Off The Bat: LSU, Texas Highlight Weekend With Big Series Wins
Weather this weekend played a bigger factor than it had previously this season, as many series were forced to alter their schedule to get the games in. But once teams were able to take the field, we got plenty of great baseball. College baseball this weekend produced a thrilling top-10 series and upsets from coast to coast.
Here are 12 takeaways from the weekend that was in college baseball.
1. Everywhere you looked this weekend, the SEC offered up fascinating storylines. There was a top-10 showdown as Louisiana State hosted Arkansas. There was Missouri hoping to build on last week’s sweep of Tennessee in a series at South Carolina. Tennessee hosted Texas A&M and Auburn hosted Georgia in a pair of series between teams that won a total of one game on opening weekend of conference play. Kentucky took a 15-game winning streak to Alabama. Mississippi, coming off a sweep at Vanderbilt, returned home to host Florida, while Vanderbilt went to Mississippi State for a rematch of the 2021 College World Series finals.
The weekend around the SEC delivered on its promise with plenty of entertaining baseball. A few quick observations from around the league before we dive into a few of the biggest storylines.
- The SEC East is 20-4 against the SEC West through two weeks. The West’s only wins against the East come from Alabama and Auburn. The Crimson Tide owns a win against Florida and Kentucky, while the Tigers this weekend won a series against Georgia. That’s a slightly deceiving statistic as LSU and Arkansas, two of the West’s two best teams, have yet to play an interdivision series. The Tigers will this week play Tennessee, but the Razorbacks won’t play a team from the East for another two weeks (also Tennessee).
- Ole Miss and Mississippi State are both 0-6 in SEC play after getting swept at home this weekend by Florida and Vanderbilt, respectively. The Rebels and Bulldogs have never before started SEC play 0-6 and they’ve been playing SEC baseball since 1933.
- Only slightly better are Georgia and Texas A&M, which are both 1-5. The Bulldogs lost their first five SEC games for the first time since 2013, before winning the finale against Auburn.
- Arkansas and LSU are the only two SEC West teams that are above .500 in conference play so far. That leaves Alabama (19-6, 2-4), Auburn (16-7-1, 2-4), A&M (15-9, 1-5), Ole Miss (15-9, 0-6) and Mississippi State (14-11, 0-6) in an early hole. At least one and quite probably more than one of those teams will rebound and end up in the NCAA Tournament. But who? This upcoming weekend is critical for that group, particularly Ole Miss’ trip to A&M.
2. LSU and Arkansas proved to be the blockbuster series it was expected to be coming into the weekend. Starters Paul Skenes and Hunter Hollan produced a thrilling pitcher’s duel in Friday’s opener, before Arkansas pulled away in the 10th inning for a 9-3 victory. It was LSU’s first home loss of the season, but the Tigers bounced right back. They came out swinging Saturday and outscored the Razorbacks, 26-7, on the day to sweep the doubleheader and win the series.
LSU (21-3, 4-2) came into the weekend with the nation’s top scoring offense and while Hollan and bullpen ace Hagen Smith contained it Friday, the Tigers showed how hard it is to keep them in check over the course of a weekend.
Dylan Crews is scorching hot and went 8-for-13 on the weekend. He’s homered in four straight games and is now hitting .531/.658/.988 with nine home runs. It’s probably time to ask whether opponents should treat him like Barry Bonds and just put him on base—Arkansas walked him just once—except that Tommy White bats behind Crews and is hitting .392/.479/.810 with eight home runs.
LSU comes out of this weekend in a good spot. It’s won series against SEC West rivals Texas A&M and Arkansas and considering how badly the rest of the division has stumbled, it’s only strengthened its position at the top of the West. Its offense is riding high and it got quality starts from Skenes (7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 12 K) and Ty Floyd (6.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 7 K).
On the other hand, some cracks have been exposed the last couple weeks. Lefthanders have been relatively successful against the Tigers. LSU is still working to find the right combination in the bullpen and No. 3 starter Thatcher Hurd has given up six runs in 5.1 innings in his first two SEC starts.
