D1 Digest: Grand Canyon Topples Vols To Highlight Saturday Action



ROGERS: What caught his attention at the College Baseball Showdown
FITT: Campbell comes out red-hot to begin 2023
HEALY: Auburn, Alabama pitching staffs make strong first impressions [SEC EXTRA]
SORENSON: Long Beach State, UC Irvine take down American foes

Game Of The Day: Grand Canyon 4, No. 2 Tennessee 3

Through two days it’s pretty clear that Tennessee is going to get the best effort of every single team they play this year. While they may not sit in the pole position to open the 2023 season, they still have a large target on their backs after their historic 2022 season that had its fair share of drama, fireworks and bravado.

After Arizona took down the mighty Volunteers on Friday, 3-1, it was Grand Canyon’s turn to give it their own best shot. In a game that had it all from clutch hits to big pitches, even bigger defensive plays and a handful of stars, it was the Lopes that came out on top in this game, 4-3.

GCU star shortstop Jacob Wilson, a D1Baseball first-team Preseason All-American, got things started in the bottom of the first, hitting a line drive to the opposite field that carried to the right field corner for an RBI triple, his second three-base hit in as many days. That hit came off Tennessee starter Chase Burns, another Preseason All-American who was lighting up the radar gun with his usual low- to mid-90s heat while mixing in a sharp slider.

Tennessee took the lead in the fourth inning with a two-run home run off the bat of Cal Stark. Christian Moore pushed the lead to 3-1 with an RBI single in the fifth. GCU then tightened the gap in the bottom of the fifth with a sac fly by Dustin Crenshaw with the Vols holding onto a 3-2 lead.

It was in the bottom of the sixth that defense by both teams started to make an immediate impact on the game. GCU tied the contest 3-3 when Jacob Wilson, who led off the inning on a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch, scored after a throwing error by Tennessee catcher Charlie Taylor. Taylor would quickly redeem himself, tagging out another would-be run at home plate before throwing out the speedy Homer Bush Jr. trying to steal second base to end the inning.

GCU moved ahead in the bottom of the seventh inning. After Eli Paton led off the frame with a walk, advancing to second on a bunt, Cade Verdusco hit a ground ball that looked like it may get through the middle of the infield. Instead, Tennessee shortstop Austen Jaslove made a diving stop, quickly got to his feet and fired to first base, a throw that Blake Burke was unable to scoop out of the dirt, allowing Paton to score from second to put the Lopes on top for good, 4-3.

Big defensive plays continued as Wilson made a nifty double play and showcased his arm strength repeatedly at shortstop while Verdusco gunned down a Tennessee runner in the top of the eighth trying to advance from first to third on a sharp single to right field. In the meantime, Daniel Avitia, usually the team’s staff ace, entered the game in the seventh inning and picked up the win with three strong, scoreless innings.

(Another) Game Of The Day: No. 3 Stanford 7, Cal State Fullerton 5

For the second straight night the top two games covered in the D1 Digest involved No. 2 Tennessee and the Stanford/Cal State Fullerton showdown. This time around you can’t call this game an upset, however, as No. 3 Stanford put itself in the win column with a 7-5 victory over the host Titans.

While Fullerton got on the board first with an RBI single in the bottom of the first by Colby Wallace, the Cardinal quickly responded as Drew Bowser hit a two-run home run that put Stanford on top, 2-1. The Titans quickly got one back, scoring another single tally in the bottom of the second with an RBI single by JT Navyac.

A pair of solo shots in the third put Stanford back on top, 4-2. One was hit by Tommy Troy and the other by Braden Montgomery, two batters later. And while Stanford kept playing gorilla ball Fullerton kept chipping away, scoring two runs in the fifth – one on a wild pitch and another on a sac fly – to once again tie the game up, 4-4.

After the two teams exchanged single runs in both the top and bottom of the seventh, Stanford finally pulled ahead for good in the eighth with an RBI single by Troy, adding an insurance run in the ninth with an RBI single by Eddie Park.

Stanford freshman righthander Matt Scott provided scoreless innings in the seventh and eighth innings to bridge the gap to closer Ryan Bruno. Bruno made things interesting in the ninth, striking out a pair of batters but also walking the bases loaded before shortstop Owen Cobb ended the game with a full extension, diving stab of a slicing liner off the bat of Draven Nushida.

Player Of The Day: Justin Wilcoxen, East Carolina

A career .267 collegiate hitter entering his third year for the Pirates, Justin Wilcoxen enjoyed a big day at the plate helping to lead No. 11 East Carolina to a pair of wins over visiting George Washington. In game one, a 9-5 victory, Wilcoxen went 3-for-5 with a two-run home run, a pair of runs scored and four total RBIs. In the second game, an 11-3 win, he went 4-for-5 with a double and three runs scored. It’s also important to note that he started behind the plate in both games, recording 22 total putouts with a pair of assists.

Pitcher Of The Day: Brody Brecht, Iowa

Prior to Saturday, second-year righthander Brody Brecht had made only one start in his collegiate career. That appearance didn’t go very well, and didn’t last very long, as Brecht pitched only one-third of an inning as Iowa lost to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament and saw their 2022 season come to a close.

