ACC Play Kicks Off

Teddy Cahill and Michael Lananna break down the biggest games of the weekend, including the start of Atlantic Coast Conference play, the Dodger Stadium Classic and two Top 25 series.

ACC play kicks off

Key series: No. 13 North Carolina (7-5) at No. 19 Louisville (12-0), No. 14 Virginia (9-4) at Duke (10-2), No. 3 Florida State (13-0) at Wake Forest (5-8).

Three Players to Watch

Austin Bergner, RHP, North Carolina:
The draft-eligible sophomore made his much-anticipated starting debut last weekend against Liberty and is a key piece of UNC’s pitching staff. A hard thrower with a swing-and-miss stuff, Bergner could be a difference maker for the Tar Heels no matter what role he plays-but especially if he emerges as a consistent weekend starter.

Griffin Conine, OF, Duke: The junior slugger is off to a slow start (.211/.354/.421) after his explosive summer in the Cape Cod League. While the Blue Devils are still 9-2, they would undoubtedly welcome a hot streak from Conine as they enter conference play against the No. 14 Cavaliers. Duke has drawn lots of buzz from scouts in the area as an ACC sleeper-and Conine’s presence is a huge part of it.

Cole Sands, RHP, Florida State: With ace Tyler Holton lost to Tommy John surgery, Sands has occupied the Friday night role for the Seminoles—and so far, so good. Sands is 3-0, 2.25 with 22 strikeouts in 16 innings, and he certainly has the stuff to be a dominant Friday starter in the ACC. However, the junior hasn’t yet faced a lineup of Wake Forest’s caliber this season.

Three Storylines to Follow

Louisville is off to a perfect 12-0 start and has won the ACC each of the last three seasons, but the Cardinals have faced light competition to this point and will be tested against the talented Tar Heels. It’s been difficult to get a true read on a Cardinals team that lost its entire weekend rotation and the bulk of its lineup to the draft. Louisville is still teeming with talent, clearly, but this weekend should serve as a more accurate barometer of its potential.

Virginia has had an unusual season to this point—particularly last week. In a span of seven days, the 9-4 Cavaliers combined for an 11-inning no-hitter in a 4-3 win over William & Mary and dropped a contest to a then-winless Yale team. While Duke isn’t currently ranked, the Blue Devils are on the Top 25 radar and should offer a stiff challenge for the Cavs in their first conference weekend. This weekend could provide some measure of clarity for both teams, depending on the outcome.

Wake Forest and FSU offers similar intrigue. A win away from Omaha last year, the Demon Deacons are off to a 5-7 start and are looking to find consistency with their new-look lineup. A series victory against the Seminoles would be a huge boost. Conversely, Florida State has played as expected to this point, going 13-0 against largely mid-major competition. Can the Seminoles keep it up in conference play? They certainly have the ability to do so.

Dodger Stadium Classic, Los Angeles

Teams: No. 7 Texas Christian (8-3), No. 11 UCLA (10-2), No. 21 Vanderbilt (10-3), Southern California (8-3).

Three Players to Watch

Pat DeMarco, OF, Vanderbilt: The Commodores found a replacement for Jeren Kendall in DeMarco, a freshman from Staten Island. He is the team’s leading hitter with a line of .423/.483/.615 and has the dynamic ability to impact the game in multiple ways.

Michael Toglia, 1B, UCLA: Toglia has been off to a strong start to his sophomore season and leads UCLA in many offensive categories wit a line of .400/.525/.800 with four home runs. His breakout gives the Bruins a powerful presence in the middle of the order and has been a key to their early success.

Josh Watson, OF, TCU: Watson struggled last season as a sophomore but has found his stride again this season. He is hitting .462/.588/.923 with a team-high four home runs. His emergence this spring has been critical for the Horned Frogs’ offense.

Three Storylines to Follow

USC is off to an 8-3 start this season and while five of its wins came at home against Utah Valley and Villanova, it nearly won a series last weekend at No. 6 Arkansas. The Trojans on Saturday upset the Razorbacks and were leading late in the series finale before losing on a walkoff. USC will get another shot at making a statement this weekend on its home turf before beginning Pac-12 Conference play against Utah next week.

Vanderbilt went 1-2 last week at the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic in Houston and continued their road trip with a trip to LA for another high-profile tournament. The young Commodores will again be tested by a new environment and high-end competition. With the start of Southeastern Conference play looming next weekend, a strong finish to the road trip would be significant for Vanderbilt.