In the long run, those all feel like correctable issues for the Tigers. LSU has plenty of options to fill out its lineup, but it’s always going to have a few lefthanders in the order. Still, its top four hitters this season by OPS are righthanded, which should eventually help it get on track against lefthanded pitching. Similarly, LSU is plenty deep on the mound. If they need to make changes, Jay Johnson and pitching coach Wes Johnson have options.
Another big weekend awaits LSU, as No. 11 Tennessee arrives in Baton Rouge this week. The atmosphere will be raucous, but it shouldn’t be anything the Tigers haven’t seen already.
3. Arkansas won’t feel good about losing the series in Baton Rouge, its first series loss of the season. But once weather threw off the series schedule, the Razorbacks were in a tougher spot. They’re dealing with a few injuries on the mound and just can’t match the Tigers’ depth right now.
Arkansas on Saturday had two of its worst offensive games of the season. Its two runs on three hits in the first game of the doubleheader (which lasted just seven innings due to the run rule) marked its lowest totals of the season. In the second game, the Razorbacks scored five runs on nine hits but left 11 batters on base, matching a season high.
This LSU team might be a special case, it is, after all, the top-ranked team in the country. But if Arkansas is going to get to where it wants in June, it’s going to have to find a way to avoid days like Saturday.
4. On March 6, Texas was 4-7 and had just lost a series at Cal State Fullerton. In the three weeks since then, the Longhorns haven’t lost. They’ve run off a 14-game winning streak, now the longest active streak in the country, and this weekend swept Texas Tech.
It’s been quite the turnaround for Texas (18-7, 3-0). The Longhorns this week moved into the Top 25 for the first time this season, entering at No. 19.
So, what’s changed? First, it must be said that the schedule has lightened. In the first 11 games, Texas played four times against SEC opposition (Arkansas, LSU, Missouri and Vanderbilt—all of which are currently ranked), three times against Indiana (17-7) and three times at Fullerton (11-8). Six of those games were away from home. At a time when most major conference teams were easing into the season, the Longhorns jumped right into the deep end with a new-look lineup.
Texas’ whole winning streak has come at home and its opponents the last two weekends—Manhattan (6-16) and New Orleans (13-11)—aren’t going to move the needle. But the same can’t be said of Texas Tech (18-7, 2-4), which was coming off a series win against Oklahoma State and had won the series against Texas in each of the last two years.
The Longhorns came away with a sweep after a tough, gritty weekend. They won Friday’s opener, 6-2, scoring the last five runs to put the game away. On Saturday and Sunday, they walked off with wins in the ninth after Texas Tech had battled to tie the game in the top of the inning. On Saturday, it was a balk and a wild pitch to score Porter Brown following his double and on Sunday it was a massive home run from Garret Guillemette.
Texas has found success with an older lineup. While just three regulars from last year’s Omaha team return (outfielders Dylan Campbell and Eric Kennedy and infielder Mitchell Daly), the Longhorns typically start seven players who are in at least their third season of college baseball. They’ve gotten impact from transfers Brown (TCU) and Guillemette (Southern California) and again found a breakout upperclassman (fourth-year junior Peyton Powell).
That offense has gelled over the last few weeks. In the first 11 games, the Longhorns averaged 4.09 runs per game. During their winning streak, they are averaging 9.36 runs per game. Perhaps even bigger has been the stabilization of the Texas defense. After making 12 errors in the first eight games, the Longhorns have made 11 in the last 17 and played cleanly against the Red Raiders.
On the mound, Texas has been excellent and leads the Big 12 with a 3.40 team ERA. Lefthander Lucas Gordon (2-0, 1.71) has assumed the No. 1 starter role with aplomb and the Longhorns have a deep group of arms to follow him.
Texas faces big tests ahead, starting this week with a game Tuesday against rival Texas A&M (15-9) and then a weekend series at No. 17 Oklahoma State (20-5, 4-2). But after a rocky start, the Longhorns are right back in the thick of things.
