What To Watch For This Weekend In College Baseball (4/6)

Image credit: Jac Caglianone (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

It is hard to believe, but we have surpassed the midpoint in the college baseball season. There have been plenty of surprises up to this point with teams like Boston College, Kentucky and Coastal Carolina playing themselves into potential regional hosts, South Carolina emerging as a top-10 team and defending national champion Ole Miss sitting on the outside of the NCAA Tournament line. At this point in the season, each game and series becomes more important. With this weekend comes plenty of exciting series, including two top-15 showdowns in the SEC, a top-10 ACC team facing its biggest test yet and two pivotal series out West. 

No. 1 Louisiana State (25-4, 6-3) at No. 6 South Carolina (27-3, 8-1)

After a huge series win over No. 12 Tennessee last weekend, it doesn’t get any easier for the Tigers, who make the trip to Founders Park to take on 27-3 South Carolina. Last weekend the Gamecocks picked up a nice road series win at Mississippi State and followed that performance with a high-quality shutout win over No. 16 North Carolina this past Tuesday. South Carolina is currently 18-0 at Founders Park and it will need every bit of its home field advantage this weekend with LSU coming to town. Offensively, South Carolina is led by freshman sensation Ethan Petry, who currently leads the club in average (.439), RBIs (42) and on-base percentage (.496). Gavin Casas is also hitting .308 with a team-leading 15 home runs and sophomore catcher Cole Messina is hitting .316 with 10 home runs of his own. The X-factor for the Gamecocks has been veteran shortstop Braylen Wimmer. Wimmer is hitting .330 and has been able to impact the game in a myriad of ways; he has laced 15 extra-base hits and has stolen 13 bases. 

The South Carolina rotation of Will Sanders, Noah Hall and Jack Mahoney will need to be at its best this weekend. Hall and Mahoney have each been very strong to this point, with Mahoney pitching his way to a 2.72 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 36.1 innings pitched, while Hall has one of the best changeups in the country and an ERA of 3.29 with 43 strikeouts in 41 innings pitched. Although Sanders’ numbers might not jump off the page, he is a potential first-round pick this July and possesses the thunderous pure stuff necessary to hold the Tigers’ lineup at bay. Eli Jones (1.78 ERA, 29 strikeouts in 25.1 innings pitched) and Eli Jerzembeck (2.75 ERA, 25 strikeouts in 19.2 innings pitched) have each been outstanding in hybrid roles, and each should log meaningful innings this weekend. James Hicks (1.95 ERA, 29 strikeouts in 27.2 innings pitched) is another South Carolina arm who will need to continue his strong performance this weekend. South Carolina ranks third in the country in ERA at 2.98 and will need strong pitching performances this weekend.

LSU has the best hitter and pitcher in the country with Dylan Crews (.531/.659/.927) and Paul Skenes (0.81 ERA, 83 strikeouts to eight walks in 44.1 innings pitched), the rest of its lineup and pitching staff is littered with talent and it has lived up to its lofty expectations this season. Some other notables in the Tigers lineup include sophomore Tommy White, who is hitting .378 and leading the team in home runs (10) and RBIs (50), freshman Jared Jones, who is hitting .361 with nine home runs, junior first baseman Tre’ Morgan, who is hitting .330 with more walks than strikeouts and senior catalyst Gavin Dugas. On a team filled with potential first-round picks, Dugas has been the biggest key to the offense unlocking its full potential. The senior is currently hitting .356 with nine home runs and 28 RBIs and has produced in clutch situations time and time again. Surrounding Skenes on the pitching staff is Ty Floyd (2.87 ERA, 36 strikeouts in 31.1 innings pitched) and Christian Little (3.63 ERA, 25 strikeouts in 17 innings pitched). Garrett Edwards has been lights out of the bullpen to the tune of a 0.81 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 26-to-4 in 22.1 innings pitched. Freshman lefthander Griffin Herring (1.00 ERA) has seen a bigger role in the past couple of weeks and has excelled, while Nate Ackenhausen (1.54 ERA, 13 strikeouts in 11.2 innings pitched) has also been fantastic out of the bullpen. At hitter-friendly Founders Park expect a lot of runs to be scored this weekend, even with the talent on each pitching staff. 

