Off The Bat: Florida Sweeps, DBU Gets Marquee Series Win

Image credit: Florida outfielder Jacob Young (Photo courtesy of Florida/Tim Casey)

Teddy Cahill runs through the biggest storylines. To see the updated Top 25, click here.

Sweep At Miami Propels Florida To No. 1

Annually one of college baseball’s best rivalries, Florida vs. Miami had even more buzz to it this season thanks to the two teams entering the weekend both ranked in the top three. The Gators were No. 2 and the Hurricanes were No. 3 – the first time the teams would play a regular season series with them both ranked in the top three since 1992.

Miami came into the season with momentum after its return to the NCAA Tournament last year following rare back-to-back misses, and with the rivalry being played in Coral Gables, the Hurricanes had what felt like a golden opportunity to win the series for the first time since 2014. Miami sold out Mark Light Stadium for all three games by Thursday and trotted out its heavy hitters to throw ceremonial first pitches every night – Mike Piazza on Friday, Alex Rodriguez on Saturday and Alex Fernandez on Sunday.

It wasn’t to be. Florida rolled into Coral Gables and emerged with a sweep, beating Miami 2-1 in 11 innings on Friday, 7-4 in 10 innings on Saturday and 5-3 on Sunday. It was a tense, tightly contested series where one pitch or one swing could have easily shifted the outcome.

But the Gators (8-0) found a way to win every night, pushing them to No. 1 in the Top 25. They swept the Hurricanes in Coral Gables for the first time since 2012 and have now won the rivalry series six years in a row.

“The games could have gone either way,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We played extras the first two nights and then it was a one-run game going into the ninth (Sunday). We got big pitches when we needed. Two really good starts from Tommy (Mace) and Jack (Leftwich). Our relievers threw the ball pretty well. We struck out more than I would have liked, but it’s the second weekend of the year so it’s early and the pitching we saw from Miami was really good.”

It all started on the mound for Florida, which held Miami to eight runs on 18 hits on the weekend. The Gators have impressive depth on the mound and strong frontline options, all of which were on display.

Junior righthanders Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich set the tone on Friday and Saturday with their starts. Mace held Miami to one run on two hits in seven innings Friday and Leftwich on Saturday limited the Hurricanes to one run in six innings while scattering four hits and five walks.

“Both those guys pitched really well, and they should,” O’Sullivan said. “They have a ton of experience – both pitched in Omaha their freshman year, both have pitched in super regionals, both have pitched weekends in SEC. Nothing should faze them at this point. It’s about going out and pitching up to their capabilities. If they do that, they’re on track for big years.”

Freshman Hunter Barco, who was the second-highest player not to sign in last year’s draft, followed in the rotation Sunday. Making the first extended start of his college career, he held Miami to one run on two hits and two walks in 5.1 innings.

Florida also got a big weekend from its bullpen. Sophomore righthanders Nick Pogue, Christian Scott and Ben Specht all pitched in both Friday and Saturday’s victories, while sophomore righthander David Luethje and freshman lefthander Ryan Cabarcas closed Sunday’s win.

O’Sullivan was pleased with the bullpen, especially the sophomores who have taken a step forward this season.

“The biggest thing is their command of another pitch or third pitch,” he said. “Freshmen come in thinking it’s about fastball velocity. No, it’s about fastball command and secondary command. The other thing is freshmen give up a leadoff hit or get hit hard, and they try to throw themselves out of situation rather than pitch themselves out of situation. The sophomores in particular have taken that next jump as far as being able to handle difficult parts of game.”

With the Florida pitching staff holding down Miami’s potent offense, its lineup was eventually able to deliver some key hits. The Gators got contributions from up and down the lineup over the course of the weekend.

On Friday, it was Jacob Young who pulled a double just inside the left field line to drive in the go-ahead run in the 11th inning. On Saturday, Jud Fabian delivered an RBI double to tie the game in the ninth and Kirby McMullen belted a towering home run in the 10th to give Florida the lead. The Gators jumped out to an early lead Sunday, powered in part by home runs from Fabian and Josh Rivera.

