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College  | Story  | 4/28/2016

Weekend Preview: Week 11

Patrick Ebert      Jheremy Brown     
Photo: South Carolina Athletics

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

Only four weekends remain until conference tournament play begins as many teams continue to jockey for postseason position. The Pac-12 is about wide open as a conference could get from top to bottom, while the SEC and ACC continue to dominate the Top 25, and the projected Regional host bids.

There are four key series that pit Top 25-ranked opponents against one another, including one that includes a pair of top 10 ranked teams in the super-competitive SEC East. No. 1 Florida travels to Columbia, S.C., to take on the eighth-ranked Gamecocks. South Carolina currently has a one-game advantage on Florida in the conference with a 14-4 mark, as this matchup carries great importance past the 1-versus-8 matchup.

The SEC West also offers an intriguing matchup between Ole Miss and LSU, a pair of 10-8 teams in conference (along with Mississippi State) who are tied for second behind the West-leading Aggies (12-6).

Other big conference matchups can be found in the American Athletic Conference, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12, as well as a few key non-conference matchups. Details on all of these series can be found just below.

Stay tuned to Perfect Game this weekend for first-hand reports from Jheremy Brown, who will provide details from the LSU/Ole Miss series in Oxford, Miss.

Top 25 in Action

Rk. Team Opponent Location
1 Florida at No. 8 South Carolina Columbia, SC
2 Texas A&M at Arkansas Fayetteville, AR
3 Mississippi State at Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL
4 Miami home vs. Florida A&M Coral Gables, FL
5 Florida State at Clemson Clemson, SC
6 Texas Christian home vs. No. 14 Texas Tech Fort Worth, TX
7 Vanderbilt home vs. Georgia Nashville, TN
8 South Carolina home vs. No. 1 Florida Columbia, SC
9 NC State home vs. Duke Raleigh, NC
10 Oregon State home vs. Stanford Corvallis, OR
11 Mississippi home vs. No. 15 LSU Oxford, MS
12 Louisville home vs. St. John's Louisville, KY
13 Coastal Carolina at Georgia Tech Atlanta, GA
14 Texas Tech at No. 6 TCU Fort Worth, TX
15 Louisiana State at No. 11 Ole Miss Oxford, MS
16 Michigan home/away vs. Michigan State Ann Arbor/East Lansing, MI
17 Dallas Baptist at Bradley Peoria, IL
18 Oklahoma State at Texas Austin, TX
19 UNC Wilmington home vs. Hofstra Wilmington, NC
20 Tulane home vs. Houston New Orleans, LA
21 Southern Miss at No. 22 FAU Boca Raton, FL
22 Florida Atlantic home vs. No. 21 Southern Miss Boca Raton, FL
23 UC Santa Barbara home vs. Hawai'i Santa Barbara, CA
24 Rice home vs. Charlotte Houston, TX
25 North Carolina No weekend games NA

Marquee Matchup #1

No. 1 Florida at No. 8 South Carolina

Coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s Florida Gators once again find themselves atop the Perfect Game Top 25 after taking another conference series while improving to 13-5 in the SEC and 33-6 overall. Perhaps the biggest news to come out of last weekend, and coincidentally enough it was in Thursday night’s loss, is it appears star lefthander A.J. Puk is back pumping his elite stuff, punching out 10 while going 6 2/3 innings while pounding the strike zone. With their last two series spanning from Thursday to Saturday, O’Sullivan kept both Logan Shore and Alex Faedo in their usual Friday-Saturday roles which means an extra two days of rest for Puk this week as he’s penciled in to go this Sunday at South Carolina.

Luken Baker (TCU Athletics)
Speaking of trending in the right direction, the South Carolina Gamecocks went 4-0 last week which jolted them up three spots, from No. 11 to their current No. 8 position. With a sweep of the Missouri Tigers over the weekend the Gamecocks improved to 14-4 in conference play which puts them one game ahead of the Gators for the division lead in the East. And if you’re a type of fan who doesn’t believe in home field advantages consider this; South Carolina is 25-1 this spring when in Columbia with their lone loss coming in a 13-inning thriller against the College of Charleston in a midweek matchup. While some pieces of the offense have cooled since their sizzling start, the three-man weekend rotation is as strong as ever as Clarke Schmidt, Braden Webb and Adam Hill are now a combined 22-3 over 30 starts combined.

