Pac-12 baseball facing tough non-conference slate this weekend
Pac-12 baseball improved their non-conference record to 49-29-1 in week two of 2014, picking up five wins over ranked opponents. Two Pac-12 teams remain unbeaten as Oregon (7-0) and USC (7-0) continue to pull out close games. The Ducks’ have won four run-one games while the Trojans have used walk-off magic in four of seven games to keep their record perfect so far. The Conference continues to play close games, with four going to extra innings and 11 total decided by two runs or less. Some significant movement took place in Baseball America’s top-25 and three teams continue to be ranked: OREGON STATE (4), OREGON (9), and UCLA (19). After an impressive first two weeks, USC garnered its first national rankings, coming in at No. 29 in the latest Collegiate Baseball top-30. ARIZONA STATE and ARIZONA also earned praise in the polls this week. The non-conference slate will continue to challenge Pac-12 baseball teams in week three. CALIFORNIA, UCLA and ARIZONA STATE will compete in tournaments over the weekend, with UCLA traveling across country to face Notre Dame, No. 6/7 NC State and Michigan in the Notre Dame Classic in Cary, N.C. Oregon and USC will face their toughest tests over the weekend, putting their unblemished records on the line. No. 29 USC hosts No. 13/14 Cal Poly for a three game series and No. 9/3 Oregon welcomes No. 5/10 Cal State Fullerton for the first three games of the Ducks’ 15-game homestand. Arizona, WASHINGTON and Oregon State are all hosting games while STANFORD, UTAH, and WASHINGTON STATE will all be on the road. The Cardinal continues a tough road trip, traveling to face No. 8/4 Vanderbilt.
PAC-12 BASEBALL NOTES
The Wildcats split their first midweek series of 2014 in a pair of extra-inning games against Utah State, losing the second game in a 10-inning contest. Over the weekend, Arizona swept Alcorn State as flight cancelations caused the team to play three games in two days. In the three wins, the Wildcats scored 37 runs while giving up just 2 on 15 hits. James Farris picked up his second win of the year by throwing a complete game shutout, marking the fifth complete game of his career and the second in which he’s thrown a shutout. On the year, Farris has tallied 19 strikeouts, two walks and a 0.54 earned run average (tied for third in the Conference) in 16.2 innings pitched. Offensively, Arizona was paced by sophomore outfielder Scott Kingery, who hit .500 with five RBI over five games en route to earning Pac-12 Player of the Week honors. Arizona currently leads the Pac-12 in batting average (.359), slugging percentage (.447), on base percentage (.439), runs scored (72), hits (109) and runs batted in (62).
Arizona State (3-4)
The Sun Devils will be looking to bounce back after going 1-3 this weekend, including 1-2 at the Long Beach State Tournament over the weekend. ASU got another solid performance from sophomore left-hander Brett Lilek in its 7-2 win over Wright State on Sunday. Lilek started and pitched a career-long six innings, striking out five while allowing just two runs on a pair of hits to pick up his first win of the season. Over the middle innings, he retired eight straight batters. In two starts this season, he has given up just four hits and struck out 12 in 10 innings of work. Leading the offense so far this year for the Sun Devils is sophomore catcher RJ Ybarra, who is hitting .400 (8-for-20) with two RBI, two doubles and one run scored.
The Bears are off to a solid start in 2014, picking up three wins over the weekend at the Tiger Classic in Auburn, Ala. to move to 5-2 overall. California recorded shutouts against Eastern Tennessee State and Auburn on Friday and Saturday, and gave up just three runs to Arkansas Pine-Bluff to close out the tournament on Sunday. Last week’s Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week, freshman Daulton Jefferies, was again stellar, notching his second win of the season after giving up just two hits and no runs in seven innings in the 3-0 shutout of Eastern Tennessee State. Jefferies has now throw 13.0 shutout innings with 12 strikeouts in his first two collegiate starts. The Bears offense was paced by senior outfielder Vince Bruno, who went 3-for-8 in the three games, collecting a home run and four RBI.
The Ducks moved into the top-10 in the rankings as they remain unbeaten after a road sweep of Loyola Marymount last weekend. After handling the Lions 12-2 in the opening game of the series, Oregon had to grind out consecutive one-run wins to keep a zero in the loss column. Leading the Ducks’ offense this week was junior outfielder Kyle Garlick, who went 6-for-11 (.545) with five RBI, two doubles, one home run and three runs scored. In Sunday’s game, Loyola pitched around Garlick, walking him four times. Right-handed hurler Jake Reed picked up his second and third saves of 2014 on Saturday and Sunday, giving up just one hit and striking out three to preserve the pair of one-run victories.
Oregon State (6-2)
The Beavers went 3-2 at their second-straight tournament in Arizona to kick off the 2014 season, picking up wins over Pacific and Indiana in the Pac-12/Big 10 Challenge in Surprise, Ariz followed by a win over Washington in a non-conference contest on Monday. In the three wins, OSU pitchers gave up just three runs on 14 hits, including a 7-0 shutout against Pacific. The biggest win of the weekend came over 10th-ranked Indiana, as senior right-hander Scott Schultz pitched a superb game against the Hoosiers, recording a complete game in just his fifth-career start. Schultz gave up six hits and one run without giving up a walk and retired 10 batters in a row in the middle innings. In 16 innings of work this season, Schultz has allowed just three runs on 12 hits while only walking two and striking out nine. After recording his second win on the season over the weekend, his ERA is 1.69 and opponents are batthing just .211 against him. His complete effort was the second by a Pac-12 pitcher this season.
