Ten Thoughts: Friday, April 22Analysis
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• Kendall Rogers on Rice-Southern Miss
• Aaron Fitt on Oklahoma State’s Thomas Hatch
• Frankie Piliere on Louisville’s Brendan McKay
• Eric Sorenson on Oregon State-Utah, Creighton-BYU
• Mark Etheridge on Mississippi State-LSU
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) April 23, 2016
Buddy Reed stole home!
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) April 23, 2016
1. Team of the Day: Virginia
It’s been a harrowing, emotional couple of days for the defending national champions, whose team bus crashed Thursday night in Miami after its driver, Bernard Martin, lost consciousness. Martin died shortly thereafter; Virginia’s official baseball account tweeted that he “was a great friend and supporter of UVA Athletics.”
So with heavy hearts, the Cavs took the field Friday night against No. 1 Miami, and they came out of the gate with plenty of passion, jumping out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning, highlighted by Nate Eikhoff’s three-run homer. Miami chipped away at the deficit against ace Connor Jones (7 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 1 ER), and the Hurricanes got within a run in the ninth, but closer Tommy Doyle got Jacob Heyward to pop up with the bases loaded to preserve a 6-5 win. Jones, who remained in the game after a one-hour, 22-minute lightning delay in the middle innings, also escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning.
“It was a huge Friday night win for us against a great opponent and the No. 1 team in the country,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “I was really proud of Connor Jones. After the delay, he pitched great baseball and got us to the eighth inning. That was a big growing up two innings for Tommy Doyle. To close the game against the No. 1 team in the country on the road, that will benefit him and our team greatly.”
Since losing three straight series against Louisville, NC State and Boston College, the defending national champs have played better in the last two weeks, taking a series from North Carolina last weekend and now winning the opener against Miami. This season has been a grind for Virginia, which is getting by with a thinner pitching staff than usual, but Doyle’s poise was a very encouraging sign for the stretch run.
2. Upset of the Day: Big West zaniness
Both of the Big West’s Top 25 clubs were upset Friday, as No. 13 UC Santa Barbara was blanked 7-0 at Cal Poly, and No. 18 Long Beach State was knocked off at UC Riverside, 4-3. Kyle Smith (7.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 9 K) was outstanding for Cal Poly, and Josh George (3-for-4, 3 R) led a 13-hit barrage against UCSB ace Shane Bieber. The Mustangs have quietly gotten hot in Big West play, winning back-to-back series against Cal State Fullerton and Hawaii before taking Friday’s big series opener. Poly is 23-13 overall and 5-2 in the Big West, so there’s no shame in that loss for the Gauchos.
But Long Beach’s loss to Riverside isn’t great. The Highlanders are just 16-19 overall and No. 209 in the RPI, and Friday’s loss dropped the Dirtbags 20 spots to No. 74 in the RPI. The Dirtbags led 2-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth, when UCR took the lead with three runs. Long Beach tied it again with a run in the ninth, only to see Riverside win it on Vince Fernandez’s walk-off single in the ninth.
3. Good luck figuring out the Pac-12
The Pacific-12 Conference should just go ahead and officially change its name to “The Topsy-Turvy Pac-12.” It’s just impossible to figure out who is the team to beat in that league. For a while we thought it was Cal, but the Golden Bears have lost two straight series (including a set at Arizona State last weekend), and Friday they were blanked at home by Arizona, 3-0. Senior righthander Nathan Bannister threw his second straight complete game and his first career shutout while striking out a career-high 11. He retired the final 11 batters he faced. The Wildcats, coming off a series win against Stanford, improved to 8-8 in conference play.
Right now, 10 of the 11 teams in the Pac are separated by just three games in the loss column. You’d have been forgiven for leaving Arizona State for dead before its series win against Cal last weekend, and the Sun Devils followed that up with a 3-2 road win against Stanford behind ace Seth Martinez (9 IP, 6 H, 2 ER). ASU improved to 7-9 in the league, while Stanford fell to 7-6.
