College Baseball Takeaways: Vandy, Mississippi State Claim Rivalry Wins
Vanderbilt, Rocker Bounce Back Strong
Following an upset loss last weekend against Georgia, Vanderbilt bounced back in a big way Friday night against Tennessee. Behind an excellent start from Kumar Rocker, the Commodores defeated Tennessee, 5-0, to open a rivalry series in Knoxville.
The Commodores were last week dealt a blow by the Bulldogs. In last Thursday’s opener, Rocker gave up three home runs in five innings in what turned into a 14-2 loss last Thursday, his first defeat in more than a year. Vanderbilt evened the series the next day, but Georgia came back to win the rubber game, 9-1, becoming the first time this season to win a series against the Commodores.
Vanderbilt needed to rebound in a hurry from that setback. Tennessee this week climbed into the top five of the rankings for the first time in 15 years and entered the weekend tied with top-ranked Arkansas for the most wins in the nation. The in-state rivals are meeting in Knoxville with first place in the SEC East Division on the line.
With Rocker leading the way, Vanderbilt on Friday got the response it needed. The big righthander struck out eight batters in seven scoreless innings and held the Volunteers to two hits and a walk. Also importantly, Rocker was again pitching with premium velocity on his fastball, consistently working in the mid 90s after seeing his velocity dip a tick in his last couple starts.
The result was devastating for Tennessee. The Volunteers went 0-for-7 with a walk and a strikeout with runners on base. Before a two-out double in the seventh inning from Connor Pavolony, their lone scoring chance came in the third inning when Rocker hit a batter and walked another in succession. He followed by retiring Max Ferguson and Jake Rucker, Tennessee’s two- and three-hole hitters.
Tennessee ace Chad Dallas was solid himself, but it wasn’t enough against Rocker. Dallas struck out seven batters in seven innings and held the Commodores to three runs on five hits and no walks. But Vanderbilt got to Dallas for an unearned run in the third and then added solo home runs from Jayson Gonzalez and Carter Young, giving Rocker all the run support he needed.
Vanderbilt is now a win away from winning the series against Tennessee for the fourth straight season and will look to clinch it Saturday with Jack Leiter on the mound.
Mississippi State Pushes Past Ole Miss
There is no better rivalry in college baseball than Mississippi vs. Mississippi State and that duo delivered another thriller. With 10,291 fans in attendance at Dudy-Noble Field, the Bulldogs defeated the Rebels, 5-2.
In a high-profile matchup between Ole Miss righthander Gunnar Hoglund and Mississippi State lefthander Christian Macleod, who both project to be top-100 picks in July, it was the Bulldogs’ bullpen that proved to be the difference. MacLeod left the game after five innings with the score tied at 2 and righthanders Preston Johnson and Landon Sims took over for Mississippi State. They both threw two scoreless innings, combining to strike out seven batters and hold the Rebels to two hits and a walk.
With Johnson and Sims putting zeroes on the scoreboard, Mississippi State was able to push ahead. It took the lead with a run in the sixth against Hoglund and added a pair of insurance runs in the eighth against righthander Derek Diamond, who this week moved from the rotation to the bullpen.
Mississippi State’s bullpen – led by Sims who earned his fourth save and this season has allowed just one run in 23.1 innings – is perhaps its biggest advantage in this weekend’s showdown and it showed why Friday. Coach Chris Lemonis was able to go to the bullpen early and aggressively, and his best relievers delivered.
The Bulldogs also got big games at the plate from Tanner Allen and Kamren James. Allen went 3-for-4 with two runs and finished a home run shy of the cycle. James went 2-for-2, homered and drove in four runs.
Mississippi State has won 15 of its last 17 games against Ole Miss and needs just one more victory this weekend to clinch its fifth straight series win in the rivalry.
TCU Lands First Blow Against Oklahoma State
No. 15 Texas Christian and No. 20 Oklahoma State went back and forth Friday night. TCU went up 2-0 after two innings, but Oklahoma State tied it 2-2 a half-inning later. The Frogs went up 4-2 after four, only to have the Cowboys take a 5-4 lead a half-inning later again. With three runs in the bottom of the sixth, TCU jumped back ahead 7-5, and while both teams added runs late, that ended up being the final lead change in a 9-8 win for the Horned Frogs.
