Weekend Preview: Star-Studded Weekend In L.A.

Weekend Preview highlights some of the most important story lines from around the game of college baseball.

Dartmouth at (1) Florida
Yale at (2) Texas A&M
(3) Oregon State at San Diego
Princeton at (4) Louisville
(5) Vanderbilt at Stanford
Manhattan at (6) Miami
Fordham at (7) Louisiana State
Monmouth at (8) Virginia
Gonzaga at (9) Texas Christian
(10) California at Texas
UC Santa Barbara at (11) Oregon
Fairfield at (12) North Carolina
St. John’s at (15) Florida State
Sacred Heart at (16) Louisiana-Lafayette
Eastern Illinois at (17) Arkansas
(20) Michigan at UC Davis
Baylor at (21) Houston
Indiana State at (22) Oklahoma State
Western Carolina at (23) Georgia Tech
Top 25 Tournaments
Chanticleer Classic, Conway, S.C.
(13) Mississippi, (19) Coastal Carolina, Ball State, Cincinnati
Dodger Stadium Classic, Los Angeles
(14) UCLA, (24) Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Southern California
USA Baseball Irish Classic, Cary, N.C.
(18) North Carolina State, Alabama, Brown, Bucknell, Niagara, Notre Dame
Keith LeClair Classic, Greenville, N.C.
(25) East Carolina, Maryland, Southeastern Louisiana, Tennessee

Dodger Stadium Classic Makes For Star-Studded L.A. Weekend

The four teams in the Dodger Stadium Classic were all ranked in the Preseason Top 25, and while none of them has started the season as well as they would have liked, the field of No. 14 UCLA, No. 24 Mississippi State, Oklahoma and Southern California remains one of the best in any tournament this season.

After UCLA and USC each host Oklahoma and Mississippi State on Friday and Saturday, the tournament moves Sunday to Dodger Stadium. Oklahoma will take on Mississippi State, followed by a nightcap between UCLA and USC. The second game can be seen on the Pac-12 Network.

With such a strong field, the weekend will give all four teams a chance to answer some questions before the rigors of conference play begin in a couple weeks. Mississippi State is playing away from home for the first time this season. Oklahoma and UCLA both enter the weekend with losing records. And USC lost a home series to North Dakota to open the season.

USC rebounded last weekend, winning a competitive series against Wake Forest. Coach Dan Hubbs said he just wants the Trojans to focus on playing the best they can and not worry about their opponents.

“In college baseball on any given day anyone can beat anyone,” Hubbs said. “So you have to go out there and be the best team on the field. For us, it doesn’t matter who we play, it’s about us.”

There will be a lot of quality players in Los Angeles this weekend, including several pitchers scouts are keeping a close eye on. Oklahoma righthander Alec Hansen, a Preseason All-American, has struggled with his control in his first two starts of the year and enters the weekend 0-1, 9.00 with seven walks in four innings. But he remains one of the most electric pitchers in the country. And Friday night will feature a matchup of impressive junior righthanders, when Mississippi State’s Dakota Hudson (1-0, 1.64) is expected to take on UCLA’s Griffin Canning (1-0, 2.25). Hudson wowed scouts in the Cape Cod League last summer and could be a first-round pick in June, while Canning was a Freshman All-American last season.

With so much talent in the tournament, Mississippi State coach John Cohen said he views this weekend, thanks to its elite competition, as an extension of the SEC season.

“I don’t view this as regional-type game, but as an 11th SEC weekend,” he said. “Which is brutal enough in terms of competition.”

— Teddy Cahill

Clemson-South Carolina Rivalry Enters New Era

If there’s one phrase to pull from Clemson first-year coach Monte Lee’s media session Wednesday, it’s this: “the greatest rivalry in all of college baseball.”

Lee said it more than a handful of times, and though it’s an opinion, it’s a highly informed one. Born and raised in the Palmetto State, Lee grew up with the rivalry and was an assistant head coach for the Gamecocks from 2003-2008.

But this weekend will be an entirely new experience for Lee—his first time participating in the rivalry as a head coach. It’s something he’s thought about since he took the Clemson job last June.

