Off The Bat: These Were The Most Significant Upsets Of The Weekend
Upsets Defined The Weekend, But Which Were Most Significant?
On paper, Week 11 didn’t look like a weekend that would shake up college baseball. After several top-10 showdowns over the last few weeks, including intense rivalries like Mississippi vs. Mississippi State, there were this weekend just three series that featured matchups of Top 25 teams.
The weekend’s slate might not have stood out on paper, but fans of the unpredictability of college baseball got a banner weekend. In all three Top 25 matchups, the lower-ranked team won the series. In all, nine Top 25 teams lost series and two others split four-game sets. The upsets included Florida taking down Vanderbilt—just the second series loss of the season for the Commodores, and Clemson sweeping Louisville—becoming the first team to sweep the Cardinals since 2011.
On a topsy-turvy weekend, which of the upsets was most significant? Which were just noise, and which have the most implications on conference standings and the postseason race? Here are the five most important.
1. Clemson sweeps Louisville
The Tigers put together as impressive a weekend as anyone in the country. They outscored the Cardinals, 31-12, over three games and it might not have even been that close. They wasted no time in any of the three games, scoring 15 runs in the first three innings, and trailed at the start of just one inning all weekend. Slugger Caden Grice hit four home runs, including a three-homer game Friday, to lead the Tigers.
Clemson (21-18, 15-12) has won six straight games, sweeping Louisville and Wake Forest, to put itself firmly back in the NCAA Tournament picture. Its closing slate is challenging—at Georgia Tech, at Florida State, vs. Duke on the weekend, as well as midweek home games against South Carolina-Upstate and South Carolina—but barring a collapse, it should have secured an NCAA Tournament bid.
Louisville (23-14, 14-9), meanwhile, has fallen four games behind Notre Dame in the ACC standings and with just three weeks left, that deficit will be difficult to erase. The sweep also was a big blow to Louisville’s hosting resume. It ranks No. 55 in RPI, well outside the range typically needed to host, and this weekend was a missed opportunity to improve its standing in the metric. The selection committee also typically values a strong record away from home and the Cardinals are just 8-9 away from Jim Patterson Stadium. At this point, very little of Louisville’s resume looks like a typical regional host and it is running out of time to bolster it.
2. Texas Tech’s win at Texas
Texas Tech last weekend was dealt an upset series loss at home by Baylor—its first home series loss since 2018. It didn’t stay down long, however, as it went to Austin and won the first two games of its series against Texas. It was the Longhorns’ first losing weekend since Opening Weekend.
After its loss to Baylor, Texas Tech (30-11, 10-8) had fallen to the wrong side of the hosting bubble. The series win against Texas likely puts it back on the right side, though it will need to finish strong against Oklahoma and Kansas.
For Texas (35-11, 13-5), the series loss was a brutal one. The Longhorns had started the weekend tied with Texas Christian for first place in the Big 12, with a series at Fort Worth next weekend on tap. Now, TCU leads Texas by two games and has a chance to win the conference title this weekend. The Longhorns are still in fine shape as a host and probably as a top-eight seed as well. But they can’t take anything for granted now.
3. Virginia’s win at Virginia Tech
Virginia took a big step toward the NCAA Tournament field with a road series win against its in-state rival. The Cavaliers blew out the Hokies, 18-1, in the opener, but lost, 6-3, in Game 2. On Sunday, Virginia clinched the series with a 6-1 victory.
The Cavaliers (22-20, 13-17) have now won four of their last five series after a slow start to the season. After a finals break this week, they’ll finish the season with series against Wake Forest and at Boston College, which currently have the two worst records in the conference. It’s been a long road back for Virginia after losing its first five ACC series, but this weekend was another big step.
Virginia Tech (23-17, 16-14) is going the opposite direction. It's lost three straight series and is 4-8 overall during that stretch. That skid has dropped the Hokies out of first place in the Coastal Division (though they’re only a game behind Pittsburgh) and has put a real damper on the possibility of hosting a regional. Virginia Tech is now out of the Top 25 for the first time in two months.
4. Florida’s win against Vanderbilt
After losing Friday’s game, 11-7, Florida bounced back to win its next two games against Vanderbilt. It on Saturday won, 11-8, and on Sunday jumped out to an early lead that turned into a 5-3 victory. Florida joined Georgia as the only teams this season to win a series against Vanderbilt.
