By Bill Ballew, College Baseball Now
Here’s a look at the biggest stories and happenings in College Baseball Now’s college baseball weekend update.
SOUTHERN MISS MAKES A STATEMENT
Sweeping a season-opening three-game series against in-state rival Mississippi State may not serve as complete revenge for last year’s two losses to the Bulldogs in the Hattiesburg Regional, but the Golden Eagles see no reason to live in the past. That’s what a trio of triumphs will do for a program that is once again challenging for a trip to Omaha.
After pounding the Bulldogs 11-0 on Friday before posting a 7-4 victory on Saturday, Southern Miss notched a 5-2 win on Sunday to conclude the sweep at Pete Taylor Park. Third baseman Luke Reynolds hit a two-run double into the right-center field gap in the fifth inning to break a 2-2 tie while six Golden Eagle pitchers limited Mississippi State to three singles, including no hits after the fourth frame.
“This was real big,” said Southern Miss shortstop LeeMarcus Boyd. “As you know, they put us out of the (NCAA) Regional last year, so coming back and doing this, sweeping them this weekend, that let us know as a team that we really are going to be pretty good this year.”
Southern Miss never trailed in the three-game series while outscoring the Bulldogs 23-6. Mississippi State starts a season with an 0-3 record for only the third time since 1940. This year marks the first time the Bulldogs have ever lost to the same opponent three times to open a season.
The Southern Miss standout of the series was Luke Reynolds, a transfer from Mississippi State. Reynolds went a combined 6-for-10 against his former team with six runs scored, two doubles, a home run and five RBIs.
“That was pretty amazing,” said Reynolds, who had to sit out last season due to transfer rules. “There are just no words for it. It was good, but … I enjoyed every single minute of it. That was awesome.”
Bulldogs freshman first baseman Josh Hatcher had three hits in each of the first two games and had a team-best .545 batting average (6-for-11) during the weekend. Center fielder Jake Mangum had at least one hit in all three contests and was 4-for-13 (.308). The pitching staff, however, had a combined ERA of 7.50 compared to Southern Miss’ 2.00.
“We got punched in the mouth Friday night, but we responded better on Saturday and got into a good ballgame again today,” said Mississippi State head coach Andy Cannizaro. “I do not think that we hit well, pitched well or defended well on the weekend, but I felt like we got better as the weekend went on.
“(Southern Miss is) an outstanding ball club and are certainly worthy. They are a top 10 team in the country right now.”
The series drew a Pete Taylor Park record 14,906 fans to the three games, including 4,970 on Sunday.
IRISH SHOW SOME FIGHT IN BATON ROUGE
LSU head coach Paul Mainieri welcomed his previous employer to Baton Rouge and discovered there may be some fight in this year’s Irish. After losing a heart-breaker on Opening Day, Notre Dame rallied to post a 10-5 victory on Saturday and an 11-3 win on Sunday at Alex Box Stadium to give the visitors from the Atlantic Coast Conference the series win.
Notre Dame’s Eric Gilgenbach notched seven RBIs by hitting a three-run homer in the fourth inning to right-center and a grand slam in the ninth to seal the rubber game of the series. The final blast broke a panel on the scoreboard to add an exclamation point to the Fightin’ Irish’s effort. Freshman center fielder Spencer Myers went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and a run scored.
On Saturday, Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki gave the ball to freshman Tommy Sheehan to open the game and watched him allow four runs over five innings to earn the victory in a 10-5 triumph. Fellow first-year hurler Cole Kmet tossed four shutout frames while allowing only one hit to record the save. Myers was one of five Irish to stroke two hits, and Gilgenbach hit a two-run homer.
“I thought they were great,” Aoki said of his freshmen pitchers after Saturday’s game.
“For Tommy to go in there without his best stuff and navigate a place like this and a lineup like this was really good. Cole was outstanding. He’s a kid who is just a winner. He goes out there, competes, and I thought he was making pitches when he needed to. He fell behind a couple of times but came back. That was a huge pick-me-up from Cole.”
In Friday’s opening contest, Notre Dame opened up a 6-0 advantage but wound up dropping a 7-6 decision when the Tigers’ Josh Smith hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth. Bryce Jordan added a two-run shot for the Tigers in the series lidlifter.
