What To Watch For This Weekend In College Baseball (3/10)

Image credit: Yohandy Morales (By Richard Lewis/Miami)

After a wild Tuesday and Wednesday that saw No. 3 Stanford, No. 5 Tennessee, No. 6 Wake Forest, No. 10 TCU, No. 17 Miami and No. 22 Southern Mississippi all lose games, this weekend looks to provide even more fireworks with conference play beginning for both the ACC and the Pac-12. Two undefeated teams in No. 21 North Carolina State (13-0) and No. 14 Virginia (12-0) are each on the road to take on No. 17 Miami (8-5) and No. 19 North Carolina (11-3), respectively, in what will be each team’s biggest test thus far. Washington State (11-1) heads to Corvallis to take on No. 15 Oregon State (10-2) in a “prove it” series for the Cougars, red-hot Iowa (10-1) hits the road for a clash with the No. 25 Red Raiders of Texas Tech (12-2) and Liberty (7-5) and No. 16 East Carolina (9-3) face off in a matchup between two high-quality mid-major programs. 

No. 21 North Carolina State vs. No. 17 Miami

After beating UNC Greensboro in a roller coaster midweek game by a score of 15-13, the Wolfpack find themselves sitting with a perfect 13-0 record. While they haven’t faced anyone near the caliber of Gino DiMare’s Miami club, they do have a nice win over a quality Coastal Carolina team and are fresh off a sweep of an NJIT team that made a regional in 2021. In what has become a common theme for recent North Carolina State ball clubs, its offense is the calling card. It is eighth in the country in team batting average (.338) and is tied for fourth in the country in total home runs with 31. Up to this point, Kalae Harrison (.439), Trevor Candelaria (.412) and Payton Green (.392) have been the main contributors offensively, but true freshmen Cannon Peebles (12-for-25, 16 RBIs) and Eli Serrano (13-for-29, two home runs) have also made their presence felt. This is a deep lineup top to bottom and once LuJames Groover (.302 with two home runs) and Carter Trice (.265 with five home runs) really hit their stride, the Wolfpack’s production should become even better. The surprise of the season so far for Elliott Avent’s team has been the pitching staff, which ranks 17th in the country with a team ERA of 2.90. North Carolina State has a strong weekend rotation of Logan Whitaker (2.81 ERA), Matt Willadsen (2.00 ERA), and Dominic Fritton (1.15 ERA), while Justin Lawson (0.79 ERA), Andrew Shaffner (1.12 ERA) and Sam Highfill (2.89 ERA) have all been rock solid out of the bullpen. This is a staff that may not have the loudest stuff, but they throw quality strikes and do a great job of avoiding hard contact. 

On the flip side, this series is as close to a “must win” as a series can be this early on for Miami. Since their sweep against Dartmouth, the Hurricanes are just 1-4 and are coming off a midweek loss against Jacksonville. There’s still time to right the ship, and a series win this weekend would build serious momentum for Miami as it heads into the meat of its conference schedule. On offense it starts with projected first-round pick Yohandy Morales. He’s hitting .458 so far this spring with five home runs and 18 RBIs in 13 games played. Outfielder Zach Levenson has also hit the ball very well to the tune of a .386 batting average, three home runs and more walks (9) than strikeouts (8). Freshman Blake Cyr looks to be a potential star in the making as he has started in all but two of Miami’s first 13 games and is hitting .366 with five home runs, and he leads the team in RBIs with 22. Much of the Hurricanes’ struggles so far have stemmed from their pitching staff with arms like Gage Ziehl (11.25 ERA) and Alejandro Rosario (7.82 ERA) off to rocky starts. Karson Ligon, who will start in Friday’s series opener, has been the lone bright spot, pitching his way to a 3.20 ERA. If the Hurricanes pitching staff can take a leap forward this weekend and neutralize a relentless Wolfpack offense, it could be just the spark they need to turn their season around. 