Young, a sophomore outfielder, was at the heart of things all weekend and went 7-for-13 with two doubles and a stolen base. He is now Florida’s leading hitter on the season at .407/.485/.519. Fabian, a sophomore center fielder who projects as a first-round pick in the 2021 draft, had just three hits on the weekend but they all went for extra bases (two home runs, one double). Rivera, a freshman shortstop, added five hits and continued a torrid week at the plate.

McMullen wasn’t as productive as some of his teammates but found a way to make his mark on the series. The senior third baseman came into the weekend leading Florida in hitting after mostly pitching earlier in his career. His home run Saturday showed why he’s now hitting third for the Gators, however.

“He’s always been a really good teammate and he won the job,” O’Sullivan said. “It wasn’t like I gave him anything. He hit the whole fall and spring. Our coaches have worked really hard with him at third base and he’s turned out to be really solid over there.

“Our lineup is fairly deep. For me to hit him third, tells you everything I think of him as a hitter.”

Following the sweep, Florida is now 8-0 and has matched the fourth-best start in program history. It hasn’t won its first eight games of a season since 2002, when it matched the program’s best start at 11-0.

The fast start has quickly propelled the Gators to No. 1 in the nation. The program is used to that kind of recognition, and but O’Sullivan doesn’t want this team to get ahead of itself. It’s still February, after all.

“The message I’ve been sending the entire weekend is there are going to be rankings coming out Monday and I don’t want us to get ahead of ourselves,” O’Sullivan said. “We have a lot of improvement to make. We’re not a finished product. We have to stay grounded, see the goals, see the big picture. There are going to be stretches where we struggle like everyone does. We have to go through adversity and get tested.”

There will be more tests along the way for Florida. But it passed its first major one in a big way this weekend.

DBU Scores Key Road Series Win At North Carolina

In the first game of its series at North Carolina on Saturday, Dallas Baptist found itself losing 9-0. It was the first game of a doubleheader after poor weather had pushed Friday’s opener back a day and the Patriots were playing a top-20 team on the road.

In the moment, it might have been easy for the Patriots to hang their heads and watch the weekend snowball. But coach Dan Heefner looked around the dugout and saw a team still engaged and supporting each other.

“We’re getting beat pretty good, but guys were still in it and still behind the guy who was at the plate and on the mound,” he said. “That continued into Game 2.”

DBU got down early in the nightcap but fought back for a 6-2 victory. Then, in Sunday’s rubber game, it got a sterling start from righthander Dominic Hamel, who carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning, and Preseason All-American closer Burl Carraway slammed the door in a 3-0 victory to clinch the series.

The series win was DBU’s first in program history against a top-20 team. And it propelled the Patriots (6-1) to No. 18 in the Top 25, their highest ranking since 2015.

After a tough loss to start the series, Heefner was pleased with the way his team responded.

“I thought it showed a ton of grit by our guys,” Heefner said. “Early in the season, with a bunch of new guys, some guys just need to learn what it’s like to compete. I couldn’t be more proud of them the way they handled Game 1.”

DBU also showed its depth on the mound. After righthander Ray Gaither and lefthander Chas Sagedahl gave up nine runs in the first game, the Patriots’ staff held the Tar Heels to eight hits the rest of the series. Righthander Chandler Arnold and four relievers, featuring Carraway, combined for a strong effort in Game 2 to even the series.

That set the stage for Hamel’s excellent start Sunday. Armed with a low-90s fastball and a good slider, he carved through the UNC lineup. He struck out 10 batters and walked one in seven innings before his no-hit bid ended with a leadoff single in the eighth inning.

Hamel said it was probably the biggest game he had ever pitched in. And as it went on, he started to become aware of the no-hitter in the sixth or seventh inning but tried to put it out of his head.

“I tried to direct my attention away from that and not get too ahead of myself and let the game speed up,” he said. “I was just trying to keep my head forward. I knew my velocity was up and my pitches were working. That was all I needed to worry about, honestly.”

After the leadoff single, Heefner made the move to the bullpen. He called on righthander Ross Carver, who got an out but gave up a double to put runners on second and third.

Enter Carraway. The lefthander got out of the jam with a line out and a strike out and then struck out the side in the ninth to finish the game. Armed with a fastball that got up to 98 mph and a sharp slider, he was overpowering.

