Off The Bat: Upsets To Begin ACC, Pac-12 Play Highlight Weekend

Image credit: USC freshman Austin Overn (Photo courtesy of USC)

The start of conference play in the ACC and Pac-12 delivered some thrilling upsets over the weekend, as reigning champions Virginia Tech and Stanford both lost series. Meanwhile, college baseball no longer has any undefeated teams after having five this time last week.

Here are 14 thoughts on the weekend that was around college baseball.

1. The annual endurance test to be college baseball’s final undefeated team came to an end Friday evening, when Alabama lost to Columbia and North Carolina State fell at Miami. That left Virginia as the last team standing.

The Cavaliers on Saturday ran their record to 14-0 before losing in the nightcap of their doubleheader at North Carolina. It marked the second straight year that Virginia reached 14-0 before losing the series finale of ACC opening weekend on Tobacco Road (last year, that first loss came at Duke).

I wrote on Friday about Virginia’s start to the season, its powerful offense and how its impressive, new-look pitching staff seems to have raised its ceiling. That’s all still true following Saturday’s doubleheader. Catcher Kyle Teel, a first-team Preseason All-American, continues his torrid start and is hitting .518/.597/.732 with two home runs and slugger Jake Gelof, also a highly touted draft prospect, is hitting .339/.408/.712 with five home runs. The Cavaliers have a 2.66 team ERA, third-best in the ACC. Jake Berry (0-0, 0.00, 2 SV) and Jay Woolfolk (1-0, 2.08) anchor the bullpen and the Cavaliers have built a solid rotation.

The challenge now for Virginia is sustaining its hot start through ACC play and winning on the road. The latter was part of the Cavaliers’ downfall in 2022, as they went just 10-14 away from Charlottesville (and three of those wins came on Opening Weekend against a trio of teams with losing records), a mark that ultimately was their undoing. Winning a series over the weekend at UNC could be an important springboard with another tricky series at NC State on deck.

2. One of the biggest surprise stories of the first month of the season is Boston College. The Eagles last year went 19-34 and just 5-25 in ACC play. They won just one series all year (at North Florida) and finished the season on a six-game losing streak. Things weren’t expected to improve this season, as BC was picked to finish last in the Atlantic Division in the ACC preseason coaches’ poll.

BC was blanked on Opening Day at Pepperdine, losing 9-0, and held to just three hits. Since then, however, the Eagles have been flying high. They carried a 10-game winning streak, including a 7-6 victory at Tennessee on Tuesday, into the start of ACC play over the weekend.

BC faced the tough task of a series at Virginia Tech to open conference play. The Hokies last season went 33-7 at home and Oklahoma was the only team to win a series in Blacksburg (which it did during super regionals).

Virginia Tech got the weekend off to a good start, rolling to a 13-3 victory Friday. Poor weather forecasted for Sunday led to the teams playing a doubleheader Saturday, but BC wasn’t bothered. It swept the doubleheader, winning the first game, 8-5, and clinching the series with a 7-3 victory in the nightcap. BC (12-2) is off to the best start in program history and entered the Top 25 at No. 18.

The early returns indicate that BC is much improved on the mound under second-year pitching coach Kevin Vance. After posting a 7.25 team ERA in 2022 (247th nationally), the Eagles this season have a 4.18 team ERA. Righthander Chris Flynn, a graduate transfer from Division III Roger Williams (R.I.), has been the team’s top starter, going 4-0, 0.79. Righthander Eric Schroeder (3-0, 1.84) has been a weapon out of the bullpen and on Saturday threw four scoreless innings to win the series clincher.

BC isn’t outslugging teams but has the offensive firepower to keep up. First baseman Joe Vetrano (.283/.409/.660, 6 HR) homered four times last week, including two at Tennessee. Outfielders Barry Walsh (.383/.444/.596, 3 HR) and Cam Leary (.308/.403/.692, 6 HR) look to be on their way to breakout seasons. BC hasn’t even gotten the best out of Preseason All-American outfielder Travis Honeyman (.283/.345/.491, 4 SB), which could mean there’s another gear for it to hit offensively.

