College | Story | 4/11/2019

Weekend Preview: Week 9

Patrick Ebert        
Photo: Reid Detmers (Jeff Reinking | Louisville Athletics)

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We’re getting to the point of the year where you can start to take RPI ratings a little more seriously. With as many as five weeks already come and gone during conference play, only five weekends of the regular season will remain after this week’s action.

And with this weekend’s action we have five more series being played that included ranked opponents. There isn’t a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup like we had to enjoy a week ago, but No. 1 UCLA does host a tough opponent in ninth-ranked East Carolina. Oregon State heads to Arizona State, NC State hosts Louisville, Vanderbilt welcomes Arkansas, Texas A&M will be at Auburn and UC Santa Barbara plays host to UC Irvine. That’s five different conferences represented (Pac-12, American, ACC, SEC, Big West) in what is sure to be another fun weekend of college action to follow.

We got into greater detail on some of these teams, and series below as we identify a handful of programs that have the most to win, and/or lose, from their outcomes this weekend.

Perfect Game will be at two of the matchups mentioned with Steve Fiorindo taking in ECU/UCLA and Connor Spencer covering UCI/UCSB. In addition, Vinnie Cervino will provide first-hand observations from the South Carolina/Florida series while Patrick Ebert will do the same from North Carolina/Notre Dame.

Top 25 in Action

Rk. Team Opponent Location
1 UCLA home vs. No. 9 East Carolina Los Angeles, CA
2 Georgia at Tennessee Knoxville, TN
3 Oregon State at No. 17 Arizona State Phoenix, AZ
4 NC State home vs. No. 22 Louisville Raleigh, NC
5 Mississippi State home vs. Alabama Starkville, MS
6 Stanford home vs. Washington Stanford, CA
7 Vanderbilt home vs. No. 11 Arkansas Nashville, TN
8 Louisiana State at Missouri Columbia, MO
9 East Carolina at No. 1 UCLA Los Angeles, CA
10 Mississippi home vs. Kentucky Oxford, MS
11 Arkansas at No. 7 Vanderbilt Nashville, TN
12 Texas Tech at West Virginia Morgantown, WV
13 Texas A&M home vs. No. 18 Auburn College Station, TX
14 Texas home vs. Kansas State Austin, TX
15 UC Irvine at No. 16 UC Santa Barbara Santa Barbara, CA
16 UC Santa Barbara home vs. No. 15 UC Irvine Santa Barbara, CA
17 Arizona State home vs. No. 3 Oregon State Phoenix, AZ
18 Auburn at No. 13 Texas A&M College Station, TX
19 Clemson at Florida State Tallahassee, FL
20 Georgia Tech at Boston College Brighton, MA
21 North Carolina at Notre Dame South Bend, IN
22 Louisville at No. 4 NC State Raleigh, NC
23 Texas Christian home vs. Seton Hall Fort Worth, TX
24 Coastal Carolina at Little Rock Little Rock, AR
25 Connecticut home vs. Memphis Storrs, CT

Statement Series

Last weekend we provided a breakdown of the six series that took place between ranked opponents. This week yet again there are six series between ranked teams. However, instead of just dissecting those matchups we’re going to identify the teams that are in the biggest need of a resume-building series win. Three of those are individual teams and three of those are teams on both sides of the field.

No. 9 East Carolina (at No. 1 UCLA)
Any team has a huge opportunity to add a significant postseason resume-building piece to their profile when they face the nation’s No. 1 team on the road. East Carolina has a huge opportunity ahead of them, even if they don’t win the series, and how they play could leave a lasting impression from a national scope. Their RPI is already in the teens and they follow up this road series by returning home to face UConn, a team largely considered the second-best in the competitive American, behind ECU.

Before losing to Houston last Friday ECU had won 10 games in a row. The weekend rotation looks different than how it did entering the year, but the re-formed trio of Jake Agnos, Tyler Smith and Jake Kuchmaner has been very effective for a month now. Agnos is among the national leaders in strikeouts while Kuchmaner has a perfect game to his credit already this year. Their development as weekend starters has allowed the team to use two-way talent Alec Burleson in a more versatile bullpen role, as he leads the team with a .386 average and also has a 2.73 ERA with three saves.

Spencer Brickhouse and Bryant Packard have also been heating up offensively as of late, giving the Pirates a well-balanced and dangerous roster that could give the Bruins plenty of fits. East Carolina is already in great position to repeat as a Regional host looking to advance to Omaha for the first time in program history.

No. 22 Louisville (at No. 4 NC State)
Similar to Florida a week ago, Louisville is at risk of falling completely out of the Top 25, and at this point in time it would seem as though they need a road series win over the fourth-ranked Wolfpack to avoid that. Their overall record of 24-8 is plenty impressive, but they now have series losses to UConn, Georgia Tech and Clemson, the three ranked opponents they’ve faced this year in weekend series.

While they did sweep Duke on the road, Duke isn’t the team we thought they would be heading into the year, meaning their biggest statement wins came against Ole Miss in a pair of midweek contests in Louisville. Their pitching staff has been plenty strong, although Midseason Pitcher of the Year Reid Detmers had his worst start of the season last week against Clemson.

The offense has uncharacteristically struggled, hitting .257 as a team, and while their season appears to get relatively easier after this weekend, with no games scheduled against teams that are currently ranked (outside of a midweek contest against Vanderbilt), that could also make it more difficult for the Cardinals to make a big enough impression to force their way back in should they lose to NC State this coming weekend.

That isn’t to say NC State doesn’t have as much to play for as they’re very much in the hosting picture. For as impressive as their 29-4 record is their biggest wins have come over previously-ranked Florida State and Coastal Carolina, making this a statement series of their own, just for a different statement.

