Off The Bat: Texas, Cal Poly Make Statements With Top-10 Series Wins
Texas Is Back Following Sweep Of South Carolina
Texas came into the season with high expectations. The Longhorns were ranked No. 12 in the Preseason Top 25, picked to finish second in the Big 12 and ace Ty Madden was voted a first-team Preseason All-American by major league scouting directors.
But that preseason hype got a swift reality check on Opening Weekend at the State Farm Showdown in Arlington, Texas. Facing a trio of top-15 opponents—Mississippi State, Arkansas and Mississippi—the Longhorns fell flat. They were swept in the tournament and outscored 20-4 on the weekend. It was just the third time since 1950 that Texas started the season 0-3.
"Did we play well? No. Was Arlington an incredible field and kicked our butts? Yes," coach David Pierce said following the tournament. "We just look at it like that. We're not going to feel sorry for ourselves and I can't wait until we play again."
Texas got back to work following that weekend and went 8-2 over its next 10 games, including a solid series win at Houston. That set up a big series at home against South Carolina, which came to Austin at 11-0 and ranked No. 10. It was a chance for the Longhorns to prove they weren’t the same team from Opening Weekend and to do it against another SEC team, no less.
Texas (11-5) took full advantage of the opportunity. Behind a strong start from Madden, the Longhorns on Friday won the opener, 4-1. They on Saturday clinched the series with a 4-0 victory and then completed the sweep with an 8-5 victory Sunday. It was a comprehensive performance from Texas (11-5), which this week rose to No. 10 in the Top 25.
“What a great weekend,” Pierce said. “We had a team that went out and played consistent baseball. We got timely hits and outstanding pitching against a great team. I’m really proud of our weekend and how we played this weekend.”
The Longhorns pitched well all weekend, starting with Madden. He scattered three hits and three walks in seven innings Friday to improve to 2-1, 1.33 with 35 strikeouts and nine walks in 27 innings. The big righthander is looking the part of a top-10 pick, something Texas has had just once in 25 years (Drew Stubbs went eighth overall in 2006).
But it was more than just the ace. Righthanders Tristan Stevens and Palmer Wenzel combined for a seven-hit shutout Saturday. The Longhorns’ bullpen gave up just three runs in 10 innings on the weekend. Pieces are starting to lock in across the staff.
“We’re starting to really solidify our bullpen, who we can rely on, how guys fit,” Pierce said. “I thought it was huge yesterday for Tristan to get through the sixth.”
Offensively, Texas this weekend consistently beat a good pitching staff. The Longhorns pounded out 11 hits both Friday and Sunday and even Saturday when they were held to just four hits, they made them count with three going for extra bases.
Texas has developed a dynamic top of the lineup and is going to challenge teams on the bases. The Longhorns have already stolen 24 bases led by outfielders Mike Antico (9-for-10) and Eric Kennedy (6-for-6). With that pair, as well as shortstop Trey Faltine and outfielder Douglas Hodo, the Longhorns have some serious speed to set up sluggers Ivan Melendez (.318/.400/.455), Cam Williams (.246/.348/.509, 3 HR) and Zach Zubia (.327/.435/.490).
It’s unlikely to ever be a high-powered offense, but it’s more than enough to create runs and back a talented pitching staff.
“We’re starting to get the bats going, starting to play as a team,” sixth-year senior catcher DJ Petrinsky said. “We’ve definitely made some strides.”
While Texas has some key young players on the roster—Hodo, Faltine, catcher Silas Ardoin and key relievers Aaron Nixon, Jared Southard and Tanner Witt are all freshmen—it blends that youth with a strong veteran presence with players like Petrinsky. The Longhorns have eight players on the roster who are in at least their fourth year of college baseball.
That experience was key for the Longhorns to regroup after such a disappointing Opening Weekend.
“I felt like there was zero panic from the staff and zero panic from the team when we went 0-3,” Pierce said. “It was humbling but we handled it the right way. We didn’t feel sorry for ourselves. We realized we weren’t as good as we thought we were, but we hadn’t really seen 95-96 (mph) out of the gates either.
