What To Watch For This Weekend In College Baseball (4/28)

Image credit: Stanford's Tommy Troy (Photo courtesy of Stanford)

With less than a month left in the regular season, we have officially entered the home stretch of the 2023 college baseball schedule. Teams across the country are looking for marquee series wins to boost their resumes, but with only four weekend series left, time is quickly running out. This weekend brings a top-20 showdown between two of the top teams in the ACC Coastal Division, a key SEC series in Nashville, the best Big Ten series to date and plenty more.

No. 16 Duke (29-12, 12-8) at No. 11 Virginia (34-9, 12-9)

In the biggest ACC series of the weekend, the red-hot Duke Blue Devils travel to Charlottesville to take on Virginia. Duke is playing some of the best baseball of any team in the country and is fresh off consecutive ranked series wins against Boston College and Louisville. Duke last weekend swept Louisville in exciting fashion, winning two of its three games by way of a walkoff hit. On Friday, Alex Mooney hit a walkoff grand slam, while on Saturday Alex Stone played the hero with a walkoff single. While it would have been easy to get caught sleepwalking after an exhilarating weekend, Duke waltzed into Buies Creek and took down No. 8 Campbell (31-10, 16-2). After a modest start to the season with a tournament berth being far from an assurance, Duke is now in a prime position to host a regional given both its current body of work and it being 12th in RPI. Led by pitching coach Brady Kirkpatrick, the Blue Devils’ staff has the fourth best team ERA in the country at 3.42. Seemingly every arm on the staff has put together a strong season to this point, but it has been spearheaded by two standout bullpen arms in Fran Oschell (3-0, 0.74 ERA) and James Tallon (1-0, 1.27 ERA). On offense, Mooney leads the way with a .335 average and 21 extra-base hits, while Northwestern transfer Jay Beshears (.326 average) and M.J. Metz (.319 average, team-leading 10 home runs) have also been key contributors.

Virginia got off to a torrid 24-2 start this season and even though its current 34-9 record is mighty impressive, the Cavaliers have lost two straight ACC series and three of their last four. Following a deflating series loss against Pittsburgh, Virginia the next weekend got swept by a solid Notre Dame club in South Bend. It did win each of its midweek games over Liberty and Towson, respectively, but Virginia would love nothing more than notching its biggest series win of the year so far at Disharoon Park, where it is currently 25-2. The Cavaliers are the only team in the country who rank inside the top 10 in both team batting average and ERA. Its .335 average is second nationally, while its 3.57 ERA is seventh. The Cavaliers’ lineup is as deep as they come, and it is led by two potential day one draft picks in Kyle Teel and Jake Gelof. Teel is hitting .424 with 19 doubles and eight home runs, while Gelof is hitting .349 with 16 doubles, a team-leading 17 home runs and 68 RBIs, first in the nation. Joining the dynamic duo in the heart of the order is Griff O’Ferrall (.413), Ethan Anderson (.387) and Ethan O’Donnell (.353). Brian Edgington has been the anchor of the rotation all season and has pitched his way to a 3.13 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 54.2 innings pitched to this point, while true freshman Jack O’Connor (4-2, 3.65 ERA) has been impressive as well. Closer Jay Woolfolk (2-0 2.38 ERA) is an electric arm talent in the back of the bullpen, and he is joined by towering 6-foot-10 lefthander Jake Berry (0-4, 3.41 ERA). While Disharoon Park is viewed as a hitter-friendly environment, runs will be hard to come by this weekend. The winner of this series will put a stranglehold on the Coastal Division and greatly enhance its chances of earning a coveted top-eight national seed in the NCAA Tournament. 

