College Baseball Now Weekly Blog–Issue 12

Connor Wanhannen (TCU Athletics)

On Sunday TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle earned his 600th victory as the leader of the Horned Frogs. And the way he emerged with the triumph does get much better in Fort Worth.

The Horned Frogs rallied for a 4-3 victory in 10 innings on Luken Baker’s double, which completed the three-game sweep of Texas. That marks the third time in the last four seasons TCU has swept its in-state rival and Big 12 Conference foe Longhorns.

The series started on Friday night with the Horned Frogs topping Texas, 11-10, in 11 innings. TCU jumped out to a 6-1 lead after two innings for the Longhorns rumbled back. The teams then traded runs in the 10th before the Frogs found a way to win in the 11th. Elliott Barzilli and Ryan Merrill worked full-count walks to open the final frame, Austen Wade’s single loaded the bases, and Connor Wanhanen (pictured above, courtesy of TCU Athletics) delivered a sacrifice fly to left field for the walk-off RBI.

After TCU took an 8-2 decision on Saturday, the Frogs improved to 6-0 on the season in extra-inning contests with the win on Sunday. Wanhanen led off the 10th with his second hit of the afternoon before Merrill reached first base on a fielder’s choice. With one out, Baker stepped up and launched a double off the right-center field fence, allowing Merrill to round the bases for the game-winning tally.

TCU, which has three sweeps of Texas in the five series meetings since the Horned Frogs joined the Big 12, welcomed 15,862 fans to Lupton Stadium for the three games. That total ranks as the third-most attended series in the ballpark’s history.

‘Bama Tames Tigers

The 2017 season had been forgettable for the Alabama Crimson Tide through the first two and a half months of the campaign. Head coach Greg Goff’s team had won only two Southeastern Conference contests in 21 outings and was 15-29 overall entering last weekend, making ‘Bama and Georgia the only league schools with losing records.

The situation improved significantly the Tides’ diamond fans. The team traveled south to Auburn to meet the War Eagles, who were ranked as high as fourth in the nation, their highest ranking since 1999. Recent history mattered not, however, as Alabama sauntered in to Plainsman Park and swept all three games from their hated hosts.

After Friday night’s game was rained out, the Tide swept a doubleheader on Saturday, escaping with 4-3 and 7-6 victories. In both contests the Tigers had the potential game-tying run residing on third base when the last out was recorded with a strikeout. The situation did not improve on Sunday when the finale required six hours and 36 minutes to play 15 innings before Bama emerged with the 11-9 triumph.

Sunday’s game was the longest from a time standpoint in Alabama history. It also marks only the third time the Crimson Tide has swept the Tigers in Auburn in consecutive weekend history, and the first time ‘Bama has completed back-to-back three-game series sweeps of their opponent in Auburn. Alabama has won seven straight games at Auburn, equaling the longest such stretch in program history, which also occurred from May 6, 1955-April 21, 1958.

Goff said after Saturday’s game that he felt a different presence on his team earlier that day. “Our guys were really ready to play in a very important series, a big rivalry weekend,” Goff said. “Our team woke up this morning and I could tell from the moment I saw them that they were ready to compete. When they got off the bus today, I knew they were going to be ready for this challenge against one of the top teams in the country.”

Auburn saw its RPI drop 18 spots, to 37th, following the sweep. With only two weekend series remaining before the SEC Tournament begins, the Tigers realize their chances of being a national seed grew slimmer after the sweep, but Thompson is confident his team will rebound despite having to travel to LSU before concluding the regular season by hosting Ole Miss.

“I told the guys that you need to stay together and keep working hard for us,” Thompson said after Sunday’s game. “I’ve never asked more than their best and for them to compete their hearts out. Everything will go to the head coach, and these players stay with Coach Sisson and Coach Bohannon, keep working hard and keep grinding. We’ve done too much and have too much to play for, so just keep working as hard as they can for the program and for the future that we have here before us. Let me take responsibility and let’s bounce back quick.”

Rounding the Bases

* Arizona junior outfielder Cal Stevenson hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning to give the Wildcats their first walk-off round-tripper since 2011 on Friday night. The Wildcats entered the ninth trailing by four runs before Stevenson led off with a single to start the five-run rally and then ended it with the two-run blast. The victory proved to be the first of a weekend sweep over visiting Washington for the Wildcats. Stevenson, who earlier in the week reached base six times in a victory over Santa Clara, was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week.

* Oregon State junior lefthander Luke Heimlich was named the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week for the third time this season after he notched his seventh victory and struck out a career-high 12 batters in the Beavers’ series-opening win over California. In his last four starts, Heimlich has allowed only two runs, 17 hits and seven walks while striking out 36 batters in 29 2/3 innings. His 0.71 ERA currently leads the nation.

* West Virginia sophomore Braden Zarbisky had one of the top two-way performances of the week to earn Co-Player of the Week honors in the Big 12. In Sunday’s 3-2 win over Texas Tech, Zarbisky stroked three hits and tossed three shutout innings, allowing the conference’s top offensive two only two hits while striking out three. In four games last week as the Mountaineers’ designated hitter, Zarbisky had a team-high .500 batting average, scored four runs and hit his first career home run.

* Louisville third baseman Drew Ellis was named the Player of the Month for April by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Ellis went 30-for-66 (.455) for the Cardinals in 19 games, generating five doubles, a triple, eight home runs and 22 RBIs while producing a .532 on-base percentage.

* Oregon State’s Jake Thompson was named the NCBWA’s Pitcher of the Month for April after going 4-0 with a 0.71 ERA in five starts. Thompson allowed only 22 hits and nine walks in 38 innings while striking out 35 batters. In his final outing of the month against Southern Cal, he fanned 11 Trojans. Overall Thompson is 9-0 with a 1.07 ERA in 12 games.

* Barring the playing of any potential redshirt candidates, Coastal Carolina concluded the weekend down to one bench player–catcher Kyle Skeels–after right fielder Dalton Ewing was hit by a pitch and fractured his left hand against Louisiana-Monroe. Left fielder Cory Wood has missed the last seven contests and is expected to miss the final two weeks of the regular season with a ligament injury in his hand. Josh Crump stepped in for Ewing and went 4-for-7 with three RBIs and two runs scored in games on Saturday and Sunday against UL-Monroe.

About the author, Bill

Bill Ballew has been involved with collegiate and professional baseball since 1983. He has been the Atlanta correspondent for Baseball America since 1991 and has served as the editorial content manager for Baseball The Magazine for more than five years. He is a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA), National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

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