Friday’s Ten ThoughtsRoundup
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• Aaron Fitt on Florida ace pitcher Logan Shore
• Mark Etheridge on South Alabama’s win over ULL
• Michael Baumann on Colin Poche, Dallas Baptist
• Shotgun Spratling on UCSB’s win over Fullerton
• Top Performers
Kendall Rogers’ Five
1. Player of the Day: Kent State LHP Eric Lauer
Kent State has been one of the nation’s hottest teams over the past few weeks, and junior lefthander Eric Lauer, who continues to see his draft stock climb, also has been very sharp. Well, he took his game to yet another level on Friday afternoon by throwing the 11th no-hitter in program history in a dominant 14-0 road win over Bowling Green.
Lauer was sharp throughout and the only baserunner that reached base did so on a throwing error in the bottom of the third inning. Lauer, a 6-foot-3, 205-pounder, struck out a career-high 13 batters and had electric stuff. He sat 90-93 mph with his fastball, and up to 94 on a few occasions, while also showcasing an 86-87 mph slider and a 77-79 curveball. Also impressive is the fact Lauer threw 107 pitches in the contest, 77 of them for strikes.
— Mike Ploger (@Ploger) May 13, 2016
With the win, the Flashes improved to 37-11 and have yet again become a real threat on the national stage, especially with Lauer leading the charge on the front end of the weekend rotation.
Tonight, though, it was all about Lauer and his prized arm.
2. Texas A&M takes care of South Carolina
We’ve spent so much time this season talking about the Aggies’ potent offensive lineup, but how about the job their pitching staff has done in the past week? The Aggies collected their third shutout in SEC play in the last week on Friday night in an impressive 3-0 blanking of Clarke Schmidt and South Carolina.
Texas A&M draft-eligible sophomore righthander Brigham Hill led the charge, striking out six and walking two, while allowing just five hits in six shutout innings, this after he didn’t have his best start last weekend against Vandy. Another righthander, reliever Mark Ecker, was outstanding out of the bullpen, too. He sat in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball, while also showcasing a strong overall arsenal. Ecker, who has developed into one of the nation’s elite relievers in short order, struck out six and didn’t allow a hit in three innings to earn his fourth save of the season.
While Hill and Ecker led the charge for the Aggies, Schmidt suffered just his second loss of the season after striking out four, walking two and allowing three runs on five hits in 7.2 innings. Those aren’t bad numbers at all, and Schmidt’s performance is more impressive than the numbers might indicate.
Though there’s still a lot of jockeying for position to be done over the next few weeks, the Aggies took a step forward on Friday and might just be a win away from putting themselves in very, very good shape from a national seed standpoint.
A&M continues to find different ways to win every weekend, that’s a very special quality to have moving forward.
3. Upset of the Day: Washington State beats Washington
One of the great things about college athletics is the presence of some terrific in-state rivalries, such as the Civil War down in Oregon and, of course, the Apple Cup in Washington.
Washington State trailed 3-1 going to the sixth inning before exploding for seven runs in the inning and adding another in the ninth to win so convincingly. UW starting pitcher Noah Bremer threw well the first innings, but finished the night allowing seven runs – five earned – on eight hits in just 5.1 innings. Meanwhile, leadoff hitter Trek Stemp had three hits and an RBI and nine-hole hitter Shane Matheny had three hits and three RBIs.
With the win, the Cougars improve to just 16-28 on the season, while another loss this weekend could theoretically cripple the Huskies a bit from a postseason hosting standpoint. Time will tell, however.
4. Oregon’s George Horton earns win No. 1,000
It’s pretty safe to say at this point that Oregon’s season hasn’t quite gone as planned. After all, the Ducks were a preseason top 15 club that now sits at 23-21 overall and 11-11 in the Pac-12 after a 7-4 road win over arch-rival Oregon State.
With that said, there are plenty of things to remember this season by, namely Friday night’s accomplishment, as with the win, Horton reached the 1,000 career win mark, that mark including all of his stints as head coach, including Oregon, Cal State Fullerton and his time at Cerritos (Calif.) College.
— Oregon Duck Baseball (@OregonBaseball) May 14, 2016
Against the Beavers on Friday, Ducks lefthander Cole Irvin put together a strong start, striking out five, walking no one and allowing just two run on seven hits in seven innings, while UO reliever Stephen Nogosek earned his 12th save of the season by tossing 1.1 shutout innings to end the contest.