“If that tournament was this coming weekend, we would fare a lot better.”
Texas won’t get a chance this weekend to replay the State Farm Showdown, but it does enter Big 12 play with a series at Baylor (10-4). The Longhorns have made it clear that they are not to be written off for one bad weekend and still have what it takes to contend with Texas Tech for the conference title and reach the College World Series.
Cal Poly Stays Hot Against UCLA
It was a white-knuckle weekend in San Luis Obispo, as Cal Poly hosted then-No. 8 UCLA in a taut series. After the teams split the first two games—both decided by one run—the finale came down to the wire.
Cal Poly took a four-run lead into the ninth inning, but UCLA loaded the bases with no outs. The Bruins pushed a run across on a fielder’s choice before righthander Bryan Woo got the final two outs to secure an 8-5 victory and a huge series win for the Mustangs. It was Cal Poly’s first series win against UCLA since 2014 and its first series win against a top-10 team in four years.
“To get the series win is big,” coach Larry Lee said. “We’re starting to build momentum. Guys are getting more touches on the mound, at-bats at the plate, they’re starting to feel comfortable. We have our deficiencies, but we’re trying to get better each game.”
The momentum truly is building for Cal Poly (8-5). After starting the season with a 1-3 weekend against Nevada, it has won three straight series—including series wins against Southern California and UCLA.
Cal Poly’s offense has been a driving force this season. The Mustangs hit just .231 in the abbreviated 2020 season, their worst team batting average in their Division I history. Through 13 games this season, they’re hitting .300 and averaging 6.85 runs per game.
Even UCLA’s premium pitching staff couldn’t slow down Cal Poly. The Mustangs scored 25 runs on the weekend. Shortstop Brooks Lee, Larry Lee’s son, led the way. The second-year freshman went 7-for-14 with three doubles, a triple and a home run in the series.
Brooks Lee is hitting .440/.455/.840 with four home runs on the season. After missing almost all of last season due to a knee injury he suffered in fall ball, it’s safe to say he’s adjusted to the college game.
“The last two weekends have been really impressive,” Larry Lee said. “He’s hitting different pitches, different locations, both sides of the plate and he’s got a lot of extra-base hits in those at-bats.
“He looks comfortable up there. He knows what he does well and tries to stay in those confines. It’s cool to watch and see his evolution of becoming a better baseball player.”
Brooks Lee is leading the way, but the Mustangs are building an impressive all-around lineup. Center fielder Cole Cabrera (.286/.453/.469), catcher Myles Emmerson (.400/.443/.491), Brooks Lee, third baseman Tate Samuelson (.327/.429/.500) and DH Matt Lopez (.478/.500/.543) make for a strong core.
The Mustangs this weekend married a strong scouting report and good execution throughout the lineup to hit the Bruins like few teams do.
“You can come up with a plan, but it’s up to the hitters to execute and they did,” Larry Lee said. “It went as scripted, but it doesn’t always happen that way.”
UCLA’s offense made life difficult for Cal Poly’s pitching as well. Drew Thorpe has been strong at the front of the rotation all season, but on Friday got knocked out in the fifth. Travis Weston went just two innings in his start Saturday before Andrew Alvarez delivered a quality start Sunday. The Mustangs’ bullpen was strong in its two wins, holding the Bruins to three runs in 7.1 innings.
Cal Poly is still working some things out on the mound, but the pieces are there for a solid staff.
“We’re starting to figure out who goes where,” Larry Lee said. “They’re putting in the work. Some guys are developing, some guys are taking the next step, but we do need more guys to get into the equation.”
That’s especially true as Cal Poly prepares for the start of Big West play this weekend. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the conference expanded its schedule to four-game weekends. Covering 36 innings every weekend will test every team’s pitching staff.
Regardless of the format, Cal Poly is well positioned going into Big West play. No team in the conference has played as well as it has over the first month of the season and after being voted fourth in the preseason coaches’ poll, the Mustangs now look like the favorites.
Cal Poly this weekend showed how high its ceiling is as a team—something the rest of the conference has yet to do. If the Mustangs play like that the rest of the way, they can win their second Big West title in program history and first since 2014.
