College Baseball Takeaways: Texas Stays Perfect, NKU Upsets Champs
Texas Stays Perfect With Close Win Against Alabama
No. 1 Texas on Friday faced its toughest test yet of the young season and it came away with a 1-0 victory against Alabama to stay undefeated.
Starters Garrett McMillan and Pete Hansen got the pitchers’ duel started and both bullpens picked up where they left off, making for a tense, close game. Texas (6-0) manufactured a run in the seventh when Skyler Messinger singled, advanced on a hit batter and passed ball and scored on a wild pitch.
The Longhorns’ pitchers made that slight edge stand up Friday. Hansen started the game with eight strikeouts in five innings, working around four hits and a walk. Relievers Travis Sthele (2 IP), Jared Southard (.1 IP) and Aaron Nixon (1.2 IP, SV) followed and finished off the shutout. Texas already has thrown three shutouts this season.
Facing perhaps the best pitching staff in the country, Alabama had some chances but couldn’t produce the clutch hit when it needed. The Crimson Tide stranded 12 runners, in part because it went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
It was a tough-luck loss for Alabama (5-1). McMillan threw six strong innings, striking out three batters and scattering three hits and two walks. Righthander Dylan Ray followed with two innings out of the bullpen and struck out four batters but gave up the game’s lone run (unearned).
After four blowouts to start the season, Texas has now won back-to-back one-run games including winning 5-4 at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Wednesday. That’s an important development for the Longhorns, as the competition will only increase.
But, in the early going, Texas has proven it knows how to win. For a veteran team that’s coming off a deep College World Series run, that’s no surprise. It’s also not good news for its opponents.
Northern Kentucky Stuns Mississippi State
A week ago, Mississippi State was upset by Long Beach State on the first two days of the season at Dudy Noble Field. While that qualified as an upset, it pales in comparison to what happened Friday.
Northern Kentucky, which last weekend was outscored 38-14 in a sweep at East Tennessee State, knocked off No. 8 Mississippi State, 7-6, to earn one of the biggest wins in the program’s Division I history. It was NKU’s first win against a ranked opponent since beating Kentucky in 2018.
The Norse (1-3) fell behind 2-0 in the second inning, but they erased that deficit with three runs in the third against All-American righthander Landon Sims and never looked back. They out-hit the Bulldogs, 11-4, led by third baseman Manny Vorhees (3-for-5, 2 2B) and outfielder Brandon Tucker (2-for-4).
Righthander Kyle Klingenbeck delivered a quality start for NKU, holding Mississippi State to three runs on three hits and two walks in six innings. The Bulldogs pulled closer once Klingenbeck left the game, but were unable to complete the comeback against Bryson Lonsbury, who threw two scoreless innings to earn the save.
Mississippi State (2-3) drew seven walks and had three hit batters but was unable to come up with the clutch hit it needed. The Bulldogs were just 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight batters.
Mississippi State finds itself in an uncomfortable position just a week into the season. After the game, coach Chris Lemonis told reporters that the Bulldogs need to play harder and tougher.
“We’re just not playing tough baseball in every phase of the game,” Lemonis said. “We’re going to have to get better.”
North Carolina Stays Hot With Win Against ECU
North Carolina got off to a hot start to the season, winning its first four games against Seton Hall and Elon by a combined score of 45-7. The competition stiffens this weekend for the Tar Heels, however, as they face in-state rival East Carolina in a series split between Chapel Hill and Greenville.
UNC on Friday passed its first test as it defeated No. 25 ECU, 7-4, to remain undefeated. The Tar Heels jumped out to an early lead with four runs in the first three innings and held off a ninth-inning rally to earn the victory.
Freshman outfielder Vance Honeycutt stayed hot for UNC and hit a leadoff home run—his fourth homer in five games this season. The Tar Heels hit three home runs in the game, accounting for four of their seven runs, and got a solid start from Brandon Schaeffer, who held the Pirates to one run in five innings.
For ECU (1-4), the loss was another setback in a tough start to the season. The Pirates are still without Preseason All-American lefthander Carson Whisenhunt, who is suspended for a violation of team rules, and Garrett Saylor (0-2, 12.79) again struggled in his place. The righthander was knocked out in the third inning, having given up five runs on six hits and a walk.
ECU last weekend was swept at home by Bryant and is off to its worst start to the season since 2015. It will need a strong response the rest of the weekend to avoid dropping back-to-back series.
Wins for Stanford, Arkansas Set Up Marquee Saturday Matchup
As soon as the schedule at the Karbach Round Rock Classic was set, the Saturday matchup between Stanford and Arkansas stood out as the biggest game of the weekend, and the anticipation has only been heightened after both teams collected victories on Friday.
To begin the day, No. 5 Stanford (4-1) got an outstanding performance on the mound in a 5-1 win over Louisiana (3-2). Righthander Alex Williams gave up three hits and one run in five innings, and the bullpen trio of Joey Dixon, Cody Jensen and Braden Montgomery threw four scoreless innings to close it out.
In the second game of the day, No. 9 Arkansas (3-1) got excellent work from righthander Connor Noland in a 5-2 win over Indiana (0-4). A veteran who has had an up-and-down career in Fayetteville, Noland appears to be in top form to begin this season. Against the Hoosiers, he gave up five hits and one run with two walks and 10 strikeouts in six innings.
Both Stanford and Arkansas are offensive-minded clubs this season, but cold conditions in Round Rock might make runs hard to come by. Given that, it stands to reason that the team that throws more strikes on Saturday and simply avoids making mistakes that lead to big innings will come out on top.
“Tommy Tanks” Continues Torrid Start
North Carolina State first baseman Tommy White, who has earned the nickname “Tommy Tanks” with his performance this season, has already achieved something approaching cult hero status around college baseball.
