Saturday D1 Digest: UCF Takes Series From No. 1, Drama In The ACC


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• RR CLASSIC: Rogers on A&M’s Bryce Miller
• RR CLASSIC: Rogers on Baylor’s McKenzie, Auburn’s Fitts
• Fitt on Georgia Tech’s series win over NC State
• Sorenson on Cal Poly beating USC
• Top Statistical Performers

Kendall Rogers and Aaron Fitt each pick five storylines that caught their eye from Saturday’s college baseball action.

Kendall Rogers’ Five

1. UCF Takes Series From No. 1 Ole Miss

You could make a legitimate argument that UCF should’ve swept the top-ranked (for now) Rebels. UCF won the series opener on Friday before carrying a two-run lead into the bottom of the ninth inning in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. However, Ole Miss got a home run in the ninth from Tyler LaFleur, an RBI single from Justin Bench and an RBI single from Tim Elko to win, 6-5.

UCF did a great job of dusting off that loss, because it absolutely dominated the Rebels in the nightcap with a 7-2 victory to take the series.

UCF righthanded pitcher AJ Jones was terrific in his start against the Rebels, striking out 10, walking two and allowing a run on four hits in six innings, while Ole Miss righty and starter Derek Diamond, who was outstanding last weekend at the State Farm College Showdown, struck out nine and didn’t walk anyone, but also allowed four runs on eight hits in five innings. UCF also got impressive relief work from Zack Bennett, who closed out the game with three strong innings, allowing a run and three hits in three innings.

UCF five-hole hitter Ben McCabe had a strong showing in the second game, going 3-for-4 with a home run and double, while Knights fab freshman Alex Freeland capped off his strong weekend with three hits, one a double, and two RBIs.

The most telling stat from this series pertains to UCF’s starting pitching, which tallied a 2.50 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, along with 23 strikeouts and four walks this weekend.

Thanks to UCF, there will be a new No. 1 in the D1Baseball Top 25 on Monday.

2. Indiana State Double Dips No. 18 Tennessee

The Sycamores dropped a narrow 3-1 decision to the Volunteers in the series opener on Friday, but they didn’t let that hold them back on Saturday, as they double dipped the Vols by scores of 3-1 and 7-5.

In the first game, ISU starting pitcher Geremy Guerrero struggled to throw strikes at times with three walks in three innings. However, Connor Cline was terrific out of the bullpen with five strikeouts, one walk and just two hits allowed in five shutout innings before All-American reliever Tyler Grauer closed out the contest in style.

In the second game of the doubleheader, the Sycamores flipped the script from a pitching staff. This time, it was the starting pitching getting it done for the most part in stead of the bullpen. Javin Drake struck out seven, walked three and allowed four hits in four shutout innings, while Cam Edmonson and Grauer picked up his second save of the day with four strikeouts in two shutout innings. Meanwhile, Sean Ross and Josue Urdaneta paced the offense with two hits a piece, while Mike Sears and Max Wright each hit homers.

In a year that has featured a cornucopia of upsets thus far, Indiana State looks to win the series outright on Sunday with one more game remaining. Meanwhile, the Volunteers look to earn a 2-2 split.

3. Mississippi State’s Hammerin’ Hancock Has Heroics

I wrote at length about Mississippi State slugger Luke Hancock and his presence in the box and at the plate last weekend at the State Farm College Showdown, where he hit over .500 for the Bulldogs.

Well, Hancock, who has a flare for the dramatic, saved his team Saturday afternoon against Tulane. The Green Wave appeared to be on their way to a surprising road series win over MSU. That was until Hancock stepped into the box.

With the score 5-3 entering the ninth inning, Tulane could feel a series win in its grasp, but at least for a day, it wasn’t meant to be. Tanner Allen got a two-run single to tie the game at 5-5 and MSU loaded the bases with Hancock coming to the plate.

The gritty utility player smashed a first pitch walk-off grand slam to win the game, 9-5. 

If you can get that atmosphere going in the ballpark here, it makes it really hard to pitch. Luke [Hancock] took advantage of it at the end. I’m really happy for our guys. They fought all day long. They never put their heads down, they just kept competing. We had a couple disappointing innings, but you just have to keep playing the game and I thought our guys did that.

In addition to Hancock’s heroics late in the game, righthanded reliever Landon Sims also kept the game within reach after righthanded starting pitcher Eric Cerantola was lifted after allowing three runs on four hits in 2.1 innings of work.