TCU (24-9, 8-2) used the longball in a big way, as it had four of them, one each for Gene Wood, Gray Rodgers, Phillip Sikes and Tommy Sacco. Wood’s homer gave the Frogs the lead in the sixth, with seventh-inning blasts from Sikes and Sacco giving the team the margin it needed to hold on for the win.
Oklahoma State (21-8-1, 6-4) got huge games from center fielder Caeden Trenkle (4-for-6) and catcher Max Hewitt (4-for-5, 3 RBI). Hewitt’s two-run double in the eighth brought it within a run, but TCU lefthander Haylen Green tossed a scoreless ninth to close out the victory.
It bodes well for TCU that it was able to gut this one out and win ugly, as it has mostly been at its best this season when it has gotten depth from its starting pitchers. It didn’t on this day, as Austin Krob threw just 4.2 innings, but it got the job done anyway.
Georgia Tech Outslugs Virginia Tech
Wins like the 15-11 victory No. 21 Georgia Tech collected at No. 12 Virginia Tech go to show how frustrating it can be to play and win against the Yellow Jackets.
Virginia Tech (19-11, 14-8) had a good night offensively, scoring 11 runs on 13 hits, and in a vast majority of games it will play, that is enough to win. But Georgia Tech (16-13, 13-9) has games where it can score at will and this just so happened to be one of those games, as it answered with 15 runs on 14 hits.
The Hokies led 6-2 after five innings, but that’s precisely when the Georgia Tech offense really came alive, as it scored four runs in the sixth, five in the seventh and four more in the eighth, which was enough to hold off the Hokies, who made one last push with four runs in the bottom of the ninth.
DH Andrew Jenkins led the way for Georgia Tech by going 3-for-5 with two homers and six RBI. Third baseman Justyn-Henry Malloy also had a nice night, going 2-for-3 with a double, three walks and four runs scored.
It’s been said before, but it bears mentioning again. Georgia Tech is clearly a flawed team. There is inconsistency in the weekend rotation, and there are only a couple of bullpen arms that the team can reliably turn to for outs. But the lineup can mash with anyone and there is talent on the pitching staff in spots, and that’s going to be enough for the Yellow Jackets to be a handful for just about anyone.
Now, Georgia Tech is one win away from what would be a critical road series win. The Yellow Jackets came into the weekend having lost seven of their last nine games, including back-to-back ACC series. But they have closed to within one game of the Hokies for the division lead. Another win in Blacksburg would keep them in contention.
Virginia Continues Climb With Win Against Louisville
Don’t look now, but Virginia, a preseason top-five team that fell on hard times out of the gate, is showing signs of life. It has won road series against Georgia Tech and Clemson the last two weekends, and Friday, it started a home series against No. 2 Louisville with an 8-7 win in 10 innings.
Both offenses came to play early, and after five innings, Louisville led 7-6. From there, the bullpens took over. For Virginia, it was Blake Bales (2.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R) and Stephen Schoch (2 IP, 1 H, 0 R) tossing 4.2 scoreless innings.
Louisville got two-thirds of an inning from Alex Galvan in relief of Michael Kirian, and then lefthander Adam Elliott threw two scoreless innings. But the Cavaliers got to Elliott after that. They scored one run to tie it in the bottom of the ninth on a Devin Ortiz solo homer and another in the bottom of the 10th on an error by second baseman Cooper Bowman.
With the loss, Louisville (20-11, 15-6) further complicates its postseason resume. It is now three games in the win column behind Notre Dame, so while it’s still possible it ends up winning the ACC, those hopes took a blow today, and the loss also didn’t get the Cardinals any closer to fixing its RPI problem - they have fallen into the low 60s, well below the range typical of regional hosts.
If Louisville continues along this path, as the second or third-best team in the conference and with an RPI well outside of what it normally considered viable for an at-large team, to say nothing of being a viable RPI for a host, it will make for a fascinating postseason case study in this unique season.
