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College  | Story  | 3/31/2016

Weekend Preview: Week 7

Patrick Ebert      Mike Rooney      Andrew Krause      Jheremy Brown     
Photo: Texas A&M

Perfect Game Top 25 | National Notebook | Video VaultPerfect Game College Baseball on SiriusXM College Sports

For the second consecutive weekend there are six series that will pit fellow Top 25-ranked teams against one another, including the highly anticipated tilt between No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Texas A&M in Gainesville. The SEC has two other big series including No. 8 South Carolina traveling to Nashville to face No. 4 Vanderbilt as well as the in-state rivalry between host No. 12 Mississippi State and No. 14 Ole Miss.

The ACC has an impact weekend series of their own as No. 7 North Carolina travels to Coral Gables to take on the red-hot (and aptly named) No. 3 Miami Hurricanes. No. 13 Virginia hosts No. 19 NC State which could be a make-or-break Top 25 series for the Wolfpack, as detailed below.

Play in the American Athletic Conference begins with a dandy between Cal and UCLA, a series that has two programs that could be moving in opposite directions as the mid-point of the season approaches.

Stay tuned to Perfect Game for an action packed weekend. Jheremy Brown will be at South Carolina/Vanderbilt, Andrew Krause will cover Texas A&M at Florida, Brian Sakowski will attend Oregon at Michigan State and Matt Czechanski will provide notes from Duke/Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

Top 25 in Action

Rk. Team Opponent Location
1 Florida home vs. No. 2 Texas A&M Gainesville, FL
2 Texas A&M at No. 1 Florida Gainesville, FL
3 Miami home vs. No. 7 North Carolina Coral Gables, FL
4 Vanderbilt home vs. No. 8 South Carolina Nashville, TN
5 Louisville home vs. Virginia Tech Louisville, FY
6 Texas Christian at Wichita State Wichita, KS
7 North Carolina at No. 3 Miami Coral Gables, FL
8 South Carolina at No. 4 Vanderbilt Nashville, TN
9 Oregon State home vs. Washington Corvallis, OR
10 Florida State at Boston College Boston, MA
11 California home vs. No. 20 UCLA Berkeley, CA
12 Mississippi State home vs. No. 14 Mississippi Starkville, MS
13 Virginia home vs. No. 19 NC State Charlottesville, VA
14 Mississippi at No. 12 Mississippi State Starkville, MS
15 Houston at East Carolina Greenville, NC
16 Oklahoma State at West Virginia Morgantown, WV
17 Louisiana State at Auburn Auburn, AL
18 Arkansas home vs. Missouri Fayetteville, AR
19 NC State at No. 13 Virginia Charlottesville, VA
20 UCLA at No. 11 California Berkeley, CA
21 Coastal Carolina home vs. Gardner-Webb Conway, SC
22 Texas Tech home vs. Kansas State Lubbock, TX
23 Michigan at Northwestern Evanston, IL
24 Georgia Tech home vs. Duke Atlanta, GA
25 Clemson home vs. Pittsburgh Clemson, SC

Marquee Matchup #1

No. 2 Texas A&M at No. 1 Florida

There have already been a number of highly anticipated weekend series this college season, and as we enter deeper into the midst of conference play there is to be more exciting play and intriguing matchups. This weekend’s tilt between the Aggies and Gators is probably the most captivating series to date, as the top-ranked hosts will have to bounce back from their first series loss of the year and fend off a tremendously talented foe.

Nick Banks (Texas A&M)
Florida has been praised by Perfect Game and other analysts around the country for having the most talented roster in all of college baseball. From top to bottom, and on both sides of the ball, the Gators don’t appear to have a true weakness, and it isn’t hyperbole to say that the current roster contains approximately 10-12 players who have the talent to be drafted in the first 50 picks of the draft in the next three cycles (2016, 2017, 2018).

Up until last weekend in Lexington, the Gators seemed nearly invincible as the stable of power arms in the bullpen had kept opposing teams at bay and hitters always seemed to come up with timely hits. Credit should certainly be given to the Kentucky players and coaching staff for executing at a high level last weekend, but even a team as talented as Florida is bound to stumble at times, and going on the road against any SEC foe is no easy task.

If there is any team in the country that could boast a similar level of talent to Florida, especially on the pitching side of things, it is Texas A&M. Flame-throwing righty Corbin Martin has yet to truly find his footing this spring, but coach Rob Childress has plenty of effective, power arms at his disposal in Mark Ecker, Ryan Henrix, and Brigham Hill to name a few. Starting pitchers Jace Vines, Kyle Simonds and Tyler Ivey have been extremely proficient at pounding the strike zone and posting zeros on the scoreboard.

Interestingly, the Aggies also have posted the better offensive numbers to date, with former Texas Christian hero Boomer White leading the way with a .404 batting average, and a number of physical hitters like Michael Barash and Hunter Melton in the middle of the lineup providing some thump and extra-base juice.