No. 2 Florida (25-5, 7-2) at No. 12 Tennessee (21-8, 4-5)

Following a tough series loss at Alex Box Stadium at the hands of No. 1 Louisiana State, the Volunteers return to Knoxville with an even bigger chip on their shoulder. The Tennessee offense is led by a duo of star sophomores in Christian Moore (.349/.504/.581) and Blake Burke (.330/.400/.679), as well as junior catcher Jared Dickey (.330/.413/.544). Burke has some of the most impressive raw power in the country, while Moore and Dickey are on-base machines who also consistently generate quality contact. Since missing the first eight games of the season, Maui Ahuna is hitting .289 with five home runs, five doubles and 21 RBIs. It feels as if a breakout weekend is on the horizon for the junior shortstop, and there would be no better time for his coming-out party than this weekend against Florida. 

Tennessee’s rotation of Chase Dollander (3.92 ERA, 56 strikeouts in 39 innings pitched), Chase Burns (4.97 ERA, 66 strikeouts in 38 innings pitched) and Drew Beam (2.51 ERA, 31 strikeouts in 32 innings pitched) has been inconsistent at times this spring, but when they are all clicking, they’re as unstoppable as any rotation in the country. The Volunteers bullpen might actually be the strong suit of the pitching staff and is a main reason as to why they have the second-best team ERA (2.72) in the country. They provide teams with plenty of different looks, pitch mixes and differences in velocity that keep hitters guessing and off-balance. Zander Sechrist (0.48 ERA), Seth Halvorsen (1.96 ERA), A.J. Russell (0.87 ERA) and Andrew Lindsey (2.18 ERA) have been the best of the bunch and quality innings from them this weekend could be the difference between a series win and a series loss for the Volunteers. 

The Gators rank fourth in the country with a team batting average of .330 and every hitter one through nine poses a serious challenge for opposing pitchers. Junior shortstop Josh Rivera is currently enjoying the best season of his college career and is hitting .411 with 11 home runs, while walking more than he is striking out. Sophomore Jac Caglianone is a one-of-a-kind talent and is hitting .403 with a nation-leading 18 home runs and a team-leading 46 RBIs. His production does not stop at the plate, however, as he is also the Sunday starter for the Gators and can run his fastball into the upper 90s. Potential No. 1 overall pick Wyatt Langford is also hitting above .400 with 10 doubles and eight home runs. Like Tennessee, its pitching staff is unbelievably talented—it has just struggled to find consistency. Brandon Sproat (5.45 ERA, 52 strikeouts in 36 innings pitched) and Hurston Waldrep (4.74 ERA, 66 strikeouts in 38 innings pitched) are both potential day one selections, while the aforementioned Caglianone has thunderous stuff of his own. Philip Abner (1.23 ERA, 23 strikeouts in 14.2 innings pitched), Brandon Neely (3.22 ERA, 32 strikeouts in 22.1 innings pitched) and Ryan Slater (3.80 ERA, 22 strikeouts in 22.1 innings pitched) have been terrific in relief roles for the Gators, and their services will again be essential this weekend. A series win for the Gators could propel them to a No. 1 ranking next week, while a win for the Volunteers will go a long way in solidifying them as a regional host. 

No. 9 Boston College (21-6, 8-4) at No. 17 Louisville (21-7, 4-5)

Boston College has been one of the best stories in college baseball this season and is off to the best start in program history. The Eagles have done so with timely hitting and a pitching staff that attacks the strike zone and misses barrels. After a midweek scare at Massachusetts—the Eagles trailed 10-2 before coming back to win 13-12—Boston College takes on a Louisville team that is desperately looking to correct course after two consecutive series losses at the hands of Notre Dame and North Carolina State, as well as a midweek loss at home against Lipscomb. This is a Boston College team that is as comfortable as anyone playing on the road, with 20 of its 27 games to this point being away from Chestnut Hill. While Barry Walsh (.352), Peter Burns (.328) and Patrick Roche (.309) are all off to good starts with the bat, the key for the Eagles will be their pitching. Henry Leake (4.28 ERA, 31 strikeouts in 27.1 innings pitched) has been solid on Fridays, but graduate transfer Chris Flynn has been the star of the show for the Eagles. A walk-on at Division III Roger Williams (R.I.), Flynn came to Boston College for his last year of eligibility. He was expected to be a contributor, but pitching his way to a 1.76 ERA with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 53-to-14 in 41 innings pitched, and emerging as one of the best starters in the ACC, was unforeseen.