Will it be a postseason team under those circumstances? Almost certainly, as the RPIs across the ACC are all a little wonky and the committee will have to allow for that. But will it be a host team? That’s perhaps a little murkier, especially when you consider that the host sites will be announced a few weeks early this season. No matter how good the committee thinks Louisville actually is, regardless of RPI, it’s hard to imagine the Cardinals hosting if they don’t make up a lot of RPI ground in the next few weeks.
Virginia (17-15, 9-13), meanwhile, has really resurrected its postseason hopes in recent weeks. In a league full of RPIs that aren’t as good as one might expect, Virginia’s RPI of 41 as of Friday night is actually quite good when you consider that it is still under .500 in league play, suggesting that it will be in good shape for an at-large bid should it get back close to .500 in the ACC by the end of the season. Winning another game this weekend, which would make it a third straight series win, would go a long way toward getting that done.
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Alek Jacob No-hits Pepperdine
Gonzaga righthander Alek Jacob threw a no-hitter in a 10-0 victory against Pepperdine. The fourth-year junior struck out 12 batters and walked two to complete the fifth no-hitter in program history.
Jacob was outstanding from the start, retiring the first 10 batters he faced. Gonzaga got him all the run support he needed with a seven-run fourth inning, taking advantage of four walks and a hit batter in the inning.
Jacob has been excellent for the Zags since moving into the rotation at the start of the month. In three starts, he has held West Coast Conference opponents to three runs on nine hits and three walks in 23 innings, while striking out 29 batters. With him leading the way, Gonzaga (21-12, 10-3) is leading the West Coast Conference.
Friday was Pepperdine’s first game since March 28 following a shutdown of nearly three weeks due to Covid-19 protocols. The Waves, who were voted as the favorites in the preseason WCC coaches’ poll, are now 11-12 on the season.
Washington State Routs Arizona
With arguably the best offense in college baseball this season, it’s never really a surprise that No. 13 Arizona ends up in a game with a 21-2 final score, but Friday, it was surprising that it ended up on the wrong end of that score at Washington State. Any team coached by Brian Green will be able to put up runs in bunches, but it was still something of a shock to see Arizona get bowled over in that fashion.
The Cougars (17-12, 5-8) jumped on Arizona pitching and righthander Chase Silseth right away, scoring three runs in the first inning and 10 in the second. They got some big hits along the way, including two-run doubles from right fielder Collin Montez and shortstop Kodie Kolden, but they also took advantage of some sloppy defense from the Wildcats (21-11, 7-6), leading to four unearned runs.
Five different Washington State batters had at least three hits, led by a 4-for-4 game from third baseman Jack Smith and a three-hit game that included two doubles, a home run and six RBI for left fielder Jacob McKeon.
Washington State has gotten off to a slow start in Pac-12 play, but it took care of business last weekend by winning a series against Utah and the reality is that it’s not in such a deep hole that it can’t fight its way back into the postseason picture. Certainly, one more win this weekend to secure a series win against top-15 Arizona would be a big step in the right direction.
Tulane Sweeps Doubleheader With Wichita State
Wichita State came into the weekend flying high, having taken seven of its eight straight games against Houston. That vaulted it into second place in the American Athletic Conference behind only East Carolina.
But all it took was one day this weekend to bring the Shockers back down to earth, as it dropped both ends of a doubleheader at Tulane.
In game 1, the Green Wave (16-13, 5-1) scored a 6-3 win thanks in large part to a five-run fifth inning that featured an RBI groundout for Collin Burns, a Bennett Lee RBI single, a Frankie Niemann RBI double and two runs coming home on a single play that included a passed ball and an error.
Righthander Clifton Slagel threw three scoreless innings to close out the win and collect his first save of the season.
In the second game, Tulane scored three runs in the first two innings and that was enough for a 3-2 victory. A defensive miscue for Wichita State was once again a backbreaker, as a two-run Tulane second inning came via an error by Shockers second baseman Jack Sigrist.
