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College | Story | 4/19/2018

Weekend Preview: Week 10

Patrick Ebert     
Photo: Josh Jung (Texas Tech Athletics)

Field of 64College Top 25 | Player/Pitcher of the Week | College Player Database

There are sure to be a lot of fireworks this weekend as there are two series between Top 10-ranked teams – No. 1 Florida at No. 8 Kentucky as well as No. 2 NC State at No. 9 Duke – and another that has No. 4 Texas Tech hosting No. 15 Oklahoma. All three of these series are dissected in greater detail below focusing on the affects that may unravel depending on their outcomes.

In addition to those marquee series, No. 6 Oregon State hosts in-state rival Oregon and No. 7 Ole Miss hosts No. 25 Georgia. Throw in Arkansas at Mississippi State, Indiana at Ohio State, Vanderbilt at Missouri, Clemson at Wake Forest and USC at UCLA and you have no shortage of competitive series to follow this weekend.

Stay tuned to Perfect Game over the weekend as Brian Sakowski will be in both Lexington and Louisville, Ky., to see Florida at Kentucky and Virginia at Louisville.

Top 25 in Action

Rk. Team Opponent Location
1 Florida at No. 8 Kentucky Lexington, KY
2 NC State at No. 9 Duke Durham, NC
3 Stanford at Arizona Tucson, AZ
4 Texas Tech home vs. No. 15 Oklahoma Lubbock, TX
5 Arkansas at Mississippi State Starkville, MS
6 Oregon State home vs. Oregon Corvallis, OR
7 Ole Miss home vs. No. 25 Georgia Oxford, MS
8 Kentucky home vs. No. 1 Florida Lexington, KY
9 Duke home vs. No. 2 NC State Durham, NC
10 Indiana at Ohio State Columbus, OH
11 Vanderbilt at Missouri Columbia, MO
12 Clemson at Wake Forest Winston-Salem, NC
13 UCLA home vs. USC Los Angeles, CA
14 Southern Miss home vs. Middle Tennessee State Hattiesburg, MS
15 Oklahoma at No. 4 Texas Tech Lubbock, TX
16 East Carolina at Memphis Memphis, TN
17 Texas A&M at Tennessee Knoxville, TN
18 Florida Atlantic at Rice Houston, TX
19 Florida State at Boston College Boston, MA
20 North Carolina home vs. Georgia Tech Chapel Hill, NC
21 Auburn at Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL
22 Louisiana State at South Carolina Columbia, SC
23 Coastal Carolina home vs. Georgia State Conway, SC
24 Texas home vs. New Orleans Austin, TX
25 Georgia at No. 7 Ole Miss Oxford, MS

The Big 3

With only five weekends left to play during the regular season, at least for the programs whose conference has a season-ending tournament, we have officially hit the stretch run and there are three huge series this weekend that could have significant ramifications to the rankings come Monday as well as the postseason picture. Can No. 8 Kentucky be the first team to hand No. 1 Florida a weekend series loss? Can No. 9 Duke do the same to No. 2 NC State? Or conversely, can NC State end Duke’s home dominance? And who will emerge as the team to beat in the Big 12 between No. 4 Texas Tech and No. 15 Oklahoma?

Florida at Kentucky

What can you say about Florida that hasn’t already been shared? They are clearly the No. 1 team in the nation, and considering their dominance up until this point of the season, even if they lose this road series against Kentucky it will be hard to push them off of the top spot, a position they have held all season long. They have the best closer (Michael Byrne), one of the best starting staffs and arguably the best player (Jonathan India) on their team. On top of all of that, they also boast one of the nation’s best defenses.

However, they did lose to Jacksonville, at home in Gainesville, on Tuesday, meaning a series loss, or even a sweep by the Wildcats, would translate into a one- or no-win week, and yet they still would have one of the best overall records in all of college baseball.

As for Kentucky, they still have one of the best offenses the college game has to offer, as seven of their regular hitters are batting over .300 and five of those players have at least 30 RBI. Chris Machamer has settled in recently as the team’s closer and reigning SEC Pitcher of the Year Sean Hjelle will stay on his usual Friday assignment against Jackson Kowar. Hard-throwing junior college transfer Zach Haake, whose transition to the starting rotation has been rather rocky, has been bumped up to Thursday to face Brady Singer.

Most of the rest of the pitching staff has significant question marks, as shown by their cumulative team ERA of 5.07. More often than not that means they have to simply out-score their opponents, something not easily accomplished against the Gators and their 3.09 team ERA, which is good for 10th in the nation and second in the SEC.

NC State at Duke

The Wolfpack are the second-ranked team in the nation thanks to their dominant 29-7 start to the 2018 season, and while they opened the year ranked 13th in the Preseason Top 25, it was hard to envision this kind of success. The offense has put up big numbers, as three batters – Brett Kinneman, Will Wilson and Evan Edwards – have at least 10 home runs and 30 RBI. There is depth in the bullpen and good management of that talent, with several arms having the ability to go multiple innings. Three of those pitchers have multiple saves, evidence of a true by-committee approach.

However, the starting staff is a little uncertain past senior lefthander Brian Brown, who continues to baffle hitters with his pitchability profile, not to mention his changeup. Johnny Piedmonte has been effective as a starter but the team has been very cautious with him given his injury history, while the return of Michael Bienlien has been a much-needed addition to the staff to give them innings if nothing else.

