College Baseball Takeaways: TCU, Tennessee Stay Hot

Image credit: TCU's Phillip Sikes (Photo courtesy of TCU)

Texas Christian Stays Hot Against Texas Tech

No. 14 Texas Christian has been some kind of hot lately. With a 7-3 win at No. 11 Texas Tech (20-7, 3-4), it pushed its Big 12 record to 7-0, and since losing March 19 at Louisiana-Lafayette, it has won 11 games in a row. 

Although the final score might not make it clear, TCU (22-7, 7-0) put this game away early with a six-run first inning against Texas Tech righthander Micah Dallas

Catcher Zach Humphreys got the team on the board with an RBI single. One batter later, first baseman Gene Wood brought in a run with an RBI groundout. Later in the inning, second baseman Gray Rodgers connected for a two-run triple, and center fielder Phillip Sikes put the punctuation mark on the frame with a two-run home run. 

No lead is too big for the Texas Tech offense to overcome, but lefthander Russell Smith was going to make sure that didn’t happen. Jace Jung tagged Smith for a couple of runs on a solo homer in the fourth and an RBI single in the fifth, and Smith committed an error in the fourth that led to a run, but he was always able to keep the Red Raiders at an arm’s length.

When it was all said and done, he had thrown seven innings, giving up five hits and three runs with no walks and 12 strikeouts. 

This win went exactly to script for the Horned Frogs. With Smith’s excellent start and two good innings of work from relievers Haylen Green and River Ridings, the team’s bullpen depth, which hasn’t been tested all that much in Big 12 play so far, wasn’t taxed. 

And jumping on Dallas early (even if he did settle down and throw four innings) forced Texas Tech to go to the bullpen for Mason Montgomery in the middle innings, which probably uses up two of the Red Raiders’ better arms for the rest of the weekend. 

One series does not a full season make, and Texas will obviously still have a lot to say about who wins the Big 12 this season, but it’s hard to overstate how big a series win this would be for TCU if it can grab one more win this weekend.

Tennessee Lands First Punch Against Florida

In the biggest series between SEC East rivals Tennessee and Florida in at least 15 years, the No. 7 Volunteers (26-5, 8-2) came away on Friday with a 6-4 win against the No. 10 Gators (20-10, 5-5).

After last week using tandem starters in the first two games of its series against Mississippi, Florida went back to a traditional pitching setup to begin the series with righthander Tommy Mace on the mound to start the game, and Tennessee was able to get to him fairly well for eight hits and four runs in six innings. 

Tennessee DH Liam Spence brought home the first run in the third on an RBI single, and after Florida took a 2-1 lead on home runs by Nathan Hickey and Kirby McMullen, the Volunteers scored two more in the fourth on an Evan Russell two-RBI double and another in the fifth on a Drew Gilbert RBI single. 

With Tennessee up 4-2, Florida tied it 4-4 with two runs in the top of the seventh on a Jud Fabian solo homer and a Colby Halter RBI single, but the Vols answered right back with single tallies in the bottom of the seventh thanks to a Jake Rucker sacrifice fly and in the eighth on a home run from Russell. 

In addition to keeping pressure on the Florida pitching staff all evening, the Volunteers got good work on the mound from righthanders Chad Dallas (7 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 11 K) and Sean Hunley (2 IP, 0 H, 0 R). 

To this point of the season, Tennessee had somewhat quietly put together a gaudy record – it leads the nation in wins – and climbed up the Top 25, but if it can finish off a series win over Florida this weekend, it won’t be so quiet anymore.

Louisville Walks Off Florida State

The ACC has been so topsy-turvy this season that any number of series could end up being the series of the season, and that includes the series this weekend between No. 5 Louisville and No. 18 Florida State. 

Louisville has rounded into form fairly well on the weekends (midweeks have been a different story), and outside of a confounding series loss to Wake Forest a few weeks back, FSU has been consistent after getting swept by Pittsburgh to open ACC play. 

