Upsets By Alabama, NC State Highlight College Baseball’s Weekend (Off The Bat)


Image credit: Alabama LHP Alton Davis II (Photo by Eddie Kelly / ProLook Photos)

This weekend provided a bounty of storylines to follow around the country. The top two ranked teams in the Top 25 both lost a series in the same weekend for the first time since March 11-13, 2022, as Arkansas lost at Alabama and Clemson lost to NC State. A top-five series ended in a comprehensive sweep. There were rivalries and hot streaks and series that will shape conference title races.

In short, it was a lot of fun. Here are 15 takeaways from around the country on the weekend that was in college baseball.

1. Arkansas came into this weekend’s series at Alabama ranked No. 1 and riding a 10-game winning streak. It had lost just three games all season and just once since the start of March. The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, had lost four straight and five of their last six games.

Because this is the 2024 college baseball season, Arkansas of course won Friday’s opener, 5-3, behind a strong start from Hagen Smith (6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 6 K) and then lost the next two games. Alabama evened the series Saturday with a 4-3 victory in 10 innings and then won the finale, 5-0, as freshman Zane Adams (8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K) and Alton Davis II combined for a four-hit shutout. It was the first series loss of the season for the Razorbacks (30-5, 12-3) and knocked them from atop the rankings.

Alabama (24-12, 6-9) won the series by beating Arkansas at its own game. The Razorbacks have the best pitching staff in the nation and while they didn’t have their best weekend on the mound, they still gave up just 12 runs in a road SEC series. But the Tide’s pitching staff outdueled them, holding the Razorbacks to just eight runs on the weekend. Sunday’s shutout was the first time Arkansas had been shutout since Mississippi’s Dylan DeLucia threw a four-hit shutout against them in the bracket final of the 2022 College World Series.

Alabama didn’t get the best outing Friday night from righthander Ben Hess (5 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 3 BB, 8 K). But Adams on Sunday was outstanding and lefthander Greg Farone (5 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 3 K) was solid Saturday. The bullpen held the Razorbacks to two runs on three hits and three walks in 10 innings.

Alabama has been solid on the mound this season, despite some injuries and Hess, a Preseason All-American, not at his best (3-3, 6.41, 65 K, 23 BB, 39.1 IP). This weekend was a reminder of how high the ceiling is on the mound for the Tide.

2. This was a major series win for the Tide and its importance can’t be overstated. Alabama came into the weekend just 4-8 in SEC play and if it had taken another series loss, it would have been left with a heavy lift in the second half of conference play just to get to the 13 conference wins that are usually required for SEC teams to get at-large bids.

The second half of SEC play is also brutally tough for the Tide. Fresh off beating the No. 1 team in the country, Alabama gets another crack at the top-ranked team as Texas A&M, which ascended to the top spot in the rankings, comes to Tuscaloosa this weekend. Trips to Mississippi and Mississippi State follow before Alabama finishes with LSU and at Auburn.

On paper, the schedule eases after A&M leaves town. But Alabama is 3-7 in road games and has been swept in its two conference road seriesat Georgia and at Kentucky. Until it proves it can beat quality competition on the road, trips to the Magnolia State and a visit to archrival Auburn, which will either be playing for its postseason life or playing its own CWS, can’t be taken for granted.

3. For Arkansas, there’s no cause for alarm after this series. Just about every team in the country has had a bad weekend and going on the road has been incredibly difficult in the SEC this season.

That said, Arkansas is maybe more vulnerable to this kind of weekend than is comfortable. Its pitching staff is the best in the nation. Its offense, however, is not in the same tier. The Razorbacks rank 12th in the SEC in scoring (6.97 runs per game). They fare comparatively better in conference play, ranking ninth at 5.47 runs per game, but this isn’t a high-powered offense.

So how much of an issue is the lineup? Another SEC team may catch Arkansas in the same way Alabama did this weekendespecially with road trips to South Carolina, Kentucky and Texas A&M still to come. It’s hard to see any team coming into Baum-Walker Stadium, where the Razorbacks are 25-1 this season, and outpitching Arkansas for a weekend. Omaha, assuming Arkansas gets there, may be a different story, but that’s a long way off.

4. Clemson came into its series against NC State ranked No. 2 in the country and having not lost a series all season. And, like Arkansas, that changed this weekend. The Wolfpack won the first two games of the series, winning 11-8 in Friday’s opener and 4-0 on Saturday. It became the first team to shut out Clemson since March 25, 2022 (Pittsburgh).

