Ten Thoughts: Friday, Feb. 19
• Rogers on Alabama’s win, new ballpark
• Fitt on Virginia’s Connor Jones, plus ODU
• Sorenson on the national landscape
• Baumann on Arizona’s Jay Johnson’s first win
• Rogers on Robert Tyler’s magnificent day for UGA
• Friday’s Stats Roundup
North Carolina righthander Zac Gallen already established himself as a legitimate ACC ace during his sophomore year in 2015, but he kept getting better during the offseason, and now he looks ready to make the leap to All-America status. Gallen was masterful in North Carolina’s 4-0 win at UCLA on Friday, striking out 11 over 7 2/3 innings of four-hit, shutout ball. Despite the high strikeout total, he threw just 107 pitches, walking two batters. UNC coach Mike Fox intimated in Thursday’s Weekend Preview that Gallen is a man on a mission — Fox recently overheard him telling teammates he did not want to finish his three-year career without winning a regional. He’s already leading by example.
Freshman DH Brandon Riley also made a strong first impression hitting in the five-hole, going 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. Not one of the bigger names in UNC’s recruiting class this past fall, Riley earned a starting job and generated excitement among the coaching staff.
“Riley’s got a chance to be a really, really good player,” Fox said this week. “He’s got some power, not a very big kid, but got some power and can run. We’re excited about him.”
Along with the Connor Jones-Eric Lauer matchup, the game between Cal righthander Daulton Jefferies and Duke righty Bailey Clark was one of the top prospect showdowns of the weekend, and both pitchers performed well, but Jefferies was better. Jefferies allowed a pair of unearned runs on five hits and two walks over six strong innings, striking out nine. He ran his fastball up to 95 mph, according to one scout in attendance, and led Cal to a 5-2 win. Clark earned a no-decision, allowing a pair of earned runs on four hits and a walk while fanning five over 5 1/3 innings.
If you’re not already on the Jeren Kendall bandwagon, you’re too late. The Honey Badger showed why he’s considered one of the top prospects for the 2017 draft on Friday, going 4-for-5 with a pair of home runs and five RBIs to lead Vanderbilt past San Diego, 8-4. Kendall has a tantalizing combination of power and speed (he also stole a base Friday), and his inevitable ascent to college baseball superstardom is now officially underway. Vandy also got strong work from fireballer Jordan Sheffield (5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 K), who sat in the 95-97 range according to one scout in attendance. Not that velocity has ever been a question for Sheffield.
If you were looking for an upset to pick on Friday, UT Arlington would have been a smart team to back, with power-armed righthander Joel Kuhnel on the mound. Kuhnel held the Cowboys to an unearned run over six innings to lead the Mavericks to a 3-2 win against Trey Cobb (5 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 ER) and the Cowboys. The No. 132 prospect in the D1Baseball College 300 for the 2016 draft has a chance to rocket up draft boards with more performances like that.
FAU opened its season by scoring 21 runs in a pair of wins Friday against Mississippi State and South Dakota State — and that’s no fluke. The Owls are well stocked with experienced, talented players like Stephen Kerr, C.J. Chatham, Christian Dicks and Esteban Puerta. Puerta, a slugging first baseman, led the offense against MSU, going 3-for-5 with three RBIs. That win came against second-team preseason All-American Dakota Hudson (5 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 8 K), who wasn’t bad, but the Owls broke it open against the MSU bullpen. Puerta also went 4-for-5 with a homer and five RBIs against the Jackrabbits.
A year ago, Missouri’s Reggie McClain opened the season with 22 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, throwing eight shutout frames on opening day and a complete-game shutout in his second start. He was at it again on opening day Friday, twirling eight scoreless frames and allowing just four hits and no walks in a 7-0 win agains Seton Hall. McClain is truly Mr. February.
The focus was on the pitching matchup between Illinois righty Cody Sedlock (6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K) and Tulane righty Corey Merrill (6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K) on Friday, and neither of them disappointed. Merrill exited with a 2-0 lead, but the Illini tied it up with two runs in the ninth, then took a 5-2 lead with three more in the 10th — only to see Tulane storm back with four in the bottom of the frame to win 6-5. Jeremy Montalbano blasted a walk-off three-run homer in his Tulane debut to lift the Green Wave to the thrilling victory.
With ace Mitchell Traver sidelined by injury, TCU started lefty Rex Hill on Friday against Loyola Marymount, and he allowed three earned runs over 4 1/3 innings. The game was tied 3-3 after six innings, but LMU won the battle of the bullpens, as Blake Redman (3.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K) shined in relief of ace J.D. Busfield (5.2 IP, 10 H, 3 ER) and the Lions scored a pair of unearned runs against the TCU bullpen to win 5-3. It could take some time for the Frogs to acclimate to life without Preston Morrison, Alex Young and Tyler Alexander in the rotation, Trey Teakell and Riley Ferrell in the bullpen, and Keaton Jones anchoring the infield. An error by new shortstop Ryan Merrill led to one unearned run, and an error by first baseman Conor Wanhanen led to the other.
Arkansas set a Baum Stadium opening day record by drawing 9,620 fans for its 6-1 win against Central Michigan, and that wasn’t even the biggest crowd of the day. Ole Miss also set an opening day attendance record of 10,129, and LSU attracted a whopping 11,906 fans. Elsewhere, Texas A&M drew 6,806; Mississippi State drew 9,413; and Alabama drew a sellout crowd of 5,867 to the grand opening of Sewell-Thomas Stadium. Not bad for February baseball.
Colton Howell, Jeff Chestnut and Chad Luensmann combined on a two-hit shutout to lead Nebraska to a 4-0 win at College of Charleston. Howell, a former standout reliever making his first career start as a senior, allowed just one hit over five stellar innings, walking two and fanning four. And one of the D1Baseball staff’s favorite breakout candidates, sophomore third baseman Luis Alvarado, paced the Nebraska offense with three hits and two runs.