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Friday D1 Digest: Heavyweights Go Down

Roundup

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For a while it looked like Friday might be a dud, with rain postponing the opener of the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry matchup and suspending or postponing several ACC openers. And then, one by one like dominoes, the top-10 teams started to fall against unranked opponents. It wound up being a very entertaining evening, headlined by five of the top six teams in the nation getting upset. No. 2 Arkansas, which beat Southeast Missouri State 7-3, was the only team in the top six to survive with a win.

UCF bounces back, topples No. 1 Ole Miss

UCF was one of the darlings of the 2020 season, when it swept Auburn on the road and climbed to No. 12 in the Top 25 when the season was canceled. But the Knights got off to an ugly 1-3 start this spring, having allowed 32 runs in their first two games of the season against Florida Atlantic, then looking lifeless in a 7-0 loss to Stetson on Tuesday. But maybe facing the SEC brings out the best in the Knights, who got off the mat and pulled of a huge 3-2 win over top-ranked Ole Miss on Friday night, snapping the Rebels’ program-record 20-game winning streak. In the process, UCF extended its own winning streak over SEC opponents to five games, and recorded just the program’s third-ever win against a No. 1 team.

Colton Gordon was the big hero for the Knights. The UCF ace limited the potent Rebel offense to one run on six hits over seven innings, allowing one walk while striking out six. David Litchfield followed with two innings of one-hit relief for his first save. Jordan Rathbone doubled and homered to lead the UCF offense, and the homer came in a big spot, tying the game at 1-1 in the seventh. Two batters later, Josh Crouch put the Knights ahead for good with a homer of his own.

Georgia State strikes again

Georgia State is relishing its role as a giant-slayer early on this year. A week ago, the Panthers caught our attention by taking two of four against preseason No. 14 West Virginia, marking the first time GSU had ever beaten a ranked opponent in back to back games. The Panthers one-upped themselves on Friday, notching a 4-2 win against No. 3 Vanderbilt — the highest-ranked opponent Georgia State has ever beaten. Ryan Watson (5 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K) turned in a strong start and combined with four relievers to strike out 13 Vanderbilt hitters. Elian Merejo 2-for-4 with a big two-run homer in the ninth) and Dalton Pearson (3-for-3, 2B, RBI) led the offense for GSU.

“It was an unbelievably competitive game,” second-year GSU coach Brad Stromdahl said. “Tip of the cap to our guys for getting it done. It shows that we can compete with anyone in the country, but we have to get back to work tomorrow.”

Vandy started Thomas Schultz (4.1 IP, 4 H, 2 ER), since normal Friday starter Kumar Rocker had his start pushed back to Monday by bad weather in Week One.

Leathernecks knock off Louisville in season debut

The first big domino of the day might have been the most surprising. Western Illinois — a Summit League team coming off an 0-13 showing in 2020 — had its season-opening series at Central Arkansas wiped out by bad weather last weekend, which meant the Leathernecks got to play their first game of the season on the road against No. 4 Louisville. Sounds like a tough assignment, right?

So naturally, Western Illinois cruised to an 8-3 win, out-hitting the Cardinals 15-5. Just like we all drew it up. WIU got five innings of two-hit, three-run ball from Brett Sears, who earned his first career victory, followed by four innings of brilliant three-hit, shutout relief from Brian Raymond, who shut down a very good, very experienced Louisville offense. Michael Prosecky (3.2 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 K) started for the Cards and took a no-decision. Derek Botaletto had four hits and four runs to lead that 15-hit barrage for the Leathernecks, who got head coach Andy Pascoe his first career win with style.

Tulane takes down Mississippi State

No. 5 Mississippi State’s 7-3 loss to Tulane isn’t much of an upset compared to these others. After all, the Bulldogs were facing a second-team preseason All-American in Braden Olthoff — who dealt like he always does. The Tulane righty held MSU to just two runs on six hits and a walk while fanning six over eight stellar innings to improve to 1-0 on the season, and he needed just 92 pitches to cruise through those eight frames. The Green Wave took control of the game in the fourth with three unearned runs against preseason All-American Christian MacLeod, highlighted by Collin Burns’ two-run homer. A two-run double by Simon Baumgardt in the sixth extended the Tulane lead to 6-1, giving Olthoff more than enough insurance. The Green Wave improved to 3-2 on the season, having dropped a hard-fought series to Louisiana last weekend.

