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The countdown has ended. Three hundred and fourty four days since the 2020 College World Series was canceled, College Baseball has finally returned. After 11 months of questions, concerns and worry, collegiate baseball is back and hopefully better than ever. Though it might look a little different – with masks worn by team members and mandated social distance for fans – the game we all love is the exact same. Every beloved aspect and quirk of the game was missed: bat flips, walk-offs, pitchers’ duels, diving plays and of course, celebrations.

As expected, challenges and uncontrollable factors would rise to the occasion and spoil opening weekend for many teams. Winter weather, COVID outbreaks, cancelations and postponements were all too familiar in college baseball’s inaugural weekend. The State Farm College Baseball Showdown at Globe Life Stadium in Arlington – featuring six teams ranked in the top 20 – was delayed by a day. Projected number one pick and Vanderbilt ace Kumar Rocker‘s return to the mound was on hold. And numerous competitions and tournaments in the south were also affected.

As COVID continues to strike the college baseball world, the Ivy League became the first conference to pack up their bags and opt out of the 2021 season. With optimism rising as well as the vaccine in affect, the Ivy will most likely be the only conference to not play this spring. For other teams and conferences, many decided to delay the start of their season for a week or two. Anticipation builds as the wait to returning to the diamond continues. But with the right precautions and protocols, college baseball can continue safely. Let’s cross our fingers and hope for an action-packed season that ends in Omaha.

State Farm College Baseball Showdown

For the first time, college baseball was played at Globe Life Field this past weekend for the State Farm College Baseball Showdown. A battle of the top teams, who were all ranked in the top 20, took the field in a round robin three-game series. The competition included top-tier programs: No. 1 Ole Miss, No. 2 Arkansas, No. 5 Mississippi State, No. 10 Texas Tech, No. 14 TCU and No. 19 Texas.

The Ole Miss Rebels dismantled the competition while outscoring their opponents – TCU, Texas Tech and Texas – 20-8. A team OPS of .727 led to the Rebels’ success this past weekend. Sophomore Peyton Chatagnier led the team in offensive categories as he went 5-11 with four doubles and three RBI’s. With a dominating and undefeated performance, many power rankings have the Rebels ranked as high as number one in the nation.

Arkansas rounded out the weekend on a hot note as the they began 3-0. Surpassing the competition with a clean sweep, the pitching staff impressed. Peyton Palette received the opening weekend nod against Texas and certainly put on an impressive performance. Facing 17 batters, Palette struck out eight while allowing one hit and one walk in 4.1 IP. Later in the game, Caleb Bolden came into relief of the closely-contested ball game. Bolden dominated in 4.0 IP as he struck out seven while walking one. Besides the strong performance against Texas, the Razorbacks’ offense displayed their skills at the dish. Stringing together 21 runs, the most in the nation, the bats of Brady Slevens, Jalen Battles and Casey Optiz carved the way for the number two team in the nation. Arkansas certainly has the pieces to compete for a national title and it will be an exciting season for the Razorbacks.

Mississippi State had a strong performance this weekend as they finished 2-1 – while outscoring their opponents 21-8. Slugger Luke Hancock led the team at the dish as he went 7-12 with two home runs, five RBI’s and 13 total bases. Rowdey Jordan also added his flavor at the plate with four hits, two home runs and six RBI’s. The Miss. State Bulldogs will have a tough road battling the grueling competition of the SEC down the stretch as they aim their hopes high for Omaha. TCU also opened their season as 2-1 this weekend. In three low-scoring affairs, the Horned Frogs managed to keep all games close, while ultimately winning one. Though leaving with a weekend low .152 batting average, Luke Boyers led the team in hits with three while Tommy Sacco drove home two RBI’s in the recent contests. A major red flag comes as the team struck out a combined 39 times in three games. As TCU continues to be a nationally ranked top-ten team, the offense certainly has to get rolling sooner, rather than later.