Marquee Matchup #2

No. 14 Texas Tech at No. 6 Texas Christian

The Red Raiders were cruising through the early half of the 2016 season before dropping two of three to the University of Texas last weekend, just their second and third losses in conference this year. And while their next in-state battle will carry major weight in the Big 12 standings, as they’re currently ahead of TCU by just two games, it also carries significant importance on postseason implications. Unlike some of the schools detailed in the preview who have relied on pitching to garner wins, Coach Tim Tadlock’s club is very much an offensive one with five every day players hitting north of .300, led by Tanner Gardner, who’s hitting just shy of .400.

The Frogs are an equally balanced team between both their pitching and offense and at the forefront is star freshman Luken Baker. However, Baker left last weekend’s start with discomfort, which, when coupled with the workload he’s already accumulated as a true freshman, will keep him shelved for the rest of the spring just to be on the safe side. The righthanded hitting Baker is also the top run producer for the offense, and he’ll continue to hit in the four-hole, which is saying something as six different players have multiple home runs this spring, four of whom have at least five bombs. Last weekend was a rarity as TCU lost the series to Oklahoma State which ultimately led to a two-spot drop in the rankings. They have enough depth to overcome Baker's loss in the rotation, but they will be challenged to replace his production.

Marquee Matchup #3

No. 15 Louisiana State at No. 11 Ole Miss

It was a slow start to 2016 for the Tigers but it was almost to be expected as several key contributors from last season’s Omaha club needed to be replaced. Last weekend’s series against Mississippi State may be just a hiccup, as the offense continues to click, but more importantly star sophomore righthander Alex Lange appeared to have found his 2015 form. Despite taking the tough luck loss to the Bulldogs Lange was fantastic as he spun a complete game effort in which he allowed just two runs (one earned) while striking out seven and showing the type of arsenal often found in first round draft picks. With Lange making the correct strides the Tigers could prove to be a tough team to beat down the stretch as polished lefthanders Jared Poché and John Valek III take the bump on Fridays and Sundays.

Alex Lange (LSU Athletics)
The Rebels were just one of two teams within the Top 25 this past week to put together a remarkable 5-0 record and it came just in time as they were coming off a series loss to Alabama the week prior in Tuscaloosa. With a 10-8 record in SEC play – which puts them at a three-way tie with LSU and Mississippi State in the West division – the weekend should provide some clarity in the standings moving forward. Junior righthander Brady Bramlett has done an excellent job on Friday nights setting the tone for the rest of the weekend as he’s now 6-2 on the year and coming off a six-inning gem against Auburn last weekend. Outfielder J.B. Woodman has been the equivalent to Bramlett but with the bat as he’s been one of the more consistent hitters from the very first game of the year and is now slashing .316/.409/.474.

Marquee Matchup #4

No. 21 Southern Miss at No. 22 Florida Atlantic

Opening the year it was known that if the Golden Eagles of Southern Mississippi were going to make a run, it would be in 2016 as they’re an extremely experienced group with talented upper class talent throughout the lineup. Their top three hitters (Jake Sandlin, Tim Lynch and Nick Dawson) are all seniors, they’ve started in all 42 games and they’re all hitting at or above .348 on the year. And for good measure junior Dylan Burdeaux is hitting .333 with eight home runs from the leadoff spot in the lineup. The pitching staff is led, as you may have guessed, by a senior in Cord Cockrell, and while he doesn’t light up radar guns with his stuff he certainly knows how to pitch and compete, evidenced by his 7-0 record over 10 starts while absolutely pounding the strike zone.

The FAU Owls came out of the gate hot to begin 2016 as they took both games from Mississippi State during the opening weekend as part of a 12-1 start to the year. Part of the reason for the early and continued success has been the pitching of Friday night starter David McKay, who has missed each of his last two starts and will be an immediate boost to the rotation upon his return. Now 12-6 in Conference-USA play, the Owls were thought of as a talented team in the preseason but they did come with their questions marks. However, the pitching staff has been excellent to this point with a cumulative ERA of 2.73. With an offense that’s hitting .289 as a team junior shortstop C.J. Chatham has stepped up in a big way slashing .370/.442/.558 with four home runs and 13 doubles, pushing his name towards the top of the list for collegiate shortstops who are eligible for this year’s draft.

