The best weekend of the season is upon us! Nothing is better than regional weekend. We’re going to have walk-offs, upsets, clear Omaha favorites sailing through home regionals, weather delays, and most importantly, wall-to-wall college baseball for three full days and then some, when regionals push to a Monday finish.
Each day, a regional results blog will guide you through the day’s most notable results. Here’s our blog on a busy Friday of action that got crazy right from the jump.
Louisville Lays into Kent State’s Joey Murray
There were a few outcomes that seemed within the realm of possibility for Kent State ace Joey Murray in his start against Louisville on Friday. Given how well he’s pitched this season, it seemed possible that he would toe the rubber and spin a gem against the Cardinals. But Louisville is a good team, so it also seemed possible that they would get to Murray, but that he would battle and hang around until the later innings.
Murray getting hung with eight earned runs on seven hits in one inning of work was never really a consideration, but it’s exactly how it played out as Kent State fell to Louisville 13-6.
For Murray, Logan Wyatt was public enemy number one. In the first, after the first three batters of the game reached, he launched a grand slam to right field. In the second, he connected for an equally-majestic three-run blast. The homer actually came off of reliever Ryan Lane, but the first two runners were charged to Murray.
Baseball, for better or worse, is a funny game and sometimes it works out that you have your toughest start of your season in your team’s biggest game of the season.
Samford Upsets Florida State
Samford had the makings of a tough four seed. They don’t have a true masher in their order (although Brooks Carlson might quality), but they have a solid lineup one through nine, and they have enough pitching to feel good about being able to compete for the entire weekend.
In their 7-6 regional-opening upset win over Florida State on Friday night, both the lineup and the pitching depth were on display.
Offensively, they got a 3-for-3 night from seven-hole hitter Austin Edens, and a 2-for-4 game from eight hitter Taylor Garris. For good measure, they also got two hits, including a two-run homer, from Carlson, who came into the game hitting .350.
On the mound, starting pitcher Samuel Strickland wasn’t able to get through five innings, but the bullpen duo of Josh Rich and Wyatt Burns picked him up. The former threw two-thirds of an inning in relief before handing it off to the former, who threw 3.2 innings to finish it off. On the season, Rich has now thrown 58.2 innings, all in relief, while Burns has tossed 62.2 innings. With as durable as those two have proven to be throughout the season, no matter how much longer Samford’s stay in a regional lasts, expect to see one or both again, perhaps multiple times.
It’s a disappointing loss for FSU, especially since three errors really hurt them, but it wouldn’t be wise to count them out. Recall that they lost their regional opener against Tennessee Tech last season before coming all the way back to win the regional.
Nick Sandlin Deals for Southern Miss in Win over Dallas Baptist
For most pitchers, shutting down the Dallas Baptist offense is not an easy task. The Patriots came into Friday’s game against Southern Miss hitting .296 as a team, led by Devlin Granberg, who was hitting .426, and five hitters with at least nine homers on the season.
But most pitchers aren’t Nick Sandlin. He came into the start with a microscopic 1.13 ERA, and with his effort on Friday, he actually lowered that number. He threw seven shutout innings, giving up four hits and three walks with ten strikeouts in his team’s 9-0 win, which moves them to the winner’s bracket of the Fayetteville Regional, with the host Arkansas Razorbacks waiting. His ERA is down 1.06 on the season, and just as impressively, his strikeout-to-walk ratio moves to 144/18 in 102.1 innings of work.
Long story short, holy cow Nick Sandlin is good.
Army Pulls Off Massive Upset Against NC State
I have to admit that I counted my chickens before they hatched. On Twitter earlier this week, and earlier in this post, I referenced how well Auburn was set up for a potential matchup with NC State in a winner’s bracket game on Saturday. They had Casey Mize rested and ready to go against a physical NC State offense. Sure, I was careful to add the caveat that the Wolfpack needed to get past Army first to make that matchup a reality, but that felt like a formality.
Right up until it wasn’t.
Army just took it to NC State from the first pitch on the way to collecting a 5-1 win. Starting pitcher Tyler Giovinco was up to the task. He ended up throwing 6.1 innings, giving up seven hits and one run. He only struck one hitter in his start, but his defense made every play behind him. And on offense, they just scratched and clawed for everything. They scored a single run in the third when speed merchant Jacob Hurtubise reached, stole second, and then scored from second on a groundout because he was in motion on the pitch.
In the fourth, a Trey Martin leadoff walk led to Martin being moved to third on an errant pickoff throw. A couple of pitches later, Martin was home on a sac fly. In the sixth, the Black Knights got two more runs when head coach Jim Foster pushed the right button. With a couple of men on, he turned to Rob Regine, who had all of 25 at-bats on the season coming into the game, to pinch hit. Regine rewarded Foster by driving in two with a double. In the seventh, they added their final run when Hurtubise walked, stole second, moved to third on a wild pitch, and scored on an Anthony Giachin single.
This is a pretty big upset, but Army is probably better than most realize. They’ve now won 37 games, and they have enough pitching to stay competitive late into the regional. Their offense doesn’t really scare you, but Hurtubise can create rallies out of thin air and put a ton of pressure on a defense, and despite his tough 0-for-5 day against the Wolfpack, Jon Rosoff is a solid catalyst. This might not be one of those four seeds we see from time to time that pulls off the big upset on day one and then runs out of gas quickly. They very well could have some staying power.
Auburn head coach Butch Thompson confirmed late Friday that Casey Mize would start Saturday’s winner’s bracket game against Army. Holding him back for a potential regional final on Sunday was a tantalizing option, but this is the safe choice. Going 2-0 is a game-changer in a regional setting, and this gives them a great chance to do so.