NC State went into the series on a five-game losing streak and came away with a much-needed series win. The Wolfpack got a couple solid starts from Dominic Fritton (5.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K) and Cooper Consiglio (6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 3 K). They also did a good job of taking advantage of some sloppiness from the Tigers, who made seven errors in the first two games.

NC State (20-13, 10-8) really needed the series win. Not only did it stop a losing streak, but the rest of the Wolfpack’s ACC schedule is brutally tough. It still has home series against North Carolina and Wake Forest and visits to Florida State and Virginia on the slate. All four of those teams are ranked in the top 15 and just splitting those 12 games feels like it would be a significant accomplishment. This weekend gives NC State a measure of breathing room before the finishing stretch.

5. Like Arkansas, Clemson (29-6, 11-4) shouldn’t feel cause for alarm a poor week (it also lost to S.C.-Upstate on Tuesday). Its bats weren’t particularly good all weekit scored 20 runs in four games and was outhit in all three lossesand its defense let it down against NC State.

But every team in the country has a weekend like this at some point. The key for the Tigers is going to be how it responds. Sunday’s 7-0 win behind an excellent outing from righthander Aidan Knaak (8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 K) was a good start. Clemson this week gets some fortunate scheduling with Charlotte (16-20) and Pittsburgh (14-18) coming to Doug Kingsmore Stadium. It needs to take advantage.

6. The series losses for Arkansas and Clemson opened up the top of the rankings. Texas A&M was more than ready to take over at No. 1 following a commanding sweep of Vanderbilt. The Aggies didn’t allow a run for the first 17 innings of the series (a streak that stretched into Sunday due to Friday’s run-rule shortened victory) and scored 36 runs on the weekend. It was as emphatic a sweep as you could ask for, especially against a team that came into the weekend 10th in the nation in ERA (3.71).

The Aggies (32-4, 11-4) are No. 1 for the first time under coach Jim Schlossnagle and look like the most complete team in the country. Their rotation of Ryan Prager (7-0, 1.98), Tanner Jones (3-1, 3.86) and Justin Lamkin (2-1, 4.19) is solid, and Evan Aschenbeck (4-0, 1.47, 5 SV) and Chris Cortez (5-1, 2.32) give them a pair of weapons out of the bullpen. The lineup is averaging 8.97 runs per game with star outfielders Jace LaViolette (.303/.463/.765, 16 HR) and Braden Montgomery (.380/.509/.891, 19 HR) leading the way. And it’s a solid fielding team (.980).

A&M’s lone series loss came at Florida on the first weekend of SEC play. But it handled that setback well and is 14-2 since. The rest of the schedule sets up fairly well. It still has road trips to Alabama, LSU and Mississippi, none of which are easy, especially this weekend in Tuscaloosa (just ask Arkansas), but all are manageable. It hosts Georgia and Arkansas, two teams you’d much rather get at home than on the road.

A&M has won the SEC just once (2016). Kentucky and Arkansas are going to have something to say about whether the Aggies can win another title, but the Aggies can feel great about where they are at the mid-point of SEC play.

7. Vanderbilt (26-10, 8-7) was always going to be fighting an uphill battle going on the road to College Station but this was still a weekend to forget. The Commodores were shutout in back-to-back games for the first time since 1995 and were behind from the jump, as A&M opened Friday’s game at the plate with a walk and back-to-back home runs from LaViolette and Montgomery.

While I want to say this is the kind of weekend you just forget about, I don’t think it’s that simple for Vanderbilt. The Commodores have spent all season ranked in the top 10 but when you really start to evaluate their resume, it’s anything but straightforward. I’ll probably dive into this more in this week’s Projected Field of 64, but suffice it to say, Vanderbilt would be on the hosting bubble if Selection Monday were today.

Selection Monday, of course, is still more than a month away. Vanderbilt has plenty of time to shore things up. But after a very difficult weekend, it’s clear the Commodores have work to do.

8. West Virginia picked up a hard-fought sweep of UCF and has now won seven of its last eight games. The Mountaineers needed late comebacks in Friday’s 7-6 victory, when they scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh to push ahead, and in Sunday’s 11-10 victory in 11 innings, when they needed to score twice in the ninth to force extra innings.

West Virginia (22-13, 11-4) remains in first place in the Big 12 and surged into the top 30 of RPI. After treading water for more than a month without All-American JJ Wetherholt, the Mountaineers are 6-1 since he returned to the lineup April 5. It’s not all Wetherholt, but having him back at the top of the lineup does seem to have energized the team and they’ve put themselves in a position where they can make a run at the conference title and a home regional with a strong finishing kick.

