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Washington surging in Pac-12 with mostly same lineup turning up power

FILE - Washington's AJ Guerrero takes a swing during an at-bat in an NCAA college baseball game against Utah on Sunday, March 12, 2023, in Seattle. Guerrero is batting .344 for the Huskies, who have won 11 of 12 games and are the hottest team in the Pac-12. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Washington is the hottest team in the Pac-12 under first-year coach Jason Kelly, who has rebranded the Huskies with a new offensive philosophy and gotten more than he could have imagined from a Division III transfer who's on track to become a high draft pick.

The Huskies (32-14, 16-10) have won six straight games and 11 of 12, and they'll finish second in the conference behind Stanford if they win two of three at home against California this week.

Washington is coming off its first sweep over Oregon since 2009. The Huskies' 43 runs in the three games were their most in a Pac-12 series since 2004. They scored at least five runs in five of the 27 innings.

Kelly has changed an offense that tended to play small ball under Lindsay Meggs into one that hunts for home runs. The Huskies have 68 in 46 games after hitting 48 in 56 games last year. They average 7.5 runs per game, up from 5.7. They have one sacrifice bunt, down from 16.

Interestingly, the transformation has occurred with a lineup that returned six of its everyday players from the 2022 team that went 30-26 overall and 14-16 in the conference. Will Simpson has hit a team-high 17 homers, up from 11, and five players have at least eight. Last year only two players had more than six.

Kelly was the Washington pitching coach from 2013-19. Before he returned he was exposed to power offenses while at Arizona State and LSU. He recruited many of the current Washington players, and he said he thought it was a style that would fit them.

“I went back and watched a ton of video, and I really liked the group and felt with a different energy we could do a lot with these players,” Kelly said. “They've proved us right every step of the way.”

On the mound, Stu Flesland III has gone from being mainly a reliever last season to the No. 1 starter, and Jared Engman is in the weekend rotation for a second straight year.

Kiefer Lord has been the most pleasant surprise, earning the No. 2 starter's job after transferring from Division III Carleton College in Minnesota. He's 6-3 with 4.03 ERA and 72 strikeouts against just 15 walks.

Lord had an 81-mph fastball when he came out of high school. He spent the 2020 pandemic shutdown developing physically, and now he touches 99 mph with his fastball while mixing in a plus slider, solid curve and a changeup. He's projected to be picked in the first four rounds of the Major League Baseball draft in July.

“He's really in the infancy stage of figuring out who he is with this velocity and with this pitch repertoire," Kelly said. “Whoever drafts him is going to be getting an unfinished product in a very, very positive way.”

IN THE POLLS

Wake Forest (42-8), which won two of three at Florida State to clinch its first ACC regular-season title since 1963, is again the consensus No. 1 team in the polls.

Arkansas (38-13) is a season-high No. 2 by D1Baseball.com, Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball newspaper. Stanford (34-14) is third by D1Baseball and Collegiate Baseball; Florida (40-12) is No. 3 by Baseball America.

HOT HAWKEYES

Iowa is coming off a home sweep of Michigan State and is on track for its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2017. The Hawkeyes have won 12 of 14 overall and nine of 11 in the Big Ten entering their final series at last-place Northwestern.

The Hawkeyes are 5-1 since leading hitter Keaton Anthony was suspended for his alleged involvement in sports wagering.

Iowa leads the Big Ten with a 4.19 ERA and Brody Brecht is first in the conference with 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings. The Hawkeyes are scoring 8.4 runs per game.

RAKING RIOS

Stanford got three home runs, a double, single and nine RBIs from Alberto Rios in a 21-20, 10-inning loss to Stanford on Sunday. Rios also had a five-hit game on March 5 when he had a school-record 11 RBIs against Cal State Bakersfield.

AROUND THE HORN

Arkansas' Hunter Hollan struck out a career-high 10 and retired 19 in a row over a stretch of its 5-1 win over South Carolina on Sunday, the Razorbacks' first nine-inning complete game against an SEC opponent since 2016. ... NJIT has won eight home games, and six have been walk-offs. Andrew Elcock’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning produced a 5-4 win over Maine on Sunday. ... Big 12 leader West Virginia needs one win to match the school record of 40 set in 1994.

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