No. 14 Virginia vs. No. 19 North Carolina

North Carolina State isn’t the only undefeated ACC team facing its first real test of the 2023 season this weekend; the 12-0 Cavaliers make the quick drive south to Chapel Hill to take on No. 19 North Carolina, who has won its last seven games. Like the Wolfpack, UVA has had an extremely light schedule up to this point with its most impressive weekend being a series sweep over Columbia, who made the NCAA Tournament in 2022. Brian O’Connor’s club has been stellar on both sides of the baseball, ranking in the top five nationally in both team batting average (.365) and team ERA (2.29). At the plate, Virginia is led by two potential day one draft picks in Kyle Teel (.568) and Jake Gelof (.383, 21 RBIs). Sophomore catcher Ethan Anderson has also torn the cover off the ball, mashing his way to a .420 batting average in the early going with seven doubles, two home runs and 14 RBIs. Virginia’s weekend rotation of Nick Parker (4.60 ERA, 22 strikeouts to three walks in 15.2 IP), Brian Edgington (1.76 ERA, 22 strikeouts to three walks in 15.1 IP) and Jack O’Connor (1.72 ERA) has been fantastic up to this point. Out of the bullpen, the Cavaliers feature 6-foot-10 lefthander Jacob Berry (0.00 ERA, 13 strikeouts in 10.2 IP), Virginia football quarterback Jay Woolfolk (1.35 ERA) and freshman Bradley Hodges (2.84 ERA). While their quality of competition has been far from stiff, it is still very impressive what Virginia has put together in the early going. 

With an overall record of 11-3 and riding a seven-game win streak, No. 19 North Carolina comes into this series with a chance to establish itself as a top-tier team in the ACC. On offense, catcher Tomas Frick has exploded this season, hitting .400 with seven doubles and six home runs. In his first two collegiate seasons, Frick slugged just five total home runs and his increased production at the plate has been huge for the Tar Heels. Frick also leads the team in RBIs with 22 and has played solid defense behind the plate. Junior third baseman Mac Horvath is looking like a potential day one draft pick so far, as he is hitting .340 with six doubles, seven home runs and nine stolen bases. The best prospect on the Carolina roster is Vance Honeycutt, and although he’s hitting .271, he has still been able to impact the game in a myriad of ways. He has hit four doubles, five home runs, stolen eight bases and has played strong defense in center field. The biggest development for Honeycutt, however, has been his refined approach. After striking out nearly 100 times in 2022, he has an even strikeout-to-walk ratio so far this season to go with noticeably better swing decisions. A trio of junior infielders in Patrick Alvarez (.400), Hunter Stokely (.343), and Jackson Van De Brake (.341, six home runs) have also helped make the Tar Heels offense click early on. Scott Forbes has also gotten strong pitching from his rotation of Max Carlson (2.89 ERA), Connor Bovair (1.76 ERA) and Jake Knapp (3.00 ERA), while freshmen Cameron Padgett (0.96 ERA) and Matthew Matthijs (1.42 ERA) have been outstanding out of the bullpen. No matter who wins this series, that team will be making a loud statement; Virginia would be at-worst 14-1 and have an extremely high-quality road series win under its belt, while UNC would be winners of at least nine of its last 10, establishing itself as a top-15 team in the process.

Washington State vs. No. 15 Oregon State

One of the biggest surprises in the Pac-12 this season has been the start that Washington State is off to. The Cougars have amassed a record of 11-1, which is good for their best start since 1980. Their only blemish came against a strong UC Irvine club at the Tony Gwynn Classic, but they also beat three solid teams in San Diego State, UC San Diego and UNLV that same weekend. After what can now be described as a “weird” Opening Day loss to New Mexico, Oregon State has won 10 of its last 11. Micah McDowell (.444) has led the offense with his slash-and-dash approach, one that has seen him amass twice as many walks (8) as strikeouts (4). Star sophomore Travis Bazzana worked out this summer at Driveline to improve his already-plus bat speed and add impact. So far so good for the Aussie in 2023, as he is hitting .422 with seven doubles, and he leads the team in RBIs with 13. Garret Forrester has also gotten off to a great start, hitting .357 with three doubles, two home runs, and 10 RBIs. The biggest standout so far for Mitch Canham’s group so far has been blue chip freshman Gavin Turley. Turley got significant draft interest out of high school, but instead opted to make his way up to Corvallis. He’s off to a torrid start in his first college season with a .362 batting average and a team-leading five home runs and 15 RBIs. Turley has also turned in above-average run times and has a plus arm from right field. The 2025 draft couldn’t be further off, but Turley is certainly an early candidate to be selected first overall. On the mound, Trent Sellers has been outstanding, pitching his way to a 1.59 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 11.1 innings pitched. The physical Jacob Kmatz is another key rotation piece who in three starts, has a 2.25 ERA with just three walks over 16 innings. Out of the bullpen, Ian Lawson has been Oregon State’s best arm with an even 1.00 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 14-to-1 in nine innings pitched.  