No. 15 Kentucky (30-10, 11-7) at No. 5 Vanderbilt (29-11, 13-5)

Both Kentucky and Vanderbilt come into this weekend’s tilt on the heels of disappointing series. Kentucky last weekend dropped its series with Texas A&M, while Vanderbilt last week lost its midweek game with Indiana State and proceeded to get swept by Tennessee. Kentucky has been one of the biggest surprises in college baseball this season, and even though Nick Mingione’s bunch is no stranger to fast starts, it has had trouble continuing its strong play as the SEC schedule has heated up. The 2023 Kentucky team has put that narrative to rest and is squarely in the hosting conversation. 

Offensively, bat-to-ball specialist Emilien Pitre has been excellent with a team-leading .365 average, 12 doubles and an on-base percentage of .508. Senior outfielder Jackson Gray is not far behind, and he is sporting an average of .360 with 11 doubles and three home runs. Rounding out Kentucky’s three-headed monster on offense is redshirt senior infielder Hunter Gilliam. Gilliam is hitting .350 with a team-leading nine home runs and 53 RBIs and has been able to generate quality contact all season. The Wildcats’ pitching staff has improved drastically this spring and has a team ERA of 3.92. Its weekend rotation of Zack Lee (3-2, 3.89 ERA), Logan Martin (1-1, 4.43 ERA) and Tyler Bosma (4-2, 4.33 ERA) has performed well all season, and bullpen arms Ryan Hagenow (2-0, 1.04 ERA), Darren Williams (3-0, 3.76 ERA) and Mason Moore (2-1, 3.00 ERA) have done a great job of stepping up when called upon. 

While Vanderbilt is amid a four-game losing streak, there is no reason to panic in Nashville. This weekend is the first time since the weekend of March 31 that the trio of Carter Holton (4-0, 3.20 ERA), Hunter Owen (3-0, 3.33 ERA) and Devin Futrell (6-2, 2.50 ERA) will all start, while Grayson Moore (5.02 ERA, 24 strikeouts in 14.1 innings pitched) will make his return to the Commodores’ bullpen. Getting its pitching staff healthy will pay enormous dividends for Vanderbilt, who had been plagued by injuries in recent weeks. Nick Maldonado has been outstanding this spring, pitching his way to a 1.57 ERA with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 29-to-6 in 23 innings pitched. He is one of the best relievers in the country and gives Tim Corbin plenty of security in the bullpen. While Vanderbilt welcomes back a couple of key arms this weekend, it will be without Bryce Cunningham (1-2, 6.10 ERA), who has been a key innings eater and someone who has pitched better than his stats may indicate. 

On offense, R.J. Schreck is in the midst of the best season of his five-year college career and is hitting .366 with 13 doubles, 10 home runs and 45 RBIs. Enrique Bradfield Jr. is hitting .293, but his fingerprints are all over the box score each night thanks to his 80-grade speed and exceptional defense. True freshman Chris Maldonado is hitting .330 with 11 doubles and four home runs and has hit his way into an everyday role. Kentucky, as it does game in and game out, will attempt to dictate the pace of the game by playing small ball and creating traffic on the basepaths. Vanderbilt is a very polished team itself, and seldom will give an opposing team an extra base or get sucked into its opponent’s play style. 

Maryland (27-15, 8-4) at No. 25 Indiana (31-11, 9-3)

With just two games separating first place and seventh place, the Big Ten race will be one of the more exciting ones in the country as the season draws to a close. This weekend pits second-place Maryland against first-place Indiana in what is the biggest conference series to date. After one of the best seasons in program history in 2022 in which it hosted a regional, Maryland has largely flown under the radar this spring. Through its first 11 games, Maryland was just 4-7 overall but has since gone 23-8 while not losing a conference series. 

