College Baseball Takeaways: Miami Knocks Off No. 1 Florida
Miami Bounces Back Against No. 1 Florida
After an Opening Day loss to Florida, Saturday didn’t get off to a better start for No. 11 Miami. It trailed 5-0 after the first inning and was still chasing a five-run deficit going into the final third of the game on the game against the top-ranked team in the country with perhaps the best bullpen in the country.
But the Hurricanes didn’t shrink from the challenge. They erased the five-run deficit, thanks in part due to wildness from Gators closer Franco Aleman in the ninth inning. Then, after three scoreless extra innings, they pushed ahead with two runs in the 13th inning and held on for a 10-9 victory.
For the second straight day, Miami fought back against Florida’s vaunted bullpen. On Friday, the Hurricanes scored four runs in the ninth and brought the tying run to the plate. While that rally fell short, it showed the team’s fight and proved to be significant when Florida needed to bring back Aleman for a second straight day and his control suffered.
“I think yesterday's game was a telltale sign of what happened today,” coach Gino DiMare said. “I think we learned a lot about our team (Friday). We lost, but in losing we did learn that they never gave in and they never gave up and they kept fighting. We battled right there to the end and we brought the tying run to the plate and we put up four runs in that last inning and it carried over.”
Miami’s attitude and its veteran lineup is a tough combination for opponents. First-team Preseason All-American sluggers Adrian Del Castillo and Alex Toral anchor the lineup, but with the likes of Jordan Lala, Tony Jenkins and Anthony Vilar around them, there is little letup in the order.
The Hurricanes need that lineup to live up to its potential while its less experienced pitching staff settles in. Freshman righthander Alejandro Rosario, one of the best players in Miami’s top-ranked 2020 recruiting class, struggled at the outset of Saturday’s game.
There will be more freshmen moments like that, especially in the next few weeks. But with a veteran lineup—and a strong bullpen that outpitched Florida’s on Saturday—backing the Hurricanes’ new-look rotation, this team can play with anyone.
Landon Sims Dominates For Mississippi State
Saturday’s best pitching performance came from Mississippi State righthander Landon Sims. The eighth-ranked Bulldogs were facing No. 12 Texas at the State Farm College Baseball Showdown at Globe Life Stadium in Arlington when starter Christian Macleod ran into trouble in the fifth inning, loading the bases with no outs.
Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis called on Sims and he delivered in a big way. He struck out the side to escape the jam and then went on to retire the next nine hitters he faced. In his four innings of relief, he struck out 10 batters and threw 58 pitches. He earned the victory, as the Bulldogs went on to win, 8-3.
Sims’ performance was an early indication of just how deep Mississippi State’s pitching staff is. MacLeod has first-round upside in the 2021 draft and was one of the best starting pitchers in the early going last spring. Righthanders Will Bednar and Eric Cerentola join him in what could be one of the best rotations in the country. But with pitchers like Sims backing them up, the rotation won’t have to do all the heavy lifting.
Connecticut Even Series with Virginia
It’s a rule of thumb that if you are a highly-ranked team and you play Connecticut early in the season, the Huskies are going to make your life a little difficult.
Last season, for example, UConn took two of three from Michigan one week after the Wolverines moved up to No. 1 in the rankings. In 2019, the Huskies won a series with Louisville on Opening Weekend. And after a 10-9 victory Saturday at No. 5 Virginia, UConn has evened its series with yet another top-five team.
No one would confuse this game with a modern baseball masterpiece. It took nearly four-and-a-half hours. The teams combined to use 12 pitchers. Virginia issued 11 walks and hit two others. The UConn defense allowed six unearned runs, including two in the ninth inning, when a dropped fly ball in right field turned a 10-7 game into a 10-9 game with the tying run on third base.
But there are no deductions for ugly wins, and that’s all that matters for the Huskies, who got big days from second baseman Christian Fedko, who went 4-for-6, and third baseman Chris Brown, who drove in four runs.
