George Horton admits that he suffers from "CRS"—that's Can't Remember, well, you know.
For years, Horton has scribbled down all manner of thoughts in a stenographic notebook that he refers to as his "Brain." When he was the coach at Cal State Fullerton, sometimes he would look back in his notebook later and forget why a certain notation was significant. So he would ask his assistant at the time, Rick Vanderhook, who always knew exactly why Horton wrote down any given item. Vanderhook just knew how Horton's mind worked—and how his Brain worked, too.
Top 25 Series
Illinois-Chicago at (2) Vanderbilt
Kent State at (4) Louisville
St. Joseph's at (5) Mississippi State
Bryant at (6) Oregon State
(7) South Carolina at/vs./vs. Clemson
(8) Mississippi at Florida International
Akron at (11) Kentucky
Wright State at (12) UCLA
(14) Oregon at (17) Cal State Fullerton
Texas at (15) Stanford
Rutgers at (16) Georgia Tech
Pepperdine at (18) Oklahoma
Villanova at (19) Florida State
San Francisco at (20) Arizona
Portland at (21) UC Irvine
Manhattan at (23) Florida Gulf Coast
(24) Southern Mississippi at Troy
Top 25 Tournaments
Houston College Classic:
(1) North Carolina, (13) Rice, Baylor, California, Houston, Texas A&M
Caravelle Resort Tournament, Myrtle Beach, S.C.:
(10) North Carolina State, Coastal Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Maryland-Baltimore County
Irish Baseball Classic, Cary, N.C.:
(22) Notre Dame, (25) Virginia Tech, Massachusetts, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee
Vanderhook played for Horton at Cerritos (Calif.) JC in the early 1980s, then worked with Horton as a fellow assistant under Augie Garrido in the '90s, and finally spent 11 years as Horton's assistant after Garrido left for Texas. Horton is now the head coach at Oregon and Vanderhook is the head coach at Cal State Fullerton, but these two men still know each other inside and out. Which adds a compelling wrinkle when their teams meet on the field, as they did in the Eugene Regional last year, and as they will do in a three-game series this weekend in Fullerton.
"It's a challenge. He knows what I do, I know what he does," Vanderhook said. "I've watched him call pitches, he's watched me run offense. It's going to be fun. It's good and it's bad. Do I like to play against Augie? No. Do I like to play against George? No. Do I like to play against John (Savage, his former boss at UCLA)? No. But do I want to? Yeah, because you want to play people that will challenge you to find out if you're good or not."
Horton looks at his homecoming a bit differently. He first returned to Fullerton as Oregon's coach in 2010, when the Titans were coached by another former Horton assistant, Dave Serrano. Horton called that experience one of the highlights of his career, and he expressed only excitement for the opportunity to face the Titans again.
"First and foremost, take the relationship part of it aside, you look at Cal State Fullerton and the body of work, the tradition—they're off to a tremendous start. It's a barometer for your team; you hope you go down there and play well," Horton said. "Then all the personal things: I went to school there, it was hard for me to leave there. I love that place. All the ex-players are coming back, and I'm looking forward to seeing them. Then you go onto the field and it's sons and brothers of guys I coached and know very well, the Wallach family and the Pedroza family, ex-bat boys in the Huttings, Michael Lorenzen who I coached this summer (with Team USA). And the entire staff except Jason Dietrich is colleagues of mine and ex-players of mine. Then you add my family and friends, people that I love a lot, who live down there. So yeah, I'm looking forward to it in the biggest way, for every reason."
As Horton said, this series will be an important barometer for both of these teams, which enter the weekend with a combined record of 15-1. And the Ducks and Titans have similarities that stretch well beyond their similar styles of play. For one thing, both teams are relying on two new starters in the weekend rotation, and so far the returns have been overwhelmingly positive.
The Titans threw strikes better than any team in Division I last year, leading the nation with 1.87 walks per nine innings. So far this year it has been more of the same, even though freshmen who weren't around last year now comprise two-thirds of the weekend rotation, and even though Dietrich has replaced Kirk Saarloos as pitching coach. Freshmen Thomas Eshelman and Justin Garza and sophomore righty Grahamm Wiest have combined to issue just two walks while striking out 37 in 38 innings.
