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TJ Nichols. (Shotgun Spratling)

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D1 Digest: Upsets Aplenty on Opening Day

Roundup

FRIDAY COVERAGE:

• ROGERS: College Baseball Showdown: Everything That Caught My Attention Friday
• FITT: Koehler, Campbell Offense Shine in Showdown vs. Rutgers
• HEALY: Elon’s Sprague Deals in Win over Kentucky
• GRANGER: Illinois, Wake Forest victorious on Opening Day
• SORENSON: On San Jose State, LMU + scattershooting
• VILLA: Penn State stuns Miami on Opening Day

• ETHERIDGE: Tigers Open With A Clinic [SEC EXTRA]
• Check out the Opening Weekend Extra Bases blog [SEC EXTRA]

Game Of The Day: Arizona 3, No. 2 Tennessee 1

The field at the MLB Desert Invitational tournament in Arizona seems to get better every year. Add in America’s most hated team playing against the in-state Arizona Wildcats and an Opening Day matchup had the feel of a conference weekend matchup, if not a postseason game. There was plenty of chatter from the stands with two fan bases that traveled to see one of the top pitching duels on the Day 1 docket.

Both teams manufactured a run in the first inning, but TJ Nichols and then Chase Dollander both showed their ability to minimize damage. Nichols gave up two singles and a sacrifice fly, but struck out Kyle Booker to end the frame. Nichols pitched around runners in the second and third inning before retiring nine straight. Dollander gave up a sacrifice fly after a full-count hit batter and a full-count walk sandwiched a 2-0 single. He struck out Mason White to leave two runners in scoring position. 

Dollander wasn’t as sharp as he consistently has shown in the past and Tony Bullard took advantage, jumping on a hanging breaking ball and driving it for a solo homer to lead off the second inning. Dollander retired the next 10 batters and 11 of the final 12 he faced, but the damage was done. Nichols allowed three hits and one walk while striking out six and the Arizona bullpen arms of Eric Orloff, Dawson Netz and Trevor Long pitched the final three innings without a Tennessee runner ever getting in scoring position. The Wildcats added an insurance run in the eighth inning when Kiko Romero blooped in a single and Mac Bingham landed an RBI double just past the glove of a diving Booker.

Last year, Tennessee won its first eight games and opened the season 31-1. This year, Dollander takes his first loss as a Volunteer on Opening Day.

Upset Of The Day: Cal State Fullerton 8, No. 3 Stanford 1

Seven teams in the top 25 lost, but none were quite as demonstrative as a Cal State Fullerton program that has been in the dumps in recent years getting to the ace of a top three team to take the lead and then pulling away for an easy victory. The Titans scored two runs in five innings against Cardinal lefty Quinn Mathews and then used a five-run seventh inning to pull away.

Maddox Latta had three doubles and scored three runs for the Titans while Caden Connor, Nate Nankil and Colby Wallace all had multi-hit performances. Even more impressive is what the Fullerton arms of Tyler Stultz and Fynn Chester did to a potent Stanford offense. Stultz struck out seven while allowing one run on two hits and three walks. Chester then picked up the save with four scoreless innings. He gave up two hits and struck out three. 

Player Of The Day: Ben McCabe, UCF

Central Florida’s Ben McCabe was happy to be back behind the plate Friday. He was also happy to trot around and step on the plate. He did it three times. McCabe may have just been trying to make up for lost time after spending so much time apart.

A catcher by trade, McCabe had to spend all last season as a first baseman and designated hitter after having Tommy John surgery. That didn’t keep him from hitting home runs as he launched a team-best 14 with a team-high 54 RBIs last year. He’ll be trying to exceed those numbers this season and got off to a great start, going 5 for 5 with three home runs, five RBIs and a stolen base.

Pitcher Of The Day: Paul Skenes, LSU

LSU looked every bit the part in a ho-hum 10-0 win over Western Michigan. The Tigers jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first two innings and then were able to ride the lighting bolts from the right arm of 6-foot-6 former Air Force cadet Paul Skenes.

Skenes made it look effortless as he breezed 97-98 mph fastballs by the Broncos and then froze them with mid-80s sliders. He finished with 12 strikeouts to one walk and three hits. And how did his velocity hold up…

Conference of the Day: Big West

The Big West picked up the upset of the day to go along with a handful of other impressive victories and may be building the momentum to put the nation on notice that the Big West is ready to be competitive on the national scope once more. Cal State Fullerton’s drubbing of No. 3 Stanford is loud, both for the conference and for the Titans as they continue to try to rebuild to get back on track of being at minimum an Omaha Sleeper each year. 

