Off The Bat: Georgia Tech, DBU Rise To First Place
Teddy Cahill runs through the biggest storylines that emerged from the weekend. To see the updated Top 25, click here.
Ramblin’ Wreck Keeps Rolling
Georgia Tech’s Ramblin’ Wreck, its mechanical mascot, is a 1930 Ford Model A, a stately car with big running boards and white-wall tires. It is a delightful classic, befitting the school’s engineering tradition.
But a better representation of this year’s Georgia Tech baseball team might be a Hummer. After starting the season 10-6 and losing their first ACC series, the Yellow Jackets have rolled through the last two months, not letting anyone stand in their way.
Georgia Tech (35-15, 17-10) this weekend won its first two games at Duke to win its ninth straight series and finish the weekend in sole possession of first place in the ACC Coastal Division (second-place Miami can pull even with a win at Wake Forest on Monday). The Yellow Jackets are up to No. 9 in the Baseball America Top 25 and No. 7 in RPI, as they state their case to be a top-eight overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“That’s been our theme all year—try to win every series we play,” coach Danny Hall said. “That’s eight in a row for us in the league. More than anything, it’s just keep trying to win those series and if you do that, you’re going to be in a pretty good spot at the end of the year.”
Georgia Tech has one more series left—at home against last-place Pittsburgh. While the Panthers are in the cellar, they’ve made things difficult on their opponents the last two weeks—winning a game at Florida State two weeks ago and upsetting North Carolina for a series win this weekend that allowed Georgia Tech to move into first place and may cost the Tar Heels the chance to host a regional. So, you can be sure Georgia Tech won’t be taking Pitt lightly this weekend, not with everything that’s on the line.
The Yellow Jackets will be the clear favorites, however, especially given the way they’re swinging the bats. They scored 29 runs over their two wins against the Blue Devils and are averaging 7.73 runs per game this season. They are hitting .301/.412/.468 as a team with more than 50 home runs and stolen bases.
Georgia Tech has some offensive stars, particularly first baseman/righthander Tristin English (.321/413/.702, 15 HR), catcher Kyle McCann (.307/.472/.716, 21 HR) and outfielder Baron Radcliff (.288/.451/.576, 10 HR), who form the heart of the order, but it’s a deep lineup that can hurt opponents in multiple ways, as Duke found out this weekend.
“One of the keys to our team is different guys contribute, but the three in the middle—McCann, English and Radcliff—can put runs on the board in a hurry because they all have power,” Hall said.
Georgia Tech has been an offensive team all season long, but its lineup has taken on even greater importance over the last few weeks as it has dealt with some key pitching injuries. Lefthander Brant Hurter (2-2, 2.42) is out for the year due to Tommy John surgery. Righthander Xzavion Curry (4-2, 4.08) has missed his last two starts due to shoulder inflammation. Righthander Hugh Chapman (2-0, 4.15), a key reliever, missed this weekend at Duke due to a sore back.
In their absence, righthanders Cort Roedig (2-1, 4.66) and Amos Willingham (6-2, 4.99) have stepped into the rotation. They’ve both pitched in some big games already this season, but now they are being asked for even more.
The good news for Georgia Tech is that Curry is considered day-to-day, and Hall figures he’ll likely back for the ACC Tournament. And even without Curry and Hurter, Georgia Tech hasn’t yet slowed down, continuing to pile up wins as it positions itself for the postseason.
Georgia Tech has missed the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons but now looks like a lock to host a regional for the first time since 2011. Hall said it would be a great accomplishment for the Yellow Jackets and their fans as they get the program back to the level of success it has enjoyed in the past.
While the Yellow Jackets are short on postseason experience after missing regionals in consecutive years, Hall is confident a difficult regular season slate, which included a series against No. 1 UCLA, has prepared them for the rigors to come.
“We’ve played some really good teams in the league, Georgia three times, Auburn twice, UCLA three times,” Hall said. “We’ve seen what a postseason team looks like for sure. It’s not anything I’m even thinking about for sure. We just have to close this week out as best as we can.”
If Georgia Tech can do that, it should at least win a share of the ACC Coastal Division title and go to the ACC Tournament in Durham as one of the top few seeds. It’s already been an impressive turnaround for the Ramblin’ Wreck and the ride isn’t over yet.
Dallas Baptist Sweeps Into First Place
A week ago, Dallas Baptist was coming off a tough series loss at Missouri State. The Patriots won the opener before getting swept in a doubleheader, missing an opportunity to grab at least a share of first place in the Missouri Valley Conference.
But DBU didn’t have any time to wallow, not with a game Tuesday against Stephen F. Austin and another shot at first place coming this weekend when Indiana State came to Horner Ballpark. The Patriots took care of business throughout the week, sweeping all four games by a combined score of 38-6.
It started with an 11-0 victory in seven innings Tuesday, and that momentum carried over into the weekend. DBU opened the series against Indiana State with a 12-2 victory in eight innings, clinched the series with an 8-1 victory Saturday and completed the sweep with a 7-3 victory Sunday. By the time it was over, DBU (36-15, 12-6) had moved atop the MVC standings and to No. 23 in the Baseball America Top 25, its first time in the rankings this season.
