Midweek Short Hops: Tuesday, March 22Roundup
Player of the Day: Darick Hall, Dallas Baptist
Hall has made a big impact on DBU’s retooled lineup this spring after transferring in from Cochise (Ariz.) JC. Not only has the two-way talent gone 3-1, 1.67 with a sparkling 32-3 strikeout-walk mark in 32.1 innings over five starts on the mound, but he leads the team in home runs — by a wide margin. The hulking 6-foot-4, 236-pound first baseman tied a school record Wednesday by smashing four home runs in a 17-1 blowout win against Incarnate Word. Hall finished 5-for-5 with seven RBIs in the game, and he became the first Patriot to hit four homers in a game since 1998.
“We’ve had some really good hitters come through here, and we’ve never had somebody do that before,” DBU coach Dan Heefner said afterward. “He’s a good hitter. He’s got pop. He did it to the whole field too. He’s a guy who’s going to get better and better.”
Hall is now hitting .338/.435/.753 with nine of DBU’s 17 home runs.
Team of the Day: LSU
The Tigers have bounced back strong since getting swept by Alabama in Saturday’s doubleheader. After salvaging Sunday’s series finale against the Tide, LSU beat in-state rival Louisiana-Lafayette 8-5 in Tuesday’s Wally Pontiff Classic in front of more than 10,000 fans at Zephyr Field. The top two hitters in the LSU lineup, Kramer Robertson and Jake Fraley, spearheaded LSU’s balanced 11-hit attack with two doubles apiece, three combined runs and three RBIs. No. 9 hitter Cole Freeman also contributed two hits and two RBIs, and the Tigers pieced it together on the mound, mixing and matching with eight different pitchers.
LSU improved to 15-5 and regained some momentum heading into a huge showdown series at Texas A&M. The Cajuns, meanwhile, are in a funk after losing a home series to Arkansas-Little Rock and then losing to LSU, dropping them to 12-9 on the season.
At The Ballpark
I spent Tuesday evening at Durham Bulls Athletic Park getting my first look at No. 19 East Carolina, which was in town to face Duke. For the first half of the game, I was taken aback by just how poorly East Carolina played; for a veteran, well-coached club, East Carolina did not execute the fundamentals at all, committing four errors and popping up three bunts for outs. Duke built a 6-3 lead after five innings, but the Pirates rallied back to win it 8-6. It was a nice, gutsy road win for ECU on a night when it played not even close to its best baseball.
“It was really a tale of two different games. The first five innings, it looked like we were the Bad News Bears — four errors, walking guys, just not us,” ECU coach Cliff Godwin said. “I pulled the guys together and said, ‘Hey look, we’ve played about as bad as we can play, and we’re down 6-3, so if we can play good for the next four innings, we’ll have a chance to win.’ That’s really the staple of our guys — they’re gritty, they’re tough, it doesn’t always look pretty, we’re not the most talented, but they hang in there and fight and they give us a chance to win at the end.”
East Carolina banged out 15 hits in the game, led by three apiece from cleanup man Kirk Morgan and outfielder Zack Mozingo, who doubled and had two singles in his first start of the year. Godwin said Mozingo had been “unavailable” for the first month but did not elaborate further; he gives the lineup some much-needed lefthanded pop, and his return certainly bolsters the East Carolina offense. The Pirates also got two hits and three RBIs from junior catcher Travis Watkins, whose two-run double to the left-center gap in the eighth inning put the Pirates ahead for good. I was impressed with the quality of Watkins’ at-bats; he also fouled off a number of pitches in his third-inning at-bat before delivering an RBI single up the middle.
On the mound, the Pirates got 2 1/3 hitless innings of relief from freshman righty Cam Colmore, a strike-thrower with an 84-87 fastball and very good feel for his changeup, which he throws often against righties and lefties alike. Godwin said he has earned himself more innings going forward. Closer Joe Ingle worked the final 1 2/3 innings, retiring all five batters he faced. The towering righty pounded the bottom of the zone with an 89-92 fastball, and the pitch is tough to pick up because of the excellent extension in his delivery. Ingle has been a bit up and down this season after dominating a year ago, but he does have 25 strikeouts in 16.2 innings this year, and he had three on Tuesday (all with fastballs — in fact, he didn’t throw any other pitch).