Jason Dietrich seems to have the Fullerton program heading in the right direction in his second year at the helm while UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine continue to push forward as conference contenders year in and year out under Andrew Checketts and Ben Orloff. Long Beach State is hoping to get back in that group after struggling to find consistency last year. Hawaii, Cal Poly and CSUN are all trying to push out of the middle to be a regular battling with the aforementioned squads to give the Big West a top half of teams that all are talented and capable of winning marquee non-conference games.

The conference picked up some of those Friday. UCSB showed its resiliency in a 9-7 win over Minnesota. The Gauchos blew a 6-1 lead but answered as soon as the Gophers took the lead in the seventh inning. Ivan Brethowr had three hits with a double and a home run. He scored three runs. Irvine and Long Beach State both delivered shutouts with David Vizcaino (5.2 IP, 2 H, BB, 5 K) leading the way for the Anteaters pitching them to a 3-0 win. Arizona State transfer Graham Osman was lights out for Long Beach, allowing just one hit and one walk in seven scoreless innings. He attacked the zone over and over, needing just 75 pitches (53 strikes) to go seven frames. Cal State Bakersfield also notched a shutout, beating St. Thomas, 3-0, despite only having four hits in the game. Ryan Verdugo pitched seven innings, giving up four hits and no runs.

Cal Poly and CSUN went about picking up wins using a different route, choosing to bludgeon their opponent into submission. The Mustangs beat up on Missouri State, 15-5, thanks to a nine-run fifth inning. Joe Yorke led the offense with three hits and four runs driven in. CSUN had multiple big innings in its 20-5 win over Stony Brook in Eddie Cornejo’s first game as head ocahc. Graysen Tarlow went 5 for 5 with three runs scored, six runs driven in, a double, a grand slam and a stolen base.

UC Riverside won on Opening Day, defeating Villanova, 7-2. Now the Highlanders will look for their first series win and try to pick up their second win a little quicker than 2022 when they began the season 1-20.

Get It Started

The first run of the season came on a Luke Vinson RBI triple in the second inning of Middle Tennessee State’s 14-8  win over VCU. Brett Coker launched the first home run of the 2023 season two batters later to put the Blue Raiders up 4-0 and they cruised from there, scoring four runs in the second, fourth and sixth innings. Vinson finished with three hits, three RBIs and two runs while Jaden Hamm picked up the win with 5.1 scoreless innings. The second-team All-Conference USA righthander allowed four hits with no walks while striking out six batters.

Coker collected the first hit and homer of the season. He also finished with three hits and four RBIs.

Hurricanes Humbled

Penn State was our preseason No. 10 team in the Big Ten, a conference we are predicting will get three teams in regionals. It sure didn’t play like a 10th place team Friday. The Nittany Lions went into Coral Gables and ran through Miami to give head coach Rob Cooper some brief bragging rights over his alma mate. Penn State jumped out to a 5-0 lead behind a Jay Harry bases-clearing double and chased Canes starter Gage Ziehl in the third inning. Travis Luensmann, on the other side, looked like a legitimate ace as he allowed one run on two hits in five innings shutting down the Miami offense. 

It was a sloppy game as Penn State committed three errors, but nothing looked quite as puzzling as the lack of effort Miami showed on a couple of plays. Notably, the Hurricanes were down 9-2 after giving up three runs in the eighth inning thanks to a bad effort on a chopper back to the mound. Reliever Rate Schlesinger turned and fired a tailing fastball high and behind shortstop Dominic Pitelli covering at second base. 

One run scored on the play, but the Hurricanes had a runner dead to rights at third base, except Yohandy Morales barely bent to apply the tag and the runner slid under his glove. Then Pitelli was trying to talk to the umpire in the middle of the play instead of covering second base, which allowed the hitter to sprint all the way to second base on a ball that barely made it back to the pitcher’s mound. A single and a passed ball brought home the final two runs of the inning.

Diodati’s Deja Vu

Last year, Owen Diodati hit a walk-off home run to beat Xavier on Opening Day. That was in Tuscaloosa as Alabama handed the Musketeers the first of nine consecutive losses, including five by one run. 