Florida (30-13, 13-8) needed the series win to stay in the race for both the SEC East and the chance to host regionals. The Gators’ work isn’t done, but they got what they needed out of this weekend. A tricky road series this weekend at Kentucky offers Florida another opportunity to boost its RPI before the selection committee narrows the field of potential regional hosts to 20 teams.
Vanderbilt (32-9, 14-7) didn’t have as much on the line this weekend. It missed an opportunity to all but put the SEC East title away, slipped a game behind Arkansas in the race for the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament and saw its RPI slip to No. 4. Losing a series to the rival Gators isn’t going to feel good, but the Commodores are largely in the same position today as they were this time a week ago.
5. Old Dominion’s win against Charlotte
After losing a four-game series at Charlotte a week ago, ODU returned home and flipped the result. The Monarchs and 49ers split the first two games before the Monarchs pulled away in the second half of the series. They outscored the 49ers, 24-2, in those games, including a 10-0, run-rule shortened game Sunday.
After eight games against each other over the last two weekends, ODU (31-11, 17-7) and Charlotte (31-14, 18-6) are largely back to where they were two weeks ago. Charlotte holds a one-game lead on ODU in the Conference USA East standings and both are clearly in the hosting mix having boosted their RPIs by playing against each other.
This weekend, however, was important for ODU. It needed the series win to keep its conference title and hosting hopes alive. For Charlotte, the series loss likely doesn’t change its position much. Its RPI has risen to No. 11 and it’s still in first place.
Big Ten Race Shake Up
College baseball’s wild weekend included a shake up in the Big Ten race. It started at the top, as Rutgers went on the road to sweep Nebraska, which came into the weekend in first place. Second-place Michigan split a four-game series against Illinois, while Indiana moved to the top of the standings with a series win against Iowa.
As it stands, the Hoosiers (20-9) hold a slim, half-game lead on the Wolverines (21-11) and Cornhuskers (20-10). Iowa (19-13), Maryland (19-13), Rutgers (17-13) and Ohio State (17-14) stand further off the pace but are still very much in the postseason hunt.
With four weeks to go in the Big Ten season, here are a few thoughts on where things in the conference stand.
Indiana is rounding into form. The Hoosiers are just getting into the teeth of their schedule. The series against Iowa was the start of a challenging five-week stretch to end the season, during which Indiana will only play teams currently in the top half of the conference standings. If it repeats as Big Ten champions, it will have earned it.
While it won’t be easy for the Hoosiers, they showed both their potential and their toughness this weekend against the Hawkeyes. For just the third time in nine weeks, Indiana lost the first game of the weekend, dropping Friday’s opener, 6-5, against Iowa. But the Hoosiers came right back, winning Saturday’s game, 12-6, to even the series and claiming the rubber game, 12-8.
Indiana’s response against Iowa was a big change from its last series-opening loss, which came a month ago at Ohio State. The Buckeyes went on to sweep that four-game series in Columbus. Coach Jeff Mercer said the Hoosiers learned from that experience.
“When you have a moment where you lose, you have to pick yourself up off the mat,” he said. “Either you roll over and die or you get up and go back to work. When you have those moments, you learn you can do it.
“Whatever happens the rest of the season, we are beginning to find our identity to a degree with some toughness and resilience.”
Indiana is also finding consistency in its lineup after trying out several different combinations in the early going. That its stars have found their footing has certainly helped. Cole Barr went 6-for-10 with six runs, a triple and two home runs on the weekend. Grant Richardson added six hits and four runs of his own. The Hoosiers lead the conference with a 2.83 ERA, nearly a run better than second-place Michigan (3.79), and their .976 fielding percentage ranks second.
The next four weeks will be difficult, but Indiana proved this weekend against a battle-tested Iowa team that it is ready for the challenge.
Rutgers is for real. In each of the last two weeks, Rutgers has gone on the road to take on the team leading the Big Ten standings. A week ago, it was a trip to Michigan. This week, it was a series at Nebraska.