Around The Nation
• No. 15 Mississippi State cruised to a 16-1 win against Mississippi Valley State — no surprise there. But MSU speedster Jacob Robson did make news with an inside-the-park grand slam to left-center in the fifth inning. Robson and No. 9 hitter John Holland paced MSU’s 19-hit barrage with three hits apiece.
“@JakeRobson7 wants to go fast” – Ricky Bobby (Probably)
— MSU Baseball (@HailStateBB) March 23, 2016
• No. 23 Missouri State fell behind 5-0 in the second inning against Arkansas State, but the Bears stormed back and won 15-11, thanks in large part to two grand slams. Spencer Johnson hit the first grand slam in the fifth inning to give MSU an 11-8 lead. Jake Burger (who else?) hit the second grand slam in the seventh inning. Obviously on this high-scoring day, the Bears needed both of them. Burger now has 11 home runs on the year, keeping him tied for the national lead with Samford’s Heath Quinn (who also homered Tuesday in a 10-7 win against Jacksonville State).
• Top-ranked Florida passed yet another test on Tuesday, shutting down Florida Atlantic’s potent offense in a 2-1 win. Freshman Jackson Kowar (4.1 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K) and five relievers combined to limit the Owls to just five hits, and the Gators found a way to win despite mustering just four hits of their own. Florida’s runs came on a double by Deacon Liput and a triple by fellow freshman Nelson Maldonado in the second (Maldonado scored on a throwing error on the play). The Gators are now 22-1 overall and undefeated in midweek play, with quality wins over UCF (2), North Florida (2), Florida State and FAU. Florida’s pitching depth is making it very difficult to handle in midweek action.
• Rice had gotten off to a very uncharacteristic 10-9 start over the first five weeks, so the Owls really needed a big win against crosstown rival Houston on Tuesday. The Rice offense did the heavy lifting in a 7-4 victory at UH, rapping out 14 hits, led by leadoff man Charlie Warren (4-for-6, 2 RBI) plus Ryan Chandler and Connor Tekyl (three hits apiece). Reliever Dane Myers worked three scoreless innings at the back of the game to preserve the victory.
• UNC Wilmington, our preseason pick to win the Colonial Athletic Association, had a rough four-game losing streak last week, but rebounded with a dominating sweep of overmatched Iona this weekend, then carried their rebuilt momentum into Tuesday’s game against No. 13 NC State. The Seahawks got home runs from Brian Mims (2-for-4, 2 R, 3 RBI) and Nick Feight in a 6-4 win against the Wolfpack. UNCW improved to 13-6 on the season heading into their first conference series this weekend against Elon.
• Wichita State’s season couldn’t have gotten off to much worse of a start. The Shockers looked like a bona fide regional contender heading into the season, but on Tuesday they were blown out by Oklahoma State, 17-0, dropping them to 6-14 on the season. On top of that, Wichita announced on Friday that top prospect Sam Tewes (No. 48 on the D1Baseball College 300) will miss the rest of the season with Tommy John surgery. When it rains, it pours.
Oklahoma State got homers from Cory Hassel and Ryan Sluder as part of a 16-hit attack in support of Michael Mertz (7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K). The Cowboys have won eight of their last nine heading into their Big 12 opener at Kansas State.
• Tulane earned a quality midweek win against Southern Miss in Biloxi, Miss., by a score of 12-7. The Green Wave got most of its production from the bottom of the order, as 6-7-8 hitters Hunter Hope, Richard Carthon and Jake Willsey combined to go 6-for-10 with five runs, seven RBIs, a double, a triple and a homer. J.P. France went 5 2/3 innings and allowed four runs to pick up his first win of the season. The Green Wave improved to 14-7.
• College of Charleston improved to 2-0 this season against in-state rival Coastal Carolina with a 4-2 win in Charleston. The Cougars got all their offense on a pair of two-run doubles — from Bradley Jones in the first and Clay Hunt in the seventh. Eric Bauer started and turned in five shutout innings to earn the win, striking out six without walking anyone. Out of the three mid-major contenders along the coast in the Carolinas (UNCW, Coastal and CofC), the Cougars look like the best team at this stage. Charleston is now 14-7, while Coastal fell to 13-9.