Weekend Preview: Conference Powers Dallas Baptist, Oral Roberts Meet For Early-Season Test

Noah Cummings

SEE ALSO: ACC Plays Opens

Oral Roberts jumped out to a 7-1 start this year, including a sweep at Alabama and a midweek victory against Kansas. The Golden Eagles' early-season momentum was slowed last weekend in the Dairy Queen Classic in Minneapolis, as ORU lost games to Minnesota, Iowa and Hawaii by a total of five runs.

Coach Ryan Folmar said the results of the tournament were disappointing, but the Golden Eagles learned more about what they need to improve.

"You play good teams early in the year to get exposed," he said. "We have a lot of things to work on. You work during the week to correct those things. We wanted to go up there win a couple game, we weren't able to do it. We had the opportunity to win all three, we just weren't able to get it done."

(1) Texas Christian at UC Irvine
Boston College at (2) Florida State
Seton Hall at (3) Florida
Pittsburgh at (4) Louisville
Ball State at (5) Oregon State
Wichita State at (6) Louisiana State
Gonzaga at (7) Cal State Fullerton
Charlotte at (8) East Carolina
Notre Dame at (9) Clemson
Michigan State at (10) South Carolina
Hartford at (11) Arizona
Indiana State at (12) Washington
(13) Virginia at (17) North Carolina
Texas-San Antonio at (14) Texas Tech
St. Peter’s at (15) Louisiana-Lafayette
(16) Stanford at Rice
Illinois at (18) Coastal Carolina
(19) Georgia Tech at Miami
(20) North Carolina State at Wake Forest
Furman at (21) Mississippi
(22) St. John’s at Liberty
South Dakota State at (23) Oklahoma State
Houston at (24) Baylor
Brown at (25) Texas A&M

After a win Wednesday at Arkansas-Little Rock, ORU (8-4) returns home this weekend for the first time since opening weekend to host Dallas Baptist (8-4) in what has become an annual series between two consistent regional teams. This is the fifth straight year the teams will meet for a nonconference series. The Patriots won the first three series, but the Golden Eagles won twice in Dallas last year to claim the series.

Folmar said the series always produces good competition.

"Two good clubs get together and have a good series, that's what we look for more than anything," he said. "It's always a good measuring stick this time of year."

DBU, the Missouri Valley Conference favorite, has won its first three series of the season, defeating Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico and Jacksonville State. DBU is coming off a 3-2 loss in 10 innings Tuesday at No. 1 Texas Christian.

The Patriots again have a powerful bullpen, anchored by closer Seth Ellege (0.90 ERA, 4 SV). They're still searching for more consistency out of their rotation, but the quality of the pitching staff will make things tough for the Golden Eagles' hitters.

ORU's lineup is led by outfielder Noah Cummings (.396/.464/.708, 4 HR) and catcher Matt Whatley (.292/.290/.438). They were the Golden Eagles' offensive anchors last season as well.

"This is nothing really new out of Noah," Folmar said. "He just picked up where he left off. He's a good, solid everyday college hitter who can do a little bit of everything.

"(Whatley has) settled in as an offensive leader. "I expect him to anchor a spot in in the lineup all year long."

The Golden Eagles are eager to get back on track this weekend to build momentum going into conference play, where they are again favored in the Summit League. But more than anything, Folmar is hoping to see progress as his team takes on another strong opponent.

"We just want to see a solid, consistent effort on an inning-by-inning basis," he said. "Just consistency up and down the lineup and pitching staff. Just looking for a lot of the little things. The big things we have covered. It's about some of those details, how we handle adversity, play through mistakes."

Texas, UCLA aim for bounce-back weekend: UCLA travels to Texas this weekend for a three-game series between two teams coming off tough weekends. UCLA went 1-2 in the Dodger Stadium Classic and Texas went 1-3 at Stanford. The five losses the Bruins and Longhorns combined for last weekend were by a total of eight runs, and three came on walk-offs.

