Image credit: Brayden Taylor (Ken Murphy/Four Seam Images)
It is hard to believe, but there are only five weekends left in the regular season. Some teams are starting to separate themselves from the pack, establishing themselves as the class of college baseball, while others are looking to strengthen their tournament resumes with key series victories down the stretch. Outside of No. 2 Florida (31-7, 11-4) at No. 6 South Carolina (31-6, 10-4), there is not a true blockbuster series this weekend, but as always there are a handful of great matchups. There are two Top 25 matchups in the Pac-12 and Sun Belt respectively, a key series in the Big 12, a crosstown rivalry out West and a seres featuring the top two teams in the Southern Conference facing off against each other.
No. 19 Oregon State (25-11, 10-8) at No. 18 Arizona State (25-11, 11-3)
In what is one of the best series of the weekend, No. 19 Oregon State travels south to take on No. 18 Arizona State in a marquee Pac-12 matchup. The Beavers are playing excellent baseball right now, as they have won their last seven games and have notched series wins over Washington, No. 20 Oregon and previously ranked Southern California. While it’s in sixth place in the Pac-12 standings, Oregon State is tied for the most overall wins in the conference with 25. The Beavers are a team that is built on their pitching, as they rank second nationally with a 3.11 ERA. Oregon State’s rotation of Trent Sellers (5-3, 3.71 ERA), Jacob Kmatz (2-4, 3.64 ERA) and Jaren Hunter (1-1, 3.03 ERA) has been great to this point, with Sellers being the headliner of the trio. Sellers will sit in the 89-91 mph range with his fastball, but his 12-to-6 curveball is his best offering with plenty of depth. He has struck out 74 hitters in 43.2 innings pitched and will hear his name called in this July’s draft. Mitch Canham also has an outstanding trio of bullpen arms in Ryan Brown (0.49 ERA), freshman sidewinder A.J. Hutcheson (0.87 ERA) and A.J. Lattery (1.67 ERA). Lattery has been used in an extended relief role the past two Sundays, as he has come in after Hunter has opened the game. All three arms are incredibly effective in their respective roles, and each provides a unique look for opposing hitters, keeping them off-balance and out of rhythm.
On offense, it starts with none other than Travis Bazzana. After a freshman All-American campaign in 2022, Bazzana is on pace to have an even better sophomore season. He is currently hitting .352 with 11 doubles, three home runs, 25 RBIs and 35 walks to 27 strikeouts, which makes for an on-base percentage of .497. He has double-plus bat speed from the left side with an advanced approach and outstanding feel for the barrel. Bazzana is consistently producing exit velocities in the triple-digits and his fingerprints are all over the box score game in and game out. Junior leadoff hitter Micah McDowell is also walking more than he is striking out, and is hitting .330 with eight doubles and three home runs to go along with eight stolen bases. Junior first baseman Garret Forrester has heated up in the last 10 days and is now hitting .328 with six doubles and five home runs. Like Bazzana, he has a keen eye and mature approach at the plate, which has led to 34 walks against 30 strikeouts.
Even though Arizona State is coming off a 20-0 drubbing at the hands of Arizona, it is also playing exceptionally well. Its 11-3 Pac-12 record has it sitting in first place in the conference standings, and its RPI of 32 has it within striking distance to potentially host a regional. While pitching is the calling card for Oregon State, it is a high-powered and deep lineup that has been the strength for Arizona State. The Sun Devils are hitting .310 as a team with 70 doubles and 50 home runs across 36 games played. Sophomore catcher Ryan Campos is hitting a ridiculous .413 with seven doubles, seven home runs and an on-base percentage of .523. He is one of the best pure hitters not only in the Pac-12, but the entire country. Campos seldom swings and misses on pitches in the strike zone, as he currently has a minuscule 10% miss rate against pitches in the zone. The freshman duo of Nu’u Contrades and Luke Hill are both hitting .341 with 13 and 12 extra-base hits, respectively. Luke Keaschall has proven all year why he is a likely day one draft selection to the tune of a .340 average, a team-leading 15 doubles and seven home runs, as well as 13 stolen bases. Keaschall is joined on the right side of the infield by first baseman Jacob Tobias, who is hitting .338 with five home runs and strong defensive chops.