5. A week ago, I wrote that the Big 12 title race went through Lubbock. I might have gotten a little carried away on that one and if you wanted to alert Old Takes Exposed, I’d understand.
Following this weekend, it looks like Texas Tech (18-7, 2-4) has a familiar problem. The Red Raiders are nearly unbeatable at Rip Griffin Park but struggle away from home. They’re now 1-5 away from home this season, with the one win against Michigan at the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic.
The good news for Texas Tech is that after a game Tuesday at New Mexico, it gets to return home for two weeks, including a series against TCU. The bad news is that unless it turns things around on the road the Big 12 is probably going to be the kind of down-to-the-wire dogfight we’ve seen the last few seasons.
6. Wake Forest recorded its most impressive week of the season, starting with a 20-0 win Tuesday against Elon (16-8) and then sweeping Miami (15-9) and holding the Hurricanes to just two runs on the weekend. The Demon Deacons (22-3, 7-2) are up to No. 3 in the Top 25, matching their highest ranking in the more than 40-year history of the rankings.
Wake’s offense gets a lot of attention and deservedly so as it averages 10.04 runs per game. But the Deacs are getting it done on the mound. They lead the nation with a 2.09 team ERA and their top-end arms have been as good as any in the country. This weekend, starters Rhett Lowder, Sean Sullivan and Josh Hartle combined to hold the Hurricanes to two runs on 10 hits and six walks in 18 innings, while striking out 26. All of this against an offense that came into the weekend averaging 8.5 runs per game (34th nationally).
Wake is in first place in the ACC’s Atlantic Division and its start in conference play has been matched by only Virginia (22-2, 7-2). The Deacs are off to their best start in ACC play since 2002 and are showing no signs of slowing down.
7. While the series was a strong statement for Wake Forest, it only served to further confuse me about Miami (15-9, 5-4). The Hurricanes came into the weekend having won their first two ACC series against North Carolina State and Virginia Tech and had an opportunity to make a big statement of their own. Instead, they were swept as their offense went silent, managing just two runs on 15 hits for the weekend.
We’re more than a month into the season and I don’t have a good feel for Miami. The Hurricanes have gone 1-5 on the road against Florida and Wake Forest, a pair of top-five teams. Miami has series wins against North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, two teams that ranked in the Preseason Top 25 but have fallen out, and are a combined 5-13 in conference play. Its strength of schedule rates in the top 10 nationally and it’s been very difficult at Mark Light Field, where it is 13-3.
But how good is Miami? I think we can say at this point that the Hurricanes aren’t a top-five kind of team, given the way they played against Florida and Wake. But is Miami a middle of the pack ACC team or a contender to host regionals? The next few weeks will be crucial to answering those questions. Miami hosts rival Florida State this weekend before tough road series at Virginia and North Carolina.
8. Louisville and Notre Dame has become a fun ACC Atlantic Division rivalry in the last couple years. While a lot of the principles are different this spring, the series again delivered this weekend in South Bend.
The Fighting Irish won Friday’s opener, 4-3, and then the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader, 5-4, to upset the Cardinals. Louisville won the finale, 2-1, to get something out of the weekend, but it still took its first series loss of the year.
For Louisville (19-4, 3-3), it’s a bit of an inauspicious start to ACC play to start 3-3 without yet playing one of the conference’s ranked teams (it won a home series last week against Georgia Tech). It was a tough weekend at the plate for the Cardinals, as only Christian Knapczyk (7-for-14) got going offensively. He accounted for almost a third of their 22 hits on the weekend.
Notre Dame (12-9, 4-5) got a boost from its first week at home this season. After playing its first 17 games away from home, the Irish went 3-1 at Frank Eck Stadium and bounced back well after losing its first two ACC series (Georgia Tech and Wake Forest). Another tough weekend awaits, as No. 15 North Carolina arrives this weekend, but Notre Dame looks like it will at minimum be a thorn in the side of every team in the ACC this spring and possibly ready to make a run at a third straight NCAA Tournament for the first time since it went every year from 1999-2006.