National Notes

• Michigan and Michigan State will play one another in a home and away Big Ten weekend series, with Friday’s and Sunday’s games being played in Ann Arbor and the Saturday contest being played in East Lansing. The two teams are currently second and third in the conference, with an 8-3 and 8-4 mark respectively. Prior to losing to Iowa on Sunday the Wolverines had won seven straight games and moved further up the Top 25 while the Spartans dropped out of the rankings after losing their series against Indiana at home. Both teams are well-rounded with strong starting staffs and potent offenses, although it may be Michigan State’s superior bullpen that proves to be the difference in this series.

• While Clemson is 26-14 overall on the year, they’re only 9-12 in ACC, and are coming off three straight series losses, including a sweep at the hands of Louisville two weeks ago. Although they can take some solace in the fact that they’re playing at home, things won’t get any easier for them as they host No. 5 Florida State. The Tigers will need to find some much needed consistency from their starting staff to keep the FSU offense in check, otherwise Seth Beer, Chris Okey, Chase Pinder and company are simply going to have to out-mash the Seminoles. Florida State leads the ACC Atlantic Division with a 13-4 conference mark, although like Louisville they haven’t been nearly as dominant on the road. The top of the lineup (Taylor Walls, John Sansone and Cal Raleigh) continue to lead a very potent offense, and Quincy Nieporte has also has been swinging a hot bat, as he was named the ACC’s Player of the Week. This series could see a lot of fireworks, however, it will be hard for Clemson to match Florida State’s bullpen depth as the outcome of each of the three games could be determined late.

• Tulane was welcomed to the Top 25 rankings this week and receive an excellent challenge as to whether or not they are deserving by hosting a disappointing yet still dangerous Houston ballclub in American Athletic Conference play. The Cougars’ pitching staff has been doing their job, as Andrew Lantrip, Seth Romero and Mitch Ullom continue to form one of college baseball’s best weekend starting trios. However, the offense just hasn’t clicked yet as a unit, although there is still plenty of talent one through nine to change things in a hurry. Tulane may not be able to match Houston’s pitching depth, but their starting trio (Emerson Gibbs, Ross Massey and Alex Massey) is an underrated unit and combined to not allow a single earned run in 22 combined innings last weekend in their road sweep of UCF. All three games in New Orleans this weekend should be close, well-played contests.

• One of the best under-the-radar series will take place in Berkeley, Calif. this weekend as the Huskies travel south to face the Cal Bears. Washington is currently tied atop the Pac-12 standings, although not by much, with Utah with a 9-6 record. Tough times have fallen upon the Bears as they try to win without their star ace Daulton Jefferies, and are now 9-9 in conference despite sweeping both Oregon State and UCLA in consecutive weekends. Ryan Mason will return to the mound this weekend, and Cal can still put up a crooked number in a hurry thanks to sluggers Brett Cumberland and Mitchell Kranson, but they will be facing a solid pitching staff led by sophomore ace Noah Bremer and shutdown closer Troy Rallings. A sweep by the Bears would continue the parity in the Pac-12 as both teams would be tied in conference play, while a series win for the Huskies would strengthen their Top 25 resume.

• One of the more intriguing non-conference series this weekend will take place in Atlanta, Ga., as Georgia Tech hosts No. 13 Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers haven’t stopped winning all season long, and have won all six weekend series since their challenging early season tournament schedule wrapped up in mid-March. And although he’s coming off of a loss, only his second on the year, ace Alex Cunningham seemed to have found his groove. Georgia Tech will have their hands full keeping the Coastal Carolina offense at bay, and while they’re 10-10 in the ACC they have faced a fairly difficult schedule of their own, and are coming off of a series win over Clemson. The Jackets have a potent offense of their own, and the Friday night tilt between Cunningham and GT ace Brandon Gold could help set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

• Another interesting non-conference series has New Mexico traveling to Phoenix to take on Arizona State. The Lobos have been knocking at the Top 25 door ever since they swept Fresno State three weeks ago. They’re now 30-13 and on top of the Mountain West standings (two games ahead of Fresno State) with a 16-5 conference record. New Mexico continues to be powered by their offense and are led overall by Chris DeVito who is having a huge season at the plate (.425-11-53). Arizona State is coming off of a series sweep of Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif., and also won their Pac-12 series against Cal, at home, the weekend before, giving them a 23-15 overall record and a 9-9 mark in the Pac-12 where parity has reigned supreme this season.