UNC, Arkansas Make Statement Sweeps, Highlighting College Baseball’s Weekend (Off The Bat)


Image credit: North Carolina's Luke Stevenson (Photo by Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images)

As the calendar flips to April, college baseball has just about reached its halfway point. In another wild week around the country, teams like Arkansas, Duke and North Carolina asserted themselves with big results.

Here are 15 takeaways from around the country on the weekend that was in college baseball.

1. North Carolina came into this weekend’s series at Wake Forest as a bit of an enigma. The Tar Heels were 22-4 and no team in the nation had more wins than them. But they also had lost their two toughest series (East Carolina and at Miami). How good were the Tar Heels, really? Their series at Wake was an opportunity to answer that question.

UNC made a big statement, sweeping Wake at Couch Ballpark. The Tar Heels finished the job with a 14-10 victory Sunday, clinching it with back-to-back home runs from freshmen Luke Stevenson and Gavin Gallaher in the ninth inning. UNC became the first team to sweep Wake in Winston-Salem since Virginia Tech on April 11, 2021. The Tar Heels (25-4, 10-2) now have a nine-game winning streak, have swept consecutive ACC series and are tied with Texas A&M for the most wins in the country.

The lineup has been at the forefront of UNC’s success this season and this weekend it hit 14 home runs, including four off Chase Burns. The Tar Heels are averaging 7.5 runs per game in ACC play (9.14 overall) and may have the program’s best offense since 2013, when they ranked fifth in the nation in scoring (7.6 runs per game) during the depths of the dead ball/bat era. The outfield trio of Casey Cook (.375/.458/.667, 9 HR), Anthony Donofrio (.304/.444/.500, 8 HR, 14 SB) and Vance Honeycutt (.288/.420/.577, 8 HR, 16 SB) has been dynamic and DH Alberto Osuna (.365/.452/.721) and third baseman Parks Harber (.330/.414/.700, 10 HR) add even more pop. Opponents have to be ready to battle for 27 outs on a weekend against that lineup.

UNC has had to piece things together on the mound after losing projected No. 1 starter Jake Knapp to injury before the season. But freshmen Folger Boaz (3-1, 4.67) and Jason DeCaro (1-0, 3.63) have stepped up to anchor the rotation and the Tar Heels have a deep bullpen.

The Tar Heels this week face a tough trip to Virginia (22-6, 7-5), but otherwise the schedule breaks their way the rest of the season. Their only other road trips are to NC State and Duke. Neither series will be easy, but both are less than 30-minute bus ride from Boshamer Stadium. Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Louisville all come to Chapel Hill, where UNC is 20-0.

UNC hasn’t won the Coastal Division since 2018. It has to be considered the favorite to do so now.

2. I’ve written a lot about what’s wrong with Wake, so I’m not going to belabor that again. But the Demon Deacons (17-10, 4-8) now find themselves in some real trouble.

While NC State made the NCAA Tournament last year at 13-16 in conference play, ACC teams typically need to get to .500 in conference play to feel safe for the NCAA Tournament. Wake needs to go 11-7 in its final six ACC series to hit that mark. For a team that came into the year as the clearcut conference favorite, that’s doable. But four of those six series are on the road (Virginia Tech, Boston College, Notre Dame and NC State), where Wake is 3-4 this season. Its two home series are against Florida State and Clemson, both of which are top-10 teams. The Demon Deacons are quickly running out of margin for error.

3. Wake’s SEC doppelgänger is LSU, which this weekend was swept at Arkansas. The Tigers (20-9, 2-7) have lost their first three conference series and over the next two weeks host Vanderbilt and travel to Tennessee, a pair of top-10 teams.

I’ll have more on LSU later this week, but for now I will say that things in Baton Rouge aren’t quite as dire as they are in Winston-Salem. First, the selection committee gives SEC teams more leniency with losing conference records than it does other conferences, allowing the Tigers to target 14 conference wins, not 15. Second, two of LSU’s first three SEC series came on the road. If the Tigers can use their home-field advantage at Alex Box Stadium, where they are 14-4 this season, they’ll be fine. But they’re also burning through their margin for error.

