TEAM OF THE DAY: Kentucky
The Wildcats entered Friday's contest against South Carolina with a fantastic 18-0 record, but with some doubt attached. Looking to make a statement, the Wildcats surprised the Gamecocks when veteran catcher Luke Maile smacked a two-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth to win the contest, 4-3. Outfielder Zac Zellers and first baseman A.J. Reed each had two hits in the game, while starting pitcher Taylor Rogers fought hard and the UK bullpen performed well. UK is one more win this weekend away from making a significant statement.
PLAYER OF THE DAY: Chris Stratton, rhp, Mississippi State
The Bulldogs are dealing with some significant injuries so far this spring, so Stratton knew he'd have to step his game up in the series opener against LSU. He did just that even though he wasn't able to guide the Bulldogs to victory. Stratton, who has a fastball that sits in the mid-to-upper 90s, struck out 17 batters and allowed just a run and four hits in 8 2/3 innings of work. He threw 137 pitches, 98 of them for strikes.
UPSET OF THE DAY: Murray State over Southern Mississippi
This wouldn't be a result for the Golden Eagles to shrug their shoulders about if this was basketball. Unfortunately, it's baseball, and Racers shocked Southern Miss, 11-6, down in Hattiesburg, Miss. This is the same Murray State team that was crushed by Purdue last weekend. Racers first baseman Mike Kozlowski 3-for-5 with a home run, two runs scored and three RBIs to pace the offense, while USM starting pitcher Jay Myrick was lifted after allowing three runs and five hits in four innings.
FIVE BEST TEAMS
Washington State: The Cougars aren't a bad team, but are looking to establish some consistency in Pac-12 play. They started things on the right foot Friday, as starting pitcher J.D. Leckenby tossed 6 1/3 shutout innings in a 6-0 triumph over Arizona. WSU was led at the plate by third baseman Patrick Claussen, who went 2-for-4 with two RBIs.
LSU: Though the performance put together by MSU's Chris Stratton headlined the day, how about Tigers right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman? The talented sophomore struck out 11 Bulldogs and allowed just a run and four hits in 8 2/3 innings, as the Tigers defeated State 3-2. Gausman threw 122 pitches, 80 of them for strikes.
UCLA: The showdown between the Sun Devils and Bruins was just one of many high-profile and fantastic matchups on Friday. UCLA second baseman Kevin Williams hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to propel the Bruins to a 6-5 triumph. UCLA starting pitcher Adam Plutko allowed five runs in 7 1/3 innings, while the bullpen was able to keep things together. Five Bruins finished the night with multi-hit performances.
Cal State Fullerton: The Titans took a huge step forward last weekend with a road series win over Texas A&M. They're already impressing this weekend, taking the first two games against Long Beach State, 2-1 ,and 2-1. In the first game, Titans starting pitcher Dylan Floro struck out five and allowed just a run and seven hits in eight innings. In game two, Titans freshman pitcher Kenny Mathews struck out six batters and allowed just a run and five hits in 7 2/3 innings.
Washington: It's safe to say coach Lindsay Meggs is doing a nice job with his club so far this season. The Huskies improved to 11-6 on Friday with a solid 8-3 win over Oregon. Huskies starting pitcher Aaron West struck out three and allowed three runs in six innings, while relievers Tyler Kane, Nick Palewicz and Joshua Fredendall were able to hold the Ducks scoreless to finish the game.
FIVE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS
Southern California: The Trojans have had a fine season thus far, but they've taken a big step back so far this week. They dropped a midweek bout to rival UCLA earlier this week before getting swept in a home doubleheader on Friday against Utah. Before Friday, the Utes entered the series with a 4-11 record. USC must finish the weekend with a victory.
Houston: The Cougars have done absolutely nothing offensively the past few games, and that trend once again reared its ugly head in a 14-0 loss to Oklahoma State. The Cougars were stymied by OSU left-handed pitcher Andrew Heaney, who struck out eight and allowed just three hits in a complete-game shutout. Meanwhile, UH starting pitcher Jared Ray allowed five runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings pitched.
Southern Mississippi: What a day it was to forget for the Golden Eagles, which dropped a rough 11-6 bout to Murray State. USM starting pitcher Jay Myrick was lifted after just four innings of work, while the bullpen didn't fare any better. Chase Horn allowed five runs and four hits in 1 2/3 innings of work, while Paxton King allowed three runs and five hits in 3 1/3 innings.