9. Florida State is going through a difficult stretch. The Seminoles have lost six straight and nine of their last 10 games. They started the week with a 9-5 loss at home to Florida and then were swept at Virginia.
Florida State (12-12, 3-6) had some chances this week, but couldn't close out a win. It led Florida, 5-1, after four innings, only to watch the Gators score eight unanswered runs. The Seminoles took a 2-1 lead in the ninth inning Friday at Virginia, but the Cavaliers went on to win 3-2 in 10 innings. The next two games weren't close, as Virginia outscored FSU, 27-8.
The Seminoles have a big week ahead as they try to break out of the funk. They play the Gators in Jacksonville on Tuesday and then travel to No. 16 Miami for a rivalry series.
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10. Texas isn’t the only blue blood to have gotten off the mat in the last few weeks. Southern California was 3-4-1 on March 2 and had just lost a midweek game to UC Riverside, which last year went 8-45 and finished last in the Big West. It looked like Andy Stankiewicz’s first season at the program’s helm was going to be a tough one.
But the Trojans have steadily rounded into form this month. They went 2-1 at the Southern California Classic. They stunned Pac-12 favorite Stanford to open conference play with a series win. They followed that up with a series win at California and this weekend swept Washington State. USC (14-8-1, 7-2) is off to its best start to Pac-12 play since 2015, also the last time it went to the NCAA Tournament.
USC controlled the whole series against Washington State and didn’t trail after the fourth inning Friday. Freshman outfielder Austin Overn went 7-for-12 on the weekend and on Saturday hit his first career home run to lead the offense. Righthander Tyler Stromsborg turned in his best start of the year Friday, striking out 10 batters in seven innings and holding the Cougars to two runs on four hits and a walk.
It's just three weeks into the season, but USC on Monday wakes up in sole possession of first place in the Pac-12. Sure, Stanford has a chance to match it on Monday when its series against Utah concludes and Arizona State’s 5-1 mark yields a better winning percentage (.833 vs. .778), but the Trojans are still alone at the top.
So, is USC on track to make the NCAA Tournament? At this point, yes. The Trojans probably need 10 more conference wins to feel good—but that would mean just playing .500 baseball over the rest of conference play. They need to play better in midweeks, but after starting 0-3 in those games, they’ve won their last two. It really feels like USC has turned a corner.
11. Across Los Angeles, Washington was making a statement of its own. The Huskies bounced back from a 5-1 loss Friday night at UCLA to win the next two games and claim a big series win. Washington (16-6, 4-2) won Saturday’s game, 3-0, in 10 innings and then won a wild finale, 11-10, to clinch its third straight series win against the Bruins.
Before Sunday, no team had scored more than six runs against UCLA this season. UW not only broke through that mark, it also pounded out 21 hits—the most hits the Bruins have allowed in a game in the 21st century.
UW ranks second in the Pac-12 in scoring (7.73 runs per game) and while that number is bolstered by the 57 runs it scored in four games against Northern Colorado, it’s also clear that the Huskies can swing it. First baseman Will Simpson (.330/.404/.725) already has 10 home runs this season and shortstop Cam Clayton (.343/.402/.616, 6 HR) has taken a step forward as a sophomore.
The Huskies were off to a solid start to the season before this weekend, but their lack of attention-grabbing wins allowed them to fly under the radar. Not anymore.
12. UCLA (16-5, 6-3) won’t be happy with the series loss this weekend, but it is notable what the Bruins didn’t have. Leading hitter Kyle Karros (.364/.443/.610, 4 HR) missed the whole weekend after spraining his ankle in practice last week. No. 2 starter Alonzo Tredwell (3-0, 2.52) missed his start Saturday after leaving his start last week in the third inning.
