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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Preview: Wild weekend ahead

Kendall Rogers        

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Go ahead and call the Perfect Game Series of the Week a virtual tie.

On one hand, you have the epic series in Nashville, Tenn., between No. 10 Stanford and No. 4 Vanderbilt, while in Fort Worth, Texas, No. 3 TCU plays host to No. 11 Cal State Fullerton. Both series involve highly ranked teams and are expected to come down to the series finale.

Those two series aren’t the only ones to watch this weekend.

The upset alert is alive and well off the mainland where Hawaii plays host to Texas, while St. John’s has an opportunity to record a huge road series win over No .25 Georgia Tech this weekend.

Here’s an inside look at the top series to watch.


Whether you choose to watch this series or the bout between TCU and Cal State Fullerton, you won’t be disappointed. The Cardinal hit the road to face a Vanderbilt club coming off a sensational West Coast road trip. Stanford will miss weekend starter Brett Mooneyham, who’s out for the season with a finger injury, but did well on the mound last weekend with starters Mark Appel, Chris Reed and Dean McArdle leading the way. Vandy, meanwhile, has its own crop of talented weekend starters with Sonny Gray, Taylor Hill and Grayson Garvin in charge. This should be a well-played and potentially low-scoring series.
Player to watch: There are several talented players to watch in this series, but keep close tabs on Stanford freshman outfielder Austin Wilson. Wilson is off to a fantastic start this season, and impressed us against Rice last weekend. Wilson is hitting .429 with a home run and four RBIs. He also has a .467 on-base percentage.


It doesn’t get much better than this series in college baseball this weekend. The Titans are coming off a series win over Long Beach State, while the Horned Frogs are coming off a series win over Kansas and solid midweek triumph over in-state rival Baylor. Expect this series to be a low-scoring affair despite the presence of some solid offensive cogs on both sides. Nick Ramirez and Carlos Lopez are the big hitters to watch for Fullerton, while Jason Coats and Taylor Featherston have much potential for TCU, and Brance Rivera currently leads the way. This series boils down to which offense creates runs through aggressive play.
Player to watch: The much anticipated pitching matchup on Friday between Fullerton right-hander Noe Ramirez and TCU left-hander Matt Purke won’t happen. Instead, Purke has been pushed back to Sunday because of a blister. In his first start against Kansas, Purke struck out three and allowed just a hit in four innings.


The Longhorns get their first stiff test of the season when they hit the road this weekend to face a solid Hawaii club. UT took three of four from Maryland to begin the season, while Hawaii split a four-game series against heralded Oregon. Texas starting pitcher Cole Green is hoping to rebound from a tough start, while Hawaii has offensive cog Kolten Wong and rising reliever Lenny Linsky to watch. Hawaii could pad their early-season postseason resume with a series win over the ‘Horns. Look for each game of this series to be hotly contested.
Player to watch: Many eyes this weekend are on Texas senior right-handed pitcher Cole Green. Green created a stir when he decided to return to Texas for his final season. And in his first start against Maryland, Green struck out five batters in four innings but allowed seven runs on six hits. UT needs the veteran to return to normal.


It only was last year the Pirates hosted the Cavaliers to start the season in a series that at the time was considered one of the best for the entire season. This season, the Pirates don’t enter their series against the Cavaliers with as much fanfare. However, a solid series is expected. ECU starting pitchers Mike Wright, Zach Woods and Seth Maness are off to solid starts, while Virginia is extremely pleased with the job new starter Tyler Wilson did against Auburn last weekend.
Player to watch: The Cavaliers are expected to get strong starts from Danny Hultzen and Tyler Wilson, so that puts some pressure on East Carolina right-handed pitcher and ace Seth Maness. Maness was fantastic in his first start, striking out seven and allowing just four hits in seven innings. The veteran is expected to give ECU a boost this weekend.


