baseball-d1 flag | April 2, 2016

College baseball: Ten Thoughts from Friday, April 1

  Jordan Rogers (right) hit for the cycle and recorded eight RBIs in Tennessee's 14-5 win over Kentucky on Friday.

1. Pitcher of the Day: Georgia’s Robert Tyler

A day after losing a 13-inning marathon against Alabama, Georgia needed ace Robert Tyler to work deep into Friday’s game to spare its bullpen. Tyler delivered in a huge way, falling just one out shy of a no-hitter in a complete-game victory, as the Bulldogs evened the series with a 7-1 win. Tyler carried a perfect game into the seventh before issuing a one-out walk. He kept his no-hitter intact until allowing a solo homer to Georgie Salem with two outs in the ninth inning — snapping his streak of 15.2 consecutive hitless innings. He finished with nine strikeouts, two walks and just one hit in the complete-game masterpiece.

It was a far cry from the performance I saw from Tyler two weeks ago against Kentucky, when he issued seven walks over five innings (but still earned the win). He followed that up by walking six over six hitless frames in a no-decision against Mississippi State last week. So over his first two SEC starts, Tyler walked 13 batters in 11 innings — but gave up just two total runs on two hits. This time around, he remained unhittable, but he also showed much better control.

“I felt good early,” Tyler said afterward. “I’ve been struggling lately with fastball command, so just getting that early was huge for me confidence. I was getting quick outs too — that was big for me.”

On the season, Tyler is 3-1, 2.40 with 54 strikeouts and 19 walks in 41.1 innings. Obviously he’s still not a finished product — his fastball command still comes and goes, and his breaking ball remains very much a work in progress. But his fastball is simply electric, his changeup is very good, and when he locates like he did Friday night, he can be just about unhittable.

2. Player of the Day: Tennessee’s Jordan Rogers

The Volunteers had a huge offensive day in a 14-5 win against Kentucky. The leader of Tennessee’s 15-hit onslaught was first baseman Jordan Rodgers, who hit for the cycle and recorded eight RBIs. Rodgers did it in order — hitting an RBI single in the first, an RBI double in the third, a three-run triple in the fifth and a three-run homer in the eighth. He is the third Volunteer to hit for the cycle, and the first since Matt Duffy in 2011. He’s the first Vol to hit for the cycle in SEC play since the great Chris Burke in 2001.

Rodgers’ emergence has been a big story this year for the Vols, who have kept fighting despite season-ending injuries to leading hitter Jeff Moberg and the team’s most explosive arm, Kyle Serrano. Rodgers got off to a slow start a year ago before coming on a bit down the stretch, but after Friday’s big game he’s now hitting .327 with four homers and 47 RBIs — most in the nation. He started the day ranking third in Division I in RBIs, but his big Friday jumped him over Mercer’s Kyle Lewis and Nebraska-Omaha’s Clayton Taylor into first place.

Tennessee star Nick Senzel also had a big day, going 3-for-5 with three runs and three RBIs, as the Vols pounded Kentucky’s Zack Brown (5 IP, 10 H, 9 R, 8 ER), who fell to 1-5 on the season. The beneficiary of all that run support was sophomore lefty Aaron Soto (7.1 IP, 3 H, 2 ER), who turned in the longest outing of his career.

3. Team of the Day: Florida

In the biggest series of a weekend crammed with huge showdowns, No. 2 Florida won the first game of its set against No. 1 Texas A&M, 7-4. The Gators won even without a vintage start from Logan Shore (4.1 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K), as the Florida offense came up big, rapping out 12 hits against Tyler Ivey (1.1 IP, 4 H, 2 ER) and the A&M bullpen. Leading the Florida attack was freshman third baseman Jonathan India, who went 4-for-4 with two doubles and three RBIs out of the No. 9 hole. Buddy Reed, Deacon Liput and Peter Alonso also contributed two hits apiece for Florida, which jumped out to an early lead, extended it to 7-0 by the sixth inning and was never really threatened.

Florida set a program record with its 25th consecutive home win. Since losing last weekend’s series at Kentucky, the Gators have rebounded with back-to-back marquee wins against Florida State and Texas A&M.

“I don’t think we played our best game, but this is a mark of a good team where we can beat a really good team and not play our best,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.

4. Upset of the Day: West Virginia over Oklahoma State

[West Virginia logo] Oklahoma State is the only Top 25 team that lost to an unranked opponent Friday night. The Cowboys have been hot lately, winning 16 of their last 18 heading into this weekend, and West Virginia entered Friday coming off back-to-back midweek losses to Canisius, so the Mountaineers’ 5-4 win was certainly a surprise. OSU got another strong start from Thomas Hatch (7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER), and Chad Donato (9 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 8 K) carried a 3-1 lead into the ninth, when Garrett Benge’s three-run homer gave the Cowboys a brief 4-3 lead. But WVU answered with a run in the bottom of the ninth on Marques Inman’s pinch-hit RBI single, then won it in the 10th on Jackson Cramer’s solo home run.

