College Baseball Takeaways: Texas, Stanford Win Thrilling Openers
Texas Wins Showdown At TCU
The Big 12 title is on the line in Fort Worth this weekend and No. 9 Texas needs a series win against No. 5 Texas Christian to stay in the race. Otherwise, the Horned Frogs will claim their third championship in six seasons.
In an atmosphere befitting a series of that magnitude, the Longhorns claimed game 1 with a tight, 5-4 victory.
The game went back and forth all night before Mike Antico homered in the eighth inning to push the Longhorns into the lead. The Horned Frogs threatened in each of the final two innings, getting the winning run on in both frames, but they couldn’t break through and ended the night with 11 runners stranded.
Texas ace Ty Madden bounced back from his worst start of the season last week in a loss to Texas Tech to on Friday deliver a quality start. He held TCU to three runs (two earned) on five hits and three walks in six innings, while striking out five batters.
Ultimately, however, Texas (37-11, 14-5) prevailed and has cut TCU’s lead in the Big 12 standings to one game. If the Longhorns win one more game over the next two days, they will send the conference title race down to the wire.
Just as importantly, Friday’s win showed they won’t fold after last weekend’s disappointing series loss to Texas Tech. With everything still to play for, Texas came out swinging in a critical series. That mentality isn’t a surprise, but it will serve the Longhorns well during the NCAA Tournament.
Stanford Walks Off Arizona
No. 7 Arizona and No. 19 Stanford entered the weekend as the top two teams in the Pac-12 standings. Both the Wildcats and Cardinal played like the class of the conference Friday, but it was Stanford that came out on top with a 5-4 victory in 13 innings.
The Cardinal (25-9, 11-5) took advantage of some miscues late in the game to come away with the victory. They tied the game in the eighth on an unearned run and in the 13th capitalized on back-to-back walks to open the inning. After a sacrifice bunt pushed the winning run to third base, Brock Jones, Stanford’s most dynamic player, won the game with a single to right.
Stanford’s pitching was strong all night against Arizona, which features the best offense in the country. Righthander Brendan Beck was solid, holding the Wildcats to four runs (three earned) in 6.1 innings and the Cardinal bullpen was excellent. Six relievers combined for 6.2 scoreless innings, led by righthander Tommy O’Rourke, who threw three innings.
That effort from the bullpen set the stage for Jones’ late heroics and give Stanford an early edge in the series. It has not lost a Pac-12 series yet this season. One more win over the next two days would not only extend that streak, but it may also ensure that the Cardinal again get the opportunity to host a regional.
For Arizona (31-12, 15-7) the loss will sting, especially after fighting back to take the lead in the seventh inning. But it also got a solid effort on the mound, especially from righthander Quin Flanagan, who took a tough loss after getting the Wildcats out of a ninth-inning jam and then keeping the Cardinal off the scoreboard until the 13th.
Florida’s Comeback Highlights Busy Night In The SEC
There’s never a dull moment in the SEC and that was as true as ever Friday. Some quick thoughts from around the conference.
- Down to its last strike at Kentucky, No. 10 Florida mounted a comeback for an 8-5 victory. Cory Acton tied the game with an RBI single and Kendrick Calilao on the very next pitch blasted a three-run home run to give the Gators the lead. Jack Leftwich threw a scoreless inning to earn the save and even the series.
The loss stings for the Wildcats (27-16, 11-12), who nearly closed out what would have been a huge series for their NCAA Tournament hopes. Tensions flared in the immediate aftermath of the game after a tense ninth inning and Saturday’s finale could be again be feisty.
- No. 11 Mississippi lost to Texas A&M, 9-8, but more importantly righthander Gunnar Hoglund, a potential top-10 pick, left the game after recording just two outs. Coach Mike Bianco told reporters after the game that Hoglund felt some forearm stiffness. Hoglund has already missed one start this season and any more missed time would be a significant blow.
- No. 3 Vanderbilt defeated Alabama, 9-6, on a night that righthander Kumar Rocker struck out 13 in five innings, but also walked five, threw three wild pitches and gave up six runs. To help pick up Rocker, freshman center fielder Enrique Bradfield went 4-for-4 with a double, a home run and three stolen bases. Bradfield has made an instant impact with his speed (he leads the nation with 37 stolen bases), but his home run was the first of his career. Power’s never going to be a big part of his game, but if he starts driving balls more often, he’ll only become more dangerous at the top of the lineup.
- No. 4 Mississippi State defeated No. 15 South Carolina, 9-0, deepening the Gamecocks’ skid. South Carolina (27-16, 11-11) is in a brutal stretch of playing Arkansas, Ole Miss and now Mississippi State in consecutive weeks and is just 1-6 in those games so far. Friday’s loss dropped the Gamecocks to .500 in conference play and the chance to host a regional seems to be slipping away.
Lefthander Christian Macleod led the way for the Bulldogs (34-17, 15-7), throwing seven scoreless innings. He struck out six batters and combined with Preston Johnson and KC Hunt for a three-hit shutout. The Gamecocks are really scuffling offensively, but getting that kind of effort from MacLeod down the stretch would be big.