9. UCF (21-12, 8-10) had a brutal week, going 0-4 with a loss at Stetson thrown in. This was the second time the Knights have been swept in Big 12 play, as they also went winless at Oklahoma.

I don’t think this weekend was too much cause for concern. West Virginia is a very good team and the conditions in Morgantown were very difficultFriday night was played in a steady rain and the wind howled all weekend. On the other hand, UCF is now under .500 in conference play despite the fact it won four of its six Big 12 series. The problem is the Knights have yet to sweep a conference series and they’ve been swept twice.

The Big 12 is as full of parity as any major conference, but UCF’s schedule seems to ease down the stretch (Central Michigan, Cincinnati, at Houston, Texas, at Baylor). Finish strong and the Knights should be in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017. Hosting is still on the table but will probably require them to go at least 8-4 in their remaining conference games.

10. Florida State put together an excellent week, going 4-0 against archrivals Florida and Miami. The Seminoles started it Tuesday with a 19-4, seven-inning victory against the Gators to complete the season sweep. They then swept the Hurricanes, completing a season sweep of both their rivals for just the second time in program history and the first time since 1960.

Neither Florida (18-17) nor Miami (16-19) is playing particularly well right now. But that shouldn’t diminish the Seminoles’ accomplishment after they thoroughly beat both rivals this season. They didn’t trail after the first inning in any of the six games and allowed an average of 5.0 runs against their rivals.

As great as this week was for Florida State, it did also get some bad news. Righthanders Cam Leiter and Conner Whittaker both missed their starts. Leiter (5-1, 4.63) also missed his start last week at Boston College. Coach Link Jarrett this week told reporters in Tallahassee that while Leiter was doing better, he wasn’t ready to return. Jarrett said Whittaker (4-0, 5.31) struggled to bounce back from his start at BC but that it was too early to know his long-term prognosis. Florida State has also been without righthander Ben Barrett (1-0, 1.86) for more than a month.

Lefthanders Brady Louck (2 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 1 K) and Carson Dorsey (3.2 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 3 K) this week stepped into the rotation, with lefthanders Brennen Oxford (4.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 4 K) and Andrew Armstrong (4.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 0 K) piggybacking them. The strategy worked against Miami, but obviously Florida State is a better team with Leiter and Whittaker in the rotation. Getting them back sooner than later would be a big boost.

11. For the first time in seven seasons, Mississippi won the rivalry series against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs won Friday’s opener, 8-0, before the Rebels bounced back Saturday for a wild, 10-9 victory in 12 innings and then rolled to a 14-2 victory in seven innings Sunday.

For Ole Miss (20-16, 5-10), the series win couldn’t have come at a better time. Friday’s loss was the Rebels’ eighth straight and 10th in 12 games. They had lost three straight series since beating South Carolina on opening weekend of SEC play and were staring down yet another series loss to their archrivals.

But Ole Miss made a stand Saturday. It was down 7-3 in the middle of the eighth inning before rallying to tie the game. Mississippi State pushed ahead with a run in the top of the 11th and 12th innings. Both times, the Rebels responded, including Jackson Ross’ two-run walk-off single.

Ole Miss is still facing an uphill battle to put together an NCAA Tournament resume. With its current RPI (29), it would have a solid shot at a bid with 13 SEC wins, which would mean going 8-7 in the second half of conference play. Ole Miss will need to play better on the road than it has to this point (4-8) to hit that mark, but perhaps we’ll look back at Saturday’s gutty win as a turning point.

12. Because it’s a major rivalry and because Mississippi State lost the series for the first time since 2015 and because of the way it lost Saturday and Sunday, the heat this weekend got turned up in Starkville.

Mississippi State’s bullpen, which has been solid this season, couldn’t hold any of the leads it was handed Saturday. Nothing went right Sunday, as Ole Miss scored its biggest win in the history of the rivalry. In the end, the series was a tale of two halves: Mississippi State outscored Ole Miss, 15-3, over the first 16.5 innings and then got beat, 21-5, the rest of the way and lost the series.

