was looking for in ACC play in a season where it’s eager to turn the page after a difficult 2021 campaign. 

Campbell Shuts Out Liberty

Things haven’t necessarily gone according to plan for a talented Campbell team so far in 2022, but, plenty went right Friday and the stars shined bright in a 7-0 win at No. 12 Liberty, snapping the Flames’ 11-game winning streak. 

On the mound for the Camels (7-7), righthander Thomas Harrington gave up five hits and no walks with seven strikeouts in seven scoreless innings. At the plate, shortstop Zach Neto homered twice, a solo homer in the fourth and a two-run shot in the fifth. Neto has swung the bat pretty well so far, especially when you consider that every opponent is game planning around him, but those were his first two home runs of the season. 

For Liberty (11-2), it was the first time this season that anyone has put up a crooked number against lefthander Joe Adametz III on Fridays, as Campbell plated four in four innings against him. 

It’s still too early to do intense postseason resume analysis, but the last two games of this series are big for both Campbell and Liberty, especially the Camels. The Flames have already banked a big road series win at Florida, but Campbell could really use another win this weekend.

Cal’s Ninth-Inning Comeback Stuns Arizona

Down 8-5 going into the ninth inning, California on Friday scored four runs in the bottom of the inning to upset No. 17 Arizona to open Pac-12 play. The Golden Bears scored seven unanswered runs to complete the comeback.

Cal collected just one hit in the ninth inning and took advantage of a series of Arizona miscues to walk off with the win. A walk, single and hit batter loaded the bases with one out in the inning. A wild pitch, a walk and another wild pitch followed, before the Wildcats recorded a second out.

Arizona still had a one-run lead with two outs in the inning. But a passed ball and then a wild pitch brought home two more runs and Cal claimed a wild, 9-8 victory.

Both teams struggled with control Friday. The Golden Bears walked 11 batters – including seven by ace Josh White in 4.2 innings – and threw two wild pitches. The Wildcats issued eight walks, hit two batters and threw six wild pitches.

In the end, Cal (7-6, 1-0) did enough to pick up a significant victory. The Golden Bears have been up and down this season and are playing in a lot of close games. Winning a game like Friday night’s could help the Golden Bears build some positive momentum as conference play begins.

Justin Campbell Leads Oklahoma State Past BYU

After Brigham Young on Thursday upset No. 6 Oklahoma State to win the opener of their series in Arlington, Texas, the Cowboys on Friday pulled even in the series behind ace Justin Campbell. The righthander struck out 12 batters in six scoreless innings and Oklahoma State beat BYU, 3-0.

Campbell struck out the first five batters he faced on his way to a season high for strikeouts. He held the Cougars to two hits and two walks and didn’t allow a runner to advance past first base.

Campbell improved to 1-1, 2.31 on the season. He has 39 strikeouts in 23.1 innings and has limited opponents to 11 hits and six walks.

Righthanders Kale Davis and Trevor Martin followed Campbell and completed the shutout for the Cowboys. Davis struck out four batters in two innings and Martin struck out the side on 12 pitches in the ninth inning to earn his third save of the season.

As good as Oklahoma State pitching was Friday night, BYU was nearly equal to the challenge. The Cougars held the Cowboys to four hits on the night and it wasn’t until the eighth inning that Oklahoma State broke the scoreless deadlock with three runs. David Mendham drew a bases-loaded walk – his third free pass of the night – to bring home the first run of the game and Garrett Martin followed with a two-run single.

Oklahoma State (8-6) and BYU (8-4) are set for a rubber game Saturday afternoon. After last weekend getting swept by Gonzaga, the Cowboys could use a series win to start rebuilding some momentum. The Cougars have a chance to add a marquee non-conference series win that would be a big boost to their eventual NCAA Tournament resume.

UConn Stays Hot on the Road with Win Against Pepperdine

As always, Connecticut has spent most of the first month of the season playing on the road, primarily against teams that had the benefit of plenty of outside practice time during the preseason and that haven’t had to leave home much to play games so far. 

And as always, UConn is playing well in spite of that, with a 6-2 win over Pepperdine in Malibu on Friday moving the Huskies to 10-1 on the season. 

Righthander Austin Peterson was excellent. He threw seven innings, giving up five hits and two runs with two walks and 11 strikeouts. For the season, he has a 1.82 ERA and 44 strikeouts compared to five walks in 24.2 innings. 

Righthander Brandon Llewellyn kept Pepperdine (8-5) in the game as he matched Peterson zero for zero through five innings, but UConn broke through in the sixth on a grand slam off the bat of first baseman Ben Huber and then later added insurance in the eighth against lefthander Nathan Diamond on an RBI single for DH Kevin Ferrer and an RBI double off the bat of catcher Matt Donlan. 

It’s still early, but so far, UConn is doing what it always does by piling up a bunch of wins on the road to begin the season as a foundation for a clear postseason resume come June. 

Matt Shaw’s Walkoff Sends Maryland Past Georgetown

Georgetown and Maryland are separated by about 10 miles but before Friday the Hoyas and Terrapins had not met on the diamond since 2004. The local showdown didn’t disappoint Friday in College Park, Md.

Georgetown (10-5), off to its best start to a season in a decade, held a four-run lead after six innings. But Maryland scored the final five runs of the game to storm back for a 10-9 victory.

The Terrapins cut the deficit to one run with three runs in the seventh inning. Then, in the ninth, Chris Alleyne led off the inning with a single and Matt Shaw followed with an opposite-field line drive to right field that snuck past the foul pole for a walk-off win.

Shaw last year earned all-freshman honors in the Big Ten and got off to a loud start to the 2022 season at Baylor. Since then, however, he’s been in a slump and had gone hitless in four of his last five games coming into the weekend. He delivered the biggest hit of the game, however, and is now hitting .222/.302/.463 with four home runs this season.

Maryland (11-2) was without No. 1 starter Nick Dean. After the game, coach Rob Vaughn told reporters that Dean is “on the shelf” for the weekend. Lefthander Logan Ott started in Dean’s place and the Terrapins used five pitchers on the day.

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