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College  | Story  | 3/8/2018

Weekend Preview: Week 4

Patrick Ebert      Mike Rooney      Jheremy Brown     
Photo: Texas Tech Athletics

College Top 25 | Player/Pitcher of the Week | College Player Database

The fourth week of the 2018 college baseball season continues to have some significant weekend series in various locations across the country, as well as one key tournament set to be played in Los Angeles. No. 3 Texas Tech travels to Lexington to take on Kentucky after both teams made loud statements a week ago, while the Dodgertown Classic in Los Angeles includes three Top 25-ranked teams with No. 4 TCU and No. 19 Vanderbilt heading west to play the two hosts, No. 13 UCLA and USC.

While conference play did start in a few locations across the country last weekend it ramps up this week as ACC matchups begin. The marquee ACC series will see No. 20 North Carolina at No. 11 Louisville and No. 22 Duke hosting Virginia.

And the difficult early season schedules for No. 7 Stanford and No. 21 Texas continue as they play one another in Austin in a four-game set. It will be interesting to see if the Longhorns can slow down the Cardinal, a team that has only one loss in 12 games playing exclusively in four-game series against the likes of Cal State Fullerton, Rice and Michigan. With two hard-throwing pitching staffs that are particularly stingy giving up much of anything in the form of baserunners, expect four close, low-scoring and hard fought contests.

Stay tuned to Perfect Game this weekend as Brian Sakowski will be in Cincinnati and Lexington to see Cincinnati host Tennessee and Texas Tech at Kentucky while Mike Rooney and Steve Fiorindo will be covering the Dodgertown Classic (TCU, Vanderbilt, UCLA and USC) in Los Angeles.

Top 25 in Action

Rk. Team Opponent Location
1 Florida home vs. Rhode Island Gainesville, FL
2 Oregon State home vs. Cal State Fullerton Corvallis, OR
3 Texas Tech at No. 6 Kentucky Lexington, KY
4 Texas Christian at Dodgertown Classic (USC, No. 13 UCLA, No. 19 Vanderbilt) Los Angeles, CA
5 Florida State at Wake Forest Winston-Salem, NC
6 Kentucky home vs. No. 3 Texas Tech Lexington, KY
7 Stanford at No. 21 Texas Austin, TX
8 Ole Miss home vs. Eastern Illinois Oxford, MS
9 Arkansas home vs. Kent State Fayetteville, AR
10 NC State home vs. Boston College Raleigh, NC
11 Louisville home vs. No. 20 North Carolina Louisville, KY
12 Texas A&M home vs. Long Beach State College Station, TX
13 UCLA home at Dodgertown Classic (No. 19 Vanderbilt, No. 4 TCU, USC) Los Angeles, CA
14 Louisiana State home vs. Hawaii Baton Rouge, LA
15 Indiana home vs. Pacific Bloomington, IN
16 Clemson home vs. Georgia Tech Clemson, SC
17 Southern Miss home vs. Georgia Southern Hattiesburg, MS
18 Auburn home vs. Northeastern Auburn, AL
19 Vanderbilt at Dodgertown Classic (No. 13 UCLA, USC, No. 4 TCU) Los Angeles, CA
20 North Carolina at No. 11 Louisville Louisville, KY
21 Texas home vs. No. 7 Stanford Austin, TX
22 Duke home vs. Virginia Durham, NC
23 St. John's at Kansas Lawrence, KS
24 Sam Houston State at Lamar Beaumont, TX
25 Oklahoma home vs. Texas A&M Corpus Christi Norman, OK

Titans tussle in Lexington

If you’re looking for a weekend series that boasts two of the premier offenses in all the land, along with two top-notch head coaches and bountiful talent in all facets of the game, Lexington, Kentucky will be your best bet. A clash of top 10 Titans in No. 3-ranked Texas Tech and No. 6-ranked Kentucky, this series promises to be one of the more highly entertaining matchups thus far into 2018 and could very well provide a glimpse of a potential showdown in Omaha come June.

