College Roundup: Vanderbilt Sinks Gamecocks
Strike One: Commodores On The Way Up
COLUMBIA, S.C.—Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin has told his team to not dwell on its record, don’t focus on the results, just try to keep moving forward.
The Commodores got off to a rocky start this year, dropping early series to Illinois-Chicago and Cal State Northridge and falling out of the Top 25. But the pieces are seemingly starting to come together now. Whether the Commodores pay attention to them or not, the results have indeed gotten better.
Case in point: Friday night, Vanderbilt battled back against No. 11 South Carolina, tying the game in the ninth on a pinch-hit two-out RBI single by Reed Hayes then winning on a two-run shot by first baseman Julian Infante in the top of the 13th.
|How the Top 25 Fared|
|(1) Oregon State: won, 5-4, vs. Utah|
|(2) Louisville: lost, 2-1, vs. (17) Wake Forest|
|(3) Texas Christian: won, 9-2, vs. Murray State|
|(4) North Carolina: PPD at Boston College|
|(5) Clemson: won, 12-1, vs. Virginia Tech|
|(6) Texas Tech: won, 13-2, vs. Baylor|
|(7) Auburn: won, 2-1, at Texas A&M|
|(8) Florida: lost, 7-6, vs. Tennessee in 10 innings|
|(9) Oklahoma: lost, 5-3, at Texas|
|(10) Arizona: won, 19-5, at Washington State|
|(11) South Carolina: lost, 5-3, vs. Vanderbilt in 13 innings|
|(12) Cal State Fullerton: won, 6-0, vs. UC Davis|
|(13) Kentucky: won, 5-2, at No. 22 Mississippi State|
|(14) St. John’s: won, 3-2, at Creighton in 14 innings|
|(15) Louisiana State: lost, 9-3, at (16) Arkansas|
|(16) Arkansas: won, 9-3, vs. (15) Louisiana State|
|(17) Wake Forest: won, 2-1, at (2) Louisville|
|(18) Florida Gulf Coast: lost, 2-1, at Stetson|
|(19) Long Beach State: won, 8-0, vs. UC Riverside|
|(20) Stanford: won, 8-3, at Southern California|
|(21) Southern Mississippi: won, 15-4, vs. Florida International|
|(22) Mississippi State: lost, 5-2, vs. (13) Kentucky|
|(23) Virginia: won, 12-1, vs. Pittsburgh|
|(24) Florida State: won, 16-7, at North Carolina State|
|(25) Maryland: lost, 3-1, at Nebraska|
With the 5-3 victory, the Commodores clinched a key SEC series on the road, with the chance to sweep on Saturday. Suddenly, the Commodores are tied with the Gamecocks at 6-5 in the SEC East and have improved to 21-11 overall. They’re 16th in the RPI on WarrenNolan.com and have gone 10-6 against Top 50 opponents.
Even still, Corbin knows Vanderbilt has work to do.
“I don’t think we’re close, but I do see growth,” he said after Saturday’s game. “It’s just been seven, eight tough months. We’ve had to grow because we’re young, and we’ve had to work through some things, but they bring their lunch pail every time we come out and train, and I appreciate that. They’re good kids to be around, but it doesn’t come easy—and I don’t really want it to.”
Little came easy Friday in a matchup of two of the top pitching prospects in the 2017 class. Junior righthander Clarke Schmidt started for the Gamecocks and was dominant, working 93-95 mph with his fastball early, touching 96 mph, and racking up 11 strikeouts in seven innings with the help of a wipeout mid-80s slider and an arm-side tailing changeup. He allowed just two runs on five hits and one walk, maintaining a low-90s velocity as he pitched into the later innings.
“Schmidt, he’s tough. Really, really tough,” Corbin said. “We really didn’t have a lot of answers for him . . .That’s as good as we’ve seen. We haven’t seen a kid like that all year. He’s really good. And I think God willing, if he stays healthy, he’s going to pitch for a long time.”
On the other side, junior righthander Kyle Wright also touched 96 mph early and lived comfortably in the low- to mid-90s. Expected to be one of the first pitchers off the draft board, Wright (1-4, 4.81) struggled early in the year and moved from Fridays to Saturdays, but Corbin said Wright’s numbers don’t necessarily reflect how he’s pitched. Wright allowed three runs—unearned, due to an error by second baseman Alonzo Jones—in the third inning Friday but otherwise threw up zeroes in his six frames, allowing five hits, walking three and striking out four. At times, his command escaped him, but he leaned heavily on a low-80s breaking ball and mixed in a few mid-80s changeups to work out of danger.
Corbin said that he was proud of the way Wright gutted through the outing and that the righthander should take something positive away from it.
“I felt pretty good,” Wright said. “One inning, kind of got away a little bit, could’ve limited the damage, but one pitch, left it up, and he put a pretty good swing on it, but all in all, I felt pretty good. I felt like I competed to give my team a chance to win in the end.
“I feel like I get better every week. Even though sometimes the results may not show it. I’ve been working hard every week just to be where I am, so I feel confident every time I go out there.”
Righthander Matt Ruppenthal took care of the rest for Vandy, throwing seven scoreless, two-hit innings out of the bullpen, as the Commodores rallied against the Gamecocks. Infante’s homer in the 13th—his second of the series—added some flair to an important series-clinching win for Vanderbilt.
But, again, the Commodores aren’t keyed in on the results.
“It’s definitely great to win a game against South Carolina,” Infante said. “But now it’s over and we have to get ready to play again tomorrow. It’s another game. The record doesn’t matter to us. It’s just—keep getting better.”
