College Baseball Takeaways: Postseason Picture Takes Shape in ACC
ACC Bubble Teams Help Themselves
The ACC has an extraordinarily high number of bubble teams as the postseason draws closer, and on Thursday, most of them helped themselves.
- North Carolina (32-19, 13-15) walked off with a 7-5 win over No. 12 Florida State (32-20, 15-13). The Seminoles took a 5-4 lead in the eighth on a two-run homer for left fielder James Tibbs, but Tar Heels DH Alberto Osuna hit a two-out, three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth, his second home run of the game, to deliver the win. With 13 ACC wins and an RPI now in the top 20, UNC has firmly arrived in the at-large discussion, and it would be in really good shape with another win this weekend.
- Wake Forest (37-16-1, 13-14-1) got outstanding work from Rhett Lowder on the mound in an 8-2 win over North Carolina State (33-18, 14-13). The righthander threw a complete game, giving up five hits and two runs with no walks and six strikeouts on just 89 pitches. Wake has a very similar profile to UNC, with 13 ACC wins and an RPI inside the top 20.
- Clemson (33-21, 11-16) ran away with a 15-1 win over Boston College (19-32, 5-23). The Tigers collected 16 hits, including home runs for third baseman Max Wagner, first baseman Bryar Hawkins and center fielder Caden Grice. Clemson absolutely has to have a sweep this weekend to get into the discussion and Thursday’s win was a step in that direction.
- Georgia Tech (31-21, 13-15) has regressed to the bubble lately, but it got a big 8-7 win over Pittsburgh (27-24, 13-14) to bolster its chances. With 13 ACC wins and an RPI just behind UNC and Wake, the Yellow Jackets are contributing to the congested bubble discussion in this conference. Pitt, meanwhile, has enough ACC wins to be in the discussion, but an RPI north of 60 isn’t good enough.
Not all of those victorious ACC teams are going to be able to fit into the NCAA Tournament, which just means that there’s much more to be settled this weekend and next week at the ACC Tournament.
Miami Holds Off Notre Dame, Takes Step Closer to Top Eight Seed
No. 9 Miami got the best of No. 8 Notre Dame by a 6-4 score in a matchup of two of the ACC’s best teams.
After Notre Dame took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth, Miami (37-15, 18-19) answered back in a big way, scoring a run in the bottom of the fourth on a solo homer for third baseman Yohandy Morales and three in the fifth on a three-run blast for left fielder Gaby Gutierrez. Two innings later, Gutierrez made it 6-1 with a two-run home run.
Meanwhile, Miami pitching cruised into the late innings. Lefthander Carson Palmquist gave up one hit and one run (a Ryan Cole homer in the fourth) with three walks and eight strikeouts in five innings. Righthander Alex McFarlane followed with two scoreless frames and righthander Gage Ziehl tossed a scoreless eighth inning.
The Irish got to righthander Andrew Walters, who has been all but untouchable in 2021, for three runs in the ninth on a Cole three-run homer, which made Gutierrez’s seventh-inning homer all the more important in hindsight, but Walters eventually closed it out.
With the win, Miami inches closer to locking down the ACC regular-season title and a top-eight seed in the NCAA Tournament. Notre Dame (32-12, 15-10) is still in fairly good shape to host as it stands right now, but it’s important that it gets at least a game in this series.
Oklahoma Uses the Long Ball to Upset Texas Tech
Any series between No. 6 Texas Tech and No. 24 Oklahoma this season was bound to be offense-centric, and that’s especially true on warm days in Lubbock. Thursday was one such warm day in Lubbock and it was the Sooners who took advantage on the way to a 13-8 win.
Oklahoma (32-19, 14-8) hammered six home runs, one each for right fielder John Spikerman, shortstop Peyton Graham, center fielder Tanner Tredaway, catcher Jimmy Crooks, DH Brett Squires and second baseman Jackson Nicklaus. The homers for Tredaway, Crooks and Squires came within four batters of each other in a four-run sixth inning that broke the game open a bit for the Sooners.
On the mound, Oklahoma got a gutsy effort from lefthander Jake Bennett. He gave up four runs to the Red Raiders (35-17, 14-8) in the first two innings of the game, but then held them there until he completed six innings.
The result of this game is that Texas Tech can no longer win the outright Big 12 title since it needed a sweep this weekend to do so. Oklahoma, however, is still in position to do so if it can win the next two days.