Weather Hurts Georgia
If time preference were the only factor, most host schools would choose to play the later game on the opening day of regional play. For one thing, it’s early-June, so it’s entirely likely that the temperatures during the early game are going to be borderline unbearable. But beyond that, waiting to play until Friday evening at five, six, or seven o’clock gives fans a better chance to get out to the game, which improves the atmosphere.
But there’s more to it than that. If you play the early game, you give yourself a much larger window to finish your game, and with it being the time of year when pop-up rain storms are the norm in the south, that’s huge. If you start a game at noon and endure a five- or six-hour rain delay, you still have plenty of time to finish the game that day. That’s less likely if you are starting in the evening.
Just ask Georgia.
Duke and Troy got underway on time in Athens, but got held up in what ended up being a delay of five hours and 25 minutes in the fifth inning. Because of the length of the delay, the decision was made to finish that game, and push Georgia’s game against Campbell to the following afternoon. That hurts the Bulldogs.
It guarantees that they’re going to play a doubleheader on Saturday, and that their second opponent will be fresh, no matter who they play. Weather, of course, is out of their control, and for every time something like this happens, things go off without a hitch 50 times, but the margins are thin in regionals, and stuff like this can tip the scales ever so slightly.
Cal State Fullerton Continues Second Half Push
The Titans’ annual push throughout the second half of the season marches on.
At the midpoint of the season, after they struggled through an early-season swoon, it was no guarantee that Fullerton would be a postseason team, but then the inevitable happened – they got hot, just as they do every other time they get off to a slow start. They took care of business in the Big West and won the league comfortably to secure the automatic bid given to the regular season champ.
You may remember that Cal State Fullerton pulled off a similar feat last year, when they not only got into the Palo Alto Regional, but won the regional on the way to getting to the College World Series.
A 6-2 win over Baylor on Friday afternoon gives them their first step toward repeating the trick in 2018.
Colton Eastman was Colton Eastman, which is to say he was steady and effective. He threw seven innings, giving up four hits and two runs (one earned) with one walk and eight strikeouts. Offensively, it was a huge day for nine-hole hitter Brett Borgogno, who went 3-for-4 with a double and two RBI.
Auburn Sitting Pretty in Raleigh
It’s always a bit of a risk to hold back an ace for a potential winner’s bracket game on day two of regional play, but when it works, the reward can be plentiful. Auburn made the decision to hold back Casey Mize for a presumed matchup against NC State on Saturday evening, and after a 13-4 win over Northeastern on Friday, it looks like a master stroke for the Tigers.
To be fair, Tanner Burns, who started the game against the Huskies, is no slouch, and he delivered again. He threw six innings, giving up seven hits and three runs, two of which were earned. The Tigers were also able to get three innings out of reliever Welby Malczewski to finish the game off, keeping their bullpen fresh.
Assuming NC State gets past Army in their opener, it sets up a classic power vs. power matchup between Mize and the physical NC State offense that has a little swing and miss to it as well, and the Tigers would have to like their chances in that one.
Simply put, things couldn’t have gone much better for Auburn in game one.
UCLA Walks Off with Win Over Gonzaga
Gonzaga could practically smell a regional-opening win over UCLA. They took a 5-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning, thanks in large part to the effort of starting pitcher Daniel Bies, who threw 7.2 innings, giving up five hits and two runs with two walks and nine strikeouts.
But things got sideways on them in the ninth inning. Ryan Kreidler was hit by a pitch to begin the frame, and R.J. Teljeiro followed with a double. After a groundout failed to move the runners, a Kevin Kendall RBI infield single brought home a run to make it 5-3. Chase Strumpf singled next to bring home a run to make it 5-4. One batter later, Michael Toglia double to bring home Kendall and tie it 5-5, and then a Jake Pries sac fly brought home Strumpf with the run that gave the Bruins a 6-5 win. Just like that, the Bulldogs had gone from being two outs from moving to the winner’s bracket to facing an elimination game Saturday afternoon.
Despite it not being his cleanest start, Jake Bird (7.2 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 2 K) did a fantastic job of getting deep into the game, giving the Bruins’ bullpen more of a fighting chance later in the regional.
Oklahoma Wins Bizarre Slugfest with Mississippi State
Typically, the two versus three games in the first round don’t get too crazy. The teams are usually fairly evenly-matched, and because there’s not often an obvious favorite between the two teams, both teams are motivated to throw the best arm they have available to do everything they can to move to 1-0. As a result, these games are usually low-scoring, well-played, and move pretty quickly.
But that certainly wasn’t the case with the Tallahassee Regional opener between Oklahoma and Mississippi State.
In a 20-10 Oklahoma win, the teams combined for 30 runs, 34 hits, 17 walks, and five errors. Neither starting pitcher, two proven arms in OU’s Jake Irvin and MSU’s Konnor Pilkington, escaped the fourth inning. Oklahoma used five pitchers, while Mississippi State used eight.
The difference in this one was that the Sooners were able to find some arms late in the game that settled things down. The trio of Connor Berry, Braidyn Fink, and Lane Ramsey combined to throw three scoreless frames to end the game, helping to turn a 9-7 deficit around. Meanwhile, all but one pitcher (Riley Self, who threw the last two-thirds of an inning) who took the mound for the Bulldogs came away without a run scoring against him. Ultimately, a nine-run seventh inning for OU ended up being the knockout blow.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the offensive outburst for the Sooners is that they did it without two of their better hitters, Steele Walker and Kyler Murray, who are both currently out with injury. Getting through this regional without two of their biggest bats will still be a tough ask, but with this win, the proof of concept is there that it can be done.