On Friday in the No. 16 Wolfpack’s 10-4 win over Quinnipiac (1-3), White hit two home runs and drove in six runs. That gives him seven home runs and 21 RBIs on the season, which is a nice full season’s worth of production for a lot of hitters.
With games against Evansville, High Point, Longwood and now Quinnipiac so far, it should be said that NC State’s schedule has not been altogether challenging, but regardless of competition, the team is batting a staggering .409/.489/.719.
NC State (6-0) returned just two starters in the field from last season’s College World Series team, but as it stands right now, the new-look lineup is getting it done just fine.
Messick, Florida State One-Hit Samford
No. 13 Florida State was looked at as perhaps having the best pitching staff in the ACC, and it certainly lived up to that reputation in a 7-0 win against Samford on Friday, which featured its pitchers holding the Bulldogs (4-1) to just one hit.
Lefthander Parker Messick got the start and gave up a hit to the second batter of the game, Samford third baseman Will David, but he cruised from there. He threw seven innings, giving up just the one hit with no walks and 13 strikeouts. After he departed, three FSU relievers combined to throw the final two innings, allowing just one baserunner.
In two starts this season, Messick has allowed three hits and one run with two walks and 24 strikeouts in 12.2 innings. With the duo of Messick and fellow lefthander Bryce Hubbart, who struck out 13 in five scoreless innings last weekend against James Madison, the Seminoles (4-1) have shown the kind of one-two rotation punch that makes them ACC title contenders.
Sacramento State Outduels Long Beach State
A week ago, Long Beach State upset Mississippi State in its home opener. The tables turned on the sixth-ranked Dirtbags on Friday, when Sacramento State edged them, 1-0, in 10 innings.
Righthander Luis Ramirez was again excellent for the Dirtbags (2-2). He threw seven scoreless innings, struck out seven batters, walked none and scattered six hits. He’s now started the season with 13 straight scoreless innings. But righthander Eli Saul was his equal Friday night. He threw 7.2 scoreless innings, struck out nine, walked one and scattered four hits.
The bullpens picked up where the starters left off and the game was scoreless after nine innings. It didn’t stay that way for long, however, as Cesar Valero led off the 10th inning with a home run. Righthander Jack Zalasky retired the Dirtbags in order in the bottom half of the inning to finish off the shutout.
Sac State (5-0) is already off to its best start since 1990. It now has a chance this weekend to pick up a huge series win on the road.
College Podcast: Talking Realignment, Coaching Carousel
We discuss the recent realignment news involving USC, UCLA and the Big Ten, and recap the coaching carousel.
Harvard, Penn Score Big Upsets As Ivy League Returns
The Ivy League, which canceled all sports in the 2020-21 school year, returned to action Friday after nearly two full years away from the diamond and it was an extra special night for the conference.
Harvard upset No. 24 Miami, 11-6, and Penn defeated Texas A&M, 2-1. For good measure, Columbia defeated Stetson, 8-3.
Penn landed the first punch for the Ivy League on Friday and defeated a current SEC member for the first time since 1923, when it beat Georgia, 2-1. The Quakers never trailed in the game and got strong efforts from righthander Kevin Eaise and lefthander Owen Coady. The pair combined to hold the Aggies to one run on eight hits and four walks, striking out 12 batters. Coady was especially tough in relief, striking out eight batters in 4.2 innings and retiring all four batters he faced with runners in scoring position.
Harvard followed with an even bigger upset a few hours later. The Crimson twice had to come back against the Hurricanes, first erasing a 2-0 deficit after the first inning and then falling behind 6-5 after six innings. But they scored six unanswered runs over the final three innings to hand Miami (5-1) its first loss of the season.
Harvard won despite not getting a special start from ace Adam Stone, the Ivy League’s top draft prospect. He held Miami to two runs in four innings, striking out four and working around four hits and four walks. Instead, the Crimson collected 13 hits—including two home runs—and got gritty relief work from Uday Narottam and Jay Driver, who combined for three scoreless innings to end the game.
For the Ivy League, Friday was the first day back in league-wide action since the 2020 season was canceled. The league did allow teams to play local, non-conference competition in 2021, but only Penn ultimately took the diamond in 2021.
Binghamton Stymies Powerful Old Dominion Offense
After returning nearly everyone from a lineup that hit over .300 and slammed 103 home runs in 2021, No. 23 Old Dominion is, on paper, one of the toughest teams to shut down in college baseball, but that’s precisely what Binghamton (2-2) did on Friday in a 4-1 win.
The Monarchs (3-1) were held to just five hits by the Bearcats, led by lefthander Thomas Babalis, who gave up four hits and one run with seven strikeouts in 5.1 innings. Righthanders Gabe Driscoll and Jack Collins then combined to throw the final 3.2 innings with just one hit allowed.
Three of ODU’s five hits went for extra bases, including a solo home run for right fielder Andy Garriola, but there weren’t enough runners on base to make those hits really hurt Binghamton.
St. Thomas Scores First Division I Win
St. Thomas this season made an unprecedented jump from Division III to Division I, joining the Summit League along the way.
After getting swept in four games by Florida International to begin the season, with three games being decided by two or fewer runs, St. Thomas (1-5) secured its first Division I win on Friday with a 2-0 win over Sacred Heart (0-2) in Richmond.
Righthander Walker Retz set the tone by throwing six innings, giving up two hits and two walks with 12 strikeouts, and veteran lefthander Graham Laubscher closed it out by throwing three shutout frames with six strikeouts.
The Tommies nearly pulled off a pair of wins Friday, as they also went into extra innings tied 3-3 with host Richmond, but the Spiders walked off with the victory in 12 innings. Six games into its first season in Division I, St. Thomas has certainly pitched well enough to win more often than not, with a team ERA of 3.72.