Duke is in the middle of their most difficult six-game stretch of the season, taking both games of their weather-shortened series at Florida State last weekend before falling to East Carolina on Tuesday. As mentioned in last week’s weekend preview, Duke’s strength lies in their bullpen, with a two-headed closer (Jack Labosky and Ethan DeCaster) that has been especially effective turning tight ballgames into wins so far this year.

Similar to NC State there are some questions regarding their starting staff, but the offense can put runs on the board with an opportunistic lineup one through nine.

Most importantly for these two clubs, ACC bragging rights are on the line as this series pits the current leader in the Atlantic (NC State) against the current leader in the Coastal (Duke) Divisions. Duke is 21-3 at home and NC State is 9-2 on the road, so expect a tight, closely contested series with plenty of offensive fireworks.

Oklahoma at Texas Tech

Texas Tech hit a little bit of a rough stretch in mid-March, losing their series against Kentucky and also losing their Big 12 opening series against Baylor. Both of those series were on the road, and since then they have gone 13-3. They’re 19-1 at home with Oklahoma coming to town currently tied for first place in the Big 12 with Oklahoma State.

The Red Raiders have scored at least 20 runs in three of their last four games, out-scoring Kansas State last weekend 56-16 prior to beating New Mexico 20-9. Josh Jung hit for the cycle in that contest, a 5-for-5 performance that included two home runs and eight RBI. Both he and Grant Little are hitting over .400 for a team that is cumulatively slashing .322/.441/.538.

And the pitching staff has more than held its own since losing Steven Gingery, as Davis Martin and John McMillon in particular have formed a more-than-capable 1-2 punch to open weekend series.

Oklahoma is playing an impressive brand of team baseball.  They can hit, hit for power, steal bases and they pick it pretty well up the middle on defense. The Sooners also have an impressive 1-2 punch of their own in Jake Irvin and Devon Perez, who have combined to go 9-0 this year, and Sunday starter Nathan Wiles is coming off the best start of his college career.

OU also boasts bullpen depth, with numerous big-bodied, hard-throwing arms head coach Skip Johnson can turn to with the game on the line.

Add in the fact that No. 3 Stanford is playing an upstart Arizona team that has been playing much better the past few weeks, which included a series win over then second-ranked Oregon State, and the rankings have the potential to look dramatically different come Monday.

Conference reign

Here’s a quick look at some of the more intriguing conference leaders heading into the 10th weekend of the 2018 college baseball season.

Big West, Hawai’i

Don’t look know but the Rainbow Warriors lead the Big West Conference with a 6-3 league record. They’re playing at Cal State Fullerton – the conference’s second place team – this week in what is sure to be their biggest test of the year.

Hawaii’s pitching leads the way with a 3.70 team ERA, led by closer Dylan Thomas, who has 10 saves and a tiny 1.29 ERA in 16 relief appearances, and their weekend triumphant of Jackson Rees, Neil Uskali and Dominic DeMiero, who are a combined 11-5. Pitching is, and has always been, the strength of the Titans who have a knack for taking their game to another level once conference play begins.

Big Ten, Michigan

Michigan had a pretty dismal start of the year, going 0-3 at the Tony Gwynn Legacy tournament in San Diego prior to losing three of four games at Stanford as part of their early season West Coast swing. Since the middle of March they have won 17 games in a row as their homestand continues against visiting Penn State.

At 8-0 in conference play they currently stand on top of the Big Ten Conference standings, somewhat surprising given the number of new faces on the team after losing a significant number of players from last year’s Regional team. Junior outfielder Jonathan Engelmann is enjoying a breakout campaign while numerous freshmen are playing significant roles in the team’s success, none more notable than lefthanded starter Ben Dragani, who is now 4-0 with a 1.38 ERA.

Even if the Wolverines don’t sustain this success this is a team to watch a year from now given the number of both freshmen and sophomores on the roster as head coach Erik Bakich and his staff continue to do an excellent job identifying and developing talent upon arriving in Ann Arbor.

WAC, Grand Canyon

GCU travels to Champaign to take on Illinois in what will be one of the more entertaining non-conference series to follow this weekend. Illinois is currently tied for third in the Big Ten standings with a 9-3 conference mark while the Lopes lead the way in WAC play with a 10-2 league record.

Grand Canyon has been playing much better over the past month, a time that includes a pair of mid-week wins over previously-ranked UNLV. While their offense doesn’t have that one, can’t-miss slugger in the middle of the lineup, there are dangerous hitters scattered throughout, and once they reach base they’re a threat to run. The pitching has been a little shaky outside of closer Mick Vorhof and staff ace Jake Wong, so how they contain Midseason Player of the Year Bren Spillane will be crucial to their success this weekend.

Big East, St. John’s

St. John’s, the leader in the Big East, is far from a surprise, but the manner in which they have reached this point of the season is especially interesting. They started the year 8-0 before losing seven of their next eight games, and also recently lost two of three games to Minnesota at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Since then they are 9-1, and are a perfect 6-0 in Big East games, sweeping both Villanova and Creighton. While the conference slate is still very young, the Johnnie’s have already established themselves as the team to beat in the (Big) East, largely thanks to their 2.60 team ERA, which is fourth-best in the nation.

However, what has been a surprise is the emergence of the offense, a unit hitting .294 as a team and led by John Valente, who is hitting .378-3-25. Valente has shown exceptional barrel control (nine walks as compared to only six strikeouts) to go along with a team-leading 10 stolen bases, and four other regulars are also hitting above .300.

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