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College  | Story  | 3/17/2016

Weekend Preview: Week 5

Patrick Ebert      Andrew Krause      Jheremy Brown      Mike Rooney     
Photo: Richard Lewis/Miami Athletics

Perfect Game Top 25 | Freshmen dominate to open 2016National Notebook | Perfect Game College Baseball on SiriusXM College Sports

Conference play begins in more and more locations across the country, most notably in the SEC and Pac-12, with several key matchups set to take place from coast-to-coast. There are four series that pit Top 25-ranked teams against one another, each of which is detailed below.

Similar to last weekend there are also several key series that include teams just on the outside of the Top 25 hoping to make a statement to squeeze their way in. We have identified six such series below.

Stay tuned to Perfect Game throughout the weekend as Perfect Game will be scattered across the country providing updates from key series. Andrew Krause will be in Gainesville, Fla. to watch the No. 1 Gators host the No. 24 Mizzou Tigers, Brian Sakowski will be in Stillwater to catch No. 20 Michigan at No. 23 Oklahoma State and Jheremy Brown will be on hand to watch Bryant's James Karinchak on Friday. Steve Fiorindo will take in No. 12 Cal at USC on Thursday night, which will include the matchups between Daulton Jefferies and Kyle Davis, while Mike Rooney join Steve in Los Angeles to catch Mike Shawaryn and Maryland face Cal State Fullerton among other key So Cal series.

Top 25 in Action

Rk. Team Opponent Location
1 Florida home vs. No. 24 Missouri Gainesville, FL
2 Vanderbilt home vs. No. 15 Mississippi State Nashville, TN
3 Texas A&M at Auburn Auburn, AL
4 Louisville at No. 9 Miami Coral Gables, FL
5 Oregon State home vs. Arizona State Corvallis, OR
6 Louisiana State home vs. Alabama Baton Rouge, LA
7 Texas Christian home vs. West Virginia Fort Worth, TX
8 North Carolina at Duke Durham, NC
9 Miami home vs. No. 4 Louisville Coral Gables, FL
10 Mississippi at Tennessee Knoxville, TN
11 Florida State at Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA
12 California at Southern California Los Angeles, CA
13 Virginia home vs. Wake Forest Charlottesvile, VA
14 NC State home vs. Notre Dame Raleigh, NC
15 Mississippi State at No. 2 Vanderbilt Nashville, TN
16 Oregon home vs. Utah Eugene, OR
17 Arkansas at South Carolina Columbia, SC
18 UCLA home vs. Washington State Los Angeles, CA
19 Houston home vs. Grand Canyon Houston, TX
20 Michigan at No. 23 Oklahoma State Stillwater, OK
21 Clemson home vs. Boston College Clemson, SC
22 Coastal Carolina at Longwood Farmville, VA
23 Oklahoma State home vs. No. 20 Michigan Stillwater, OK
24 Missouri at No. 1 Florida Gainesville, FL
25 Texas Tech at Baylor Waco, TX

Marquee Matchup #1

No. 15 Mississippi State at No. 2 Vanderbilt

In case Mississippi State’s offense didn’t prove itself last weekend by sweeping the Oregon Ducks, who have assembled one of the top three-man rotations in the country, they go up against another juggernaut of talent this weekend in Nashville. Not only did the Bulldogs sweep Oregon, but they outscored them by 14 runs throughout the series and appear to be firing on all cylinders.

Jordan Sheffield (Vanderbilt Athletics)
The Friday night mound matchup is guaranteed to be standing room only as No. 2 Vanderbilt’s Jordan Sheffield and No. 15 Mississippi State’s Dakota Hudson are two of the hottest commodities in all of college baseball. Sheffield entered the spring with plus stuff across the board but the command and ability to miss bats were both questions, though both have been quickly answered. With a 1.09 ERA and a .209 average against, Sheffield has been remarkable this spring for Coach Tim Corbin and the command hasn’t been a factor whatsoever, with just seven walks and 36 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings. His fastball works comfortably in the low- to mid-90s and he’s capable of carrying 95 deep into an outing, while his changeup and breaking ball have both shown plus.