Vanderhook said strike-throwing is contagious just like offense can be, and the Fullerton bullpen has also pounded the zone: No Titan has issued more than two walks, and the staff has walked just nine through 72 innings on the season. Sophomores Willie Kuhl and Tyler Peitzmeier have emerged as rock-solid options in the middle innings, allowing the Titans to take leads into the late innings, where they have a pair of power-armed options in two-way studs Michael Lorenzen and J.D. Davis. Sophomore righty Koby Gauna, who turned in a stellar start during Fullerton's four-game opening weekend, makes this bullpen even deeper, in addition to providing a talented midweek starting option. Vanderhook asks the same thing out of all his pitchers, and they all do it well, even though they have different styles.
"The No. 1 key to everything is throwing strikes," Vanderhook said. "If you don't give up free bases, and you take the outs that you should get, people are going to score runs, but you can limit the number of runs being scored.
"I'll take a few things that I got from John (Savage), who does walk guys, but they don't beat themselves. We used to always talk about first-pitch strikes, strike one. But when I was with John, his whole thing was: strike one, and if you miss, you fail. How about two out of three? 0-1 is good, so is 1-and-2. We want our guys to win two out of the first three pitches, then we want to win 2-and-2. So if you get to those points and win those points, you take pride in them. These kids just buy into it. They can all throw breaking balls for strikes early, and they can all cross-count. When you have a mix of that, of two or three pitches that you can do, it makes it a little more uncomfortable for the guy at the plate."
Oregon's lone rotation holdover, Jake Reed, has moved into the Friday starter role, and a pair of lefthanders have joined him to form a very formidable rotation thus far. Sophomore Tommy Thorpe was an invaluable bridge to closer Jimmie Sherfy in the bullpen last year, posting a 2.11 ERA in 35 appearances, and has thrived in the Saturday role while junior lefty Christian Jones builds himself up after Tommy John surgery just over a year ago. Thorpe was devastating against lefthanded hitters last year with his high-80s fastball and good breaking ball, but he has deployed a quality four-pitch mix as a starter, and he threw seven shutout innings last weekend against Loyola Marymount.
Cole Irvin, a wiry freshman, has shown better velocity than he did as a high school senior last year, jumping from the 84-89 range into the 88-92 range. He also has an excellent changeup that he can throw in any count, and he mixes in a solid college curveball and a cutter. Horton said Irvin's focus and maturity also have impressed him.
The Ducks gradually are extending Jones, who already has made three relief appearances and worked three scoreless innings in a start against Portland on Tuesday.
"Long term, my vision is that Christian is so good, as long as his health is good, eventually he'll be a weekend guy," Horton said. "I don't think Christian, unless his arm tells us different, is best suited for the bullpen, because he's not one to have the resilience to bounce back and throw twice or even three times in a weekend. Having a luxury, possibly, to put Tommy Thorpe back in that role would be a real good thing for our ballclub. Arguably we'd have the seventh, eighth and ninth covered with Thorpe and Jimmie, like we did last year."
In the meantime, Oregon has gotten a boost in the bullpen from freshman lefty Garrett Cleavinger, whom Horton said has come out of nowhere after having a rough fall. He'll touch 90 mph with a deceptive fastball, and his curveball is effective against lefties.
Both of these teams can succeed by pounding the strike zone because both have athletic defenses filled with polished upperclassmen who don't make mistakes. The Titans have a .977 fielding percentage through eight games, while Oregon is fielding an absurd .993, with just two errors. Fullerton has two outstanding playmakers on the left side of the infield with shortstop Richy Pedroza and third baseman Matt Chapman, plus Lorenzen, a marquee defender in center field.
Oregon has moved sophomore Scott Heineman to center field after he played third base as a freshman last year, then tinkered with catching in the offseason. Horton calls him "a little Bugs Bunny, an athletic, energetic guy who could play anywhere," reminding him of former Duck Jack Marder. And Oregon is blessed with perhaps college baseball's premier defensive shortstop in senior J.J. Altobelli, who has also gotten off to a very hot start with the bat, leading the team with a .429 average and a .586 on-base percentage.
"J.J.'s a great baseball player," Horton said. "In his own way, I don't think anybody plays the game in all areas the way J.J. does. He's never going to be a Golden Spikes winner because he won't put up the offensive numbers, but his ability to run our system—and some of the spectacular plays that he makes look routine; we don't take that for granted. He's as good a college shortstop as I've ever coached."