ASU might not have the depth on the mound that Oregon State does, but junior lefthander Ross Dunn has been fantastic this spring with a 3.69 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 39 innings pitched. Dunn’s fastball has been up to 94 mph, but it is his secondary offerings that are particularly impressive. He possesses two plus pitches in a sharp curveball with two-plane break (76% miss rate), as well as a changeup (55% miss rate) with downward action that he is comfortable throwing to both righthanded and lefthanded hitters. Khristian Curtis has pitched a lot better than his 5.74 ERA suggests, and he has the stuff to boot, while Brock Peery (1.42 ERA) and Nolan Lebamoff (3.07 ERA) give Willie Bloomquist two quality options out of the bullpen. In a series that pits strength against strength, it is hard not to give the advantage to the team that has the edge on the mound. However, the Sun Devils are 17-3 at home and have the toughest lineup Oregon State has faced all season.
No. 25 Southern Mississippi (22-13, 10-5) at No. 8 Coastal Carolina (24-11, 11-4)
After taking two-of-three from Old Dominion last weekend, No. 8 Coastal Carolina this weekend has another top-tier Sun Belt matchup as it welcomes No. 25 Southern Mississippi to Springs Brooks Stadium. The Golden Eagles are currently tied with Louisiana for second place in the conference standings with a 10-5 record and have won four conference series in a row. The strength of Scott Berry’s club is its pitching, but Slade Wilks is one of the best bats in the Sun Belt. The 6-foot-2 outfielder has put it all together this spring and is hitting .333 with 10 doubles, 14 home runs and 39 RBIs. Wilks has easy plus bat speed that translates to high-quality impact when he barrels the baseball. He has a minimal load, a small-to-medium stride and lets his hands explode. Dustin Dickerson leads the team with a .336 average and his exceptional bat-to-ball skills (10% miss rate) make him a very tough out. Matthew Etzel is hitting .293 with seven doubles and his plus speed causes trouble for opposing pitchers on the basepaths. Although he’s hitting just .210, Christopher Sargent went 6-for-12 last weekend against James Madison with three home runs. He crushed 21 home runs last spring, and the hitter-friendly confines of Springs Brooks Stadium bode well for another productive weekend.
On the mound, Tanner Hall leads the way with a 2.29 ERA with a 51-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 55 innings pitched. Hall is able to avoid hard contact thanks to a sinking fastball and plus changeup, as well as a horizontal slider he will occasionally mix in. Fellow junior Billy Oldham has been strong on Saturdays with a 3.60 ERA, 47 strikeouts in 35 innings pitched and an opponent average of just .178. He has an above-average slider with a 46% miss rate, while his changeup has plenty of late fade and a miss rate of 52%. Out of the bullpen, soft-tossing lefty Kros Sivley (2-0, 2.94 ERA) has been very good this spring with a 31-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 33.2 innings pitched. His slider is a plus secondary pitch with a 48% miss rate, and is extremely effective given Sivley’s long arm action, low release height and the pitch’s slurvy shape. Will Armistead has a 1.65 ERA in 16.1 innings pitched, while 6-foot-7 lefthander Justin Storm is the only college lefthander in this year’s draft class whose fastball (31%) and breaking ball (49%) have miss rates north of 30%.
