The college baseball season already has some interesting surprises, but perhaps only a few teams have been more surprising than Oregon.
In addition to losing several key contributors from last year’s team, the Ducks dealt with some tough injuries from some key newcomers before the season began. Now, despite the setbacks, the Ducks are sitting at 5-1 following a huge series-opening win over Vanderbilt.
The Ducks headline our look back at Friday’s college baseball action.
TEAM OF THE DAY: Oregon
When asked about his team two months ago, it was easy to see coach George Horton had an uneasy feeling about the way things would progress this spring. Well, perhaps Horton’s hunch was completely wrong, because his Ducks are playing an impressive brand of baseball. The Ducks captured a series win over Hawaii last weekend, and started this weekend’s series against Vanderbilt with a 4-2 triumph to improve to 5-1. UO starting pitcher Alex Keudell allowed just two runs on five hits in seven innings, while Jimmie Sherfy did a tremendous job out of the bullpen.
PLAYER OF THE DAY: Josh Dezse, 1b, Ohio State
Georgia Tech ace pitcher Buck Farmer and the rest of the pitching staff made relatively easy work with most of Ohio State’s offensive lineup. However, the Yellow Jackets failed miserably to master Buckeyes big-time two-way player Josh Dezse. Dezse had an amazing day at the plate in the losing cause, going 3-for-3 with three home runs, three runs scored and three RBIs. Though it was a night to forget overall for OSU, Dezse’s performance certainly is one to remember.
UPSET OF THE DAY: Maine over Clemson
Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised given the fact coach Steve Trimper does such a nice job at Maine, but the Black Bears beating Clemson 6-5 to open their season certainly caused some around the nation to do a double take. The Black Bears got a solid start from ace pitcher Stephen Perakslis, who allowed just three runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings. They also got solid offensive performances from Colin Gay and Fran Whitten, who each finished the day with two hits and two RBIs. Maine’s big day overshadowed yet another positive start for Clemson’s Kevin Brady, who didn’t allow an earned run in five innings. He also struck out five.
FIVE BEST TEAMS
Oregon: The Ducks are one of the nation’s better stories in the early part of the season after suffering some tough injuries before the spring. Still, this team just continues to win. Starting pitcher Alex Keudell was great in a 4-2 win over Vanderbilt, while reliever Jimmie Sherfy struck out two in two perfect innings of relief work.
Baylor: We’re not real sure what’s in the Waco water these days, but whatever it is, I want some of it. The Bears continued their phenomenal play on Friday with a 15-3 triumph over UCLA. Both Nathan Orf and Logan Vick chipped in four hit and two RBI performances, while Adam Toth went 3-for-5 with three runs scored and two RBIs. To top things off, Trent Blank tossed three scoreless innings out of the bullpen to keep UCLA from rallying.
Troy: The Trojans could use a marquee road series win over Southern Mississippi, and they certainly started the weekend on the right foot. Troy veteran left-handed pitcher Tyler Ray was fantastic in a 3-0 win, striking out three and allowing just six hits in seven shutout frames. Troy reliever Nate Hill also performed at a high level, tossing two shutout innings to preserve the win.
Florida International: The Panthers desperately needed to start their weekend series against Florida State off on a positive note after getting swept at Rice last weekend. The Panthers did just that, defeating the Seminoles 8-5 in impressive fashion. Pablo Bermudez and Adam Kirsch led the way with three hits each, while the bullpen did a tremendous job with Eddy Pidermann and Michael Gomez leading the charge. Another win this weekend would help the Panthers forget all about that Rice series.
Stanford: Who wouldn’t mind already seeing the Cardinal play Florida in a three-game series? The Cardinal continues to play at an elite level, defeating Texas with ease, 7-2, in the opener of a three-game set. Stanford ace pitcher Mark Appel was fantastic in the contest, topping out in the mid 90s, striking out a career-high 10 batters and allowing just a run on three hits in seven innings. Meanwhile, Tyler Gaffney, Jake Stewart and sizzling first baseman Brian Ragira led the way at the plate with three hits each.
FIVE WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE
Clemson: Ace right-handed pitcher Kevin Brady gave the Tigers another solid start, but the bullpen was unable to take care of business in the 6-5 upset loss to Maine. Relievers Matt Campbell and Jonathan Meyer struggled. Campbell allowed two runs in two innings while Meyer allowed two runs in limited work. The Tigers must avoid a bad home series loss to the Black Bears.
