Off The Bat: Rivalries, Sweeps And Records

Image credit: Florida State coach Mike Martin (Courtesy of FSU)

The Florida State vs. Miami rivalry is one of college sports’ fiercest, across all sports. For 25 years, the baseball portion of the rivalry has featured showdowns between Florida State’s Mike Martin and Miami’s Jim Morris, two of the sport’s legendary coaches who are known to many simply as “11” and “3”—their uniform numbers, respectively.

An era of that rivalry is ending this season, however. Morris will retire at the conclusion of the season, bringing his storied career to an end after 37 years—25 at Miami and 12 at Georgia Tech. This weekend marked the final Florida State vs. Miami series with Morris at the helm and, barring a matchup next month in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, the final meeting between he and Martin.

While Miami has struggled this season and will need a furious stretch run to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row, the rivalry still generates plenty of passion. And further adding to the weekend’s drama, Martin went into the series needing three wins to surpass Augie Garrido as the winningest coach in NCAA history.

Florida State won the series opener, 2-0, behind an excellent start by sophomore lefthander Drew Parrish. The Seminoles cruised to a 10-1 victory Saturday for Martin’s 1,975th career victory, equaling Garrido’s record in about 250 fewer games.

The stage was set for a storybook Sunday for Martin and the Seminoles—a chance to sweep the Hurricanes and celebrate Martin’s record at home, in front of a packed house on the field that bears his name.

But it wasn’t to be. Miami defeated Florida State, 11-5, to spoil the moment and give Morris one last laugh in the rivalry. If the Seminoles had won Sunday, it would have evened the all-time series between Morris and Martin. Instead, Morris will end his career with a winning record against Martin, his former boss.

“It’s a big win for me no questions because I was Mike’s assistant—his first one,” Morris said. “Not that I keep up with it, but my record against Mike is 49-47-1, so I had a chance to go out of here 48-48-1. It’s a big win against the guy that’s very soon going to be the winningest coach in the history of the game.”

Martin was disappointed not to finish the sweep Sunday. Beyond not breaking the wins record, the loss also left No. 16 Florida State (31-14, 13-10) 3.5 games behind No. 10 Clemson (34-11, 17-7) in the Atlantic Division standings. The Seminoles head to Clemson next weekend for a series that will be pivotal in both the division race and for their aspirations of hosting a regional.

“It’s not a joyous time around here,” Martin said. “We got beat by a team that was obviously very motivated. You tip your hat to the University of Miami. They did a very good job.”

Miami (18-25, 11-13) has dug itself a significant hole and can afford just one loss in its remaining 11 regular season games to enter the ACC Tournament with a winning record—a prerequisite to getting an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The odds are long, but Miami will be favored in most of its remaining games.

The Hurricanes will need more performances by its young hitters like they got Sunday. Miami typically starts five or six freshmen in its lineup, which has led to some of its inconsistencies throughout the year. On Sunday, they played up to their potential.

“That’s big for us because the freshmen got the big hits for us today that we hadn’t been getting,” Morris said. “Our freshmen will be good players, but we start five or six a day which is a tough thing.”

Florida State, meanwhile, is beat up on the mound and its freshmen arms faltered Sunday. Ace Tyler Holton is out for the year due to Tommy John surgery, righthander Cole Sands has missed the last two weekends due to bicep tendonitis and a trio of experienced relievers have been sidelined all season by injury. Righthander Andrew Karp, who has stepped up as Florida State’s third starter, was limited to 1.1 innings Sunday due to illness.

The Seminoles are hopeful their staff will be a bit deeper soon. Martin said they will reevaluate Sands next week and could have the junior back in the rotation. Karp’s illness should soon subside and freshman righthander C.J. Van Eyk delivered a quality start Saturday, giving the Seminoles more options going forward.

Sunday didn’t deliver the historic moment so many in Tallahassee were hoping to witness and Martin’s quest for the all-time wins record won’t resume until Saturday at Clemson. But the day will go down in the lore of the Florida State-Miami rivalry as the end of an era. It will be different next year when these two teams meet in Coral Gables and Gino DiMare, Morris’ longtime top assistant coach, will be in charge of the Hurricanes.

