Off The Bat: Streak's Over, But Oregon State Still Winning
Oregon State’s 23-game winning streak, a program record, came to an end Thursday night with a 3-2 loss at Washington. It had been nearly two months since the Beavers had last lost—a 6-1 setback against Ohio State on Feb. 25 in Surprise, Ariz.—but coach Pat Casey was not worried about how his team would handle the defeat. “I knew they would respond,” Casey said. “They play with confidence. We didn’t like it. Typically we play very good defense and we didn’t when it mattered the most and we didn’t hit when it mattered the most. “We didn’t talk about the winning streak. It’s not something we dwelled on, it’s not something that was important to us. It’s more about winning series, winning games.” Oregon State did just that the rest of the weekend, showing why it is the top-ranked team in the country. The Beavers evened the series with a 5-2 victory Friday and secured on Sunday their fifth straight series win to open Pac-12 Conference play with a 3-0 victory. Oregon State (30-2, 14-1) has already opened a five-game lead in the conference standings on Arizona (which it has already swept) and UCLA. While the Beavers were not been focused on the winning streak, they still have been able to appreciate the accomplishment. Casey said that more than half the streak (12 games) came in conference play made it even more special. But what Casey really appreciated about the streak was the way his team played during it. “The main thing that I liked was the consistency that went about it,” he said. “I don’t think anybody got wrapped up in anything other than, ‘Can we get better and win the next game?’” That focus was especially important over the weekend in a rivalry series that got even more heated last season. Oregon State was perhaps the biggest snub from the NCAA tournament field last season, left out of the postseason in part due to its low ranking in the West Regional Advisory Committee standings. Washington coach Lindsay Meggs was the Pac-12’s representative on the committee last year. But Casey, as he has done since the field was announced last Memorial Day, said the Beavers have moved on and are focused on their goals this spring. “I wasn’t going to allow anything that happened in the past affect what we need to do or how they need to do it,” Casey said. “History is history. I’m happy they were focused on the task at hand, which was to win series.” After their hiccup Thursday, the Beavers relied on their tried-and-true formula of pitching, defense and timely hitting against the Huskies. They allowed just five runs all weekend and finished the series with 10 straight scoreless innings. Meanwhile, Oregon State’s offense continued to hum along, led by shortstop Nick Madrigal and first baseman K.J. Harrison, the Beavers’ top two hitters. Madrigal went 4-for-10 and is hitting .392/.459/.585 with 15 walks and six strikeouts. Harrison went 5-for-13 and is hitting .349/.417/.484. Still, Casey sees room for improvement from the Beavers in the second half of the season. He said their situational hitting needs work and that while they have a solid defense, there is always room for improvement on that side of the ball. Oregon State is certainly not going to get caught looking ahead. The Beavers understand how difficult the Pac-12 can be and will be ready for another test this weekend when they travel to UCLA, which moved into second place with a series win at Stanford. “The weekends get bigger on their own if you keep winning,” Casey said. “If you’re No. 1 in the country, every single team is aware of that and every single team wants to beat you. I don’t look at a lot of that stuff. I do know what it’s like to be No. 1 when it’s all over. That’s when you can sit back and enjoy it.”
Michigan Makes Statement With Sweep
With Oklahoma visiting Ann Arbor for the weekend, Michigan had a golden opportunity to bolster its resume with a marquee nonconference series at home. The Wolverines did not miss their shot, and made an even bigger statement by sweeping the Sooners. Michigan (29-8) has won 13 of its last 14 games and pushed its RPI to 26 with the sweep. While the Wolverines are rolling, coach Erik Bakich said they aren’t getting ahead of themselves. “We’re not getting too high,” Bakich said. “We’re playing well, but it’s about consistency. We played well in the past and didn’t finish strong. That’s something on our minds.” Michigan is mindful of the way it finished last season. It came into the year ranked No. 15 and was 29-10 on April 29 after defeating Michigan State in the first game of their series. But the Wolverines went 7-11 the rest of the way, including five losses to archrival Ohio State, and missed the NCAA tournament. Bakich said the Wolverines lost their confidence down the stretch last season. They are determined not to let that happen again. “We don’t run from it,” Bakich said. “It’s something that we wanted to attack on Day 1 (this fall) about having a lot of confidence in our preparation. It’s something we’ve trained for since Day 1. It’s something we reference. I wouldn’t say we talk about it every day, but it is a motivational tool for the veterans.” Most of the Wolverines were a part of last year’s team. They are a veteran, experienced group, which has translated well to the field. That is especially true on the mound, where Michigan has a team ERA of 3.02. The staff is led by junior lefthander Oliver Jaskie (5-1, 3.96) at the front of the rotation and senior closer Jackson Lamb (2-0, 0.00, 8 SV) at the back of the bullpen. Bakich and his coaching staff are in their fifth year at Michigan, and they have built a deep pitching staff. It received a boost last