BC has yet to play a home game, though its home opener is scheduled for Tuesday (early forecasts call for rain turning into snow and a high of 42 degrees). It faces another tough road series next weekend against Florida State before it gets a chance for some home cooking later this month in conference play.

There’s a long way to go, but BC is already well on its way to its best season since before the pandemic. It also can reasonably now set its sights on making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016.

3. Things didn’t look good for Miami coming into the weekend. After a loss Wednesday to Jacksonville, the Hurricanes had lost four of their last five games to fall to 8-5 with a series against undefeated NC State on deck.

It was still early March, so Miami wasn’t facing a must-win scenario, but it certainly entered the weekend needing a response. The Hurricanes got it with a pair of wins against the Wolfpack. They jumped out to a big, early lead Friday and held on for a 9-8 victory thanks to Ian Farrow’s two home runs. Saturday wasn’t nearly as dramatic, as Gage Ziehl delivered his best outing of the season to lead the Hurricanes to an 8-1 victory. While NC State bounced back for a 14-4 victory Sunday to avoid the sweep, it was still a needed series win for Miami (10-6).

The Hurricanes tweaked their rotation going into the weekend, flipping Ziehl and Karson Ligon. They got solid results, as Ziehl held NC State to one run (unearned) on four hits and a walk in eight innings. Ligon gave up five runs (four earned) on six hits and a walk in 5.1 innings and while that isn’t a quality start, it also was the best Friday start Miami had gotten this season.

Miami isn’t out of the woods yet. It hosts Virginia Tech this weekend in what figures to be another tough test, but it can feel good about how it pulled out of a tough skid.

4. The weekend’s biggest upset came in Los Angeles, as Southern California beat Stanford twice at Dedeaux Field. Rain on Friday forced the teams to play a Saturday doubleheader, which they split. USC then claimed the series with a 4-1 victory Sunday.

The Cardinal were the preseason favorite in the Pac-12 and came into the weekend at 9-3. They were coming off a loss Tuesday to Santa Clara but had mostly cruised through their non-conference slate. The Trojans, in contrast, were picked 10th in the preseason coaches’ poll and were just 2-6-1 since an Opening Weekend sweep of Marist. None of that mattered over the weekend and USC came away with a statement series win.

The Trojans won in different ways Saturday and Sunday. In their win Saturday, they outslugged the powerful Cardinal offense with a team effort. On Sunday, their pitching staff held Stanford to one run (unearned) on four hits.

Freshman Austin Overn (.344/.414/.656, 5 SB) continued his strong start to his college career with a big weekend. He went 2-for-4 with a run and a double in both of USC’s wins and is the Trojans’ leading hitter. Senior outfielder Cole Gabrielson (.306/.463/.755, 6 HR) also continued his breakout season and homered in Saturday’s win.

On the mound, USC is still working things out. It used 12 pitchers in the series, in part because it got 13 innings out of its starters. But the Trojans did the job, especially righthander Garrett Clarke (1-0, 0.00, 2 SV), who closed out both wins.

USC over the weekend showed it can play with—and beat—any team in the Pac-12. Whether it can find the consistency needed to compete in the conference and challenge for an NCAA Tournament berth remains to be seen. But it was a strong weekend and something to build on for the Trojans in their first season under coach Andy Stankiewicz.

5. Meanwhile, Stanford (10-5) now faces an early season stress test. The Cardinal went 1-3 on the week with losses to Santa Clara and USC. The Mustangs are off to a 9-4 start to the season, but neither they nor the Trojans had a winning record in 2022. A series against Oregon State, which is coming off its own surprising series loss, is up next.

So, what’s wrong with Stanford? A little bit of everything, really. All-American Carter Graham is hitting just .193/.338/.351. Preseason All-American infielder Tommy Troy has missed the last two weeks and slugger Drew Bowser left Saturday’s opener after just two innings. On the mound, All-American Quinn Mathews (3-1, 2.88) has been solid as the No. 1 starter, but the Cardinal are still searching for the right combination behind him. The rest of the staff—including Preseason All-American closer Ryan Bruno (0-0, 8.59, 1 SV)—has an ERA of 5.58.

Stanford is too talented for these scuffles to go on for too much longer and simply getting healthier would help. But, right now, the Cardinal aren’t playing like the top-five team they were projected to be.