It was a special day for Horton and a much-needed win for the Ducks.
5. Rice cruises past Florida Atlantic, leads Conference USA
Rice has one of the most impressive feats in college athletics with its regular season conference title streak, and it got one step closer to adding another to the list on Friday night with a dominant 9-1 win over FAU, all while Southern Mississippi dropped a tough bout at home to red-hot Louisiana Tech.
For the Owls, Friday’s win over FAU was a total team effort. Rice has been criticized in the past for not being overly potent from an offensive standpoint. However, the offense was in a groove on Friday with young talent Tristan Gray having a huge day. Gray started the game on a positive note with a two-RBI single in the first inning. He also smacked a two-run homer in the third to give Rice total control. Gray finished the night with a career-high five RBIs, while the top of the Rice lineup had a huge night at the plate, the top four hitters tallying eight hits and knocking in eight of their nine runs.
While Gray led the offensive charge, Rice junior righthander Jon Duplantier put together another impressive start. Duplantier had a few command issues late in his start, but was very good for the most part. He sat down FAU in order the first two innings and consistently sat in the 92-93 mph range with his fastball, while also touching 94 on at least five occasions. Duplantier also threw his sharp curveball in the 81-83 mph range, and overall, threw with slightly more velocity than he did when we saw him a few weeks ago at Southern Miss.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good team right now and he’s [Duplantier] has to be the guy if we’re going to go anywhere,” Rice coach Wayne Graham said. “I think his overall stuff is pretty unquestioned, but sometimes his command gets a little out of sorts, and a lot of that just goes back to basically having to take a season off. He’s had great control at times this season, and he’ll just continue get better as he matures.
“He will throw that curveball at anytime and he didn’t use his changeup tonight,” he continued. “It’s a pretty good changeup, too, but with us struggling late in the game to throw strikes, we didn’t use it. But we want to use it more moving forward.”
Duplantier finished the night with 11 strikeouts and four walks, while also allowing a run on four hits in 6.2 innings. It was the sixth time in 12 starts that Duplantier has recorded double digit strikeouts. Meanwhile, FAU righthander David McKay allowed four runs on five hits in 5.1 innings, but showed quality stuff at times. He sat anywhere from 89-90, and up to 91 and 92 mph with his fastball, while also showing good feel for a low 80s changeup and a mid-to-upper 70s curveball that had some real depth.
While Rice made a statement in the series opener, it will be very interesting to see what FAU brings to the diamond in Game Two on Saturday, a game that we’ll once again be at.
Aaron Fitt’s Five
1. Louisville’s home dominance continues
Heading into this weekend, college baseball’s 10-win club had just four members. On Friday, Brendan McKay became the second pitcher on Louisville’s pitching staff to join that club, joining midweek starter Kade McClure. McKay held NC State’s dangerous offense to just three hits over 7 2/3 shutout innings, striking out eight to lead the Cardinals to a 2-0 win. Louisville got a solo homer from Nick Solak in the first and an RBI single from Logan Taylor in the seventh, and that proved more than enough support for McKay and Zack Burdi, who recorded the final four outs to earn his eighth save.
This series between a pair of top-10 clubs has major national seed ramifications, particularly for the Wolfpack, as Louisville is already in the driver’s seat for one of the eight national seeds. The Cardinals improved to 40-10 on the season (joining Florida as the only teams in the country with 40-plus wins) and 30-1 at home, while also taking sole possession of first place in the ACC’s Atlantic Division (17-8, one game ahead of Florida State, which lost Friday at Duke). The Wolfpack fell to 13-10 in the league, but it remains in the national seed hunt with a No. 6 RPI and a 17-12 record against the RPI top 50. NC State needs to find a way to win the next two games of this series to make a run at passing FSU in the national seed pecking order, as the Seminoles are three games ahead of the Wolfpack in the ACC’s loss column.
2. Sun Devils keep rolling
As we detailed in Friday’s Weekend Preview, the rivalry series between Arizona State and Arizona in Tucson this weekend has major postseason implications. The Sun Devils have surged into at-large position with four straight series wins, and they kept their momentum going with a big 5-2 win Friday at Hi Corbett Field. In a matchup between two of the leading candidates for Pac-12 pitcher of the year honors, ASU righthander Seth Martinez (7.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) got the better of Arizona’s Nathan Bannister (8.1 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K), as the Sun Devils jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning, with help from an error that led to three unearned runs. Bannister was mostly untouchable from that point forward, as four of ASU’s six hits came in the first, but the damage was done. The win improved the Devils to 12-10 in the Pac-12 and jumped them eight spots to No. 44 in the RPI. Their postseason resume improves by the day.