Another interesting wrinkle of this matchup is the trajectory and performance of some of the highly touted prospects eligible for this June’s draft. Logan Shore has been as steady as always for the Gators and figures to be selected within the top 30 picks, but fellow starter A.J. Puk has been inconsistent at times thus far, flashing dominant stuff at times but struggling to work deep into games and avoid big innings in other outings. Texas A&M’s Nick Banks has battled some nagging injuries thus far and struggled to get into a consistent rhythm at the plate, although his performance (2-for-3 with a home run) in the series finale against LSU last Saturday and on Tuesday against Houston (3-for-4 with a double and a home run) could portend to a strong second half of the season.

The Puk-Banks matchup will be of particular interest to the many scouts, cross-checkers and directors that figure to be in Gainesville, but there are dozens of other enticing head-to-head showdowns within this mouth-watering series of two programs that would both appear to be Omaha-bound at this point in the year.

Marquee Matchup #2

No. 7 North Carolina at No. 3 Miami

North Carolina travels to Miami this weekend and first place in the ACC Coastal Division is on the line. These two clubs have both had outstanding seasons to this point, yet they are constructed in almost opposite fashions. There is one important exception however.

North Carolina went 5-1 against UCLA and Oklahoma State early in the season and the Tar Heels elite front of the rotation led the way. Zac Gallen and J.B. Bukauskas lead off every weekend and this is a huge edge for UNC. Gallen suffocating fastball command complements Bukauskas' electric bat-missing arsenal. Additionally, Mike Fox has a bullpen with eight different arms who all have an ERA of 2.70 or less.

Tyler Ramirez (Turner Walston, Argyle Creative Media)
Miami, on the other hand, started the year thin on the mound and this staff has progressed like that of a bad hair line. Danny Garcia has been very effective on Sundays while Thomas Woodrey has struggled mightily on Fridays. Former reliever Michael Mediavilla has shined as the middle game starter, but that move, along with the recent injury to submariner Cooper Hammond, has left the bullpen extremely vulnerable. Bryan Garcia is a rock star closer but he and Frankie Bartow are carrying a heavy load right now. They have 13 and 15 appearances respectively, and that is through 24 games.

North Carolina has a steady but unspectacular offense and this group scored two and zero runs in their two home losses to Georgia Tech last weekend. While there are a bunch of tough outs in the Tar Heel lineup, there really isn't any one hitter that would keep an opposing pitching coach up at night.

Conversely, Miami has a middle of the order that might cause ACC pitching coaches to consider other lines of work. Zack Collins, Willie Abreu and Jacob Heyward have back-to-back-to-back damage written all over them. All three of these hitters fill up the batters box with a rare combination of physical presence and athleticism.  Scoreboard operators across college baseball come to attention when this part of the Hurricane order comes due.

The commonality for these two programs is that they both have a key player who is not getting his due nationally. Zack Collins and Tyler Ramirez are two of the best players in the ACC yet they seem to be flying under the national radar in college baseball.

Collins has a ridiculous triple-slash line of .418/.587/.716 and he clearly has the attention of his opponents. We know this because Collins has drawn 31 walks in just 104 plate appearances. The scariest part of this proposition is that Collins has been a notoriously slow starter at Miami. Buckle your chinstraps in the second half of the season people.

Tyler Ramirez also sports an other-worldly triple-slash line: .427/.541/.707. Ramirez is a winning baseball player in every sense of the word and he leads North Carolina in 10 different offensive categories. Ramirez' well-roundedness probably lends itself to his underrated status, but every time the Tar Heels win a baseball game he is right in the middle of things.

The flow of the three games in this series will play a huge role in who wins the series. Miami is built to win high-scoring affairs and the Hurricanes don't appear to have the bullpen depth to win three consecutive tight games. North Carolina would prefer a lower scoring ball game and extra innings would present an advantage for their superior pitching depth. Regardless of this weekend's results, both clubs will be getting a preview of what it will take to win a Super Regional-type matchup in June.

Marquee Matchup #3

No. 8 South Carolina at No. 4 Vanderbilt

While you can usually point to a certain area where one team has either a strength or a weakness to exploit, the series between South Carolina and Vanderbilt should be a good one as the teams are similarly built and have received excellent production from both sides of the ball thus far. To pick one area of the series that could have the biggest outcome on the three-game set it’s hard not to begin with the starting pitching.

Jeren Kendall (Vanderbilt Athletics)
To say the South Carolina staff has been solid is more than an understatement as they’re a combined 16-1 with a 1.77 ERA between righthanders Clarke Schmidt, Braden Webb, and Adam Hill. Schmidt, still just a sophomore, is having one of the top seasons as any pitcher in the country, as he’s not only shown quality stuff that he’s able to carry into an outing, but he’s also pounded the strike zone with just six walks as opposed to 51 strikeouts. Once you’re able to knock the starter out of the game it doesn’t get much easier (2.29 team ERA) as power armed sophomore Tyler Johnson has bridged the gap well to freshman closer Josh Reagan, who’s been on absolute fire the entire spring.

