D1 Digest: Saturday, Feb. 15Roundup
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Saturday’s Staff Coverage
- Kendall Rogers on Michigan Showing It’s Here To Stay
- Aaron Fitt on the burgeoning legend of Ole Miss slugger Cael Baker
- Eric Sorenson on Villanova’s stunning upset of Arizona State
- Shotgun Spratling on New Mexico’s Makil, Oklahoma State
- Saturday’s Top Statistical Performers
Aaron Fitt’s Five
Oklahoma Storms Back
After getting shut out 6-0 Friday by Virginia, No. 24 Oklahoma bounced back strong Saturday, sweeping a doubleheader to win the series in Pensacola. Peyton Graham and Brady Lindsly had three hits apiece to lead a balanced 13-hit attack in the opener, a 7-2 OU victory. Electric righty Zack Matthews earned the win with 2.2 innings of one-hit, shutout relief of starter Levi Prater (4.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER). In the nightcap, Oklahoma got an outstanding debut from Rice bounceback Dane Acker (5 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 6 K) and four innings of shutout relief from Wyatt Olds and Jason Ruffcorn. Tyler Hardman broke a 1-1 tie with a two-run homer in the seventh, then put the game out of reach with a two-run single in the ninth. Hardman hit .306/.394/.457 in a strong sophomore year, but he looks poised to do even bigger things as a junior, after showing off big-time raw power in the Cape Cod League last summer.
Also of note: Virginia blue-chip freshman Nate Savino made his debut out of the bullpen in the finale, allowing two runs on two walks and a hit in 1.1 innings. Much better days are ahead for the ultra-talented lefty.
Titans Take It
Cal State Fullerton made a loud statement in the first two games of the season. The Titans clinched a huge road series at rival Stanford with a 6-1 win Saturday behind a standout start from Kyle Luckham (7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K). Dynamic leadoff man Zach Lew went 4-for-6 with two runs and an RBI to pace Fullerton’s 18-hit barrage (11 of them off Stanford starter Quinn Mathews), and 3-hole hitter Isaiah Garcia went 3-for-5 with two RBIs. The Fullerton coaching staff forecasted a big sophomore year from Lew (who hit .313 with a .448 OBP as a freshman), and so far he’s certainly living up to the billing; he also reached safely three times and scored three runs on Friday.
Fullerton has now outscored Stanford 13-2 through two games. The Titans are a near-lock to jump into the Top 25 come Monday, regardless of what happens in Sunday’s finale. Saturday was also a milestone win for Titans coach Rick Vanderhook.
Rocker Shines In Season Debut
No. 2 Vanderbilt sustained a tough loss in its opener against Michigan, losing the lead on a ninth-inning homer. But first-team preseason All-American Kumar Rocker made sure there was no hangover effect from that defeat, turning in six innings of two-hit ball in a 6-1 win Saturday against Connecticut in Arizona. Rocker allowed just one unearned run, walking three and striking out nine, and talented freshman Sam Hliboki followed with three innings of one-hit, shutout relief. Another freshman, catcher CJ Rodriguez, led the offense with four hits (two doubles) and three RBIs. Rodriguez, who has advanced catch-and-throw skills, looks like an awfully good backup for injured senior catcher Ty Duvall, and a big part of Vandy’s future.
Sir Lancellotti Rides To UNC’s Rescue
The series between Middle Tennessee and North Carolina isn’t exactly a marquee matchup — but the emergence of Joey Lancellotti as a two-way superstar is one of the big stories of the weekend. As we noted last night, not only did Lancellotti make a seamless transition from bullpen stopper to Friday ace in UNC’s opener, he also hit in the 5-hole and delivered two hits — after recording just one career at-bat in his first two seasons. But Lancellotti outdid himself Saturday, batting cleanup and lifting UNC to a 2-1 win with a walk-off homer in the ninth.