Coastal Carolina has one of the best offenses in college baseball with a .318 team average (10th nationally) and 67 total home runs (12th nationally). It is fresh off a series win against a strong Old Dominion (25-11, 9-6) team and a nice 12-4 midweek win over College of Charleston (22-14, 12-6). Getting Caden Bodine back after missing five games with an injury has already paid dividends, as the freshman backstop is 7-for-13 with three home runs in his first four games back. Bodine leads the Chanticleers’ offense with a .377 average and has an excellent approach at the plate that has led to 15 walks and 11 strikeouts. Senior infielder Payton Eeles has a .373 average, is walking more than he is striking out (.506 OBP) and has stolen a team-leading 22 bases. Derek Bender (.358) and Graham Brown (.353) provide serious thunder in the middle of the order with 12 and 11 home runs, respectively. Bender’s 53 RBIs are also first on the team, while Brown’s 40 are second. There is some swing-and-miss to his game, but senior first baseman Zack Beach is hitting .337 with nine home runs. He has a majestic lefthanded swing tailored to generate big-time loft.
On the mound is where the Chanticleers struggle, but sophomore Darin Horn has had a strong season, pitching his way to a 4.50 ERA with 62 strikeouts and an opponent average of just .215 over the course of 40 innings. The lanky righthander’s tight-spinning slider is his best pitch, with a 48% miss rate. Matthew Potok has a 5.67 ERA, but his fastball has been up to 97 mph and he attacks the strike zone. The key to this point has been throwing quality strikes. Getting the ball to shutdown closer Teddy Sharkey will be one of the Chanticleers’ top priorities. He has a 3.00 ERA this spring with 41 strikeouts in 27 innings pitched with a riding fastball up to 98 mph. Sharkey has a stone-cold mindset on the mound and pitches with zero fear. For as good as Southern Mississippi’s pitching has been all year, it will be a tall task to contain the vaunted Coastal Carolina offense.
Texas Christian (22-15, 7-5) at West Virginia (26-11, 5-4)
The Big-12 is shaping up to be one of the wilder conference races in the country, as just two games separate first-place Texas from sixth-place Texas Tech. Right in the thick of it is Texas Christian in third place and West Virginia in fourth place. TCU is dangerously approaching the tournament bubble as after a series loss at home to UNCW and a midweek loss to Lamar, it has an RPI of 50. It does have key wins over No. 4 Vanderbilt and No. 5 Arkansas, but its series loss to Florida State is getting worse with each passing game. A series win this weekend on the road in Morgantown would strengthen the Horned Frogs’ resume and give them momentum heading into the home stretch of the season. True freshman Anthony Silva has been fantastic for TCU, as he leads the team with a .362 average. Silva has hit six doubles, five home runs and has also stolen 13 bases. At 6-foot-2, he has a prototypical shortstop’s body and plays great defense on the left side of the infield. He attacks the baseball, is comfortable moving laterally and can throw from multiple arm slots. As a draft-eligible sophomore in 2024, there is a chance he hears his name called in the first 25 picks. Junior Cole Fontenelle is hitting .331 with 11 doubles and nine home runs, while junior Tre Richardson is hitting .310. The star for Jim is junior third baseman Brayden Taylor. He is 5-for-10 with three home runs in his last three games played and after a slow start, is hitting .286 with a team-leading 13 home runs and 35 RBIs. He has a professional approach in the box with advanced swing decisions.
TCU has been inconsistent at times on the mound this spring, but freshman Kole Klecker has been a bright spot. He was thrust into the weekend rotation from day one and has pitched his way to a 3.42 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP while holding opponents to a measly .202 average. The strikeout numbers might not be sky-high, but Klecker has the chance to have two plus secondary pitches down the road and his mound presence is already wise beyond his years. Friday starter Ryan Vanderhei (3-3, 6.18 ERA) has struggled in recent starts, but he has shown flashes of the stuff he possesses with a mid-90s fastball and, at times, an-above average slider. Junior Cam Brown (2-2, 5.17 ERA) was off to a strong start through March but has since allowed a total of 15 earned runs over the course of his last three starts, which has amounted to just eight innings pitched. Needless to say, getting Brown back on track this weekend would go a long way for the Frogs. Out of the bullpen, expect a heavy dose of Sam Stoutenborough (1-0, 4.08 ERA). The graduate transfer from California has had a nice spring pitching in an extended role out of the bullpen. Getting Luke Savage back from an injury gives the TCU bullpen a huge boost while also giving other arms a more manageable workload down the stretch. His ERA might be high at 6.18 but expect a heavy dose of Ben Abeldt. The freshman lefthander throws from a low three-quarter slot and is especially effective against lefthanded hitters, as he releases the baseball almost from behind the hitter’s back.