Rutgers went 5-1 in those games, handing both Michigan and Nebraska their first series losses of the season. This weekend, the Scarlet Knights swept the Huskers—marking the first sweep for Rutgers since it joined the Big Ten—to extend their winning streak to five games.
As May begins, Rutgers is 17-13 and 3.5 games behind first-place Indiana. The Scarlet Knights haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2007, but the postseason is within their reach in coach Steve Owens’ second season.
“Our program hasn’t been in meaningful spots for a long time,” Owens said. “I’m happy for our players who have worked hard to experience some success and the confidence that goes along with it.”
Whereas Indiana has the toughest part of its schedule left, Rutgers is looking at a more manageable final month of the regular season. The Scarlet Knights do face Indiana and Nebraska this weekend in a four-game pod at home, but their final three weekends are against teams currently under .500 and their only remaining road trip is to Penn State for a four-game pod with the Nittany Lions and Minnesota. After some difficult travel—to Michigan and Nebraska in back-to-back weeks, Opening Weekend at Minnesota and long trips to Northwestern and Purdue—Rutgers is looking forward to some home cooking.
That said, the Scarlet Knights have been successful road warriors. They’re 13-7 away from home this season, including a 6-2 mark against the top three teams in the conference—Indiana, Michigan and Nebraska.
Rutgers' strength has been on the mound and its done a good job the last two weeks, holding Michigan and Nebraska to 15 runs over six games. A rotation of Harry Rutkowski (2-2, 4.04), Ben Wereski (5-2, 3.29) and Brent Teller (2-2, 4.00) has been solid, but the bullpen has come on strong and showed its depth at Nebraska. The bullpen held the Huskers to one run over 10.1 innings, playing a critical role in the sweep.
Offensively, Rutgers has pieced its lineup together, often moving players around to exploit matchups or take advantage of a hot hand. It’s a system that’s worked, in no small part because of the efforts of Mike Nyisztor, a fourth-year junior and New Jersey native. He’s hitting .346/.469/.436 and this weekend went 5-for-11 and scored six runs.
“I’m trying not to do too much, just do my part,” he said. “I don’t like to look at stats. But everyone in the lineup has been doing their job. All the guys are helping me do my part.”
Can Rutgers break its NCAA Tournament drought? It has the big wins few other teams in the conference do and it has a manageable final month of the season. But with the standings as bunched as they are, it’s hard to know how things will shake out over the next four weeks.
No matter what, however, Rutgers has clearly taken a significant step forward to be in this position. Since joining the Big Ten for the 2015 season, the Scarlet Knights have not made the Big Ten Tournament. That won’t change this year because the conference isn’t holding the event in 2021, but they might be able to get a taste of postseason baseball any way.
“I’m happy for our guys, for our program to be able to show that we’re improving,” Owens said. “It’s exciting. It’s good to see the smile on their faces. We’re just enjoying this and not trying to put pressure on ourselves.”
So how many teams is the Big Ten getting in regionals? For much of the season, I have been of the belief that the Big Ten, with a conference-only schedule, would likely get three teams, maybe four, in the NCAA Tournament. While some believe the conference doesn’t even deserve that many after opting not to play non-conference games, it seems more likely that the selection committee will fall back on the recent history of the Big Ten producing 3-5 NCAA Tournament teams and allot a couple at-large bids for the conference, so long as the regional advisory committee ranks the teams well.
Now, however, I’m beginning to think the Big Ten will push to the upper end of its recent history and produce 4-5 bids. Indiana, Michigan and Nebraska already have created some separation at the top of the standings. Iowa and Rutgers have played the toughest part of their schedules. Maryland and Ohio State are hanging around in contention and have the talent to rip off a strong final month.
That’s seven teams. At least two of them are getting left at home (I can’t imagine the Big Ten would break its record for regional bids in a year it didn’t play non-conference games).
Some of this will work itself out over the next four weeks, but right now cutting down the Big Ten contenders is only getting harder.
Baylor Baseball: Five Questions to Answer Entering 2022
Baylor narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament last season. In 2022, it has a roster that should prevent it from being left out again.