Coach Dan Heefner said he was pleased with the way the Patriots responded after last weekend’s loss.
“It showed they have a lot of resiliency and the character of the group,” he said. “Tuesday, we had a really good game and we played outstanding Friday and Saturday. One inning was bad (Sunday) but we just played really well.”
DBU has established itself as a power in the MVC since joining the conference in 2014. It has made the NCAA Tournament every year it has been a member and won the league’s regular season title in 2016.
But this year, the Patriots have gone through a small-scale rebuild. From last year’s team, they lost outfielders Devlin Granberg, an All-American, and Jameson Hannah, a second-round pick, as well as catcher Matt Duce, a ninth-round pick.
DBU brought in a strong recruiting class last fall, including some impact transfers. Four of its everyday players are transfers, including DH Bryce Ball (.310/.426/.610, 15 HR) and outfielder Augie Isaacson (.286/.380/.404, 25 SB). They have supplemented a returning core of center fielder Luke Bandy (.347/.448/.520, 16 SB) and shortstop Jimmy Glowenke (.305/.413/.445).
DBU remains an offensive force, averaging 7.16 runs per game, but it is doing it in a different way. The Patriots have been a power-hitting team for the last few years and last season had five players hit at least 10 home runs. This season, however, only Ball has more than six home runs and they are playing more small ball and being more aggressive on the base paths.
Heefner said Isaacson, a grad transfer from NAIA Friends (Kan.) who last summer starred in the Northwoods League, has brought a new dimension to DBU’s lineup.
“He’s a totally different player then how we’ve traditional played,” Heefner said. “He can push bunt, drag bunt, he has really good instincts on the bases. It’s been good for Bandy and (Blayne) Jones to see, just all the opportunities you have to make an impact offensively. The guy loves to do it and is fearless. That becomes contagious.”
DBU has also taken an important step forward on the mound this season. While the lineup has a lot of new players in it, the pitching staff is much older. Seniors MD Johnson (8-2, 2.33) and Jordan Martinson (7-3, 2.91) have pitched a lot of innings during their careers and anchor the rotation.
The bullpen also has plenty of upperclassmen in it, but it is sophomore lefthander Burl Carraway that is garnering the most attention. He is 4-1, 2.36 with 62 strikeouts and 19 walks in 34.1 innings. He typically throws his fastball in the mid-90s and can touch higher with the pitch, and mixes in a filthy, 12-to-6 curveball that has been all but untouchable this season.
“We’ve had some really good guys out of bullpen and he’s right up there with the guys the last couple years,” Heefner said. “He’s very competitive, too.”
Overall, Heefner has again found a formula that is working for the Patriots. Not only have they climbed into the Baseball America Top 25, they are up to No. 25 in RPI, having navigated a difficult non-conference schedule (No. 24 in the country) and a strong MVC that has two other teams (Illinois State and Indiana State) positioned to earn at-large NCAA Tournament bids.
Going into the final weekend of the regular season, DBU is tied with Illinois State for first place and owns the tiebreaker against the Redbirds after winning that series last month. So, DBU controls its own destiny this weekend at Southern Illinois with a chance to win its first conference title since 2016.
DBU has also quietly put itself in a position to enter the hosting conversation. It probably needs to win out, combining a regular-season MVC title with a tournament title, but if it does that, it’ll likely have an RPI pushing 20, more than 40 wins, a strong record away from home and likely at least 10 top-50 RPI wins.
The Patriots have hosted once before—in 2015, a year that Heefner said the MVC was similarly strong. Because of that experience, Heffner knows DBU would be up for hosting, but he doesn’t want his players thinking about RPI or conference standings or the chance to host a regional over the next couple weeks leading up to Selection Monday.
“If we do our thing well, we win,” Heefner said. “We play the game, not the opponent. Can’t get caught up in winning the regular season, the conference tournament, RPI. As a player, you’ve got to be blind to those. The focus is on playing the game well and being a great teammate and when we do that is when we play really well.”
It’s a strategy that has worked well all season and now has the Patriots peaking at the right time.
Bubble Watch: Southern Miss, UCF Score Needed Wins
As conference tournaments heat up, teams have just a few more chances to improve their standing in the NCAA Tournament race. We look at the winners and losers from Wednesday’s action.
Eight for Omaha
Arkansas, Georgia, Louisville, Mississippi State, Stanford, Texas Tech, UCLA, Vanderbilt
No change to the field this week, although Louisville has me a little concerned. The Cardinals lost a series at Virginia, which on its own isn’t overly concerning, but they gave up 29 runs on the weekend. Louisville is still likely to end up as a top-eight overall seed, however, and its 25-6 at Jim Patterson Stadium is strong. But East Carolina is starting to tempt me, as is UC Santa Barbara, two teams that don’t play the same kind of competition from week to week but have been thoroughly dominant all season long.
