College Baseball Takeaways: Stanford, Maryland Clinch Titles
Stanford Routs USC, Wins Pac-12 Title
Stanford came into the weekend in second place in the Pac-12 standings, trailing Oregon State by just a game. But having won the head-to-head series, the Cardinal knew they just needed to better the Beavers to clinch the conference title and the top seed in next week’s inaugural Pac-12 Tournament.
On Friday, No. 5 Stanford did just that. The Cardinal clinched a series win with a resounding 22-3 victory against Southern California and combined with No. 22 UCLA’s series-clinching, 7-4 victory at No. 2 Oregon State, Stanford won the title. With a win Saturday, the Cardinal can win the title outright, but, regardless, it is the second Pac-12 title in four seasons for the Cardinal and coach David Esquer.
Stanford (36-14, 20-9) made light work of USC (25-27, 8-21), which is in last place in the conference standings. The Cardinal scored three in the first inning and had opened a 12-0 lead after six. Brock Jones (3-for-4, 4 R), Carter Graham (2-for-5, 3 R) and Brett Barrera (2-for-4, 2 R) all homered to lead the offense. Righthander Joey Dixon held USC to one unearned run on four hits and two walks in seven innings.
The Cardinal have won 11 straight games since a surprising series loss at Washington at the end of April. With Oregon State tripping up and losing back-to-back series down the stretch, Stanford was able to catch and pass the Beavers for the Pac-12 title.
Stanford was the preseason pick to win the conference and now it has successfully lived up to those lofty expectations. Its offense, expected to be the strength of the team, has operated at a high level during its winning streak and the Cardinal seem to be peaking at the right time. They’ll in all likelihood go into the NCAA Tournament as a top-eight seed, marking the fifth straight season it will host regionals.
For USC, the loss clinched a losing season for the fifth-straight full season. It will finish last in the Pac-12 for the second time in that stretch (2017). While the program hasn’t been operating at its peak in more than a decade now, it’s still surprising to see the Trojans in the cellar.
Oklahoma Clinches Series, Will Play Saturday For Big 12 Title
After upsetting No. 6 Texas Tech in Thursday’s opener, No. 24 Oklahoma doubled down Friday and clinched a series win in Lubbock with a 9-6 victory.
With the win, the Sooners (33-19, 15-8) knocked the Red Raiders (35-18, 14-9) out of the Big 12 title race and kept their own championship hopes alive. If Oklahoma can complete the sweep Saturday afternoon, it wins the conference title. TCU (34-18, 16-8) has already completed its conference slate and clinched a share of the title, but because the Sooners won their series against the Horned Frogs, they are just a win away from their first Big 12 regular-season title. They last won a regular-season championship in 1995, when the conference was still the Big Eight.
Oklahoma jumped all over Texas Tech righthander Brandon Birdsell, scoring three runs in the first inning and tagging him for six runs on eight hits in four innings. The Sooners plated nine runs in the first five innings, giving righthander David Sandlin and the bullpen plenty of cushion. Sandlin was solid, striking out seven batters in five innings and holding the Red Raiders to two runs. While Texas Tech did cut the deficit in the middle innings, righthander Trevin Michael threw two scoreless innings to end the game and earn his eighth save of the season.
Offensively, Peyton Graham (2-for-3, 2 RBI, 2 SB) and Tanner Tredaway (2-for-3, 3 R) did much of the damage for the Sooners. That’s no surprise as those two have been at the heart of just about everything for Oklahoma this season.
Oklahoma has made a hard charge in the second half of the season. It has won five straight Big 12 series since it lost the Bedlam Series against Oklahoma State in early April. That run includes series wins on the road at TCU and now Texas Tech.
The late push has not only given the Sooners a chance to win the Big 12 title, it has also propelled them into contention to host a regional. They have not hosted since 2010, when they last made the College World Series. One more win this weekend might be enough to earn the right to start the NCAA Tournament at home.
For Texas Tech, the last two weekends have been a roller coaster. The Red Raiders last weekend set up their own chance at the Big 12 title and hosting regionals with a sweep at Oklahoma State but were unable to build on that momentum this weekend. They’ve slipped to third in the Big 12 standings and will need a run at the conference tournament to claim a hosting spot.
Maryland Clinches Big Ten Title
For the first time in 51 years, Maryland is a conference champion. The Terrapins defeated Purdue, 18-7, to clinch the Big Ten title, their first conference championship since winning the ACC in 1971.
Maryland (44-10, 18-5) has been incredibly consistent all season long and has come on especially strong of late. The Terrapins have won seven straight games, six coming in Big Ten action, to pass Rutgers for the title.
On Friday, Maryland and Purdue played a back-and-forth game in the early innings. The game was tied at 5 after five innings, but it was all Terrapins from there. They scored seven runs over the next two innings to take control and blew the game open with a six-run ninth. Chris Alleyne (2-for-4, BB) and Matt Shaw (4-for-5, 2B, BB) both hit two home runs in the game and the Terrapins hit six as a team in the win. Alleyne and Shaw are first and second in the Big Ten in home runs with 22 and 21, respectively, and Maryland has hit 121 homers as a team, second nationally to Tennessee.
