Day one of super regional action is in the books, and North Carolina, Washington, Oregon State, and Mississippi State are just one win away from advancing to Omaha. Let’s quickly recap Friday’s events with a few superlatives from the day that was.
Best Individual Pitching Performance: Luke Heimlich, Oregon State
This one wasn’t particularly close, as the senior lefty did a number on a physical, veteran Minnesota lineup in game Friday afternoon. He threw 8.2 innings, giving up seven hits and one run with no walks and nine strikeouts. Whether or not you think that a pitcher’s record is an instructive statistic, you have to admit that seeing a college pitcher with a 16-1 record is a bit jarring. He also sports a 2.32 ERA, a 151/25 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a .211 opponent batting average.
Best Team Pitching Performance: North Carolina
Stetson might have been the team getting the headlines for their outstanding pitching staff coming into the Chapel Hill Super Regional, but it was the UNC pitching staff that came up big in game one, a 7-4 victory. The Hatters did score four runs in the ballgame, but just two were earned, as a pair of runs in the seventh were partially the result of a defensive lapse for the Tar Heels.
Cooper Criswell set the tone by throwing five innings of four-hit, one-run baseball, and Josh Hiatt did a nice job out of the bullpen in throwing 2.2 innings, giving up just one hit and one run. Most importantly, he came on in the biggest moment of the ballgame, when Stetson had pulled within two runs at 4-2 and was threatening for more in the seventh inning with two men on and nobody out, and got out of it with the Tar Heels still on top 4-3. As an aside, this award was a little difficult to give out because it was a pretty offensive day considering it’s day one of a super regional, when each team is, theoretically at least, well-rested and putting its best foot forward from a pitching perspective. Every game on the schedule featured a double-digit run total between the two teams, and the one that didn’t was the Minnesota/Oregon State game that featured nine total runs and an eight-run outburst for OSU.
Best Individual Hitting Performance: Elijah MacNamee, Mississippi State
With the way he’s been swinging the bat the last two weekends, you could put Elijah MacNamee in the middle of a major league batting order today and he’d probably get three hits off of Justin Verlander and take him yard while he’s at it. MacNamee gave MSU the biggest highlight of their regional championship in Tallahassee, the walk-off home run against Florida State, and in game one Friday night, he may have already given them the highlight of the super regional against Vanderbilt.
At the end of a back-and-forth affair that was sometimes sloppy and infinitely entertaining (more on that in a minute), MacNamee stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth against Vanderbilt reliever Zach King and smacked a two-run, walk-off homer to left-center to put the Bulldogs up 1-0 in the series after a 10-8 win. That alone would have been enough, but he was 3-for-5 for the game overall, including a three-run homer in the third. What a day.
Best Team Hitting Performance: Washington
Scoring eight runs on 14 hits is a good enough accomplishment without context, but when you put what Washington did on offense in context, it makes it even more impressive. Cal State Fullerton ace Colton Eastman got through seven innings, but UW wore him out the entire way through. In those seven innings, he gave up six runs, four of which were earned, on a career-high 12 hits allowed.
The Huskies scored two in the third on a Braiden Ward sacrifice fly and a Levi Jordan RBI single. In the fifth, it was two more runs, this time on a Jordan sacrifice fly and an A.J. Graffanino RBI single. And in the seventh, it was a run on a Jake Pavletich error at first base on a ball off the bat of Joe Wainhouse and a Graffanino RBI single. For good measure, after the Titans pulled within one run at 6-5 late in the game, UW got two more in the ninth off of Fullerton reliever Blake Workman thanks to a Kaiser Weiss two-RBI double. Washington is scoring runs by scratching and clawing, just like they did in the regular season, but over the last few weeks, they’ve simply turned things up a notch.
Best Game: Vanderbilt/Mississippi State
It wasn’t the prettiest game, as the teams combined to make seven errors, but what this game lacked in clean innings, it more than made up for in drama, big moments, and fun. In the fifth inning, Vanderbilt came all the way back from a 7-2 deficit to tie the game 7-7. Three runs that inning came home during the same at-bat without the ball even being put into play. One came home on a wild pitch, one came home on a throwing error on the same play, and the third came home on a passed ball. Later in the inning, freshman Pat DeMarco launched a two-run homer to left to tie it up.
MSU went back up 8-7 in the 8th on an RBI single from quintessential spark plug Jake Mangum, but Vandy came back and tied it in the top of the ninth on a Little League home run from DeMarco. He banged one off the wall in left, but looked like he was going to be toast at third as he stumbled and nearly fell running between second and third. He made it, though, when the throw to third got away. He broke for home and again looked like he would be hung out to dry, but Luke Alexander’s throw to the plate was wild as well. Of course, all that work for Vanderbilt to come back was for naught, as Elijah MacNamee provided the walk-off magic in the bottom of the ninth in the 10-8 win. If the rest of the weekend is half as fun as this game, we’re in for a wild ride.