College Baseball Takeaways: Upsets Abound On Opening Day
Long Beach State Spoils The Party With Shutout At Mississippi State
Friday’s Opening Day ceremonies at Mississippi State started by honoring last year’s national champions, with the trophy on display and members of the 2021 team on hand to unveil the championship banner.
The party did not carry over to the game, however. No. 3 Mississippi State quickly found itself in a pitcher’s duel against Long Beach State with righthanders Landon Sims and Luis Ramirez putting on a show.
Sims, voted a first-team Preseason All-American by MLB scouting departments, looked very much like a future first round pick. He struck out 13 batters in seven innings, walked none and held the Dirtbags to one run on five hits. He worked efficiently, throwing 81 pitches.
It was an excellent starting debut for Sims, who last season earned first-team All-America honors as a relief ace. He came right after hitters with his fastball, daring anyone to hit it, and effectively mixed in his slider.
But as good as Sims was, Ramirez more than matched him on the mound. He threw six hitless innings against a potent Bulldogs lineup, striking out five batters and walking two. He forced the Bulldogs to pound the ball into the ground, inducing 11 groundball outs.
Ramirez can’t match Sims on pure stuff, but he’s a prospect to watch this spring. He’s coming off a solid summer in the Cape Cod League, where he went 0-2, 3.10 with 33 strikeouts and 13 walks in 29 innings. With his feel for pitching and his sinker’s ability to induce weak contact, he makes for a tough matchup and a strong No. 1 starter for the Dirtbags.
Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis said the Bulldogs struggled with the sinker.
“It looks like it’s there and then it’s a little bit out of the zone and you just hit it into the ground,” Lemonis said. “So, he got a handful of ground balls. It got them out of some innings.”
Things didn’t get any easier for the Bulldogs with Ramirez out of the game. Beach turned to Matt Fields to start the seventh and he delivered two scoreless innings and three strikeouts. Mississippi State did break up the no-hitter in the seventh when Hunter Hines singled to left field – but even that hit went for naught when he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double.
Closer Deveraux Harrison threw a perfect ninth for the save and completed the shutout.
For the Dirtbags, the win is one that resonates in a big way. They have had a regional-caliber team the last two years under coach Eric Valenzuela, but the 2020 postseason was canceled and their conference-only schedule in 2021 held them back on Selection Monday. Now, with a more normal season on tap in 2022, they could be headed for a breakthrough in Valenzuela’s third season.
Not only does the win announce their presence with authority on Opening Day, it also will pay dividends all season long in RPI. In what is expected to be a competitive Big West Conference this spring, it’s significant to add non-conference wins like Friday’s.
Mississippi State, meanwhile, needs to quickly move on from the loss. Sims’ start was a great sign for a team that is replacing its top two starters from last season. What happened to the offense – which is also replacing some key pieces, including SEC player of the year Tanner Allen – was disappointing, but correctable.
The Bulldogs need look no further than their own Opening Day opponent a year ago for an example of how to bounce back. Mississippi State last year beat Texas on Opening Day, the first of three losses on the weekend for the Longhorns at the State Farm Showdown. All Texas did was come one win away from playing for the national title.
It’s a long season, but Friday was a reminder that it’s a new year and last season’s accomplishments are now in the past.
Vanderbilt Shuts Out Oklahoma State
Entering this spring, the biggest question for Vanderbilt was how its pitching staff would take shape. The Commodores last season had the best 1-2 punch college baseball had seen in a decade atop their rotation in Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter. But that duo moved of after both being drafted in the top 10 picks and Vanderbilt is left with a new-look pitching staff.
Coach Tim Corbin and pitching coach Scott Brown opted to open the season against No. 19 Oklahoma State with a rotation of righthanders Chris McElvain and Nick Maldonado – who both primarily pitched in relief in 2021 – and freshman lefthander Carter Holton.