Strike Two: Louisville Gets Wake-up Call
As detailed in our Weekend Preview, Wake Forest has steadily climbed up the ACC ranks and is positioning itself as a regional host.
On Friday night, the Demon Deacons took their biggest leap yet.
On the road against No. 2 Louisville, the Deacons handed the Cardinals their first home loss of the season—they had been undefeated in 18 games—in a tight, resume-building 2-1 win.
Louisville lefthander Brendan McKay was predictably stellar on the mound once again, striking out 11 in seven innings, but he allowed a two-run home run to powerful Wake junior Gavin Sheets in the fourth inning, and that lone mistake was enough to saddle McKay with a tough-luck loss.
Wake Forest righthander Parker Dunshee, meanwhile, threw a gem of his own, striking out six and yielding just one run on five hits in seven innings. After a difficult start to the season, the generally dependable senior has rounded into form, posting a 2.84 ERA over his last six starts.
He gave way to electric closer Griffin Roberts, whom head coach Tom Walter said has been a difference maker for the Demon Deacons this year. Roberts certainly put his stamp on Friday’s win, throwing two scoreless innings and striking out four to put the Demon Deacons up, 1-0, in the series.
Wake Forest has already won its first four ACC series, and with one more win against Louisville, the Deacons would make a sizable splash. Of course, that’s far easier said than done against the No. 2 team in the country.
Strike Three: Longhorns Take Down Sooners
The Big 12 ranks No. 1 in conference RPI—and with good reason. Coming off a year in which three conference teams all went to Omaha, the Big 12 remains deep and contentious.
Among the reasons for that depth is the resurgence of Texas, a traditional college baseball power that is seemingly hitting its stride under first-year head coach David Pierce.
On Friday night, the Longhorns opened a series against No. 9 Oklahoma—one of the hottest teams in the nation—with a 5-3 win.
Texas took advantage of a pair of defensive miscues in the first and third inning to scratch across four runs, with Bret Boswell and Michael Cantu both hitting sac flies and freshman Austin Todd hitting an RBI single.
Sophomore stater Nolan Kingham took care of business on his end, allowing two runs in seven strong innings before handing the ball off to closer Beau Ridgeway.
“It's Oklahoma-Texas. I thought it was an exciting ballgame,” Pierce told texassports.com. “They kicked a little bit early, we took advantage of it, got a 4-1 lead, and we held onto it and we were able to tack one on late that gave our bullpen a little cushion. Just a great Friday night win against a very quality opponent.”
The win pushed Texas to 21-12 and 5-5 in the conference and puts the Longhorns in position to claim a key conference series with one more win, bouncing back with a series loss to Kansas the weekend before.
“We're playing Oklahoma, so they better be hungry,” Pierce said. “They will be. You just got to go out and do our jobs, and not try to do more. That was our message coming out of Kansas, is quit trying harder because that's not the answer. We're trying as hard as we can, now let's just be a little more mature with our bats and be a little more dissected with our pitches.”
Nine newsmakers from Friday’s action
Zac Lowther, lhp, Xavier: Lowther retired the first 24 batters he faced against Villanova, striking out 16, before issuing a leadoff walk in the ninth. Having thrown 119 pitches, he was relieved and the Wildcats came back for a 3-2 victory. Lowther (2-2, 3.60), a junior, has struck out at least 10 batters in three straight starts, piling up 37 strikeouts in 19.1 innings in that stretch.
Steven Kwan, of, Oregon State: With a two-out walk-off single in the ninth inning against Utah, Kwan led the Beavers to their 21st straight win—the longest streak in the country and the longest streak in program history. The sizzling Beavers are now 10-0 in Pac-12 play and are two wins shy of matching the conference record of 23 consecutive wins.
Casey Mize, rhp, Auburn: The SEC strikeout leader, Mize continued his stellar season with another sterling effort against Texas A&M, striking out 12 for the second-straight week in seven scoreless innings as the Tigers beat the Aggies, 2-1.
Drew Mendoza, 3b, Florida State: The highly touted freshman who missed the first half of the season with a broken thumb showed how much of an offensive impact he can make in Friday’s 16-7 win over North Carolina State. Mendoza doubled twice, going 3-for-5 with four RBI to help the Seminoles win the series opener.
Connor Seabold, rhp, Cal State Fullerton: The junior threw the first shutout for the Titans since Thomas Eshelman threw one at Hawaii on May 15, 2015. Seabold struck out 11 and allowed just three hits to one walk as the Titans took down UC Davis, 6-0.
Joe Davis, 1b/DH, Houston: The sophomore has tremendous power but strangely had just one home run going into Friday’s conference battle with East Carolina. That quickly changed as Davis powered a three-run homer and went 3-for-5 in the Cougars’ 17-3 bludgeoning of the Pirates.
David Peterson, lhp, Oregon: The junior ace shoved yet again for the Ducks, continuing his dominant run. Peterson struck out 11 and allowed just one run on five hits against UC Irvine in a 10-1 Ducks win. Peterson has a 0.64 ERA in his last six starts and hasn’t walked a batter in his last 24 innings.
Will Heflin, of/lhp, Tennessee: The freshman had just one at-bat in Tennessee’s 10-inning battle with Florida, but it was the most important one. Heflin hit a sac fly with the bases loaded in the 10th inning to drive in the game-winning run as the Vols upset the Gators in Gainesville.
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Charlie Barnes, lhp, Clemson: The Clemson junior southpaw matched a career-high with 11 strikeouts in a crisp outing against Virginia Tech. Barnes allowed just one run on four hits in 7.2 innings, improving to 4-2, 1.51 as he’s developed into Clemson’s steady Friday ace.