Louisville Pitching Silences Virginia Bats
It’s been an up-and-down season for Louisville pitching in 2022, but on Thursday, in a contest that was delayed several hours due to weather, it was on its game in a 4-1 win over No. 11 Virginia.
Righthander Jared Poland got the start for the No. 14 Cardinals (37-15-1, 17-10-1) and was excellent. He threw seven innings, giving up two hits and one run with one walk and eight strikeouts. Lefthander Michael Prosecky cleaned things up from there, throwing two scoreless innings to close out the win.
Meanwhile, the lineup got its work done fairly early by scoring four runs in the first five innings against Virginia lefthander Brian Gursky. The Cardinals got two in the first on an RBI double for catcher Dalton Rushing and an RBI single for DH Jack Payton, one in the second on an RBI fielder’s choice off the bat of third baseman Ben Metzinger and a final tally in the fifth on a sacrifice fly for right fielder Isaac Humphrey.
The win, which pushed its RPI into the top 10, fortifies Louisville as a host and puts it in position to be a top-eight seed with a strong finish to the weekend. On the flip side, Virginia (37-14, 16-12) is out of margin of error if it wants to host. Its RPI dropped to 20 immediately after the loss and without wins the next two days, its ACC record will be approaching a place where it’s untenable.
Just like seemingly every other team in the ACC, there is still much to be decided for Louisville and Virginia over the next two days.
Tennessee Scores 27, Dollander Dominates in Blowout Win Against Mississippi State
No. 1 Tennessee made it clear quickly Thursday that it was going to win its game against Mississippi State in Starkville by taking an 8-0 lead after three innings, with six of those eight runs coming on solo home runs for first baseman Luc Lipcius, right fielder Jordan Beck and center fielder Drew Gilbert and a three-run blast off the bat of DH Blake Burke.
But then it never stopped scoring after that on the way to a 27-2 win. The Volunteers (47-7, 23-5) scored in seven different half-innings, scoring at least two runs each time. Three different batters, third baseman Trey Lipscomb, second baseman Jorel Ortega and catcher Evan Russell, had at least four hits, and Ortega had five hits, including two home runs, while also driving in eight runs.
Almost literally any pitching performance would have been good enough to win on this day, but to put icing on the cake, righthander Chase Dollander was on his game. He threw six hitless innings with one walk and six strikeouts.
Tennessee really doesn’t have anything else to achieve during the regular season, but it clearly isn’t going to play as if that’s the case if this game is any indication. Meanwhile, Mississippi State (26-28, 9-19) is in serious danger of missing the SEC Tournament one season after winning the national title.
Baylor Completes Wild Comeback to Beat Oklahoma State
With an 11-3 lead, No. 13 Oklahoma State seemingly had a win over Baylor in the bag at the seventh-inning stretch, but Baylor had other ideas, stormed back to tie the game, 11-11, and then walked off with the win, 13-11, in the bottom of the ninth.
The big inning for the Bears (26-24, 7-15) was the seventh, where they scored eight runs to make an 11-3 game an 11-11 game, with the big blow coming in the form of a grand slam for center fielder Jared McKenzie. Then, in the ninth, left fielder Antonio Valdez turned around a pitch from righthander Hueston Morrill for a walk-off two-run homer.
Oklahoma State (34-18, 13-9) got a good start from righthander Victor Mederos, who gave up three runs (two earned) on three hits in six innings, but the bullpen really struggled. Four relievers only managed to get six outs the rest of the way, and all four left having given up at least one run.
With the win, Baylor secures its place in the Big 12 Tournament. It came into the season with much bigger goals than that, but given how difficult this season has been at times, it’s a positive to secure a chance to make some magic happen next week in Arlington.
Meanwhile, OSU is really reeling right now. This is its fifth straight loss overall and fourth straight in Big 12 play. Its hosting resume went into the weekend on shaky ground and this loss dropped its RPI into the high teens, which doesn’t help. In all likelihood, it will have to get some work done at the Big 12 Tournament next week to feel good about playing home baseball in June.
Rajcic Masterful Again in UCLA Victory Over Oregon State
One weekend after striking out 14 and giving up just one hit in eight shutout innings against Washington State, righthander Max Rajcic was masterful again for No. 22 UCLA in a 4-1 win over No. 2 Oregon State.