With a team average of .301, offense is the Terrapins’ greatest strength, and they are led by two star infielders in Matt Shaw and Nick Lorusso. Shaw is a potential top-20 overall draft pick this July and is hitting .341 with 13 doubles, 15 home runs and 45 RBIs. He has plus bat speed with a very advanced approach and feel to hit, while also being a strong defender at shortstop. Lorusso leads Maryland in every major offensive category and is hitting .367 with 14 doubles, 15 home runs and 66 RBIs (third highest total nationally). He has more extra-base hits (30) than strikeouts (26) and has played himself into a likely top-10 round draft selection this July. Catcher Luke Shliger is one of the best offensive backstops in the country and is hitting .331 with 10 home runs, and sophomore infielder Eddie Hacopian is hitting .329. Maryland might not have the immense depth on the mound it has had in years past, but it still has a strong core. Friday starter Jason Savacool has a 3.75 ERA with 59 strikeouts and has been the best arm on the staff all season. The bullpen has been inconsistent, but Kenny Lippman (4-0, 4.41 ERA) and Nigel Belgrave (4-0, 4.88 ERA) are each viable options.

If any team in the Big Ten is going to host a regional this June, it will be Indiana. With a record of 31-11 and an RPI of 11, the Hoosiers are in an excellent spot. Indiana is a well-rounded ball club with plenty of depth on either side of the baseball. First baseman Brock Tibbitts is hitting .385 with 12 doubles, six home runs and 50 RBIs to pace the offense, but senior infielder Phillip Glasser is putting together a fantastic season of his own to the tune of a .371 average with 16 doubles and four home runs. True freshman Devin Taylor has hit the ground running and has proven to be one of the best freshmen hitters in the country thanks to his .356 average, nine doubles and 11 home runs. On the mound, 6-foot-8 righthander Luke Sinnard (4-1, 4.00 ERA) has electrifying pure stuff and above-average command. He boasts a 74-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 54 innings pitched and is the Hoosiers’ best starter. Seti Manase (2-1, 1.78 ERA) has been incredibly effective in an opener role, while Ryan Kraft (5-1, 1.33 ERA) and Ethan Phillips (3-0, 1.74 ERA) give the bullpen plenty of stability. With a home record of 22-1 and plenty on the line, the Hoosiers project to have the slight edge in this conference showdown.

UCLA (23-13-1, 9-7-1) at No. 11 Stanford (26-12, 14-5)

UCLA comes into this series as a middle of the pack Pac-12 team and a group that is in dire need of a spark. It is coming off an emotional series loss against Southern California and is yet to play well this season for an extended period. Although this season has been a bit underwhelming for the Bruins, they have dealt with their fair share of injuries to key players and come into this weekend with a healthy roster. It is not a very offensive team with a cumulative average of just .261, but likely top-100 overall draft pick Kyle Karros has been a bright spot. He has a .330 average with eight doubles, five home runs and is walking nearly as much as he is striking out. Sophomore outfielder Malakhi Knight has really come into his own in the last month and is hitting .306 with five doubles. UCLA has one of the best middle infield duos around with Duce Gourson and Cody Schrier, but the two providing even more production will go a long way for the Bruins offense. Gourson is hitting .295 with eight doubles and eight home runs, though in his last nine games he is just 7-for-36 (.194). Schrier is hitting .276 with seven doubles and six home runs but has just 19 RBIs.

On the mound is where the Bruins shine and their 3.57 ERA is the sixth lowest mark in the country. A weekend rotation of Jake Brooks (5-3, 4.42 ERA), Alonzo Tredwell (4-2, 3.57 ERA) and Kelly Austin (3-2, 2.49 ERA) can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the Pac-12. John Savage has two lights-out arms in the bullpen with Cody Delvecchio (0.75 ERA in 36 innings pitched) and Charles Harrison (1.19 ERA in 22.2 innings pitched). The return of Ethan Flanagan gives the staff a big boost, and although he is still ramping up, Flanagan will be able to be used in an extended role once postseason play begins. 