For the Cougars, junior outfielder Jonah Advincula has been fantastic. He’s hitting .408 with five doubles, two triples, two home runs and is tied for the team lead in RBIs with 16. He’s also played good defense and has turned in above-average run times. Arizona State transfer Cam Magee is also off to a strong 12-for-32 start with two home runs of his own, while Portland transfer Sam Brown is hitting .357 and leads the team in home runs with four. Washington State has also gotten great pitching from starters Caden Kaelber (2.00 ERA, 27 strikeouts in 18 IP) and Grant Taylor (2.13 ERA, 17 strikeouts in 12.2 IP), while Andrew Baughn has been nails out of the bullpen with a 1.29 ERA and 18 strikeouts to two walks in 14 innings. There’s no doubt this will be a tough series for Washington State, but if it can pull off a series upset in Corvallis, it will be one of the more impressive performances of the weekend.

Iowa vs. No. 25 Texas Tech

Iowa comes into Lubbock with a 10-1 record and a dynamic rotation, while the Red Raiders are 12-2 with one of the most explosive offenses up to this point. A series win this weekend will almost certainly land the Hawkeyes in the Top 25, while a series win for the Red Raiders would get them back on track after a sluggish 1-2 weekend at the Shriners Children’s College Classic. For the Hawkeyes, it all starts with their pitching. Ty Langenberg (4.91 ERA) has a plus changeup and while he’s been inconsistent to start the 2023 season, he’s one of the better pitchers in the Big 10. Marcus Morgan (4.76 ERA) is armed with a fastball that has been up to 98 at times, as well as a sweeping slider that is a plus pitch. There is an argument to be made that Brody Brecht, who also plays wide receiver for the Hawkeyes football team, has some of the best stuff in the country. His fastball is an 80-grade pitch, and one with which he will consistently touch triple digits, and his power curveball has big shape and sharp downward movement. Brecht is an extremely athletic mover on the mound who is continuing to refine his command and prove himself as a starter. As it stands, he is one of the premier arms in the 2024 draft class and could be one of the first pitchers off the board. Will Christophersen (0.00 ERA, 14 strikeouts in 6.1 IP, zero hits allowed), Zach Voelker (1.23 ERA) and Jared Simpson (1.42 ERA, 17 strikeouts in 12.2 IP) give the Hawkeyes three high-quality arms out of the bullpen and immense depth to their pitching staff. Wofford transfer Brennen Dorighi leads Rick Heller’s club with a .390 batting average and five doubles, three home runs and a team-best 17 RBIs. Two-way player Keaton Anthony is also off to a great start, particularly at the plate, where he is hitting .372 with a team-leading four home runs. Shortstop Michael Seegers is off to a strong start of his own, hitting .364 with two home runs of his own.