By the way — Friday’s win helped the Sun Devils reach the 30-win plateau for the 54th consecutive season. Wow.
3. Connor Jones goes the distance again
Heading into the season, Virginia junior righthander Connor Jones was one of the favorites for the Golden Spikes Award, especially among pitchers. And he’s largely lived up to expectations, even though he sometimes gets overlooked because of his low strikeout rate. Jones has just 62 strikeouts in 87.1 innings, but that is by design, to some degree. The righty has one of college baseball’s heaviest fastballs, and he knows how to use that sinker to pitch to contact and get plenty of early-count groundball outs. That approach has helped him work deep into games week after week, and Friday he threw his third complete game in his last five starts, allowing three runs (two earned) on seven hits and a walk while striking out seven in a 6-3 win against Georgia Tech. That effort improved Jones to 10-1, 1.96 on the season.
More importantly, Virginia continued to solidify its hold on a regional hosting spot. The defending national champs climbed four more spots in the RPI to No. 12 with Friday’s win, and they improved to 15-10 in the ACC. The Cavs are riding a seven-game winning streak, and they’ll go for their fourth straight weekend series win on Saturday. That stretch includes quality series wins against North Carolina and at Miami. Like clockwork, when the second half of the season rolls around, Virginia seems to find its stride every year.
4. Big 12 contenders get upset
Just three teams in the Big 12 are in position to earn at-large bids, and just two of them are in action this weekend, as first-place Texas Tech is off. No. 14 TCU and No. 18 Oklahoma State are trying to bolster their hosting credentials, but both of them were knocked off on Friday. The Frogs dropped a 4-3 decision at Baylor, as the Bears broke a 3-3 tie with a run in the seventh against Preston Guillory. Baylor’s Drew Tolson (7 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 2 ER) turned in a solid start to earn the win, while TCU starter Brian Howard (6 IP, 6 H, 3 ER) earned a no-decision.
OSU, meanwhile, was throttled by rival Oklahoma, 9-1. The Sooners roughed up Cowboys ace Thomas Hatch (5.1 IP, 4 H, 7 ER, 4 BB, 4 K), who has been superb almost all season. OU’s Cody Thomas hit a three-run homer in the fourth and a two-run double in the sixth in support of Jake Irvin (5 IP, 4 H, 1 ER).
Oklahoma and Baylor won’t get at-large bids, so their seasons essentially boil down to whether or not they can get hot and win the Big 12 tournament. But in the meantime, they’ll surely enjoy trying to play spoiler for the hosting hopes of TCU and OSU.
5. A good night for Blue Devils and Tar Heels
While NC State dropped a big game at Louisville, the other two teams from North Carolina’s Triangle area fared very well on Friday. North Carolina is in dire need of a series win against Notre Dame at home this weekend to improve an ACC record that stood at 10-14 entering the weekend, and the Tar Heels got off to a strong start with a 3-0 win Friday behind a masterpiece from ace Zac Gallen (8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K). Logan Warmoth provided most of the offense with a homer and two RBIs.
UNC has some leeway in the conference standings thanks to a robust RPI (No. 11). Duke also entered the weekend with a 10-14 record in ACC play, and though it can’t match UNC’s RPI, it’s strong enough to give it a real shot at an at-large bid if it can finish strong. The Blue Devils simply must win their series against powerhouse Florida State this weekend, and they got off to a great start with a 5-4 upset Friday in Durham. Kellen Urbon (6.1 IP, 9 H, 4 ER) improved to 7-1 with a solid start, and relievers Jack Labosky and Mitch Stallings combined to work 2.2 scoreless innings of relief to nail down the win. Labosky also helped lead the offense with two RBIs. The Blue Devils climbed seven spots to No. 31 in the RPI — but the RPI isn’t their problem. It all comes down to their conference record, and if they win just one more game this weekend, they’ll head into their final weekend at Pitt with 12 conference wins. That gives them a good shot to finish with 14 or even 15 ACC victories, which should be good enough for an at-large bid. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; the Devils are surely focused on Saturday’s huge game against the Seminoles.