Opening Day Roundup: Vandy, Oregon State Score Big Wins In Arizona

Image credit: Vanderbilt's JJ Bleday celebrates on Opening Day (Courtesy of Brent Carden/Vanderbilt)

Top-Ranked Vanderbilt Powers To Victory

Vanderbilt entered the season with high expectations and a target on its back as the top-ranked team in the Top 25. The spotlight was even brighter on Opening Day as it began the season against Virginia in a nationally televised game on MLB Network in the MLB4 Tournament at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The Commodores did not disappoint, erupting for a 15-9 victory against the Cavaliers in a rematch of the 2014 and 2015 College World Series finals. While those finals were dominated by pitching, Friday’s game quickly turned into a slugfest, and Vanderbilt’s powerful lineup stole the show.

The Commodores never trailed and took control of the game with an eight-run fourth inning. They pounded out 17 hits and drew seven walks, showing off what figures to be one of the best and deepest lineups in the country. Preseason All-American outfielder JJ Bleday, second baseman Austin Martin and shortstop Ethan Paul all collected three hits and Martin added three walks.

Vanderbilt and Virginia have both built successful programs around their pitching staffs. In the 2014 CWS finals, they combined to score 15 runs. The next year’s series was a little higher scoring, with the teams combining for 31 runs.

Neither of those series contained a game that much resembled Friday.

“We had to swing the bats in order to keep them down,” coach Tim Corbin said. “It was kind of a different game. I don’t know if we would have thought it would have played out that way, but it did. It was a good push early. I think we did a nice job with two outs several times and we countered several times, which we needed to do.”

Paul, who started his senior season by going 3-for-4 with a home run and a double, said the Commodores had been hitting well over the last few weeks and were glad to carry that production into Opening Day.

“You never know how the first game’s going to go,” he said. “We’re all confident, we all thought we could play at a high level, but you never know. We’re excited, and we’re happy we were able to have that kind of production offensively.”

Virginia showed an improved offense from a year ago, led by third baseman Zack Gelof, who went 4-for-5 with a double. The Cavaliers just couldn’t keep pace with the Commodores, which is sure to be a difficult task this season.

Corbin said the Commodores so far have done a good job of managing expectations, which he credited in part to the five seniors they have on the roster.       

“We’re just trying to get to a point where we can get better,” Corbin said. “I give the older kids a lot of credit for that. They never get into a training situation on the field and act like, ‘OK, this is my fourth year.’ It’s almost like they’re trying to make the team.”

If Vanderbilt can maintain that attitude throughout the season, it has the potential to make this a special season in Nashville.

Oregon State Starts With Dramatic Win

No. 10 Oregon State opened its national title defense against New Mexico in its familiar early season home of Surprise, Ariz., with nearly 2,000, mostly orange-clad fans in attendance. While the setting may have been familiar—Oregon State has long opened the season with a tournament in Surprise, much was brand new for the Beavers.

Oregon State lost several key members of last year’s national championship-winning team, starting with the trio of second baseman Nick Madrigal, right fielder Trevor Larnach and shortstop Cadyn Grenier, who were all drafted in the top 40 picks a year ago and hit in the top three spots in the Beavers’ 2018 lineup. Also gone is longtime coach Pat Casey, who unexpectedly retired in September.

It will likely take the new-look Beavers some time this spring to find themselves and that was the case on Opening Day against New Mexico. Oregon State scuffled early before scoring six runs in the final three innings and walking-off with a 6-5 victory in interim head coach Pat Bailey’s first game at the program’s helm.

Freshman Greg Fuchs played hero in his first collegiate plate appearance, delivering a game-winning, pinch-hit single to cap a three-run ninth inning for the Beavers. Fuchs said it was a dream come true.

“You never know when your time is going to come,” he said. “This is my first game as an Oregon State baseball player. I wasn’t in the lineup to start it off and then I got in with the bases loaded and the game on the line. This is everything I could have dreamed of, and I’m just super blessed and fortunate.”

For all that has changed for Oregon State, it still has the same battery it did in Game 3 of last year’s College World Series finals. Righthander Kevin Abel and catcher Adley Rutschman last year starred for the Beavers in Omaha and were back in the starting lineup Friday.

Rutschman, the early favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft in June, had a mostly quiet day at the plate, going 1-for-4 with a walk. He did help spark the ninth-inning rally, driving in freshman third baseman Jake Dukart after his leadoff double.

Abel, pitching in his first competitive game since shutting out Arkansas in Game 3 of the finals, had more of a mixed day. He showed solid stuff, sitting in the low 90s with good secondary offerings, but he allowed four runs on five hits and three walks in five innings.

“I thought at times he was really good and at times he was really bad,” Bailey said. “He had two innings where he walked the leadoff guy. His stuff was really good, he just wasn’t locating.”

Oregon State’s offense was held to one hit for six innings by New Mexico’s Justin Slaten (5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 5 K) and Blake Walden. The Beavers didn’t score their first run of the season until a two-out error in the seventh inning that led to a three-run inning.