Eight for Omaha
Arizona, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Texas, Texas Christian, Vanderbilt
For the first time in four weeks, I’ve made a change to the field. Louisville is out and TCU is in. The Horned Frogs are a perhaps belated addition to the field. They’re closing in on a Big 12 title and rank No. 2 in RPI. They’re nearly a shoo-in as a top-eight seed, which would give them home-field advantage until the College World Series. TCU is 26-5 all-time in the NCAA Tournament at Lupton Stadium and has lost a regional or super regional just once (2011 Fort Worth Regional).
As for Louisville, after getting swept at Clemson, the Cardinals have now fallen four games behind Notre Dame in the ACC standings. Between that gap and its confoundingly poor RPI (No. 55), Louisville is slipping as a potential host. At the moment, it’s also just hard to trust the Cardinals to win five games over two weekends against strong competition. They may well round into form over the next month, especially if they can get back to full strength, but for now they’re out.
I’m hanging on to Texas here even after the Longhorns were upset by Texas Tech. But I say that with less conviction today than I have for the last few weeks. Florida seems to be rounding into form and Mississippi is in the mix again. But teams from outside the major conferences, like the Conference USA quartet of Charlotte, Louisiana Tech, Old Dominion and Southern Mississippi, can’t be excluded. In the unique season of 2021, veteran mid-major teams are likely to make their presence felt in the NCAA Tournament.
Tyler Burnham, LHP, Seton Hall: Burnham on Sunday threw a no-hitter in a 2-0 victory against Georgetown. The fourth-year junior struck out 14 batters and walked four, while leading the Pirates (19-15, 12-3) to a sweep. Burnham improved to 3-3, 2.97 with 40 strikeouts in 39.1 innings.
Kennesaw State: The Owls won a series against Georgia Tech, winning the opener, 5-1, on Friday and Sunday’s finale, 10-5. It is the first time Kennesaw State (26-13) has beaten Georgia Tech twice in one season.
Northeastern: Trivia time! With Fairfield taking its first loss of the season this weekend against Siena, what team holds the nation’s longest active winning streak? That’s right, it’s the Northeastern Huskies. They swept a four-game series against Towson to improve to 23-6 and are now 11-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association. Northeastern last lost April 6 against Boston College.
Jordan Patty, RHP, Central Michigan: Patty on Friday threw a perfect game against Miami (Ohio) in a 14-0 victory that was shortened to seven innings due to run rule. He went to a three-ball count on just one batter all game and he matched his career high with 11 strikeouts. Patty this season is 6-1, 1.73 with 61 strikeouts and 17 walks in 62.1 innings. He has now thrown 38 straight scoreless innings, a streak that dates to March 26 against Ohio.
Carlos Tavera, RHP, Texas-Arlington: Tavera threw nine hitless innings Saturday against Arkansas-Little Rock and combined with Tanner King for an 11-inning no-hitter in a 1-0 victory. Tavera struck out 11 batters and walked three, and this season is 1-4, 2.97 with 89 strikeouts and 25 walks in 57.2 innings. The victory was the start of a sweep for the Mavericks (22-22, 10-5) that pushed them into first place in the Sun Belt Conference’s West Division.
No. 5 Texas Christian hosts No. 9 Texas with a chance to clinch the Big 12 title. The Horned Frogs (33-10, 15-3) hold a two-game lead on the Longhorns (35-11, 13-5) in the standings. With the Longhorns in town for a crucial weekend, the Horned Frogs have a chance to clinch their third Big 12 title and first since 2017. A series win would get it done for TCU.
No. 7 Arizona and No. 19 Stanford, the top two teams in the Pac-12 standings, meet for showdown. The Wildcats (30-11, 15-6) hold a slight edge on the Cardinal (24-9, 10-5) in the conference standings and are set to travel to Sunken Diamond for a pivotal weekend. Arizona has won nine straight and a series win at Stanford would firmly put it in the driver’s set for its first conference title since 2012.
No. 24 UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara meet with Big West lead on the line. The Gauchos (29-13, 20-8) and the Anteaters (26-14, 18-6) are locked in a tie atop the Big West standings, five games ahead of their challengers. The winner of this weekend’s series at UCSB will have the inside track to the conference title—and the automatic NCAA Tournament bid that comes with it. The Gauchos are aiming for their second straight Big West championship, while the Anteaters are seeking their first since 2009 (and second ever).