Several of Oregon's key hitters haven't gotten their bats going yet, and the Ducks carry a .221 team average into this weekend, while the Titans are hitting .282 and have scored 18 more runs in the same amount of games. Texas Christian coach Jim Schlossnagle called Fullerton the best offensive team he's seen in a long time after the Titans swept the Horned Frogs in dominating fashion last weekend, and the Titans certainly seem to have an offensive edge against Oregon this weekend.
But Oregon's lineup does have a very dangerous centerpiece in junior first baseman Ryon Healy (.345/.441/.552), who has learned to control his emotions better and looks "poised for a very special year," as Horton put it. And Vanderhook knows very well that teams coached by Horton and assistant Mark Wasikowski excel at manufacturing offense by applying incessant pressure. This group of Ducks also has the personnel to make that system very effective.
"They're old; they really grind out at-bats and take good at-bats," Vanderhook said of Oregon's hitters. "They're really experienced at what they do, that's how I'd describe them. George's teams are good, they're lefthanded, righthanded, they run, they bunt, they hit-and-run and play solid defense."
Vanderhook's teams play the same way, which will make this chess match a lot of fun to watch this weekend. But Vanderhook is far from a Horton clone; he does things his own way, and Horton loves him for it.
"Hookie's a different guy. I'm very proud of him," Horton said. "Part of what I've accomplished in my career is a direct result of his work. He's got some rough edges to him as you know, which might have kept him from getting the job the first time I left. But Rick's been a great baseball guy ever since he played for me at Cerritos. If you wrote up everything you want your assistant coach to be like, he's the definition of that: loyal, hard working, conscientious. What he's doing there doesn't surprise me one bit. He was ready for that. He has his own style, but it's very, very successful."
Reedy River Rivalry Revamped
College baseball's best rivalry has been decidedly one-sided lately. Sure, the games have been competitive—it seems like white-knuckle thrill rides are inevitable when Clemson and South Carolina square off—but the Gamecocks have come out on the winning end in 18 of the last 25 meetings since 2007. That includes South Carolina's stunning back-to-back victories at the 2010 College World Series and South Carolina's pair of one-run wins against the Tigers in last year's Columbia Regional.
"You've got to give them respect for what they've done, playing for the national championship three years in a row and winning it twice," Clemson assistant head coach Bradley LeCroy said. "(The postseason meetings) just add to the dynamics and the craziness of the rivalry. Last year down there, there were two great games, and obviously South Carolina came out on top. Our guys competed and played hard, we just didn't get it done."
There is always going to be a frenzied atmosphere surrounding this series, which begins Friday in Clemson, travels to neutral Greenville on Saturday and finishes in Columbia on Sunday. Ticket demand is always fierce, and the intensity level is always high, on the field and in the stands.
But the dynamics of this matchup are slightly different from recent years, because Clemson feels like it has a little something extra to prove. South Carolina (6-1) enters this weekend ranked No. 7 in the country and expected to make another run at a national title. Clemson has a young roster and enters the weekend unranked, though it won its first two series against William & Mary and Wright State, putting the Tigers at 5-2 on the season.
"Obviously our guys look at the polls and that kind of stuff, they see that (the Gamecocks are) ranked in the top 10, we're outside the top 25 looking in," LeCroy said. "Obviously we want to be in the top 10. But it is Clemson-South Carolina, so it doesn't matter if both teams were 7-0 or both teams were 0-7, it's a huge deal for both programs, it's a huge deal in this state, it's a huge deal in college baseball. We need to go out this weekend and prove ourselves to everybody across the nation that we're a Top 25 club, and no better way to do it than to take care of business this weekend against South Carolina."
Many of the players who have starred in this drama in recent years are gone: South Carolina's Michael Roth, Matt Price, Christian Walker, Evan Marzilli, Adam Matthews, Ray Tanner; Clemson's Richie Shaffer, Will Lamb, Spencer Kieboom, Phil Pohl, Kevin Brady, Dominic Leone. So let's take a closer look at some of those moving from supporting roles into leading roles, and some of the new faces in the cast of characters.
Taking Center Stage:
• L.B. Dantzler, 1b, South Carolina. Dantzler ranked second on the team with 10 homers after transferring in from a junior college last year, but he hit just .262. He has improved his approach as a senior this spring and is off to a torrid start, hitting .542/.625/1.000 with three homers and 13 RBIs through seven games.
