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College  | Story  | 2/20/2020

Weekend Preview: Week 2

Patrick Ebert      Mike Rooney     
Photo: Jace Jung and Nate Rombach (Texas Tech Athletics)

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

With the first weekend of the 2020 season behind us things really ramp up as we head into week two. Both Louisville and Vanderbilt return home after enduring 1-2 weeks against some tough opponents, and those that faced more manageable foes last week all seem to have much stiffer tests on the docket.

No series is bigger than the annual matchup between in-state rivals Miami and Florida. They enter the weekend ranked sixth and 13th, respectively, with the Hurricanes hosting this year's three-game set. Miami has not won this series since 2014, and similar to the ACC/SEC showdown this past weekend between Louisville and Ole Miss, these matchups should offer plenty of drama between two talented and well-balanced teams.

The Dude in Starkville will be rocking with Oregon State set to visit Mississippi State. The last time these two teams faced one another was at the 2018 College World Series. The Bulldogs had the upper hand in a Final Four matchup, needing just one win, in two games, to advance to the CWS Finals. It wasn't meant to be as the Beavers took both games on their way to claiming a national championship. It's safe to say Mississippi State hasn't forgotten about that experience and will aim to serve as rude hosts.

North Carolina has done a nice job in recent years scheduling a challenging non-conference opponent, spending one year on the road and the next at home. This year they welcome Dallas Baptist to Chapel Hill, a team that is just on the outside of the Top 25 waiting for their chance to be among the ranked teams. This series could provide them with that opportunity.

No. 3 Texas Tech and No. 18 Stanford will participate in the inaugural Round Rock Classic in Texas at the home of the Round Rock Express, the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros. Tennessee and Houston will also take place in this Round Robin tournament.

Stay tuned for updates from across the country as Vinnie Cervino will be on hand for Florida at Miami and Steve Fiorindo will provide his usual videos and observations from the West Coast. Access all of the scouting reports in the Perfect Game College Player Database.

Top 25 in Action

Rk. Team Opponent Location
1 Louisville home vs. Valparaiso Louisville, KY
2 Vanderbilt home vs. UIC Nashville, TN
3 Texas Tech vs. Tennessee, No. 18 Stanford, Houston Round Rock, TX
4 Arkansas home vs. Gonzaga Fayetteville, AR
5 Auburn home vs. UCF Auburn, AL
6 Miami home vs. No. 13 Florida Coral Gables, FL
7 Mississippi State home vs. Oregon State Starkville, MS
8 Arizona State home vs. Boston College Phoenix, AZ
9 UCLA home vs. Saint Mary's Los Angeles, CA
10 Georgia home vs. Santa Clara Athens, GA
11 Duke home vs. Cornell Durham, NC
12 Michigan vs. UConn Port St. Lucie, FL
13 Florida at No. 6 Miami Coral Cables, FL
14 Florida State home vs. Cincinnati Tallahassee, FL
15 Oklahoma home vs. Illinois State Norman, OK
16 Mississippi home vs. Xavier Oxford, MS
17 North Carolina home vs. Dallas Baptist Chapel Hill, NC
18 Stanford vs. Houston, No. 3 Texas Tech, Tennessee Round Rock, TX
19 NC State home vs. Tennessee Tech Raleigh, NC
20 Louisiana State home vs. Eastern Kentucky Baton Rouge, LA
21 Texas A&M home vs. Army College Station, TX
22 East Carolina home vs. Georgia Southern Greenville, NC
23 Texas home vs. Boise State Austin, TX
24 Oklahoma State home vs. UTRGV Stillwater, OK
25 Virginia home vs. Bucknell Charlottesville, VA

Youth Movement

The last time Texas Tech had to replace so many talented hitters all at once was 2017, a season in which they were coming off of their second trip to the College World Series in three years, but were doing so without long-time sluggers Eric Gutierrez and Tyler Neslony.