Notre Dame is 5-5 all-time versus LSU, including 5-3 against the Tigers at Alex Box Stadium. The Fightin’ Irish are one of 12 programs (with at least six games played) to own a .500 or better winning percentage against LSU. The Tigers, meanwhile, allowed at least six runs in each of its first three games of a season for the first time since 1953.
FGCU WALKS OFF THREE TIMES IN FOUR GAMES
There was no shortage of heroics in Fort Myers this weekend for the homestanding FGCU Eagles. Spencer Levine’s RBI single in the ninth gave Florida Gulf Coast an 8-7 victory over Eastern Michigan and marked the team’s third walk-off win during its four-game sweep of the EMU Eagles.
“It’s Swanson (Stadium) and special things happen here,” said FGCU head coach Dave Tollett after Sunday’s victory. “To do it three times, I don’t think we’ve had three walk-off wins in a series. There was great timely hits, the hit-by-pitch…our bottom of the order really kept us alive. And (right-handed pitcher Evan) Lumbert gave us a chance; he gave us a spark. He’s a bulldog and he’s a fighter.
Sophomore Alex Brait began the walk-off trend in the first game of an Opening Day doubleheader. Brait’s single gave the Eagles a 6-5 victory before Florida Gulf Coast completed the twinbill sweep with a 12-3 triumph in the nightcap. On Saturday, redshirt senior Gage Morey pulled a 1-1 offering through the right side to score Eric Gonzalez from second to give the hosts a 12-11 victory.
“It’s huge,” Tollett said following Saturday’s game. “Any time with a new team you can come from behind and win, it will be big for us down the road because we’ve done it, we’ve done it early. For me, with a young team, I just think it’s a great thing.”
STANFORD SWEEPS FULLERTON
For the first time since 2012, Stanford posted a season-opening sweep while taking three straight decisions over Cal State Fullerton. The 13th-ranked Cardinal received stellar relief pitching from left-handed freshman Austin Weiermiller and sophomore Kyle Stowers on Sunday to record the 6-5 triumph over the 17th-ranked Titans.
The Cardinal notched its first season-opening sweep since winning three straight over Vanderbilt in 2012. This weekend also marked David Esquer’s debut as Stanford’s head coach after he replaced the legendary Mark Marquess last summer.
“It felt great to be back at Sunken Diamond on this side of the field for the first time in a long time, and we couldn’t have asked for a better start this week,” said Esquer, the former head coach at Cal who was also an assistant coach under Marquess at Stanford. “You’ve got to tip you cap to the job that Austin and Stowers did today, and those guys still have a lot to show. We’re really pleased with the sweep and to see everyone back out at Sunken Diamond.”
In his first collegiate appearance, Weiermiller replaced starting pitcher Erik Miller in the top of the second and proceeded to allow two hits and no runs over four innings of work. Stowers escaped a jam in the top of the ninth to record his first career save.
Stanford opened the series on Friday with a 5-1 win and followed it with a 5-3 victory on Saturday. Junior righthander Tristan Beck allowed one earned run and four hits while striking out five in six innings of work to earn the win on Opening Day. Junior southpaw Kris Bubic earned the victory on Saturday by holding Fullerton to one earned run and three hits over five innings.
Junior Nico Hoerner had hits in all three games for Stanford, going a combined 6-for-11 (.545) with four runs scored, two doubles, a triple and two RBIs. Junior outfielder Brandon Wulff went 3-for-3 on Sunday to finish the weekend with five hits in 10 at-bats. Freshman Tim Tawa had a pair of hits in four at-bats in the finale.
The last time the Titans began a season 0-3 was in 2006 when they also dropped three straight at Sunken Diamond. Fullerton rebounded and advanced to the College World Series that year.
OPENING WEEKEND HIGHLIGHTS
* A major reason Coastal Carolina won its first three games, including two walk-offs in extra innings, is senior Kevin Woodall (pictured above). The first baseman from Georgetown, South Carolina, had an RBI in all three contests, including a career-high six in the season opener against Virginia Tech. Woodall stroked three hits versus the Hokies and two against both Oklahoma and Kansas State, and hit a two-run homer in his first at-bat of the season to give the Chanticleers a 2-0 advantage. His RBI single in the 10th gave Coastal a 4-3 triumph over Kansas State on Sunday.