You can really get granular about what went wrong in Oxford, but the reality for the Bulldogs is probably that they’re about a .500 SEC team. There are some strong building blocks like outfielder Dakota Jordan (.370/.494/.770, 15 HR) and starters Khal Stephan (5-2, 2.84) and Jurrangelo Cijntje (5-1, 3.80). Mississippi State can hang with anyone in the conferenceit’s the only team this season to beat Texas A&M in College Stationbut it struggles away from home. The Bulldogs are likely headed back to the NCAA Tournament after missing the last two years but probably won’t host.

That doesn’t mean Mississippi State can’t get hot down the stretch or in June and make a run, but it’s going to need some players to step up on both sides of the ball.

13. Kentucky (30-5, 14-1), meanwhile, just kept winning. The Wildcats rolled to a sweep at Auburn, blasting 11 home runs on the weekend. They’re not only off to their best ever start to conference play, they’ve also won a program-record 10 straight SEC games.

I was most impressed by their ability to win in such a different way the last two weekends. Against Alabama a week ago, it was all pitching, as Kentucky allowed just three runs in the series. At Auburn, they scored 28 runs and showed that their offense isn’t all about running and playing small ball. That kind of versatility will serve the Wildcats very well down the stretch and into June.

14. Oklahoma (21-14, 11-4) snapped out of its rut with a sweep of Kansas State to keep pace with West Virginia atop the Big 12 standings. The Sooners had lost eight of their last 12 games coming into the week before on Tuesday beating Texas-Arlington and then sweeping aside the Wildcats.

It was a get-right week in a big way for Oklahoma, which did not trail in any of the four games. Adding to the good news, outfielder John Spikerman made a cameo Sunday, appearing as a pinch-runner for his first action since breaking his hamate March 16.

If Oklahoma put its midseason swoon to bed, everything is still in front of it. The Sooners RPI is up to 19 and its in contention for the Big 12 title (though both West Virginia and Oklahoma State hold tiebreakers against it).

15. A week after winning a crucial series against UC Santa Barbara to firmly take control of the Big West, UC Irvine hit a snag. The Anteaters lost Tuesday at Southern California and then took a gut-punch of a series loss at UC San Diego, the reigning champion.

The Tritons and Anteaters traded blowouts in the first two games of the series, setting up Sunday’s rubber game. The game went back and forth, but UCSD led 8-5 going into the ninth inning. UCI scored four runs in the top of the ninth to retake the lead but it couldn’t hold on. Brock Kleszcz hit a two-out triple to tie the game and then the Tritons won the game when a pop up fell in just inside the left field line beyond the infield.

It was a week to forget for UCI (25-7, 11-4), but it’s still in first place in the Big West. The Anteaters need to bounce back quickly because it doesn’t have a large lead, but it gets to return home this week, where it is 13-3 on the season.

Eight for Omaha

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

One change to the field this week as West Virginia replaces Vanderbilt. Am I being aggressive with the Mountaineers? Maybe. But I’ve been driving this bandwagon all year. They were my Omaha Sleeper before the season started and I’m ready to go all-in now. As I’ve repeatedly written, the Big 12 has had a representative in the College World Series every year for the last decade. So, why not the Mountaineers, who are rolling and have one of the best players in the nation at the top of their lineup?

Looking Ahead

No. 7 Kentucky hosts No. 3 Tennessee in SEC East showdown. The Wildcats (30-5, 14-1) and Volunteers (30-6, 11-4) have been two of the most consistent teams in the country this year. Kentucky has won a program-record 10 straight SEC games and will finish the weekend in first place in the SEC East regardless of the outcome. But these teams are thinking about more than a division title. Both are in contention for the conference title and this series will also have implications come May when the selection committee seeds the hosts.

No. 22 NC State hosts No. 11 North Carolina for rivalry weekend. Fresh off its series win at Clemson, NC State (20-13, 10-8) returns home to host North Carolina (29-7, 14-4). The Tar Heels swept the series last year in Chapel Hill and are 7-4 against the Wolfpack since the pandemic. NC State will be looking to use its home-field advantage, as it is 16-4 at Doak Field this season.

No. 20 Louisiana puts streak on the line at No. 21 Coastal Carolina. The Ragin’ Cajuns (28-9, 14-1) have won 14 straight conference games since losing to Arkansas State on opening day of the Sun Belt season and 19 of their last 20 games overall. They’ll bring that streak to Spring Brooks Stadium, where the Chanticleers (24-11, 9-6) are 19-4 this season. While this is a first vs. second showdown in the Sun Belt standings, Louisiana will be in first place at the end of the weekend no matter how the series unfolds. But there’s a lot on the line for both teams, particularly Coastal, which has a very realistic path to hosting.

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