"He's using the whole field more than he did last year," said first-year South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook. "He's still a pull guy, but he's gotten his fair share of hits this spring using the whole field more than he did a year ago. He's just a little more confident, more secure, more sure of himself. He knows he's one of the leaders of this team."
• Steve Wilkerson, 2b, Clemson. After struggling in limited playing time as a freshman, Wilkerson had a solid sophomore year in 2012, hitting .295/.353/.380 and earning second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference honors. The Tigers needed him to become the centerpiece of the lineup as a junior, and so far he has handled that responsibility with aplomb, hitting .429/.448/.607 with one homer and seven RBIs. He's also playing fine defense at second base, making him a complete player.
"Wilkerson was a highly touted guy out of high school, turned down some money," LeCroy said. "It's amazing the jump these kids make. Two years ago, he might strike out and go into the tank the whole game. Now, it's move on to the next at-bat. He's starting to turn into that prospect everybody thought he'd be out of high school. He's a true switch-hitter with pop, he's good from both sides, he's a great athlete, he's an above-average runner. He's really stepped up as a team leader, and he's got a lot of confidence, which makes him a better player."
• Jordan Montgomery, lhp, South Carolina. The man tasked with filling Roth's shoes as the Friday starter often gets compared to Roth because of his feel for a fastball that sat in the mid-80s last year and good changeup. But the lefty has gotten better as a sophomore, and he's picked right up where he left off in Omaha, going 2-0, 1.64 through 11 innings.
"Jordan's velocity might be up a little bit from where you saw it in Omaha; he's a little bit stronger than he was," Holbrook said. "Jordan last year was maybe 84-86, maybe touching 87-88 at times. He's been 87-88, touching some 89s and 90s now, even touched a 91 or so from time to time. He's maturing; he's worked very hard in the weight room. That helps him because the more he can pitch inside with his fastball, the more effective it makes his changeup. His breaking ball is solid, nothing great, kind of like Roth's breaking ball—it's good enough, and he won't shy away from throwing it. But he'll make his living with fastball and changeup."
• Daniel Gossett, rhp, Clemson. Montgomery's counterpart in the Friday matchup is a fellow sophomore, Gossett. Like Montgomery, Gossett pitched his best at the end of last season, and the Tigers held him for Game Two of the regional against South Carolina—a game Gossett departed with a 3-2 lead after seven innings. The hard-throwing righty is off to a fine start as a sophomore, going 1-0, 0.77 with 12 strikeouts and three walks in 12 innings.
"He's got a really quick arm—his fastball is 90-93, and he's got one of the best breaking balls at least in our conference, if not in the country," LeCroy said. "It's a true swing-and-miss, hard, 82-83 mph slurve kind of pitch, and when it's on, he's really tough. He's an ultra competitor, that's the one thing about Goose—that's what we call him. He competes every single pitch on the mound."
Welcome To The Show:
• Tyler Krieger, ss, Clemson. South Carolina is hopeful that sophomore shortstop Joey Pankake will be able to play this weekend after sitting out Tuesday's win against Furman with a pulled groin, but if he can't play the Gamecocks will look to freshman D.C. Arendas at short. The Tigers will be playing a freshman shortstop regardless in Krieger, who has defended well enough to keep the more experienced Wilkerson at second base, even though he is a more than capable defender at short. Krieger has struggled at the plate so far, hitting just .174 through seven games, but he has played error-free defense.
"Krieger actually is playing tremendous defense right now, and one of the reasons he won the job is he was so offensive in the fall and the preseason," LeCroy said. "He's struggling a bit right now but he'll be fine. He's a true switch-hitter as well, so he can mix and match with lefties and righties."
• Max Schrock, 2b, South Carolina. Holbrook had no hesitation about hitting Schrock second or third in his lineup from the outset of his career, because he is a very advanced hitter for a freshman. Schrock got off to a slow start against Liberty during opening weekend, but he produced two hits in each of his last three games, boosting his average to .250.
"He put some pressure on himself to show everybody what he could do the first weekend, but since then he's kind of relaxed," Holbrook said. "He's been doing fine; he can swing the bat. He's capable of being a .350 hitter—I don't know if he'll do it as a freshman, but he's capable of that. We need him to swing it, because (Grayson) Greiner's off to a slow start. We need to get him going."