“I’m going to have to make sure Joey quits talking to me about hitting because he’s been doing it for two years,” UNC coach Mike Fox said after. “I’ll admit when I’m wrong. I guess he was right; I should have had him hitting the last two years. That was a big swing of the bat. He showed us in the fall. I think it was good he was hurt in the fall and couldn’t pitch, so we were just like, ‘OK, we’ll just let you hit.’ And every day it was like, ‘OK, he’s gotten better and better.’ He’s got unbelievable power…that was a big swing of the bat.”
North Carolina also got seven innings of three-hit, one-run ball from lefty Will Sandy, a very encouraging sign after Sandy was sidelined in the fall.
LSU, Indiana Split Twin Bill
No. 11 LSU secured a quality season-opening series win against Indiana with a 7-4 win Saturday, but the Hoosiers avoided the sweep with a 7-2 win in the second game of a doubleheader. The Tigers got three hits from Cade Beloso and three RBIs from Alex Milazzo in the opener, and relievers Trent Vietmeier, Nick Storz and Devin Fontenot combined for 5.2 innings of one-run ball in relief of Landon Marceaux (4.1 IP, 6 H, 3 ER).
But the Hoosiers rebounded thanks to a strong start from Braydon Tucker (6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER) to salvage the finale. Grant Richardson (2-for-3, 2 R, 4 RBI) doubled and homered to pace the Indiana offense. Going on the road and winning one out of three at LSU in February should pay dividends for Indiana down the road, both in the RPI and in terms of valuable experience.
A silver lining for LSU in the Game Three defeat: supremely talented righty Jaden Hill made his season debut (after injury cut short his season a year ago) and was overpowering in two hitless innings of relief.
Kendall Rogers’ Five
Michigan impresses against Arizona State
I will have much more on Michigan Sunday morning with a column on its incredible start. But there’s no doubt the Wolverines are breathing fire to begin the 2020 campaign. They captured an impressive comeback win over Vanderbilt Friday night before leaving zero doubt Saturday night in a 5-0 win over hard-hitting Arizona State.
The story in this game was Danny Zimmerman hitting a big-time blast to left field in his first meaningful at bat. The redshirt sophomore smashed an 89 mph from heralded ASU freshman lefthander Cooper Benson to set the tone of the game in the third inning. He finished the night with that home run and a double. Another youngster, Clark Elliott, had two hits, while gritty infielder Riley Bertram collected two hits as well.
The other story line was the start put together by Steve Hajjar, who missed last season because of an injury. Hajjar was outstanding against the Sun Devils, keeping hard-hitting Spencer Torkelson at bay — he struck him out on a 79 mph changeup early in the game — and peppering the zone with an impressive fastball, changeup and curveball combination. He struck out seven, walked two and allowed three hits in six innings.
As for ASU, all was not lost, as Benson was impressive at times. The lefty struck out eight, didn’t allow a walk and allowed just three runs and six hits in 6.1 innings. Benson sat 87-91 mph with his fastball and didn’t deviate from that velocity, while also showing a 74-75 mph curveball and an 81 mph changeup. The big key for Benson was sinking his fastball low in the zone.
Michigan has another game tomorrow against Connecticut. But with a 3-0 record so far this weekend, including wins over No. 2 and No. 13, it is proving it’s still a national title contender.
Pretty impressive start.
Upset of the day: Villanova over No. 9 Arizona State
I’m not sure how many people had Villanova giving ASU all it could handle on the schedule for the weekend, but that is what has happened. After giving the Sun Devils all they could handle in the series opener, the Wildcats shocked many Saturday afternoon with a 2-1 win. Villanova righthander Gordon Graceffo put together a solid start against ASU despite having some command issues at times. He allowed just a run and two hits in 5.1 innings. Meanwhile, ‘Nova’s Danny Wilkinson also had command issues at times, but also struck out five and allowed just one hit in 3.2 shutout innings.
ASU, which had to turn around and play Michigan later in the day and lost, had a bright spot against Villanova with righthander Boyd Vander Kooi putting together a quality start. Vander Kooi struck out five, walked two and allowed two runs and six hits in 7.2 innings.