Hamel, Carver and Carraway’s powerful stuff was a reminder of just how good this DBU pitching staff can be. On its face, that’s nothing new for a program that churns out power arms, but this has a chance to be a special group.

In Gaither, Arnold and Hamel, the Patriots have an exciting rotation. Carraway is perhaps the best closer in the country. And Heefner has plenty of other options to turn to in the bullpen.

“We’ve got some really good arms,” Heefner said. “There’s plus stuff up and down the staff. There’s still even a couple guys in the pen who didn’t even get in this weekend who have good stuff.”

DBU needs its pitching staff to live up to expectations. Its offense has upside but doesn’t figure to be the kind of powerful group that the Patriots have had the last few years. It’s also still trying to find its form, though UNC’s own deep, talented pitching staff will be tough on any lineup this spring.

The Patriots got a boost this week from the return of Jimmy Glowenke, who underwent a shoulder procedure in the offseason and missed Opening Weekend. He’s still 6-8 weeks away from being able to play shortstop but has returned to the lineup as DH and provides a presence in the middle of the lineup.

Blayne Jones, filling in for Glowenke at shortstop, is off to a good start at the plate and is hitting .280/.379/.600. Freshman second baseman Jeffrey David (.381/.409/.571) has also provided a lift to the lineup.

DBU will need others to step up, and Heefner is optimistic about the lineup’s potential.

“We’ve got maybe a different dynamic than we’ve had in years past,” he said. “It’s just going to have to be grinding out good at bats. I think we’ve got a chance to have a good offense and defensively I think we’re solid and it’s just going to keep getting better when we get Glowenke back in the infield as well.”

For now, however, it’s going pretty well for DBU. This weekend’s series win will resonate all season long and, while Selection Monday is still months away, it’s never too early to add a marquee series win to the resume.

Heefner said beyond what this will mean for DBU’s resume down the line, it also provided a confidence boost for the Patriots.

“We got 18 new guys on the team and it’s something that we talk about, but they have to experience it – that we can play with anyone in the country when we play our game,” Heefner said. “They experienced that this weekend and should be able to carry that into the season.”

Hamel is one of those newcomers. If he needed a confidence boost, he didn’t let it on during Sunday’s game, displaying an impressive combination of poise and swagger on the mound.

After the game, Hamel said the message from DBU’s series win was simple.

“It means the Pats are hot,” Hamel said. “We’re just going keep doing what we do. We don’t focus on what team we’re playing. We’re just going to play baseball. That’s the DBU Pat way.”

Eight For Omaha

Arizona State, Arkansas, Florida, Louisville, Miami, Michigan, Texas Tech, Vanderbilt

After last week leaving my picks unchanged from last June, this week there are two new teams in the field. Florida joins the group after sweeping Miami on the road. The Gators are the No. 1 team in the country and serious national title contenders again. Arkansas is also joining the field. Auburn’s series home series loss to Central Florida dropped it out and not having an SEC West team in the field felt wrong. So, Arkansas, which has more than taken care of its business so far, joins. Georgia also falls from the field. That’s not to say the Bulldogs aren’t a strong Omaha contender, but the whole field can’t be SEC teams, can it? 

Weekend Standouts

Five players or programs who put together big weekends.

Connecticut: The Huskies (3-3) won a series against top-ranked Michigan in Port St. Lucie, Fla., clinching it with a 9-2 victory Sunday. UConn rallied to win the opener, 8-7, after falling behind 5-0 in the first inning, before Michigan evened the series with a 14-2 victory Saturday. After losing their first two games of the season, the Huskies bounced back to beat Michigan three times in eight days between the MLB4 Tournament finale last Sunday in Arizona and this weekend in Port St. Lucie.

Bryce Jarvis, RHP, Duke: In an 8-0 victory Friday against Cornell, Jarvis threw a perfect game and struck out 15 batters. It was the first perfect game in program history and the 31st in Division I history. Jarvis, the son of former big leaguer Kevin Jarvis, is 1-1, 0.69 with 17 strikeouts and one walk in 13 innings this season.

