Off The Bat: Red River Showdown, Beavers Get Back
Texas Wins Red River Showdown
The Red River Rivalry is one of the Big 12 Conference’s best rivalries and this weekend brought together the top two teams in the conference standings. Oklahoma held a slight edge on Texas in the standings and had home-field advantage at L. Dale Mitchell Park, where it was 21-5 this season.
Texas rose to the occasion, however. The Longhorns opened the series Friday with a dramatic, ninth-inning comeback for a 7-6 victory and then clinched the series Saturday with a 5-3 victory in a taut game. The Sooners (26-13, 9-3) claimed the series finale with a 6-0 victory, a win that keeps them ahead of the Longhorns (24-14, 11-4) in the loss column.
The series victory was a strong ending to an emotional week for Texas. The university hosted on Monday a Celebration of Life for former coach Augie Garrido, who passed away last month. Texas on Tuesday lost 6-5 at Texas A&M in a midweek rivalry game before heading to Oklahoma. In the end, Texas went 2-2 on the week but solidified its position in the Big 12 title race and moved up to No. 20 in the Top 25.
“I feel like we’re prepared so well for these types of weekend environments because of our schedule,” coach David Pierce said. “I felt like we competed well all weekend, played great defense and had a couple guys who swung it well with Kody Clemens and Zach Zubia.”
Clemens and Zubia, the Longhorns’ top two hitters this season, delivered in both victories. Both homered in each of the first two games of the series and they were a two-man rally Saturday to deliver the go-ahead runs in the eighth inning. Clemens singled to lead off the inning and Zubia followed with a two-run home run to give the Longhorns their first and last lead of the day.
Clemens, the youngest son of Roger Clemens, is hitting .369/.467/.709 with 11 home runs this season. Zubia is hitting .299/.419/.567 with eight homers.
“They were the difference,” Pierce said. “They’re both such a presence and they have very good discipline. The lineup feeds around them.”
Friday’s game ordinarily would have featured a showdown between Oklahoma’s Jake Irvin and Texas’ Nolan Kingham, two of the Big 12’s top pitchers. But Kingham, who will likely be drafted in the top 3-5 rounds, was scratched from his start due to an academic attendance violation. He pitched four innings in relief Saturday in a piggyback with Chase Shugart and Pierce said Kingham will go back into the rotation next week.
Kingham’s absence Friday forced the Longhorns to piece things together on the mound. Still, thanks to a three-run rally in the ninth inning, they were able to give the ball to closer Andy McGuire, who closed out his fifth save of the year.
Texas came into the year ranked No. 14 in large part due to its pitching staff. The Longhorns haven’t reached their ceiling on the mound and rank fifth in the Big 12 with a 4.39 team ERA. Their defense, however, has been exemplary. With Clemens and shortstop David Hamilton anchoring the middle of the infield, Texas leads the Big 12 in fielding with a .978 mark.
Strong defenses were long a mark of Garrido’s teams and it is fitting that the Longhorns are following that legacy this season. They are playing with AG16 decals on their helmets and hats and Texas A&M on Tuesday even put out an on-deck circle emblazoned with the legendary former coach’s initials and number.
Garrido recruited and coached many of these Longhorns before he stepped aside following the 2016 season. Pierce, who was hired that summer to take over the program, said the Longhorns want to honor his legacy.
“They respect and understand the game better because of him,” Pierce said. “His presence is definitely felt.”
Following an intense week, Texas now returns home and steps out of conference play for a week with New Orleans coming to town next weekend. Texas still has three Big 12 series to go and they won’t be easy, with visits to West Virginia and No. 5 Texas Tech followed by a series against Texas Christian on the final weekend of the regular season.
But, for now, Pierce and the Longhorns are enjoying their position in the conference race.
“I think it’s awesome,” Pierce said. “What you’re hoping for is to have a shot to be in contention at the end. It was a great weekend for us to go on the road and take two out of three.”
Oregon State Gets Back On Track
After last season’s dominance, it was jarring to see Oregon State lose a series two weeks ago at Utah, which went into that weekend 4-19. Oregon State lost another series the following weekend, this time at Arizona. In the span of 11 days, the Beavers had lost more Pac-12 games (four) than they lost all last year (three).