Texas A&M: Well, there's no question at this point the Aggies are going through a serious rut. All-American pitcher and top prospect, right-hander Michael Wacha, was touched for nine runs and 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings of work, as the Aggies dropped a 15-12 decision to Kansas State. The bullpen didn't fare much better, with closer Daniel Mengden getting touched up for four runs and five hits in an inning of work. The Aggies also committed three more errors.
Miami (Fla.): The Hurricanes certainly are expected to win a road series over Duke, but they'll have to win the final two games of the series to accomplish the goal. The 'Canes dropped a 5-1 decision to the Blue Devils with right-hander Marcus Stroman leading the way for Duke. Stroman struck out 13 batters and allowed just a run and six hits in seven innings of work. Miami starting pitcher Eric Erickson allowed five runs and 11 hits in 6 1/3 innings.
FIVE QUICK THOUGHTS
* Fans of SEC baseball had to be thrilled with the quality of play Friday night. Florida starting pitcher Hudson Randall threw well in a 10-2 win over Vanderbilt, Kentucky got a big-time home run from Luke Maile in an upset win over South Carolina, Arkansas reliever Barrett Astin was terrific in a 4-3 win over Alabama, LSU starting pitcher Kevin Gausman and Mississippi State starting pitcher Chris Stratton were fabulous in a Tigers 3-2 triumph, Ole Miss starting pitcher Bobby Wahl pitched a gem in a 2-1 win over Auburn and Georgia starting pitcher Alex Wood was fantastic in a 4-0 win over Tennessee. You'll notice a trend here: The SEC has some very legitimate Friday night starters. In a way, it's what sets this league apart from some others. Also, the level of play was just tremendous with two extra-inning affairs.
* Unless something drastic happens the next few weeks, there's a good chance Long Beach State will be completely out of the NCAA postseason picture by midseason. The Dirtbags started the season with a good series win over California, but haven't done much since. They dropped both ends of a Friday doubleheader with Cal State Fullerton, dropping to 5-12 overall. LBSU is hitting a dismal .224 so far this season, and must hit the road the next three weekends to face Wichita State, Cal Poly and UC Riverside. LBSU is in major trouble unless its offense makes a transformation.
* Speaking of disappointments the past couple of weeks, look at the Texas A&M defense and bullpen. The Aggies were well on their way to winning the Cal State Fullerton series last weekend before iffy pitching and sketchy defense took ahold of their situation. The Aggies committed three more errors on Friday in a disappointing loss to Kansas State. The Aggies are fielding .966 as a team, as third baseman Matt Juengel and shortstop Mikey Reynolds have fielding percentages of .864 and .943, respectively. On top of that, the Aggies rely heavily on Kyle Martin and Daniel Mengden in the bullpen. Martin is an above-average arm with a 4.91 ERA in 14 2/3 innings of work, while Mengden is a freshman with consistency issues. He has a 6.00 ERA after a bad showing Friday night against the Wildcats.
* It has been especially intriguing to follow UCLA's progress over the course of the past couple of weeks. After starting the season 1-3 and struggling immensely at the plate, the Bruins appeared to be in trouble. But after beating Arizona State and stud pitcher Brady Rodgers 6-5 on Friday night, the Bruins just continue to show signs of a championship-caliber team, finding ways to win games, such as Kevin Williams' walk-off home run to win the contest. You can point to a lot of things as reasons why the Bruins are making significant strides, but it begins and ends with the offense. The Bruins were dismal at the plate opening weekend, but now are hitting .304 with two key hitters hitting well over .400. They also have three more hitters hitting .340 or better. Credit the UCLA offense for helping right the ship.
* After starring as a reliever the last couple of seasons, there was at least a little concern how Duke right-handed pitcher Marcus Stroman would perform as a starting pitcher this season. Though there have been some bumps in the road for the elite MLB draft prospect, things, for the most part, have gone pretty well. He struck out 17 batters in a performance against George Washington a couple of weekends ago before being just OK against Florida State last weekend. This weekend, he once again is shining, putting together a stellar performance in a victory over Miami. Stroman struck out 13 batters and allowed just a run and six hits in seven innings. For the season, he's 2-2 with a 2.70 ERA in 33 1/3 innings. He also has struck out 52 and walked 13, while teams are hitting .198 against him. I'd say the experiment is working like a charm for now.
Kendall Rogers is the college baseball managing editor for Perfect Game and can be reached at email@example.com