No. 17 Arizona State (vs. No. 3 Oregon State)
After suffering a 1-3 week following their 25-1 start to the season, welcoming the third-ranked Oregon State Beavers is a daunting task for the upstart Arizona State Sun Devils. They already were humbled on the road to USC and the defending national champs have a knack for feasting off of other teams’ mistakes.

It starts with ASU ace Alec Marsh, who was named a Midseason All-American before battling through his worst start of the season. He’s projected to pitch opposite another Midseason All-American, Brandon Eisert, who has filled in admirably as OSU’s staff ace with Kevin Abel on the shelf.

But the true matchup lies between ASU’s high-powered offense and OSU’s dominant pitching staff. The Sun Devils have scored 268 runs this year, third-most in the nation through last weekend’s play while Oregon State’s 2.76 ERA was good for 12th best. Oh yeah, and Arizona State has to figure out some way to quiet the bat of catcher Adley Rutschman, something no one else has been able to do for over a year.

Arizona State’s toughest work this year lies ahead of them with series at Washington, Nebraska and California and series at home against UCLA and Stanford. So while their success isn’t completely tied to how they fare this weekend, things certainly aren’t going to get any easier for them.

No. 15 UC Irvine at No. 16 UC Santa Barbara
This will be a fun series, one that probably wasn’t circled on calendars heading into the year but one that has been generating more and more excitement as we’ve gotten closer. While the Big West doesn’t appear to be as strong this season with usual conference powerhouses Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State not living up to their usual standards, the early-season success of both UCI and UCSB – a pair of teams ranked in the teens – has helped make up for CSF’s and LBSU’s struggles.

Irvine has the weekend rotation to compete with anyone, as the trio of Andre Pallante, Tanner Brubaker and Trenton Denholm has combined to go 15-3 and each is very stingy giving up any kind of baserunner. Closer Taylor Rashi has seven saves and has yet to give up a run in 12 appearances spanning 12 1/3 innings. While the offense hasn’t been as prolific, third baseman Brandon Lewis was named a Midseason All-American and has been routinely putting on an impressive display of power.

While UC Santa Barbara’s pitching hasn’t been quite as good as UCI’s, the trio of Ben Brecht, Jack Dashwood and Rodney Boone has yet to lose (13-0) with a knack for missing bats and not handing out free passes (148-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 126.1 combined innings). Their lineup is more dangerous from top to bottom as well with a team slash line of .291/.385/.496.

Having the series played in Santa Barbara definitely favors the Gauchos, especially considering they’re 14-1 at home this year. That may be edge needed between these two evenly matched teams.

No. 18 Auburn at No. 13 Texas A&M
Auburn has now lost two of their last three SEC series, albeit against their two toughest opponents so far this year in Mississippi State and Arkansas. Things don’t get any easier for them this weekend as they travel to College Station to take on Texas A&M. Auburn has become especially reliant on staff ace Tanner Burns as well as their two-headed bullpen giant of closer Cody Greenhill and Elliott Anderson. Without Davis Daniel, and more recently Jack Owen, the team hasn’t had as much success from their starting unit outside of Burns.

It should be notes that outside of a wild Game 3 against Mississippi State and an extra-innings loss to Arkansas Auburn could very well be leading the SEC West right now, and at 7-5 they’re just one game behind Arkansas, LSU and Ole Miss. The offense has had no problems scoring runs in bunches but they’re about to play one of the stingiest staffs in all of college baseball with upcoming series against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Georgia and LSU before the regular season is over.

The Aggies boast the stingy pitching staff referred to, with John Doxakis and Asa Lacy proving to be especially difficult to score upon. Their Sunday starter has been a bit of a question since Jonathan Childress was lost for the year in early March, but there’s enough depth to bridge the gap, and they played LSU tough all weekend before the Tigers finally pulled away in the middle innings of the third and final game.

Shortstop Braden Shewmake has started to heat up but overall the offense is lacking extra-base pop. Similar to Auburn, Texas A&M still has to play SEC West foes Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Arkansas which puts more pressure on them to win so they don’t fall too far behind in the standings. And that’s exactly what will happen to whoever loses this series.

Louisiana Tech at Florida Atlantic
Louisiana Tech has been on the “follow” list each week as we track the success of teams in the mix for Top 25 inclusion. While they haven’t been considered for inclusion to this point of the year they’re definitely on the radar having won their last three series, sweeping the last two. They opened Conference USA action by being swept by Southern Miss, so a statement victory, on the road against Florida Atlantic, would definitely strengthen their case.

Seven of their regulars in the starting lineup are hitting .280 or better with outfielder Parker Bates setting the tone, leading the team in RBI and total bases. The weekend trio of Matt Miller, Logan Robbins and Logan Bailey hasn’t been as strong as expected entering the year but at the very least each has the ability to pitch deep into games and give the Bulldogs an opportunity to win.

FAU is off to a fast 11-1 start in C-USA action, although they’ve yet to play an in-conference team with a winning record, with series against Southern Miss, Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee yet to come. That said, part of the reason for that is because they’re beating up the rest of their conference foes, sweeping three of their four weekend opponents since league play opened.

The offense is slashing .301/.384./.456, and four of their regulars have more than 20 RBI. The bullpen is deeper than the starting staff, as the Owls are at their best getting off to an early lead and holding it to the end.

There is one more matchup between ranked teams this weekend that deserves mention, No. 11 Arkansas at No. 7 Vanderbilt. However, neither team especially needs a statement series win given their successes to this point of the season. Obviously whoever wins that series is going to get a big rankings and RPI boost with yet another postseason feather in their caps.

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