6. Texas Tech also got a big response over the weekend. After a tough 1-2 weekend in the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic, the Red Raiders welcomed red-hot Iowa to Lubbock. The Hawkeyes are playing like the Big Ten favorites and are the only team to beat top-ranked LSU.

That momentum came to a halt in Lubbock. Texas Tech routed Iowa, 17-5, in the opener, and clinched the series with an 8-3 victory Saturday. The Hawkeyes won a back-and-forth game, 10-9, in the finale to avoid the sweep, but the Red Raiders (14-3) are right back on track with Big 12 play on deck this weekend.

Facing Iowa’s impressive pitching staff, Texas Tech scored 34 runs and hit nine home runs on the weekend. Dillon Carter (.400/.548/.844, 5 HR) homered three times and scored five runs to lead the offense.

As always, beating Tech in Lubbock is a tall, tall order. That’s bad news for the rest of the Big 12, as top contenders Oklahoma State and TCU both have to make the trip to Rip Griffin Park over the next three weeks.

7. The weekend went down as a missed opportunity for Iowa (11-3) but credit the Hawkeyes for bouncing back Sunday after a couple of tough losses. They took an early lead with three runs in the first two innings and kept pushing, even as the Red Raiders responded, and were able to hold on for a 10-9 victory.

Iowa’s not going to have another series like this weekend the rest of the season—and that’s both good and bad news. It’s good news because what look to be the Hawkeyes’ two toughest tests left—Maryland and Nebraska—both come at home. The schedule seems to set up pretty well for Iowa to take aim at its first Big Ten title since 1990.

The bad news is that Iowa won’t have another RPI opportunity like it had over the weekend. As long as the Hawkeyes take care of business in the Big Ten that shouldn’t matter too much—though if they’re in the hosting discussion, it could come into play—but should Iowa find itself on the bubble, a series win at Texas Tech would have been a very nice feather in its cap.

8. Washington State scored a big upset to open Pac-12 play, taking down Oregon State in Corvallis. After losing Friday’s opener, 5-1, the Cougars evened the series with a 6-3 victory Saturday. In the rubber game, four Washington State pitchers combined for a one-hitter to lead the Cougars to a 3-1 victory.

Washington State (13-2) is off to its best start since 2006 and won a series in Corvallis for the first time since 2009. Up until the weekend, however, the Cougars hadn’t been tested. They had played just two games against teams that currently have winning records and went 1-1 against them, losing to UC Irvine (11-3) and beating UC San Diego (8-6). With that kind of lead-in to conference play, it was reasonable to wonder what Washington State really was. Now, we have a bit better of an idea.

Somewhat surprisingly for a team coached by Brian Green, who is known for his skill as a hitting coach, the pitching staff is leading the way early for the Cougars. They rank third in the Pac-12 in team ERA (3.11) and over the weekend held the Beavers to nine runs on 15 hits. Their rotation of Dakota Hawkins (1-2, 5.29), Caden Kaelber (3-0, 2.16) and Grant Taylor (1-0, 2.16) has been solid and the bullpen trio of Andrew Baughn (3-0, 1.15), Chase Grillo (0-0, 1.13, 5 SV) and Connor Wilford (2-0, 3.78) has been dynamic.

If that group can keep this up as it gets deeper into Pac-12 play, the Cougars start to look dangerous. They have some solid pieces in the lineup—Sam Brown (.400/.514/.760, 4 HR) and Jonah Advincula (.369/.453/.615, 7 SB) are leading the way—and they figure to develop more depth as the season goes on and the weather warms up in Pullman. Washington State hasn’t had a winning conference record or made the NCAA Tournament since 2010, but this team has the potential to end that drought.

9. Washington State is clearly better than expected, but Oregon State (11-4) still has some cause for concern coming out of the weekend.

Coming into the year, there were questions about what life would look like for Oregon State without Cooper Hjerpe leading the pitching staff. But, so far, the Beavers have answered the questions on the mound. Their 2.64 team ERA is second in the Pac-12 and they’ve found a strong rotation of Jacob Kmatz (1-2, 3.43), Trent Sellers (2-1, 1.56) and Jaren Hunter (1-1, 3.55). All-American reliever Ben Ferrer (0-0, 0.00) returned last week and closer Ryan Brown (0-0, 1.29, 3 SV) has been strong at the end of games.