In the opposite dugout you’ll find a pitching staff led by hard throwing junior Jordan Sheffield, who has made improvements in harnessing his big stuff and has found success as a result. Last weekend the coaching staff switched a couple of pieces around and it proved to be a smart move as lefthander Ben Bowden, who began the year as the Saturday starter, moved back to the bullpen and was twice used in pivotal moments to shut down Missouri’s offense. Filling Bowden’s void is another potential high round pick in sophomore Kyle Wright, who jumped from the Sunday role and has gone 4-0 over six starts with a 1.37 ERA and a 35-to-8 strikeout-to-walk mark.

Hayden Stone, known for his abilities to close out a game, served as their Sunday starter last week while Bowden and powerfully built righthander Matt Ruppenthal provided key innings out of the bullpen.

While the pitching may ultimately take over the series, both offenses are well-rounded assets showing both the ability to hit for average and power as well as bringing a speed component to the table. The top hitter for each team heading into the weekend are the same hitters who have carried the torch all spring in South Carolina’s John Jones (.384-6-32) and Vanderbilt’s Jeren Kendall (.347-4-27) though they’re surrounded by high-end talent throughout the lineup.

Gamecock outfielders Dom Thompson-Williams and Alex Destino entered the spring with high expectations and have exceeded them to this point in the spring, as has Vanderbilt’s Bryan Reynolds, who is beginning to tap into his power from both sides of the plate as scouts imagined he would.

National Notes

• The Cal Bears are riding a five-game win streak as they host another formidable Pac-12 opponent in Berkeley in No. 20 UCLA. The way Daulton Jefferies has been pitching this season Cal is expected to stretch that streak to at least six, and cooling the bats of Brett Cumberland and Mitchell Kranson will be no easy task for the Bruins’ staff. UCLA on the other hand is reeling a little, losing their series on the road against Arizona last weekend and also sufferent a los at home to Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday. The Bruins’ offense, which is collectively hitting .244 on the year, is going to have to step up and provide some key hits to give their own pitching staff some much-needed run support against a Cal squad that rarely beats themselves.

• The State of Mississippi will enjoy the annual matchup between in-state and SEC foes Ole Miss and Mississippi State in Starkville this weekend. Ole Miss will have to lick their wounds quickly after being swept last weekend by South Carolina. However, they’re still 20-5 on the year with a well balanced club that can beat you in a variety of ways. The Bulldogs on the other hand seem to keep building momentum as they have won 10 of their last 14 games including series wins over Oregon, Vanderbilt and Georgia and a recent midweek victory over Southern Miss.

• Long Beach State’s formidable early season schedule continues as they host the 18-5 UCSB Gauchos. The Dirtbags have yet to lose a weekend series as they’ve fallen just short of cracking the Top 25 the past two weeks, while Santa Barbara is in a similar position, losing just one weekend series this year (to Oregon). These clubs are evenly matched as it should be a well-pitched and overall well-played series that will kick off with a matchup between staff aces Chris Mathewson and Shane Bieber.

• Both NC State and Virginia has endured somewhat of an up-and-down season, and both teams are coming off of disappointing performances from a week ago. The Wolfpack lost their only game against Florida State, as the final two games were washed out, which followed their midweek loss to UNC Wilmington. Connor Jones and Virginia took game one of their weekend series against Louisville last week before they were out-scored 26-4 in the next two contests. NC State needs this series more than the defending champs do as a loss could force them out of the Top 25.

• American Athletic Conference play begins this weekend with an exciting matchup between the league’s top two teams as No. 15 Houston travel to Greenville to take on East Carolina. After going 0-3 at the Houston College Classic, and then losing their next two games as well, Houston has straightened the ship nicely, winning 12 of the 15 games they have played since then. Not only has Seth Romero been dominant since his return, but so has Friday starter Andrew Lantrip. Houston will need both to be dominant again this weekend as they face a Pirates lineup that is hitting 311 as a unit, with six regulars hitting .323 or better.

• Although six of their seven losses have come in the last 10 games, Gardner-Webb is off to an impressive 21-7 start to the 2016 season. They’re hitting .302 as a team led by Collin Thacker’s .413/.462/615 triple slash with 15 doubles and 31 RBI. Brad Haymes has been equally dominant at the front of the Bulldogs weekend staff with a perfect 5-0 record and a 1.57 ERA. They face their toughest opponent to date in No. 21 Coastal Carolina who continue to scratch and claw to retain their spot in the Top 25. How well Gardner-Webb contains the Chanticleers offense, especially the heart of their order – which includes third baseman Zach Remillard and catcher G.K. Young – will be the key to the series.