D1 Digest: Wednesday, March 1Roundup
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Team of the Day: Charlotte
The 49ers made some noise by opening the season with a series win against a quality West Virginia club, earning them a spot on our list of Teams On The Upswing in Week One. Charlotte has continued to play well since then, sweeping a four-game series against Rider and then earning a road win at No. 6 NC State on Tuesday, 6-5. Charlotte is now 7-2 heading into a suddenly compelling series against Big East preseason favorite Xavier.
Star second baseman Brett Netzer, Charlotte’s most high-profile player, led the offense Tuesday with three hits, including a double and a triple. He’s hitting .444/.475/.778 on the young season — which makes him the team’s third-best hitter through nine games, remarkably. T.J. Nichting (.486/.500/.811) and Jackson Mims (.457/.525/.800) are off to even hotter starts for a Charlotte team that is hitting .344 overall. Nichting, Zack Smith and Zach Jarrett chipped in two hits apiece Tuesday, and the Niners got excellent relief work from Jacob Craver (3 IP, 0 R), J.D. Prochaska (2.1 IP, 0 R) and Matt Brooks (1.1 IP, 0 H). Smith’s two-run double in the seventh put Charlotte ahead to stay, thanks to the fine work of Prochaska and Brooks at the back of the bullpen.
A year after going 23-32 overall and 12-17 in Conference USA, Charlotte has emerged as one of the biggest early surprises of the 2017 season.
Elsewhere In North Carolina…
• Wednesday’s lone showdown between Top 25 clubs took place in Chapel Hill, where No. 22 St. John’s took on No. 8 North Carolina in a battle of unbeaten clubs. When the dust settled, the Tar Heels were undefeated no longer, as the Red Storm came from behind to pull of a big 5-4 road victory. UNC carried a 4-2 lead into the seventh, when Jesse Berardi’s two-run homer off Rodney Hutchison tied the game. An inning later, Michael Donadio crushed a 96 mph Austin Bergner fastball off the top of a light pole beyond the right-center-field fence for a solo homer that proved decisive. The Johnnies used three freshman pitchers in the game, and lefthander Joe LaSorsa was the most effective of the bunch, earning the win by retiring all nine Tar Heels he faced to close the game, striking out four of them. I was on hand at Boshamer Stadium for this one, and I’ll have plenty more on the Red Storm in a Thursday Weekend Preview Spotlight piece. But suffice it to say that 8-0 St. John’s — off to its best start since the Frank Viola/John Franco-led Johnnies began the 1981 season 14-0 — looks awfully impressive.
• In a matchup between two preseason Top 25 teams that have gotten off to pedestrian starts, No. 23 Coastal Carolina earned a road victory at UNC Wilmington, 4-1. Anthony Veneziano started for Coastal and struck out nine over 4.2 innings of work, allowing one unearned run. Wilmington carried a 1-0 lead into the seventh, when Coastal tied the score. The Chanticleers surged ahead for good with three more in the eighth, highlighted by Kevin Woodall’s go-ahead two-run double. Coastal improved to 5-5 overall, while UNCW dropped to 3-4.
• Like UNCW, East Carolina was swept early this season at Ole Miss, but the Pirates have rallied since then, winning their last five games, including a 7-2 victory Wednesday against Elon. Travis Watkins had three hits to lead ECU’s 13-hit attack in support of Chris Holba (7 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 9 K).
Upset of the Day: UCF Over Florida
The Knights salvaged a split of their two-game midweek series against Florida by shellacking the pitching-rich Gators 11-2. Kyle Marsh had two doubles, a homer and six RBIs, and Kam Gellinger added three hits and two RBIs in the 9-hole to spearhead UCF’s 15-hit barrage. Joseph Sheridan (5 IP, 4 H, 1 ER) turned in a strong start to improve to 2-0 for UCF, which is now 8-1 on the young season. Like Charlotte and St. John’s, the Knights look better than expected so far in 2017.