While some were quick to jump off the Beavers’ bandwagon, that poor run was sure to be snapped sooner than later. Oregon State emphatically did just that this weekend at Missouri State. The Beavers swept the abbreviated series, outscoring the Bears, a super regional team a year ago, 27-8 in two games.
“Anytime you win on the road, you feel pretty good about it,” coach Pat Casey said. “They are a good team, we just jumped on them early and got ahead.”
No. 10 Oregon State (26-6) scored a season-high 17 runs and hit five home runs in the first game of the series. The Beavers knocked around Missouri State ace Dylan Coleman, who came into the game at 5-1, 2.77. They added 10 runs in the first two innings of the second game before it was suspended due to rain. The teams completed the game Saturday night before cold forced the series finale to be cancelled, but the damage had already been done.
Junior outfielder Trevor Larnach was at the heart of Oregon State’s offensive explosion, as he has been all season. He hit two home runs in the first game Friday and is now hitting .339/.451/.686 with 10 home runs.
Larnach has always had big raw power but hit just five home runs total in 139 games the last two years between Oregon State and Falmouth in the Cape Cod League. Now, Casey said the big lefthanded hitter has matured at the plate, helping him tap into his raw power.
“He’s made a lot of adjustments with pitch selection and zone discipline,” Casey said. “He’s worked hard at hitting pitches that gave him trouble in the past.”
Sophomore catcher Adley Rutschman has also made big strides at the plate this season and is hitting .375/.466/.589 with three home runs after hitting .234/.322/.306 with two home runs as a freshman.
The steps Larnach, Rutschman and others have made have helped Oregon State overcome the loss of Preseason All-American Nick Madrigal to a wrist injury. Madrigal has been out since the second weekend of the season but is nearing a return. Casey said they are taking it day-by-day with Madrigal and are pleased with his progress.
Losing Madrigal has been tough for Oregon State, but the Beavers are also searching for consistency on the mound. After last season leading the nation with a 1.93 team ERA, it was reasonable to expect a regression on the mound. But the Beavers also wouldn’t have expected to rank sixth in the Pac-12 with a 3.76 ERA. Oregon State has exciting arms on its staff, but its young pitchers haven’t quite found the consistency they need to in the Pac-12.
That inconsistency on the mound was just one of the factors in Oregon State’s uncharacteristic slide. Casey said the Beavers hadn’t been playing well for a couple weeks before the Missouri State series but started to break out of that funk over the weekend.
“We’ve got to play well to win and we haven’t played well over the last 10 games,” he said. “We played well down here. We responded to some of the things we haven’t been doing well.”
Oregon State now returns home and will face archrival Oregon next weekend. The Beavers, however, won’t be approaching the in-state series any differently than any other Pac-12 series. Having already dropped two conference series and falling a couple games behind the leaders, the Beavers know they will have to be ready to go for every game the rest of the way.
“Every game in this conference is a rivalry,” Casey said. “We have to be a heck of a lot better than we have been.”
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Eight for Omaha
Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina State, Oregon State, Stanford, Texas Tech.
After spending the last two weeks debating Kentucky, it went out and won a big series at Georgia. It was an impressive showing all-around from the Wildcats, punctuated by a 1-0 victory in the rubber game. Kentucky still has work to do put itself in a position to host a regional—it remains a game under .500 in the Southeastern Conference with a series against top-ranked Florida on deck—but it is in a much stronger position today than it was a week ago. As Kentucky returns to the field, Florida State exits. Even if nothing is seriously wrong with righthander Cole Sands, who left his start Friday with shoulder tightness, the Seminoles’ slide over the last two weeks is disconcerting. Florida State still has a lot of talent, but even in its weekend series wins, it doesn’t make things easy for itself. It needs to get right over the next week before Miami comes to Tallahassee for what is sure to be an emotionally charged series.
Five players or programs who stood out this weekend.
Duke: The Blue Devils bounced back after last weekend losing a series at Wake Forest by going to Florida State and winning a series for the first time since 1994. The Blue Devils won the first two games before Sunday’s series finale was washed out. No. 8 Duke (30-7) is in first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division and only top-ranked Florida has won more games this season.
