College Baseball Takeaways: Three Top-Five Teams Fall At Home

Image credit: Vanderbilt OF Enrique Bradfield, Jr. (Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt)

Louisville Beats Virginia Tech In Top-10 Showdown

On a rainy day in Blacksburg, No. 7 Louisville poured it on late to beat No. 4 Virginia Tech, 8-1.

The series features two of the best offenses in the country—both the Cardinals and Hokies came into the weekend ranked in the top 15 in the country in scoring—but the weekend started with a pitcher’s duel between Louisville righthander Jared Poland and Virginia Tech righthander Griffin Green. After the teams traded runs in the second inning, the game remained tied until the sixth, when pinch runner Chris Seng raced home from second base on a strikeout/wild pitch.

Green’s outing ended with that play and Louisville went to work against the Virginia Tech bullpen. The Cardinals scored six runs in the final two innings to pull away late and start the weekend with a win. Seng scored three runs after entering as a pinch runner and Isaac Humphrey and Dalton Rushing both homered.

Louisville got strong work on the mound from Poland and lefthander Tate Kuehner. The duo combined to hold Virginia Tech to a season-low one run. Poland (4-3, 2.98) worked around six hits and two walks in 6.1 innings, giving up one run. Kuehner held the Hokies to one hit in 2.2 scoreless innings to earn his second save of the season.

Kuehner has emerged as a bullpen ace for the Cardinals after starting the season in the rotation. He’s made four straight scoreless appearances, covering 8.2 innings. On Friday, he and Poland combined to stymie one of the most explosive offenses in the country, which averages 1.91 home runs per game.

Louisville (35-13-1, 16-8-1) started the weekend with an important win as it remains in the hunt for the ACC title and is tracking toward a top-eight seed in the NCAA Tournament. A series win this weekend would go a long way to sealing its seeding. Virginia Tech (34-11, 14-9), meanwhile, lost a series opener for the first time since March 18 (Pittsburgh). The Hokies were able to come back and win that series and will look to even this weekend’s set Saturday when they send freshman righthander Drue Hackenberg (8-1, 2.51) to the mound. 

Texas Tech Jumps Out Early, Holds On Against Oklahoma State

If you told Texas Tech that Oklahoma State was going to score four runs against starter Andrew Morris in five-plus innings, it probably wouldn’t have liked its chances to win the game given that the Cowboys were countering with righthander Justin Campbell

As it turns out, the No. 15 Red Raiders (33-16, 12-7) were up to the task against OSU’s ace. They scored six runs against Campbell in five innings, with five of those runs coming in a fourth inning that featured an RBI double by right fielder Owen Washburn and a grand slam off the bat of first baseman Cole Stilwell

No. 3 Oklahoma State (34-15, 13-6) kept its foot on the gas, however, and with a 513-foot home run for first baseman Griffin Doersching in the seventh, it pulled within a run at 6-5, but it couldn’t quite complete the comeback. 

Texas Tech added an insurance run in the eighth, and after OSU’s David Mendham singled home a run in the bottom of the ninth to once again make it a one-run game, the Red Raiders closed out the win by tagging out pinch-runner Jaxson Crull, who tried to score the tying run from third on a ball that didn’t leave the circle around the plate. 

With the OSU loss and a Texas Christian win, the Cowboys’ lead in the Big 12 is down to half a game over the Horned Frogs, and both Texas Tech and Oklahoma are just one game out. It’ll be a sprint to the finish in the Big 12.

Enrique Bradfield Jr. Powers Vanderbilt To Win At Arkansas

No. 25 Vanderbilt won a wild, back-and-forth game against No. 5 Arkansas, 9-6, in 10 innings thanks to a three-run, go-ahead home run from Enrique Bradfield Jr.

Facing Arkansas closer Brady Tygert with two outs and two on in the 10th inning, Bradfield fell behind in the count 1-2. He then roped a line drive just inside the right field foul pole for the go-ahead home run. It was the first homer allowed this season by Tygert.