Serving as the hosts, Kentucky looks to be anything but generous to the Red Raiders as the Cats are firing on all cylinders as they were riding an eight-game win streak prior to a mid-week loss to Northern Kentucky, a stretch that included a clean sweep at the Shriners College Classic last weekend. Not only does head coach Nick Mingione have one of the nation’s top home run threats, he has two in the duo of T.J. Collett and Luke Heyer, who seem to try and one-up each other in any given at-bat, and are tied for the national lead. As a whole the club ranks near the top of the national leaderboard in both batting average and home runs and that’s without All-American outfielder Tristan Pompey. While this may look like an offensive club, they have a plethora of arms at their disposal as well, averaging more than 10 strikeouts-per-nine and offer an intimidating trio in their weekend rotation with Sean Hjelle, Zack Thompson, and Justin Lewis.

Making a loud statement of their own are the Red Raiders, who are sitting at a perfect 13-0 record and are coming off a four-game sweep over a tough South Alabama squad last weekend. Head coach Tim Tadlock may have lost his ace in Steven Gingery for the season but that hasn’t deterred the staff as junior Davis Martin has stepped up big and the staff as a whole has maintained a 2.00 ERA over 117 innings, one of the best marks in the country. The pitching depth will be key when stacking up against Kentucky’s offense, though the ‘pen is more than capable with a slew of power-arms who absolutely pound the strike zone. Offensively Tech is hitting .334 collectively with five everyday players hitting .333 or better, including the trio of Grant Little, Gabe Holt and Cameron Warren who all boast averages north of .400. Holt, a talented freshman, has stepped right into the thick of things and has been a sparkplug, going 8-for-8 in stolen base opportunities.

This is as evenly matched a series as you could draw up with two supremely deep and talent-rich clubs battling it out in Lexington. The slightest defensive miscue or quickest bout of wildness on the mound could be the difference maker in a series that could ultimately be seen again come June.

ACC spotlight

The fourth weekend of the year marks opening play in the ACC with all 14 clubs in conference action, and while all seven series will boast plenty of talent, there are a couple we’ll keep an extra keen eye on: Virginia at No. 22 ranked Duke and No. 20 North Carolina at No. 11 Louisville.

Now 9-4 on the year and 7-1 over their last eight games, Virginia’s offense has been a steady one, despite losing hard-hitting Cameron Simmons. Seven everyday bats are hitting above .300, including Caleb Knight, who leads the club with three home runs, and Jake McCarthy, who hasn’t tapped into his power just yet but has swiped eight bases on the year. Daniel Lynch hasn’t regained his summer form just yet, though when he does the Cavs will possess one of the more formidable staffs in the ACC as both Evan Sperling and Derek Casey have been lights out in 2018.

The Blue Devils entered the 2018 campaign with high expectations and opened up in Nashville where they dropped two of three to Vanderbilt but have been on a roll ever since. A multi-faceted club, Duke hasn’t turned it on fully from an offensive standpoint just yet as both Jimmy Herron (.295) and Griffin Conine (.211) have plenty more in the tank but both Joey Loperfido and Zack Kone have been swinging a hot bat over the first three weeks of the season. Senior Ryan Day has been sharp on the mound with 21 punchouts to just two walks while star sophomore lefthander Adam Laskey continues to develop on the mound and currently sports a staff-best 2.65 ERA over 17 innings.

There’s plenty of reason to believe North Carolina’s best baseball is still ahead of them as they continue to gel the new talent with their seasoned pieces. As a whole the pitching staff is working with a 4.12 ERA and that’s with ace Gianluca Dalatri and key reliever Rodney Hutchinson not firing at all cylinders. Former Perfect Game All-American Tyler Baum has been missing bats at a furious rate while Josh Hiatt has been one of the best closers in the entire country. Sophomores Michael Busch and Brandon Martorano have shown an increase in strength this season with seven bombs between them, however, they aren’t the only two bats who could make the difference this series.

