Oregon's Brandon Cuddy (Shotgun Spratling)

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Ten Thoughts: Saturday, Feb. 28

SEE ALSO:
Aaron Fitt on Game Two of Clemson vs. South Carolina
Shotgun Spratling on Game Two of Oregon vs. UC Santa Barbara

1. Another Terrific Clemson-South Carolina Finale Coming

It wouldn’t be the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry without at least something at stake entering the series finale. For the Gamecocks, it’s pretty simple: they want nothing more than to extend their continued dominance of the Tigers in the regular season series. Meanwhile, the Tigers would love nothing more than to once and for all shake that South Carolina monkey off their backs.

Another big-time atmosphere engulfed downtown Greenville, S.C (Aaron Fitt)Another big-time atmosphere engulfed downtown Greenville, S.C (Aaron Fitt)

To get to a crucial series finale even, the Gamecocks needed a strong showing Saturday after suffering the first blow in the series opener at Clemson. Saturday, the series shifted to Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C., where lefthander Jack Wynkoop got the team started on a positive note and had a strong start, striking out seven, walking just two and allowing a run on five hits in six innings.

The tone was set in the second inning, though, as South Carolina got a pair of doubles from Connor Bright and Alex Destino, and Elliott Caldwell added the third run of the inning with an RBI single through the right side to extend South Carolina’s lead to 3-0. With Wynkoop in the zone and the Gamecocks in good shape out of the bullpen, that’s all they’d need to even the series.

South Carolina righthander Taylor Widener was electric out of the bullpen, sitting in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball, while also striking out five and walking just one in two hitless frames.

2. Mississippi State Had A Big Day

We’ve slowly but surely started to hop on the Mississippi State train through the first three weeks of the season. Sure, the Bulldogs were impressive the first two weekends, but that wasn’t exactly against the best competition. This weekend, though, the Bulldogs are making a rather bold statement, sitting at 3-0 so far with a pair of wins over a quality Arizona club, along with a single win over Samford.

Mississippi StateMississippi State has shown a lot of balance this weekend. In Saturday’s first game, a 6-2 triumph over Arizona, MSU righthander Austin Sexton, who really blew up over the summer, was terrific, striking out 10, walking no one and allowing just two runs on four hits in 5 2/3 innings. Sexton is the first Bulldogs pitcher since first-round pick Chris Stratton to notch double-digit strikeouts, while also not walking anyone in a start.

Lefthander Lucas Laster was also impressive in an 8-2 win over Samford, like Sexton, not walking anyone, striking out seven and allowing just two runs in 6 1/3 innings. State also received much production at the plate from catcher Cody Walker, who along with Josh Lovelady, has contributed since sophomore catcher Gavin Collins went down with an injury. Just imagine how this team will look when Collins’ bat is back in the lineup.

It’s still early, but Mississippi State is a strong candidate to make a sizable leap in our Monday rankings, assuming the poll mechanics make sense.

3. Kentucky’s Kyle Cody Looks The Part

University of Kentucky logoCody and the Wildcats had a tough showing last weekend against UC Santa Barbara, especially the talented righthander, who allowed seven runs in just three innings. But this weekend, the power-armed Cody pieced together an impressive start in a 5-1 win over Nebraska-Omaha.

Cody struck out a career-high nine and walked one in seven hitless innings. He also retired 15 straight hitters to end his outing, throwing 96 pitches, 63 four strikes.

The Wildcats will need Cody to be consistently dominant if they want to make noise in the SEC regular season race.

4. Notre Dame For Real?

Notre Dame logoPerhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised given coach Mik Aoki’s background and ability to get the most out of his teams, but the Fighting Irish are one of the big surprises early this season, moving to 9-1 on Saturday after an 8-2 win over Mercer. The Irish cranked four homers against the Bears, including two from highly touted second baseman Cavan Biggio, who’s now hitting .525/.630/.950 with seven doubles, two triples, two homers and 11 RBIs. Kyle Fiala and Robert Youngdahl also hit homers for the Irish.

We’ll find out much more about the Fighting Irish come ACC play, but this team is off to a terrific start with some impressive wins, including a pair of triumphs over Oklahoma on the road to begin the season.

5. Auburn Rolls Over Oklahoma State

There weren’t many pumping up the Tigers before the season, but this team has the talent to make some noise both in nonconference and in upcoming SEC play. Well, the Tigers made their first nice statement Saturday afternoon with a 9-2 victory over Oklahoma State to improve to 9-2 overall.

Auburn Tigers logoAuburn DH Hunter Tackett hit a home run, finished 2-for-5 and knocked in two runs, while Anfernee Grier and J.J. Shaffer each finished the contest with three hits. The Tigers also got a studly performance out of the pen from righthander Cole Lipscomb, who was fabulous, striking out eight, walking just one and allowing just a hit in 4 2/3 innings, while the offense touched up Oklahoma State starting pitcher Jon Perrin for four runs on six hits in 4 1/3 innings.

