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College Baseball Takeaways: Kevin Abel, Jack Leiter Are Unhittable

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Kevin Abel, Jack Leiter Prove Unhittable

Oregon State’s Kevin Abel and Vanderbilt’s Jack Leiter are two of the best pitchers in the country. And while they on Friday were separated by nearly 2,000 miles, they were both unhittable.

Abel threw six hitless innings as a part of a combined no-hitter for Oregon State in a 3-0 victory at Washington. Relievers Joey Mundt, Chase Watkins and Jake Mulholland each threw a hitless inning apiece to complete the effort.

“It was just fun to go out there and pitch and get a win, especially to start a series off,” said Abel, the 2018 Freshman of the Year. “We know we’re fully capable of doing special stuff like this all the time, knowing how deep our staff is.”

Oregon State (15-5, 3-1) again has one of the best pitching staffs in the Pac-12 and beyond. The Beavers have a 2.45 team ERA and Abel (2-3, 2.93), Mundt (1-0, 2.08), Watkins (0-0, 4.50) and Mulholland (1-0, 0.00, 6 SV) are a big part of that.

But on Friday some of the credit also belonged to the Beavers’ defense and catcher Troy Claunch.

“He called a great game tonight,” Abel said. “It’s nice to have a guy back there that I trust and knows me so well. He does a lot of prep to figure guys out and he did a fantastic job.”

Meanwhile, Leiter was doing his best Johnny Vander Meer impression for the Commodores (17-3, 4-1). After throwing a no-hitter last Saturday against South Carolina, Leiter was again unhittable. He threw seven hitless innings, striking out 10 batters and walking two in an 11-3 victory. The Commodores nearly finished a combined no-hitter themselves, before the Tigers broke up the bid with two outs in the ninth inning and went on to score three runs.

Leiter was lifted after seven innings and 101 pitches. He was pitching on a day’s less rest than normal because Vanderbilt’s series this week runs Thursday to Saturday, instead of the typical Friday to Sunday. He also pushed deeper a week ago, throwing 124 pitches.

Leiter, the son of former all-star Al Leiter, said he understood coach Tim Corbin’s decision.

"It was, 'Great job, I'm looking out for you in the long term here, it's a long season, it's still early on in the season,’” Leiter said. “And I fully understood. Of course I was tired, you're always tired, and you're always looking to go more. I wanted to throw the whole game, of course. But I understood."

Leiter has now thrown 16 straight hitless innings. During the streak, he has struck out 26 batters and walked three. On the season, the second-year freshman is 6-0, 0.25 with 59 strikeouts and 13 walks in 36 innings. He has held opponents to just seven hits.

Ole Miss Stays Hot With Doubleheader Sweep At Alabama

Storms on Thursday in Alabama forced the opening game of No. 4 Mississippi’s series at No. 23 Alabama to be postponed to Friday, turning the day into a doubleheader. The delay wasn’t enough to cool off the Rebels, who scored eight runs in the ninth inning of the first game for a 9-6 victory and then doubled up with a 2-0 victory in the nightcap.

Ole Miss (19-4, 5-0) is now 14-2 since losing a series against Central Florida and is 5-0 in SEC play for the first time in coach Mike Bianco’s 21-year tenure.

The Rebels can win in a variety of ways, as they showed Friday. In the first game, their offense showed how quickly it can strike. The first eight batters in the inning all reached base, turning a 3-1 deficit into a 9-3 lead. Sparkplug Peyton Chatagnier tied the game with his first home run of the season and is now hitting .370/.453/.565. With him back healthy after missing a few weeks due to a hamstring injury, the Ole Miss offense looks deeper and more well-rounded.

In the nightcap, Ole Miss got outstanding pitching from lefthander Doug Nikhazy and righthanders Andrew McDaniel and Taylor Broadway. That trio combined for a shutout and scattered five hits and two walks. Nikhazy struck out seven in five innings as he returned after missing the last two weeks due to injury. With Nikhazy back in the rotation and paired with righthander Gunnar Hoglund, who gave Ole Miss a quality start with 10 strikeouts in the first game, the Rebels once again have one of the best 1-2 punches in the country.

Ole Miss is entering a critical stretch in its schedule. After the series finale Saturday at Alabama, it faces series against Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Louisiana State and South Carolina over the next month. While the Rebels look like national title contenders, that stretch is still sure to challenge them.

Texas Walks Off With Red River Rivalry Win

It took extra innings Friday, but No. 9 Texas captured the first game of the Red River rivalry series against Oklahoma. The Longhorns walked off with a 4-3 victory in 11 innings when Douglas Hodo doubled into the gap in left-center field and Mitchell Daly dashed home from first base.

Texas (16-6, 3-1) continues to get impressive pitching. Ace Ty Madden delivered another quality start, his fifth straight, and the Longhorns’ bullpen did the rest. Relievers Tanner Witt, Aaron Nixon and Cole Quintanilla combined to hold the Sooners to one run (unearned) on one hit and three walks in five innings.