• Clate Schmidt, rhp, Clemson. Holbrook called pitching depth the strength of his team, and the Gamecocks will lean solely on veterans in the rotation this weekend—Montgomery and seniors Colby Holmes and Nolan Belcher. Clemson has its own quality senior going Sunday in improved righthander Scott Firth, but the Tigers will hand the ball to a freshman on Saturday in the power-armed Schmidt. The Tigers are building him up slowly, but he has yet to allow a run in 6 2/3 innings over two outings.
"Schmidt's been real good," LeCroy said. "He's got an average to above-average fastball with good run, and he's got a swing-and-miss slider. He's as competitive as it gets; he believes he's going to strike everybody out, which is a good thing. He struggled a bit in the fall—I don't want to say we were disappointed but we knew the talent he had. Now he's pitching on Saturdays, so it's been a big jump for him from the fall."
• Steven Duggar and Shane Kennedy, Clemson. Duggar, a heralded freshman outfielder, and Kennedy, a junior-college transfer, have fit seamlessly into the Clemson lineup, helping to alleviate the loss of most of the team's offensive firepower. Duggar ranks second on the team with a .320 average and first with three doubles, while Kennedy leads the team with nine RBIs. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Kennedy already proved he could handle Division I competition during his freshman year at North Florida, when he hit .324/.410/.473 before transferring to Santa Fe (Fla.) JC for his sophomore year.
"We felt like we needed to sign a juco guy, and when we signed Kennedy, we felt like he was that type of guy," LeCroy said. "He's just a presence, he's strong, he's athletic. He's one of the few guys left in college baseball that has some serious, serious pop, every time he comes to the plate he can leave the yard.
"Duggar is an outstanding outfielder with a plus arm, he's hitting in the 2-hole for us, driving guys in, hitting doubles. He's just a good player. He and Krieger don't step in the box and act like freshmen, they're acting like juniors or seniors, which helps them in the tough times, especially this coming weekend against South Carolina. It'll be tough for a freshman to be able to play in that series, and these two guys will be able to handle it."
Around The Nation
• Texas and Stanford will get together for their annual three-game showdown this weekend at Sunken Diamond. There might not be a team in college baseball that can match Stanford for star power, but two of the Cardinal's brightest stars—closer A.J. Vanegas and slugger Austin Wilson—remain sidelined, Vanegas until late March with a back injury, and Wilson for another two to four weeks with a stress reaction in his elbow. In their stead, Stanford has gotten outstanding play from sophomore Austin Slater (.381/.440/.619) in right field, and from a host of players in the bullpen. Collectively, the Cardinal 'pen has surrendered just three earned runs over 34 2/3 innings.
Texas has remade its offense this year, relying more on speed than in years past. The Longhorns have 18 stolen bases in eight games, an average of 2.25 per game (the school record is 2.66 per game, set in 1982). Taylor Stell (5-for-6) and Matt Moynihan (3-for-3) lead the Texas running game, but six different Longhorns have already tallied multiple stolen bases. Stanford, led by catcher Wayne Taylor, does a good job controlling the running game, having thrown out five of nine basestealers on the season. Taylor needs to be on his game to slow down the Longhorns. The other key for Stanford will be keeping red-hot Texas outfielder Mark Payton in check. Payton leads Texas with a .536 average (15-for-28), a .581 OBP and a .750 slugging percentage.
• This weekend features three compelling tournaments. The annual Houston College Classic features another solid field, though just two of the six teams head into the event ranked this year (No. 1 North Carolina and No. 13 Rice). The Friday showdown between UNC's Kent Emanuel and Rice's Austin Kubitza figures to be the highlight of the weekend. I'll be on hand all weekend with updates. I'm also looking forward to seeing how Texas A&M's exciting power arms stack up against Houston, Rice and UNC, and how California catcher Andrew Knapp, a first-team preseason All-American, has progressed behind the plate.
• The Coca-Cola Classic in Surprise, Ariz., kicks off Thursday with No. 3 Arkansas taking on Arizona State. A showdown between All-Americans Ryne Stanek and Trevor Williams will not materialize, as the Sun Devils are slated to start freshman lefty Brett Lilek against Stanek on Thursday. Williams will start Friday against Pacific, but the main event Friday will be the duel between Arkansas righty Barrett Astin and Gonzaga lefthander Marco Gonzales. The Hogs get lefthander Randall Fant back from injury just in time to make the start Sunday, as Trey Killian will go Saturday against ASU. Now that Fant is healthy, Arkansas looks best equipped to handle this four-game weekend.
