Ten Thoughts: Friday, May 6Analysis
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1. Team of the Day: Clemson
Heading into last weekend, Clemson’s regional hosting hopes were in jeopardy, as the Tigers had lost three straight weekend series to fall into a hole in the ACC. Then they reversed their momentum with a huge series win against Florida State. On Friday, Clemson opened another series against a top-10 opponent, and they got off to a strong start in this one, too. The Tigers scored 10 runs for the second straight series opener, beating NC State 10-5. Seth Beer (3-for-4, 2B, 3 RBI) led the Clemson offense — what else is new? — as the Tigers rapped out 11 hits and drew 12 walks against seven Wolfpack pitchers. Charlie Barnes (6 IP, 7 H, 4 ER) and Alex Eubanks (3 IP, 1 ER) kept the NC State offense in check after a rocky three-run first inning.
The Tigers improved to 12-13 in the ACC and 14-13 against the top 50 in the RPI. They remain inside the top 10 in the RPI, and if they can win this series, their hosting case will pick up real steam once again.
2. Player of the Day: EKU’s Mandy Alvarez
I wrote in Tuesday’s roundup about Alvarez’s standout season for Eastern Kentucky. Well, the EKU third baseman saved his biggest day yet for Friday’s series opener at Jacksonville State. Alvarez went 7-for-7 with two home runs and six RBIs to power the Colonels to a wild 19-13 win. The seven-hit game helped Alvarez raise his batting average from a robust .396 to a sizzling .417. He also has 12 homers and 55 RBIs on the season. Alvarez accounted for two of EKU’s five long balls on Friday; Kenny Hofstrander also went deep twice, and bopper Kyle Nowlin snacked his 17th homer of the year, moving him into a tie with Heath Quinn for second in the nation behind Missouri State’s Jake Burger.
3. Mississippi State wins another series
Mississippi State’s national seed case seems to grow stronger by the week. The Bulldogs clinched their seventh SEC series win in eight tries with a come-from-behind 4-3 victory against Missouri on Friday. Austin Sexton turned in a strong start like usual, holding the Tigers to three runs over eight innings while striking out eight. He earned the win after MSU tied the score at 2-2 with a run in the seventh against Tanner Houck, then added two more in the eighth to go ahead for good. Daniel Brown seems to have found a home at the back of the bullpen; he recorded the final out in the ninth to pick up his second save.
MSU is now 14-9 in the SEC, just a game behind Texas A&M in the SEC West. And at the moment, the Bulldogs lead the nation with 15 wins against RPI top 50 opponents (but No. 93 Missouri is not one of them).
4. WCC tug-o-war continues
One of the more interesting conference races to monitor has been the West Coast Conference, where St. Mary’s, BYU and Gonzaga jostled each other back and forth atop the standings. The Zags (13-8) are off this weekend after losing a series at BYU last weekend. The Cougars (13-7) won Thursday’s series opener at Pepperdine but lost Friday, 3-0, as Chandler Blanchard and Ryan Wilson combined on a five-hit shutout. That series is now tied 1-1.
BYU’s loss allowed the Gaels (13-6) to move into sole possession of first place by a half-game. St. Mary’s ace Corbin Burnes (6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 9 K) improved to 8-0 on the season in an 8-3 victory on the road at Loyola Marymount. Stay tuned.
5. Riding the Green Wave into first place
Tulane is a darkhorse candidate to host a regional if it can finish strong, win the American Athletic Conference regular-season title, and boost its RPI into the top 20 or so. The Green Wave — and everybody else in the AAC — has been chasing upstart Cincinnati, which entered the weekend atop the conference standings. But UCF knocked off Cincinnati 8-7 on Friday, opening the door for Tulane to take sole possession of first place. And the Green Wave took advantage of that opportunity, earning a 9-4 road win at South Florida to improve to 9-5 in the American (a half-game ahead of Cincinnati). Jake Willsey homered twice and Jeremy Montalbano also went deep for Tulane, as that duo combined to drive in seven runs in support of Emerson Gibbs (6.1 IP, 7 H, 4 ER).
1. Upset of the day: UC Davis over No. 18 UC Santa Barbara
The West Coast has been an absolute mess this season (more on that in a bit), but somehow UC Santa Barbara has been one of the constants. Well, that was until Friday night, as the Gauchos hit the road and dropped a 6-2 bout to UC Davis, a team that entered the contest with a whopping 2-9 record in the Big West Conference.
UCSB veteran righthander Shane Bieber put together a respectable start, striking out seven and allowing just three runs in seven innings, but Trevor Bettencourt and the UCSB bullpen were unable to take care of business, all while UCD had a trio of arms rise to the occasion. Davis starter Robert Garcia struck out eight, walked three and allowed just two runs in six innings, while relievers Chris Brown and Matt Blais combined for three shutout frames to solidify the victory.