But it will still be Miami vs. Florida State, just as capable of producing emotional, dramatic games, just as they did all weekend.

“I think you can tell about the rivalry the way his young men played today,” Martin said. “They were a different looking ballclub today. They played exceptionally well. It’s just the way it is when you say Miami-Florida State, that’s what you expect.”

Oklahoma State Sweeps Into First Place

Coming into the season, Oklahoma State coach Josh Holliday knew it would take his team some time to gel. The Cowboys were down a few of their top pitchers and would need some young hitters to take a step forward. Finding the right combination on the mound and in the lineup was sure to take time.

The Cowboys took their lumps early in the season, losing back-to-back series at Arizona State and against Eastern Michigan. Following a series loss at Texas on the first weekend of Big 12 Conference play, Oklahoma State was 11-9-1.

Since then, however, Oklahoma State has been orange hot. It has won 15 of its last 20 games, including a sweep this weekend in the Bedlam Series against archrival Oklahoma. Oklahoma State has won seven straight games and surged into first place in the Big 12, holding a three-game lead on Texas with six games to play. As a result, the Cowboys (27-14-1) this week entered the Top 25 at No. 19.

“We played pretty complete baseball this past weekend against OU,” Holliday said. “We just played very well and did it against a good team. I don’t know that you can sweep a team like that unless you play well.”

Oklahoma State has left no doubt as to who is the state’s best team this season. The Cowboys’ surge began with a 7-1 victory in Norman in late March. This weekend, they won the three games—one on campus in Stillwater and two in Tulsa—by a combined score of 27-3.

Led by pitching coach Rob Walton, the 2016 Assistant Coach of the Year, the Cowboys have had strong pitching staffs throughout Holiday’s tenure as head coach. But this season they struggled early on the mound as they had to overcome injuries to four of their best pitchers. Oklahoma State still has a team ERA of 4.62, just the seventh-best mark in the conference, but they have hit on a combination that works on the mound.

Lefthander Carson Teel has taken over as Friday starter and set the tone this weekend with eight scoreless innings. Righthanders Joe Lienhard and Jonathan Heasley followed with solid starts and the bullpen did its job, with four relievers combining for eight scoreless innings on the weekend.

Oklahoma State’s offense has also evolved around catcher Colin Simpson, who is hitting .301/.397/.626 with 14 home runs. The Cowboys have a powerful lineup, as they showed this weekend by producing 16 extra-base hits. Oklahoma State ranks eighth in the Big 12 with a .265 team batting average but is second in the conference in both home runs (46) and extra-base hits (142).

“It took a little time to find our way, to find the right pitching arrangement and our lineup,” he said. “We’re getting production out of a number of different guys.

“We’ve been a team that’s improved since the beginning of the year. We need to continue to do that through the end of the year.”

The Cowboys have put themselves in an advantageous position going into May. Not only are they three games clear in the Big 12 standings, they are up to No. 21 in RPI, according to, putting them on track to host a regional.

But Holliday knows better than to start looking ahead. Oklahoma State plays its next seven games on the road, beginning Tuesday with a trip to Oral Roberts before weekend series at Iowa and Baylor. It finishes the regular season with a series against Texas Tech, which is within striking distance of first place at four games back.

Knowing what lies ahead will force the Cowboys to stay sharp and keep pushing after an emotional rivalry weekend.

“The competition holds you accountable for your performance,” Holiday said. “That’s why we scheduled a nonconference series like (Iowa). If we’d dropped out of conference and played a team in the 100s or 200s in RPI, I don’t know what that would have done for our team. I know it wouldn’t have helped our RPI. Maybe it would have been a chance to catch our breath, but when you’re playing good baseball, I think you’ve got to keep pushing.”

Houston Rises In AAC

Perhaps no team in the country has done more in the last month to improve its postseason chances than Houston. The Cougars not long ago had an RPI of more than 100 and had left themselves with a lot of work to do in a tough conference to put together an NCAA Tournament resume.