Coach John Savage told The Daily Bruin that the hope is to have Karros and Tredwell back next weekend at Washington State, along with lefthander Ethan Flanagan, who has missed the first six weeks of the season. Getting any part of that trio back would be a nice boost for UCLA.
13. What a week for Arizona State. The Sun Devils swept through their in-state foes, routing Grand Canyon, 11-1, on Wednesday and then sweeping rival Arizona. It was just the second time ASU swept the series since 2009.
Not only was it a banner week on the diamond, it was a record-breaking one in the stands. The Sun Devils drew 17,150 fans on the weekend, the most for a three-game series since they moved to Phoenix Municipal Stadium nine years ago.
Those fans got an offensive show. ASU (16-8, 5-1) outslugged Arizona, hitting seven doubles and seven home runs on the weekend. The Sun Devils have been hot at the plate of late, led by Ryan Campos (.405/.528/.679). This weekend, Luke Keaschall got it going with two home runs Friday and Nu'u Contrades added two home runs and two doubles in the series.
ASU was 6-7 and had lost five straight less than three weeks ago. But the Sun Devils have gotten hot since then, winning 10 of their last 11 games, including their first two Pac-12 series. They’ll look to stay hot this week against UNLV and California.
14. Conference realignment has made the Sun Belt even better on the diamond and I expected it to be a fun title race to track all spring. So far, so good two weeks into conference play.
Coastal Carolina (14-7, 4-2) was perhaps the weekend’s biggest winner, emphatically winning a series against Texas State (16-8, 3-3), which was fresh off a series win against Southern Mississippi. The Chanticleers scored 40 runs on the weekend, including a 19-0 drubbing on Friday. Meanwhile, Southern Miss (14-9, 3-3) bounced back to take down Georgia Southern (12-12, 4-2).
After two weeks, Old Dominion (20-4, 5-1) and Louisiana-Lafayette (18-7, 5-1) are tied for first. But in this topsy-turvy conference, don’t expect anyone to stay on top for long.
Eight for Omaha
Florida, LSU, Louisville, Texas Tech, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Wake Forest
Not an easy field to put together this week. Ultimately, all I did was move Wake Forest in and take Arkansas out. I’ve held the Demon Deacons out because I wanted to see how they did against high-level competition. Well, they’re now 7-2 in the ACC and just controlled a series against Miami. I don’t know what more I need to see. Arkansas is a tough team to leave out but it needs to develop some more depth right now. Texas Tech and UCLA get a pass after bad weekends. Someone from the Big 12 and Pac-12 is likely to be in Omaha. Could I flip it to Oklahoma State or Texas and Stanford? Sure, but I still think highly of the Red Raiders and Bruins.
No. 11 Tennessee travels to top-ranked LSU. It isn’t No. 1 vs. No. 2 like it was in the Preseason Top 25, but it still is a blockbuster series. Thursday night’s showdown between LSU’s Paul Skenes and Tennessee’s Chase Dollander pits the top two pitching prospects in this year’s draft class and promises to be a fantastic duel. The setting in Alex Box Stadium should be a special one.
A pair of Big 12 showdowns are on tap, as No. 20 Texas Tech hosts TCU and No. 19 Texas travels to No. 17 Oklahoma State. The Red Raiders (18-7, 2-4) have won a series against Oklahoma State and were swept at Texas. Now, they host the Horned Frogs (15-9, 4-2) as their front-loaded conference slate continues. Meanwhile, in Stillwater, the Cowboys (20-5, 4-2) are looking to build off a sweep of Baylor, while the Longhorns (18-7, 3-0) are coming in hot.
Maryland visits No. 22 Iowa to open Big Ten play. One of the biggest series of the year in the Big Ten is on tap this weekend, as the Terrapins (14-9) travel to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes (19-3). Maryland is the reigning Big Ten champion and was the preseason favorite but has had some ups and downs in the early going. It’s coming off a series win at Central Florida, however, and has a chance at the start of conference play to prove it's still the team to beat. Iowa has a win against both LSU and Texas Tech, but this is its opportunity to pick up a marquee series win.