Florida State Upends Notre Dame
It’s a big weekend for Florida State in South Bend. For one, it is trying to do what no other team has been able to do this season by winning a series against Notre Dame. But more importantly, a series win on the road for the Seminoles could put them in good position to host a regional.
A 5-2 win Friday night puts FSU (24-16, 16-12) on the road to accomplishing both things this weekend.
Lefthander Parker Messick was outstanding in his start, as he has been all season for the Seminoles. He threw six innings, giving up three hits and one run with three walks and eight strikeouts.
The Irish (24-9, 21-9) got good pitching as well, including five solid innings from lefthander Will Mercer, but the FSU offense was able to do just enough. After Notre Dame went up 1-0 in the first on a Jack Brannigan sac fly, Florida State answered with two runs in the fourth on a Davis Hare two-RBI single.
The 2-1 score held up until the ninth, when FSU’s Elijah Cabell connected for a three-run homer to make it a 5-1 game. That insurance proved particularly important in hindsight, as Notre Dame scratched a second run across in the bottom half of the ninth.
Florida State is often known for offenses that can score runs in bunches and for perhaps being a bit short on the mound at times. This team hasn’t performed that way this season and this win is a great example. It got great pitching from Messick and righthander Jack Anderson, which was little surprise, and the offense squeezed every ounce of production out of four hits.
Duke Stuns Louisville
To use a coaching phrase, Louisville is really fighting it right now. After last weekend getting swept at Clemson, the Cardinals began their home series with Duke this weekend with a 13-3 defeat.
The Blue Devils (20-18, 10-15) wasted no time in getting to lefthander Michael Kirian, scoring three runs off of him in the first inning on a Peter Matt three-run home run. The long ball worked for Duke again in the fifth against Kirian, when three more runs scored on a solo shot by Graham Pauley and a two-run homer for R.J. Schreck.
At that point, Louisville (24-15, 14-10) was already in a pretty sizable hole, but Matt landed the knockout punch (both for Kirian and for the Cardinals more broadly) with another three-run homer in the seventh. Matt ended the day with four hits, and Schreck and Pauley had three of their own.
On the mound, Duke righthander Jack Carey turned in his second-best outing of the season (behind only his six shutout innings against Notre Dame), throwing seven innings, giving up four hits and one run with two walks and five strikeouts.
The rest of this weekend is vitally important for Louisville. The sweep last weekend really put a dent in its hosting hopes. A series loss this weekend might total them.
No. 1 Arkansas Upset By NC State, Falls Shy Of College World Series
After playing like the best team in the country throughout the regular season, No. 1 Arkansas was upset by NC State in super regionals, bringing an end to its special season.
UCSB Edges Ahead Of UCI
UC Santa Barbara and No. 24 UC Irvine came into this weekend’s series virtually deadlocked atop the Big West standings. Friday’s opener was just about as tight.
UCSB came away with a 6-5 victory thanks in no small part due to the ice-cold relief of righthander Clayton Hall, who was making just his fifth appearance of the season. The third-year sophomore entered the game in the ninth inning, with the bases loaded, no outs and the Gauchos clinging to a one-run lead. Hall escaped the jam by striking out Adrian Damla, getting a groundball for the force at home and then striking out Justin Torres to end the game and earn his first save.
The bullpen hasn’t been a strength this season for UCSB (30-13, 21-8), but it delivered Friday night. Ace Michael McGreevy didn’t make it out of the fourth, as UCI tagged him for five runs (three earned) on seven hits and two walks in 4.1 innings. But lefthander Carter Benbrook (5-1, 2.27) and Hall picked him up with 4.2 scoreless innings of relief – even if things did get hairy at the end.
UCSB also got big games out of infielders Cole Cummings and Jordan Sprinkle, the top two hitters in its lineup. Cummings went 3-for-5 with a double, a home run and three runs, while Sprinkle added five hits and two runs.
The four-game series is far from over, but UCSB on Friday passed an important opening hurdle as it tries to take control of the Big West heading down the stretch.
Indiana Breaks Away from Rutgers Late
Last weekend, Rutgers burst onto the scene as a postseason contender with a sweep at Nebraska that included late-game rallies for wins on Friday and Saturday.
This Friday, in its first game of a very important four-game pod with Indiana and Nebraska, the Scarlet Knights (17-14) found themselves on the wrong side of a late-game push in an 8-3 loss to No. 23 Indiana.
The Big Ten-leading Hoosiers (21-9) struck first, scoring two runs in the opening frame on an RBI groundout by Grant Richardson and a sac fly off the bat of Cole Barr. Rutgers lefthander Harry Rutkowski settled in after that and ended up allowing just those two runs in seven innings of work.
Indiana lefty Tommy Sommer was very good from the start, but Rutgers was able to break through with a run in the fifth on a Richie Schiekofer RBI single and another run in the seventh on a Schiekofer double to tie the game 2-2.
But it was in the top of the eighth when Rutgers had a nightmare inning not unlike the ones they forced upon the Cornhuskers last weekend. The Hoosiers scored six runs in the frame on four hits, four walks and two hit by pitches against three different pitchers.