• Notre Dame and USA Baseball will host the Irish Baseball Classic in Cary, N.C. The highlight of that event figures to be Saturday's showdown between Notre Dame and Virginia Tech, two rejuvenated programs that both enter the weekend ranked, as No. 22 and No. 25, respectively. Those programs have an obvious connection that adds intrigue: Irish coach Mik Aoki served as an assistant under Hokies coach Pete Hughes when both worked at Boston College, and Aoki succeeded Hughes as head coach at BC. Both teams also face Rhode Island, which is typically one of the top programs in the Northeast but enters this weekend with an 0-8 record, with all of its losses coming against powers Florida State, Mississippi and Mississippi State. After this weekend, the Rams will have played 10 ranked teams in their first 11 games, with the lone exception being Saturday's matchup against Ohio.
• Speaking of rough starts, a number of name-brand teams enter this weekend desperate for wins. Two teams that played in the 2012 College World Series have struggled mightily in the early going, as Florida carries a five-game losing streak into its huge series against 9-0 Miami, and Kent State is just 1-7 heading into a daunting road series at No. 4 Louisville. The Gators and Golden Flashes could find themselves stuck in deep holes this weekend, but at least in Kent State's case, all the preconference rigors serve to prepare it for Mid-American Conference play. Kent State's most realistic path to the postseason is via the MAC's automatic bid, and the Golden Flashes will be battle tested should they find their way back to a regional.
"It's frustrating for us to be where we are," Flashes coach Scott Stricklin said last weekend after a loss to San Diego. "I think we're a good team—actually, I know we're a good team. Early in the season, when we play the teams we play, we challenge ourselves to hopefully be ready at the end of the year."
Other teams that are in serious need of wins this weekend: Fresno State (1-6) hosts Southern California, Washington (2-6) hosts Cal Poly, and Nebraska (0-7) hosts New Mexico (2-4) in a matchup between two teams that had high hopes for this season but have gotten off to disappointing starts. The Cornhuskers, like Kent State, put together a very challenging nonconference schedule, and five of their seven losses have come at Cal State Fullerton and Texas. Two of the losses in Austin were by a combined three runs.
"Our team needs to learn how to win those close games," Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said. "We just haven't gotten over the hump from an execution standpoint of doing it under pressure. From an effort and attitude standpoint, I really like what our team does, but at the end of the day, we have a lot to work on as far as the details of the game, and teaching these guys all the little things you have to be able to do to win games."
• On the opposite end of the spectrum, good luck finding a hotter player than North Carolina State's Brett Williams. The fifth-year senior center fielder, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, has given the Wolfpack a major jolt in the No. 2 hole in the lineup. Williams has reached base safely in 15 of his last 18 plate appearances, with three home runs and 13 RBIs in that span. He also made this absurd circus catch in Wednesday's win against New Mexico State.
Williams and the Wolfpack will face a couple of strong tests in Florida Atlantic and Coastal Carolina this weekend at the Caravelle Resort Tournament in Myrtle Beach.
• One other Streakin' candidate from the ACC: Virginia's starting pitching was a question mark heading into the season, but it has been an area of strength for the Cavaliers so far, albeit against lesser competition. UVa. starters are riding a 34 1/3-inning scoreless streak into this weekend's tournament against Harvard and Bucknell in Charlottesville. That streak spans Virginia's last six games.
• What happens when a Green Wave crashes into a Crimson Tide? We'll find out this weekend, when Tulane visits Alabama. The Tide's fourth-ranked recruiting class is paying immediate dividends, helping it get off to a 7-1 start that includes a midweek win against Southern Miss and a quality road series win at Sun Belt favorite Florida Atlantic. Freshmen Georgie Salem and Mikey White have been two of Alabama's three top hitters through eight games—each carries a .333 average into this weekend's matchup against a talented Tulane pitching staff. The Green Wave sports a 2.73 staff era, but its hitters have been treading water, hitting a collective .227. As a result, Tulane enters this weekend with a 4-5 record, though it snapped its four-game losing streak Wednesday against New Orleans.