Bradfield’s homer was the final turn in a wild game. Vanderbilt (33-15, 13-12) scored five runs in the first three innings against Arkansas righthander Connor Noland, but Arkansas (36-13, 16-9) came back to tie the game in the sixth with five runs of its own in the middle innings. The teams traded runs in the seventh, setting the stage for extra innings.

Vanderbilt started the 10th strong with a walk and a double putting runners on second and third with no outs. But after a fly out and a poor suicide squeeze attempt, Tygert looked like he would escape the jam. Then, Bradfield struck. The sophomore finished the night 3-for-5 with a homer, a double and two stolen bases.

Friday also marked the first SEC start for Vanderbilt freshman lefthander Devin Futtrell, who this week moved from the midweek starter role he spent most of the season in to the front of the rotation. He gave up four runs on five hits and two walks in five innings and struck out four batters. It wasn’t his best start, but a Friday night in front of 11,772 fans at Baum-Walker Stadium while facing the powerful Arkansas lineup was never going to be an easy assignment.

Friday’s win was a big one for Vanderbilt, which edged above .500 in conference play. If it can stay there over the final two weeks of the season, it will assuredly host regionals. Arkansas, meanwhile, remains in first place in the SEC West, but saw its RPI slip out of the top 25. Winning the division should be enough to host regionals, regardless of its RPI, but with Texas A&M just a game back in the standings, the Razorbacks don’t have much margin for error. The next two games this weekend will be critical for both teams.

Tennessee Clinches SEC Title with Room to Spare

It’s not often that a team clinches an SEC title with more than a full weekend to play in the regular season, but then again, there haven’t been very many teams as impressive as this Tennessee squad. 

With a 9-2 win Friday against Georgia, No. 2 Tennessee did, in fact, secure an SEC title—its first since 1995—that has frankly felt like a foregone conclusion for more than a month. 

Righthander Blade Tidwell, still working his way back to full strength after missing the first half of the season with shoulder soreness, gave up one run in four innings but ultimately did a solid job of dancing around base runners for most of his outing. 

Righthander Camden Sewell followed and gave up one run in three innings, and righthander Mark McLaughlin and lefthander Kirby Connell finished the game without incident by throwing a scoreless inning each. 

Offensively, the Vols (45-6, 22-4) did a number on Georgia ace righthander Jonathan Cannon, tagging him with six runs on 10 hits in 4.1 innings. Catcher Evan Russell and first baseman Luc Lipcius both got Cannon for home runs, with Russell’s a two-run shot in the fourth and Lipcius connecting for a solo blast in the fifth. Russell later added a solo homer in the seventh, giving him his third multi-homer game of the season. 

For a Tennessee lineup that really struggled last weekend in a series loss at Kentucky and was somewhat limited in scoring five runs in a win in Thursday’s opener against Georgia (32-18, 13-13), it had to feel good to break out and score nine runs on 14 hits on Friday. 

UTSA Upends Southern Miss

This weekend’s series in Hattiesburg between No. 17 Southern Mississippi and Texas-San Antonio is a showdown of the top two teams in the Conference USA standings, both of which are battling not just for the conference title but also postseason positioning.

Friday night went to the visitors, as UTSA defeated Southern Miss, 8-7. The Roadrunners (33-16, 17-8) took the lead with a six-run sixth inning and held off a furious comeback attempt by the Golden Eagles (36-14, 18-7) to win the series opener and cut their deficit in the standings to one game.

UTSA sent 11 batters to the plate in the sixth and used five hits, two walks and a hit batter to bust open a big inning. Ryan Flores had two hits in the inning and finished the night 3-for-4 with a walk to lead the Roadrunners.

The big inning gave UTSA a 7-3 lead, but Southern Miss wasn’t going to go quietly. Trailing 8-5 going to the bottom of the eighth, the Golden Eagles pushed across two runs and loaded the bases with one out. But righthander Ryan Beaird struck out cleanup hitter Christopher Sargent and Slade Wilks to escape the jam. Righthander Luke Malone threw a scoreless ninth inning to close out the win and earn his second save of the season.

