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The college baseball season is only two weeks old, with most teams having played six to 10 games. The national leaderboards are dominated by pitchers with 0.00 ERAs and players hitting better than .500.
Already, however, conference play is starting for some teams. The Mountain West Conference begins its league slate this weekend with Fresno State (4-4) hosting Nevada (2-6) and defending champion New Mexico (4-3) traveling to Air Force (4-3).
More conferences will move to league play next weekend, including the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Because of the fast pace of the schedule, coaches have to quickly learn what their teams strengths and weaknesses are. And that makes this weekend, when many teams are playing in tournaments against premium competition, such as the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic in Houston or the Frisco (Texas) College Baseball Classic, or playing a series against a high-profile opponent, such as No. 5 South Carolina and No. 15 Clemson or No. 13 North Carolina and Long Beach State, all the more exciting. By the end of the weekend, many teams will have a much better idea of where they stand.
No. 25 Texas A&M will leave College Station this weekend for the first time this season to play in the Shriners College Classic, where it will face two ranked opponents. Coach Rob Childress said he is eager to see how the Aggies handle it.
“Just seeing our guys play in that venue (Minute Maid Park), it’s another step along the way as far as shaping our identity,” he said. “At the end of the day Sunday, we’ll know the things we’re doing well and the areas we need to improve moving forward.”
No. 4 Louisiana State will also play in the Shriners College Classic this weekend. Coach Paul Mainieri said facing the elite competition in the tournament is important for the Tigers’ growth.
“Above everything else is the competition you get to go up against is something you look forward to,” Mainieri said. “It prepares you for (Southeastern Conference) play right around the corner.”
While this weekend will provide critical information about the progress of players and teams, it remains very early in the season. TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle knows there is a lot of baseball left to be played this year and cautioned against reading too much into early results.
“We’re only eight games into this,” Schlossnagle said. “One series, one weekend is not going to define anybody’s season. We’re just looking forward to playing consistent baseball.”
News and Notes
Atlantic Coast Conference: Louisville lefthander/first baseman Brendan McKay will not start on the mound this weekend against Eastern Michigan due to a mild abdominal strain. As a hitter, he is listed as day-to-day, leaving open the possibility of him playing this weekend. The Cardinals will keep Saturday and Sunday starters Kade McClure and Michael McAvene in their typical roles and give the ball on Friday to freshman lefthander Nick Bennett for his first career start. McKay, a first-team Preseason All-American, is off to a sizzling start this year. He is hitting .667/.714/1.083 with three home runs and is 2-0, 0.82 on the mound. Louisville begins ACC play next week at home against Pittsburgh. . . Miami freshman catcher Michael Amditis left Wednesday’s game against Florida Atlantic with a knee injury following a collision at first base. Coach Jim Morris told the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel that Amditis broke his leg and has ligament damage. Amditis (.357/.438/.429) is the Hurricanes’ leading hitter as he steps into the lineup to replace Zack Collins, the 10th overall pick in last year’s draft. This would be the second major injury in as many years for Amditis, who missed most of his senior year of high school after tearing the labrum in his right shoulder.
Big 12 Conference: No. 1 Texas Christian returned the bulk of last season’s team that won the Big 12 Tournament and advanced to the College World Series for the third straight year. But despite all that experience, the Horned Frogs are relatively young on the mound. Starters Brian Howard, Jared Janczak and Mitchell Traver have all been in the program for at least three years, but freshmen or sophomores have thrown nearly 60 percent of TCU’s innings this season. Freshman lefthander Nick Lodolo, the highest-drafted player not to sign, has stepped into the Frogs’ rotation and is 2-0, 2.70 in his first two collegiate starts. “Just about everybody between the starter and the closer (sophomore Durbin Feltman) is a freshman,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “There have been some growing pains with that, and this weekend (at the Shriners College Classic) if you don’t make pitches you’re going to get exposed quick. I like them, but they have to continue to improve.”
