SEC weekend preview: Round Rock Classic and Carolina-Clemson

 Barry Allen and Chris Lee   in Baseball

The Southeastern Conference's second weekend is upon is with some interesting baseball on tap in Texas and the Carolinas

Photo credit: South Carolina athletics (pictured: Wes Clarke)

Clemson, Carolina renew rivalry

South Carolina and Clemson meet in the annual rivalry series this weekend. 

The Gamecocks and Tigers will play three games in three different cities in the state of South Carolina. The series opener is set for Friday at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson. The Saturday game will be played at Fluor Field, the home of the Greenville Drive. The series wraps up on Sunday at Founders Park in Columbia.

The current three-game format began in 2010. The series opener will be the 325th all-time meeting between the two schools. Clemson holds a 181-141-2 all-time series lead. Clemson has won five of the last six series, including a series win in 2020.

The number one question going into the series is simple: Can Clemson get South Carolina slugger Wes Clarke out?

The Tigers had some success against Clarke last season, holding him to a .273 (3-for-11) average with one home run, one RBI and three strikeouts. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the series opener on Feb. 28, 2020.

No one has come close to getting Clarke out this season. His numbers are eye-popping, including a ridiculous 3.158 OPS.

He leads the SEC in batting average (.769), home runs (six) and RBIs (12) in four games. He also leads the league in hits (10) and total bases (30) and ranks second in the league in runs scored (11).

Clarke has belted 14 home runs in his last 20 games for the Gamecocks. He is averaging one home run for every 4.9 at-bats the last two seasons.

South Carolina leads the SEC with 14 home runs and ranks second in batting average (.359) and extra base hits (29).

Clemson, which has a 3-0 home record, swept Cincinnati in three games at home last weekend by a combined score of 18-9. The Tigers are averaging 6.0 runs per game and hitting .293 with a .400 on-base percentage, .467 slugging percentage and three steals. The pitching staff has a 1.93 ERA, .188 opponents’ batting average and 4.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and Clemson is fielding .981.

Bryce Teodoiso and James Parker are the Tigers' leading hitters with an identical .455 batting average. Jonathan French leads the Tigers with two home runs and five RBIs. Parker has one homer and three RBIs.

Probable pitching rotation (Carolina starter listed first)

Friday: Thomas Farr (R-Jr. RHP) 1-0, 1.50 ERA, 6.0 IP, 2 BB, 8 SO vs. Davis Sharpe (R-So. RHP) 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 5.0 IP, 1 BB, 9 SO 

Saturday: Brannon Jordan (Sr. RHP) 0-0, 6.75 ERA, 4.0 IP, 4 BB, 4 SO vs. Mat Clark (Gr. LHP) 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 4.0 IP, 0 BB, 6 SO

Sunday:  Julian Bosnic (R-So. LHP) 0-0, 2.70 ERA, 3.1 IP, 4 BB, 9 SO vs. Ty Olenchuk (Fr. RHP) 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 4.2 IP, 0 BB, 3 SO

Auburn, A&M play in Round Rock Classic

The SEC West gets another chance to shine in the state of Texas this weekend as both Auburn and Texas A&M will at the Round Rock Classic at the Dell Diamond.

Oklahoma and Baylor will join the Tigers and Aggies in the four-team field. On Friday, Auburn will face Oklahoma, while Texas A&M and Baylor meet in the nightcap. On Saturday, Auburn plays Baylor and Texas A&M faces Oklahoma. The tournament concludes on Sunday with Auburn facing Texas A&M and Oklahoma playing Baylor. 

The Sunday games will not count in SEC or Big 12 Standings.

Auburn currently leads the SEC in batting average (.398), runs scored (73), total hits (74), doubles (15), triples (4) and extra base hits (31). The Tigers scored 51 runs in its two midweek wins over Alabama A&M. 

Josh Hall is second in the SEC with .692 average (9-13), 6 R, 2B, 2 3B, 0 HR, 6 RBI). Bryson Ware leads SEC with 12 runs scored.

Ware ranks second in SEC with 11 RBIs

On the mound, Auburn is third in ERA (1.02) and strikeouts (56).

Things will be different against the Sooners and Bears.

OU pitchers have combined for a 3.50 ERA and 46 strikeouts (just 18 walks) through the first 36.0 innings of the season. Jake Bennett struck out 10 batters in a 5.0-inning start against Omaha on Monday. Braden Carmichael and Carson Carter have each pitched four scoreless innings so far this season.

Four Sooners are on national award watch lists: Peyton Graham was named to the Golden Spikes Award Watch List, awarded by USA Baseball; Jason Ruffcorn is on the Stopper of the Year Watch List, presented by the NCBWA; Graham, Tyler Hardman and Tanner Tredaway are named on the Bobby Bragan Collegiate Slugger Award watch list.

Ruffcorn was named a first-team Preseason All-American by D1Baseball and the NCBWA; Graham was recognized as a third-team preseason All-American by D1Baseball, and Tredaway was honored as a third-team preseason All-American by the NCBWA. Ruffcorn and Graham were named on the Preseason All-Big 12 Team. Oklahoma was picked to finish fifth in the Big 12 by the league's head coaches.

Through the first three games, BU leads the Big 12 in hits (9th nationally), batting average (13th nationally), home runs (12th nationally) and stolen bases (27th nationally). The Bears are also second in the conference in runs with 24 (8.0 per game).