On Opening Day the new plan worked to a T. McElvain and righthanders Patrick Reilly and Thomas Schultz combined for a five-hit shutout and 18 strikeouts in a 3-0 victory.
McElvain and Reilly piggy-backed and both delivered strong four-inning outings. McElvain struck out 10 batters and held the Cowboys to four hits and a walk. Reilly struck out seven batters and held the Cowboys to one hit and four walks.
Schultz followed with a perfect ninth inning to earn the save. A smooth ninth inning was also significant, as Vanderbilt lost co-closer Luke Murphy in the draft and moved Maldonado, his running mate, into the rotation.
While the overall numbers are impressive for Vanderbilt, there is still room for improvement. Oklahoma State had a lot of traffic on the bases, but the Commodores pitchers stepped up in big spots. The Cowboys were just 1-for-16 with runners on base and 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
It was just one game, and the rest of Vanderbilt’s staff will have to follow Friday’s effort with strong performances of their own. But if this is a taste of what’s in store in 2022, it’s particularly bad news for opposing hitters. If this is where Vanderbilt pitching is on Opening Day, imagining where it will be in June is a particularly scary thought.
Illinois State’s Bullpen Comes Up Big Against Arkansas
Coming into the day, you wouldn’t have liked the chances of an Illinois State upset of No. 8 Arkansas if you were told that the Redbirds would get just 1.1 innings out of starting righthander Jordan Lussier. But thanks to yeoman’s work from the bullpen and some timely hitting, that’s precisely what happened in a 3-2 win.
Lussier left the game in the second inning after he was hit in the head by a line drive. Before going any further, it should be said that Illinois State expects him to be fine moving forward. After Lussier was removed, ISU got 3.2 solid innings from righthander Colin Wyman, who gave up solo homers to Jalen Battles and Zach Gregory in the fifth, two scoreless frames from lefthander Jared Hart and one scoreless inning each from righthanders Kolton Scherbenske and Erik Kubiatowicz, who struck out Battles and Chris Lanzilli to end the game. As a unit, ISU pitchers held a powerful Arkansas lineup to four hits.
All of that work would have been for naught had the Redbirds not come up with a big hit late. Tied 2-2 and without a run scored since the first inning, Illinois State got a two-out RBI double from fifth-year senior left fielder Aidan Huggins in the seventh to push ahead for good.
Illinois State is talented, it’s not afraid to go into tough atmospheres and it also won a game in Fayetteville in 2019, so there’s little reason for Arkansas to be too worried about this one loss, although it does put something of a damper on Opening Day. But for Illinois State, a win like this is a building block for a potential at-large resume come May.
Bryant Routs East Carolina
Clark-LeClair Stadium in Greenville is one of the toughest places for a road team to win in college baseball, but on Friday, Bryant walked in and ran away with a 10-2 win over No. 15 East Carolina.
Righthander Collin Lowe was outstanding in his start for the Bulldogs, throwing five shutout innings with four hits allowed. That provided cover for the offense to jump out to a relatively quick 5-0 lead that included two runs on a two-run homer by Alex Lane in the second inning.
ECU, meanwhile, struggled to find the right guy on the mound. After starter Garrett Saylor gave up four runs in four-plus innings, seven different relievers pitched. While the Pirates are no stranger to reaching deep into the bullpen to find the right combination of arms, this was also a matter of struggling to string outs together.
It was a tough day for ECU, but look for the Pirates to come out with a little bit of an edge the rest of the weekend.
Sam Houston State Scores Early, Late to Down Nebraska
There are a lot of connections between Sam Houston State and Nebraska. SHSU coach Jay Sirianni played and worked as a graduate assistant at Nebraska. Nebraska assistant coach Lance Harvell was an assistant with the Bearkats for five seasons. Nebraska coach Will Bolt also grew up in Conroe, Texas, about 30 minutes south of the SHSU campus in Huntsville.
Friday, it was Sirianni who grabbed the upper hand, as his team used big innings early and late to secure an 8-5 win against No. 20 Nebraska.