Seven players or programs who put together big weekends
John Baker, RHP, Ball State; Lukas Jaksich, LHP, Ball State: Baker and Jaksich combined to throw a no-hitter in Ball State’s 5-0 victory in the first game of a doubleheader sweep Saturday against Ohio. It was the first nine-inning no-hitter in program history and the first no-hitter of any kind for the Cardinals since 1996. Baker struck out nine batters and walked four in seven innings before handing the ball off to Jaksich, who finished the no-hitter with three strikeouts and a walk in the final two innings.
East Carolina: The Pirates (39-12, 18-3) on Friday clinched the American Athletic Conference championship with a 6-1 victory at Wichita State. ECU has thoroughly dominated the league this spring and goes into the final weekend with a 6.5-game lead on Cincinnati and Tulane, which are tied for second place. It is the Pirates first regular season title since they won Conference USA in 2009.
Duke Kinamon, 2B, Stanford: Kinamon helped lead Stanford (37-9, 19-5) to a big series win against rival California. He homered three times on the weekend, including a pair of home runs in Friday’s 10-7 victory, and he went 6-for-12 with a double, five runs and a stolen base on the weekend. The senior is hitting .314/.349/.518 with six home runs and 11 stolen bases this season.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs (42-10, 18-9) completed the season sweep of archrival Mississippi with a perfect weekend in Oxford to go with last month’s Governor’s Cup win in Pearl, Miss. The sweep solidified Mississippi State’s top-eight overall seed resume and kept it just a game behind Arkansas in the SEC West. Barring another meeting in the postseason, center fielder Jake Mangum will end his college career with a remarkable 14-2 record against Ole Miss.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys (30-17, 12-9 Big 12) beat Oklahoma, 10-7, Sunday in Norman to win the Bedlarm Series for the third year in a row. Under coach Josh Holliday, Oklahoma State is 24-7 in seven years against the Sooners. The series win also keeps the Cowboys firmly in the mix to host a regional in their last season at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium.
Samford: The Bulldogs clinched the Southern Conference title Sunday night with a 4-2 victory against Western Carolina, completing a sweep. This is the first regular season conference title for Samford (37-15, 17-4) since 2006, when it won the Ohio Valley Conference. It goes into the final weekend of the regular season with a four-game lead on Mercer and UNC Greensboro, who have combined to win the last four conference titles.
Three weekend series we’re most excited for
(11) Oregon State at (3) Stanford: There’s a three-way tie atop the Pac-12 with Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA all square at 19-5. UCLA has already won its series against both Oregon State (33-15-1) and Stanford (37-9), so this series is imperative to keep pace with the Bruins going into the final weekend. It also is likely a de facto elimination series for a top-eight overall seed. Both the Beavers and Cardinal need the RPI boost that will come with winning this series. That, along with establishing themselves as a top-two team in the conference, should be enough to keep the winner in the mix, while the loser should still be in position to be a regional host.
(15) Baylor at (16) Oklahoma State: The Big 12 title comes down to this series and Texas Christian’s visit to No. 9 Texas Tech. Baylor (32-13, 14-6) enters the final weekend holding a half-game lead on Texas Tech in the Big 12 standings and likely will need a series win to maintain its grip on the title. It also likely needs that title if it's going to host a regional, because its RPI currently is only No. 29. A series win at Oklahoma State (30-17, 12-9), a likely regional host itself, would help, but the Cowboys are also hoping to ride their momentum into a potential top-eight overall seed.
(13) North Carolina State at (20) North Carolina: NC State (39-14, 16-11) will make the trip along Tobacco Road from Raleigh to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina (36-15, 16-11) in a crucial rivalry series. Both teams are likely on the wrong side of the hosting bubble right now, but the winner may well play their way into a home regional. At the very least, bragging rights and seeding in the ACC Tournament will be on the line at Boshamer Stadium.
Two championship series to watch
Army at Navy: It’ll be one of the best rivalries in college sports in the Patriot League Tournament championship series, as Army (32-23) travels to Navy (38-15) with an NCAA Tournament berth on the line. It’s a rematch of last year’s championship series, also held in Annapolis, which the Black Knights won. Army won the season series, going 3-2 against Navy, including a series win in Annapolis last month.
Columbia at Harvard: The Ivy League title comes down to Harvard (25-13, 14-7) and Columbia (19-21, 13-8). The Crimson won the regular season series, clinching it with a 10-9, walk-off win in 14 innings in the series finale. Harvard, led by first baseman Pat McColl (.403/.472/.742, 11 HR), is aiming for its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2005, while Columbia is looking to repeat as Ivy League champion and make its fifth trip to regionals in seven years.
One midweek game to keep an eye on
(10) Louisville at Indiana, Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET: Sure, this game has some postseason implications, but it also could well be a regional final preview. It would surprise no one if the Hoosiers (33-18) end up as the No. 2 seed in the Louisville Regional, hosted by the Cardinals (40-12). Don't worry about what this means for either team's postseason resume and just enjoy a fun Tuesday night of baseball on ESPNU.