Friday Roundup: Florida Rolls To Another Series Win
Top-ranked Florida has been outstanding all season long, with its only hiccup coming six weeks ago when it was swept by Central Florida in a midweek home-and-home set. The Gators won their first five Southeastern Conference series to race to the top of the standings.
Florida traveled this weekend to No. 9 Kentucky for a top-10 showdown on the heels of a loss Tuesday to Jacksonville, its first midweek loss since March 7 against Central Florida. Kentucky had upset Florida in Cliff Hagan Stadium the last two times the Gators had visited, but the magic disappeared this year.
After winning Thursday’s opener, 11-2, Florida on Friday clinched the series with a 9-4 victory, beating righthander Sean Hjelle, the 2017 SEC pitcher of the year. The Gators (34-7, 14-3) now hold a 3.5 game lead in the SEC standings.
Florida jumped out to an early lead, scoring four runs in the first three innings against Hjelle. The righthander settled down in the middle innings, but the Gators added five runs against the Wildcats’ bullpen in the final two innings. Jonathan India, who on Thursday saw his 24-game hitting streak come to an end, went 2-for-4 with a double and his 13th home run of the season. Wil Dalton went 2-for-5, drove in six runs and hit his league-leading 15th home run.
Righthander Jackson Kowar outdueled Hjelle in a battle of potential first-round picks. Kowar threw seven scoreless innings, striking out five batters and scattering five hits and four walks. Hjelle struck out five batters in seven innings and gave up four runs on four hits and three walks.
Florida has 13 SEC games left this season, including Saturday’s series finale. But it has already opened a commanding lead in pursuit of its second straight conference title. No. 4 Arkansas leads the SEC West, but after getting upset Friday by Mississippi State, it trails Florida by 3.5 games and has already lost the head-to-head series. No. 6 Vanderbilt and No. 7 Mississippi are even further behind and have also lost their head-to-head matchups with the Gators. No. 24 Georgia stands as Florida’s primary challenger and has three games left against the Gators, but it already trails by 3.5 games and must travel to Gainesville for the head-to-head matchup.
Kentucky (25-14), meanwhile, has this week lost three straight games, halting whatever momentum it built last weekend with a series win at Georgia. The Wildcats will look to bounce back in Saturday’s series finale and will need to get back on track quickly, as they have fallen to 11th in the SEC standings.
NC State Breaks Game 1 Skid
The weekend’s other top-10 series began Friday with No. 2 North Carolina State visiting No. 8 Duke. The Wolfpack had lost the opener of their last four series and, while they had gone on to win all four series, they were eager to get off to a better start against the Blue Devils.
North Carolina State did just that, beating Duke 9-2. The Wolfpack (30-7) jumped all over lefthander Adam Laskey and got a superb start from freshman righthander Reid Johnston, as it ran its winning streak to four games and maintained its position atop the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.
NC State pounded out 11 hits in 3.2 innings against Laskey and tagged the sophomore for eight runs (seven earned). Senior outfielders Brock Deatherage and Josh McLain both went 3-for-5 to lead the Wolfpack offense. NC State has scored at least eight runs in eight straight games.
Johnston delivered the kind of Friday night start in just his fourth career start that NC State has been missing in recent weeks. He held Duke (30-9) to two runs on four hits and no walks in 6.2 innings and struck out three batters. The freshman improved to 6-0, 2.63 with a 25-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 37.2 innings.
NC State is amid an emotional two-week stretch when it exclusively faces its local rivals Duke, East Carolina and North Carolina. The Wolfpack have started the eight-game stretch at 2-0 after on Tuesday beating UNC. With NC State leading the ACC’s Atlantic Division and Duke and UNC, which on Friday beat Georgia Tech, separated by just a half game atop the Coastal Division, it is a critical stretch for all three’s title hopes.
Cody Bradford, LHP, Baylor: Bradford struck out 10 batters in a one-hit shutout in a 6-0 victory against Texas Christian. His lone blemishes came in the fourth inning when the Horned Frogs scratched out a hit and a walk before the sophomore retired the final 17 batters of the game to finish the Bears’ first one-hitter since 2011. He improved to 4-4, 2.98.
Cre Finfrock, RHP, Central Florida: In Game 1 of this year’s War on I-4, Finfrock outdueled Preseason All-American Shane McClanahan and led UCF to a 1-0 victory at South Florida. The redshirt junior threw six scoreless innings, struck out eight batters and held USF to one hit and one walk. Righthander Thad Ward followed with three hitless innings to close out the victory.
Joey Murray, RHP, Kent State: Murray carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning and led Kent State to a 5-3 victory against Ohio to extend its winning streak to eight games. The junior struck out 14 batters in 8.1 innings, the third time in his last four starts that he has struck out more than a dozen batters. Murray is 6-1, 1.25 with 95 strikeouts in 65 innings.
John Rooney, LHP, Hofstra: Rooney shut down College of Charleston in a 7-1 victory. The junior struck out seven batters and held the Cougars to one run (unearned) on five hits and a walk. Rooney is 6-0, 0.97 with 78 strikeouts in 65 innings.
Noah Song, RHP, Navy: Facing Army on the big stage of Fenway Park, Song rose to the occasion. The junior struck out 11 batters in a three-hit shutout as the Midshipmen won 4-0. With the victory, Song improved to 6-2, 1.55 with 93 strikeouts in 64 innings.
2021 Big 12 Baseball Stock Watch
After yet another thrilling finish in the Big 12 last season, we take stock of where things stand in the conference in the aftermath of the 2021 season.
Around the Horn
- Tennessee Tech beat Southern Illinois, 4-0, to extend its winning streak to 23 games, the longest in the nation this season. With Friday’s win, the Golden Eagles (32-5) set the Ohio Valley Conference record for longest winning streak. Travis Moths threw seven scoreless innings for the victory and Ethan Roberts pitched the final two innings for his ninth save of the year.
- Michigan pushed its winning streak to 18 games with a 19-5 drubbing of Penn State. The Wolverines (22-10) improved to 9-0 in the Big Ten Conference for the first time since 2008.
- No. 5 Texas Tech beat No. 21 Oklahoma, 5-4, in 10 innings on a walk-off balk. The Red Raiders scored once in the ninth to send the game to extra innings and then fell behind again in the top of the 10th inning. Texas Tech (31-8) pushed a run across to tie the game with two outs. Then, with a runner on third base, Oklahoma freshman righthander Cade Cavalli balked home the winning run. The Sooners (26-14) have lost three of its last four games and have been tied or leading all three games in the eighth inning.