The game had significant impact on the postseason hopes for both teams. Southern Miss a few weeks ago was competing for a top-eight seed in the NCAA Tournament. Now, it has lost six of its last eight games, seen its lead in the conference standings dwindle to one game and its RPI fall out of the top 30. If Southern Miss is going to host regionals, it must win the next two games this weekend.

UTSA, meanwhile, got an RPI boost Friday night and moved into the top 50. The Roadrunners have not won a conference title since 2008 (Southland) and have not made the NCAA Tournament since 2013. Another win this weekend would bring both goals into sharper focus.

Xavier Hands UConn Second Big East Loss

No. 18 Connecticut has had two separate seven-game winning streaks in Big East play. The first encompassed the first seven games of the Big East slate and was broken on April 23 in a loss to Villanova. 

The second such streak began the next day against the Wildcats and ended Friday with a 7-2 loss against Xavier. 

The Musketeers (27-23, 10-6) got on the board early against UConn righthander Austin Peterson, scoring two runs in the second on a two-run homer for left fielder Andrew Walker and extending the lead to 3-0 in the fourth on a solo shot for first baseman Luke Franzoni. The Franzoni homer was the 45th of his career, which set a new Xavier program record. 

Though it would add another run in the sixth and three more in the eighth, Xavier’s three early runs are all it would need, as it got a good combined pitching effort from righthander Luke Bell (2 IP, 2 H, 0 R), lefthander Jack Lynch (3.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R), righthander Jared Gadd (2.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R) and lefthander Trevor Olson (1 IP, 1 H, 1 R). In the process, it also handed UConn’s Peterson his first loss of the season. 

Connecticut (40-10, 14-2) is still in firm control of the Big East regular season race and in two weeks, it will go into the Big East Tournament as the prohibitive favorite to win the league’s automatic bid into regionals. 

But this loss, coupled with a Tuesday loss against Northeastern, has all but extinguished its slim chances to host regionals. Its RPI is down more than 10 spots since the end of last weekend and is into the mid-40s. If the season ended today and the Huskies needed an at-large bid, they’d probably be closer to the bubble than hosting. 

Behind Shane Gray’s Gem, Evansville Stays Atop MVC

With second-place Southern Illinois winning early in the day Friday, Evansville needed a win of its own that evening at Dallas Baptist to hold onto its lead in the Missouri Valley Conference, and it got one by a 9-2 score. 

Righthander Shane Gray was the story for the Purple Aces. The veteran starter threw a complete game, giving up six hits and two runs with one walk and 10 strikeouts. The 10 strikeouts tied a season high for Gray and it was the first time in his last five starts that he held his opponent to two or fewer runs. 

Evansville (29-18, 13-3) also scored enough early to let Gray throw free and easy the rest of the way. The Aces got four runs in the second inning on a two-RBI double for left fielder Danny Borgstrom, a sacrifice fly off the bat of center fielder Mark Shallenberger and an RBI double for first baseman Tanner Craig. They added three more in the third on a two-run homer for right fielder Eric Roberts and a solo shot off the bat of DH Chase Hug. Two more runs in the fifth on a DBU error and a Hug sacrifice fly capped the scoring. 

DBU (31-18, 9-7) continues to have one of the strangest seasons of any team in the country. Its performance in non-conference play and an RPI that has been inside the top five most of the season—Friday’s loss dropped it outside the top 10, however—provided a chance to host if it could take care of business in conference play. 

In conference play, however, the Patriots haven’t performed like a frontrunner and that shows in their 9-7 league record. Their RPI should provide them some assurance that they’re still tracking to be a postseason team, but it would behoove them to pick up the pace in conference play and not test that inference too much.

Evansville, meanwhile, has a chance with another win this weekend to push itself into at-large range for the NCAA Tournament should it falter in the MVC Tournament. There’s a lot on the line the next two days in Dallas.

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