summer when pitchers such as Jackson Lamb (35th round, Cardinals) and freshman righthander Karl Kauffman (No. 330 on the BA 500) passed on the draft to go to Ann Arbor. The Wolverines have 15 pitchers who have made at least five appearances this season, giving them plenty of options out of the bullpen. “A lot of guys may pitch on the weekends at other places, but they provide us with very valuable depth,” he said. “Everybody knows their role. Everyone wants to be the Friday night starter but every guy has embraced what their role is.” Offensively, second baseman Ako Thomas has blossomed at the top of the lineup. The sophomore is hitting .350/.471/.380 with 20 stolen bases, setting the table for the Wolverines’ sluggers. Third baseman Drew Lugbauer (.304/.410/.623) is providing Michigan with plenty of power in the middle of the lineup. He hit two home runs against the Sooners to raise his total to a team-high 11. Bakich said Lugbauer has relaxed at the plate after getting pull oriented early in the season. “The most impressive thing is the majority of his home runs have come to the middle and opposite part of the field,” Bakich said. “He’s taken what pitchers have given him. He can use the whole park line to line and still have the ability to turn on balls when they do come in. He’s gotten some big hits in clutch situations. He’s seeing the ball very well right now and knocking in runs.” As well as the Wolverines are playing right now, they understand they will have to continue to do so throughout the second half. Michigan has a tough slate this week beginning with a nonconference game against Michigan State on Tuesday and finishing with a series against Indiana. “We haven’t done anything yet,” Bakich said. “We’re off to a good start. We want to stay strong through middle and finish strong. “We have a lot of confidence in our preparation and the things we’ve been doing since Sept. 1. It’s about consistency and continuing to play well and trusting that the scoreboard has a chance to be in our favor if we do.”
Best shortstop in the league?You know our vote... pic.twitter.com/QDR6zr6Zxa — Michigan Baseball (@umichbaseball) April 16, 2017
Mercer Continues To Roll Mercer finished off a perfect 4-0 week Saturday with an emphatic 17-5 victory in eight innings against Virginia Military Institute. The win was the Bears’ 32nd of the season, the most in the country, and extended their winning streak to 11 games, tied for the longest active streak in the country. Mercer (32-6, 11-1) has won the Southern Conference regular season title in back-to-back years and returned the bulk of last season’s team, but had to replace 2016 College Player of the Year Kyle Lewis, the 11th overall pick in last year’s draft. The Bears were voted second in the conference’s preseason coaches’ poll, finishing a point behind UNC Greensboro, last season’s runner-up. Gibson believed in his team’s potential. “I thought we’d have a great club,” Gibson said. “The bulk of the team is back. I’ve coached for a long time and when you build to something more than a team, when you build a program you can survive losing a great player or a great coach. This is a program that expects to challenge for championships. We just try to play our best every day.” Lewis hit .395/.535/.731 with 20 home runs and six stolen bases last year, but the Bears still have plenty of offensive firepower. They got a boost when catcher Charlie Madden chose to return for his senior season after getting drafted in the 25th round by the White Sox. He is now hitting .295/.412/.671 with a team-high 14 home runs. Fellow seniors Hunter Bening (.298/.379/.645, 12 HR) and Danny Edgeworth (.385/.466/.595, 6 HR) are producing career years. That has helped Mercer overcome some struggles from outfielder Trey Truitt, a Preseason All-American. The junior is hitting .256/.396/.438 with six home runs, a downturn from last year when he hit .335/.430/.636 with 17 home runs. Gibson said while Truitt is scuffling at the plate, he still shows glimpses of his tantalizing ability and believes he’ll get back on track in the second half. “He got all that attention and he pressed a little bit,” Gibson said. “He knew this was a big season for him and he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Kyle. He plays hard every day for us. He plays great defense for us. In certain phases gotten better. He’s a better baserunner, his small ball has been better and defensively he’s having his best season for us.” Even with its powerful offense that has hit 67 home runs and is slugging .535 as a team, Gibson said the Bears are built around their pitching and defense. Mercer is leading the SoCon with a 4.43 team ERA and ranks second with a .973 fielding percentage. Starters Ryan Askew, Austin Cox and Kevin Coulter have been solid, and relief ace Robert Broom (6-1, 3.00) provides a key bridge to closer Nick Spear (4-0, 2.54, 6 SV). Mercer has not had a losing weekend this season and its RPI has climbed to 29. The Bears only have five games left on their schedule against top 100 teams, but if they can maintain their lofty RPI, they could be in line for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament should they falter in the SoCon Tournament. That, however, remains a ways off. Mercer still has to navigate the second half of its conference schedule, which includes series against UNCG and Western Carolina, which upset it in last year’s SoCon Tournament championship game. Gibson said he believes the Bears can be even better if they’re able to get all their pieces playing well at the same time. “We just look for ways daily to motivate our guys,” he said. “They’re an experienced group. They’ve all had success.”