4. With the sweep, Arkansas won the series against LSU for the fourth time in five years. It wasn’t an easy sweep for the Razorbacks, as they had to fend off a late comeback in Thursday’s opener and needed 10 innings Friday. But Arkansas (23-3, 8-1) got it done and now has matched its 2009 team for the best start to conference play under coach Dave Van Horn.

Arkansas played clean baseball all weekend. It didn’t make an error and its pitchers walked just seven batters and hit three in 28 innings. Not giving up free bases has been a hallmark for the Razorbacks all year and it’s a big part of the reason they’re the No. 1 team in the country.

5. Duke came into the weekend having lost back-to-back series and neither of its early season statement weekends (3-0 against Indiana, George Mason and Coastal Carolina and a series win at Wake) are now looking as weighty. The Blue Devils needed to get something out of their series against Virginia.

Duke answered the bell. After splitting the first two games of the series, it won the finale, 7-4, to claim the series. The Blue Devils (20-8, 6-6) now have a chance to build some momentum, as they this week host Miami before travelling to Pittsburgh.

Duke this weekend welcomed back freshman lefthander Kyle Johnson, who missed the last two weeks. He threw one scoreless inning in relief Saturday in his first action since March 10 at Wake Forest. Before his injury, he had pitched his way into the third starter role for Duke and if he’s able to get back to that spot, it would be a boost for the pitching staff.

6. Southern California landed a major upset as it beat Oregon State, 2-1, on Thursday and 17-4 on Friday. Saturday’s series finale was rained out, giving the Trojans a potentially season-altering sweep. They also became the first team this season to win a series against the Beavers.

USC (11-15, 6-5) won the two games in impressively different fashion. On Thursday, it became the first team to hold Oregon State under two runs in a game since April 7, 2023 (Oregon). On Friday, the Trojans scored the most runs in a single game against the Beavers since May 28, 2022, when UCLA scored 25.

USC started the season with a five-game losing streak and lost 11 of its first 16 games. But it’s now won two of its last three series. It’s far from out of the woods, but this weekend shows the Trojans’ upside. In what looks to be a down Pac-12, any team that can take out Oregon State can win any series. The Trojans still have ample opportunity to climb out of the hole they dug.

7. Oregon State (21-4, 5-3) doesn’t need to be panicking after that series loss. It does, however, need to take care to avoid more weekends like this one. Because the Pac-12 is not particularly strong this year, the Beavers can’t rely on it to pump up its metrics and is going to need to pile up a bunch of conference wins to be a top-eight seed in the NCAA Tournament.

On a more micro level, Oregon State’s offense has gotten a little top heavy. Second baseman Travis Bazzana (.469/.595/1.063, 15 HR, 6 SB) continues to be ridiculous. First baseman Mason Guerra (.316/.445/.579, 6 HR) and outfielder Gavin Turley (.272/.417/.522, 6 HR) are solid. But the Beavers are missing a trio of starters in outfielders Brady Kasper and Micah McDowell and third baseman Trent Caraway. The Beavers came into the season with a deep lineup, but that depth is now getting tested in conference play.

8. Florida remains the most confounding team in the nation. The Gators started the week with a 14-3 loss against Florida State in Jacksonville. The loss clinched the season series for Florida State and was Florida’s fourth straight in midweek action, prompting coach Kevin O’Sullivan to tell reporters that he was going to move the team’s weekly off day from Monday to Wednesday. O’Sullivan also shook up the rotation, moving righthander Brandon Neely from closer to No. 1 starter in place of lefthander Cade Fisher.

Florida then went out and won a gritty series against Mississippi State, sandwiching walk-off wins around a 12-2 drubbing Saturday. On Friday, the Gators scored five runs in the final two innings to win, 7-6, and on Sunday, Jac Caglianone hit a walk-off, two-run home run to give them a 4-3 victory.