Auburn head coach Sunny Golloway has had plenty of success every step of the way in his coaching career, and he might just be ready to make his move in the SEC.

6. Oregon Getting Cozy With Cuddy

Mark Karaviotis congratulates  Brandon Cuddy after he scores while UCSB pitcher Shane Bieber walks back to the mound with his head down. (Shotgun Spratling)Mark Karaviotis congratulates Brandon Cuddy. (Shotgun Spratling)

Even though the Ducks finished last season with rather respectable offensive numbers, that still was a team you looked at each week and weren’t particularly afraid of. Well, this year’s lineup might be a little different, especially with the addition of someone like 6-foot-2, 215-pound first baseman Brandon Cuddy from Seminole State (Okla.) JC.

Cuddy had an incredible afternoon as the Ducks crushed UC Santa Barbara 11-3 to clinch an impressive and crucial road series victory over a good Gauchos club. Cuddy hit a two-run triple in the fourth inning, while also coming back in the fifth for the decisive blow, a grand slam to extend Oregon’s lead to 8-2 after five innings. The Ducks, who pounded out 13 hits and lit up consistently good UCSB righthander Shane Bieber for eight runs in five innings, suddenly are a scary club with a chance to climb our rankings on Monday.

7. Mountain West Passing The Eyeball Test

When looking at conferences in the western part of the country, the Pac-12, Big West, and even WCC first come to mind. But keep an eye on the Mountain West, as this league has several very solid clubs and promises to have quite an intriguing regular season title race.

Mountain West ConferenceThe wacky Mountain West is being put on full display this weekend. Fresno State took a step back last weekend by hitting the road and getting swept by upstart Nevada, but is turning the tables this weekend, clinching a home series win over UNLV — which was receiving votes in our top 25 earlier this week — with a 2-1 victory. Fresno State lefthander Dylan Lee was terrific against the Rebels, striking out five, walking one and allowing just a run on three hits in 6 1/3 innings, while reliever Jake Shull took care of business like a stopper is supposed to with two hitless frames to close UNLV out.

Nevada and New Mexico are teams we’ve talked about, too, while San Diego State improved to 11-1 on Saturday with a 5-1 win and series sweep over San Jose State. The Aztecs got a terrific start from Mark Seyler, who struck out seven, walked just two and allowed a run on two hits in seven innings.

Perhaps I’m a bit ambitious, but I could see the Mountain West being a three-bid league when the dust settles on Selection Monday.

8. Long Beach State Showing Well

For as much grief as head coach Troy Buckley has gotten over the years for failing to turn the Dirtbags into a national power, it must be said that he, for the second-straight season, appears to be doing a very good job.

Long Beach State logoThe Dirtbags played for the Gainesville Regional title last year against College of Charleston, culminating what was a successful season. And without several key players from that team, the Dirtbags surely were expected to take a step back this spring. Well, not so much, at least not yet. Long Beach improved to 7-3 overall after a series-clinching 5-2 win over Wichita State on Saturday.

LBSU righthander Tanner Brown, a 6-foot-4, 180-pounder, struck out five, walked one and allowed just two runs — one earned — on three hits in six innings, while the bullpen did a marvelous job with Austin McGeorge, Logan Lombana and Ty Provencher doing the work in the latter innings. LBSU could still improve at the plate, but sophomore shortstop Garrett Hampson (.324/.442/.471) is continuing where he left off last season, and Zack Rivera is leading the team with a .353 batting average.

There’s still a long way to go, but it’s been a good weekend for the Big West. Cal Poly might not get a game in against TCU because of snow in the Dallas Metroplex, but Cal State Fullerton has a series win over Baylor and the Big 12 and UC Irvine has a series win over Tennessee and the SEC. There is that sore thumb in UCSB, but otherwise, things look good for the league this weekend, and especially The Beach.

9. UAB Off And Running

The Blazers finished last season with 35 wins and second in the Conference USA standings, but with some significant departures, it was expected they might struggle some this season, especially out of the gate early in the season.

UAB head coach Brian Shoop has his club playing well early this season. (UAB)UAB head coach Brian Shoop has his club playing well early this season. (UAB)

Well, the Blazers have done exactly the opposite. Sure, playing Central Michigan and Savannah State isn’t the same as playing a high-profile club in a major conference, but this club has established consistency, and took another step forward Saturday by clinching a home series win over Ohio State with a doubleheader sweep — 3-2 and 8-1.

In the first game, the Blazers leaned on senior righthander Alex Luna. Luna, a skinny 6-foot-5, 204-pounder, struck out four, walked just two and allowed two runs and three hits in 8 1/3 innings, while the Buckeyes wasted a quality start from Tanner Tully, who struck out four and allowed just a run in six innings.