The problem has been more on the offensive side. Oregon State piled up runs the first two weeks of the season, scoring 81 runs in its first seven games against very mixed competition. But it scored 34 runs in its last eight games against better competition, a stretch that includes a 9-4 midweek win against San Diego.

Star freshman Gavin Turley went 0-for-10 with two walks against Washington State and sophomore Travis Bazzana went 1-for-9. They both project as high-level draft prospects for their hitting ability and won’t slump like that often. While players like Mikey Kane (4-for-12, 3 RBI) and Micah McDowell (3-for-10, 3 BB) did their best to pick up the slack, the Beavers need their stars to produce.

Oregon State faces a tricky week as it looks to bounce back. It hosts Nevada for a pair of midweek games before traveling to Stanford.

10. Southeastern Louisiana swept a Saturday doubleheader at Auburn to win the series. The Lions scored six runs in the final two innings of the first game to win, 8-3. In the nightcap, they fended off a furious Auburn comeback to hold on for an 8-7 victory. The Tigers scored five runs in the ninth and had the bases loaded when the game ended.

Southeastern (11-5) is coming off a Southland Conference Tournament title and its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2017. The Lions came into this season as the conference favorites and have largely lived up to that billing so far, despite losing five of seven games before Saturday’s doubleheader sweep.

Southeastern has some big opportunities to build off Saturday’s momentum before it dives into conference play. It hosts Southern Mississippi on Tuesday and Memphis on the weekend before a visit to Louisiana on March 22. The Southland might not be strong enough in RPI to support an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, but if the Lions hope to be in the mix for one at the end of May, they need to build off Saturday’s result.

11. As for Auburn, Saturday was a tough pill to swallow. It gave up eight unanswered runs in the first game of the doubleheader and then never led in the nightcap before seeing its furious comeback fall just short. The Tigers (12-3-1) also saw their seven-game winning streak (and 11-game unbeaten streak) snapped.

With a big week on tap—Georgia Tech visits Tuesday and Auburn opens SEC play at Arkansas—what does it mean for the Tigers?

The optimistic framing for Auburn is that this was just a hiccup. The Tigers will get ace Joseph Gonzalez back soon (perhaps as soon as this weekend) and they’ve pitched pretty well as a team without him. The Tigers are averaging 7.88 runs per game and have gotten some big-time offensive efforts so far this season, notably from freshman Ike Irish (.477/.541/.677) and Bryson Ware (.455/.546/1.000, 7 HR). Auburn might not look like LSU, but it looks like a team that can compete in the SEC West. It’s won series against Indiana and Southern California—not world beaters, but solid competition—and last year the Tigers lost a series on this same weekend to Middle Tennessee State and still hosted a regional.

The more pessimistic look is that without Gonzalez, Auburn has definitely lacked something on the mound. Its starters combined to throw 12 innings over the weekend with freshman Zach Crotchfelt leading the way with five scoreless in the first game Saturday. That left the bullpen to shoulder a hefty load and it gave up 12 runs (10 earned) in 15 innings. Every team wants more bullpen depth, but Auburn certainly needs it right now. The Tigers also have some injuries piling up beyond Gonzalez. First baseman Cooper McMurray and Bobby Peirce both missed the weekend and without them the Tigers have a top-heavy lineup. There are no easy weekends in the SEC, but Auburn has an especially tough stretch to start conference play, including at Arkansas, home to rival Georgia, at Florida, home to Texas A&M and at archrival Alabama. If it doesn’t find some answers or get healthy soon, things could get even more difficult for Auburn.

I land on a more optimistic view for Auburn. Getting Gonzalez back would be a big boost for the pitching staff. He’s experienced and an innings eater. I still think the Tigers are going to make some noise this season.

12. Rutgers came into the week at just 3-7, having just been swept at UNC Greensboro. The path ahead didn’t look great for the Scarlet Knights, who were still weeks away from playing a home game or starting conference play.