* Florida began its defense of its national championship by scoring 36 runs in three games during a home sweep over Siena. The Gators’ 36 runs are the most in a three-game series since they plated 38 against South Carolina in 2015. Florida won 7-1 on Friday behind junior Brady Singer’s seven-inning performance in which he allowed one run (no earned), two hits and one walk while striking out eight. After a 10-2 win on Saturday, the Gators completed the sweep with a 19-2 outburst on Sunday.
Junior Blake Reese went 2-for-4 on Sunday with a career-high four RBIs and had seven hits in 12 at-bats (.583) with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs during the three-game set. Sophomore Keenan Bell hit a pair of home runs and drove in five runs on the weekend.
“They’ve both worked awfully hard, arguably two of our hardest workers,” said Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “From a coaching standpoint, it’s good to see those guys have success early on. Keenan is a legitimate power bat in the middle of the order, and Blake has just waited his turn; he’s turned into a really, really good player.”
* Louisiana Tech redshirt junior righthander Matt Miller struck out eight of the first nine Pepperdine batters he faced on Friday and proceeded to fan 10 in seven innings while allowing no walks and two hits. Miller received a no-decision in the Waves’ 2-1 win in 11 innings. The two teams split the four-game series in Malibu.
* Arkansas’ 14 runs against Bucknell represent the most the Razorbacks have scored on Opening Day in 17 years. A day later, head coach Dave Van Horn’s team spotted the Bison a one-run lead before plating 32 runs with the help of 22 hits, six home runs and four innings of five or more runs. The 32-4 final was one tally shy of tying the Hogs’ single-game record of 33, set in 1984 against Southwest Baptist. Perhaps tired from swinging the bat so often the first two days, Arkansas completed the sweep on Sunday with a 3-1 win.
“You never know how many runs you’re going to score,” Van Horn said after Saturday’s contest. “You don’t want to run it up on anybody. They were probably trying to save some guys for Sunday’s game. When our starters did well, we brought in other guys. Those guys want to make an impression and do well. It’s one thing we have and that’s competition. There’s competition to play, competition to pitch and it’s healthy for our team. I know we’re capable of scoring runs. I made that comment in the fall. We predicted we’d have some days where we scored 15 or 16 runs, but you can’t predict something like that.”
* Kent State was down to its last strike twice in the top of the ninth when Josh Hollander came through with a grand slam to give the Golden Flashes a 7-4 victory at Sam Houston State’s Don Sanders Baseball Stadium on Friday night. The Bearkats rebounded from the loss to win 5-1 and 12-6 on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
* Stetson notched its first Opening Day win after losing five straight when senior righthander Brooks Wilson retired all three batters he faced to earn his first save in his 50th collegiate appearance in a 6-5 win over Manhattan on Friday. The Hatters completed the sweep with 5-0 and 6-2 victories on Saturday and Sunday.
* On Saturday, Santa Clara senior Jake Brodt hit two grand slams in one inning to lead the Broncos to a 20-9 victory over Boston College. According to the NCAA, Brodt became the seventh Division I player to accomplish the feat since tracking began in 1957 and the first since Louisiana Tech’s T.J. Soto did it against Western Kentucky in 2000.
“It was definitely on my mind,” Brodt said regarding his second at-bat on the frame with the bases loaded. “How often do you come up with that type of situation twice in an inning? I just tried to stay comfortable in the box and not try to do too much with it. I knew right off the bat when I hit it.”
* East Tennessee State junior transfer Micah Kaczor retired the first 10 Northern Kentucky batters he faced on Friday before surrendering the first of two hits. He proceeded to strike out 12 Norse batters in six innings while allowing one run and no walks to earn his first win as a Buccaneer. The single-game school record for strikeouts is 15, set by Reid Casey in 2001.
“The big thing we wanted to do today was to go out and show we can pitch,” Kaczor said. “I know this team’s history has been hitting, and our staff kind of took that personal. It’s our mission to put that aside and compete every game.”