Like Sheffield, Hudson seems to improve with each start and through 23 2/3 innings he maintains a 1.90 ERA with twice the amount of strikeouts to walks. His fastball is also on par with Sheffield’s, as Hudson will work in the 93-96 mph range deep into an outing while touching higher early on, and his cutter, a 90-91 mph offering, is one of the best off-speed pitches in all of college baseball.

While the two aces are the headliners, the rest of each rotation is of equal, high-end quality. Vanderbilt will send lefty Ben Bowden and righty Kyle Wright to the bump on Saturday and Sunday, while State will counter with Austin Sexton – who is coming off a 12-strikeout performance – and lefthander Daniel Brown, who is 2-0 on the year. The talent on the mound doesn’t end there as each club has both quality and depth to their ‘pens, evidenced by their cumulative team ERAs (Vanderbilt 2.53, Mississippi State 2.94).

Both teams could rely on their arms and scratch across a couple of runs and take most weekend series, but neither offense is built for that as they score frequently and never let up. Vandy’s Jeren Kendall has continued to perform at the highest level and it’s scary to think he’s just 17 games into his sophomore season as he’s already made noticeable adjustments to his approach which has helped him slash .400/.487/.700 with two triples and four home runs while swiping 13 bases. Freshman Alonzo Jones has wasted little time adjusting to college pitching as his .340 average is second best on the team, while potential first rounder Bryan Reynolds has done his thing at the plate as expected, hitting .339 with two home runs and a steady feel for the barrel.

The Bulldogs are just as impressive offensively where they’re led by Jack Kruger, who despite being in his first season with State, is leading the club in nearly every statistic with a .410 batting average, nine doubles and three home runs, a statistic he’s tied with junior catcher Gavin Collins. Fast-twitch outfielder Jacob Robson has performed as expected atop the order as he continues to show remarkable zone awareness (18 walks, 11 strikeouts), which has led to a .389 batting average to go with his nine stolen bases in nine attempts. Outfielder Brent Rooker is similar to Hudson in that he doesn’t have a lengthy track record at the SEC level but he’s built off of his breakout summer season carrying the momentum into 2016 hitting .377-2-20 through 15 games, and was recently tabbed the SEC Player of the Week for his offensive output against the Ducks.

In short, these are two ultra-talented, Omaha-caliber teams who are loaded in talent from a scouting perspective, giving glimpses at the next three years and providing an early season matchup that is sure to ignite fireworks and make for a great weekend at The Hawk.

Marquee Matchup #2

No. 4 Louisville at No. 9 Miami

Nick Solak (University of Louisville Sports Information)
One would be hard pressed to find a weekend series with more high-end talent than Louisville at Miami. Players like Zack Collins, Bryan Garcia, Corey Ray, Kyle Funkhouser and Nick Solak are some of the best performers in college baseball. And we'll put Brendan McKay in a separate sentence since he is from another planet.

Many of the most dangerous hitters in this series are lefthanded (Ray, McKay, Blake Tiberi, Collins, Willie Abreu, Johnny Ruiz) and that is interesting because five of the six starting pitchers in this series are lefthanded as well.

That is also intriguing because it leaves both clubs lacking in lefthanded options at the end of the game, especially since current starters Drew Harrington and Michael Mediavilla were previously key options in their respective bullpens.  So this begs the question, will the lefty bats be held in check early in games and then explode late when the game is on the line and no lefthanded specialists are available?

Another matchup to watch will be the run tool of Corey Ray versus Zack Collins the defensive catcher. Certainly Collins is known as an offensive catcher but that is more of a compliment to his elite hit tool than a critique of his defense. However, Ray leads the nation with 20 steals and Louisville has always loved to press the issue under Dan McDonnell.

Either way you slice it, this series is a battle of the stars. Miami has huge talent in spots with limited depth overall. Meanwhile, Louisville is hungry for a statement after losing a home Super Regional followed by their recent series loss to Ole Miss. This is a weekend series that will be remembered and don't be surprised if Zack Collins is the best player on the field.

Marquee Matchup #3

No. 20 Michigan at No. 23 Oklahoma State

The Wolverines are back on the road again this weekend as they travel to Stillwater, coming off of a four-game sweep of Hawaii last weekend in Honolulu after spending nearly two weeks in California.

Michigan heads into play at 11-3 versus an Oklahoma State team that sits at 11-6, riding a five-game winning streak that includes a midweek win over Dallas Baptist and a three-game sweep of Abilene Christian last weekend.