This is a big series for both teams. USC began the coach Frank Cruz era – as limited as it could be – with a 2-1 weekend that included wins over Missouri and Cal Poly. It also earned an impressive midweek win over UC Riverside. Andrew Triggs and Austin Wood give the Trojans a pair of solid weekend starters, while Rice needs a complete weekend from their trio of starters – Austin Kubitza, Matthew Reckling and John Simms. The Owls certainly have the edge on paper, especially if their offense continues to improve, but USC is on a roll. It’s a potential game-changing series for the Trojans.
Player to watch: USC expects a good start from junior right-handed pitcher Austin Wood this weekend. Wood is a highly touted prospect that decided to go to college last summer despite getting drafted in the fourth round. In his first start with the Trojans, the righty struck out six and allowed two runs on six hits in five innings. He must meet expectations this weekend.


The Troy Buckley era at Long Beach State got off to a slow start opening weekend as the Dirtbags went 1-3 with two losses to Cal State Fullerton and a midweek loss to Loyola Marymount. Now, the Dirtbags stay home this weekend to face a solid Arizona club that made easy work of North Dakota State last weekend. Arizona has a good one-two punch on the weekend with Kurt Heyer and Kyle Simon leading the way, while LBSU has its own solid pitchers in Drew Gagnon and Branden Pinder. It would be a shock if this weren’t an incredibly low-scoring series won by the team that perfects small ball.
Player to watch: Keep an eye on Long Beach State right-handed pitcher Branden Pinder. Pinder rose to the occasion in a big way against rival Cal State Fullerton earlier this week. The righty recorded four strikeouts and allowed just two runs on three hits in six innings. The Dirtbags could have a good one in Pinder.


In one of the better series of the weekend, the Johnnies have a chance to make a huge statement. The Johnnies almost entered our rankings earlier this week after a solid weekend at the Big East/Big Ten Challenge. Joe Panik and Jeremy Baltz have the ability to make opposing pitchers pay, while Georgia Tech has a young offense and a solid pitching staff with junior left-hander Jed Bradley leading the way. Tech has the edge at home but don’t be surprised if St. John’s heads home with a series victory.
Player to watch: Is there any question outfielder St. John’s outfielder Jeremy Baltz is the guy to watch this weekend? After dazzling observers with an amazing freshman campaign last season, Baltz is off to a great start this season with a .500 average, two doubles, a triple and seven RBIs. He also is slugging .786 and has a .533 OBP. The Johnnies couldn’t be happier with Baltz.


Can anyone slow down the top-ranked Gators? The series between the Gators and Eagles was moved up a day, and UF again was dominant, tossing a two-hit shutout to take a 1-0 series lead. Boston College entered the series confident after beating Tennessee Tech and Indiana last weekend. Florida, meanwhile, already has recorded solid wins over South Florida and Florida Atlantic. The Eagles will be unable to match the Gators on the mound.
Player to watch: It’s easy to see why there’s so much hype surrounding freshman right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson. Whitson made his debut against USF last weekend and didn’t disappoint, striking out nine and allowing just a hit in five shutout innings. He aims for a second straight dominating performance.


This is an important series for both clubs moving forward. Baylor began its 2011 campaign last weekend with a home series win over Oral Roberts, but dropped a tough midweek affair to TCU. Georgia, meanwhile, was swept on the road by Stetson, and responded by beating Furman during the midweek. The Bulldogs must be more consistent this weekend, while the Bears are looking for more offensive production. The Bulldogs may be struggling, but this will be a hard-fought series.
Player to watch: BU has high hopes for solid prospect and junior right-handed pitcher Logan Verrett, but last weekend’s outing against Oral Roberts was disappointing. Verrett struck out three batters in three innings, but also allowed four runs on six hits. The Bears need a strong start from the veteran righty to start the weekend.


The Mustangs and Cowboys are expected to be on the NCAA postseason bubble at the end of the regular season, so this series has great importance. The Mustangs must take care of business this weekend after going 0-3 to start the season. That won’t be easy against the Cowboys, who have a stockpile of talent on the mound with prospects Andrew Heaney and Jason Hursh leading the way. OSU should be able to take care of business at home, but the Mustangs have enough solid hitters to head home with a series victory.
Player to watch: The Cowboys have several talented pitchers to watch this spring and left-handed pitcher Andrew Heaney is a good one to watch. Heaney was fantastic in his season debut against Bryant, striking out eight hitters and allowing just two hits in seven shutout innings. The Cowboys must be ecstatic about the direction Heaney is going.