The difficult path Indiana faces over the last few weeks of the regular season is well-documented, and simply staying above water during this stretch should be enough to keep the Hoosiers in good position for the postseason. Friday was a big step in doing so.
East Carolina Blows Out Tulane
This weekend’s series between Tulane and No. 13 East Carolina in Greenville is all about learning what’s what in the race for the American Athletic Conference title. Will Tulane win the series and take a commanding lead in the standings? Will ECU win the series, restore order in the American and reaffirm its position as the team to beat? Or will the teams split and kick the can down the road on determining much of anything?
In part because rain meant that only one game got played on Friday instead of the originally-scheduled doubleheader, that all remains to be seen, but the Pirates (31-9, 13-4) sure did make a loud statement with a 12-4 win to open the series with the Green Wave (24-15, 13-3).
ECU righthander Gavin Williams was dominant early, only hitting some resistance as he worked into the sixth inning. He finished with 5.1 innings, giving up five hits and two runs with one walk and nine strikeouts.
Offensively, the Pirates were on Tulane righthander Braden Olthoff early. Even as Olfthoff threw a scoreless first and gave up just one run in the first three frames, it was clear he wasn’t as sharp as he so often has been in his Green Wave career and ECU batters looked fairly comfortable.
The Pirates really broke through in the fourth, when Zach Agnos scored on a wild pitch and Bryson Worrell and Seth Caddell connected for back-to-back solo home runs. From there, the lineup would go on to score runs in the next four innings after the fourth, forcing the Green Wave to use seven pitchers in the first game of a four-game series.
For ECU, leadoff hitter Connor Norby went 4-for-5 with a homer and four RBI. Agnos also chipped in with three hits. ECU was simply better in all facets on Friday, and if it plays like that all weekend, it will make it very tough for Tulane to get up off the mat.
NC Central’s Austin Vernon Throws No-Hitter
North Carolina Central righthander Austin Vernon threw a no-hitter in a 10-0 victory against Delaware State. The game was shortened to eight innings due to the run rule.
Vernon, a fourth-year junior, started the game by retiring 20 straight batters before issuing a two-out walk in the seventh. That walk was his lone blemish on the night, as he retired 24 of the 25 batters he faced. He struck out eight.
Vernon improved to 4-3, 2.73 with 87 strikeouts and 25 walks in 56 innings this season.
The Eagles provided Vernon with plenty of support. They opened the scoring with a pair of home runs in the second inning, as Chet Sikes and Cameron Norgren both went deep. NC Central never eased off the gas, pounding out 12 hits and drawing 10 walks on the night.
Vernon’s no-hitter was the first in NC Central’s modern era. The Eagles continue to show impressive fortitude while knowing the program will be eliminated at the end of the season, a victim of budget cuts in the athletic department. The Eagles are 19-17 on the season and 11-10 in MEAC play, two games behind first-place Florida A&M in the Southern Division.
Friday night is for the aces. We’ve already highlighted the work of Mississippi State's Christian Macleod, Florida State's Parker Messick and NC Central's Austin Vernon. But plenty more pitchers stepped up around the country. Here are six more who had impressive games.
Trevor DeLaite, LHP, Liberty: Delaite threw a five-hit shutout to lead Liberty to a 4-0 victory against Kennesaw State. He struck out five batters, walked two and recorded his second shutout of the season, becoming the first Liberty pitcher since 2015 to do so. Delaite this season is 8-1, 2.28 with 65 strikeouts and 17 walks in 75 innings.
Jordan Gerber, Mount St. Mary’s, and Alec Huertas, Long Island: LIU and the Mount on Friday split a doubleheader and, in both games, the winning pitcher threw a shutout. Gerber and the Mountaineers went first, with a 1-0 win in the opener. Gerber struck out nine and held LIU to four hits and two walks. Huertas helped the Sharks rebound for a 5-0 win in the nightcap. He struck out eight, walked none and scattered six hits.
Edward Kutt, RHP, Ohio: Kutt and closer Brett Manis combined to throw a one-hitter against rival Miami (Ohio) in a 1-0 victory. Kutt struck out 10 batters in eight innings and held the RedHawks to a hit and a walk, before Manis threw a hitless ninth for his seventh save of the season. The RedHawks’ lone hit came in the first inning. Kutt improved to 7-3, 3.29 with 69 strikeouts and eight walks in 54.2 innings.
Jonathan Lavallee, RHP, Long Beach State: Lavallee struck out 13 batters and threw a two-hit shutout in a 4-0 victory against UC Riverside. He walked none, faced two batters more than the minimum and at one point retired 17 straight batters. With the win, Lavallee improved to 5-1, 2.41 with 47 strikeouts and 14 walks in 41 innings.
Hunter Stanley, RHP, Southern Mississippi: Stanley struck out 16 batters in nine scoreless innings against Middle Tennessee State. He held the Blue Raiders to two hits, walked none and faced just one batter over the minimum. MTSU lefthander Trent Siebert nearly matched Stanley, throwing 7.2 scoreless innings of his own. Neither factored into the decision, however, as USM won, 2-1, in 10 innings. Stanley is 5-2, 2.42 with 96 strikeouts and 15 walks in 78 innings this season.