Florida (16-11, 6-3) continues to show impressive mental fortitude, as it improved to 10-1 after a loss this season. It also seems to have found some answers in the bullpen in righthanders Fisher Jameson, Luke McNeillie and Blake Purnell, and perhaps Fisher will regain his form in his new role.

But, at the same time, Florida can’t keep living like this. It must find some consistency and the next two weeks is the time to do that. Florida this week hosts Florida A&M (12-16) before visiting Missouri (10-18). It travels to Florida State (22-4) the following Tuesday before hosting South Carolina (21-7), which is 4-6 away from Founders Park. The Gators need to take this opportunity pile up some wins and break out of the .500 funk they’ve stuck themselves in.

9. Kentucky swept Mississippi at Swayze Field, finishing the weekend with an emphatic, 15-1 victory in seven innings. It was the Wildcats’ first ever sweep in Oxford.

Only North Carolina and Texas A&M have more wins than Kentucky (24-4, 8-1) and only Arkansas can match its SEC record through three weeks. You can note that the Wildcats haven’t yet played an SEC powerGeorgia, Missouri and Ole Miss seem likely to finish in the bottom half of the standingsand their non-conference slate has not been elite (it ranks 102nd nationally). But Kentucky is winning its games and has a top-10 RPI. It’s a slightly different formula than the Wildcats used last year, when their strength of schedule was elite, but this season may well end in the same place: with a Lexington Regional.

Kentucky’s second-half slate is much stronger than its first, but it probably only needs eight or nine SEC wins over the next seven weeks to put itself in position to host. For a program that has only hosted regionals three times (2006, 2017, 2023), hosting in back-to-back seasons would be all the more impressive.

10. Perhaps the most surprising result of the weekend was Lamar (22-5) sweeping Oklahoma (15-12) in Norman. The Cardinals are off to a sensational start and have won 16 of their last 17 games. But the Sooners are in first place in the Big 12, swept UCF and TCU and went 2-1 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic against Oregon, Tennessee and Nebraska. Coming into this weekend, I saw Oklahoma as a College World Series contender.

Now, I have no idea what to make of the Sooners after they just completed a 2-6 homestand. The two wins came via shutout of Oral Roberts and West Virginia. In the six losses, Oklahoma gave up an average of 9.0 runs per game. The biggest concern from this weekend has to be the defense, which committed eight errors.

Things only get tougher for Oklahoma moving forward. It this week travels to Wichita State (18-9) and Oklahoma State (18-10). The Sooners need to snap out of this skid in a hurry.

11. The Big 12’s biggest series of the week saw Texas win a series on the road at Kansas State. The Wildcats won Thursday’s opener, but Texas bounced back for a 21-11 win Friday and a 6-3, series-clinching victory Saturday. A week ago in this space, I wrote that the winner of that series was likely to end up in the Top 25. That didn’t happen, in large part because Texas (17-11, 6-3) lost Tuesday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

While it still doesn’t have a number next to its name, the series win was impressive for Texas. The Longhorns have won their first three conference series, two of which have been on the road. This weekend, they showed impressive resolve to push past two tough losses to begin the week. Getting sophomore righthander Max Grubbs (4-0, 1.87) to step up in the rotation has been huge. Texas isn’t a finished product but it’s trending in the right direction, and no one has separated from the pack in the topsy-turvy Big 12. Bottom line: don’t forget about or count out the Longhorns.

12. The nation’s longest active winning streak belongs to Louisiana-Lafayette at 11 games. The Ragin’ Cajuns (20-8, 8-1) this weekend picked up a solid road sweep of Texas State. They now sit in first place in the Sun Belt. The Cajuns started the season slowly and were 5-6 after getting swept at the Astros Foundation Classic to begin March. But since then, they’ve found their stride. They are 15-2 with series wins against Tulane, Arkansas State, Old Dominion and Texas State.

The Sun Belt is messy at this stage of the season, but Louisiana looks like it’s going to be a major factor in the title race. The second half of April may prove decisive for the Cajuns, as they travel to Coastal Carolina and host Southern Miss in back-to-back weeks. But regardless of whether Louisiana captures the title, it looks like it’s on track for a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

13. Nebraska (20-5, 3-0) opened Big Ten play with a sweep at Northwestern. The Cornhuskers finished it off Sunday with an 8-7 victory in 10 innings that saw Cole Evans score the tying run in the ninth inning and drive in the go-ahead run in the 10th.