On Saturday the results were much better, a 7-1 win over Quinnipiac that saw Brecht work the first five innings, striking out 10 without giving up any baserunners. I’ve seen Brecht dominant before, armed with the same 100 mph heat and wicked upper-80s to low-90s breaking ball that he showed on Saturday, but what made his 2023 debut all the more impressive were the zero walks. Last year he handed out 25 free passes in 22 2/3 innings, so while this is only one game, it’s an encouraging start.

Zach Voelker struck out six batters over the final four frames to pick up the save and secure the victory as Iowa moved to 2-0 on the year.

Ranked Teams Win Big

For as many upsets as there were on Friday, Saturday’s games were played more closely to what was expected, and several of the contests weren’t even close. Of the 21 ranked teams that played unranked opponents 20 emerged with victories. That included a pair of wins by both No. 11 East Carolina and No. 25 Oregon.

No. 2 Tennessee was the only ranked team to lose to an unranked opponent on Saturday and they’re the only ranked team to be 0-2 on the year. The Vols were 57-9 in 2022 and didn’t lose their second game until April 12.

LSU (1), Ole Miss (4), Texas A&M (5), Wake Forest (6), Florida (7), East Carolina (11), TCU (15), Louisville (16), UCLA (17), Southern Miss (18), Virginia (19), Alabama (20), NC State (21), South Carolina (23), Texas Tech (24) all moved to 2-0 on Saturday to secure opening series wins. Oregon (25), playing a four-game series against Xavier, is now 3-0.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the ranked teams that have opened the year 1-1 – outside of Stanford as detailed above – who, with the exception of Arkansas and Oklahoma State, bounced back from losses Friday to win on Saturday.

• No. 10 Vanderbilt didn’t take Friday’s loss to TCU lightly as they jumped out to what seemed like a commanding 8-1 lead after the first two innings of Saturday’s game against No. 9 Oklahoma State. A two-run double by Calvin Hewett, a three-run triple by Matthew Polk and a two-run single by Parker Noland were the key base hits over the first two frames. The Commodores tacked on two more runs in the fourth and carried an 11-3 lead into the eighth inning before the Cowboys offense came to life and made things interesting with a six-run explosion, headlined by Nolan McLean’s three-run bomb. Nick Maldonado was able to cool OSU off with a scoreless ninth to pick up his first save of the season as Vanderbilt and Oklahoma State – who beat Missouri on Friday – each moved to 1-1 on the young season.

Be sure to read Kendall Rogers’ Saturday recap from the College Baseball Showdown for more on Vanderbilt/Oklahoma State, results from No. 15 TCU’s 18-6 victory over No. 8 Arkansas (the Hogs are also 1-1 to open the year) as well as Missouri’s 6-5 win over Texas.

• After Seton Hall stunned No. 12 North Carolina on Friday the Tar Heels bounced back with a rather convincing 11-2 win on Saturday to even the series. UNC’s top two hitters, Vance Honeycutt and Mac Horvath, each reached base five times giving the middle of the order plenty of RBI opportunities, which they made the most of. Eric Grintz and Tomas Frick each had a pair of hits and three RBIs while Hunter Stokely and Casey Cook each chipped in with a pair of RBIs. Cameron Padgett did a great job in the middle and late innings to keep the Pirates off the board, striking out three over 4 1/3 innings to pick up the win.

• Following a loss on Friday, No. 13 Maryland bounced back with an 8-1 win over South Florida on Saturday to even the series. Nick Dean enjoyed a strong start on the mound, allowing just one hit and one walk over six innings with eight strikeouts. Freshman Kyle McCoy picked up the save with three strong innings of his own and third baseman Nick Lorusso provided the game’s biggest blast, a seventh-inning grand slam that gave the Terps some breathing room.

• Things were starting to look a little dicey for No. 14 Virginia Tech, which entered the sixth inning with College of Charleston up 3-1. The Hokies bats woke up from that point forward, scoring two in the sixth to tie the game, five more in the seventh to move ahead and four in the eighth for good measure to win 12-3. Jack Hurley’s run-scoring triple in the sixth ignited the offense with Hurley scoring on a throwing error to tie the game. A two-run single by leadoff hitter David Bryant in the top of the seventh gave Virginia Tech a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Lefthanded pitcher Henry Weycker shut down CofC’s offense over the final 4 1/3 innings, striking out 10 batters along the way.

• Penn State provided one of the bigger upsets on Friday, taking down No. 22 Miami in Coral Gables as detailed by D1Baseball’s Walter Villa. The Hurricanes didn’t waste any time taking control in game two; after Dario Gomez led off the bottom of the first by reaching on an error, Edgardo Villegas followed with a two-run home run. They tacked on three more runs in the bottom of the fourth, the first of which came on a Villegas double, a single tally in the fifth and a pair of two-run home runs in both the seventh and eighth innings off the bats of Carlos Perez and Zach Levenson to seal the victory. Karson Ligon picked up the win on the mound with 6 2/3 strong innings.