But things are looking much better one week later. Rutgers went 4-0 last week, beating Wagner on Tuesday and then sweeping a series at Georgia Southern. The Scarlet Knights finished their perfect week in style, as Jake Marshall and Ben Gorski combined to throw a no-hitter in the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader. It was the program’s first nine-inning no-hitter since 1978.

While the no-hitter is attention-grabbing, the sweep as a whole was big for a team that was slow out of the gate. Georgia Southern last year hosted regionals and already has series wins against West Virginia and at UCF. The Eagles are now just 7-9 after going 0-5 last week against Georgia and Rutgers, but they figure to rebound and be very competitive in the Sun Belt. Rutgers scored 31 runs on the weekend—nearly double its 16 runs last week at UNCG—and now has an opportunity to build on that momentum as it will remain in Georgia this week to take on Kennesaw State on Wednesday and then play a series at Mercer.

13. Western Kentucky lefthander Devyn Terbrak on Sunday threw a no-hitter in the Hilltoppers’ 3-0 victory against South Dakota State. It was the season’s first solo no-hitter. He struck out 14 batters and his only two blemishes were a walk and hit batter. He retired the final 11 batters he faced, including striking out the side in the ninth inning. Terbrak improved to 2-1, 2.35 with 29 strikeouts and four walks in 23 innings.

WKU (13-4) is off to a strong start on the season under first-year coach Marc Rardin. The schedule has been light—the Hilltoppers haven’t played a team with a winning record—but they’ve built solid momentum going into the start of Conference USA play this weekend.

14. With Virginia losing to UNC on Saturday, the nation’s longest active winning streak now belongs to Wofford (14-1). The Terriers lost to Southern Illinois, 9-4, on Opening Day and have yet to lose again, running off 14 straight wins.

Wofford over the weekend swept a rain-shortened two-game series against Cincinnati, winning 12-3 on Friday and 5-2 on Saturday. The Terriers’ streak is the longest in program history, surpassing their 13-game winning streak to open the 1983 season.

Wofford will look to keep its streak going Tuesday at Georgia.

Eight for Omaha

Florida, LSU, Louisville, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Texas Tech, UCLA, Virginia

After a few weeks of keeping the projected field the same, we’re switching it up this week. In: Texas Tech, UCLA and Virginia. Out: Stanford, TCU and Virginia Tech. Maybe it’s a bit early to start switching out preseason projected conference champions like Stanford and TCU, but I like the way Texas Tech and UCLA have started the season more. The Red Raiders have the advantage of the Big 12 title running through Lubbock with both TCU and Oklahoma State having to visit Rip Griffin Park and I like Tech’s chances to capitalize. Virginia is the hottest team in the country to start the season and the way the Cavaliers have pitched can be a difference maker. We knew they would hit, now it looks like they have a solid enough mix on the mound as well.

Looking Ahead

Big 12 play begins, highlighted by No. 17 Oklahoma State at No. 20 Texas Tech. The Big 12 doesn’t provide a full slate of conference action this weekend, but it does give us a blockbuster series as the Cowboys (14-3) head to Lubbock to take on the Red Raiders (14-3). Both teams stubbed their toe in early season tournaments but have otherwise looked excellent and come into this weekend with momentum. It’s very early, but this feels like it will be an important series in the conference title race.

SEC play begins, highlighted by a top-10 showdown in Nashville. No. 8 Vanderbilt (12-5) hosts No. 6 Mississippi (14-2) to open SEC play, presenting a fascinating contrast in styles. The Commodores are last in the conference in scoring (6.0 runs per game), but fifth in team ERA (3.32). The Rebels, meanwhile, average 9.63 runs per game and have a 4.47 team ERA. Which team will get to play its style of baseball may determine how the weekend goes. Also keep an eye on No. 1 LSU (15-1) visiting No. 11 Texas A&M (12-4) in a key SEC West showdown.

No. 22 Oregon State travels to No. 10 Stanford in a crucial Pac-12 series. With both the Cardinal (10-5, 1-2) and Beavers (11-4, 1-2) getting upset in their conference openers, this weekend takes on added importance. One team will end the weekend feeling like it got back on track, while the other will be digging out of an early hole in the conference standings.

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