The Cardinal went 2-2 last week, picking up a 9-3 win at home in a lone midweek game, then went on to take one game from No. 18 Texas on the road. After dropping the first two games of the series against the Longhorns and scoring just six runs in two games, Stanford found its bats in game three as they powered to an 11-5 win in the series finale. Junior third baseman Alex Blandino continues to be an offensive workhorse for the Cardinal as he went 7-for-16 (.438) over the four games, collecting 4 RBI, one homerun and six runs scored. Blandino is the only Stanford player who has hit safely in each game this season. In Sunday’s win over No. 18 Texas, freshman Chris Viall started and went 4.1 innings, giving up four hits and just one run before John Hochstatter relieved him to earn the win.
The top-20 ranked Bruins faced one of the toughest non-conference tests this weekend as they hosted No. 22 Cal Poly for a three-game tilt. After winning the series-opener on Friday night 5-2, the UCLA offense struggled to find its groove against the Mustang’s Saturday and Sunday starters as they only managed 1 run in a pair of back-to-back losses. A bright spot of the weekend was sophomore right-hander James Kaprielian, who in just his second-collegiate start tossed seven strong innings to earn the win on Friday. He allowed just three hits and one run while striking out a career-high nine batters and walking one. Through two games he has posted a 1.50 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 12 innings pitched. Earlier in the week the Bruins picked up a 7-1 win at home as it hosted Cal State Northridge in a midweek game. Offensively, freshman infielder Luke Persico led the way, going 5-for-13 (.385) with two RBI, three runs scored, three triples and one double to help the Bruins to the pair of wins. His best game came in the win against No. 22 Cal Poly, where he went 4-for-4 with two triples, a double, a run scored and an RBI. His .667 slugging percentage leads the team and is tied for second in the Pac-12.
Picked to finish near the bottom of the Pac-12, the Trojans under second-year head coach Dan Hubbs are off to a surprisingly good start, going unbeaten through the first seven games, winning four in dramatic fashion. USC started off its week with a midweek game against then No. 2-ranked Cal State Fullerton. The red-hot Trojan offense knocked in six runs while a trio of pitchers--Brent Wheatley, Sean, Alder and James Guillen--allowed only four hits and one run all night to the Titans. USC then hosted North Dakota State for a Friday-Sunday weekend series, taking all three games from the Bison to remain undefeated. The sweep didn’t come easy as it took a come-from-behind effort in a 4-3 walkoff win. Down 3-0 heading into the bottom of the eighth, the Trojans didn’t go down without a fight, posting two runs to pull within one. A 1-2-3 top of the ninth set up the dramatic finish as sophomore Timmy Robinson connected on a two RBI single to seal the victory. After a 9-0 shutout victory on Saturday, the series finale again came down to the wire. After relinquising the lead in the top of the 12th inning, the Trojan’s walkoff magic continued, this time the hero being Omar Cotta Lozada, who blasted a three run homer in the bottom of the 12th to lift USC to the win. Robinson was the offensive star of the week, going 7-for-20 (.350) with 4 RBI and scoring two runs.
The Utes were again on the road in the second week of the season, representing the Pac-12 in the Pac-12/Big 10 Challenge in Surprise, Ariz. where they nabbed two out of three from the Big 10 with wins over No. 10 Indiana and Nebraska. The Utes and the Hoosiers played a marathon 15-inning game that was decided by a Cory Hunt game-winning walk off single that gave the Utes a 5-4 win. Hunt had an impressive weekend, collecting a team-high six hits with a .500 (6-for-12) batting average with two RBI and just one strikeout while recording eight putouts, 10 assists and no errors in the field. Senior pitcher Nick Green pitched seven innings in relief to set up a chance for the walkoff single. His three hit, one run performance in his longest-relief appearance earned him Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week honors-- the first Ute pitcher to win the award since Utah became a member of the Pac-12 in 2012. Utah posted the best record of the Pac-12 teams participating in the tournament as Oregon State and Washington both went 1-2.
Washington also represented the Conference in the Pac-12/Big 10 Challenge in Surprise, Ariz. going 1-2 in the tournament and then dropped a close one to Oregon State in a tournament encore on Monday. The Huskies fell in the first two games to No. 10 Indiana (8-2) and Nebraska (13-3) with the offense and pitching staff struggling to find its footing. UW was able to salvage a win vs. Michigan State on Sunday, downing the Spartans 4-1. Junior right-hander Jeff Brigham had a more than solid day, picking up his second win in 2014 after missing all of 2013 because of Tommy John surgery on his throwing soldier. Brigham went 7.0 innings, giving up just two hits, one earned run, two walks while striking out one. His 1.50 ERA is third on the team while his two wins are first. Robert Pehl paced the offense, going 5-for-11 (.455) during the week with a home run, two RBI and a slugging percentage of .909. The Huskies came up just short on Monday against the No.4 Beavers as their come-back stalled in the ninth-inning, losing 3-2.
Washington State (1-5)
The Cougars had had a tough first two weeks of 2014, dropping four in a row after starting the season 1-1, followed by two canceled games due to winter weather in the Northwest on their home-opening series of the year. Redshirt sophomore third baseman Nick Tanielu has been a steady bat for the Cougars’ offense, averaging a team-best (min. 20 at bats) .435 batting average (10-for-23)--which currently ranks seventh in the Conference--while his slugging percentage (.565) ranks 11th. Ian Hamilton and Sean Hartnett lead the pitching staff, posting earned run averages of 0.00 and 1.42, respectively. Hamiton, a freshman, has given up just two hits in four innings pitched while his first collegiately victory came against then No. 1 Cal State Fullerton in the first weekend of play.