Three Strikes: Tulane, Dallas Baptist, Mountain West
In this week's Three Strikes, we take a look at recent surges for Tulane and Dallas Baptist, plus the chaos in the Mountain West Conference.
Eight for Omaha
Arkansas, Florida, Miami, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Texas Tech, Vanderbilt
In the College Preview Issue, I picked Notre Dame as my Omaha sleeper. Recently, I’ve started using the #OmaIrish hashtag. I’ve talked about it, but it’s time to be about it. So, welcome to the field, Notre Dame. The Irish are 7-2—all against ACC competition on the road—and are picking up wins while they’re still working out how best to align their pitching staff. Texas Tech rejoins the field this week. The Red Raiders have won 13 straight and I’m remembering that they don’t lose in Lubbock. They look like the team we expected them to be coming into the year.
McCade Brown, RHP, Indiana: Brown on Saturday tied a program record with 16 strikeouts in seven hitless innings in an 8-0 victory against Penn State. After walking two of the first three batters he faced, the third-year sophomore retired 15 straight Nittany Lions, a streak that ended with a hit batter in the sixth. Brown improved to 2-0, 0.64 with 28 strikeouts and two walks in 14 innings this season.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs (8-8) on Sunday defeated Texas Christian, 10-7 in 11 innings to win the series in Fort Worth. The series win was Gonzaga’s first against a ranked opponent in nearly a decade. In a competitive West Coast Conference, the Bulldogs will be one of the top contenders.
Mason McWhorter, OF, Georgia Southern: In a 15-4 victory Saturday against Alabama-Birmingham, McWhorter went 5-for-5 with two home runs and hit for the cycle. McWhorter homered in the first inning, tripled in the second, homered again in the fourth, singled in the fifth and completed the cycle—the program’s first in 10 years—with a double in the seventh. McWhorter, a fifth-year senior, went 9-for-13 in the series and this season is hitting .441/.521/.847 with six home runs.
Southern Illinois: The Salukis won the first three games of their series against Evansville to run their winning streak to 19 games, the third-longest in program history, before losing Sunday’s finale. SIU (14-1) is tied for the most wins in the nation and the other four teams—Alabama, Louisiana State, Tennessee and Texas A&M—all play in the SEC. The Salukis' 14-0 start now stands as the best in program history.
Jarret Whorff, RHP, Louisiana Tech: In Sunday’s series finale against top-ranked Arkansas, Whorff threw a two-hit shutout in a 2-0 victory. He struck out 10 batters, walked one and threw seven hitless innings to finish the game and give the Razorbacks their first loss of the season. Whorff this season is 3-1, 1.78 with 23 strikeouts and five walks in 25.1 innings.
Start of SEC play: Opening weekend of the SEC slate is always a highlight of the season. This year delivers some very intriguing matchups. No. 12 South Carolina will visit No. 3 Vanderbilt with the Commodores flying high and the Gamecocks looking to get back on track after getting swept at Texas. No. 2 Mississippi State visits Louisiana State in a rivalry series that the Tigers need to make a statement. No. 22 Alabama also will be looking for a statement as it travels to top-ranked Arkansas, looking to prove its impressive early season results the last two years will translate to SEC play.
Arizona at UCLA highlights Pac-12 opening weekend: The Pac-12 season opens with a fascinating series between No. 17 Arizona and No. 23 UCLA. It’s a matchup of contrasting styles, as the Wildcats have perhaps the best offense in the country and the Bruins stand out for their work on the mound. UCLA has already lost two series this season. It can ill-afford a third here. Arizona, meanwhile, could use a series win as a springboard into the Pac-12 slate.
No. 25 Oklahoma State at No. 7 Texas Tech: Unlike the other major conferences, the Big 12 has more of a soft open to conference play and there are only two Big 12 series on tap this week. This one is a big one, however. After getting swept on Opening Weekend in the Sate Farm Showdown in Arlington, Texas, the Red Raiders have bounced back to win 13 straight. The Cowboys this weekend fell from the unbeaten ranks with a series loss to Vanderbilt. This weekend could set the tone for the rest of the conference race.