Ross Haffey, 1B, Miami: In a doubleheader split Friday at Ball State, Haffey went 7-for-9 with five home runs and drove in 12 runs. But the senior wasn’t done. When the series resumed Sunday, Haffey homered again to help Miami (21-11) to a 6-5 victory in the rubber game. He is hitting .378/.519/.782 with 11 home runs.
St. John’s: After a skid last month that saw it lose three of four series, St. John’s (22-10) has gotten back on track in April. The Red Storm is 9-1 this month, including back-to-back sweeps to open Big East Conference play. St. John’s this weekend swept Creighton, the defending regular-season champion, and at 6-0 is now off to its best start in conference play since 2006, when it started 7-0.
Samford: The Bulldogs had an outstanding week, first beating Auburn in midweek action and then sweeping Mercer, the three-time defending Southern Conference regular-season champion. Samford extended its winning streak to 12 games, the third-longest active streak in the nation and the longest for the program since 1959. The Bulldogs (23-14, 10-2) stand alone in first place in the SoCon.
Noah Zavolas, RHP, Harvard: Zavolas on Friday threw a no-hitter to lead Harvard to a 4-0 victory at archrival Yale. The senior struck out a career-high 12 batters and walked one as he completed the Crimson’s first no-hitter since Ben Crockett, now the Red Sox director of player development, did so in 2001. Zavolas improved to 4-1, 3.38.
Three weekend series we’re most excited for
(1) Florida at (9) Kentucky: If anyone is going to trip up Florida (32-6, 12-3), this could well be the weekend. The Gators haven’t won a series in Lexington since 2012 and the Wildcats (25-11, 8-9) are coming off a big series win at Georgia. This is a series that’s been highlighted since the SEC schedule came out as a pitchers’ duel, and there is sure to be plenty of scouting heat watching all the high-profile arms in this one.
(2) North Carolina State at (8) Duke: The ACC doesn’t guarantee North Carolina State and Duke, separated by just 20 miles, play every year, but it lucked into an outstanding matchup this year. The Wolfpack (28-7, 13-5) leads the Atlantic Division, while the Blue Devils (30-7, 12-5) lead the Coastal Division. This weekend will be critical in the overall title race.
(21) Oklahoma at (5) Texas Tech: After losing this weekend’s series against Texas, Oklahoma (26-13, 9-3) again faces one of the Big 12’s leading contenders. Texas Tech (29-8, 8-4) has ground to make up in the conference title race and will look to cut into that deficit this weekend at Rip Griffin Park, where it is 19-1.
Two weekend series you shouldn’t overlook
Hawaii at Cal State Fullerton: The Big West Conference isn’t having the kind of season it is used to and may end up as just a one-bid league, but the title race may be one of the best in the country. All nine teams in the league are separated by just three games in the standings, with Hawaii (20-12, 6-3) and Fullerton (17-17, 4-2) leading the way. The winner of this weekend’s series will move into the driver’s seat for the conference title.
Samford at UNC Greensboro: Mercer has won all three SoCon regular-season championships since it joined the league, but its reign may be coming to an end. Samford (23-14, 10-2) swept the Bears over the weekend and sit in first place. UNCG (26-9, 7-2) is just off the pace in second place. In addition to being critical in the title race, this weekend will be a fascinating matchup of Samford’s pitching staff, which leads the SoCon with a 3.27 ERA, against UNCG’s potent offense, which leads the SoCon with a .320 batting average.
One midweek game to keep an eye on
(12) Indiana vs. Notre Dame, Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET in Indianapolis: There are several strong midweek games this week, but none will provide the viewing experience of this showdown at Victory Field, the home of Triple-A Indianapolis. Indiana (26-6) will wear its all-crimson uniforms, while Notre Dame (15-21) will take the field in its all-green uniforms, giving college baseball it’s first Color Rush game. Indiana typically reserves the crimson uniform for Sundays, while Notre Dame wears its green uniform on Fridays, but both will make an exception for a colorful midweek affair. I’m going to take partial credit for making this happen.