That pitching has helped made Texas extremely tough to beat in close games. It is now 8-2 in games decided by three runs or less.

For its part, Oklahoma (12-9, 0-1) got solid pitching of its own. It wasn’t quite enough on Friday, but the Sooners seem to have found some answers on the mound after a difficult start to the season.

Louisville Stays Hot At Notre Dame

After an up-and-down start to the season, No. 7 Louisville has looked much more like the team it was expected to be in the preseason, and it kept the ball rolling Friday with a 7-4 victory at No. 12 Notre Dame.

Lefthander Michael Kirian has been such a big part of Louisville’s early success this season, but he struggled on Friday, giving up three runs on four hits and six walks in 4.2 innings. Instead, it was an offensive push in the middle innings and good bullpen work that delivered the win this time.

A three-run fourth and two-run fifth got the scoring going for the Cardinals and ended up giving them the breathing room they would need. First baseman Alex Binelas, as his efforts to get hot at the plate continued, was right in the middle of both rallies. He had a sac fly in the fourth and added a two-run homer in the fifth. He would add a sac fly in the ninth to give him a four-RBI day, and he also reached on a hit by pitch.

Lefthander Adam Elliott came in clutch out of the bullpen. He relieved Kirian in the fifth after the lefthander had walked in consecutive runs and got a fly out to end the threat. He would go on to give up one run in three innings of work, with righthander Kaleb Corbett finishing things off with 1.1 scoreless innings.

South Carolina Outlasts Florida

The series opener between No. 5 Florida and No. 20 South Carolina promised an intriguing matchup on the mound between Tommy Mace and Thomas Farr, but neither was the star of the show for their respective teams on the mound, as both exited before the fifth inning was finished.

In fact, neither team really locked in on the mound until the game was nearing extra innings. South Carolina made it a 7-7 ballgame in the bottom of the eighth on a Braylen Wimmer RBI single off of righthander Christian Scott (with the run charged to Franco Aleman), but from there, Scott clamped down and ended up throwing four scoreless innings with five strikeouts.

For South Carolina, it was righthander Andrew Peters who dominated in relief. He threw four scoreless innings with five strikeouts of his own.

But then things got wild again once those two departed. After South Carolina lefthander Julian Bosnic, who typically serves as a weekend starter, threw a clean 13th inning, he was touched up by a Nathan Hickey solo homer in the 14th, giving Florida an 8-7 lead.

Things looked done and dusted in the bottom half of the frame when Gators righthander Ben Specht recorded the first two outs of the inning quickly and put Andrew Eyster in a quick 0-2 hole, but Eyster took the next Specht offering and deposited it into the South Carolina bullpen beyond the right-center field fence, tying the game 8-8.

Jeff Heinrich followed with a seeing-eye single up the middle, and one pitch after that, Colin Burgess brought Heinrich home with a double to right-center, giving his team a 9-8 win. In a matter of minutes, South Carolina went from all but down and out to walk-off winners.

This win is undeniably huge for South Carolina and not just because it came in a game that lasted five-and-a-half hours. The last couple of weeks have been tough going for the team as they took lumps against Texas and Vanderbilt on the road. But here was a resilient, emotional win against another top-flight team made even sweeter by the fact that it did so by collecting 20 hits after its offense had been stuck in neutral the last two weekends. Perhaps that gets the Gamecocks headed back in the right direction.

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Three Strikes: Tulane, Dallas Baptist, Mountain West

In this week's Three Strikes, we take a look at recent surges for Tulane and Dallas Baptist, plus the chaos in the Mountain West Conference.

Louisiana Tech Lands First Punch In Huge Series With Southern Mississippi

Friday’s game between Louisiana Tech and Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg was everything you could want in a game between the two favorites in Conference USA.

Both starting pitchers were on their game. Southern Miss righthander Hunter Stanley threw six shutout innings, giving up three hits with three walks and seven strikeouts. Louisiana Tech lefthander Jonathan Fincher gave up two runs on seven hits in 7.1 innings.

A run Southern Miss scored against Fincher in the fourth put the Bulldogs in position to need a comeback, but you can only hold down that lineup for so long, and La Tech went on top just as soon as Southern Miss went to the bullpen.

In the seventh against reliever Tyler Stuart, La Tech plated three runs on a Taylor Young RBI double that was nearly a home run, a wild pitch and a Hunter Wells sacrifice fly.

Southern Miss had a push left in it, though, as it scored one run in the eighth on a Reece Ewing RBI single (the second run charged to Fincher on the day) and then put runners on the second and third with two outs in the ninth, but La Tech righthander Landon Tomkins struck out pinch-hitter Slade Wilks to end the threat and polish off the 3-2 win.

There are three games left in this series this weekend, and if Friday’s contest was any indication, we’re in for a treat.