In the second game, it was again about the pitching, but with a little more offensive production. The bottom of the Blazers lineup did some serious damage, with shortstop Adam Smith going 2-for-4 with a triple and three RBIs, and Evan Peterson chipping in a three-hit performance. Meanwhile, on the mound, 6-foot-4, 180-pound, righthander James Naile was nails, striking out six and allowing just a run on four hits in  7 1/3 innings.

We’ll know much more about the Blazers when they hit the road to take on Kennesaw State, but a quality Ohio State club was a very good first test.

10. Indiana Shows Toughness

Coaches love to see how their teams deal with adversity this early in the season. The Hoosiers were at that point Saturday afternoon after they were stymied in the series opener by College of Charleston ace righthander Taylor Clarke, while also being losers of four of their last five.

Indiana University logoChris Lemonis’ Hoosiers didn’t score the first three innings against the Cougars, but got into a groove in the middle innings and proceeded to win 15-1 to even the series. Indiana leadoff hitter Casey Rodrigue had an afternoon to remember, going 3-for-6 with a pair of triples and four RBIs, while Will Nolden and Craig Dedelow each knocked in three runs.

Though it didn’t matter so much because of the offensive production, Indiana’s Christian Morris put together a quality start, striking out three, walking no one and allowing an unearned run on five hits in six innings.

The series finale on Sunday is a big one for both teams.

Five More Things

Georgia’s Robert Tyler: It was a double whammy for the Bulldogs on Friday, as Tyler went down with an elbow injury early in his start, and the team ended the night with a tough setback on the road against Georgia Southern. Tyler, though, received some very good news on Saturday. Though the outlook was bleak late Friday night, an MRI on Tyler’s elbow showed no structural damage to his UCL, thus he will only miss the amount of time for this muscle issue to heal and go away. That’s huge news for the Bulldogs, who are off to a very solid start, of course making the biggest statement thus far last weekend with a home series win over Florida State.

Louisiana-Monroe’s Alex Hermeling: The Warhawks haven’t experienced a lot of success the past few seasons, but perhaps things are headed the right direction this spring with the addition of Bruce Peddie as head coach. ULM captured a series win over Sam Houston State by sweeping a pair of games, and was led on the mound in one of the games by the 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior righthander Hermeling. In a 6-0 win over Sam Houston State in one of the two afternoon bouts, Hermeling tossed ULM’s first complete game shutout since 2012. Against a potent Bearkats attack, the righty struck out four and allowed just four hits. He also threw 99 pitches, 69 of them for strikes.

Lehigh Throws Combined No-Hitter: What in the world was going on with the Patriot League today between Alex Robinett at Army (see below) and the Mountain Hawks’ pitching staff? Lehigh swept a pair of games from Iona on Saturday, with two pitchers — Nick Macaione and Kevin Boswick — teaming up to throw a no-hitter in a narrow 2-0 victory, which by the way, went 11 innings. Macaione struck out four in nine innings, while Boswick finished the contest striking out a batter in two innings. In case you were wondering, the Mountain Hawks won in the 11th on a Justin Pacchioli walk-off two-run homer. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Pacchioli is one of the league’s more decorated players entering the season.

Florida’s A.J. Puk Shows Us Something: We’ve been waiting for the imposing lefthander to really show what’s he made of, and that time might’ve come Saturday afternoon in a 14-3 win over Stony Brook. Puk struggled in the first inning, giving up a three-run homer to Johnny Caputo to put the Gators in a tough early hole. However, he got his act together and wound up having a very good start, striking out seven, walking two and allowing just three runs on three hits in 6 2/3 innings. Puk retired 13 straight batters in the contest, giving the Gators plenty of hope he involves into a dominant force.

Louisiana-Lafayette’s Robichaux Wins No. 1,000: What a special day it was for the Cajuns’ long-time head coach. Robichaux and the Cajuns evened up their weekend series on the road against Alabama with a 6-5 triumph. First baseman Greg Davis recorded two doubles in the contest, while catcher Nick Thurman had a huge day at the plate with four hits and two RBIs. Furthermore, it was an important day for Robichaux, who earned his 1,000th career victory. He guided the Cajuns to a top-eight national seed last season and one of the best campaigns in school history. Robichaux, of course, guided the Cajuns to their only College World Series appearance in 2000, and has led the program to 10 postseason appearances in 19 campaigns, this being his 20th season at the helm.


D1Baseball Player of the Day

Alex Robinett, rhp, Army

Army Black Knights logoThe Black Knights split a doubleheader with Longwood Saturday afternoon, with the senior righty stepping up in a big way with a complete game no-hitter. Robinett struck out 10 and walked four in the 1-0 victory over the Lancers. He also caused Longwood star outfielder Kyri Washington to go 0-for-4 in the contest, including a strikeout.

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