HOUSTON -- It was tabbed one of the top pitching matchups in college baseball for a reason.
Of course, we're talking about Friday night's matchup between East Carolina righthanded pitcher Jeff Hoffman and Rice righthanded pitcher Zech Lemond. Plenty of professional baseball heat was in attendance for the bout, including Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim General Manager Jerry Dipoto, among others.
They didn't go home disappointed. Both Hoffman and Lemond were terrific, and both in different ways. Though Hoffman didn't pitch a complete game, he set the stage for an impressive 3-2 road win over the Owls.
Hoffman has been known, at least this season, as a guy who either flourishes after the first couple of innings, or at times, struggles to get into a groove. But there was no doubt which zone he was going to be in after the first couple of innings last night. The 6-foot-4, 192-pounder, really couldn't have been much better against the Owls. He peppered the Owls with 94-97 mph fastballs commanded on both sides of the plate, and was still touching 97 with that pitch in the eighth inning. To make his stuff even nastier, his 86-89 mph changeup got better as the game progressed, and his 78-82 curveball was a plus offering throughout.
The junior righty, ranked as our No. 2 college prospect, struck out seven, walked one and allowed just seven hits in eight innings. We'll have much more on Hoffman's performance in a feature early next week, but ECU coach Billy Godwin and Rice's Wayne Graham summed up Hoffman quite well.
When asked if there was anything he saw that Hoffman could've done better, Godwin was succinct and to the point: "There's nothing really," he said. "That was about as good as it gets."
Graham was even more complimentary.
"There aren't many big league pitchers who can go out there and do what he did in the eighth inning," he said. "He's out there still throwing 97 with a nasty curveball in the 8th inning. That was impressive."
As for Lemond, he, too, was impressive on the night. Lemond struck out four, walked two and allowed a run on four hits in 6 2/3 innings. He left the game in the seventh inning because of what Coach Graham called tenderness/soreness, but was still very good throughout.
Lemond, as usual, sat 93-95 with his fastball, and located that pitch well until the Pirates started to somewhat figuring him out in the middle innings. Lemond also threw a heavy dose of his 82-86 secondary offering, which can best be described as a slurve. The junior righty possessed a nasty hammer curveball last season, but each time we've seen him this spring, he's relied more on that slurve action.
Hoffman reaffirmed the faith his coach and scouts have in his ability, while we all hope Lemond's soreness is just a small bump in the road for a premier arm on the fast track.
TEAM OF THE DAY
Washington entered Friday’s action as the nation’s hottest team, but the Ducks made sure to cool things off with a 10-3 road victory. Oregon lefthanded pitcher Tommy Thorpe struck out six, walked one and allowed just a run on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings, while third baseman Mitchell Tolman led the offense, going 2-for-3 with a double, three runs scored and two RBIs. Kyle Garlick also had two hits, along with three RBIs, while Shaun Chase went 3-for-5 with a run scored. For the Huskies, starting pitcher Jared Fisher struck out three, walked five and allowed five runs on four hits in 5 1/3 innings.
PLAYER OF THE DAY
Nathan Kirby, lhp, Virginia
The Cavaliers are loaded with premium arms, and Kirby was one of those arms head coach Brian O’Connor expected to take a significant step forward this spring. Kirby hasn’t disappointed, and made history Friday night by tossing a no-hitter and striking out 18 batters in a 4-0 road victory over a Pittsburgh team previously playing very well in ACC play.
Kirby finished the night just one strikeout shy of tying the Virginia school record, 19, held by Harry Thomas, who accomplished the feat against Clemson in 1974.
"It's kind of cliché but it was a blur," Kirby said. "It kind of slowed down there at the end of the game. With (Nate) Irving back there and John (La Prise) and the two plays he made and (Daniel) Pinero, who has made that play all year, they all helped me out but tonight there was a lot of added pressure. I can't sum it up just yet. It hasn't sunk in.
"It was one of those nights where the umpire and I were on the same page," Kirby said with a laugh. "I got a couple of close calls. Everything was working. I wanted to let the hitters hit it and let our defense play.”