5. Webb Gem, Redux

South Carolina freshman righthander Braden Webb is on a major roll. Since struggling against Clemson, Webb has gotten better each week in four straight wins against Charleston Southern, Arkansas, Ole Miss and now Vanderbilt. He held the Buccaneers scoreless over 5.2 innings of three-hit ball; then he limited the Hogs to one earned run over 6.1 strong frame; then he racked up 14 strikeouts in eight innings against the Rebels, allowing three earned runs.

Webb turned in his best performance yet Friday against the Commodores, striking out 11 over eight innings of two-hit, shutout ball to lead South Carolina to a series-leveling 4-0 win at No. 3 Vandy.

  The Gamecocks are 33-8 and leading the SEC with a 14-4 record.
“Braden was big league good,” Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook said. “That’s two starts in a row he has been real special. From a fastball standpoint, to location, to changeup, breaking ball, he has had it all going. You have to have it all going to put up numbers like that against a team like that.”

Webb’s stuff is superb — his fastball reaches the mid-90s, his downer curve is a wipeout pitch, and his changeup is very effective against lefties. But as each week goes on, he’s learning how to use his stuff better. Two weeks ago after Webb’s win against Arkansas, Holbrook predicted that Webb had a chance to evolve into a truly dominant front-line SEC pitcher by the time May rolled around, as he continued to refine his command coming off Tommy John surgery. It looks like that transformation is happening even quicker than Holbrook predicted.

6. Dakota fanning lots of hitters

If the season ended today, you could make a case for Mississippi State ace Dakota Hudson as national pitcher of the year. The preseason All-American entered this spring with huge expectations despite his limited track record, and he has more than lived up to the hype. He turned in his best outing yet Friday against arch-rival Ole Miss, leading the 11th-ranked Bulldogs to a 3-1 win against the No. 13 Rebels in front of 10,152 fans at Dudy Noble Field. Hudson turned in a four-hit complete-game masterpiece, striking out a career-high 11 batters without issuing a walk. He needed just 113 pitches to finish the complete game — a very efficient performance for an 11-strikeout CG.

Ole Miss scored its only run in the first inning, and it was unearned — so Hudson now has a streak of 30.2 straight innings without allowing an earned run. On the season, he’s 4-1, 0.92 with 56 strikeouts and 18 walks in 48.2 innings.

The Bulldogs answered Mississippi’s first-inning run with one of their own in the bottom of the frame, then went ahead for good on Reid Humphreys’ RBI single in the sixth. Humphreys finished 3-for-4 with two RBIs to lead the MSU offense. Humphreys continues to be a major force in the MSU lineup; if you haven’t read Mark Etheridge’s recent piece about Humphreys’ emergence, it’s well worth a look.

7. Pack Attack: NC State hands UVa.’s Jones his first loss

The Wolfpack really needs a marquee series win after losing its series opener at Florida State last weekend and having the rest of the series get washed out. The ’Pack hit the road for another tough conference series Friday and started the weekend off by doing something no other team has done this year: beating Virginia ace Connor Jones. NC State scored seven runs (six earned) against Jones in 5.1 innings in an 8-7 victory. The Cavs actually out-hit the Wolfpack 15-10, but Virginia stranded 13 runners to NC State’s six, as the ’Pack was the more opportunistic offense. Brock Deatherage and Josh McLain led the NCSU offense, combining for four hits and five RBIs. Johnny Piedmonte got the start and allowed three runs on six hits in three innings — a fairly typical line for him — and NC State pieced it together in the bullpen, holding off Virginia’s late rally. With Joe O’Donnell not scheduled to pitch this weekend, Saturday’s game with Brian Brown on the mound is big for NC State.

8. East Carolina trips up Lantrip

In the marquee series of the American Athletic Conference’s opening weekend, No. 19 East Carolina beat No. 23 Houston 3-1 in Greenville. The Cougars have been riding high recently thanks largely to the stellar work of its weekend rotation, and ace Andrew Lantrip (8 IP, 7 H, 3 ER) still went the distance in defeat, but he also tripled his season walk total by issuing two free passes (he entered the game with just one walk in 42.2 innings). ECU got a home run from Bryce Harman to tie the game at 1-1 in the third, and Parker Lamm (2-for-4) broke the tie with an RBI single in the fifth to score Harman. That proved enough support for East Carolina lefty Evan Kruczynski (7 IP, 9 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K), who repeatedly pitched his way out of trouble, stranding 11 Houston baserunners. Joe Ingle worked two hitless innings for the save.

Since their strong showing at the Keith LeClair Classic, the Pirates have muddled through a big, doing just enough each week to stay in the Top 25. If they can manage to win another game this week, it will be a major statement that they are a real threat to host a regional. The week got off to a strong start with a 9-6 Tuesday win against UNC Wilmington; now ECU is one win away from a huge series win against the AAC preseason favorite.

