November 30, 2023


Sapiens Digital

Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State Score Big Wins In Wild Weekend Of College Baseball (Off The Bat)


College baseball said goodbye to April and hello to May with a wild weekend around the country. The biggest series of the weekend delivered plenty of excitement from Charlottesville to Austin to Knoxville. There were some surprising upsets elsewhere, including Georgia Tech taking down ACC-leading Miami, and everywhere you looked, conference title races were in the balance. We’ve arrived at the business end of the season and we’re still seeking clarity in a season that has never lacked for intrigue.

Here are 15 thoughts on the weekend that was in college baseball.

1. This weekend presented the biggest series between Virginia and Virginia Tech in at least the 21st century and possibly in the history of the rivalry. Not only were both the Cavaliers and Hokies ranked in the top 10 of the Top 25, they were tied in the ACC standings and are both candidates to host regionals.

The weekend delivered on its promise. The teams split the first two games, with Virginia Tech winning 5-2 on Friday and Virginia bouncing back for a 6-3 victory Saturday. That set up a rubber game in the finale, and after the Cavaliers took a 4-0 lead in the second inning, Virginia Tech steadied the ship with Henry Weycker and Graham Firoved coming out of the bullpen and the Hokies offense went to work to come back for a 7-5, series-clinching victory.

The series win was Virginia Tech’s first in the rivalry since 2015. With it, the Hokies (31-10, 14-8) moved a game ahead of the Cavaliers (33-12, 14-10) in the ACC standings, rose to No. 4 in the Top 25 (their highest ranking since 1982) and rose to No. 5 in RPI. With just two ACC series left—at home against Louisville (31-12) and Duke (19-23)—Virginia Tech is not only on track to host a regional for the first time since 2013 (also its last NCAA Tournament appearance) but also earn a top-eight national seed, which would put it in line to host super regionals if it advanced.

Needless to say, these are heady times for the Hokies and coach John Szefc. Virginia Tech has steadily improved since he was hired away from Maryland in June 2017 but a return to the postseason hadn’t happened. Now, the Hokies look to be on the precipice of a massive breakthrough. They haven’t lost a series since the opening weekend of ACC play, when they were swept at Georgia Tech from March 11-13. Since then, they have series wins against Miami and Virginia and a win at Notre Dame in a series that was shortened to a single game by poor weather. Those three teams all rank in the top 15 now and the Hokies are 5-2 against them.

Virginia Tech has stood out this season for its offense—it ranks fifth nationally in home runs (84)—and its one-two punch in the rotation of Griffin Green and Drue Hackenberg. That, however, is not necessarily how Virginia Tech won this weekend. The Hokies did hit four long balls in the series, but that was well below their average of 2.16 homers per game coming into the series. Green was solid in Friday’s opener, working around seven hits and four walks to hold Virginia to one run in seven innings. Hackenberg, however, had his worst start of the season, giving up six runs in 4.2 innings.

Instead, Virginia Tech showed it could win in other ways. The Hokies have had a problem in series finales in ACC play. Going into Sunday, they were 2-4 in the third game of conference series, with their only wins coming against Pittsburgh and Boston College. When they fell behind by four runs in the second inning, it looked like the start of another tough Sunday. But Virginia Tech was able to halt Virginia’s momentum and let its own offense go to work. Throughout the weekend, the Hokies showed they could stack hits and put together big innings without the benefit of the long ball. They also did not commit an error on the weekend, the first time they played a clean ACC series this season.

Virginia Tech’s offense remains as dangerous as any in the country. Gavin Cross (.341/.430/.653, 10 HR, 7 SB) is playing like a top-15 pick and Jack Hurley (.413/.492/.756, 11 HR, 7 SB) and Tanner Schobel (.373/.467/.720, 14 HR) are formidable. Green (7-1, 3.19) and Hackenberg (8-1, 2.78) are an excellent 1-2 punch, and they pitch in front of a defense that ranks in the top 10 nationally in fielding percentage (.982). If the rest of the team is rounding into form around that core, look out. The Hokies might lack postseason experience, but they are surging and look to be ready to crash the postseason party this June.

2. While Virginia Tech is riding high as the calendar flips to May, Virginia is now 7-9 over the last four weeks. The Cavaliers started the season 26-3 before getting swept at Miami in early April. That was the first of three series losses in the last four weeks, with just a sweep of North Carolina in the win column for Virginia.

This weekend’s series loss stings more, however. Not only did the Cavaliers lose to their rivals and slip behind them in the ACC standings and hosting pecking order, they did so at home. This was Virginia’s first home series loss after starting the year 24-2 in Charlottesville.

Virginia’s RPI slipped to 20 with the series loss, a number that is probably too close to the hosting bubble for comfort. It still has a solid resume and hosting remains a reasonable proposition, but it’s going to need a good finish to the season.

The Cavaliers play VCU on Tuesday before taking a week off for finals. They will come back from that break to play Clemson (28-17) at home and travel to Louisville (31-12) before the ACC Tournament. Winning that series against the Tigers will be vital to their hosting hopes.

3. The Top 25 series between Auburn and Tennessee also delivered on the hype this weekend. All three games were close late—even Tennessee’s 17-4 victory Friday, as Auburn led that game at the seventh-inning stretch—and the Volunteers played a rubber game for just the second time this season.

In the end, the weekend ended like they all have this season for Tennessee—with a win. After splitting the first two games of the series, the Volunteers won Sunday’s finale, 5-3. The game was tied at 3 in the eighth when Jordan Beck launched a two-run home run to give Tennessee (40-4, 19-2) the edge.

Tennessee became the first team in the country this season to reach 40 wins and its magic number to clinch the SEC title is five.

For Tennessee, it was largely business as usual. The Volunteers mashed home runs and got solid starts from freshmen righthanders Chase Burns and Drew Beam, who combined to hold the Tigers to four runs in 10 innings.

There were a couple significant developments, however. Righthander Chase Dollander missed his second start after being hit in the arm by a comebacker against Alabama and righthander Blade Tidwell, who was sidelined by shoulder soreness to start the season, again replaced him. After an impressive start last weekend at Florida, Tidwell on Saturday struggled with his control and walked four batters in 2.2 innings. It’s probably just a hiccup for Tidwell in his return to full strength but does serve as a reminder that the Preseason All-American is still working his way back.

On the positive side of the ledger, righthander Ben Joyce on Sunday had his best outing of the season. He threw four scoreless innings, struck out six batters, allowed just one hit and touched 105.5 mph. Extreme velocity is nothing new for Joyce, but 105.5 mph is at a different level. More importantly, however, he had not thrown more than two innings in any of his previous 18 appearances this season. Sunday was the biggest spot the flamethrower had been called upon this season and he stepped up.

Tennessee is not lacking for options on the mound, but if Joyce is able to build off that performance and take on more high-leverage innings, it only further strengthens the best pitching staff in the country.

4. While Auburn lost the series at Tennessee, the Tigers (31-14, 12-9) acquitted themselves about as well as possible. They led Friday’s game at the seventh-inning stretch, became just the second team this season to beat the Volunteers at Lindsey Nelson Stadium and were tied in the eighth inning of the finale. No team this season has come closer than Auburn to winning a series against Tennessee.

That kind of moral victory may be of small consolation to the Tigers, but the RPI boost of winning a game in Knoxville is a real, tangible benefit to take home from the weekend. Auburn rocketed to third in RPI and was the rare team to come out of a series loss with a better hosting resume than it had going in.

That doesn’t mean Auburn is a lock to host. But with 12 SEC wins on the board with nine conference games to play and an elite RPI and strength of schedule (No. 7), the Tigers probably just need four or five more conference wins to bring a regional to The Plains for the first time since 2010.

Auburn was projected in the preseason to finish at or near the bottom of the SEC West. Now, it goes into May in the mix to host a regional and be a top-eight national seed. A couple tough losses in Knoxville shouldn’t obscure how well the Tigers are playing.

5. A week ago, it was easy to get down on Oklahoma State. The Cowboys had just lost a home series to TCU and dropped behind the Horned Frogs for first place in the Big 12. They still controlled their own destiny in the conference race, but with series against Texas and Texas Tech still to play, the road ahead looked to be a tough one.

What a difference a week makes. Oklahoma State this weekend at Texas erased the disappointment of last weekend’s series loss with a sweep. That propelled the Cowboys (31-13, 13-5) back into first place in the Big 12, with a one-game edge on the Horned Frogs (27-16, 12-6) with six games to play. A sprint to the finish for the title is very much on.

Oklahoma State started the weekend with an 8-6 victory Friday in a back-and-forth game. It finally pushed ahead for good in the ninth inning with a two-run double from Zach Ehrhard, and Nolan McLean threw a perfect ninth inning for his third save of the season. Saturday, the Cowboys routed the Longhorns, 14-3, to clinch the series. In Sunday’s finale, Texas was on its way to returning the favor and led 7-0 after six innings. Oklahoma State scored 10 runs in the top of the seventh, however, and held on for a 10-8 victory to sweep Texas for the fourth time in seven seasons.

The series was more high-scoring than was to be expected considering the quality of the two teams’ pitching staffs, but Oklahoma State scored 32 runs on the weekend, a season high in a three-game series. That bodes well for the Cowboys moving forward, especially the play of slugger Griffin Doersching, who homered twice in the series. Despite missing all of March due to injury, he is hitting .306/.388/.624 with six home runs and adds more depth to the lineup.

Following that big weekend in Austin, Oklahoma State will this weekend take a break from conference action to face Southeast Missouri State. That will give TCU a chance to leapfrog back into first place, but the Cowboys still control their own destiny in the title race. With six games to go, that’s a great place to be.

6. Texas (31-16, 9-9) is really struggling now. The Longhorns are just .500 in Big 12 play and have fallen out of the title hunt.

Texas had taken some tough series losses before this weekend, including a perplexing series loss at Kansas State two weeks ago, but they had at least all been on the road. This was the Longhorns’ first home series loss of the year, and it was a very tough sweep. Texas had fought back to tie Friday’s game in the eighth inning, only to see Oklahoma State take the lead right back in the ninth. And on Sunday, Texas looked like it was going to at least salvage a game from the series before a devastating seventh inning.

The Longhorns aren’t dead in the hosting race, not with an RPI of 21, but it would require a magnificent finish to the regular season or a deep run in the Big 12 Tournament. For a team that entered the year No. 1 and got off to an 11-0 start, that’s a tough spot to be in. Texas still has the talent to turn this around, but it’s running out of time. A series this weekend at West Virginia (26-16) looms large.

7. Georgia Tech this season is one of the biggest wild cards in the nation. At their best, the Yellow Jackets can beat anyone in the country—and they have. They’ve also taken four series losses, including one at home last week to Duke, which is in last place in the ACC Coastal Division.

This week, however, Georgia Tech bounced back against first-place Miami. The Yellow Jackets won a pitcher’s duel in Friday’s opener, 3-1, and then clinched the series win with a 7-5 victory Saturday. Miami won Sunday’s series finale, but Georgia Tech (27-18, 12-12) walked away with a huge series win.

The Yellow Jackets (27-18, 12-12) now have series wins against Florida State, Georgia, Miami and Virginia Tech, all of which rank in the Top 25 and are firmly in the mix to host regionals. Those kind of top-end wins are all but unmatched nationally. Georgia Tech has 15 wins against teams that rank in the top 50 of RPI. No team has more and only Tennessee can match that number.

Georgia Tech got another big weekend out of catcher Kevin Parada (.381/.467/.794, 23 HR), one of the player of the year favorites. He homered in both of the Yellow Jackets’ wins and extended his hitting streak to 11 games.

Encouragingly, righthander John Medich on Friday went toe-to-toe with Miami ace Carson Palmquist. Medich was making just his second start in ACC play and his first in a series opener. He held the Hurricanes to one run in six innings, working around three hits and four walks, while striking out six batters. That came after he held Duke to two runs in 5.2 innings last Saturday. Medich (4-3, 4.50) spent most of the year in the bullpen but now looks like a strong option in the rotation for a team that needs it.

If Georgia Tech can find some more consistency over the next month, it can be a dangerous team in the NCAA Tournament. But it will need to show it can string together big weekends. A series this weekend at Clemson (28-17) will be a good test.

8. After starting the year 27-6 and taking control of the ACC race, Miami has now lost two of its last three series. Before Sunday’s win at Georgia Tech, it had lost four straight games, its longest losing streak since 2019.

The Hurricanes (32-12, 17-7) remain in first place in the ACC, but their lead has shrunk. Louisville (31-12,14-7), the ACC Atlantic Division leader, is level in the loss column and Virginia Tech (31-10, 14-8) is two games back in the ACC Coastal Division. Miami’s RPI has also slipped to 15. It’s still on pace to host a regional, but the final two ACC series remaining have taken on greater importance as the standings have tightened.

Miami’s offense has been inconsistent over the last three weeks. The Hurricanes have scored 57 runs in their last three ACC series, but 30 of those runs have come in just two games—both wins. In the other seven games, they are averaging just 3.86 runs per game and are 2-5.

The Hurricanes this week will have a chance to get back on track when they return home to play North Dakota State (24-13). The Bison are tricky, however, as they lead the Summit League. But with difficult series at Florida State and against Notre Dame looming, Miami needs to make the most of its final non-conference weekend, especially at home, where it is 22-6.

9. In a rare late-April, Top-25 non-conference showdown, Florida State snagged a pair of big wins against TCU. The Seminoles shut out the Horned Frogs, 10-0, in Friday’s opener behind a stellar start from lefthander Parker Messick and clinched the series with a 7-5 victory Saturday. A combination of rain and a travel curfew led Sunday’s finale to be canceled.

It was a big weekend for Florida State (26-15, 11-10). The Seminoles were coming off a tough series loss to Clemson and were able to get back on track against a high-end opponent. It also was a big RPI boost, pushing them up to No. 11.

That RPI boost is significant, and Florida State now ranks fourth nationally in strength of schedule. Those metrics would indicate the Seminoles are on track to host a regional, but their resume still needs a bit of sprucing. They’re perilously close to .500 in ACC play and just 4-8 away from Dick Howser Stadium. A series at last-place Boston College this weekend gives Florida State a chance to lift both those marks.

10. TCU (27-16, 12-6), meanwhile, saw its momentum come to a screeching halt this week. After going 5-1 against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State over the last two weeks, the Horned Frogs on Tuesday lost to Dallas Baptist and then were swept at Florida State in an abbreviated series. Meanwhile, back in Big 12 play, Oklahoma State swept Texas to slide back ahead of TCU for first place.

TCU now returns home this week to take on Oklahoma (27-15) before finishing conference play the following week at last-place Kansas (18-26). Its final weekend of the regular season is a non-conference series against Santa Clara.

The Big 12 race is not a sprint to the finish between Oklahoma State and TCU. The Horned Frogs hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their head-to-head series win and on paper have the easier schedule. But they’re going to have to quickly flush their disappointing week ahead of the series against the Sooners.

Enrique Bradfieldjr Courtesyvandy3

College Baseball Takeaways: Three Top-Five Teams Fall At Home

Top-five teams Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech and Arkansas were all upended at home Friday, with Texas Tech, Louisville and Vanderbilt all notching important wins.

11. Texas A&M continued its impressive surge with a series win at Vanderbilt. The Aggies won Thursday’s opener, 5-1, behind righthander Nathan Dettmer before an 11-1 rout Friday evened the series. In a tough spot on the road, Texas A&M bounced right back in Saturday’s finale.

The Aggies scored two runs in the top of the first, only to see the Commodores plate three of their own in the bottom of the inning. Undeterred, Texas A&M scored five in the top of the second and never looked back on the way to a 12-4 victory.

Texas A&M has won four straight conference series—Kentucky, at Georgia, Arkansas, at Vanderbilt—and is now tied for second in the SEC West. A week ago, it looked like the Aggies had opened a clear path to hosting a regional for the first time since 2016. Now, they’re zooming down the path to a College Station Regional. Their RPI rose into the top 15 and they’ve cleared the most difficult stretch of their schedule. Texas A&M finishes the regular season with home series against South Carolina (22-20) and Mississippi State (25-19) before a trip to Mississippi (24-18) on the final weekend. None of those series will be easy—nothing in the SEC is—but after the run the Aggies just went through, they will be favored in all three.

After going just 9-21 in SEC play a year ago, the Aggies’ turnaround has been remarkable. First-year coach Jim Schlossnagle and the new-look roster have completely flipped the script and are going into May with a head of steam that figures to make them dangerous in the postseason.

12. Southern Mississippi took a tough series loss at Alabama-Birmingham this weekend, dropping the first two games to the Blazers before coming back to win the finale. The losses snapped the Golden Eagles’ 15-game winning streak and was their first series loss in conference play this season.

It was a tough weekend for Southern Miss (34-10, 17-4), but it doesn’t have to be anything more than a hiccup. The Golden Eagles still hold a solid three-game lead in the Conference USA standings and rank No. 14 in RPI. All of that still points to them hosting a regional for the first time since 2017.

But Southern Miss needs to use this weekend as something of a wake-up call. Its remaining schedule is challenging—Old Dominion, Texas-San Antonio, at Middle Tennessee State—and it can only afford so many series losses.

13. It’s time to start tracking the magic number for UC Santa Barbara. In a matchup this weekend between the top two teams in the Big West, UCSB swept Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo for the first time since 1998 and has now opened a 6.5 game lead in the standings. The Gauchos’ magic number to clinch the Big West title—and the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament—is five.

UCSB is counting down to its second Big West title in three seasons. Prior to the Gauchos’ 2019 title, they had not won the conference since 1986. But under coach Andrew Checketts, they have ascended to the top of the conference.

UCSB has a solid lineup this spring, but it again all starts on the mound for the Gauchos, who have a 3.87 team ERA. They held a good Cal Poly offense to 13 runs in three games and Brooks Lee, the leading candidate to be the first-overall pick in the draft, went 2-for-9 with a home run and four walks in the series.

Following the rivalry sweep, UCSB this week is ranked in the Baseball America Top 25 for the first time this season, entering at No. 25. The Gauchos also saw their RPI jump to No. 32, which should make them relatively secure as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Wherever they get sent for regionals, they’ll be a tough out for the host.

14. A week after its big series win at Mercer to take control of first place in the Southern Conference, Wofford tripped up at Samford. The Bulldogs clipped the Terriers, 5-4, in Friday’s opener, scoring three runs in the eighth inning for a comeback win. They handily won Saturday, 11-3, to clinch the series before the Terriers won the finale, 16-6, in eight innings.

That series loss, combined with Mercer’s sweep of East Tennessee State, means Wofford (31-13, 9-3) slipped a game behind Mercer (36-8, 10-2) in the conference standings. The Terriers still own the tiebreaker and with nine games still to play, a lot can still happen. But it’s now clear that the SoCon title race did not end last weekend in Macon.

Mercer is now up to No. 10 in RPI, but with a strength of schedule of 102 and a 3-4 record against top-50 RPI teams, it is highly unlikely that the Bears will put together a hosting resume. But they have more wins than every team in the country except Tennessee (40) and Connecticut (37) and deserve a lot of credit for bouncing back right away from that tough series loss to Wofford.

15. After Ball State swept Central Michigan to snap the Chippewas’ 18-game winning streak, the longest active winning streak in the country now belongs to Columbia. The Lions swept Cornell to run their winning streak to a program-record 19 games and clinch their spot in the Ivy League championship series.

Columbia (26-13, 16-2) last lost March 30 against St. John’s. Since then, the Lions have swept five straight Ivy League series and added non-conference wins against Wagner, Fordham, Marist and Army.

Adding to the excitement of the weekend, Columbia clinched its spot in the Ivy League championship series for the third season in a row. It beat Yale in 2018 for the title and lost to Harvard in 2019. This year, it will likely take on Pennsylvania (28-11, 14-3). The Quakers are the only Ivy League team to win a series against the Lions this season and have a magic number of two to clinch their own spot in the championship series.

Eight for Omaha

Arkansas, Miami, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Southern Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech

With each passing week, I feel less certain we have any idea who is going to Omaha. This season just keeps delivering surprises on a weekly basis. In this update, there are two new teams in the field, as Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech move into the field. I’m feeling better about the Cowboys hosting and possibly hosting as a top-eight seed following their sweep of Texas. Virginia Tech also looks strong as a host and top-eight seed and with its combination of a powerful offense full of players who can run the ball out of the yard and a strong 1-2 punch in its rotation, it will be a very tough out in the NCAA Tournament. But there are at least 20 teams that I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see in the College World Series. That kind of parity should make for a very entertaining June.

Looking Ahead

No. 24 Oregon and No. 2 Oregon State set for rivalry. The Ducks (28-15, 13-8) and Beavers (34-9, 15-6) are set for four games this week, starting with a non-conference game Tuesday in Eugene. They will move to Corvallis for the weekend Pac-12 series. With Oregon State leading Oregon by two games in the standings and both teams in the hosting race, not to mention the rivalry’s bragging rights, there’s plenty on the line all week long.

No. 5 Arkansas heads to No. 21 Auburn for an SEC West showdown. The Razorbacks (34-10, 14-7) hold a two-game lead in the SEC West on the chasing pack of Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M. This weekend is an opportunity to knock Auburn out of the race, but equally it is a chance for the Tigers (31-14, 12-9) to turn this into a sprint to the finish. Auburn is coming off a tough series loss at Tennessee and is firmly in the hosting mix. A lot is on the line for both teams this weekend on The Plains.

No. 19 Maryland travels to Rutgers for a Big Ten title fight. The Scarlet Knights (36-9, 15-3) are in first place in the Big Ten standings, but the Terrapins (35-9, 11-4) have been judged as the conference’s top team since February. Now, the teams will meet to settle the debate on the field. Both teams have strong pitching staffs but do it in a different way. Maryland stands out for its rotation, while Rutgers boasts a strong bullpen. Either way, both offenses could be in for a long weekend.


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