Sims, who was incredible against Texas last weekend at Globe Life with his filthy rising fastball, was back to his same tricks against Tulane, striking out 10, walking two and allowing a run on three hits in 3.2 innings of work. The righty has struck out 20 batters in 7.2 innings of work through two weeks.

That seems … good, much like Hancock.

4. Southern Miss Passing The Eyeball Test

The takeaway from Opening Weekend was that Virginia was a solid club, and that Connecticut, was, too, after playing the Cavaliers close in all three games.

Well, the Huskies are playing close games this weekend, but this time, Southern Miss is the big winner.

The Golden Eagles, who were narrowly outside of our Preseason Top 25 Rankings, have looked the part so far this weekend, beating UCONN again Saturday, 7-6, to clinch a series win.

Southern Miss starting pitcher Ben Ethridge was lifted after allowing three runs on nine hits in three innings, while Aubrey Gillentine impressed with three strikeouts in three shutout innings out of the pen. Matthew Adams struck out two out of the pen and Garrett Ramsey (second save) struck out three in 1.2 innings to shut the door on the Huskies.

Offensively, Christopher Sargent hit two home runs and knocked in five, while Charlie Fischer smacked two doubles.

In a weekend that has seen fellow Magnolia State powers Ole Miss and Mississippi State struggle to an extent, USM is taking care of business in impressive fashion.

5. UC Irvine Leaves No Doubt Against UCLA

The Anteaters were in control of much of the game in the series opener against UCLA, but were unable to hold their lines in the latter innings.

That changed on Saturday, as the ‘Eaters beat the Bruins, 7-3, in convincing fashion.

UCI starting pitcher Parker Van Loon certainly had some command issues with a whopping six walks, but he also struck out six and allowed just two runs on three hits in 4.2 innings. It was what you could classify as quite a weird start. Michael Frias struck out five and walked two in 2.2 innings, while John Vergara slammed the door with 1.2 innings to end the game.

John Vergara closed out UCLA on Saturday. (Shotgun Spratling)

Offensively, UCI’s Jacob Castro had two hits and three RBIs, Justin Torres had two hits and two RBIs and Adrian Damla added two hits as well, while for the Bruins, righthanded starting pitcher Jesse Bergin scuffled, striking out five, walking two and allowing seven runs and seven hits in three innings of work.

After losing a series to San Francisco on Opening Weekend, the Bruins really need to avoid losing two non-conference series to begin the year. After all, it could have some negative consequences down the road.

Aaron Fitt’s Five

1. Gamecocks strike first against Clemson

The best rivalry series in college baseball got off to a late start, as Friday’s game was postponed until May due to rain, so the series began Saturday at Fluor Field in Greenville. It proved worth the wait, providing all the drama we’ve come to expect from this matchup. South Carolina got an outstanding start from ace Thomas Farr (6 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB 7 K) and carried a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning. But Clemson’s James Parker (3-for-5, 2 RBI) tied it up with a solo homer in the ninth off closer Brett Kerry, forcing extra innings. Clemson had a golden opportunity to take the lead in the 11th, but South Carolina true freshman Will Sanders entered with men on first and second and nobody out, and proceeded to induce a 6-4-3 double play and a groundout to end the threat.

The Gamecocks then won it in the bottom of the 11th when Brady Allen (3-for-5, 2 R) doubled against Clemson closer Geoffrey Gilbert (2.1 IP, 6 K) and then scored on Andrew Eyster’s walk-off double.

My Twitter timeline was filled with fans of both teams grousing about the home plate umpire’s strike zone, as Clemson pitchers racked up 21 strikeouts and South Carolina pitchers fanned 16. But this was a compelling showdown nonetheless. The Gamecocks improved to 5-0 on the season and will try to clinch the series at home in Columbia on Sunday.

2. Coastal blasts West Virginia

The other Palmetto State power, Coastal Carolina, notched its third win of the young season against a Top 25 club, taking down No. 23 West Virginia 10-5. The Chanticleers got homers from Eric Brown, Alex Gattinelli, BT Riopelle and Dale Thomas, and Shaddon Peavyhouse worked 3.2 innings of hitless relief to earn the win.

Coastal dropped two of three against now-No. 25 Duke last weekend, but it rebounded with a strong week, taking down No. 16 Wake Forest in midweek action and then riding a strong start from Jacob Maton to a 6-1 win vs. Bryant in Friday’s Baseball at the Beach opener. At 4-2, Coastal is making a push for Top 25 consideration.