Eight for Omaha Cal State Fullerton, Clemson, Florida, Louisville, North Carolina, Oregon State, Texas Christian, Texas Tech The field stays the same this week, though I looked at a way to get Louisiana State back in the mix. I think the Tigers are very much trending in the right direction and would peg them as the favorite to win the Southeastern Conference regular season and the national seed that will surely accompany that title. But, for now, LSU will remain just outside the field.
Eye-Catchers Five players or programs who stood out this weekend.
Trey Harris, of, Missouri: Harris homered in four straight plate appearances Friday and Saturday against Kentucky, including three home runs in Saturday’s 9-8 victory. The junior went 4-for-11 with four runs and five RBIs in the series, which the Tigers lost. Harris is hitting .298/.436/.603 with a team-high 11 home runs this season. Jackson State: Alabama State has won the Southwest Athletic Conference East Division three years in a row and went into this weekend’s series against Jackson State again in first place. But the Tigers (29-11, 16-4) went on the road to sweep the Hornets over the weekend, and now hold a two-game lead in the division. Jackson State also extended its winning streak to 11 games, which is tied for the longest in the country. Sean Kennedy, 2b, Ball State: Kennedy had a career day in Ball State’s 23-5 victory against Bowling Green in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday. The senior went 5-for-5 with three home runs, a triple, a double and nine RBIs. For good measure, Kennedy added three more hits in Ball State’s 13-6 win in the nightcap and is now hitting .343/.396/.571 with seven home runs this season. Stephen F. Austin: After losing the first game of its series against Sam Houston State (25-11, 13-2), SFA (22-16, 12-4) bounced back Friday to win, 5-1, snapping the Bearkats’ 18-game winning streak in Southland Conference action that dated back to last season. The Lumberjacks clinched the series against their rivals on Saturday with a 12-2 rout, the Bearkats’ worst conference loss since 2014. Kyle Wright, rhp, Vanderbilt: This was the Kyle Wright that scouts and the Commodores were waiting for. The first-team Preseason All-American pitched his best game of the season Friday against Florida, throwing a three-hit shutout and striking out 13 batters. Wright improved to 2-4, 3.98 with 55 strikeouts in 52 innings.
Why did Trey Harris hit three homers tonight?He got to see his momma. #MIZ #C2E 🐯⚾️ pic.twitter.com/DczGQN3KL9 — #MizzouBaseball (@MizzouBaseball) April 16, 2017
Looking Ahead Three weekend series we’re most excited for (17) Wake Forest at (5) Clemson: Wake Forest (28-10, 12-6) has mounted a surprising challenge to Clemson (30-6, 14-3) and Louisville in the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division, entering the weekend three games out of first place. The Demon Deacons have the opportunity to close that gap, but winning a series in Doug Kingsmore Stadium, where Wake Forest has won just 10 games, is no easy task. (16) Arkansas at (10) Auburn: The Southeastern Conference provides three Top 25 matchups this week, with Louisiana State visiting Kentucky and Florida hosting South Carolina. All are exciting in their own right, but Arkansas’ series at Auburn pits two of the teams fighting for the West Division title. That both are coming off a year in which they missed the SEC Tournament makes the matchup even more fun. Tulane at (24) Houston: These are the first three games of the six that Houston and Tulane play against each other this year. After starting the season 3-12, the Green Wave (18-18, 7-2) enters the week in first place in the American Athletic Conference and at .500 overall. The Cougars (25-10, 6-3) are just a game behind, tied with Connecticut for second place. With the conference so tightly packed, the results of the rivalry series will likely play a big part in deciding the regular season title.
Two weekend series you shouldn’t overlook Old Dominion at (20) Southern Mississippi: ODU (26-11, 10-5) lost its first series of the season over the weekend, dropping two games at home against Louisiana Tech. The Monarchs now face a tough road test as they look to bounce back. Southern Miss (28-9, 12-3) is 17-4 at Pete Taylor Park and should be buoyed by big crowds this weekend, as it celebrates Eagle Fest in conjunction with the football team’s spring game. Brigham Young at San Diego: San Diego is in first place in the West Coast Conference, but just 1.5 games separates it from fourth-place BYU. The Toreros are beginning a difficult stretch this week, with a game Tuesday at No. 8 Cal State Fullerton, followed by back-to-back weekends against the Cougars and Loyola Marymount, two of the top four teams in the conference standings.
One midweek game to keep an eye on (2) Louisville at (14) Kentucky, Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET