Ten Thoughts: Friday, March 12Analysis
• Want more D1Baseball.com coverage? Subscribe Today
• Fitt on Virginia’s Connor Jones vs. Duke’s Bailey Clark
• Rogers on Texas A&M’s Jace Vines vs. Fresno State’s Ricky Thomas
• Sorenson on Connecticut, plus national analysis
• Baumann on New Mexico State’s rebuild process
• Spratling on Texas’ character-building win at UCLA
• Stat Roundup: Friday’s top individual performers
Aaron Fitt’s Five Thoughts
1. Morgan Captains Pirates To Blowout Of Rice
One of the more intriguing nonconference matchups of the weekend pitted East Carolina against Rice — a team that generally had the Pirates’ number during the days when both teams played in Conference USA. From 2007-2014, the Owls went 20-6 against the Pirates, winning the regular-season series seven times during those eight years. But ECU won the final C-USA series between the two teams in 2014, and the Pirates also won convincingly in Friday’s series opener in Houston, pounding the Owls 10-1. Kirk Morgan (3-for-5, 3 RBI) led a balanced 13-hit attack for the Pirates, who got at least one hit from nine different players against Jon Duplantier (6.2 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 9 K) and the Rice bullpen. Evan Kruczynski (7 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K) held the Owls in check to improve to 2-0, as ECU broke open a 4-1 game with six runs in the eighth.
The Pirates improved to 11-3 overall, while Rice fell to 6-7. A quarter of the way into the season, it already seems clear that this is not a vintage Rice club, and now the Owls have to win back-to-back games to avoid their third losing weekend in the first four weeks. Meanwhile, ECU is one win away from notching a second big road series win against a major brand-name opponent, having also won a series at UVa. In between, ECU had a strong 2-1 showing against a quality field in the Keith LeClair Classic. The Pirates are putting together a very nice body of work in the first month.
2. Sheffield Turns In Career Day For Vandy
We’ve all seen flashes of Jordan Sheffield’s incredible upside over the last two years — there may be no pitcher in college baseball with better raw stuff. But the righthander seems to be learning to harness his command, and he’s blossoming into a bona fide ace as a redshirt sophomore this spring. Sheffield turned in the best start of his career Friday against Xavier, carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning in Vandy’s 7-0 win. He retired the first 17 hitters of the game before issuing a two-out walk in the sixth, and he didn’t allow a hit until Andrew Jernigan battled the count full and lined a single to left field in the eighth. Sheffield went on to issue two walks in the frame to load the bases, but Matt Ruppenthal escaped the jam with a strikeout to preserve the shutout.
Sheffield himself fanned 12 batters over a career-long 7.2 innings of work, allowing just one hit while walking three. It was a stellar bounceback from his first loss of the year against Stanford, when he allowed nine hits over five innings of work. It will be fun to see what Sheffield can do on the big stage of the SEC once conference play begins next week against Mississippi State. He looks ready to take on whatever the mighty SEC can send his way.
3. Big 12 Bests Pac-12 — For One Day, At Least
The Big 12 did not have a good year in 2015, sending just three teams to regionals, and early on this spring, it’s looked like the conference might be in store for a repeat disappointing performance. Only TCU and West Virginia have jumped out to notably strong starts, and overall the Big 12 looks like a league filled with mediocrity. So this weekend may prove to be critically important for the league’s long-term fortunes this spring, as three Big 12 clubs play series against Pac-12 opponents. And on Friday, the Big 12 teams came out on top in two of those series. No. 11 TCU continued to play very good baseball, rolling past a good Southern California club 8-3. Luken Baker (4 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K) earned a no-decision for the Frogs, who rode a balanced 11-hit attack to the victory.
Elsewhere, Texas earned a huge road win at No. 19 UCLA, 7-5. Bruins ace Griffin Canning looked like Orel Hershiser during last week’s 12-strikeout masterpiece against Mississippi State, but Texas knocked him around (6.2 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 5 K). Texas ace Kyle Johnston was erratic, issuing five walks over just 3.1 innings, but UT got 4.2 combined innings of shutout ball from Jon Malmin and Travis Duke, and Tres Barrera (3-for-5, 2 RBI) led UT’s 11-hit attack. After getting swept in four games by Cal last week, the Longhorns really need this series; so far, so good. Meanwhile, UCLA remains very difficult to figure out. After playing at a high level in last weekend’s 3-0 showing at the Dodger Stadium Classic, the Bruins have lost back-to-back games, getting blown out 20-12 at Cal State Northridge midweek and then losing to Texas. Suddenly, UCLA is back below .500 at 6-7, while the Longhorns are up to 7-7. There’s plenty on the line in the last two game of this set.
Speaking of Cal, the 12th-ranked Golden Bears kept on rolling with a 9-2 win at home against Texas Tech, giving them five straight victories (all against Big 12 contenders). El Gaucho (Mitchell Kranson) had four hits and three runs to lead the Cal offense Friday in support of Daulton Jefferies (7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K), who improved to 4-0 on the season. He’s been good for an automatic quality start every Friday.
4. Mississippi State Ends Ducks’ Streak
Heading into a big showdown series in Starkville between No. 9 Oregon and No. 20 Mississippi State, much was made of the Ducks’ dominant starting pitching, which hadn’t given up an earned run in 34.1 consecutive innings before Friday. The Bulldogs scored two unearned runs in the third inning Friday, and they finally snapped Oregon’s streak at 38.2 innings on Brent Rooker’s solo homer with one out in the fifth against Cole Irvin (5.1 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 2 K). Rooker finished with three hits and two RBIs, and Cody Brown added a grand slam in the eighth to give the Bulldogs some breathing room in a 10-4 victory.
MSU got another strong start from Dakota Hudson (5.2 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 9 K), who did a good job working around his five walks. Moonlight Tatum continued his celestial work in the bullpen, firing two scoreless, hitless innings to close out the game. I walked away from Dodgertown last weekend feeling like Mississippi State was better than it played that weekend, when it finished 1-1-1. This big series against Oregon afforded MSU a chance to prove it is a legitimate Omaha contender capable of beating top-flight competition. Friday was certainly a reassuring first answer to that test.
5. Straight Outta Compton
In the other big series between Top 25 foes, No. 15 Florida State cruised to an 8-2 win against No. 21 Georgia Tech. The Seminoles broke a 1-1 tie with five runs in the third inning, and that proved more than enough for veteran ace Mike Compton (7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K), who kept Georgia Tech’s dangerous offense off balance effectively. The Seminoles got four home runs — from Darren Miller, Cal Raleigh, Ben DeLuzio and John Sansone — including back-to-back shots from Miller and DeLuzio in that pivotal five-run third. Raleigh and Sansone finished with three hits apiece to lead the FSU offense against Brandon Gold (5 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 2 ER), who took his first loss of the season.
It was also Georgia Tech’s first loss of the season, leaving no unbeaten teams remaining in Division I.
Kendall Rogers’ Five Thoughts
1. Boston College Strikes First Blow On NC State
One of the things we talked about earlier today in our ACC primer was the sudden and surprising rise of Mike Gambino’s Boston College club. The Eagles entered the NC State series and ACC play with a 12-2 overall record, some of those wins against solid competition, others not so much, so the series against the Wolfpack was the ultimate litmus test for this club.
It’s just one game, and things could change the rest of the weekend, but BC looked magnificent in a 7-0 win over the Wolfpack. Junior righthander Mike King held the Pack at bay throughout the afternoon, striking out four, not walking anyone and allowing just six hits in seven shutout innings.
King got plenty of help from his offense, too, which scored all seven runs in the middle three innings of play. Joe Cronin, Donovan Casey and Mitch Bigras each had two hits, while catcher Nick Sciortino chipped in a three-hit performance to help lead the charge. The Eagles also received some help from NC State’s defense, which committed four errors on the night, with starting pitcher Joe O’Donnell allowing seven runs, only two earned.
What a way to start the weekend for a team looking to make a statement on the national stage.
2. Ball State Blows Out … LSU?
When talking with coaches from the Mid-American Conference before the season, the general consensus was that Ball State was going to surprise some people. Well, the Cardinals, 8-7 overall, certainly did that Friday night with a dominant 7-1 win over LSU in Baton Rouge.
Ball State lefthander Kevin Marnon put together an impressive start against the Bayou Bengals, striking out four and walking just one in 5.2 innings of work, while big-time prospect righthander Zach Plesac took care of business out of the pen, striking out five, not walking anyone and allowing a hit in 3.1 shutout innings.
Offensively, to no surprise, Alex Call and Jarett Rindfleisch led the charge, with Call going 3-for-4 with three RBIs and Rindfleisch smacking a pair of homers to help lead the charge. Sean Kennedy also got into the act with a home run of his own.
Overall, LSU is one of those young teams that will go through some periodic growing pains this season. It’s only natural, but lefthander Jared Poche allowing five runs on eight hits in 5.2 innings was a bit alarming. With such a young lineup, the Tigers have little room for error on the mound.
3. Another ACC Head Scratcher: Virginia Tech Pounds Miami
Okay, so perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised that the Hokies beat Miami on Friday. After all, the Hokies did take a series from Virginia last season, who went on to win the national title. But, the Hokies beating Miami 14-3 on Friday to start the weekend was a surprise.
Hurricanes crafty lefthander Thomas Woodrey is usually Mr. Consistent on the mound, but he struggled mightily, allowing nine runs (eight earned) on 10 hits in just 2.2 innings of work. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech starting pitcher Packy Naughton was good enough, striking out six and allowing three runs in 6.2 innings.
Overall, though, this game was all about Virginia Tech jumping all over Woodrey. VT scored nine runs the first three innings and didn’t look back. Nick Anderson went 2-for-5 with five RBIs, while outfielder Tom Stoffel also had a massive day, recording four hits and knocking in five runs as well.
With the win, the Hokies improve to 10-5 overall and suddenly become an intriguing team. Though Pat Mason’s club started the season with a tough series loss to The Citadel, they’ve played much better since and the start to this series is a clear indication of that.
4. Lantrip Has Career Night For Houston
It’s crystal clear at this point that Andrew Lantrip will need to have a monster campaign for the Cougars to meet their goals. Seth Romero is on his way back for the Cougars, but Lantrip, a junior righthander, who can get up to 92-93 with his fastball, is the leader of this team.
He carried the Cougars on Friday night to a 3-1 victory over red-hot Alabama. Lantrip recorded a career-high 13 strikeouts, didn’t walk anyone and allowed just a run on six hits in eight innings.
Heralded Houston freshman Joe Davis also had a big night, hitting a home run, recording a double, and most importantly, knocking in two of his club’s three runs.
Houston has scuffled the past few weeks and a road series win over Alabama could be exactly what they need to turn the corner.
5. Wright State’s Jesse Scholtens Makes History
The Raiders have played a tough schedule so far this season, so have to feel good about their chances against Dayton this weekend. Still, Wright State needed an epic pitching performance from the senior righthander to beat the Flyers 1-0 on Friday.
How epic was this performance? Scholtens pieced together the first perfect game in Wright State program history. The 6-foot-4, 228-pounder, struck out 12 in the complete game performance and threw 101 pitches, 74 for strikes.
So, here’s to you, Mr. Scholtens.
— Wright State Raiders (@WSURaiders) March 11, 2016