Stanford most recently took two of three games against a dangerous Washington team before beating California, 6-5, in its lone midweek contest. It is in second place in the Pac-12 standings by just half a game and could propel itself into sole possession of first place with a series win. For as strong as UCLA’s pitching is, it will have its hands full with Stanford’s offense. Every hitter in the lineup consistently puts together quality at-bats, and it starts with star second baseman Tommy Troy. Troy is hitting .393 with seven doubles, seven home runs and 13 stolen bases. He has extremely quick and whippy hands that allow him to generate serious barrel speed and quality impact. Two-way standout Braden Montgomery is hitting .336 with eight doubles and 10 home runs, while blue chip freshman catcher Malcolm Moore is hitting .304 with 10 doubles and eight home runs. Outfielders Alberto Rios and Eddie Park are hitting .348 and .337, respectively, and both have very little swing and miss to their game. The Cardinal pitching staff is not as sharp as it has been in years past, but its rotation of Quinn Mathews (4-3, 2.60 ERA), Matt Scott (5-2, 3.53 ERA) and Joey Dixon (3-0, 4.91 ERA) has impressed to this point. Junior righthander Brandt Pancer (1-0, 3.86 ERA) and deceptive southpaw Nicolas Lopez (2-1, 4.40) are the Cardinal’s two best bullpen arms and each figure to log meaningful innings this weekend. Even with its struggles on the mound, Stanford has the advantage this weekend and will look to notch a quality series victory over UCLA. 

Elon (25-15, 13-7) at College of Charleston (26-14, 12-6)

The CAA has very quietly been one of the most impressive non-Power Five conferences in the country this season. It has five teams with top-100 RPIs and has an outside chance at sending more than one team to the tournament. Like the Big Ten, less than two games separate first place from fourth in the crowded CAA and this weekend’s series between third-place Charleston and fourth-place Elon is a big one. 

Following consecutive series losses to William & Mary and Stony Brook, Elon pulled off a massive upset on Wednesday when it beat No. 8 Campbell, 6-5. The Phoenix have quietly built a strong resume with a series win over Northeastern (32-7, 13-5) and additional midweek wins over North Carolina State (26-14, 8-12) and No. 3 Wake Forest (35-6, 16-4). Center fielder Justin Cassella is hitting .325 with 10 home runs and freshman two-way player Ryan Sprock has shined on both sides of the baseball. He is hitting .302 with six home runs and has an ERA of 3.70 with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 48-to-14 in 48.2 innings pitched. On the mound, Justin Mitrovich (5-2, 2.74 ERA) and Shea Sprague (5-3, 3.05 ERA) have been the team’s best starters with Liam Dabagian (1.30 ERA) and Spencer Bauer (1.46 ERA) anchoring the bullpen. 

College of Charleston has put together a strong season of its own, with two wins over Michigan State (25-13, 7-5) and a midweek win over No. 7 Coastal Carolina (26-13, 13-5). The Cougars hit well as a team, but first baseman Cole Mathis has been their biggest producer to the tune of a .314 average, 16 doubles and seven home runs. Catcher J.T. Marr has a .316 average, and third baseman Logan Wood has a .307 average with eight doubles, seven home runs and 33 RBIs. On the hill, junior closer William Privette is not only the best reliever in the conference but one of the best in the country. He throws from a straight over-the-top slot with slingshot-esque arm action. Privette’s fastball is an “inivisi-ball”: hitters consistently swing under it and it features plenty of ride. This spring he has a 1.11 ERA with 51 strikeouts to 15 walks in 32.1 innings pitched. Starter Ty Good has a 3.36 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 56.1 innings pitched, and his 12-to-6 curveball has plenty of depth to it. Veteran Trey Pooser (5-1, 3.15 ERA) has also thrown the ball well, while Mathis has also been one of the most effective arms on the Charleston roster with a 3.53 ERA as a member of the rotation. 

Other Series of Note

—No. 12 Arizona State (28-13, 13-4) at No. 20 Oregon (28-12, 11-7)

—Clemson (26-16, 9-9) at No. 18 Boston College (28-12, 12-9)

—No. 10 Texas Tech (29-13, 8-7) at Kansas State (26-16, 9-6)

—Southern California (25-14-1, 11-7) at Washington (22-13, 8-9)

—North Carolina (26-15, 9-10) at Virginia Tech (24-14, 10-10)

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