“You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t think about the rivalry,” Lee told reporters at Doug Kingsmore Stadium on Wednesday. “The rivalry is so great and it’s so important to the state of South Carolina, and I’m from the state of South Carolina. I’ve lived here my whole live, so I know how important this rivalry is to both schools and the fan bases. It’s a huge deal, and I’m very, very excited to be a part of it personally.”

As always, the rivalry series promises to be competitive on the diamond, with both teams coming in red hot. After a season-opening 4-3 loss to Maine, the Tigers have won their last six games, while South Carolina is undefeated through nine games. Neither team has played particularly challenging competition so far, but that changes this weekend with the Gamecocks and Tigers facing off Friday at South Carolina, at a neutral site Saturday in Greenville and finishing Sunday at Clemson.

The Gamecocks are off to a scalding start offensively, led by junior college transfer John Jones, who went 8-for-8 last weekend with six walks. The catcher is batting a team-leading .581/.690/.935 with three home runs and 19 RBIs. South Carolina also features power in the rotation with righthanders Clarke Schmidt, Braden Webb and Taylor Widener lining up to start on the weekend.

The Clemson lineup, meanwhile, has a nice mix of veteran experience and talented youth. Highly touted freshman Seth Beer is living up to his reputation in the early going, batting .375/.483/.667 with two home runs, and junior catcher Chris Okey (.250/.419/.542, 2 HR, 11 RBIs) is among the top catching prospects in his draft class. Sunday’s starter is to be announced, but the Tigers will start sophomore lefthander Charlies Barnes on Friday and turn to senior righthander Clate Schmidt on Saturday. Schmidt is the older brother of South Carolina’s Friday starter, adding an extra twist to the rivalry.

“I’d like to see that household over Thanksgiving dinner and over Christmas break,” Lee joked.

Who starts on Sunday for Clemson will be dependent on how the bullpen is used the first two games of the series, Lee said.

Lee knows as much as anyone, when it comes to South Carolina-Clemson, there’s no holding back.

“We’re going to do everything we can to win this series,” Lee said. “And that means all hands are on deck.”

— Mike Lananna

Quality Field Convenes At Keith LeClair Classic

East Carolina hosts the annual Keith LeClair Classic in Greenville, N.C., this weekend, with Maryland, Southeastern Louisiana and Tennessee coming in. All four have the potential to be regional teams, while there will be plenty of scouting interest in Friday afternoon’s tilt between Maryland and Tennessee that’ll feature a faceoff between Preseason All-Americans Mike Shawaryn pitching for Maryland and Tennessee third baseman Nick Senzel.

“Facing three quality opponents like we are, I’m interested to see the guys go compete against that,” Southeastern coach Matt Riser said. “It’ll give us a good gauge of where we’re at, not only from a conference standpoint but a national standpoint as well, good or bad.”

The Pirates will look to build off their eye-opening series win at defending national champ Virginia last weekend. Physical freshman outfielder Dwanya Williams-Sutton has made an immediate impact, going 13-for-27 (.481) with nine RBIs in his first eight college games. At the same time, Saturday starter Jacob Wolfe, a junior lefty, has yet to allow an earned run in two starts. Wolfe will get the ball against Tennessee in Saturday’s second game, where he’ll face an offense that’s shown it’s much more than just Senzel. The Vols are hitting .352 as a group, the seventh highest average in the country, on their way to a 6-1 start.

On the flip side, both Maryland—which has scored two runs combined in Shawaryn’s two starts—and Southeastern Louisiana have struggled to find consistent offense but did show some signs of life in their respective Week 2 series against Rhode Island and Troy. Southeastern was tabbed the preseason favorite in the Southland Conference, while Maryland is coming off back-to-back super regional trips and is expected to contend again in the Big Ten despite having to replace five starters in its lineup.

The LeClair Classic has been held annually since 2004 in honor of the former Pirates head coach, who died from Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2006. LeClair coached the Pirates for five seasons and was already the second-winningest head coach in school history when he gave up his duties after the 2002 season. Current ECU coach Cliff Godwin played for LeClair and wears LeClair’s No. 23 jersey number.