Arizona, USC Get Big Home Wins

This weekend’s two biggest Pac-12 series both began with the home teams edging out 5-4 victories late Friday. No. 21 Arizona defeated No. 13 Oregon, 5-4, in Tucson, while Southern California beat No. 17 UCLA, its crosstown rival, by the same score.

While the results were the same, Arizona (15-6, 2-2) and USC (10-7, 4-0) got there in different ways. The Wildcats opened up an early lead and hung on in the ninth, staving off a late Ducks’ rally for a crucial victory. USC, meanwhile, scored four runs in the ninth to come back against UCLA, walking off with the victory on a two-out error.

USC has won seven of its last eight games and has taken an early lead in the conference standings. If it can secure the series win with a victory Saturday or Sunday, it would announce itself as one of the top contenders in the conference after a shaky start to the season.

Arizona last weekend lost a tough series at UCLA, but now has a chance to bounce back at home in Tucson, where it is very difficult to beat. Oregon has been the most impressive team in the conference so far this season and a series win against the Ducks would have the Wildcats right back on track.

NC State Routs Rival North Carolina

You know what you can do with the records and stats when two rivals get together, don’t you? That’s right, folks, you can throw them right out.

So even though North Carolina State went into Friday reeling with a 1-8 record in the ACC and No. 11 North Carolina had won three of its four conference series this season, the Wolfpack came out and blitzed the Tar Heels, 9-2.

The NC State offense wasted little time getting to UNC righthander Austin Love, scoring eight runs against him in his four innings. The Wolfpack scored five runs in the second inning alone, including four on a grand slam by third baseman Vojtech Mensik.

There is no doubt that NC State’s lineup can really hit when things are going well, though, so the more significant development is what Reid Johnston did for them on the mound in light of the fact that getting consistent pitching performances has been an issue all season.

The righthander threw a complete game, giving up seven hits and two runs with two walks and four strikeouts, saving the bullpen entirely for the next two games.

In an absurdly deep ACC that isn’t going to have any letup this season, if NC State is at all serious about getting things going, it felt important that it start with a series win this weekend. After Friday, it’s one step closer to pulling it off.

Penn State Upsets Michigan In Extra Innings

No. 19 Michigan has been the class of the Big Ten so far this season, but on Friday, it was upset 3-2 in 10 innings by Penn State.

The Nittany Lions got on the board first with two runs in the second inning off of Wolverines lefthander Steve Hajjar thanks to an RBI double from Tayven Kelley and an RBI single off the bat of Parker Hendershot. The latter of the two runs was unearned because of a passed ball that moved Kelley to third ahead of Hendershot’s single.

Hajjar settled in after that, but PSU was able to at least get into extra innings with those two runs because of the effort of righthander Bailey Dees (6.2 IP, 6 H, 2 R) and the bullpen duo of lefthander Tyler Shingledecker and righthander Mason Mellott, who each threw 1.2 scoreless innings of relief, with Mellott stranding the bases loaded in the top of the 10th.

In the bottom of the 10th, Penn State walked off with a win on an RBI single from leadoff hitter Cole Bartels. In the leadup to the season, Big Ten coaches seemed to agree that the season was going to be a free-for-all, and games like this are compelling evidence that they were probably right.

Ace watch

Friday night is for the aces. We’ve already highlighted the work of Oregon State's Kevin Abel and Vanderbilt's Jack Leiter. But plenty more pitchers stepped up around the country. Here are five more who had impressive games.

Spencer Arrighetti, RHP, Louisiana-Lafayette: Arrighetti continued his outstanding season with a strong start in a 9-2 victory at Coastal Carolina. He struck out 11 batters and held the Chanticleers to one run on three hits and three walks in 7.1 innings. Arrighetti is 4-1, 1.06 with 43 strikeouts and 10 walks in 34 innings this season and has not given up more than one run in any of his six appearances.

Trenton Denholm, RHP, UC Irvine: Denholm threw seven scoreless innings to help UCI defeat Hawaii, 4-0. He struck out three batters, walked none and scattered six hits. Denholm improved to 2-1, 2.60 on the season.

Will Kinzeler, RHP, Southeastern Louisiana: Kinzeler threw seven, one-hit innings in a 3-0 victory against Lamar. The freshman struck out seven batters and walked four. Kinzeler is 3-1, 2.16 with 40 strikeouts and 13 walks in 33.1 innings this season.

Jordan Marks, RHP, USC-Upstate: In a 5-0 victory against Winthrop, Marks struck out 10 batters in 6.2 scoreless innings. He scattered five hits and a walk and made his third straight quality start to begin the Big South season. Marks is 4-1, 1.83 with 47 strikeouts and four walks in 39.1 innings this season.

Jackson Wolf, LHP, West Virginia: Wolf threw 7.1 scoreless innings to lead West Virginia to an 11-0 victory against Kansas in the Big 12 opener. The lefthander struck out eight batters and held the Jayhawks to four hits and two walks. Wolf improved to 2-2, 1.93 with 30 strikeouts and 15 walks in 28 innings on the season.

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