Villanova now has a chance to win two of three from the Devils as the two teams will meet against Sunday afternoon. What a Saturday it was for the Wildcats.
Our Eric Sorenson has the inside scoop on Villanova’s win, here.
New-look LMU, Long Beach and CSUN collect quality series wins
Both the Dirtbags and Lions had some turnover in the offseason. In addition to losing some key players, both programs also had to replace coaches with Troy Buckley getting fired at LBSU and Jason Gill heading uptown to USC and the Pac 12.
After winning an extra-inning thriller on Friday night against California, LBSU didn’t need late-inning drama to take the series from the Bears on Saturday, winning 4-0 with Alfred Ruiz on the bump. Ruiz had received strong reviews from new head coach Eric Valenzuela in the fall and he was terrific against Cal, striking out 10 and allowing just two hits in seven shutout innings. The win over the Bears is a big confidence booster for Valenzuela’s young program.
As for Cal, righthander Grant Holman put together a quality start against the Dirtbags. Cal head coach Mike Neu was cautiously optimistic about him in the fall. He already had an explosive arm, but he was starting to put together an impressive repertoire. He struck out two and allowed two earned runs in six innings down in the LBC.
As for LMU, new head coach Nathan Choate picked up a solid series win over Washington with a 6-3 victory. Nick Frasso struck out five, walked two and allowing one earned run in four innings, while the bullpen was terrific with Alex Burge allowing just two hits in 1.2 innings and Kyle Mora struck out five and allowed a run and a hit in three innings.
Speaking of SoCal programs with new coaches making waves, how about Cal State Northridge beating San Francisco 7-3 to kick off the Dave Serrano era in impressive fashion? CSUN starting pitcher Blaine Traxel was solid, striking out two and allowing two runs in six innings, while Blake Schriever was impressive out of the pen with three strikeouts in two shutout frames.
TCU impressive for second-straight day
The Horned Frogs had what was a rather odd 2019 campaign. They didn’t finish especially strong, but still found a way to the NCAA tournament. Well, the Frogs are looking to leave no doubt this spring, and it’s so far so good this weekend against Kentucky. After seeing righthander Johnny Ray lead the team in the season opener, the Frogs impressed yet again Saturday afternoon in a series-clinching 7-1 win over UK.
TCU righthander Charles King, who was slated to come out of the bullpen in the preseason survey, got the starting nod for the Frogs. He didn’t disappoint. He struck out two, didn’t walk anyone and allowed a run on three hits in six innings, while Austin Krob tossed two shutout innings and Jacob Meador tossed a shutout frame out of the bullpen.
From an offensive standpoint, Gray Rodgers had a pair of doubles and Hunter Wolfe also had a big afternoon with a double.
Kentucky was picked near the bottom of the SEC East for a reason. So, we’re not ready to anoint the Frogs world beaters. But how the Frogs have done it this weekend is impressive.
I’m intrigued to see what TCU does moving forward.
Texas A&M’s … offense … impresses?
The Aggies had one of the nation’s premier pitching staffs last season. However, the Aggies struggled immensely offensively, and that might be putting it mildly. That was the difference between A&M being an Omaha caliber club and one that couldn’t get out of an NCAA Regional.
Well, when Will Bolt took the head coaching job at Nebraska, the Aggies had an opportunity to go out and hire one of the brighter offensive minds in the South in Southern Miss assistant Chad Caillet. Granted Miami of Ohio isn’t a projected postseason team, but the Aggies have shown a much better approach over the first two games.
A&M power hitter Will Frizzell has hit monster home runs in the first two games, with his shot on Saturday registering 497 feet and 111 mph off the bat, according to A&M’s TrackMan data. Cape League star Zach DeLoach had two hits and is hitting .833 through two games and Logan Sartori hit a home run and chipped in a two-hit performance.
We will know much more about the Aggies next weekend when they face UCLA and Oklahoma State, along with Illinois, but they have our attention.
Also worth mentioning, Saturday starter and righthander Christian Roa was sharp against the Redhawks, striking out 12, walking one and allowing two runs on three hits in six innings.