This weekend offers a chance for both teams to get back on track before starting conference play against a ranked opponent next weekend. UCLA (6-5) will open Pacific-12 Conference play against No. 11 Arizona, while Texas will host No. 14 Texas Tech.

First, however, the Bruins and Longhorns will have to contend with each other and their strong pitching staffs. UCLA, led by Preseason All-American Griffin Canning, has a 2.01 team ERA and is holding opponents to a .171 batting average. Texas has a 2.70 team ERA and opponents are hitting .213 against the Longhorns. The weekend also offers a bit of intrigue, as UCLA coach John Savage leads his team into Austin after turning down the Texas job last summer, clearing the way for David Pierce to be hired.

Baylor, Houston look to continue strong starts: Coming off a 2-1 weekend at the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic at Minute Maid Park, Baylor (12-1) moved into the Top 25 at No. 24. It will face another tough weekend as it welcomes Houston (8-3) to Waco for a three-game series.

Baylor is off to a strong start at the plate, led by outfielders Richard Cunnigham (.366/.481/.756) and Kameron Esthay (.340/.418/.617). Houston will counter with its strong pitching staff, led by lefthander Seth Romero (2-1, 3.20). The Cougars' staff is more than just their Preseason All-American, however. Its rotation of Romero, righthander Mitch Ullom and lefthander John King has combined to go 4-2, 2.79.

OVC play opens with showdown series: The Ohio Valley Conference begins league play this weekend with a series between two team expected to contend for the championship. Jacksonville State, last year's runner-up, travels to Austin Peay State, which finished in third place, for a weekend series.

Jacksonville State (7-4) won their first two weekend series before losing two out of three at Dallas Baptist last weekend. The Gamecocks' pitching staff will be faced with the tough task of slowing down Austin Peay's powerful offense. The Governors (6-6) are coming off series losses to North Carolina State and Mercer, but are averaging 7.75 runs and more than two home runs per game.

Off the Wall

The 49ers will face a tough test this weekend when they travel to No. 8 East Carolina

Charlotte is off to a 9-4 start this season, with series wins against West Virginia and Xavier, last year's Big East Conference champions, as well as a midweek victory at North Carolina State. The 49ers will face a tough test this weekend when they travel to No. 8 East Carolina (10-3) for a three-game series.

Baseball America caught up with senior outfielder T.J. Nichting, who leads the team in hitting (.481/.482/.769, 3 HR), to talk about Charlotte's hot start.

What has been the key to the team's strong start to the season?

T.J. Nichting: Experience and the hunger to want to do well. We've struggled our first couple years. Being seniors, we've been through a lot through the three or four years. The experience and the maturity has kind of carried through the classes to the younger guys. The hard work's paying off.

This weekend, you play No. 8 East Carolina. What do you like about facing ranked opponents?

It really can bring out the best of you at times. Sometimes teams can play down and sometimes teams can play up. Not that we're down or up, but it's pretty exciting to see what you're made of. We've played one game against (North Carolina) State and now we've got three against a pretty good team in ECU. It's a pretty good gauge to see where we're at and what we need to do.

Who is the toughest pitcher you've faced in your career?

Kyle Freeland at Evansville. He had three pitches. Actually, when he faced us he only really needed two of them. Some of that had to do with the fact I was a freshman and he was a junior at that point. But he was a pro guy in college. I remember them talking about him potentially being maybe the first guy in the draft class to make it to the MLB, which I don't think he was, but now I think he's in the talk for being in the rotation for the Rockies. But he had a good, hard slider and he was pretty tough to hit that day.

What is your walk-up song and why did you pick it?

"Bad Blood" by Taylor Swift. I just like to get the crowd into it a little bit. I like a high-energy song to get the juices going up in the stands. It's not so much for me. It's a little bit for me because it keeps my energy up. But I'm kind of locked in once I get up to the plate and I don't hear much of it.

What is your go-to Chipotle order?

Burrito, double chicken, no beans and extra rice. Sour cream, cheese and that's about it. I'm a pretty plain eater.