Evan Hill (U-M Photo Services)
Michigan has gotten off to such a tremendous start thanks in large part to their pitching staff, which has posted a miniscule 1.83 team ERA through 14 games. Their de facto No. 4 starter, sophomore Oliver Jaskie, has yet to allow an earned run through 16 2/3 innings pitched, and he may not even start this weekend. The weekend combination of Brett Adcock, Ryan Nutof and Evan Hill has been tremendous for Coach Erik Bakich, and if the Wolverines are to continue to roll against the Cowboys, the pitching will need to lead the way.

On the other side, Oklahoma State has pitched extremely well in their own right, with a team ERA of 2.42. They’ve had to juggle the rotation a bit to compensate for Garrett Williams, who is still out with an injury, but their presumed rotation of Thomas Hatch, Jensen Elliott and Trey Cobb has done a tremendous job, as all three have ERA’s under 3.00.

Thanks to all of this pitching from both sides, runs will presumably be at a premium throughout this series, putting additional pressure on the two offenses.

Michigan’s junior catcher Harrison Wenson has been a revelation at the plate for the Wolverines, hitting .404 in his first season as the starter while leading the team in several additional offensive categories including home runs, RBI, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Leadoff man Jake Bivens is hitting .373 and rarely strikes out, while newcomer Matt Ramsey has really done a good job stepping right in and adding balance to a lineup that lost Jacob Cronenworth and Travis Maezes from a year ago.

In a surprise to no one, senior shortstop Donnie Walton leads Oklahoma State in batting average (.373) and on-base percentage (.487) while playing his usual steady defense. Junior first baseman Dustin Williams has already belted six home runs to go with his team-leading 21 RBI, and senior outfielder Corey Hassel is among the team leaders in batting average, extra-base hits and stolen bases.

On paper this looks to be a matchup of pretty evenly matched squads, with high-end starting pitching on the agenda throughout the weekend. It may just come down to whoever gets the right bounces in the right moments.

Marquee Matchup #4

No. 24 Missouri at No. 1 Florida

The first weekend of Southeastern Conference play has many of intriguing matchups, one of which will take place in Gainesville as the top-ranked Florida Gators play host to the 24th-ranked Missouri Tigers.

Reggie McClain (Kyle Mazabob)
It should be remembered that last season the Tigers were able to capture a series victory against the Gators in Columbia, so while the Gators may have the most enviable combination of high-end talent and depth in the entire country, this matchup is no forgone conclusion, even if the games are being played in Gainesville this time around.

As with any series that Florida is involved with, one must look to the pitching mound first, as the well known trio of Logan Shore (4-0, 2.00 ERA), A.J. Puk (0-1, 2.65 ERA), and Alex Faedo (4-0, 1.42 ERA) should provide a stiff test for the Missouri lineup. Veteran relievers Kirby Snead, Shaun Anderson and Scott Moss have been lights out in the bullpen, and freshmen phenoms Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar are electric arms that have also shined when Kevin O’Sullivan has called their numbers.

However, Missouri can lay claim to some talented and effective arms of their own. Senior righty Reggie McClain has been typically dominant in his first month of the season, posting an ERA of just 0.85 and surrendering just one walk in 31 2/3 innings. Tanner Houck – Perfect Game’s top-rated 2017 draft prospect – has picked up where he left off in 2015 by missing bats at a high level (32 strikeouts in 28 innings) and being a force in the Tiger rotation on Saturdays. They may not match the depth of the Gators bullpen (who can?), but freshman righty Brian Sharp has been lights out (0.77 ERA, 3 saves) in the backend.

The Gators come in riding high, having won their last 12 games and beating rivals Florida State in impressive fashion on Tuesday evening. Meanwhile, Missouri has stumbled a bit dropping a home series to Youngstown state and splitting a pair of midweek games with Southeast Missouri. It will surely be difficult for the Tigers to regain their form against such an imposing foe, but if they are able to limit the hot-hitting exploits of Florida’s Peter Alonso (.419), Dalton Guthrie (.395), and J.J. Schwarz (.371), they should have a chance of surprising the nation and battling for a series victory again this season.