Slaten has solid stuff—he ran his fastball up to 95 mph and mixed in a slider—but the Beavers’ offense is a work in progress. Four of their six hits came from players making their debuts with Oregon State. That is an encouraging sign, especially with Dukart and shortstop Beau Phillip, a junior college transfer, sandwiching Rutschman in the lineup and both contributing in the ninth-inning rally. But the Beavers need some of their returners to step up going forward.

On Opening Day, Oregon State and Bailey found the winning formula. Bailey was the longtime head coach at Division III George Fox (Ore.), where he won a national championship, before joining Casey’s staff a decade ago. After more than 40 years in coaching, he wasn’t interested in celebrating his milestone win, but instead was focused on his team’s effort.

“It’s just another baseball game,” Bailey said. “I’ve been coaching for a long time, this is my 41st year coaching, my 27th year as a head coach. What I like most about our team is the no-quit attitude. We stuck with it, hung in there and ended up winning the baseball game.”

No-Hitter Stars One Last Ride For Martin

Mike Martin is embarking on his 40th and final season as Florida State’s head coach, and his last ride got off to a sensational start Friday. Lefthander Drew Parrish and righthanders Conor Grady and Chase Haney combined to throw a no-hitter in the No. 6 Seminoles’ 11-0 victory against Maine.

Parrish started the game and threw five innings, striking out five and walking one. Grady, a freshman, followed with four strikeouts and a walk in three innings. Haney returned to the mound after missing last season due to Tommy John surgery and closed out the no-hitter with a scoreless ninth. The no-hitter was the 10th in program history.

The pitchers stole the show for the Seminoles, but their young lineup also turned in a big night. Florida State totaled 12 hits, seven of which went for extra bases. Outfielders Reese Albert and J.C. Flowers both homered and third baseman Drew Mendoza doubled twice. Florida State’s newcomers also had a big night, with freshman DH Robby Martin going 3-for-4 with five RBIs and freshman shortstop Nander De Sedas going 2-for-4 with a double and two runs.

Florida State will face stiffer competition than Maine in the weeks to come, but in a season that is sure to be filled with special moments, Opening Day will be one to remember for Martin and the Seminoles.

Ace Watch

Friday night is for college baseball’s aces. Here we highlight some of the best pitching performances of the day.

Seth Lonsway, LHP, Ohio State: Lonsway was a blue-chip recruit for Ohio State in the 2017 class, but academic issues from high school kept him sidelined last season. The lefthander is ready to go this year, and he went to the front of the Buckeyes’ rotation. Facing Seton Hall and righthander Ricky DeVito, who ranks No. 58 on the Top 200 Draft Prospects list, Lonsway proved to be up to the challenge. He outdueled DeVito, striking out nine batters in six innings and limiting the Pirates to one run on three hits and three walks in his college debut.

Noah Song, RHP, Navy: Song started his senior season with a strong performance against Gardner-Webb, though the Bulldogs came back for a 3-2 victory in 10 innings. Song struck out 12 batters in 5.2 scoreless innings and gave up three hits and four walks.

Ken Waldichuk, LHP, Saint Mary’s: The Gaels started the season with a big 8-1 victory against Washington State with Waldichuk delivering a standout performance on the mound. The junior struck out six batters in seven scoreless innings and held the Cougars to one hit and one walk. Waldichuk, who is ranked No. 188 on the Top 200 Draft Prospects list, retired the last 16 batters he faced after surrendering a two-out single in the second inning.

Around the Horn

Oregon has struggled offensively over the last few seasons, but on Opening Day at No. 8 Texas Tech, its lineup showed encouraging signs. The Ducks pounded out 15 hits, including five doubles, and upset the Red Raiders, 9-4. They also stole nine bases, showing off their athleticism. Freshman DH Aaron Zavala went 3-for-5 with two runs and two doubles and junior shortstop Spencer Steer went 2-for-4 with a run and two stolen bases to lead the offense.  

Connecticut was without ace Mason Feole who will miss the first few weeks of the season as he recovers from a triceps strain, but that didn’t slow the Huskies down against No. 11 Louisville. In an old Big East Conference showdown in Lakeland, Fla., UConn beat Louisville, 3-2, to take the opener. Righthander Jeff Kersten filled in as Friday starter and held the Cardinals to one run (unearned) in six innings. Closer Jacob Wallace struck out three in two hitless innings to earn the save. Louisville’s offense was stymied, and it stranded 12 runners and didn’t produce an extra-base hit.

Alabama State broke out its bats against Prairie View A&M to open the Andre Dawson Classic in New Orleans, rolling to a 23-12 victory in seven innings. Seven of the Hornets’ 10 hits went for extra-bases and they took full advantage of 12 walks and three errors. Second baseman Eriq White and center fielder Noel Cheneau both homered and doubled and combined to score six runs and drive in eight to lead the offensive onslaught.

Arizona honored Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman in a pregame ceremony for the former Wildcat and then rolled to a 12-4 victory against Massachusetts-Lowell. Shortstop Cameron Cannon, No. 81 on the Top 200 Draft Prospects list, went 2-for-4 with a double and two runs and freshman first baseman Austin Wells went 3-for-5 with a double and a home run to pace the offense.

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