On Friday in the opener between the two, the Cardinals (19-9, 11-4) walked off with a 4-3 win in 10 innings. Until the final run was scored, each team had done all of its scoring in one inning. The Cardinals put three runs on the board in the bottom of the sixth on a Luke Brown RBI single and a two-RBI single off the bat of Alex Binelas. FSU answered back in the very next half-inning with three runs on a Mat Nelson RBI double and a two-run homer for Elijah Cabell

In the 10th, the leadoff walk came back to bite the Seminoles (15-11, 10-9). Christian Knapczyk drew a five-pitch walk to begin the frame, and four batters later, Levi Usher brought him home with a two-out RBI single. 

The unsung hero of the night for the Cardinals was lefthander Adam Elliott, who threw three scoreless innings in relief of starter Michael Kirian

Louisville is far from a perfect team right now. Injuries and poor performance have raised questions about its bullpen depth, which has been part of the issue with Tuesday games, and stars like Usher and Binelas still aren’t hitting on all cylinders. But it has still managed to tough out a lot of wins in ACC play, and so far, that has been enough to make it one of the best teams in the conference.

Big Comeback Nets Notre Dame Another Win

Notre Dame on Friday didn’t follow any conventional script to winning a baseball game. Instead, the No. 12 Fighting Irish made their own path to a 10-9 victory against No. 15 Georgia Tech.

Georgia Tech (14-11, 11-8) jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the fourth inning and held a 9-6 edge in the middle of the eighth inning. It wasn’t enough. Notre Dame (14-5, 13-5) scored eight runs in the seventh and eighth inning to rally for a win in the first game of a showdown between the ACC’s division leaders.

“That is one of the greatest team wins I have ever been a part of,” coach Link Jarrett said. “I have coached for a while and played for a while – I can’t remember anything like that.”

Notre Dame used 22 players, including eight pitchers, in the game. Not only was the sheer volume of players the Irish used impressive, they also dipped deep into their bench. Righthander Jack Sheehan made his first appearance since 2019 and threw 2.2 scoreless innings of relief. Infielder Casey Kmet made his collegiate debut and several other players who have rarely appeared this season played a role in the victory.

While it might be easy to chalk the loss up to another game when Georgia Tech ran into trouble on the mound in the later innings, it also was another game that Notre Dame just found a way to win. Jarrett this season has oftentimes talked about the toughness of his team and that was again on display Friday. It’s just one of the reasons why Notre Dame is a contender not only in the ACC, but to make an NCAA Tournament run.

Oregon Edges Past Oregon State

Oregon last month won its first series against Oregon State since 2016 when it took two games in Corvallis in a non-conference series. Now, back home at PK Park and facing the No. 21 Beavers in an official Pac-12 series, the No. 19 Ducks continued their winning ways in the rivalry.

Oregon (17-7, 4-3) defeated Oregon State, 4-1, in a classic Friday night pitcher’s duel. The teams combined for nine hits and eight walks in the game.

The Beavers silenced slugger Kenyon Yovan, who went 0-for-3 on the night. Instead, they were undone by Oregon’s steady offensive output in the eighth inning. In a tie game, the Ducks pushed across three runs on two hits, three walks and a hit batter. First baseman Gabe Matthews led the way for Oregon, driving in an insurance run in the eighth and getting it on the board with a home run in the fifth.

Oregon State (21-8, 7-3) came into the weekend with the best ERA in the nation, but Oregon’s pitchers on Friday outdueled them. Lefthander Robert Ahlstrom held the Beavers to one run in seven innings, scattering five hits and a walk and striking out nine. Righthander Andrew Mosiello and lefthander Kolby Sommers threw a scoreless inning apiece to finish the game.

The Ducks’ pitchers have had the Beavers’ number this season. In four games, Oregon State has scored just four runs and scored in just two of the 35 innings in which it has batted. If righthander Cullen Kafka can keep that going Saturday, Oregon is well positioned to clinch the season series.