Heading into this weekend, UCLA and Oregon seemed to be heading in opposite directions — the Bruins were fading, the Ducks were rising. So of course, UCLA went out and won the first two games of their series against Oregon this weekend. Grant Dyer threw seven innings of two-hit, shutout ball to lead UCLA to a series-clinching 4-2 win Friday, helping the Bruins level their overall record at 18-18 and improve to 8-9 in the Pac, while Oregon dropped to 6-7.
Washington has also been on the rise, but the Huskies dropped the opener of a crucial nonconference series against West Coast Conference upstart St. Mary’s, 5-3. Corbin Burnes turned in seven strong innings of two-run ball for the Gaels in that one.
Then there’s plucky Utah, which entered the weekend all alone atop the standings at 8-4. The Utes just won’t go away quietly, despite their 14-22 overall record. Utah split a doubleheader Friday at preseason Pac-12 favorite Oregon State, losing the first game 7-2 but bouncing back to win the nightcap 7-6. Oregon State still won the series (it had already taken Thursday’s series opener), but the Utes remain tied for first place with Washington at 9-6, with Cal a half-game back at 9-7 and Oregon State a game back at 8-7.
All of which is to say this: Anything can happen in this league over the final month.
4. Parity reigns in the ACC, too
Virginia wasn’t the only unranked team to knock off a Top 25 opponent in the ACC on Friday. Boston College rode freshman Jacob Stevens (7 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 0 ER) to a 6-1 upset of No. 6 Louisville, as the Eagles handed Brendan McKay (5 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 6 K) his second loss of the season. After getting swept by Notre Dame last weekend, BC needs a big statement weekend against the fearsome Cardinals to get back into the postseason hunt, and the Eagles have proven they can beat anybody on the right day, as they showed with series wins against Virginia and NC State earlier this season.
And Wake Forest continued to surge in the ACC as well, knocking off No. 17 North Carolina 6-1. Will Craig launched his 12th homer of the year in support of Parker Dunshee (8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER), who followed up last week’s win against Florida State with another strong performance. The Deacs jumped 10 spots to No. 39 in the RPI and improved to 8-11 with the victory. Their postseason case is picking up steam in a hurry.
At this point in the season, in fact, every team in the ACC except Virginia Tech still has a realistic shot to make regionals with a strong finish, as 13 of the league’s 14 teams are inside the top 60 in the RPI. Louisville and Miami still feel like the class of the league … but it’s clear that the ACC has more parity in 2016 than ever before, with dangerous teams from the top to nearly the bottom.
5. Aces deal for Vandy and Florida
Ah, finally a conference where order prevailed. The SEC has a clear-cut top tier this year, and all four of the teams with the best conference records won Friday, as Texas A&M beat Alabama in walk-off fashion, South Carolina came from behind to beat Missouri 8-5, and Florida and Vandy rode dominant pitching to twin 6-0 victories against Georgia and Tennessee, respectively.
Logan Shore was simply masterful for the Gators, allowing just two hits in a complete-game shutout, while walking one and striking out six. The clinically efficient junior righty needed just 101 pitches to go the distance and lead the Gators to a series-clinching win. Florida jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first and never looked back — that rally was punctuated by Buddy Reed’s steal of home.
Vandy got a similarly stellar outing from its own ace, Jordan Sheffield, who yielded just three hits over eight shutout frames, walking one and striking out four. Like the Gators, the Commodores jumped out to an early lead and cruised behind their ace, as Bryan Reynolds’ three-run homer in the first gave Sheffield more than enough run support.
South Carolina (12-4), Florida (12-5) and Vandy (10-6) remain bunched together at the top of the SEC East, while Texas A&M (11-5) leads the West by two games over LSU and Mississippi State, which are both 9-7. Kendall Rogers has more on MSU’s big win against LSU.
1. Player Of The Day: Arkansas RHP Dom Taccolini
The Razorbacks entered Friday night in incredibly bad shape from a postseason standpoint with an RPI well into the 100s. Well, the Hogs’ 1-0 10-inning win over Kentucky didn’t change everything, but could give them a much-needed jolt in the arm the rest of the weekend.