Kirby, who saw his earned-run average improve to 1.03 ERA in 53 innings, threw 122 pitches (87 for strikes) against the Panthers, and walked just one batter in the contest.
UPSET OF THE DAY
UC Davis over Cal State Fullerton: The Titans have been scuffling offensively the past few weeks, and that trend continued Friday in a tough 3-1 home loss to UC Davis. Fullerton righthanded pitcher Thomas Eshelman struck out seven, of course didn't walk anyone, and allowed just three runs (two earned) on five hits in seven innings, but that wasn't enough. UCD starting pitcher Harry Stanwyck allowed just a run on six hits in 7 1/3 innings to lead the Aggies to the upset win.
East Carolina 3, Rice 2 (Jeff Hoffman: 8 IP, 7 H, 1 R 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K)
Oral Roberts 7, Sam Houston State 4 (Kurt Giller: 5 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K)
Marshall 5, Florida Atlantic 0 (Michael Taylor: 5.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 3 K)
Old Dominion 2, Florida International 1 (Andy Roberts: 6.1 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K)
DID YOU SEE THIS?
In easily one of the more bizarre finishes I've seen in my 10-plus years of covering college baseball, Auburn and Ole Miss were tied 5-5 in the bottom of the 13th inning. The Rebels began the bottom half of the 13th with a single and double, and with no outs, Auburn looked to load the bases via an intentional walk. Well, that move didn't turn out as planned, as AU reliever Jay Wade, who was supposed to throw a ball up and out of the zone, grooved a ball down the middle of the strike zone. The result? Rebels slugger Austin Anderson hit a walk-off three-run homer over the right field wall to win the game 8-5. You can see a video of the bizarre finish, here, at the 4:20 mark:
South Carolina LHP Jordan Montgomery/Arkansas LHP Jalen Beeks: The Gamecocks and Razorbacks split a pair of games on Friday with Montgomery and Beeks shining in their respective performances. In the first game, a 2-1 South Carolina win, Montgomery struck out nine, walked three and allowed just a run on four hit sin seven innings, while in the second game, a 4-1 Arkansas win, Beeks continued his impressive season by striking out nine, walking one and allowing just a run on four hits in a complete game performance.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores got down in an early 3-0 hole to rival Tennessee on the road, but just when you thought they might be in trouble, the offense awoke with six runs in the middle frames. Vandy third baseman Xavier Turner hit a pair of doubles and shortstop Vince Conde had two hits and two RBIs to lead the offensive cause. Meanwhile, righthanded pitcher Tyler Beede battled his way through the night, striking out six, walking two and allowing four runs on five hits in eight innings.
Aaron Nola, rhp, LSU: I think LSU shortstop Alex Bregman said it best when he said "We're all seeing greatness" in reference to Nola. Nola again shined in a 3-0 win over Mississippi State, striking out 10, walking two and allowing just two hits in eight shutout frames.
A.J. Reed, lhp/1b, Kentucky: The Wildcats put together one of the better performances of the night in a 17-1 home win over Florida. Reed not only pitched a gem, but also helped himself out at the plate. Reed struck out three and allowed just five hits in seven shutout innings, while at the plate, he went 3-for-4 with a home run and an RBI.
UCLA: It's not easy to get through a marathon game unscathed, but the Bruins accomplished that in a 1-0, 11-inning road win over Long Beach State. Sophomore righthanded pitcher James Kaprielian tossed a gem with nine shutout frames, while relievers Nick Kern and David Berg stepped up, with Berg recording his ninth save of the season with an inning of work. LBSU wasted an outstanding effort from starting pitcher Andrew Rohrbach, who struck out three and allowed just five hits in eight innings.
Joe Pistorese, lhp, Washington State: It's been a tough road back, but the Cougars are back at .500 overall after a nice 3-0 home win over California. The veteran lefthanded pitcher tossed a gem against the Golden Bears, striking out five, walking two and allowing just five hits in a complete game shutout.
Ben Wetzler, lhp, Oregon State: Outstanding performances are the norm for Oregon State lefthanded pitcher Ben Wetzler. He was terrific yet again, allowing just a run (unearned) and four hits in a complete game performance, 4-1 win over Stanford.