3. Pitt, UNC secure big ACC series wins

Two unranked teams clinched ACC series against ranked opponents on Saturday, as Pittsburgh took down No. 24 Florida State 7-2 and North Carolina beat No. 12 Virginia 2-1. This was Pitt’s first-ever series win against Florida State, although former FSU pitching coach Mike Bell did win his first game in Tallahassee as Pitt’s head coach in 2019, before the Seminoles rallied to win that series.

Matt Gilbertson struck out a career-high 10 batters over six scoreless innings to earn the win for Pitt, while star outfielders Nico Popa and Kyle Hess each went 2-for-4 with two RBIs. This is a very experienced lineup stuffed with upperclassmen, and it should give opponents trouble all year long. The question heading into the season was whether Pitt had enough pitching, but the way Mitch Myers and Gilbertson pitched this weekend is awfully encouraging. If the pitching holds up, Pitt can make a lot of noise in the ACC.

I wrote Friday that North Carolina also appears better than we expected, thanks in part to the emergence of Austin Love as a bona fide Friday night ace and five-tool center fielder Justice Thompson’s seamless transition from the juco ranks. But another big key for UNC was how blue-chip freshman Max Carlson would handle a weekend rotation job, and the early returns are very encouraging. Carlson limited UVa’s excellent lineup to one run on four hits over 5.1 innings Saturday, and Nick Pry followed with 3.2 innings of scoreless relief, striking out seven. Through six games, UNC’s bullpen has allowed just one earned run in 18.2 innings. That’ll play.

Oh, and this guy just keeps on doing exciting things:

4. Other ACC series head to rubber games

The ACC looks like it will be more topsy-turvy than ever before, because all 14 teams are legitimately dangerous. The Northern wing of the conference — Pitt, Boston College and Notre Dame — has never been this good. Boston College and Notre Dame both split the first two games of their road series at ranked opponents on Saturday, setting up big Sunday rubber games. In Game One of its series at No. 25 Duke, BC got three hits from Sal Frelick and four RBIs from Luke Gold, who hit a key two-run double in the eighth to help propel the Eagles to a 10-6 win. BC had saved ace Mason Pelio for game two, correctly anticipating that Friday’s series opener would be suspended by rain and resumed Saturday — but Pelio struggled with his control and the Blue Devils squared up his fastball in a 10-3 Blue Devil victory. Henry Williams turned in six strong innings to earn the win, and RJ Schreck had three RBIs for Duke, continuing his torrid start. I caught the first game of this series and will be back for Sunday’s rubber game, so look for a full report on these teams at the end of the weekend.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, split its Saturday doubleheader at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons erased a 7-2 deficit in the opener with three runs in the seventh and five more in the eighth, with stud freshman Brock Wilken delivering a two-run homer in the seventh and an RBI single in the eighth. The Irish bounced back quickly in the nightcap, jumping ahead on a first-inning grand slam by Alex Brait, then riding 5.1 combined innings of shutout relief from Liam Simon and Aidan Tyrell to a 5-4 win. The grand slam came in the first Notre Dame at-bat for Brait, a transfer who was very productive in his time at Florida Gulf Coast.

The ACC’s other upstart is Virginia Tech, which won its series opener against Miami on Friday. But the Hurricanes bounced back Saturday with a 3-0 win behind freshman righty Alejandro Rosario, who struck out seven over seven innings of three-hit, shutout ball. I watched a good chunk of this game, and Rosario simply overpowered the Hokies with his electric fastball, though he mixed in his quality changeup to keep hitters off balance, particularly early in counts. He’s fun to watch. VT ace lefty Chris Gerard looked good too, allowing three runs in six innings to take the loss.

5. Boone leads Gauchos to doubleheader sweep

No. 9 UC Santa Barbara secured a nice series win against preseason West Coast Conference favorite Pepperdine with a doubleheader sweep Saturday, ensuring UCSB will win at least three out of the four-game series. Starting pitching is UCSB’s calling card, but offense lifted it to wins in the first two games of this series, 7-6 Friday and 9-7 in Game One on Saturday. The Gauchos had to come from behind with three runs in the eighth to win Saturday’s first game, capped by Steele Ledford’s two-run single.

But that vaunted starting pitching came up big in the nightcap, as lefthander Rodney Boone threw six innings of no-hit ball to carry UCSB to a 5-0 win. Heading into the spring, I heard some buzz from scouts about Boone — a lefty with good fastball metrics and a plus changeup — as potential top-50 draft prospect, and efforts like this will certainly help him climb draft lists. Christian Kirtley had three hits and two RBIs to lead the offense in that one. The Gauchos are now 5-1.

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