Outside of leading hitters Jack Payton (.398 with seven home runs) and Christian Knapczyk (.317 with more walks than strikeouts), Louisville has struggled to find production as of late. Having hitters such as Eddie King, Ryan McCoy and Logan Beard get back on track will be a huge key. On the mound, Carson Liggett has been sensational. In seven starts, he has a 1.75 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 36 innings pitched, all while holding opposing hitters to a minuscule .197 average. Ryan Hawks (3.43 ERA, 45 strikeouts in 42 innings pitched) and Greg Farone (4.50 ERA, 40 strikeouts in 30 innings pitched) have also been solid, while freshman Tucker Biven (1.17 ERA, 16 strikeouts in 15.1 innings pitched) has emerged as the most reliable arm out of the bullpen. This projects to be a gritty, grind-it-out type of series for each team. A win over a top-10 team at home would be key for the Cardinals’ resume, while yet another road series win, this time over a top-20 team, would put Boston College in prime hosting position. 

Oregon State (18-10, 5-7) at Oregon (19-7, 6-3)

Oregon State-Oregon is one of the best rivalries in college sports and this weekend’s series has big implications for each ball club. After an enormous series win last weekend at Washington, the Beavers have new life as they fight for an NCAA Tournament berth and another road series win would put them on the right side of the bubble. Oregon is on the cusp of the Top 25 and hosting a regional in Eugene is not out of the equation. The key for the Beavers this weekend will be their pitching, as their offense has proven to not be one that is comfortable getting into a slugfest with opposing teams. Premier 2024 draft prospect Travis Bazzana (.366/.492/.624) has been great this year, pulverizing the baseball and showing an advanced approach. Table setter Micah McDowell does have an average of .341, but he is a slash-and-dash type player who won’t change the game in one swing. Although he is hitting .302 with five doubles and four home runs, some more power production out of first baseman Garret Forrester would really go a long way for Oregon State. The Beavers pitching has been outstanding, particularly starter Trent Sellers (3.74 ERA, 59 strikeouts in 33.2 innings pitched) and lockdown relievers Ryan Brown (0.68 ERA) and A.J. Hutcheson (1.08 ERA).

After a series-opening loss at Washington State, Oregon has since won 10 straight games and is playing some of its best baseball of anyone in the country. Its offense has come alive, with Tanner Smith (.378), Sabin Ceballos (.375), Colby Shade (.349) and Rikuu Nishida (.330) leading the way. Sophomore slugger Jacob Walsh is coming off a week in which he was named the Pac-12 Conference player of the week and is hitting .291 with a team-leading eight home runs. The Ducks’ rotation has been respectable, but Josh Mollerus, who has been one of the most underrated transfers in the country, and Austin Anderson have been nails in late-inning roles. Each has an ERA under 1.00 and they’ve allowed a total of just seven hits in their 25.2 combined innings pitched. Although the Beavers come into this weekend’s rivalry series with some momentum, the edge belongs to the Ducks who, on top of playing in front of a home crowd, have been pressing all the right buttons as of late.  

UC Santa Barbara (17-7, 7-1) at Cal State Fullerton (14-9, 7-2)

This series might be the most underrated one in the country this weekend, as the winner will be in the driver’s seat to take home the regular season Big West title. Santa Barbara comes into this series following a series loss to Fresno State and a midweek loss against Santa Clara. While the Gauchos are likely still a regional team, their hosting aspirations may have been dashed. Fullerton has quietly won seven of its last eight games, with the highlight being a commanding 15-5 win over a previously ranked UCLA team. Fullerton’s offense is led by Caden Connor (.343), Maddox Latta (.344) and Nate Nankil (.320). Nankil hits for the most power of the bunch as he leads the team in doubles (11), home runs (3) and RBIs (24). The Gauchos’ offense has been powered by sophomores Ivan Brethowr (.333 with seven doubles and seven home runs) and Aaron Parker (.329 with seven home runs). The Gauchos have a young, but extremely talented pitching staff that is led by the duo of Hudson Barrett and Tyler Bremner. Barrett has an ERA of just 0.75 with a plus changeup, while Bremner has an extremely live arm. While the Gauchos certainly have the edge this weekend, do not discount Cal State Fullerton, who, with a series win, will have a real chance to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018. 

Other Series of Note 

– No. 11 Oklahoma State (22-8, 6-3) at Texas Christian (18-11, 5-4)

– Kansas State (19-12, 5-4) at no. 20 Texas (21-9, 4-2)

– No. 4 Vanderbilt (24-5, 9-0) at Missouri (19-9, 3-6) 

– No. 16 North Carolina (20-9, 6-4) at Georgia Tech (18-11, 6-6) 

– Washington State (18-9, 5-6) at Arizona State (20-9, 7-2) 

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