How about Taccolini? The talented righty has shown quality stuff at times, but entered the night with a 5.57 ERA in 42 innings. He was simply sensational against the Wildcats, tossing a complete game, 10-inning shutout with 10 strikeouts, absolutely no walks and just five hits allowed. Taccolini tossed 125 pitches in the contest, 84 of them for strikes.
Interestingly enough, with the win, the Razorbacks are up to 98 in the RPI, which is a 20-plus climb up the rankings.
2. Mississippi State Bounces Back
There was much consternation with the Bulldogs after last weekend’s ugly home series against Texas A&M and ugly, narrow midweek win over Louisiana-Monroe. However, State returned to its usual ways in a 12-8 road win over LSU.
MSU began the contest in terrific fashion with a Nathaniel Lowe first-inning grand slam, while overall, it finished the evening with 13 hits and got a plethora of key hits when needed most. Lowe finished the game with six RBIs, while Brent Rooker and Jake Mangum each had a pair of hits.
On the negative side of things, MSU righthander Dakota Hudson had yet another pedestrian performance, striking out just three and allowing seven runs on 12 hits in 6.1 innings. Meanwhile, LSU starting pitcher Jared Poche allowed seven runs (six earned) on eight hits in six innings of work. On a side note for LSU, talented freshman Antoine Duplantis hit his first career home run, and it was a big one — a grand slam.
3. BYU Dominates Creighton
The series between the Cougars and Bluejays could have postseason implications and BYU couldn’t have started the weekend in more impressive fashion with a 13-4 victory, outhitting the Jays 17-3 in the process.
BYU leadoff hitter Brennon Lund had a night to remember, going 3-for-4 with a triple and three RBIs, while Hayden Nielsen had three RBIs and Jackson Cluff went 4-for-4 with a double.
While BYU righthander has an OK performance, Creighton starting pitcher Rollie Lacy scuffled out of the gate, allowing four runs and four hits in just 1.1 innings.
There’s still a long way to go in this series, but BYU put together quite the first impression in this series opener.
4. More Complete Game Shutouts
Thomas was outstanding as the Bulldogs beat San Jose State 6-0 as well. The talented lefthander struck out four and allowed just two hits in a complete game shutout performance. He needed just 87 pitches to throw nine innings, with 59 of them for strikes.
• Illinois defeated Ohio State 1-0 in 15 innings, and how about the performances put together by Illini righthander Cody Sedlock and Ohio State lefty Tanner Tully? Sedlock struck out 14, walked one and allowed just five hits in 10.2 innings, while Tully struck out six, walked one and allowed just seven hits in nine shutout frames.
• Rutgers senior lefthander Howie Brey had an outstanding start in a 5-0 win over Penn State. He struck out seven, walked one and allowed just five hits in the complete game performance. He threw 110 pitches, 73 of them for strikes.
• Cincinnati righthander Andrew Zellner had a terrific start in a 1-0 home triumph over Memphis. Zellner struck out three, walked one and allowed just seven hits in a complete game performance. He threw 97 pitches, 65 for strikes.
• Pepperdine veteran righthander A.J. Puckett had a terrific start in a 4-0 home win over Portland. Puckett, who was very good against Loyola Marymount last weekend, struck out 12, didn’t walk anyone and allowed just seven hits in a complete game performance. He also threw 103 pitches, 69 for strikes.
5. Florida State Cools Off Notre Dame
Florida State’s Cal Raleigh hit his eighth homer of the season and knocked in three runs in the winning cause, while Quincy Nieporte also hit a home run and knocked in five runs and Dylan Busby had a pair of hits with three RBIs.
The Seminoles dropped a tough series at Wake Forest last weekend, but are off on a positive note against Notre Dame this weekend. There’s just something about Dick Howser Stadium that gets this team rolling. Meanwhile, with the Irish sitting just a game above .500 in the league, it would be beneficial to at least head home with one win this weekend.