The first big inning came in the second, when the Bearkats, trailing 3-0, scored five runs on a two-run single by Clayton Chadwick, an RBI single by Justin Wishkoski and a two-RBI single off the bat of Tyler Davis.
From there, Nebraska fought back to tie things up at 5 with runs in the sixth and seventh innings, but another big scoring frame, this time a three-run bottom of the seventh featuring an RBI single by Easton Loyd and a two-RBI double from Wishkoski, put SHSU up for good.
On the mound, SHSU got good work out of lefthander Matt Dillard (5 IP, 4 H, 3 R) after he gave up three runs in the second inning, and righthander Lance Lusk slammed the door shut in the ninth by striking out the side.
Texas Tech Caps Long Day in Arlington with Walk-Off Win
Oklahoma got the day started at the State Farm College Baseball Showdown in Arlington with a 3-0 win over Auburn, thanks in large part to a late two-run homer off the bat of Peyton Graham. Arizona followed by holding off a Kansas State push for an 8-6 win.
But the most exciting game of the lot at the home of the Texas Rangers was a 7-6 walk-off win for No. 23 Texas Tech against Michigan.
It was a rough start for the Red Raiders, with starter Andrew Morris giving up four runs over the first two innings, but their offense kept them in it and pulled it to within 6-5 after the sixth inning. Then, in the bottom of the ninth, Texas Tech rallied for two runs, with the tying run scoring on a Dalton Porter sacrifice fly and the winning run coming home on a two-out Owen Washburn RBI single.
Outside of Washburn, who had three hits, including the game-winning single, reliever Brendan Girton was probably the player of the game for the Red Raiders. With Michigan having scored in four of the first six innings, he came on and really settled things down in the late innings, eventually finishing with 2.1 scoreless innings and five strikeouts.
Quick SEC Tournament Exit Leaves Ole Miss Playing Waiting Game
Ole Miss was eliminated from the SEC Tournament with a loss to Vanderbilt in its opening game. Now, the Rebels wait to learn their NCAA Tournament future.
Georgia Tech Walks Off with Win Over Wright State
No. 21 Georgia Tech no doubt knew it was going to get a tough game from Wright State. After all, the Raiders have been known giant killers in the sport for the better part of a decade. And a tough game the Yellow Jackets got, but they did eventually come away with a 9-8 walk-off win Friday.
The win showcased everything about Georgia Tech that we should be confident in and everything that should still cause concern.
There are no concerns about Georgia Tech offensively, and we saw why today. The Yellow Jackets scored nine runs, and most impressively after falling behind 8-7 going to the bottom of the ninth, they summoned one more rally to get the job done.
In a lineup full of physical power hitters, shortstop Chandler Simpson really gives Georgia Tech a dynamic catalyst at the top of the order and a different element for opponents to deal with. He reached base four times on Friday and swiped two bases.
But there are still reasons to be concerned about the Yellow Jackets’ pitching staff, and more specifically its bullpen, which was also a bugaboo last season. After starter Chance Huff gave up three runs and struck out nine in five innings, righthander Marquis Grissom Jr. and lefthander Joseph Mannelly combined to throw three scoreless innings.
But in the ninth inning, when it came time to close out what looked like it was going to be a relatively routine 7-3 win, Georgia Tech had to use four pitchers in what was a five-run Wright State outburst.
Youth Is Served For UCLA
UCLA this fall brought in the top-ranked recruiting class in the country and on Friday those newcomers could be found all over the diamond for the Bruins. Three true freshmen started the game for No. 22 UCLA and two more true freshmen were the first two pitchers out of the bullpen. The Bruins also started a graduate transfer and used a redshirt freshman reliever.
That UCLA would immediately turn to its newcomers is no surprise. First of all, they are especially talented. But the Bruins last year had 10 players drafted – the most in the country – and all of them signed, leaving a big hole on the roster.