He threw six innings, giving up two hits and one run with five walks and eight strikeouts. The single run he gave up to the Beavers came in his last inning of work and came on an RBI groundout which ultimately helped him minimize the damage in what could have been a much bigger inning for OSU.
The UCLA offense supported him with a run in the first on a sacrifice fly for first baseman Jake Palmer and then a sixth-inning sac fly for second baseman Ethan Gourson, which was well-timed when you consider that the Beavers scratched across a run in the bottom half of that inning.
The loss for Oregon State (40-12, 19-9) pulls it into a tie atop the Pac-12 standings with Stanford, which won its game Thursday against Southern California. Because the Beavers can’t feel comfortable counting on a last-place USC team putting up resistance against the Cardinal this weekend, they need to go into the next two games against UCLA with the mindset of needing to win them both.
LSU Jumps On Vanderbilt Early, Waltzes to Win
The Louisiana State offense came out hot Thursday, scoring six runs in the second inning, laying the foundation for a 13-2 win over No. 21 Vanderbilt.
After shortstop Jordan Thompson got the scoring started with an RBI single, third baseman Collier Cranford got an RBI single of his own, center field Dylan Crews hit a three-run homer and Thompson collected another RBI single in his second at-bat of the inning.
The Tigers (35-18, 15-13) would then go on to play add-on the rest of the game, including with a pair of home runs for second baseman Cade Doughty, one a two-run shot in the fourth and the other a solo homer in the ninth.
LSU also got great pitching, as righthanders Ma’Khail Hilliard (5.1 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 1 ER) and Eric Reyzelman (3.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R) combined to keep Vanderbilt (35-17, 14-14) from ever having visions of making a comeback.
Vanderbilt has long had an RPI that should make it a clear host team, and even after Thursday’s loss, it sits in the top five in the country. But history suggests that teams, even in the SEC, with .500 conference records don’t host regionals. If the Commodores win the next two games to win the series and finish 16-14, they will almost certainly host.
If they don’t get that done this weekend, it applies some pressure to trying to get something done next week at the SEC Tournament and will make for a very interesting test case for the committee given the dichotomy of an extremely high RPI and pedestrian conference record.
Maryland Takes Lead in Big Ten Standings
For much of the season, No. 17 Maryland has looked the part of the best team in the Big Ten, but in a quirk that only the Big Ten’s massively unbalanced schedule can provide, it has spent all of its time looking up at Rutgers in the conference standings despite having won a series against the Scarlet Knights.
Until Friday, that is. Rutgers took a 9-6 loss on the road against Michigan while the Terrapins (43-10, 17-5) downed Purdue, 14-7, to take a one-game lead in the standings.
Righthander Jason Savacool pitched better than his final line shows. He gave up one run in the first six innings of the game before the Boilermakers (29-18, 9-11) got him for three runs in the seventh inning alone after the result of the game was already more or less decided. He ended up giving up four runs on seven hits with two walks and seven strikeouts in seven innings.
Maryland continues to be on track to host with an RPI inside the top 10, and adding a Big Ten regular season title by the end of the weekend would only help its case.
Georgetown Scores Blowout Win Over Connecticut
Connecticut has already secured the Big East regular season title, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a shock that the Huskies seemed a little flat to open a road series against Georgetown, but it was still an eye-opening result to see the Hoyas blow them out by a 13-2 score.
Georgetown (30-22, 9-10) really did a number on UConn righthander Austin Peterson, who hasn’t been hit hard very often this season. The Hoyas put up 10 runs (nine earned) against him in 5.1 innings and finished the game with seven home runs, including two for both second baseman Ethan Stern and center fielder Michael Eze.
Meanwhile, Georgetown got good work from righthander Carter Bosch in his start. He threw six innings, giving up five hits and one run with two walks and seven strikeouts. It shouldn’t be lost how much better Georgetown is this season. This is a program that will finish over .500 overall this season for the first time since 1986 and it has secured 30 wins for the first time since 1984. The future seems very bright for a program that hasn’t had a ton to celebrate on the diamond in its history.
For UConn (43-11, 16-3), this loss might not seem to mean much on the surface, but the path to the Huskies being able to earn an at-large bid if they don’t win the Big East Tournament is fairly narrow, so all losses matter in that regard.