State of the Ace: Smith Dominates Again, Piles up 14 K’s Against Kentucky

Smith has 125 strikeouts in 66 innings and the Razorbacks are unbeaten when he pitches.

hagen smith

Welcome to State of the Ace, a Saturday morning look at the best performances by Friday starters throughout the country.

It’s basically clockwork at this point. Arkansas ace Hagen Smith has been the best pitcher in college baseball from his second start on and was locked in on Friday night in a massive game against No. 8 Kentucky.

The second-ranked Razorbacks are fighting the Wildcats for the SEC regular season title and they landed the first blow behind Smith, who struck out 14 — three shy of his season high — and allowed a single run on three hits and two walks in a 10-3 win. The junior lefthander has 125 strikeouts in just 66 innings this year and a 1.36 ERA — a mark that drops to 0.97 if you remove his abbreviated start against James Madison to open the year.

In SEC play, Smith has fanned double-digit batters in all but one start against Alabama. He’s logged eight straight quality starts. The Razorbacks weekend rotation as a whole has been magnificent: They lead the nation in weekend starters ERA at 2.43 (40 points ahead of South Carolina) and are posting a gaudy 13.6 K/9 over 170-plus innings.

Against Kentucky, Smith set down the first eight batters he faced. Back-to-back hits, including a RBI double from Ryan Waldschmidt, brought the only run in against him in the third. He responded by easily navigating around a few baserunners the rest of the way and left with a three-run lead and another excellent outing.

Let’s look at some of the other top pitching performances from Friday:

Luke Jewett (UCLA Athletics Photo)

Luke Jewett, UCLA (vs. Cal State Fullerton) — ND, 8 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 9 K

A reliever turned starter, Jewett turned in his best start of the year but took a tough no decision against Fullerton at Angel Stadium. The junior fanned nine over eight scoreless innings, scattering two hits and two walks before Fullerton went on to win in 12 innings.

Carter Gaston, Portland (vs. San Francisco) — W, 8 IP, 3 H, R, 2 BB, 9 K

Another day, another quality start from a Portland pitcher. That’s now 22 quality starts for the staff, tops in D1. After Nick Brink’s complete game yesterday, Gaston fanned nine over eight innings of one-run ball. The sophomore is 7-0 with a 2.70 ERA over eight starts.

Braden Davis, Oklahoma (vs. Texas Tech) — W, 7 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 8 K

Oklahoma continues to pace the Big 12 and Davis has played a big part of it. He’s turned in four excellent starts in a row — all wins — against Kansas State, BYU, Texas, and now Texas Tech. Seven scoreless with eight strikeouts, that’ll play.

Tyler Stromsborg, USC (vs. California) — W, 7 IP, 3 H, 4 K

It’s been an up-and-down season for the Trojans but they’re now 12-9 in the Pac-12 after Stromsborg’s gem against the Bears. He only struck out four, but didn’t allow a walk and scattered three hits over seven scoreless frames in a 5-1 win. It was a much-needed bounce-back for the junior after he allowed eight runs last week against Arizona State.

Trey Yesavage, East Carolina (vs. USF) — W, 7 IP, 5 H, R, 11 K

Like Smith, Yesavage is a fixture on this report. He’s third in the country in strikeouts behind Smith & Wake Forest’s Chase Burns after turning in a 11-strikeout performance against USF. That’s five straight starts with 11 or more strikeouts and the Pirates have won his last six starts. Over that span, he has a 1.36 ERA and a 15.9 K/9.

Leighton Finley, Georgia (vs. Vanderbilt) — W, 6 IP, 3 H, 3 BB, 11 K

The sophomore turned in his best start of the year in a ranked matchup against Vanderbilt, fanning 11 over six scoreless frames. It was Finley’s longest outing and came after a promising start against Texas A&M — five innings, two runs, seven strikeouts. He’s 4-1 with a 4.53 ERA on the year.

Billy Oldham, Southern Miss (vs. Coastal Carolina) — W, 7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 11 K

The senior righty turned in his second straight game with double-digit strikeouts, holding a potent Coastal Carolina lineup to two runs on four hits across seven innings. Oldham has given the Golden Eagles plenty of depth as of late — that’s three starts of seven innings in a row, a strong turnaround after Georgia State got to him for nine runs in three innings. He’s 6-1 with 80 strikeouts in 70-plus innings this year.

Patrick Gardner, FDU (vs. Norfolk State) — W, 7 IP, 4 H, R, BB, 12 K

Gardner’s no stranger to a good outing — he posted a 90 Game Score in a shutout of Delaware State — and had another strong night against Norfolk State. The lefty set a season-high in strikeouts (12) and gave up one run on four hits in a 11-1 rout.

Featured Image via Gunnar Rathbun/ Arkansas Athletics