Oregon State: There wasn’t a result on Friday that caused more of a double take than this one, as the Beavers dropped an 18-2 decision to struggling San Diego State. OSU starting pitcher Cole Baylis allowed eight runs in 4 1/3 innings, while the rest of the pitching staff didn’t exactly do a good job, either. Michael Conforto and Max Gordon’s two hits each was the highlight of the night for OSU.
Duke: The Blue Devils are off to a very poor start this spring. Sure, everyone expected them to drop that series at Texas last weekend. However, they started this weekend’s series against Canisius with a 5-4 setback in extra innings. Duke starting pitcher Marcus Stroman struck out 10 and allowed just two runs in seven innings, but the bullpen imploded. Poor night for the Devils.
UC Irvine: The Anteaters haven’t shown much offensively so far this season, and we’re wondering if that will be a recurring issue. Washington upset UCI down in Southern California, 3-0 in the series opener. UW starting pitcher Aaron West was fantastic, while UCI starter Matt Whitehouse allowed three runs in five innings. Jordan Fox was the lone Anteater to chip in a multi-hit performance.
College of Charleston: The Cougars began their series with Rhode Island on the wrong foot with a 9-5 setback. Perhaps most surprising, though, is the fact starting pitcher Josh Renfro was roughed up. Renfro allowed seven runs on four hits in just two innings. The bullpen slowed down the Rams a little, but the URI bullpen duo of Rob Curran and Mike Bradstreet were too strong.
FIVE QUICK THOUGHTS
* The Baylor baseball program certainly would agree at this point that winning in an athletic department is contagious. BU has had a phenomenal athletics year, from football to men’s basketball and beyond. The baseball team now appears ready to join that prestigious, though it’s still admittedly early. BU is playing a fantastic brand of baseball. After Friday’s dominant win over UCLA, the Bears are hitting .318 with three everyday starters hitting over .400. On the mound, the pitching staff has a fantastic 1.33 ERA with several pitchers still possessing a perfect earned-run average. Time will tell if the Bears can keep this up, but they certainly are one of the nation’s hottest teams for now.
* After striking out just five batters and not being extra crisp at times against Vanderbilt last weekend, there was plenty of buzz about Stanford ace pitcher and potential first draft pick Mark Appel. Well, Appel apparently heard about some of the critics because he put together a tremendous performance, perhaps his best, against Texas in a 7-2 win. Appel was consistently 93-94 with his fastball and had a nasty changeup and slider. He struck out a career-high 10 hitters and allowed just a run on three hits in seven innings. That certainly was the best I’ve seen Appel. Maybe he can string together some performances like this one. It certainly would silence any remaining doubters.
* It’s time to give a tip of the cap to some mid-major conferences out there. The Atlantic Sun had another successful night and is now 32-17 in non-conference games so far this season. Meanwhile, the Sun Belt had an incredible night, too, with a 10-0 record. There are some surprises in the Sun Belt. For instance, Louisiana-Monroe picked up a 2-0 win over Sam Houston State to improve to 5-1, Arkansas-Little Rock improved to 4-1 with a win at Belmont, Troy improved to 3-1 with a win over Southern Miss and Florida International picked up a huge win over Florida State. It’ll be interesting to see if the Sun Belt teams, and Atlantic Sun teams for that matter, can keep up their successful trend the rest of the weekend.
* Vanderbilt is my team to watch the rest of the weekend, and not for a good reason. Despite losing several key contributors from last year’s College World Series team, I still expected the Commodores to be solid this spring. Perhaps they still will be sooner rather than later, but it’s not looking good at this point. The ‘Dores dropped to 1-4 with a Friday loss to Oregon. Most troubling is the fact the Commodores didn’t have a single hitter finish the contest with a multi-hit performance. Vandy must take care of business in the final two games against Oregon. If not, those series against Rhode Island (who beat College of Charleston on Friday) and San Diego aren’t looking so incredibly winnable. Vandy’s will is being tested.
* Remember the name of Ole Miss ace right-handed pitcher Bobby Wahl. Not only is the sophomore hurler one of the top draft prospects for the draft class of 2013, he is the ultimate key to the Rebels’ postseason chances this spring. Wahl was fantastic in his start against UNC Wilmington on Friday. The talented righty struck out nine batters, walked two, and allowed just one hit in seven innings of work. Interestingly, he was 89-93 with his fastball, touching 94 at times. He also had a biting slider that was successful against the Seahawks. In two starts this season, Wahl is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in 12 innings. He also has struck out 11 and walked four, while teams are hitting him at a .158 clip.