TCU had to rebuild its lineup after losing several key pieces from its 2017 group, including co-Big 12 Conference player of the year Evan Skoug. While Watson and first baseman Luken Baker (.364/.500/.697, 3 HR) are anchoring the heart of the order, the Horned Frogs’ new-look offense as a whole has not exploded out of the gate. Baker and Watson account for all of TCU’s home runs and 44 percent of all its extra-base hits. Losing center fielder Johnny Rizer to injury has been a big blow and it will be key for TCU to find some additional depth to the lineup.

No. 5 Texas Tech (14-0) at No. 8 Kentucky (12-2)

Three Players to Watch

T.J. Collett, DH, Kentucky: Collett was limited last season by injury but is fully healthy now and has been mashing the ball for the Wildcats. The sophomore is hitting .375/.463/.857 with eight home runs and adds an imposing presence in Kentucky’s lineup. He was one of the stars of the show last weekend at the Shriners Hospital for Children College Classic in Houston.

Luke Heyer, 3B/OF, Kentucky: Like Collett, Heyer went off at the Shriners College Classic and was named MVP of the event. The senior has played his way into an everyday role for the Wildcats this spring and is the team’s leading hitter with a line of .478/.564/1.109 with eight home runs. He has the versatility to play a few spots on the field, making it easier to keep his bat in the lineup.

Grant Little, OF, Texas Tech: A Freshman All-American last season, Little picked right up where he left off. The sophomore is the Red Raiders’ leading hitter with a line of .442/.552/.769 with three home runs. His impressive start to the season has helped Texas Tech make up for losing players such as Tanner Gardner and Hunter Hargrove out of the middle of its lineup.

Three Storylines to Follow

Kentucky All-American outfielder Tristan Pompey has been limited by an ankle injury over the last two weeks. He missed the whole series against Oakland two weeks ago and has been limited to pinch hitting duties over the last week. The junior is expected to be back to full strength in time for the weekend, which would give the Wildcats’ lineup a big boost.

Despite losing All-American lefthander Steven Gingery on the first weekend of the season to a torn UCL that required Tommy John surgery to repair, Texas Tech’s pitching staff has been outstanding this season. The Red Raiders have a 1.93 team ERA and have struck out 137 batters in 126 innings. Junior righthander Davis Martin (3-0, 0.60) is again thriving on Friday nights and sophomore righthander John McMillon (3-0, 1.69) has pitched well this season in his new role as a starter. Kentucky’s powerful offense will present Texas Tech its most difficult test yet.

Both Kentucky and Texas Tech are in the midst of very challenging three week stretches. Kentucky’s began last week at the Shriners College Classic and will continue next week when it begins Southeastern Conference play at No. 6 Arkansas. Texas Tech, meanwhile, swept last weekend a four-game series against then-No. 21 South Alabama. It will stay in the Bluegrass State next week for two midweek games at No. 19 Louisville before beginning Big 12 Conference play at Baylor. Both teams are off to great starts this season, but how they handle these early challenges could be telling for the rest of the spring.

No. 4 Stanford (11-1) at No. 17 Texas (8-4)

Three Players to Watch

Nolan Kingham, RHP, Texas: The Longhorns ace has so far had one great start (8 IP, 3 H, 0 R), one rough start (3 IP, 8 R) and one serviceable start (5.2 IP, 3 R). To beat red-hot Stanford, Kingham will need to be at his best-especially given that he’ll be up against the pitcher below.

Tristan Beck, RHP, Stanford: Beck hasn’t looked like a pitcher who missed all of last season with a back injury. The righty continues to sizzle, going 2-0, 1.50 through three starts and raising his draft stock in the process. Beck-Kingham projects to be the must-watch pitching matchup of the weekend.

Kody Clemens, 2B, Texas: The last remaining son of Roger Clemens in Austin, Kody has carried the Longhorns offensively through the early going, batting a team-leading .436/.585/.718 with three homers and 13 RBIs. The Stanford pitching staff is an incredibly difficult one to crack, but Clemens could be the hitter to do it.

Two Storylines to Follow

Can The Cardinal take its show on the road? Stanford has played just one game away from Sunken Diamond this season-at UC Davis. How will The Cardinal fare in the high-intensity atmosphere at Texas? So far, Stanford has passed every other test to begin the Dave Esquer Era. This weekend will present another.

The Longhorns’ last series against a Top 25 opponent-a trip to Louisiana State-ended in an emphatic series loss. Texas will be playing a more complete Stanford team this weekend, albeit in front of its home crowd. The series kicks off a brutal stretch that includes two midweek games at No. 16 Arkansas followed by the Big 12 Conference opening series against a Kansas team that’s off to a hot start. We should soon get a sense of just how good the Longhorns are.

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