Big Ten Conference: Minnesota is off to a 4-3 start as it tries to defend its Big Ten championship. The Golden Gophers are breaking in a new lineup after losing three of its top four hitters, including conference player of the year Matt Fielder. The new lineup leans lefthanded and Minnesota typically starts five or six lefthanded hitters. Coach John Anderson said the Gophers worked hard in the offseason to get used to facing lefthanded pitching, setting the pitching machines up to mimic lefthanders or having lefties throw batting practice. That paid off last weekend in Minnesota’s sweep of Seattle, which has a lefty-heavy pitching staff led by Nick Manservy. “I think we’ve got some good matchups,” Anderson said. “We can matchup with righthanded guys and I think we can handle good lefthanded pitchers as well.” . . . Righthander Jack Anderson was a stalwart in the Penn State bullpen throughout his career and graduated last year with the program’s all-time (25) and single-season saves record (13). The Nittany Lions have had just one save opportunity so far this season, which came last Friday against Xavier. Junior righthander Nick Distani came on to get the final outs in a 7-5 victory to pick up his first career save. Coach Rob Cooper said it first hit him that Anderson, who was drafted in the 23rd round by the Mariners, was really gone when the team boarded its flight to Texas Christian on opening weekend. Cooper said he misses having Anderson in the bullpen, but is excited for new players to get the opportunity to take on the role. “It’s a chance for those guys to step up and really take that role over,” Cooper said. “Somebody’s got to step up to be that guy, and if it’s a bunch of guys, that’s even better.”
Pacific-12 Conference: Southern California sophomore righthander C.J. Stubbs has been sidelined to start the season by a flexor strain. Coach Dan Hubbs is hopeful Stubbs will be able to return to action in the next couple of weeks. “He’s feeling real good now but it’s one of those things that when you do something that nags out you, it’s always in the back of your mind,” Hubbs said. “He threw (Monday) and felt really good, threw a ‘pen (Sunday) and felt really good, so I’m hopeful we’ll get him back pretty soon.” Stubbs went 2-1, 3.86 in 14 games (seven starts) last spring. . . Arizona hired Dan Heeke away from Central Michigan to become its new athletic director. Heeke has twice served on the NCAA’s Division I Baseball committee and was the chairman in 2015. Heeke replaces Greg Byrne, who was hired away by Alabama earlier this year.
Southeastern Conference: Texas A&M has a new-look lineup this year after losing six regulars from last year’s SEC Tournament championship team, including conference player of the year Boomer White, and through two weeks it has been very productive. The Aggies (8-1) are averaging 10 runs per game and hitting .344/.447/.553 as a team. Head coach Rob Childress credited assistant coaches Will Boldt and Justin Seeley for helping the new players get up to speed quickly. “Our young guys have played really well,” Childress said. “Coach Seeley and coach Boldt have done a great job.” Freshman infielder Braden Shewmake has been central to Texas A&M’s strong offensive start and has settled into the three-hole in the lineup. Through nine games, he is hitting .450/.488/.725 and leads the Aggies in doubles (6), RBIs (15) and stolen bases (3). . . After going 23-33 and missing the SEC tournament last season, Auburn knew improving its starting pitching would be critical. With sophomore righthander Casey Mize coming back, redshirt junior righthander Keegan Thompson returning from Tommy John surgery and the addition of freshman righthander Davis Daniel, the Tigers believed their rotation would be much improved. Two weekends into the season, that trio is a combined 4-0, 1.12 with 34 strikeouts and three walks in 32.2 innings. Auburn hosts Lipscomb and first-team Preseason All-American outfielder Michael Gigliotti this weekend.
Other conferences: Renovations are ongoing at Louisiana-Lafayette’s Moore Field, but the 16th-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns will play their home opener Friday against Southern Mississippi (7-1). In a nod to the work, the first 2,000 fans in attendance at the game will receive a commemorative construction hat. Louisiana (4-3) has won five of the past six games against Southern Miss. . . Austin Peay State (5-3) hosts Mercer (7-2) this weekend in a series that threatens to turn into a home run derby. Austin Peay has hit 22 home runs this season and Mercer enters the weekend with 16. Eleven of the 16 Governors who have recorded an at bat have homered this season, just one shy of the program record. That mark was most recently matched in 2015.