LeClair was held in high esteem throughout the profession.

“When I was younger and I was working at Marist,” Maryland coach John Szefc said, “we had two teams that competed against Keith LeClair’s teams in the NCAA tournament in 1997 (when LeClair was at Western Carolina) and 2000. I knew Keith really well. We had a good relationship. I’ll explain to our guys before we go down there what this tournament’s about and who he was. He was a really strong guy in college baseball. I think this tournament and the ballpark down there and the tradition they have there is really a direct reflection of who he was.”

— Jim Shonerd

Red Raiders, Titans Look To Keep Building Momentum

Viewed as a bit of a wild card in the Big 12 entering the season, Texas Tech asserted itself in Week 2, beating ranked teams Houston and Louisiana-Lafayette at the Shriners Hospital for Children College Classic at Minute Maid Park. That was the first of three straight challenging weekends of non-conference play for the Red Raiders, as they’ll welcome Cal State Fullerton to Lubbock this weekend and then travel to face another ranked team, California, in Week 4. This weekend is the Titans’ return trip for a series last year, when Texas Tech went out to Fullerton and got swept.

“We know how they play, and we’re excited to play against them,” Red Raiders first baseman Eric Gutierrez told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “It’s a good team and we have a good team, too. It’s going to be a good game.”

Gutierrez is a key part of an offense that’s expected to be Texas Tech’s strength. Fellow seniors Tyler Neslony and Cory Raley have experience from Tech’s Omaha team in 2014, while speedy sophomore center fielder Tanner Gardner is off to a hot start, hitting .429 in nine games. Veteran sinkerballer Ryan Moseley (1-0, 1.80) figures to be a reliable Friday arm. The rest of the pitching staff was supposed to be the question mark, although freshman Ty Harpenau (2.70 ERA) has held his own as the Saturday starter in the early going.

It should be a strength-on-strength matchup with Tech’s offense going against Fullerton’s pitching. Even with the departure of ace Thomas Eshelman, the Titans have put up a 1.94 ERA through their first seven games. Fresno State transfer Blake Quinn has moved to the front of the rotation and struck out nine in five innings against Indiana last weekend, while freshman Colton Eastman has won each of his first two starts and allowed just three earned runs in 12 innings.

Offense has been the issue. The 4-3 Titans have been shut out in two of their three losses and are hitting just .203 as a unit. They found some life last weekend, scoring 17 runs in a three-game sweep of Indiana, but they were blanked in a midweek loss at Arizona on Wednesday to begin their road trip.

— Jim Shonerd

Fast Starters Converge In Pensacola

The Cox Diamond Invitational won’t bring any ranked teams to Pensacola, Fla., this weekend, but the four teams in the field (Auburn, Michigan State, Southern Mississippi and Troy) are all likely contenders for regional spots and have gotten off to good start to the season. The four teams have a combined record of 26-8 entering the weekend.

The tournament will be held at Blue Wahoos Stadium, home of Double-A Pensacola, a Reds affiliate. That setting and the well-rounded field make for a good measuring stick, Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said.

“Michigan State has been playing really well,” Berry said. “Troy has been playing real good baseball. Auburn, that’s a talented group that Butch (Thompson) has got over there. It’s a great test for us in a really nice stadium.”

After Michigan State finished third in the Big Ten Conference last season, but was left out of the NCAA Tournament, the Spartans have come back strong at the outset of this season. The Spartans will come to Pensacola with a 6-0 mark, having posted perfect weekends in two tournaments to start the year.

While coach Jake Boss is pleased with how Michigan State is playing, particularly its pitching staff, he knows firsthand how much can change over the course of a season. In 2008, his first year as a head coach, his Eastern Michigan team was winless for the first month of the season, but went on to win the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

“I don’t put a whole lot of stock into being 6-0,” he said. “I was a part of team that went 0-17 and won a championship. But it’s better to be 6-0 than 0-6, so we’ll take it.”

— Teddy Cahill

Comments are closed.

Download our app

Read the newest magazine issue right on your phone