Tyler Kelder and Brendyn Stillman, St. Bonaventure: In a sweep at Mount St. Mary’s to open the season, Kelder and Stillman powered the St. Bonaventure offense. The pair combined to hit 10 home runs in the series and went back-to-back three times in a Saturday doubleheader. On Saturday, Kelder went 7-for-11 with five home runs, while Stillman went 9-for-10 with four home runs. With 10 home runs on the weekend from the sluggers, the Bonnies are already halfway to their 2019 season total for home runs.

Merrimack: The Warriors (5-3) have made a smooth transition from Division II and are off to a strong start in their first season in Division I. After last weekend splitting a four-game series at Oral Roberts, the perennial Summit League powerhouse, Merrimack this weekend won three of four games against Michigan State in Greenville, S.C. The Warriors had a chance to sweep the weekend but lost in 10 innings in Sunday’s season finale. They aren’t eligible for the NCAA Tournament this year, but Merrimack looks like it will be ready to compete in the Northeast Conference race.

Looking Ahead

Three tournaments to watch

Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic, Houston: College baseball’s premier nonconference tournament turns 20 this weekend and it has quite the field to celebrate the occasion. Heading to Minute Maid Park are No. 9 Arkansas, Baylor, No. 14 Louisiana State, Missouri, No. 15 Oklahoma and Texas for a Big 12-SEC Challenge. The three Big 12 teams will take on the three SEC teams throughout the weekend, which will be televised on AT&T SportsNet and streamed on A showdown between Arkansas and Oklahoma on Friday afternoon and LSU facing Texas on Friday evening will highlight the weekend’s matchups, but there will be plenty of talent on the field all weekend long.

Frisco College Classic: The Frisco College Classic this year has another strong field, as Illinois, No. 23 Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and No. 11 UCLA travel to the home of the Double-A RoughRiders. Texas A&M and UCLA have surged out of the gate but now will face a step up in competition. Oklahoma State rebounded last week after losing a series at Grand Canyon, beating Arizona State in the midweek before returning home for a series win against Texas-Rio Grande Valley. Illinois has had mixed results in two tournaments but finished last weekend well – beating Coastal Carolina and West Virginia in Coastal’s Brittain Resorts Invitational.

Keith LeClair Classic, Greenville, N.C.: The Keith LeClair Classic, hosted annually by East Carolina in honor of the late coach, brings in a strong field of High Point, Indiana and No. 13 Mississippi to join No. 20 ECU. The highlight will be Saturday night’s matchup of ECU and Ole Miss, both of which have sprinted out of the gate to start the season. Indiana (4-2), the 2019 Big Ten champion, has been solid so far, winning a game opening weekend at LSU and then sweeping through its tournament last weekend at South Alabama. This weekend will have a regional feel in Greenville.

Two weekend series we’re most excited for

(10) Georgia vs./at (19) Georgia Tech: Baseball’s version of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate has long been played as a trio of midweek games – each school hosting a game and the third hosted by the Braves. This year, however, that series has been converted to a weekend set. The format remains largely the same – Georgia will host Friday, they’ll play at Triple-A Gwinnett on Saturday (the Braves were supposed to host this game until a winter event rendered the field unplayable) and Georgia Tech hosts the finale. The new format adds some spice as does the fact both teams enter the weekend in the Top 25 and hosted regionals last year.

(4) Mississippi State at Long Beach State: Having won an inter-regional series at home against Oregon State last weekend, Mississippi State will now get some more West Coast flavor as it heads to Long Beach. The Dirtbags have been one of the season’s early surprises, winning series against California and Wake Forest in the first two weeks. It’s a long trip for the Bulldogs and the large dimensions of Blair Field will test the quick-strike abilities of their offense. Pitching and defense will be a key for both teams.

One midweek game to keep an eye on

New Mexico State at (8) Arizona State, Tuesday, 8:30 PM ET: It’s always an exciting matchup when two of the top-five draft prospects in the country are facing off. In this case, it’ll be Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson (No. 1 on the Top 200 Draft Prospects List) and New Mexico State infielder Nick Gonzales (No. 5). Those two are also leading contenders in this year’s home run race. It’s a good matchup beyond the headliners and NMSU comes in undefeated, but Torkelson vs. Gonzales is more than enough to make this a must-see event.

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