9. Gauchos making Beliebers out of us all

The biggest series in the West this weekend is the showdown between Big West Conference contenders UC Santa Barbara and Long Beach State. The No. 24 Gauchos have the best RPI of any team in the West (No. 12 entering Friday), and the more they keep winning, the more seriously they’ll have to be taken as a potential regional host for the second straight year. But that’s still a long way off — this is just the first weekend of Big West play, after all. Nonetheless, it got off to a strong start for UCSB, which got solo homers from Austin Bush and Andrew Calica in support of Shane Bieber (7.2 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K) in a 4-3 win at Blair Field. Bieber improved to 5-1, 3.02 on the season, with just six walks in 47.2 IP. The Gauchos aren’t going away anytime soon.

10. At The Ballpark: Florida State shuts out BC

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — I took advantage of a trip north for a family function to catch Friday’s series opener between Florida State and Boston College — just the second home game of the year for the Eagles, who were one of college baseball’s big stories in the first month, opening the season 12-3 and winning a series at NC State. The Eagles have come back to earth since then, going 2-7 over their last nine game, including Friday’s 3-0 loss to FSU.

Boston College ace Mike King has continued to pitch very well for BC, and he certainly gave his team a strong chance to win Friday, holding FSU to one run over the first eight innings, then exiting after allowing a pair of doubles in the ninth. King was exactly as BC coach Mike Gambino had advertised: he mostly pounded the bottom of the zone with an 88-92 fastball and effectively mixed in his 80-81 changeup, short cutter at 83-84 and fringy curveball at 72-76. It’s not overpowering stuff, but it’s good stuff, and he really knows how to use it.

But the same can be said for most of Florida State’s staff. On Friday, three FSU pitchers combined on a three-hit shutout, as veteran righthander Mike Compton allowed three hits over five shutout frames, righty Jim Voyles worked three perfect frames, and closer Tyler Warmoth struck out two in a hitless ninth. None of Florida State’s arms worked in the 90s — Warmoth bumped 90 a couple of times, while Compton sat mostly 84-86 with his sinker and Voyles worked downhill at 87-89. And all three located their fastballs and breaking balls well.

“You say it’s not dominant arms when you’re looking at radar guns and prospect-type numbers on the radar guns, but to me, a dominant arm is if you’re 0-1, 1-2, and that’s what they are. They’re 0-1, 1-2, and they mix,” Gambino said. “Really, they can throw multiple pitches for strikes in multiple counts. You’re always hitting behind the count, and then when you’re ahead in the count, they can throw multiple pitches for strikes. So scouts are going to say it’s not dominant, but look at the numbers.”

Compton, a fifth-year senior who has logged quite a few big innings over the years for FSU, doesn’t have dominant numbers this year (4-1, 3.47), but he continues to put his team in position to win almost every week. He truly sets the tone for the weekend with his competitiveness, and he doesn’t get fazed in tough situations, like when BC had the bases loaded in the fourth inning. He escaped that threat unscathed with a groundout to shortstop — his eighth groundball out in the first four innings. When his sinker is working and his defense is making plays behind him like it did Friday, Compton is very effective.

“I’ve been here for a while, teams kind of know what I’ve got, they know what to expect,” Compton said. “So I’ve got to keep on top of everything and keep on top of the tendencies of the other hitters as well. But that is the main goal, to use that sinkerball and get those ground balls. We have great defense behind us, so it was a good time.”

Florida State didn’t generate a ton of offense against King, one of the ACC’s better Friday starters. But when the Seminoles had scoring chances, they did a better job taking advantage than BC. And that’s why Florida State is Florida State — it just has a history of winning coin-toss games like this. On Friday, Taylor Walls broke a scoreless tie with an RBI double in the fifth, and the ’Noles tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the ninth on doubles by Jackson Lueck and Ben DeLuzio. Lueck, a freshman outfielder batting in the No. 5 hole, has given FSU a spark lately — he now has seven starts and is hitting .444. He had three hits Friday.

“He’s a tough out,” FSU coach Mike Martin said. “He’s a tough out. It’s hard to teach that.”

Walls, meanwhile, leads Florida State in hitting (.373) and doubles (12). It seemed clear a year ago that Martin expected Walls to hit the ground running as a freshman the way catcher Cal Raleigh has this year, but it took Walls some time to figure it out, and he finished last year with a .220 average and a .247 slugging percentage. Now he’s showing why Martin was so excited about him in the first place.

“He’s maturing. He’s not matured, he’s maturing. He’s grasping the game,” Martin said. “The game has slowed down definitely for him, but I think Taylor Walls could be a guy with the quickness, the quick feet, the quick bat from both sides of the plate — he could be one of those guys you look back 10 years from now and say, ‘I knew that guy was going to advance in this game.’”

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