Mike Kennedy’s Phoenix made a small statement on opening weekend when they took two of three from N.C. State. Now the Phoenix hope to add another solid series to their postseason resume with a road series win over South Florida. The Bulls dropped a tough series to red-hot Florida last weekend, but could have an edge at home with starting pitchers Andrew Barbosa and Randy Fontanez leading the way. The Bulls really need to win this series to grab some momentum moving forward.
Player to watch: With Barbosa and Fontanez toeing the rubber for the Bulls this weekend, the Phoenix need a solid start by senior right-handed pitcher Ken Ferrer. Ferrer had a solid first start against N.C. State last weekend, striking out three and allowing just a run on four hits in 5 2/3 innings. Ferrer happens to be one of the nation’s top senior prospects.


Just two weeks ago before a pitch was thrown, this series was looking more like a Lone Star State recruiting trip for the Rebels. Instead, this is expected to be a hard-fought three-game set. Even UH coach Todd Whitting is a little surprised by his team’s surge. The Cougars have received solid starting pitching from Codey Morehouse and Jordan Lewis, while Matt Creel has been solid out of the bullpen. Ole Miss, meanwhile, also is undefeated after sweeping Wright State and taking midweek games from Memphis and Arkansas State. UH could get on a roll with a series win over the Rebels.
Player to watch: Replacing left-handed pitcher and ace Drew Pomeranz isn’t difficult. It’s impossible this spring. The Rebels, though, still hope Matt Crouse can evolve into a solid ace. Crouse had a tough first start last weekend against Wright State, striking out just three batters and allowing five runs in six innings. He must set the tone against the Cougars.


One of the more underrated series of the weekend, the three-game set between the Trojans and Golden Eagles should be a dandy. Troy is coming off a four-game sweep over High Point, so the USM series will be its first test. USM, meanwhile, is in the same boat sitting at 5-0 with best wins over Eastern Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe. Troy is tough to slow down at home, so the key to this series is USM getting solid starts and setting the tone early with senior right-handed pitcher Todd McInnis leading the way. A series win over USM would be big for Troy, who likely will be a bubble team at the end of the regular season.
Player to watch: We said the Trojans were tough to handle offensively at home. Much of that hinges on the production of veteran shortstop Adam Bryant. Bryant is off to another solid start this season, entering the series hitting .353 with four doubles and six RBIs. He also has been flawless in the field. Bryant was close to earning PG All-American honors.


This series always has importance because the two schools are respectful rivals on the baseball diamond, but it may have more this season with both programs struggling opening weekend. San Diego scored just seven runs in three losses as it went 1-3 with a lone win over Winthrop. SDSU has the same thing in common, as it sits at 1-3 with its only win over Winthrop, too. SDSU has the better offensive club, but USD clearly has the better pitching staff. Something must give when these two teams take the field this weekend.
Player to watch: Outside of Florida right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson, there’s not a more highly touted freshman arm than Covey. Covey had a respectable collegiate debut against Winthrop last weekend, striking out seven and allowing four runs on seven hits in seven innings. San Diego started Covey behind Chris Jensen last weekend, but will start him in the series opener against the Aztecs.


The Bulldogs are coming off a solid opening weekend that included two wins over Oregon State and a victory over Gonzaga, while Pepperdine is coming off a series sweep over Eastern Kentucky and a midweek loss to UCLA. The Bulldogs surprised on the mound on opening weekend as they allowed just nine runs in three games. They also bring a solid offense into the series. The Waves, meanwhile, have some legit talent on the mound with Scott Frazier, Jon Moscot and Aaron Gates leading the way. Fresno certainly has the advantage at home, but Pepperdine has the talent to take home a series win.
Player to watch: Keep an eye on Fresno State veteran slugger Jordan Ribera. Ribera had a sensational junior campaign at the plate, but is off to a slow start this season, hitting just .182 with an RBI. That offensive trend isn’t expected to continue when the Bulldogs host the Waves this weekend. Ribera will get hot at some point. It’s just a matter of when.

Kendall Rogers is the managing editor of college baseball for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at

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