Hokies take down Hurricanes

One thing that struck me last weekend in Gainesville was that Miami could be vulnerable against teams with a lot of quality lefthanded pitching, because the Canes are very lefty-dominant in the lineup. Virginia Tech followed that formula on Friday, keeping Miami’s explosive offense at bay with three lefties in a 5-3 win. Matthew Siverling earned the win with four brilliant innings of one-hit, shutout work in relief of Peyton Alford, and Shane Connolly worked two scoreless frames for the save. The Hokies got most of their runs from a pair of two-run homers, from Cade Hunter and TJ Rumfield. Hunter’s oppo taco in the second gave VT a lead it would not relinquish, and Rumfield extended the lead with his shot an inning later.

Virginia Tech snapped an 11-game losing streak against Miami and improved to 4-0 on the young season.

Pitt’s Myers carves up Seminoles

Aside from Oklahoma’s win over No. 21 Auburn at Round Rock — and you can read more about that one in Kendall Rogers’ report here — one other Top 25 team lost to an unranked opponent Friday: No. 24 Florida State dropped a tight 1-0 affair at home against Pittsburgh, which got one of the night’s best pitching performances from Mitch Myers (6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 13 K). Dylan Lester and Jordan McCrum combined to work three scoreless innings of relief, as the three Pitt arms limited FSU to four hits and struck out 19 FSU hitters. I’ve written about Myers a few times now; his slider is a real out pitch, he has good command of his lively fastball, and everything plays up a bit because of his deception. He’s going to rack up strikeouts in the ACC this year.

Bryce Hulett provided all the scoring with an RBI single in the fourth against Parker Messick (5 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 9 K), who pitched well in a tough-luck loss. Pitt head coach Mike Bell improved to 1-0 all time against Mike Martin Jr., his old colleague on Mike Martin Sr.’s coaching staff.

UCLA comes from behind against Irvine

The first five games have been trying for No. 8 UCLA, which dropped a home series to San Francisco last weekend and found itself on the ropes against UC Irvine on Friday, down 3-1 in the seventh. But the Bruins kept grinding and pushed across two runs in the seventh to tie it, then won it 4-3 on Jack Filby’s walk-off walk in the ninth. Zach Pettway made his season debut with a scoreless inning of relief, and our Shotgun Spratling reported that he looked strong, working at 88-89 with life and command, striking out two UCI hitters in his frame. Eric had this piece on UCLA’s win over the Anteaters.

Texas gets an All-Madden performance

Texas ace Ty Madden pitched like the first-team preseason All-American he is on Friday against BYU, leading the Longhorns to an 11-1 win to even their record at 3-3 on the season. Madden racked up 11 strikeouts against one walk and one hit in seven dazzling innings, and he carried a no-hitter into the seventh before BYU finally broke it up with an infield single.

Texas also got its scoring started with a three-run inside the park homer from — who else? — first baseman Zach Zubia, which is fun. Check it out:

Like a Rock: Ohio lefty throws no-hitter

Ohio’s Joe Rock was one of the big draft helium guys this fall, catching the attention of scouts by running his heater up to 97 mph with a good 82-84 slider. A loose 6-foot-6 lefty with that kind of arm strength is bound to attract some pro interest, but he had a lot to prove as a college pitcher; he didn’t pitch in 2020 and posted a 5.19 ERA as a freshman in 2019.

It’s fair to say Rock has figured out how to put his exciting talent to good use. He threw a seven-inning no-hitter on Friday against Morehead State, striking out six and walking two. Our Burke Granger was on hand for this one and you can check out his report, here.

East Carolina’s Matt Bridges delivers a clutch… (checks notes)… hit?

Sixth-year senior Matt Bridges has come up big many times in his long career for ECU, dating back to his heroics in the 2016 Lubbock Super Regional. But he did something Friday that he had never done in his previous five seasons at ECU: He recorded a hit at the plate. Not only that, but it was a key RBI single to provide the Pirates with an insurance run in the eighth, helping them win a road game against Georgia Southern 6-4. Bridges earned the win with 2.1 innings of relief.

FIU’s Myrick duels Miami (OH)’s Bachman

One of Friday’s most intriguing under-the-radar mound matchups came in the series opener between Miami (OH) and Florida International. Fireballer Sam Bachman (6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 10 K) was outstanding in a no-decision for the RedHawks, and Tyler Myrick (6 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 13 K) was similarly brilliant for the Panthers — but FIU won the bullpen battle with two runs in the eighth to take a 3-1 victory.