National Notes

• Maryland's season has gotten off to a slow start (7-9), and the usually dominant Mike Shawaryn hasn't been as dominant to open the year, although his peripherals are all still solid (12 hits and nine walks allowed in 24 1/3 innings with 19 strikeouts). Fullerton on the other hand has been mostly up in somewhat of an up-and-down season after losing their opening series to Stanford. They followed that up with a weekend sweep of Indiana, took two of three against No. 25 Texas Tech and also swept Wichita State last weekend and enter the weekend with a 10-6 record. Three of their six losses are to Arizona-based teams, losing one midweek game to the Wildcats and two last week to the Sun Devils. Their pitching has been strong, as John Gavin is coming off of a dominant midweek start over San Diego State and this weekend they will send Blake Quinn, Connor Seabold and Colton Eastman to the mound against the Terps, a trio that collectively is 8-2 with a 1.65 ERA.

• Boston College is right on the outside of the Top 25 after taking two of three from No. 14 NC State last weekend to open ACC play. At 12-3 the Eagles are quickly proving that their success is no fluke, led by an accomplished pitching staff and the clutch hitting of senior Joe Cronin, who is hitting .389 and already has 19 RBI on the year. Starter Jacob Stevens has yet to give up an earned run this season over 22 2/3 innings while Mike King is 3-0 with a 1.30 ERA in his four starts. They will try to slow the lethal bats of the 13-3 Clemson Tigers, who jumped into the rankings this past week after taking their last two series against tough opponents; South Carolina and Wake Forest. Freshman Seth Beer is the talk of the Tigers, hitting .426 with seven home runs and 22 RBI. Former PG All-American catcher Chris Okey has three homers and 21 RBI while Chase Pinder has five bombs of his own.

• The new look South Carolina Gamecocks enter the weekend 16-2 and is yet another program poised to force themselves into the rankings with a series win. They were on the cusp of doing so two weekends ago before losing their in-state rivalry series against Clemson. John Jones, Dom Thompson-Williams and Alex Destino provide plenty of thunder in the middle of their lineup as each has four home runs and at least 15 RBI. Closer Josh Reagan already has six saves and has yet to give up an earned run while weekend starters Clarke Schmidt and Adam Hill are both 4-0 and both have only allowed one run this season. Saturday starter Braden Webb is just a step behind at 3-1 with a 1.80 ERA. They host No. 17 Arkansas with another key opportunity to crack the Top 25 come Monday.

• There is certain to be a big scouting crowd behind home plate during Thursday night's primetime matchup between Daulton Jefferies and No. 12 Cal as they travel south to face USC and senior ace Kyle Davis. Jefferies has yet to lose a series-opening matchup as he is 4-0 on the year with a sparkling 1.04 ERA, while Davis is 2-2, although he was the hard-luck loser tossing his best game of the year to open the season opposite North Dakota's Zach Muckenhirn's complete game shutout. Both teams have had challenging schedules to open the season and look to position themselves at the top of the Pac-12 Conference standings as league play begins.

• Alabama had a prime opportunity to jump into the Top 25 last week with a three-game at home against Houston, but they ended up losing the first two games of the series to the Cougars. They receive another test this weekend on the road against No. 6 Louisiana State. The Crimson Tide is now 11-5 after losing a midweek contest to Southern Miss (another team clamoring for Top 25 consideration) while the Tigers face their stiffest competition as SEC play begins.

• Arizona State has enjoyed an impressive season so far, splitting an early weekend four-game series with Long Beach State (at Long Beach) and taking their two-game midweek series against Cal State Fullerton before sweeping UC Davis at home last weekend. At 13-3 they're one of the top teams in the Pac-12 but face a big challenge taking on the No. 5 Oregon State Beavers this weekend in Corvallis. David Greer and Colby Woodmansee are powering the offense while Seth Martinez is 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA as one of the team's most reliable starters. Oregon State of course are one of the most loaded teams in the nation, much less the Pac-12, off to a similar 12-2 start. Drew Rasmussen – who will face off opposite Martinez on Friday night – was named the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week after his dominant start over San Francisco in which he struck out a career-high 12 batters to move to 3-0 on the year. And for as much national pub freshmen infielders Cadyn Grenier and Nick Madrigal have received, Logan Ice has been the Beavers main catalyst in the middle of their lineup with a .467/.519/.978 triple slash line to go along with 11 extra-base hits, four of which have been home runs.