College Baseball Takeaways: Tennessee, Stanford Claim Key Road Wins

Image credit: Tennessee OF Jordan Beck (Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletic Communications)

Tennessee Stays Hot With Win At Vanderbilt

No. 1 Tennessee extended its winning streak to a program-record 17 games with a 6-2 victory against No. 11 Vanderbilt in Nashville. The Volunteers (25-1, 7-0) never trailed in the game as they delivered another comprehensive performance.

Tennessee took the early lead on a two-run home run from Luc Lipcius in the second inning. The Volunteers extended their lead with four runs in the fifth with Jordan Beck and Seth Stephenson delivering key hits in the inning.

Freshman righthander Chase Burns again impressed for Tennessee. He struck out seven batters in 5.2 innings and held the Commodores to two runs on five hits and a walk. Burns improved to 6-0, 1.15 with 52 strikeouts and 10 walks in 39 innings this season.

The game was not without controversy.  Beck hit a first-inning home run that would have given Tennessee an early 1-0 lead, but he was ruled out when it was found that his bat did not have the appropriate sticker to indicate it passed routine bat testing before the series. Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said in a mid-game interview on the ESPN2 broadcast that catcher Dominic Keegan noticed Beck’s bat didn’t have the right sticker, leading to the appeal.

Tennessee coach Tony Vitello joked about the situation in his mid-game interview.

“I don’t even know that Jordan Beck should be at the University of Tennessee,” Vitello said. “He forged his transcript. He is actually a 35-year-old man named Mike Honcho. So, he just shows up to practice every day and he’s a good kid, so we put him in the lineup.”

After the game, Vitello said the bats were checked on Thursday as usual, but the sticker on Beck’s bat – and a few others the Volunteers discovered – had fallen off.

“A couple others had fallen off, too,” Vitello said. “Good deal for Jordan, he squared up another ball real well and to me he’s got another break coming down the road.”

Tennessee made some of its own luck in the fifth inning, when it twice lofted high fly balls that got lost in the lights and fell in. Vitello said in their practice Thursday at Hawkins Field that balls that got above the lights were difficult for the Volunteers and it seemed to bite the Commodores on Friday night.

The Volunteers are looking for their first series win against their in-state rivals since 2016 and their first in Nashville since 2009. Friday’s win moves them one step closer to that and further showed why they are so dangerous this season.

Stanford Squeaks Past Oregon State In Extras

In a series that very well might serve as No. 24 Stanford’s last best chance to assert itself as a real Pac-12 title contender, the Cardinal got off on the right foot in a 1-0 win in 10 innings at No. 2 Oregon State. 

Both Stanford and Oregon State got starting pitching above and beyond what a team can expect on any given day. 

For the Cardinal (13-8, 5-5), righthander Alex Williams shut out a stellar Oregon State lineup on six hits over 6.1 innings. The Beavers (19-6, 6-4) got eight scoreless frames from lefthander Cooper Hjerpe, who gave up just two hits and one walk while striking out 17, which tied the program’s single-game record. 

Once things turned to the bullpen, however, it was Oregon State that blinked first, as Stanford pushed across a run on back-to-back doubles from catcher Kody Huff and right fielder Braden Montgomery to begin the top of the 10th. 

Not that more evidence was needed to prove that this is an important series for Stanford, but the fact that it turned the ball over in the bottom of the 10th to Saturday’s probable starter, lefthander Quinn Mathews, provides some. Mathews retired the Beavers in order in the 10th, delivering his team a massive win. 

Notre Dame Wins Pitchers’ Duel At Florida State

The matchup of Florida State lefthander Parker Messick and Notre Dame lefthander John Michael Bertrand more than lived up to the hype. The pair traded zeroes for eight innings in Tallahassee and the bullpens picked up the baton from there, until Ryan Cole hit a two-out, two-run home run in the 12th inning to send the No. 11 Fighting Irish to a 2-0 victory.

Messick, a Preseason All-American and the reigning ACC pitcher of the year, struck out 11 batters in eight innings. He walked none, held Notre Dame to two hits and carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning. He has now thrown 15 straight scoreless innings over his last two starts and is now 4-1, 2.35 in 46 innings. He leads the nation with 76 strikeouts and has walked 11 batters.

Bertrand was nearly as good as Messick. He struck out 12 batters, walked one and scattered four hits in 7.2 innings. He retired the first 10 batters he faced and took a no-hitter into the fifth inning. Bertrand is 4-0, 1.81 with 51 strikeouts and 12 walks in 44.2 innings.

That runs would be at a premium Friday is no surprise with Bertrand and Messick on the mound. It may be that way all weekend, as both the Seminoles (3.54) and Fighting Irish (2.99) rank in the top 30 nationally in team ERA. Notre Dame (14-5, 3-4) got a big win Friday night to snap a four-game ACC losing streak and another win this weekend against No. 5 Florida State (16-9, 6-4) would make for a huge series win.