The pitching for Louisville has a chance to make a real difference with the duo of Adam Wolf and hard throwing righthander Riley Thompson excelling in a starting role. The depth goes beyond just those two arms though as the entire staff has yielded a mere .203 batting average against with 132 strikeouts in just 107 innings pitched. After an eight home run sophomore campaign, Devin Mann has stepped up the offensive production hitting .390-2-17 and has been the biggest threat in the lineup. There are plenty of new faces in the Louisville lineup while others have stepped up, like outfielder Jake Snider, though North Carolina’s ability to keep Mann’s bat in check will be key this weekend. 

– Jheremy Brown

For many teams outside of the ACC this will be the last week of non-conference play. So this becomes one final chance to answer questions before a quest for a league championship begins. Here are a few matchups to watch and some questions we hope to unpack.

Stanford at Texas

Stanford heads to Austin with a gaudy 11-1 record and the Longhorns are a more than solid 8-4. However, both clubs should be graded up due to the rigorous schedules they’ve played thus far.

The Cardinal have played 11 of their 12 games versus 2017 Regional participants Cal State Fullerton, Rice and Michigan. And the Titans advanced all the way to Omaha a season ago. While this is quite impressive, all 11 games did take place at home on The Farm.

Texas opened the season with Louisiana-Lafayette and then traveled to LSU for a three-game series. Add in two upcoming midweek tilts with Arkansas and this is a gauntlet of epic proportions.

So here is the question we want answered: who owns the best rotation in America not based out of Gainesville, Florida? Stanford is the leader in the clubhouse with Tristan Beck being back to his healthy (and first round) form and Kris Bubic following him as a Friday night arm disguised as a Saturday starter. Texas is harder to figure as Blair Henley (0.53 ERA) has lived up to the billing but the massively talented duo of Nolan Kingham and Chase Shughart have struggled some. This is a four-game set with no place to hide.

The schedule of hard knocks

Cal State Fullerton maintains a program tradition of playing a kamikaze non-conference schedule. They do it every single year. The 2018 Titans have played series versus Stanford, Houston and Tulane, all programs of considerable college baseball repute.

And every year it seems that the Titans emerge with a mix of difficult losses and loud wins. Then they leave those choppy waters, better for having been tested, and proceed to dominate the Big West, all the while putting together a healthy RPI as they steady for a Regional. And there is no reason to doubt this program because they have earned 26 consecutive Regional births.

So as Rick Vanderhook’s troops head to Corvallis to take on the Beavers this weekend, here is the question: is 2018 the year that tried and true doesn’t work?

The current challenge exists on several levels. Fullerton is already 3-8 and they are getting ready to face an Oregon State program that has just six losses, in the last two years. Additionally, Corvallis is a very unique and difficult place to play. On top of that, the highly anticipated rotation of Colton Eastman, Andrew Quezada and Tanner Bibee has a combined ERA of 5.02.

At the end of the day, it would be shocking to see the Titans continue to struggle. They’re just too good to not figure it out. But here’s the final complication: six of the nine teams in the Big West currently sport under-.500 records. This is looking like a one-bid league in 2018 unless things change quickly.

Send your best to Tinsel Town

The Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic brings a stellar field in 2018: Vanderbilt, TCU, UCLA, and USC. Those programs have combined for 11 CWS appearances since 2010, including national titles for UCLA (2013) and Vandy (2014). This tournament is not short on college baseball brand names.

More importantly, these programs represent the top of three of the elite conferences in college baseball: the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12. While none of these clubs are the current favorite in their respective conferences, all except a very young USC club look more than capable of making a run at a league title.

So this weekend we’ll take a crack at this timeless question: what is the best league in all of college baseball? Clearly one weekend does not properly answer this question but it sure does provide some good bragging rights.

– Mike Rooney