Tom Coughlin, rhp, Central Connecticut State: The Blue Devils registered a 6-0 win over Mount St. Mary's with Coughlin leading the way. He struck out six, walked two and allowed just five hits in a complete game shutout performances.
Erick Fedde, rhp, UNLV: The Rebels hit the road and defeated Fresno State 6-0, with Fedde outdoing righthanded pitcher Jordan Brink. Fedde was terrific on the night, striking out 11, walking just one and allowing just five hits in seven shutout frames.
Michael Murray, rhp, Florida Gulf Coast: Murray is having quite the spring, and put together yet another solid start in a home win over Kennesaw State. He struck out four, didn't walk anyone and allowed just four hits in a complete game shutout.
Eric Skoglund, lhp, UCF: The Knights are getting rolling at the right time, improving to 7-0 in conference action after a 2-0 win over South Florida on Friday. UCF lefthanded pitcher Eric Skoglund is drawing some serious scouting interest in the Sunshine State, striking out eight, walking two and allowing just five hits in eight shutout innings in the win.
Kyle Freeland, lhp, Evansville: The outstanding lefthanded pitcher couldn’t have been much better in a road win over Charlotte. He struck out 15, walked one and allowed just two runs on four hits in a complete game performance, 3-2 victory.
Zac Curtis, lhp, Middle Tennessee State: The veteran lefthanded pitcher has earned rave reviews from his Conference USA counterparts this season, and was great again in an impressive 13-1 road win over Southern Miss. Curtis struck out 11, walked one and allowed just a run on nine hits in a complete game performance.
UC Santa Barbara: The middle of the Gauchos lineup has been very solid so far this season, and that trend continued Friday night in an impressive 8-6 road win over Cal Poly. Robby Nesovic hit a home run and knocked in three runs, while first baseman Tyler Kuresa went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs. On the mound, relievers Greg Mahle (3 shutout) and Dillon Tate (1.2 shutout) rose to the occasion to close out the contest.
Trey Lambert, rhp, Liberty: It was just another day of greatness for the talented righthanded pitcher. Lambert struck out five, walked one and allowed just six hits in a complete game shutout, 5-0 victory over Virginia Military.
Texas: Uh oh, the Longhorns have their mojo back. What was a staple for UT so long went to the side the past few seasons. However, it appears UT has a flare for the dramatic this season. Texas was down to its final out, down 4-2 in the ninth inning to Baylor. UT had bases loaded when outstanding outfielder Mark Payton deposited a base-clearing, walk-off double, to beat the Bears 5-4. Payton increased his batting average to .387 and should be in the mix for National Player of the Year honors.
Georgia Tech: Yellow Jackets relievers Matthew Gorst and Jonathan Roberts combined for four shutout innings of work, as they captured a 7-4 home win over Duke to begin a crucial ACC series. While those two led the way on the mound, outfielder Daniel Spingola led the way at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a double, two runs scored and two RBIs.
Wake Forest: In yet another huge ACC series, Wake Forest first baseman Matt Conway hit a pair of homers and knocked in four runs, as the Demon Deacons captured a 6-4 win over Maryland. Terps righthanded pitcher Jake Stinnett struck out nine and walked two, but allowed six runs on five hits in seven innings of work.
Sam Houston State: The Bearkats began the season incredibly hot, but have stumbled here recently, losing again on Friday, 7-4 on the road to Oral Roberts. SHSU righthanded pitcher Tyler Eppler allowed five runs on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings, while the offense wasn't able to do much against ORU starting pitcher Kurt Giller.
Kansas: Just two weeks after taking a road series over Texas, the Jayhawks are in a little trouble. They dropped last weekend’s home series to Oklahoma, and are now in a huge hole in their Big 12 series against rival Kansas State, dropping Friday’s contest 10-0. While the Jayhawks got a rough start from Jordan Piche, who allowed seven runs in five innings, K-State’s Levi MaVorhis was terrific, allowing just three hits in a complete game shutout.