Georgia Tech Upends No. 3 Virginia

Coming into this weekend’s series against Georgia Tech, No. 3 Virginia was off to a perfect 16-0 start to the season at Disharoon Park. On Friday, however, the Yellow Jackets snapped the Cavaliers’ home winning streak with a 6-4 victory.

Not only did Georgia Tech (18-9, 5-5) become the first team this season to beat Virginia (23-3, 7-3) at home, it did so against lefthander Nate Savino, who had also raced out to a strong start to the season. The Yellow Jackets scored six runs (five earned) in four innings off Savino (4-1, 3.00), becoming the first team to score more than three runs against him this season.

Georgia Tech took advantage of a pair of first-inning walks from Savino to push across two runs in the inning to take the lead. The Yellow Jackets just kept going, scoring two more in the second and two more in the fourth. Kevin Parada led the way, going 2-for-3 with a home run and two walks on the night.

Virginia cut the lead to 6-4 in the fifth inning but wasn’t able to get any closer. Righthander Zach Maxwell, who began the season in the rotation before moving back to the bullpen last week, threw four scoreless innings to close out the game. He held the Cavaliers to one hit and two walks and struck out six batters.

While Maxwell was unable to harness his powerful stuff enough to go deep enough in games as a starter, he gives coach Danny Hall a premium arm in the bullpen and could develop into a bullpen ace. Friday night was a strong step toward taking on that kind of role.

Georgia Tech is coming off back-to-back series losses against Wake Forest and at North Carolina State and on Friday night got a much-needed win. If the Yellow Jackets can grab another win this weekend, they not only would add a second marquee series win to their resume, they would arrest this skid just as they enter the most difficult stretch in their schedule.

Georgia Clinches Rivalry Series Against Florida

In Thursday night’s series opener against No. 16 Florida, Georgia won with late dramatics. The Bulldogs went down two runs in the ninth inning only to walk off with a 7-6 victory.

Friday night, the Bulldogs needed no such drama to beat the Gators. Behind a strong start from ace Jonathan Cannon, Georgia defeated Florida, 6-1, to clinch the series.

Cannon threw six scoreless innings and held Florida to five hits and two walks. He struck out three batters and threw 109 pitches. With the victory, he improved to 6-1, 1.71 with 46 strikeouts and three walks in 47.1 innings this season.

The game was scoreless for five innings, before the Bulldogs (21-6, 4-3) pushed ahead with three runs in the sixth against righthander Brandon Sproat. They tacked on three more in the eighth to put the game away. Third baseman Josh McAllister, who delivered Thursday night’s walk-off hit, scored twice and had two hits Friday.

The series win is a big response for Georgia, which last weekend lost a series at Kentucky. The Bulldogs have been incredibly difficult to beat at home this season and on Friday improved to 16-2 at Foley Field. A trip through the Palmetto State is on tap for next week, with a game Tuesday at Clemson before a weekend series at South Carolina, making this weekend’s series win all the more important for Georgia.

Texas Begins Red River Rivalry With Victory

After taking series losses in two of its last three series – sandwiching a sweep of Incarnate Word between losses at South Carolina and Texas Tech – the No. 10 Longhorns got just what they needed in a routine 7-1 win against Oklahoma to begin the rivalry series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. 

Lefthander Pete Hansen gave up a run in the first on an RBI single by Sooners catcher Jimmy Crooks, but then didn’t give up a hit the rest of the game on the way to giving up just two hits and one run with 12 strikeouts in eight innings. That’s an impressive line in any context, but is particularly impressive when you consider how well the Sooners (15-9, 2-2) have swung the bats over the last few weeks. 

Offensively, the Longhorns (20-8, 2-2) scored seven runs on 13 hits and got some big days from hitters at the bottom of the order. Third baseman Skyler Messinger, hitting seventh, went 4-for-4. In the eight spot, second baseman Mitchell Daly drove in two runs, and hitting ninth, right fielder Dylan Campbell went 2-for-4 with a home run. 

Texas hasn’t had many days like this lately, but when it gets starting pitching outings like the one Hansen gave them on Friday and it gets a team offensive effort to go with it, the Longhorns show why they were the Preseason No. 1 team in the country. 

Brooks Leads UCLA To Hard-Fought Win Against Oregon

No. 20 Oregon and UCLA treated college baseball to a classic Friday night duel, with the Bruins coming out on top 3-2 behind a strong start from Jake Brooks. 

The righthander threw eight innings, giving up six hits and two runs with one walk and three strikeouts. The only speed bump for Brooks was a two-run home run given up to Oregon third baseman Sam Novitske in the fifth inning. 