West Virginia is much safer from a tournament perspective given its RPI of 28 and overall resume, but a series win this weekend would be a nice resume booster for the Mountaineers. After a series loss against Kansas and a midweek loss to Penn State, West Virginia has bounced back nicely with a road series win at No. 24 Oklahoma State and a rivalry win over Pittsburgh. Sophomore second baseman J.J. Wetherholt has emerged as a superstar and leads the team in almost every major offensive category. He is hitting .451 with 16 doubles, eight home runs, 35 RBIs and has a sky-high on-base percentage of .518. Wetherholt is also a plus runner, a tool that has led to 27 stolen bases in 34 games. Veterans Tevin Tucker and Caleb McNeely have also been quite productive with a .368 and .336 average, respectively. McNeely also leads the Mountaineers with nine home runs. Junior outfielder Landon Wallace has been red hot lately, recording a hit in 18 of his last 19 games played. He has seen his average soar to .317 and has eight doubles and six home runs to go with 30 RBIs.
From a pitching perspective, pitchability specialists Blaine Traxel (5-3, 3.29 ERA) and Ben Hampton (3-1, 4.10 ERA) make for a strong one-two punch with each living around the strike zone and providing a unique look for opposing hitters. Junior Carlson Reed has some of the most electric pure stuff in the conference and has excelled since making the move from the rotation to the bullpen. He has a 1.21 ERA this spring with 32 strikeouts to nine walks in 22.1 innings pitched. Reed will sit in the mid 90s with his fastball, an offering he supplements with a wipeout slider. A pair of freshmen in lefthander Maxx Yehl (2.51 ERA) and David Hagaman (3.57 ERA) have also proven to be effective in their roles. The Big 12 has been the most difficult conference to forecast this season, and a series win for either team would not come as much of a surprise.
UCLA (21-11-1, 8-5-1) at Southern California (22-13-1, 9-6)
Both UCLA and Southern California come into this crosstown rivalry series jostling for a top-three position in the conference standings. After a sweep of San Diego State vaulted Southern California into the rankings, it has since exited following being swept at the hands of red-hot No. 19 Oregon State. It picked up a nice midweek win over a pesky Cal-State Northridge club this past Tuesday, and a series win this weekend would be the biggest one for the program in some time. Freshman outfielder Austin Overn has been outstanding this spring, amassing an average of .340 while lacing seven doubles, a program-record 10 triples and three home runs. His game-changing speed translates well to the outfield, where he is a plus defender, and to the basepaths where he has stolen a team-leading 11 bases. Joining Overn in the outfield is senior Cole Gabrielson. Gabrielson has been the Trojans’ most productive hitter besides Overn with a .318 average, while his eight home runs and 40 RBIs are both best on the club.
After allowing three earned runs in his first start this spring, sophomore righthander Caden Aoki has allowed just one across his last 23.1 innings pitched. He has emerged as the Trojans’ most reliable arm and has been a tone-setter on the mound each weekend. To this point, Aoki has a 1.37 ERA with 23 strikeouts to just five walks in 26.1 innings pitched, and another quality start this weekend could propel the Trojans to a massive series victory. Blake Sodersten (2-1, 4.06 ERA) and Tyler Stromsborg (4-2, 4.63 ERA) round out the rotation, while Garrett Clarke (1.17 ERA) and Kyle Wisch (1.93 ERA) have been great in late-inning roles.