Maryland’s starting rotation has stood out all season long and righthander Nick Dean delivered a solid start in the clincher. But Friday was all about the Maryland offense, which is averaging 13.71 runs per game during the winning streak.
Maryland is up to No. 4 in RPI and looks to be on track not just to host a regional, but also to be a top-eight seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Terrapins have never hosted a regional and that would be the latest breakthrough for fifth-year coach Rob Vaughn and a team that already owns the program record for wins, conference wins and just won its first Big Ten championship.
Virginia Routs Louisville To Even Series
After Louisville on Thursday won the opener of this top-15 series, Virginia bounced back in a big way Friday. The No. 11 Cavaliers defeated the No. 14 Cardinals, 16-7, to even the series.
Virginia’s 16 runs matched the most Louisville (37-16-1, 17-11-1) had allowed in a game this season (Michigan also defeated Louisville 16-7 on March 13). The Cavaliers (38-14, 17-12) wasted no time getting their bats going Friday, scoring twice in the top of the first and five runs in the third. They really blew the game open with six runs in the fifth inning, an outburst that included three home runs.
Virginia pounded out 17 hits on the day, led by Alex Tappen and Casey Saucke, who had four each. The Cavaliers hit four home runs, bringing their season total to 71. They broke the program’s single-season home run record of 68, which had stood since 1988.
Virginia’s win sets up a rubber game Saturday. The two teams are virtually tied in the ACC standings and are jockeying for position in next week’s ACC Tournament. Saturday’s game is especially meaningful for Louisville, which can win the Atlantic Division and the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. Virginia is locked into third place in the Coastal Division and will either be the No. 4 or 5 seed in the conference tournament. Both teams are still on track to host regionals.
Notre Dame Shuts Out Miami
Behind a strong start from righthander Austin Temple, No. 8 Notre Dame defeated No. 9 Miami, 5-0, at Mark Light Field. The win evened the top-10 series and means the races for both ACC division titles will go down to the final day of the regular season.
Temple held Miami to one hit in six innings. Matt Bedford, Will Mercer and Alex Rao combined for the final three innings to complete the shutout. Friday marked the first time the Hurricanes (38-16, 19-10) had been shut out this season. Miami won Thursday’s opener, 6-4, but has now lost four of its last five games.
Temple worked around three walks and the one hit in six innings. He struck out five batters and allowed just one runner to advance into scoring position. It was his best start of the season, especially when considering the opponent and situation. He improved to 4-1, 2.96 with 70 strikeouts in 54.2 innings.
Notre Dame (33-12, 16-10) did most of its work on the long ball. The Fighting Irish hit three home runs – one each for Jack Zyska, Jack Brannigan and Jack Penny – that accounted for their first four runs. Though Miami’s pitchers limited the damage otherwise, it was more than enough for Temple and the Notre Dame bullpen.
Going into the final day of the regular season, Miami is still in the mix for the ACC title. It needs a win and a Virginia Tech loss to claim it, however. Notre Dame is now in first place in the Atlantic Division and clinches it with a win or a Louisville loss. Both the Hurricanes and Fighting Irish are still on track to host regionals and could also claim top-eight national seeds.
LSU Knocks Off Vanderbilt, Upending SEC Hosting Hierarchy
Just when it looked like No. 21 Vanderbilt had turned the corner and was building momentum going into the postseason, it got tripped up this week at home by LSU. After winning Thursday’s opener, the Tigers clinched the series Friday with an 8-3 victory.
LSU (36-18, 16-13) wasted no time jumping out to an early lead Friday, as leadoff hitter Dylan Crews hit a home run on the first pitch of the game. The Tigers scored four more in the second inning – two on another home run by Crews – and never trailed in the game.
Crews, the early favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft, went 2-for-4 with a walk. He’s hitting .350/.462/.706 with 20 home runs this season.
LSU can also be encouraged by the way it pitched Friday. Righthander Ty Floyd held Vanderbilt to one run on four hits in 5.1 innings. He struck out seven batters and walked none. Relievers Jacob Hasty and Paul Gervase combined for the final 3.2 innings and did not allow the Commodores to score until Javier Vaz hit a two-run home run off Hasty in the ninth inning.
This weekend has been quite the turnaround for LSU, which last weekend was swept at home by Mississippi. That series seemed to knock the Tigers out of the hosting race, but they’re right back in the mix now. A home regional would likely require a win Saturday to complete the sweep or a solid showing in the SEC Tournament, but it’s certainly on the table now.
Vanderbilt, meanwhile, is on the other side of the roller coaster. After back-to-back road series wins at Georgia and Arkansas, the Commodores (35-18, 14-15) have lost a home series for the fourth time this season. A week ago they appeared to be on track to hosting a regional, now they will need a deep run in the SEC Tournament to do so.