Ohio State Stays Scarlet Hot

Facing No. 24 Michigan in Ann Arbor, Ohio State twice on Friday erased two-run deficits to come back for a 7-4 victory to open the rivalry showdown. The Buckeyes scored five unanswered runs over the final three innings to take the lead for good and their bullpen held the Wolverines to two hits and no runs over 3.1 innings.

Despite five errors, it was another strong all-around effort for Ohio State (13-7), which is the hottest team in the Big Ten. It has won five straight games after last weekend sweeping a four-game series against Indiana. That winning streak has boosted the Buckeyes to second place in the conference (tied with Michigan), 1.5 games behind Nebraska, as the halfway point of the season approaches.

Ohio State’s lineup showed off its depth Friday. Facing lefthander Steve Hajjar, a Preseason All-American, and a strong bullpen, the Buckeyes piled up 13 hits and five walks. Center fielder Kade Kern led the way, going 3-for-5 with two runs and a double, but it was a team effort, as seven of the nine starters recorded at least one hit.

The Buckeyes are now one win away from clinching a huge road series win – both for positioning in the Big Ten standings and in one of college sports’ best rivalries. Ohio State has had the upper hand on the diamond in recent years and has now won six of its last seven games against Michigan. With lefthander Seth Lonsway on the mound Saturday coming off a start when he threw a two-hit, seven-inning shutout and struck out 17 batters against Indiana, the Buckeyes have to feel good about their chances.

Texas Wins Wild West Opener

In one of Friday’s wildest games, No. 6 Texas defeated Kansas State, 13-6. The game included a benches-clearing incident at home plate, the Longhorns’ bullpen blowing a late lead and then their lineup exploding for an eight-run eighth inning to put the game away.

The game started to fly off the hinges in the second inning when Mike Antico drove a ball into center field. When it got past a diving Christian Littlejim and rolled all the way to the wall, coach David Pierce waved Antico home for what would have been an inside-the-park home run. Instead, K-State made a clean relay play and Antico was out at home by 10 feet. He didn’t slide, instead trying to deke catcher Chris Ceballos before the two collided.

Cam Williams, who scored on the play, immediately leapt to Antico’s defense, getting in Ceballos’ face. Trey Faltine, the on-deck batter, soon followed and then so did both benches. Ultimately, six players – three on each side, including Faltine and Williams, were ejected (they will also miss Saturday’s game).

From there, the game followed a more typical trajectory, albeit with a much different team on the field for the Longhorns. Righthander Ty Madden was solid for Texas, turning in another quality start. But he left after six innings and K-State went to work against the bullpen, scoring four runs in the seventh and eighth to take the lead.

That set the stage for Texas’ comeback in the bottom of the eighth. The Longhorns sent 12 batters to the plate and scored eight runs on five hits and three walks. Antico finished the game 4-for-5 with two doubles, a triple and five RBI to lead the offense.

Not only was the win wild, it was an important one for the Longhorns (23-8, 8-2). On a day when TCU (22-7, 7-0) beat Texas Tech to stay undefeated in the Big 12, Texas’ win keeps it just off the pace for first place. The Longhorns have won their first three conference series and need one more win this weekend to extend that streak.

Stanford’s Brendan Beck Stymies UCLA

A series this weekend against UCLA is the biggest Stanford has had this season, and they passed the first test on Friday with a 6-2 win. 

Stanford righthander Brendan Beck gave up a solo homer to Matt McLain in the first inning, but settled in after that, eventually throwing 7.1 innings, giving up six hits and two runs with one walk and 10 strikeouts. He was eventually lifted after McLain got him again for an RBI single in the top of the eighth, but by that point, the Cardinal (18-5, 5-2) had a comfortable lead. 

The longball served the Stanford offense well. Freshman third baseman Drew Bowser got the scoring started in the bottom of the fifth with a two-run shot. And after Tim Tawa added an RBI double later in that same inning, shortstop Adam Crampton connected for a two-run homer in the seventh. 