The Cougars have done just that in April. Houston went 11-5 this month, including a 9-2 mark in the American Athletic Conference. The Cougars (28-16, 13-5) this weekend swept then-No. 7 East Carolina on the road and now hold a two-game lead in the conference standings. They entered the Top 25 this week at No. 21 and have raised their RPI to No. 50, in the range necessary for an at-large bid.

Coach Todd Whitting said the Cougars understood what they needed to do to get back into position for regionals.

“We knew going into the stretch run what was ahead of us,” he said. “We had a ton of great RPI games ahead of us. It was just a matter of putting our nose to the grindstone and getting it done. I’m just proud of the players and coaches and everyone involved.”

Houston this weekend did what it has done all season and found a way to win close games. The Cougars won the three games in Greenville by a total of four runs and improved to 11-7 in one-run games. As expected, Houston’s strength has been on the mound, where it returned much of the pitching staff that helped lead it last season to the American Tournament title.

Trey Cumbie

Lefthanders Trey Cumbie (5-2, 3.64) and Aaron Fletcher (5-2, 1.51) aren’t overpowering, but they throw a lot of strikes—both are averaging less than two walks per nine innings—and understand what they need to do to be successful. They have formed a formidable duo at the front of the Cougars’ rotation.

“They’ve both matured tremendously,” Whitting said. “They’re pounding the zone early in the count and getting ahead. And they’re competitive with each other.”

Righthander Ryan Randle, a junior college transfer, has provided a reliable third starter and Houston has several solid options in the bullpen. The Cougars under first-year pitching coach Terry Rooney lead the American with a 3.26 team ERA in conference games. They also lead the American with a .981 fielding percentage in conference play.

Houston’s high-level of run prevention means it doesn’t need to score many runs to win and it doesn’t have a prolific offense. The Cougars’ lineup doesn’t have any superstars, but it has found a way to grind out runs and get production from a variety of sources.

With six conference games left, Houston controls its own destiny. But it can’t take its foot off the gas yet with series against Central Florida and at Connecticut still to come. If the Cougars are to win another conference title—they have won either the regular season or tournament title in three of the last four years—they know they will have to finish strong.

“We’ve been fortunate to play well in conference play to this point,” Whitting said. “It’s one of the top conferences in the country with a bunch of great RPI teams and it’s as competitive as it is out there. It’s a see-saw of emotions, but I hope we can keep it going.”

Eight For Omaha

Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oregon State, Stanford, Texas Tech, UCLA

There is just one change to the field this week, as North Carolina replaces North Carolina State following its first-ever sweep of the Wolfpack in Raleigh. While I’ve been skeptical this season of North Carolina State’s place among the nation’s elite teams because I don’t like how it matches up against premium pitching staffs, I’m hesitant to say the Wolfpack got exposed this weekend. That was a close, tense, rivalry series that was decided by a total of four runs. But, at the same time, North Carolina State got swept at home by a team with a deeper pitching staff and its top-eight seed hopes took a hit. None of that bodes well for the NCAA Tournament, when North Carolina State is going to eventually run into high-end pitching. North Carolina, meanwhile, has been playing great baseball for a month and looks much like the team it was expected to be entering the season. 

Eye Catchers

Five players or programs who stood out this weekend.

Baylor: After losses over the weekend by Tennessee Tech and Michigan ended their winning streaks at 28 and 20 games, respectively, Baylor now has the longest active winning streak in the country at 10 games. The Bears (26-17) have swept consecutive Big 12 series against Texas Christian and at Kansas State to get back to .500 in conference play and put themselves back in the mix for the NCAA Tournament.

Cal State Fullerton: For the second straight weekend, Fullerton (22-20) won a matchup between the top two teams in the Big West Conference standings. After beating Hawaii at home last weekend to take over first place, Fullerton this week swept a series at second-place UC Irvine to solidify its position atop the conference.