Fortunately for the Gauchos, they only dropped a few spots in the RPI. However, they need to take care of business the rest of the weekend to stay at least somewhat in the national seed discussion, or perhaps even host talk.
It’s been a ridiculously ugly year out on the West Coast, and Friday’s UCSB loss to UC Davis only magnifies that to the rest of the country.
2. Someone … anyone … want to host out West? Apparently not.
How many of you have seen the movie Tommy Boy, and heard Chris Farley’s always funny line “For the love of God!”? That’s pretty much how I feel every weekend when I scroll through the Pac-12 scores on a given night. Over the past week, we’ve seen some changes in our projections. For instance, Washington replaced Arizona as a host site, while Oregon State is still in the mix to host as well.
However, both the Huskies and Beavers lost on Friday night, with UW dropping a tough 4-3 bout to USC, while the Beavs lost 6-1 on the road to Arizona.
USC starting pitcher Joe Navilhon struck out six, didn’t walk anyone and allowed just two runs, one earned, on seven hits in 7.1 innings, while for Arizona against Oregon State, senior righthander Nathan Bannister was terrific yet again, striking out nine, walking one and allowing a run on five hits in a complete game performance.
With the setbacks by the Huskies and Beavers, Utah now has sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 for the time being. Furthermore, Arizona could get right back in the hosting mix by taking another game from the Beavers this weekend, especially should the Huskies drop another contest to the Trojans.
Though not in the mix to host, obviously, keep an eye on Arizona State as a postseason commodity. The Sun Devils won yet again, an extra-inning affair over Oregon, and are now up to 51 in the RPI, while California dropped to a game below .500 in conference with a loss to rival Stanford.
Just unreal happenings on the West Coast right now.
3. Indiana shows some serious force
Just a couple of days ago, I had this piece on Indiana and its unique position of playing for the Big Ten Conference lead, while also needing to basically win the conference tournament to get into the NCAA postseason field with an RPI well into the 100s.
Well, the Hoosiers made a nice statement on Friday with an impressive 12-8 road win over red-hot Minnesota. Though Indiana starting pitcher Kyle Hart allowed eight runs in six innings, the Hoosiers sent Minnesota starter Matt Fiedler packing after allowing six runs on six hits in just 3.1 innings.
Indiana’s Craig Dedelow and Brian Wilhite each had homers in the contest, while catcher Ryan Fineman had three hits and knocked in four runs and leadoff hitter Alex Krupa had three hits and an RBI.
With the win, IU’s RPI improved to just 117, so in other words, Chris Lemonis’ club still has a ton to do the rest of the way.
But, hey, what an impressive start to the weekend against a ranked Minnesota club.
4. Southeastern Louisiana slugs Lamar in SLC showdown
Though it looked to be the case a few weeks ago, lately it appears as if the Southland Conference is a potential one-bid league. And guess what? The Lions and Cardinals are the two teams in that discussion.
Southeastern drew first blood and made an impressive statement on Friday night, on the road mind you, with a 14-6 triumph over the Cardinals. The Lions touched up LU starting pitcher Will Hibbs for eight runs on eight hits in 4.1 innings, while offensively, national hitting leader Jameson Fisher smacked a pair of doubles, while Ryan Byers had a triple, home run and knocked in a whopping five runs.
With the win, the Lions are up to 40 in the RPI, but also still have a 7-8 record vs. RPI Top 50. I don’t’ think today’s result, thus far, would get them in with an at-large bid without winning the conference tournament, but things could change as the weekend progresses.It’ll be interesting to see how the Cards respond in Game Two.
5. Kentucky’s ugly slide continues
It takes some serious [bad] work to be one of two teams to take a series from top-ranked Florida, be in the SEC, and to still have an RPI in the 50s that continues to decline, but Kentucky has somehow managed to accomplish that goal.
UK seemed like a slam-dunk type of postseason team not too long ago, but that now is in question as the Wildcats are down into the mid 50s in the RPI with an 11-11 (.500) mark in the SEC after Friday’s ugly 10-5 loss to South Carolina at home.
The Wildcats jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning against usually unhittable Clark Schmidt, but wouldn’t do much more offensively the rest of the way, while the Gamecocks struck for four runs in the fourth inning, including a three-run homer from Alex Destino.
UK starting pitcher Zack Brown allowed nine runs, seven earned, on 10 hits in only 5.1 innings of work.
Gary Henderson’s club must find a way to win at least one game against the Gamecocks this weekend, or their postseason hopes are in serious jeopardy. After all, this team hasn’t won a weekend series since Alabama at home in very early April.