Comeback of the Day: Arkansas over Louisiana Tech
The Bulldogs entered Wednesday undefeated after taking down the Hogs on Tuesday, and it looked like they would cruise to a two-game midweek sweep after they took a 10-1 lead through two innings Wednesday. But Arkansas stormed all the way back to pull out a wild 13-10 win, scoring two runs in the fourth, five in the fifth, four in the seventh and then one more in the ninth for good measure. Freshman Jordan McFarland’s two-run homer in the seventh but the Hogs ahead for good; it was one of five Arkansas long balls in the game, the most in a game for Arkansas since 2010. Shortstop Jax Biggers had another of those home runs and led the offense by going 4-for-4, while Grant Koch went deep and had three hits, three runs and three RBIs. Talented sophomore Barrett Loseke (4 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K) was lights-out in relief to subdue the potent La Tech offense and earn his first victory of the season.
Stat of the Day: Have you seen Brendan McKay’s line?
First-team preseason All-American Brendan McKay went 3-for-3 with two RBIs in Louisville’s 20-2 win against Morehead State on Wednesday. Everybody knows McKay is really, really good — he’s been college baseball’s premier two-way player since he set foot on campus, earning first-team All-America honors at the utility spot in each of his first two seasons. But McKay is on another planet right now. Through eight games, he’s hitting a mind-boggling .667/.714/1.083 with three homers and 13 RBIs. Absurdly, he has been walked or hit by a pitch more times (nine) than he has made outs (eight).
Oh, and McKay is 2-0, 0.82 with 14 strikeouts and four walks in 11 innings on the mound. Ho-hum.
Player of the Day: Texas A&M’s Joel Davis
In the Aggies’ 12-5 win against Incarnate Word, Davis missed the cycle only because he hit too many triples. Davis went 4-for-4 with two triples, a homer, a single and five RBIs; if only he’d stopped at second on one of those triples… Davis’ three-run triple in the sixth keyed a five-run A&M rally that broke the game open.
Other Notable Games
• A hat tip to the Vanderbilt bullpen, which dazzled in a 4-2 win against Southeastern Louisiana. Paxton Stover (2 IP), Matt McGarry (3 IP) and Reed Hayes (1 IP) combined to hold the Lions hitless and scoreless over the final six innings of the game, combining to strike out five.
• Tulane’s woeful start to the season continued with a 2-1 loss at Southern Miss. These two teams have inverse records: the Green Wave is 1-7, and the Golden Eagles are 7-1. Sophomore Storme Cooper’s bases-loaded, walk-off walk lifted Southern Miss to the victory in the ninth; it was the second time this young season that Cooper has driven in the winning run. Taylor Braley turned in a solid start for USM, twirling four scoreless innings.
• Saint Louis also improved to 7-1 with a 10-7 road victory at Oklahoma State, which is off to a 4-4 start. Leadoff man Aaron Case had two hits and three RBIs, while Nick Reeser, James Morisano and Alex King had three hits apiece to lead SLU’s 18-hit barrage. The Cowboys led 4-0 after three innings, but the high-powered Billikens surged ahead with five runs in the fourth. After the teams traded blows, Saint Louis took the lead for good on Devin Mahoney’s two-run double in the sixth.
• Miami snapped a four-game losing streak with a 5-2 win against Florida Atlantic. Miami’s scuffling offense was held to one run over the first six innings, but the Hurricanes erased a 2-1 deficit with four runs in the seventh, capped by Johnny Ruiz’s two-run single. Four Miami relievers combined to work five innings of scoreless ball.
• Since losing the first two games of its series against UL Lafayette this past weekend, Sam Houston State has won three straight. The Bearkats earned a quality win against Pepperdine on Wednesday by a 2-1 count. SHSU drew nine walks in the game, and a leadoff walk turned into the game-winning run in the eighth, as pinch-runner Garrett Miller scored on a wild pitch.
• Michigan improved 7-2 heading into the Dodgertown Classic by clobbering Loyola Marymount 14-2. Michael Brdar and Ako Thomas had three hits apiece, and Harrison Wenson drove in four runs to spearhead Michigan’s 14-hit assault.