UCLA found itself in a precarious position after consecutive series losses to Washington and Washington State but has since corrected course with two straight series wins. It did drop a midweek game to UC Irvine this week, but that is a game the Bruins will have to erase from their memory quickly to beat a hungry Southern California team. Junior third baseman Kyle Karros missed some time with an injury, but he has been the team’s most productive hitter by far thanks to his .367 average and 11 extra-base hits. The middle infield pairing of Cody Schrier and Duce Gourson is one of the best in the conference, and each has produced with the bat. Gourson is hitting .301 and leads the team with 28 RBIs, while Schrier is hitting a respectable .278 with a team-leading seven doubles, six home runs and 19 RBIs. Sophomore center fielder Malakhi Knight has been surging the last two weeks and has seen his average climb all the way to .295 after recording 12 hits across his last eight games played.
On the mound is where the Bruins shine, thanks to their formidable rotation of Jake Brooks (4-3, 4.50 ERA), Alonzo Tredwell (4-1, 3.15 ERA) and Kelly Austin (3-2, 2.74 ERA). Brooks and Austin are pitchability-over-stuff pitchers, while the towering 6-foot-8 Tredwell throws an “invisi-ball” fastball and has two above-average breaking balls. Tredwell has a chance to be a top-three round selection in this year’s draft and will seek to solidify his stock with another quality start this weekend. John Savage has two lights-out relievers at his disposal in Cody Delvecchio and Charles Harrison. Delvecchio has pitched his way to a minuscule 0.57 ERA with a 33-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 31.1 innings pitched, while Harrison has a 0.81 ERA with 33 strikeouts to five walks in 22.1 innings. In a series where runs will be at a premium, the Bruins may have the slight edge given their depth on the mound. However, with Southern California playing in front of what hopefully will be a great crowd and the magnitude of this series, the Trojans have what it takes to notch an enormous series win.
Samford (21-16, 7-2) at Wofford (27-9, 6-3)
This series might not jump off the page at first glance, but it has huge implications for the Southern Conference. Although it has an outstanding record of 27-9, Wofford is in second place in the conference standings behind Samford, who sits alone at the top with a 7-2 record. Like the Big 12, just one and a half games separate first-place Samford from fourth-place Virginia Military Institute. This weekend’s series will be significant as Samford has a chance to slightly pull away from the pack, whereas Wofford could take control of the conference’s top spot and not look back. Wofford’s .338 team average is good for fourth nationally, and it is led by Ryan Galanie (.451) and Cameron Gill (.412). Galanie leads the team in seemingly every major offensive category and is perhaps the best mid-major bat in the country. Sidewinding sophomore Lucas Mahlstedt has been fantastic on the mound and has a 1.94 ERA with 45 strikeouts to only five walks in 51 innings pitched. Sophomore Coulson Buchanan leads the staff with 63 strikeouts, while senior righthander Matthew Marchal gives the Terriers another solid starter.
For Samford, senior infielder Stephen Klein has a team-leading .358 average with 10 doubles, seven home runs and a .503 on-base percentage. Freshman infielder Jayden Davis has burst onto the scene with a .354 average with nine doubles and two home runs, while junior Garrett Howe has a .333 average and seven doubles. Junior Jacob Cravey gives the Bulldogs a true ace on the mound, and in 53.1 innings this spring has a 3.71 ERA and 70 strikeouts. Junior righthander Ben Petschke has shown flashes at times out of the bullpen, but a rough appearance against Auburn on Tuesday inflated his ERA to 4.45. While Samford does have weapons of its own, the Wofford offense will be a lot to contain.
Other Series of Note
—No. 4 Vanderbilt (29-8, 13-2) at Tennessee (23-14, 5-10)
—Boston College (24-12, 9-9) at no. 17 North Carolina (25-12, 9-7)
—Washington (20-11, 7-7) at no. 11 Stanford (23-11, 11-4)
—No. 13 Louisville (26-10, 8-7) at Duke (24-12, 9-8)