Oregon (18-8, 7-3) also got strong work from its starter, righthander RJ Gordon, as he got through five scoreless frames, but in the sixth, UCLA hung three runs on him. Two came home on a two-run homer for right fielder JonJon Vaughns, with the third run scoring on an RBI single off the bat of left fielder Kenny Oyama. 

UCLA (17-8, 4-3) has been up and down this season, which is no great surprise given the youth on the roster, and winning another game this weekend to secure a series win over the team that came into the weekend atop the Pac-12 standings would be as high a peak as the Bruins have reached in 2022. 

Virginia Tech’s Powerful Offense Buries North Carolina

The Virginia Tech offense was relentless in a 12-1 win at No. 15 North Carolina. The Hokies (16-6, 4-4) scored three runs in the first against UNC righthander Connor Bovair on a solo homer for center fielder Gavin Cross, a solo shot for shortstop Tanner Schobel right behind him and an RBI double off the bat of second baseman Eduardo Malinowski. 

In the fourth, Virginia Tech chased Bovair with three more runs, two on a two-run homer for Cross and the other on a Schobel solo blast. By then the game was already out of reach as it turned out, but the Hokies added runs in the fifth and sixth, plus a four-spot in the eighth on a solo homer for third baseman Carson DeMartini and a three-run home run by Malinowski. 

The two-homer game for Cross, which doubled his home run total to four on the season, is a very good sign. It’s not that Cross had been swinging it poorly to this point, as he came into the game hitting right around .300 with the lowest strikeout rate of any lineup regular, but it simply hadn’t been the transcendent season for the Preseason All-American. Perhaps he’s on the cusp of a breakout now. 

The Tar Heels (19-7, 5-5), meanwhile, managed just one run on a Vance Honeycutt RBI single in the seventh. Prior to that, the lineup had been stifled by Virginia Tech righthander Griffin Green, who threw five scoreless frames. 

While the jury may still be out to some degree when it comes to Virginia Tech’s pitching staff, although its performance on Friday did drop the team ERA to 3.96 on the season, there’s no doubt that its offense is one of the ACC’s best. After Friday, the Hokies are hitting .328/.426/.625 as a group. 

Pepperdine Upsets Gonzaga In Extra Innings

In a crucial early season West Coast Conference series, Pepperdine claimed the opener with a 7-5 victory at No. 17 Gonzaga in 11 innings.

The Waves (15-9, 5-2) got off to a fast start, scoring two runs in the first inning and never trailed on the night. But while they got to Bulldogs ace Gabriel Hughes for five runs in seven innings, they weren’t able to separate. Gonzaga (16-7, 5-2) battled back with five runs of its own in the middle innings and the game was level after the ninth.

Pepperdine finally pushed ahead for good when John Peck hit a two-run home run in the 11th inning. Jack Baird worked around a leadoff single in the bottom half of the inning to work a scoreless inning to close out the win.

Gonzaga and Pepperdine are now tied with Santa Clara for second place in the WCC, one game behind San Diego. There’s a long way to go in the conference season but this weekend carries a lot of significance for the Waves. They already have lost a series to San Diego and dropping another to a contender would be a blow to their title hopes. This weekend also represents their best chance for a marquee series win, which would be a big boost to their NCAA Tournament resume. Now, they need just one more win this weekend to clinch that series win.

For Gonzaga, Friday’s loss is most disconcerting for the fact that it has now lost back-to-back starts by Hughes. He was excellent at the outset of the season and was a big part of why the Bulldogs quickly pushed into the Top 25, but he has now given up nine runs in 13 innings over the last two weeks against Brigham Young and Pepperdine. It may be just a blip for the righthander, who is 4-1, 3.07 with 65 strikeouts and 15 walks in 44 innings this season, but it’s something to monitor as WCC play continues.

Southern Mississippi Lands First Blow In Important C-USA Series

The winner of this weekend’s series between Southern Mississippi and Louisiana Tech will have an early leg up in the Conference USA title race, and on Friday, USM landed the first blow with a decisive 8-2 win in front of the third-largest crowd in Pete Taylor Park history. 

The Golden Eagles (18-7, 6-1) got excellent work out of sophomore righthander Tanner Hall, who threw eight innings, giving up two unearned runs with no walks and 11 strikeouts. That represents an excellent bounce back performance for Hall, who had given up nine earned runs in 13.1 combined innings in starts against Florida Atlantic and Western Kentucky the previous two weekends. 

Offensively, the lineup provided Hall some support quickly with a two-run homer for left fielder Reece Ewing in the first and a solo shot for second baseman Will McGillis in the second. McGillis would finish the game with three hits, and right fielder Carson Paetow also added a two-run home run in the eighth as USM salted the game away. 

The Bulldogs (18-8, 5-2) managed just seven hits Friday, and in addition to both runs being unearned, neither of them scored on a hit. Their run in the sixth came home on a Philip Matulia RBI groundout, while the single tally in the seventh scored on a passed ball.

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