In a 9-2 victory on Opening Day against Cal State Northridge, the Bruins newcomers showed they are ready to fill some of those vacancies. Freshman Cody Schrier started at shortstop and batted second in the lineup, going 1-for-4. His double-play partner was classmate Ethan Gourson, who went 2-for-4 and scored a run. Freshman Malakhi Knight started in center field and had arguably the best night offensively of any Bruin, going 3-for-4 with a home run, a walk and three runs. Freshmen righthanders Alonzo Tredwell and Luke Jewett combined for three innings in relief of starter Jake Brooks. Tredwell struck out three batters but gave up two runs (one earned) in one inning. Jewett followed with two perfect innings, for which he needed just 15 pitches.
It was a strong start for UCLA’s freshman class. And with veterans Michael Curialle (4-for-5), Jake Moberg (3-for-4) and Jake Brooks (five scoreless innings) all delivering as well, it was plenty for an easy Opening Day victory.
UCLA has more freshmen to work into the action and all will eventually have to deal with some growing pains. But if Friday is any indication, the kids are going to be all right in Westwood.
Tommy White Homers Three Times In Collegiate Debut
North Carolina State freshman first baseman Tommy White logged an unforgettable debut Friday. He went 5-for-6 with three home runs and five runs in a 24-6 victory against Evansville.
White homered in his first at bat, taking the second pitch he saw in college deep to center field. He struck out in his next plate appearance but didn’t make an out the rest of the day and became the program’s first player to hit three home runs in a game since 2010.
While White’s Opening Day was truly one for the record book, he wasn’t the only NC State debutant to make an immediate impact. DH Dominic Piolli, playing in his first game with the Wolfpack after transferring from Charlotte, went 3-for-5 with two home runs, a double and three runs. Outfielder LuJames Groover III, another Charlotte transfer, collected two hits and scored three times. Third baseman Josh Hood, a transfer from Pennsylvania, went 3-for-5 with two doubles and two runs. Freshmen Logan Cozart (2-for-4, 2B) and Payton Green (2-for-4, 3 R, 2 2B) also had big games.
No. 16 NC State’s big offensive game was an encouraging sign for a team that is rolling out an almost entirely new-look lineup from last year’s College World Series team. Only two of NC State’s starters Friday were regulars in last year’s lineup (outfielder Devonte Brown and second baseman J.T. Jarrett) and just one more (outfielder Noah Soles) was on last year’s roster. That leaves six newcomers to the lineup, three of which are freshmen.
If the Wolfpack are to again compete on the national stage in 2022, they will need more big games from their newcomers.
Monmouth's Trey Dombroski Shines Against Penn State
Monmouth lefthander Trey Dombroski delivered one of the best pitching performances of Opening Day, as he threw six hitless innings against Penn State to lead the Hawks to a 10-1 victory at USA Baseball's National Training Complex in Cary, N.C.
Dombroski struck out seven batters and walked none in six innings. His lone blemish on the day was a hit batter in the fourth inning, which was erased on a double play. Righthander Stephen Aldrich kept the no-hitter alive until the eighth inning before the Nittany Lions broke it up.
It was a big start for Dombroski, who broke out this summer in the Cape Cod League. He went 3-0, 0.85 with 45 strikeouts and two walks in 31.2 innings during the regular season, playing his way firmly onto draft radars.
No player has been drafted from Monmouth since lefthander Anthony Ciavarella went in the 26th round in 2016 and the program has not produced a top-10 round pick since righthander Pat Light went 37th overall in 2012. Dombroski will snap both droughts if he continues pitching like he did Friday. He also is a big part of why Monmouth was picked to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference by the league's coaches.
The talent on the Georgia Tech pitching staff has gotten incrementally better in each of the last few years, but the reality is that the results, especially in the bullpen, are going to have to follow suit and get better for the Yellow Jackets to be in position to make a deep postseason run.