LSU and Vanderbilt aren’t the only SEC teams that are seeing their hosting resumes change this weekend. Florida (35-19, 15-14) clinched its series against South Carolina with an 8-0 victory and passed both Georgia and Vanderbilt in the SEC East standings. Their RPI is up to 15 and if they can complete the sweep Saturday, they would be in a strong hosting position as well.
Gonzaga Beats San Diego To Clinch WCC Title
For the second straight season, Gonzaga has won the WCC regular-season title. The No. 10 Zags clinched the championship with an 8-4 win at San Diego, which came into the day in second place in the conference.
Gonzaga got a strong start from righthander Gabriel Hughes, who threw 8.2 innings. He struck out nine batters and worked around seven hits and three walks to hold the Toreros to four runs. With the win, Hughes improved to 8-1, 2.62 with 124 strikeouts in 86 innings on the season.
After a taut pitcher’s duel early between Hughes and USD ace Brycen Mautz, Gonzaga took control of the game with a four-run sixth inning, creating enough separation for Hughes. The Zags offense was led on the night by Shea Kramer (3-for-5, 2 R) and Grayson Sterling (2-for-5, 2 RBI).
Gonzaga has won back-to-back conference titles for just the third time in program history and the first time as a member of the WCC. The Zags have won three of the last four WCC titles. This one may feel a bit more emotional for the program, as it comes about a month after associate head coach Danny Evans died after a yearlong battle with melanoma.
For San Diego, Friday’s loss was a blow. Combined with Portland’s win against Pepperdine, the Toreros slipped to third in the WCC standings and their RPI has fallen to 55. They remain on the NCAA Tournament bubble, but they are in a precarious position with just 10 days to go until Selection Monday.
UCLA Clinches Key Series Win In Corvallis
Two weeks ago, UCLA was on a five-game losing streak and its RPI had fallen out of the top 60. The Bruins have flipped that script and on Friday clinched a series win at No. 2 Oregon State with a 7-4 victory.
No. 22 UCLA (35-19, 19-10) battled late against the Oregon State bullpen, scoring three runs off righthanders Brock Townsend and Mitchell Verburg to push past the Beavers. Michael Curialle led the way with three hits and Carson Yates packed the power with a three-run home run.
UCLA’s own bullpen threw five scoreless innings in the game. Righthander Charles Harrison threw three innings in relief of starter Ethan Flanagan. After righthander Luke Jewett got one out, lefthander Alonzo Tredwell covered the final 1.2 innings for his fifth save of the season.
With the win, UCLA pulled even in the Pac-12 standings with Oregon State (40-13, 19-10). Saturday’s series finale will determine which team finishes second behind Stanford. It won’t be enough to push the Bruins into the hosting race, but their strong finishing kick has eased any doubt about their spot in regionals and makes them a dangerous opponent wherever they get drawn.
ACC Bubble Teams Win Again
The ACC came into the weekend with a host of teams on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Clemson, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest all needed something this weekend to boost their chances to make regionals.
With the exception of Pittsburgh, which is playing Georgia Tech this weekend, they all got a needed win Thursday night. And, again on Friday, they all won. Clemson defeated Boston College, 6-2. Georgia Tech routed Pitt, 19-3. UNC took down No. 12 Florida State, 10-4, and Wake Forest beat North Carolina State, 6-2.
All four of those teams rank in the top 25 in RPI and all but Clemson (12) have 14 ACC wins. The Tigers need to finish their sweep of Boston College to keep their tournament hopes alive (short of a deep ACC Tournament run) but the other three can breathe a little easier going into the ACC Tournament.
But are they all locks for regionals? If Clemson completes its sweep of BC, which is just 5-24 in ACC play, the ACC will have 11 teams with regional-caliber resumes. No conference has ever gotten more than 10 teams into the NCAA Tournament, a record the ACC and SEC share. Is this the year for an 11-bid league or will they all still be fighting for something next week at the ACC Tournament in Charlotte? It depends how the bubble moves around them, but it probably isn’t time to take the foot off the gas yet.
First NCAA Tournament Bids To Be Awarded Saturday
Saturday will see at least one and possibly two teams punch their tickets to the NCAA Tournament.
The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament will reach a conclusion, as Coppin State takes on Delaware State in the finals starting at noon ET. Later in the day, the Big West title could also be won, as No. 23 UC Santa Barbara’s magic number to clinch the championship is down to one. The Gauchos play UC Riverside at 7 p.m. ET but could also clinch if Cal Poly loses to UC Davis in a game starting at 4 p.m. ET.
Coppin State put itself in the driver's seat in the MEAC Tournament with a 15-5 win in eight innings against Delaware State in the winner’s bracket game Friday. It pounded out 14 hits and took advantage of three errors and four hit batters to roll to a run-rule shortened win.
Delaware State bounced back in the evening to defeat Maryland-Eastern Shore, 11-10, to set up a rematch Saturday. The Hornets will have to beat the Eagles twice to win the double-elimination tournament. Coppin State is aiming for its first MEAC Tournament title since 1995, while Delaware State has not won the event since 1989.