Mario Ferraioli, LHP, Iona: In the second game of a doubleheader at Quinnipiac, Ferraioli, a sophomore, threw a seven-inning no-hitter in a 2-0 victory. He struck out 10 batters and scattered five walks against the first-place Bobcats. Ferraioli improved to 3-0, 0.85 with 33 strikeouts and 19 walks in 31.2 innings.

Purdue: The Boilermakers went 5-0 last week to extend their winning streak to eight games and rise to third in the Big Ten Conference standings. After starting the week with a win against Chicago State, Purdue (24-16) on Wednesday beat Indiana to even the season series against its in-state rivals and then swept Rutgers. The Boilermakers threw two shutouts on the weekend en route to their second straight conference series sweep.

Gabe Snyder, 1B, Wright State: Snyder, a redshirt senior, on Sunday in an 8-3 victory against Youngstown State hit his 43rd career home run to become Wright State’s all-time home run leader. Snyder, who homered twice on the weekend as the Raiders (28-13) swept the Penguins, is hitting .344/.418/.700 with 14 home runs, two shy of the program’s single-season record. 

Looking Ahead

Three weekend series we’re most excited for

(16) Florida State at (10) Clemson: Florida State coach Mike Martin enters this weekend tied with Augie Garrido with 1,975 career wins, the most in NCAA history. But there is a lot on the line in this series beyond the all-time wins record. Clemson (34-11, 17-7) has won eight straight games and has moved into first place in the Atlantic Division. Florida State (31-14, 13-10) is still within striking distance at 3.5 games back but needs to make a move this weekend if it is to catch up. Both teams are looking to solidify hosting spots and are still in the mix for top-eight seeds.

(20) Texas at (9) Texas Tech: With first-place Oklahoma State this weekend playing a nonconference series, the winner of this series will be able to make up some ground in the standings. Texas (30-17, 12-6) is a game ahead of Texas Tech (33-12, 11-7), but needs this series to stay in the hosting race. The Red Raiders have a top-five RPI and still have a series against Oklahoma State, making their hosting spot more secure, but if they are to win a third straight conference title, they can ill-afford to fall further behind the Cowboys.

(18) Indiana at (22) Minnesota: The two Big Ten Conference teams with the best chance to host meet this weekend in Minneapolis. Indiana (31-10, 9-5) has been ranked all season and has the conference’s best RPI, but needs to make up ground in the standings on first place Michigan (25-12, 12-2) and second-place Minnesota (28-12, 11-3). The Golden Gophers have won three straight series against title contenders and if they can do it again this weekend, they would have a strong case as being the conference’s best team.

Two weekend series you shouldn’t overlook

Jacksonville at Stetson: Both Jacksonville (30-14, 8-4) and Stetson (34-11, 9-3) have put together impressive seasons and rank in the top 20 in RPI. The Hatters have a one-game edge on the Dolphins in the conference standings and homefield advantage this weekend. The Atlantic Sun Conference title may be on the line this weekend, though Kennesaw State and Florida Gulf Coast remain in the mix as well.

(15) Coastal Carolina at Louisiana-Lafayette: Coastal (31-14, 17-4) and Louisiana (26-20, 12-9) are two of the Sun Belt Conference’s marquee programs and this series presents an intriguing showdown between the Chanticleers’ potent bats and the Ragin’ Cajuns’ powerful arms. Coastal has stormed through the Sun Belt in its second season in the league and is position itself to host. Louisiana is pushing toward the NCAA Tournament bubble and would greatly help its position with a series win this weekend. 

One midweek game to keep an eye on

Florida Atlantic at Central Florida, Tuesday, 6:30 p.m. ET: FAU (30-12-1) and UCF (29-15) are both pushing for at-large bids and will have the opportunity Tuesday to pick up another quality win, as both are ranked in the top 50 in RPI. The Owls are looking to bounce back after a series loss against Alabama-Birmingham that dropped them two games behind Southern Mississippi in Conference USA. UCF is looking to build off a series win against Wichita State before it heads this weekend to first-place Houston.

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