Nebraska moved into the Top 25 for the first time since the 2022 preseason rankings. The Cornhuskers have played a good, not great schedule. But they have done what you’d want them to do against it and are riding a 10-game winning streak. This is a bad year for the Big Ten and Nebraska probably isn’t going to get a chance to produce a statement weekend the rest of the year. But its RPI is 11 and if it rips through the conference, hosting isn’t out of the question. The margin for error won’t be large, however.

14. I last week called TCU’s series against Houston a must-win. Well, the Horned Frogs got it done, sweeping the Cougars at Lupton Stadium. TCU (20-7, 5-7) didn’t trail in the first 22 innings of the series and held UH to seven runs on the weekend. It was just the kind of bounce-back weekend the Horned Frogs needed after losing their first three Big 12 series.

15. The men’s basketball Final Four field was set this weekend, with Alabama, Connecticut, NC State and Purdue advancing. Those four teams represent four different conferences. When was the last time there was so much conference diversity in the College World Series bracket finals?

Not that long ago, as it turns out. In 2019, the last four college baseball teams left standing were Louisville, Michigan, Texas Tech and Vanderbilt. Prior to that, you have to go back to 2010, when it was Clemson, South Carolina, TCU and UCLA.

Eight for Omaha

Arkansas, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, North Carolina, Oregon State, Tennessee, Texas A&M

We’re halfway into the season and I don’t feel like we’re any closer to knowing which eight teams are best equipped to make it to Omaha. But I make these predictions every week, so here’s my best stab. I dropped LSU and Oklahoma from the field and replaced them with Florida State and North Carolina.

If this played out, it would be the first time in a decade that there wasn’t a Big 12 team in Omaha. Someone from that conference probably makes it, but who? I’m not yet ready to put UCF, Oklahoma State or Texas in the mix, so, for now, we’ll move on without the Big 12. The Big 12 and Pac-12’s struggles leave the door open for a team from outside the major conferences like Dallas Baptist or UC Irvine, but I’m not quite ready to put either into the field.

Instead, I added the Seminoles and Tar Heels, two exciting teams. As I outlined above, UNC’s remaining schedule is advantageous. It’s easy to see it as a top-eight seed, which would be big for a team that’s 20-0 at home. Florida State still has some bullpen questions to iron out after it was swept at Clemson a week ago, but I like its overall talent.

Looking Ahead

No. 13 North Carolina travels to No. 12 Virginia for key ACC showdown. The Tar Heels’ nine-game winning streak is the third-longest active streak in the nation and they’re coming off of back-to-back sweeps of Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. They’ll put that on the line in Charlottesville, where the Cavaliers are 13-2 this season. As both teams are jockeying for positioning in the hosting and ACC races, this weekend will carry a lot of importance.

Oklahoma travels to Oklahoma State for Bedlam. This will be the last time the in-state rivals will play a weekend series for the foreseeable future. Oklahoma is leaving the Big 12 for the SEC at the end of the season. While the two teams are committed to continue playing against each other, that will happen in midweek games, at least for now. So, enjoy this weekend’s atmosphere and urgency. The Sooners (15-12, 7-2) top the Big 12 standings but are coming off getting swept by Lamar. The Cowboys (18-10, 5-4), meanwhile, carry some momentum into the weekend, as they’ve won seven of their last nine games.

No. 14 UC Irvine hosts No. 23 UC Santa Barbra in Big West title fight. It’s still early, but this looks like a showdown between the two best teams in the conference. The Anteaters (22-3, 8-1) are off to a sizzling start and have won seven straight games after a road sweep of Hawaii. The Gauchos (15-8, 4-2) have been a bit up and down this season but their high-end pitching staff gives them a chance at slowing down UCI.

Download our app

Read the newest magazine issue right on your phone