On Friday, Diodati stepped into the box in Eugene against Xavier wearing vastly different team colors in a much different region of the country…and again broke the Musketeers’ hearts. Diodati drove in the game-winning run for Oregon in a 3-2 win over Xavier with a walk-off sacrifice fly. 

The Ducks took advantage of the Musketeers’ mistakes to earn a flawless record after Game 1. An error in the eighth inning allowed Oregon to tie the game, 2-2, after the Ducks had been shut down for seven innings by Ethan Bosacker (7 IP, 2 H, ER, BB, 6 K).

Pirates Plunder for Redemption

Seton Hall’s 2022 season began with an embarrassing sweep at the hands of North Carolina that saw the Tar Heels beat up on the Pirates by a combined score of 40-6. It began a 12-game losing streak to open what would become a woeful 18-35 campaign. Seton Hall got a measure of redemption and got the 2023 season off to a much better start with a come-from-behind 10-8 win over the Tar Heels. 

The Pirates jumped out to a 6-2 lead, highlighted by a Pat D’Amico three-run homer in the fifth inning, but they did everything they could to give everything back to North Carolina, walking 12 batters and committing two errors through the first six innings. The Tar Heels scored four runs in the sixth inning to take an 8-7 lead, but Seton Hall showed some moxie, battling back in the eighth inning. It got back-to-back singles up the middle to lead off. A bunt single loaded the bases and set up a game-tying sacrifice fly. Will Gale gave the Pirates the lead with an RBI single. The Pirates finished with six two-out RBI and were 6 for 11 with runners in scoring position.

Nick Payero did the rest. The Seton Hall righthander came on in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and no outs. He didn’t allow a hit as he limited the damage to keep the Pirates in the game. He then proceeded to allow one hit over the final three innings. He finished with five strikeouts in four scoreless innings a year after he was the Opening Day starter against North Carolina giving up six runs on six hits in four innings.

Bulls Bully Terps All-Americans

South Florida was able to completely shut down the top third of the Maryland lineup that features two preseason All-Americans. The Bulls held Luke Shliger, Matt Shaw and Nick Lorusso to an 0-for-13 performance with four strikeouts. The trio of Shliger, Shaw and Lorusso never went hitless in a game last season. The 1-2-3 hitters in the Terps’ lineup only went hitless once last year when Shliger, Shaw and Bubba Alleyne went 0 for 7 but combined to reach base four times and score the game’s only four runs in a 4-0 win at Campbell.

On Friday, the top of the lineup didn’t produce and it cost the No. 13 Terps as South Florida held them off for an 8-7 win. Shortstop Bobby Boser hit a pair of home runs and drove in four runs while Travis Sankovich had three hits and three RBIs as the Bulls were able to rough up preseason All-American Jason Savacool for five earned runs on seven hits in six innings.

Boser got USF out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning with a smart defensive play, choosing to go to third for a force out on a ball hit deep in the hole. It proved even more important when Jacob Orr hit a grand slam to pull Maryland within a run in the eighth inning. The Terps — after Shaw and Lorusso made the first two outs in the ninth inning — got a pair of hits to put the tying run in scoring position but couldn’t get the big hit needed.

Quick Hits

  • Brandon Girter (Texas Tech): 6 IP, H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K in relief in come-from-behind 8-4 win over Gonzaga
  • Nolan McLean (Oklahoma State): Picked up his first save of season, striking out two of four batters he faced.
  • Southern California won Andy Stankiewicz’ debut with the Trojans thanks in no small part to a balk call. Marist scored six runs in the sixth to take a lead, but it was short lived. The Red Foxes got a fly out to center field with two outs that was about to end the inning, but a balk was called and the fly out was wiped off the board. Bryce Martin Grudzielanek took advantage, blasting a go-ahead two-run homer two pitches later. Nick Lopez followed with a solo home run and the Trojans held on for an 8-6 win.
  • Freshman Gavin Turley (Oregon State) launched his first career homer, but New Mexico took a 7-2 win behind Dylan Ditzenberger going 4 for 6 with a double, two runs and three RBIs.
  • Impressive start to the Bill Mosiello Era at Ohio State as Isaiah Coupet (6 IP, H, BB, 9 K) and two relievers throw a combined 4-hitter in a 3-0 win over UConn.
  • Wake Forest took the opener over Youngstown State, 9-3, behind two Nick Kurtz homers, but will be without one of its aces this weekend:
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