After the McLain RBI single made it a 5-2 Stanford lead, Cardinal catcher Vincent Martinez added an insurance run with a solo shot in the eighth to cap off the scoring. 

Stanford is off to a really nice start this season, and it looks like a night and day difference from the very young team that struggled so mightily to begin last season. But coming into this weekend, it was fair to wonder just how good the Cardinal were within the confines of the Pac-12 because its first two conference series were against Utah and Washington State. 

So while UCLA (16-10, 5-5) is not having the kind of season we expected coming into the year, it is still the most talented team Stanford has dealt with this season, and as such, you have to be impressed with the win on Friday. One more win this weekend and you certainly have to start taking seriously the idea that Stanford is a real contender in the league.

Old Dominion Takes Down Florida Atlantic

Old Dominion and Florida Atlantic were putting on a classic low-scoring Friday affair for the first seven innings of the series opener between the two, but the Monarchs (22-5, 8-1) made a push late for a 7-2 win over the Owls (15-14, 4-5). 

ODU jumped ahead 2-0 with two runs in the second inning on a throwing error by FAU shortstop Wilfredo Alvarez, but the Owls scratched back to tie it with single runs in the fourth and fifth. 

That’s where it stood when the Monarchs came to the plate in the eighth, when they exploded for five runs. The first three scored on a three-run blast off the bat of Thomas Wheeler. Kyle Battle drove in the next run on a solo homer, and Andy Garriola capped the scoring with an RBI single. 

On the mound, ODU split the game among four pitchers – Tommy Gertner (3.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R), Aaron Holiday (1 IP, 0 H, 1 R), Jacob Gomez (2.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R) and Jason Hartline (2 IP, 2 H, 0 R). 

It’s looking more and more like it could be a banner year for Conference USA, and Old Dominion is a huge part of that. With the win Friday, it has now won eight games in a row, running its overall record to an impressive 22-5 with an 8-1 mark in conference play. It’s right there alongside Louisiana Tech, Charlotte and Southern Mississippi as the best teams the league has to offer.

Ace watch

Friday night is for the aces. We’ve already highlighted the work of Robert Ahlstrom, Brendan Beck and Russell Smith. Here are five more of the best pitching performances of the night.

Ben Casparius, RHP, Connecticut: In a 10-0 victory against Georgetown, Casparius struck out 15 batters in a seven-inning shutout. He scattered five hits and a walk and allowed just one baserunner in the final four innings. Casparius this season is 4-2, 2.98 with 70 strikeouts and 22 walks in 51.1 innings.

Cade Feeney, RHP, North Dakota State: Feeney threw a three-hit shutout in a 2-0 victory against Western Illinois. He struck out five and walked three, while throwing the Bisons’ first shutout since 2018. Feeney, a true freshman, improved to 4-1, 4.30 on the season.

Trenton Denholm, RHP, UC Irvine: Denholm threw seven scoreless innings to lead UC Irvine to a 4-0 victory against UC San Diego. He struck out nine batters and scattered four hits and a walk. Denholm improved to 3-1, 3.11 with 38 strikeouts and 16 walks in 37.2 innings.

Jonathan Fincher, LHP, Louisiana Tech: Fincher threw a four-hit shutout in a 6-0 victory at Rice. He struck out five batters, walked one and began the game by retiring the first 12 batters he faced. Friday was Fincher’s second shutout of the season and he improved to 6-0, 1.35 with 47 strikeouts and nine walks in 53.1 innings.

Jonathan Lavallee, RHP, Long Beach State: Lavallee carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning in a 7-0 victory against Cal Poly. His bid ended with a one-out double in the seventh inning, but he finished the night with seven scoreless innings and held the Mustangs to one hit and two walks. Lavallee this season is 2-1, 0.48 with 23 strikeouts and eight walks in 18.2 innings.

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