Second-year freshman Jared McKenzie picked up right where he left off in 2020 through his first three games in 2021. After batting .406 in the shortened season, McKenzie already leads the Big 12 and is seventh nationally in hits with seven (7-for-15, .467 average) in the leadoff spot. The Round Rock native, added some pop to his bat this offseason as he crushed his first two career home runs in the season opener at UTRGV. His two bombs, five runs scored and 13 total bases also lead the Big 12. For his efforts on Sunday, he was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Week.

Fourth-year junior Tyler Thomas had a strong first start on the mound in 2021, while throwing a career-best six innings and only allowing two runs on four hits, while striking out four against UTRGV in the second game of the doubleheader on Sunday. Thomas threw a total of 6.2 innings last year, all in relief after coming off of surgery to remove a rib in June 2019 due to his Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

This could be a pivotal early weekend for the Aggies, who have early season losses to Xavier (twice) and Abilene Christian. Texas A&M avoided another loss with a come-from-behind walk-off win against NCAA Division I newcomer Tarleton State on Wednesday.

This season, the Aggies have recorded double digits in the strikeout column all five games and they rank seventh in the country with 14.7 strikeouts per nine innings. In 2020, A&M ranked second in the nation in strikeouts per nine innings (12.5). They also checked in at No. 16 for K-to-BB ratio (3.68). 

Texas A&M has two pitchers in the Top 10 in SEC in strikeouts. Freshman Mason Omelas leads SEC with 14 strikeouts (2 G; 11 IP) and Jonathan Childress is tied for fourth with nine strikeouts.

Texas A&M ranks 12th in SEC with .243 batting average. First baseman Will Frizzell has three home runs in the last three games, including a pair in Wednesday's win against Tarleton State.

Mid-majors could test SEC teams

Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss and Mississippi State will host quality mid-major teams over the weekend.

Alabama will host Wright State in a three-game series in Tuscaloosa. The Raiders are picked to win the Horizon League championship this season. The Crimson Tide (4-1) suffered their first loss of the season on Wednesday and also announced that All-American left-hander Connor Prielipp would not be available for the series due to a “medical condition”. 

Alabama’s offense has been inconsistent through the first five games and the bottom third of the order has really struggled. The Crimson Tide’s 7-8-9 hitters are a collective 4-for-45 (.088) with 10 strikeouts. Wright State (0-2) dropped both games in its weather-shortened series at Vanderbilt on Monday. The Raiders managed only one run and seven hits and struck out 31 times against the Commodores.

 The Raiders are led by infielder Tyler Beck, who was named to the preseason Golden Spikes Award watch list. He is also the preseason pick to earn Horizon League Player of the Year honors and is the league’s top overall draft pick, according to some draft services. In 2019, Black was named the Horizon League Freshman of the Year after he hit .353 with 41 RBIs and 23 extra-base hits. He hit .239 with one home run and five RBIs during the Covid-shortened 2020 campaign.

Florida will be tested this weekend when preseason Southern Conference favorite Samford visits Gainesville. The Gators swept North Florida in a two-game midweek series after dropping a home series to Miami last weekend. 

Samford has several veteran players with NCAA Tournament experience. Junior left-hander Samuel Strickland is expected to start game one on the mound. He was the 2018 Freshman All-American and SoCon Freshman of the Year after he posted an 8-2 record and 2.33 ERA. He started the Bulldogs 7-6 win over Florida State in the 2018 Tallahassee Regional. Strickland is 19-5 in his career on the mound. 

Junior infielder Brooks Carlson was a 2020 Collegiate Baseball All-American and two-time SoCon First-Team selection. He led the SoCon with a .500 average and 19 hits last season. He was named to the 2021 Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list. Sophomore first baseman Sonny Dichiara was the 2019 SoCon Freshman of the Year after he swatted 21 homers as a rookie. He has 25 career home runs for the Bulldogs, including two this season.

Ole Miss brings a 20-game winning streak into its home series with one of the upper echelon teams from the American Athletic Conference UCF. The Rebels defeated TCU, Texas Tech and Texas last weekend in Arlington to open the season. Ole Miss won its home opener on Wednesday against Arkansas State.

 UCF, picked to finish second behind East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference, has stumbled out of the gates. The Knights are 1-3 on the young season and have struggled on the mound. UCF has compiled a 9.26 ERA in its first four games and has allowed 36 earned runs, 23 walks, eight batters and five wild pitches in 35 innings. 

 Miss. State welcomes Tulane to Dudy Noble Field for a weekend series. MSU posted wins over Texas and Texas Tech last weekend in Arlington. The Bulldogs suffered the SEC’s lone loss in the event to TCU. The Bulldogs posted a midweek win over Jackson State in Wednesday’s home opener.

Tulane is picked to finish third in the American Athletic Conference behind East Carolina and UCF. The Green Wave enters the series with a 2-2 record after losing a home series to Louisiana last weekend. Tulane defeated UNO 7-1 on Tuesday. Jared Burt (.400, 0 HR, 1 RBI) and Collin Burns (.368, 4 2B, 5 RBI) are the leading hitters. Braden Olthoff tossed 5 1/3 scoreless innings with seven strikeouts in a no-decision in the season opener.

Other SEC series:

Gardner Webb at Georgia (four games)

Milwaukee at Kentucky (three games)

Youngstown State at LSU (one Friday game, one Saturday game)

Nicholls at LSU (one Saturday game, one Tuesday game)

Omaha at Missouri (four games)

Indiana State at Tennessee (four games)

Georgia State at Vanderbilt (four games)