Tulane last weekend had its series against South Florida cancelled due to Covid-19 issues for the Bulls, but seems to have picked up where it left off on opening weekend of conference play against Memphis. The Green Wave passed the Shockers for second place and another win this weekend would leave them in good shape going forward.
The AAC still is likely to produce a second NCAA Tournament bid in addition to East Carolina, which is firmly in the mix to host a regional. The team that comes out on top over the next two days in this series would seem to have the upper hand on being that team.
Postponements Leave Hole On Friday’s Slate
Friday was a busy night around college baseball, but it could have been even bigger. Five teams ranked in the Top 25 had their games postponed, leaving the schedule a bit thinner than usual.
Bad weather in Arkansas and Louisiana was the cause of three of the postponements. Texas A&M at No. 1 Arkansas, No. 10 South Carolina at Louisiana State and Southern Mississippi at No. 16 Louisiana Tech were all rained out. North Carolina at No. 17 Pittsburgh was also rained out.
The rainouts have a particularly big effect on the series in Louisiana. Because South Carolina and LSU began their series Thursday, Saturday is getaway day and, by SEC rule, the teams will now conclude the series with a doubleheader made up of two seven-inning games. Meanwhile, Southern Miss and La Tech now have to cram four games into two days. Their series is a critical one that will weigh heavily on the Conference USA and regional hosts races.
In addition to the rain outs, No. 8 East Carolina’s series at Houston was postponed early Friday due to Covid-19 issues within the Cougars’ program. It is unclear whether the series will be able to be rescheduled.
With the exception of the ECU series, the games will all get played this weekend. But having a fifth of the Top 25, including the No. 1 team in the country, idle Friday night, the night felt a little empty, even with a pair of in-state, top-10 showdowns.
Friday night is for the aces. We’ve already highlighted the work of Vanderbilt's Kumar Rocker and Gonzaga's Alek Jacob. But plenty more pitchers stepped up around the country. Here are six more who had impressive games.
Geremy Guerrero, LHP, Indiana State: Guerrero continued his sensational season with a two-hit shutout in a 5-0 victory against Valparaiso. He struck out 11 batters, walked two and needed 103 pitches to complete his second shutout of the season. Guerrero improved to 7-0, 1.11 with 67 strikeouts and nine walks as he continues on an All-American track for the No. 25 Sycamores (17-8, 4-1).
Dominic Hamel, RHP, Dallas Baptist: After giving up a one-out hit in the first inning, Hamel got 21 straight outs to led DBU to a 2-0 victory against Air Force. The fourth-year junior struck out 12 batters and threw 96 pitches in his longest and best outing of the year. Hamel improved to 6-1, 2.45 with 76 strikeouts and 13 walks in 47.2 innings.
Jacob Key, RHP, Illinois-Chicago: Key nearly threw a no-hitter against Purdue-Fort Wayne, carrying the bid into the ninth inning before it was broken up with two outs. He got the final out to complete a 1-0 shutout against the Mastodons. He struck out two batters and walked one, while also creating 16 groundball outs. Key, a fifth-year senior, improved to 4-2, 2.47 with 32 strikeouts and 19 walks in 54.2 innings.
Jordan Marks, RHP, South Carolina-Upstate: In an intriguing matchup of top Big South Conference prospects, Marks outdueled Charleston Southern’s RJ Petit in a 2-0 victory. Marks threw a four-hit shutout, striking out nine batters and walking two. He improved to 6-1, 1.62 with 70 strikeouts and 10 walks in 61 innings this season.
Landen Roupp, RHP, UNC Wilmington: Roupp threw a three-hit shutout in an 8-0 victory against UNC Asheville. He struck out 10 batters, walked one and finished the start strong, retiring the final eight batters he faced. Roupp, a fifth-year junior, improved to 4-3, 3.04 with 54 strikeouts and 25 walks in 56.1 innings this season.
Angelo Tonas, LHP, Georgetown: Tonas threw seven scoreless innings to lead Georgetown to its first win of the season, a 5-1 victory against St. John’s. The third-year sophomore struck out eight batters and held the Red Storm to one hit and one walk. Tonas recorded his first win since May 14, 2019.