Entering opening weekend, there were two teams many thought would go undefeated: No. 10 Texas Tech and No. 19 Texas. But, to a large surprise, they went winless through the weekend competition in Arlington. Texas Tech showed signs of life at the plate, but it wasn’t enough as they fell short by scores of 9-13, 4-5, and 5-11. Top-of-the-lineup bats shined as Dru Baker, Dylan Neuse, Cal Conley and Jace Jung all had two or more hits on three or more total bases. On the mound, the Texas Tech pitching staff faced adversity early. Starters Patrick Montverde and Mason Montgomery battled rough waters but ultimately finished strong after 4.0 IP in their season debuts. On the other hand, sophomore Micah Dallas was knocked around by the Ole Miss offense leading to 2.2 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 2 ER and 2 BB. As Texas Tech intends on taking home a Big 10 conference championship, the pitching staff needs to be locked in. As for Texas – the team crafted together a combined four runs all weekend as they struggled all around. The offense fell short while promising stars Mike Antico, Trey Faltine, Cam Williams and Eric Kennedy all batted under .200. The pitching was not much better as six arms let up two or more earned runs through the weekend. The Longhorns, led by Head Coach David Pierce, will need to switch the gears as they look to have a strong rest of the season.

Caleb Pendleton, FAU

Former Major League Baseball star Fernando Tatis made history in 1999 by hitting two grand slams in the same inning. Tatis became the first MLB player to accomplish that feat. On Saturday, FAU freshman catcher Caleb Pendleton nearly duplicated Tatis’ historic performance night. In his first two collegiate at bats, Pendleton crushed two grand slams (!!) – in the same inning against UCF. Two college at-bats, two grand slams. Have a day Caleb Pendleton!

No. 21 Miami Hurricanes Takes Down No. 1 Florida

Yankees and Red Sox. Cubs and Cardinals. Dodgers and Giants. University of Florida and University of Miami.

A historic rivalry between the two inter-state schools, Univ. of Florida and Univ. of Miami, etched a new chapter in the record books as the two top ranked teams battled it out for a three-game set in Gainesville. It’s hard to picture a better way of welcoming the new season than watching Miami and Florida battle it out under the lights.

The No. 21 ranked Hurricanes came into Gainsville as the scrappy underdogs looking to take down the number one team in the nation, the Florida Gators. It wasn’t pretty, but the ‘Canes got the job done in a full-fledge team effort resulting in a 2-1 series win. The offense led by top catching prospect Adrian Del Castillo, leadoff batter Jordan Lala and Raymond Gil propelled Miami into the win column. A ninth inning comeback, capped off by an extra inning bullpen battle led to the defeat of the Gators. Stealing two games of the three-game weekend set, Miami was firing on all cylinders as they landed their first series win over Florida since 2014. Stunning the undisputed number one team in the nation, Miami will be a gritty team to face down the stretch this season.

San Francisco Topples No. 2 UCLA

If you were to predict that the number one and number two teams in the nation would be upset in the opening weekend, wellyou should probably buy a lottery ticket because that’s exactly what happened. No. 21 ranked Miami takes down Florida in Gainesville, and on the west coast No. 2 ranked UCLA fell short to San Francisco in Los Angeles. A true 16 vs. 1 seed, David vs. Goliath matchup was on our hands this past weekend.

A combination of veterans and newcomers, capitalizing on opportunities, outsmarting the defense and streaky offense led to a powerful upset for the Bruins at Jackie Robinson Stadium. San Fran.’s experienced arms of Landen Bourassa and Alex Pham held the top-tier Bruins offense to just one run in eight combined innings. Escaping trouble and preserving with confidence through it all, San Fran. expected nothing less than a resilient win. A solution with the perfect answers at the right times led to the historic upset. The opening night win against the Bruins was the first win over a nationally ranked team since March 2016 against No. 4 Oregon State.

Photo: Gaslamp Ball