Even if Virginia fights back and wins the finale on Sunday, this is exactly the type of win that will age like a fine wine as UConn jockeys for a position in the NCAA Tournament.
Ole Miss Bullpen Shuts Down TCU
Saturday’s middle game of the State Farm College Baseball Showdown between Mississippi and Texas Christian turned into a bullpen game very quickly. Ole Miss held a 4-3 lead after two innings, and neither starting pitcher, Doug Nikhazy for the Rebels or Johnny Ray for the Horned Frogs, lasted more than three innings.
The difference from there was that Ole Miss continued to play add-on while its bullpen refused to let TCU do the same. Second-year freshman lefthander Jackson Kimbrell threw 2.1 scoreless innings with four strikeouts, second-year freshman righthander Drew McDaniel tossed a scoreless frame and fifth-year senior righthander Taylor Broadway brought home the victory by allowing just one hit in four scoreless innings.
A two-RBI double off the bat of Ben Van Cleve, an RBI single by Hayden Dunhurst and a run scored on a double-play grounder got Ole Miss out to its quick lead, and second baseman Peyton Chatagnier helped the team run away with things. In the seventh, he drove in a pair with a double. In the ninth, he scored one more with a single.
The entire weekend of games in Arlington is going to be like one long heavyweight fight, and on Saturday, the Rebels landed a big blow.
Duke Flexes In The Opener At Coastal
No. 16 Duke and Coastal Carolina pushed the start of their series back a day due to inclement weather, but it was worth the wait for the Blue Devils. They went on the road to defeat the Chanticleers, 12-4, at Springs Brooks Stadium.
Duke got a solid pitching performance – holding Coastal to three hits and just two earned runs. That was important to see after losing Bryce Jarvis as a first-round pick last June, but the most encouraging development came offensively.
The Blue Devils pounded out 14 hits and drew six walk and their 12 runs were their most in a season-opener since 2007. All nine starters recorded at least one hit and outfielder Peter Matt, a graduate transfer from Pennsylvania, homered in his debut.
Coastal’s strength at this point is its offense, but that kind of loud offensive performance is significant for Duke. With a doubleheader on tap Sunday, the Blue Devils are well positioned to start the season with a strong series win on the road.
Off The Bat: Welcome Back, College Baseball
College baseball returned with an exciting—if a bit strange—Opening Weekend.
Caleb Pendleton, FAU Slam UCF
After on Friday defeating No. 24 Central Florida, 12-6, on the road, FAU brought the series back to Boca Raton on Saturday. The result was much the same, as the Owls continued to crush the Knights’ pitching in a 20-15 victory.
Freshman catcher Caleb Pendleton was the star of the night, as he hit two grand slams as a part of the Owls’ 12-run second inning. Pendleton was making his college debut after not playing Friday in the opener. Hitting a grand slam in his first college plate appearance would have been memorable enough, but he doubled down on it later in the second inning when he hit the first pitch of the at bat out for another grand slam. Pendleton finished the night 2-for-5.
Having scored 32 runs in the first two games of the season, offense is not to be a concern for the Owls. That’s to be expected, with veteran hitters like Bobby Morgensen and Wilfredo Alvarez returning, as well as adding exciting newcomers like Pendleton and Nolan Schanuel. If they can work out their pitching staff, FAU has what it takes to challenge for another Conference USA title.
This weekend’s series win puts them off to a strong start.
Eastern Kentucky’s Offense Blitzes Georgia Tech
One day after mounting a late comeback only to have Georgia Tech pull away again, Eastern Kentucky kept its foot on the gas for the entirety of a 9-6 win over the No. 22 Yellow Jackets on Saturday.
The Colonels scored a run in the top of the first on an RBI single off the bat of right fielder Caleb Upshaw, and then really never stopped scoring. They scored runs in six separate innings throughout the game, including in a three-run fifth inning and a two-run sixth frame. Just two of the six pitchers Georgia Tech ran out to the mound escaped without allowing a run, and one of those, righthander John Medich, threw just one-third of an inning.