Texas Tech is led on offense by Texas transfer, Gavin Kash. Kash has thrived as an everyday player for Tim Tadlock and is off to a monster start, hitting .464 with five doubles, four home runs, 20 RBIs and more walks (11) than strikeouts (10). He has shown off his power to all fields and has a gap-to-gap approach. Another transfer in Kevin Bazzell, who came to Texas Tech by way of Dallas Baptist, is also off to a great start. He’s hitting .351 and leads the Red Raiders in doubles with eight and is also second in RBIs with 17. Bazzell’s calling card is his extremely advanced approach and outstanding swing decisions; he’s walked 13 times while striking out just five times. Two veterans in Dillon Carter (.400) and Austin Green (.372) have also produced at a strong clip in the early going, but especially Green, who leads the team in RBIs with 21. Freshman outfielder Gage Harrelson (.339) has also made his presence felt with seven doubles. At 6-foot-3 and just 175 pounds, there is plenty of impact for him to add as he matures physically. He will be an intriguing player to follow over the next couple of seasons. While the offense is the bread and butter for Texas Tech, it’s also gotten strong pitching from three arms in particular. Lefthander Mason Molina is the best arm on the staff, and he’s pitched his way to a 2.93 ERA with 24 strikeouts across 15.1 innings pitched. Brendan Girton has also been strong out of the rotation with a 2.35 ERA and is holding opponents to a .170 batting average, while Brandon Beckel has been lights out in the bullpen with 8.2 scoreless innings and 14 strikeouts. This series pits strength against strength, and while it is only March, a series win for the Hawkeyes will create a very positive domino effect for the entire Big Ten come Selection Monday. 

Liberty vs. No. 16 East Carolina

While there are other quality Power Five conference matchups, I wanted to highlight a mid-major series that is likely to fly under the radar. The Flames are off to a modest 7-5 start but have quietly gone 7-2 since their opening weekend sweep against No. 22 Southern Mississippi. The Pirates are off to a strong 9-3 start, highlighted by a massive two-game sweep of No. 19 North Carolina and a 17-4 drubbing of Indiana. The Flames offense is hitting just .230 as a team, but Camden Troyer has been the lone bright spot. He’s hitting .366 and leads the team in doubles (4), home runs (3) and RBIs (11). More production from players like Gray Betts (.255), veteran outfielder Jaylen Guy (.189) and Cam Foster (.184) would go a long way for a Liberty club that is desperately seeking more production. On the mound, it is a completely different story. Lefthander Garrett Horn has a 1.38 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 13 innings pitched, while limiting opponents to a .140 batting average. He’s armed with a fastball that’s been up to 97, as well as a plus slider that gets plenty of swing and miss. Another lefthander in Nick Moran is off to a fantastic start of his own, pitching his way to a 1.69 ERA with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 21-to-4 in 16 innings pitched. Rounding out the rotation is Mississippi State transfer Mikey Tepper, who has been solid on Sundays with a 4.15 ERA and 13 strikeouts in as many innings pitched. Cole Hertzler (1.35 ERA, 9 strikeouts in 6.2 IP) and Cole Garrett (1.50 ERA, 7 strikeouts in 6 IP) have been the team’s best bullpen arms. 

The Pirates are led on offense by Jacob Starling, Justin Wilcoxen and Luke Nowak. Starling is hitting .386 with four doubles, is tied for the team lead in home runs with three and leads the team in RBIs with 21. Wilcoxen, who has stepped up in Ryan McCrystal’s absence, is hitting .362 with four doubles and three home runs of his own. Prior to this season he had not been an everyday player for East Carolina, but has risen to the occasion in the first 12 games. Sophomore outfielder Luke Nowak has amassed a batting average of .348 with two doubles and has been a nice table-setter atop the Pirates’ lineup. Although his .286 batting average might lag behind some of his teammates, 6-foot-5 outfielder Jacob Jenkins-Cowart is a star in the making. He consistently generates quality impact and has hit five doubles and two home runs, while driving in 11 runs. Trey Yesavage has been magnificent on the mound through three starts, with an ERA of 1.59 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 26-to-5 in 17 innings pitched. He attacks hitters with a heavy fastball and is able to avoid hard contact. Freshman lefthander Zach Root has been lights out in a hybrid role, compiling an ERA of just 0.57 with 15 strikeouts in 15.2 innings pitched and is holding opponents to a .148 batting average. He has natural deception in his delivery that is extremely effective. This will be an exciting series between two ultra-competitive clubs, and one that will feature quality baseball all weekend. 

Other Series of Note:

– Boston College at No. 11 Virginia Tech

– No. 6 Wake Forest at Duke

– No. 13 UCLA at Oregon

– Columbia at Alabama

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