While it’s always important to temper one’s expectations with freshmen the Red Raiders had three step forward that season to establish themselves as multiple-year starters: Josh Jung, Brian Klein and Grant Little. A fourth newcomer, Cameron Warren, was a JUCO transfer coming off of a huge freshman season at Seminole State, although Warren didn’t truly make his mark offensively until the 2018 season, which included another trip to Omaha.

Jung and Warren have moved on, as has Gabe Holt, who was draft-eligible as a sophomore, and Little, who was a draft-eligible sophomore the year before. Klein is the leader of the team, one of three seniors on TTU’s roster along with righthanders John McMillon and Connor Queen.

Dylan Neuse gives the team a second proven and productive player to the everyday lineup otherwise there are quite a few new faces. Several sophomores – including Dru Baker, Cole Stillwell, Tanner O’Tremba and Max Marusak – figure to get more playing time, otherwise, it’s time to get used to the Red Raiders’ most recent batch of newcomers in their everyday lineup.

We’ll start with the most familiar name of the group, Jace Jung, the younger brother of Josh who appears to be a near carbon copy of the eighth overall pick from last year’s draft. Jace has a similar physical build, started at third base from the very first game of his collegiate career and has the same kind of light-tower power to all fields. The biggest difference between the two Jung brothers is that Jace bats lefthanded.

Nate Rombach is up next, an even more physical slugger at a listed 6-foot-4, 225-pounds. Rombach received numerous Week 1 awards for his opening weekend performance (and he finished a close second to Nick Gonzales as part of the PG/Rawlings Player of the Week honors) as he and Jung wasted no time making a big impression. Texas Tech out-scored Houston Baptist and Northern Colorado 65-11 in four games to open the 2020 season and this new dynamic freshman duo combined for 28 RBI and 16 runs scored.

Outfielder Dillon Carter hit .417 (5-for-12) to begin his college career with a pair of doubles while infielder Jared Cushing and catcher Bo Willis should both see action in backup roles during the regular season.

However, we’re not quite done with the newcomer group as shortstop Cal Conley and first baseman TJ Rumfield are both redshirt freshman. Conley actually began his career at Miami a year ago but had already arrived in Lubbock by this time last year, sitting the year out due to transfer rules. Conley especially is expected to play a big part of this year’s success anchoring the ever-important position of shortstop while providing another steady bat in the lineup.

Coming out of high school these players had the rankings/expectations to match their early productivity. Rombach (263), Carter (321), Jung (347), Cushing (.389) and Willis (491) were all highly ranked members of the high school class of 2019 with Rombach, Carter and Cushing attending the 2018 PG National Showcase. Conley (420) and Rumfield (475) were ranked among the top prospects in the class of 2018. Conley is especially interesting as a rare draft-eligible redshirt freshman.

And although the pitching staff doesn’t have the same opportunities for their young arms, four more freshmen – Andrew Devine, Brandon Hendrix, Tyler Hamilton and Jon Barrera – each received an inning of work on a staff that didn’t turn to the same pitcher twice over the first four games.

It’s obviously early in the season, with much stiffer competition on the horizon, however, the early returns are promising. When you factor in the depth of arms Texas Tech possesses it makes another deep postseason run all the more plausible.

Clayton Beeter, last year’s closer, got the opening day start and was followed by Vanderbilt transfer Austin Becker, Bryce Bonnin and Mason Montgomery. Micah Dallas, Ryan Sublette are the only other pitchers that pitched more than one inning, as Dallas was a weekend starter a year ago as a freshman finishing the year with the most innings (76) of any returning pitcher. McMillon also has experience as both a starter and as a reliever giving TTU an incredible wealth of pitching.

Their first big test comes this weekend as they participate in the inaugural Round Rock Classic against Tennessee, No. 18 Stanford and Houston. Tennessee and Stanford in particular has a similar depth of arm talent that will be sure to test TTU’s young hitters.