Louisiana Tech opens its new Love Shack with style

It had been 675 days since Louisiana Tech’s last home game at J.C Love Field at Patterson Park, which was destroyed by a tornado in April of 2019. On Friday, the Bulldogs officially opened their new stadium with a 9-2 win against Southern. Parker Bates (3-for-5, 2 2B, HR, 5 RBI) had a monster day to lead the Bulldog offense.

“It was good to get the first one out of the way,” Louisiana Tech coach Lane Burroughs said. “It was kind of different not having fans behind us in the stands, but a tip of the hat to all the folks that showed up beyond the wall in left field. It was outstanding.
 
“I couldn’t be happier, and what can you say about Parker Bates? It’s pretty appropriate that the guy that’s been in the program so long and our preseason player of the year and all that had the first home run in the Love Shack. He went off.”

Quick hits

• Gabe Montenegro had a double, a homer and three RBIs to lead Southern Miss to a nice 6-5 win over Connecticut in a battle of conference favorites. USM ace Hunter Stanley racked up nine more strikeouts in 6.2 innings, though he allowed five runs, as UConn took advantage of the wind blowing out, getting homers from Chris and Pat Winkel plus Christian Fedko.

• Chad Dallas struck out nine over five solid innings, and Sean Hunley worked four hitless innings of relief to earn the win for Tennessee, which notched a quality win against Indiana State, 4-3.

• Another Missouri Valley contender, Illinois State, gave No. 20 Oklahoma State a stiff test, scoring a run in the top of the ninth to tie up the game. But the Cowboys answered in the bottom of the frame, winning 3-2 on Justin Campbell’s walk-off pinch-hit single. Justin Wrobleski went five strong innings for OSU, and Colton Johnson (6.1 IP, 2 R, 1 ER) was characteristically excellent for Illinois State.

• One Valley team closed the deal in a good matchup Friday. River Town (4-for-6, HR, 3 RBI) led a 14-hit attack in support of Dom Hamel (5.2 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K), helping Dallas Baptist blow out a good Gonzaga squad 13-2.

• Tommy Mace struck out 11 over six innings of three-hit, shutout ball, and Jud Fabian went 2-for-4 with a homer to help Florida beat Samford 8-4. Fabian is heating up fast after a 1-for-13 opening weekend; he’s 6-for-14 with three homers since then.

San Diego‘s Jake Miller (5 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 9 K), Conner Thurman (7 K in 3 IP) and Kieran Shaw (3 K in 1 IP) combined to strike out 19 Cal State Fullerton batters in a 6-1 victory.

Hawaii knocked off Arizona State 3-2 on the road, as Aaron Davenport (7 IP, 2 ER) shined for the Rainbows. Alex Baeza scored the tying run in the seventh on a wild pitch and scored an unearned run in the ninth on a sacrifice fly to break a 2-2 tie. ASU ace Cooper Benson left after one inning of work with an undisclosed injury — definitely something to monitor.

Oregon State was down to its final out, down 1-0 in the ninth, when Joe Casey delivered a go-ahead two-run double to the opposite field, propelling the Beavers to a 3-1 win at Grand Canyon. Cooper Hjerpe (6 IP, 2 H, 1 ER) was great in a no-decision for Oregon State, as was Pierson Ohl (7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K) for GCU.

• Branden Boissiere hit two of Arizona’s five home runs in a 13-11 slug fest victory over Southeastern Louisiana. Daniel Susac added a two-run double and a two-run homer for the Wildcats, who improved to 4-2.

• Even with ace Connor Prielipp sidelined with soreness, Alabama beat Wright State 8-4 behind Tyler Ras (6 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K), who bounced back strong from a rocky season debut last week.

Texas A&M‘s bats finally woke up in a 12-4 rout of Baylor in Round Rock. Our Kendall Rogers was on hand and wrote up this report.

• Keep an eye on USC Upstate. The Spartans improved to 4-0 with a convincing 10-3 win at College of Charleston, and ace Jordan Marks (6.2 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K) turned in a strong performance, as usual.

Managing Editor
Aaron Fitt is a managing editor and writer for D1Baseball. A New England native, he has covered more than 15 College World Series and calls Durham, N.C., home.
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