Upshaw enjoyed a two-hit game, as did shortstop Logan Thomason, who also added a pair of walks. First baseman Brent Lovell had the biggest hit of the game, a three-run blast in the fifth. For new EKU coach Chris Prothro, this has to be a cool way to get your first career win.
Georgia Tech’s offense, with 18 runs in two games, appears to be in midseason form already, but it hasn’t been the cleanest performance on the mound this weekend, especially in the bullpen. That will be key for this team moving forward, and with plenty of talent to go around on that unit, it’s a reasonably safe bet that improvement will come.
Georgia State Takes Doubleheader from West Virginia
Georgia State won both ends of its doubleheader against West Virginia, albeit in very different ways.
In the first game, GSU led 6-3 going to the ninth, only to have WVU tie it up and send it to extras. In that way, it felt a lot like the series opener from Friday night, when the Panthers played the Mountaineers close and into extra innings, only to lose 5-3 in the 10th. But this time, the script flipped and GSU won it 7-6 on a walk-off RBI single by DH Elian Merejo.
In the second game, GSU decided it really didn’t want to mess around, so it jumped out to an 11-0 lead after the first inning on the way to a 20-4 win. Everyone got in on the scoring in the first, too, as seven different Georgia State batters collected at least one RBI. Merejo was again a catalyst out of the DH spot, going 2-for-3 with four RBI. Shortstop Will Mize went 3-for-3 with a home run and two doubles.
It was not a good day at the ballpark for WVU, but the good news as far as they are concerned is that there is still one game left to play on Sunday to try to leave Atlanta with a series split after winning the opener on Friday. And for GSU, while you don’t want to make too much of a very small sample, it’s clear that the offensive ceiling for this team is high, and not just because they put 20 runs on WVU in one game.
Merejo and Mize were two of the best hitters in the Sun Belt during the abbreviated 2020 season, as was third baseman Kalen Puckett, who was off to a slow start over the first two games, but went 2-for-3 in the blowout win Saturday night. Perhaps the Panthers are a team that can score on just about anyone, and they’ll have to be if they want to continue to compete well over the next few weeks, when they have series on the road against Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Kentucky.
BC Impresses in Doubleheader Sweep
Like so many other series around the country, Boston College and Charleston Southern postponed Friday’s opener due to the weather. The added wait didn’t slow the Eagles at all, as they swept the Buccaneers in a Saturday doubleheader.
BC won the opener, 12-4, and took the nightcap, 12-1. While CSU is not premium competition, the way in which BC won is notable. The Eagles got strong contributions form their trio of Preseason All-Americans. Righthander Mason Pelio pitched well in the opener, throwing five scoreless innings. Infielder Cody Morrissette homered, scored six runs, drew five walks and stole two bases. Outfielder Sal Frelick went 4-for-10, scored four runs and stole two bases.
The breakthrough performance, however, may have come from righthander Emmet Sheehan, who has a big arm but has previously struggled with his control. He struck out nine batters and walked two in six scoreless innings in the nightcap. That he outdid Pelio is a good sign for the Eagles.
The level of competition will rachet up several notches next weekend when BC opens ACC play at Duke. But to get this kind of start is exactly what it was looking for after garnering plenty of preseason hype.
San Diego State Edges Rival San Diego
With a field goal as time expired, San Diego State came away with a hard-fought 19-18 victory over rival San Diego at home. What’s that? This was a baseball game?
That’s true believe it or not, as the Aztecs and Toreros traded blows for 10 innings and four hours and 53 minutes. The ups and downs, especially early on, were enough to satisfy even the heartiest roller coaster junkie. San Diego scored four runs in the top half of the first, but by the end of the second, San Diego State led 10-5. A half-inning later, the Toreros found themselves up 14-10.
Back and forth they continued, and somehow, the two were tied 18-18 after nine innings. In the bottom of the 10th, the Aztecs came away with the win thanks to a wild pitch.
Through two days of its series with San Diego, San Diego State has scored 33 runs, an impressive feat under any circumstances, but particularly impressive against a USD team with plenty of pitching talent to go around.