After this weekend they play both Florida Atlantic and Florida State in Tallahassee, UNLV and Rice at home and then No. 7 Mississippi State in Biloxi, Miss., as part of a two-game mid-week series. They also host a non-conference weekend series against Minnesota in mid-March, another challenging test as part of their 2020 schedule.

– Patrick Ebert

Around the Horn

I am inquisitive person. And I’ve got questions. It’s week two of the college baseball season and I’m still not sure what my eyes are telling me. Let’s break down some of these uncertainties.

Defense Wins Championships
Florida visits Miami this weekend and both clubs are bringing Omaha caliber rosters. That said, neither team played elite defense in 2019. On top of that, both clubs have new catchers and new shortstops now that Miami’s Freddy Zamora is out for the year. So, in what promises to be an electric environment, let’s see who can play catch when things get tense.

DBU is Due
Maybe the Patriots are due for Omaha in 2020? They have a dominant closer in Burl Carraway and this is a program that has been to Regionals in eight of the last nine seasons. DBU hosted a Regional in 2015 and went to a Super Regional in 2011.

Speaking of Super Regional simulations, Dan Heefner’s club heads to North Carolina this weekend. UNC is missing rotation arm Max Alba and slugger Aaron Sabato hasn’t gotten going yet (.071 through four games). Win two out of three in Chapel Hill and the Patriots will have something they can reference in early June.

Kjerstad: Silent J, Loud Bat
Is Heston Kjerstad the Golden Spikes favorite we forgot about? Kjerstad and Arkansas will face an always feisty Gonzaga club. The ‘Zags will throw two interesting arms at the lefthander from Amarillo: accomplished righty Alek Jacob and 6-foot-4 lefty Mac Lardner. Give us at least two more bombs and it’s time to start auditioning acceptance speeches.

The Top of the B1G or the Depth of the ACC?
Nearly every preseason B1G conversation included the Buckeyes and the league got off to a killer start opening weekend. This is the deepest ACC in the history of the league and the duo of Luke Waddell and Jonathan Hughes gives Georgia Tech at least two high-end talents.

Both teams lost one headscratcher each during the first weekend so color us intrigued. If either of these teams ends up in the hosting conversation, you can be sure that winning this matchup will augment that resume.

Round Rock Confusion
You better sit down to take in this tournament. Stanford is 1-3 following their midweek loss to a veteran Santa Clara unit and Houston (1-2) lost their home series to Youngstown State. Are these bad starts or bad signs?

Texas Tech is scoring runs at their usual epic pace and freshmen Jace Jung and Nate Rombach look like the real deal. Tennessee’s embarrassment of pitching riches has given up just six runs in four games. What happens when nuclear offense meets premium pitching?

Who Are You?
If Army holds a late lead versus Duke last Saturday they win a road series versus a nationally ranked team. Texas A&M’s much maligned 2019 offense has aged into a lineup averaging 11 runs per game in 2020. This series in College Station should offer some insight into which of these trends is more viable.

Boston College’s sophomore class includes a West Coast Friday night guy (Mason Pelio) and two elite lefthanded bats (Cody Morissette and Sal Frelick). This smells like a Regional team. Arizona State can’t hit all of a sudden but now they pitch at a very high level, and with depth. Take two in the desert.

Wake Forest brings their explosive and veteran offense to pitcher-friendly Blair Field this weekend. The Big West made a big statement on opening weekend and Long Beach State’s series win over Cal was loud. Skipper Eric Valenzuela has the Dirtbags fully moved past last season’s 14-win slog. Is the Big West back to being a multi-bid league? Can the ACC get 10 teams into the NCAA Tournament? It’s time for some opening arguments.

Tulane and Cal State Fullerton are college baseball brand names. Fullerton rebounded from a struggle-filled 2019 with a more characteristic series win at Stanford. Tulane showed great balance in their sweep of a Regional-caliber FGCU club. This is a series of programs looking to restore respect. Who will earn it?

– Mike Rooney