Weekend preview: Vandy, Carolina head to Big 12 powers

 Barry Allen   in Baseball

Vanderbilt heads to Oklahoma State, while South Carolina goes to Texas

Kumar Rocker photo courtesy of Vanderbilt athletics

SOUTH CAROLINA; VANDERBILT FACE TOUGH ROAD TESTS:

South Carolina and Vanderbilt will close out the non-conference weekend schedule with a pair of Super Regional-like series against two perennial Big 12 powers.

 South Carolina will face the Texas Longhorns in a three-game series at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Austin. The series is slated for 6:30 p.m. (CT) on Friday, 2:30 p.m. (CT) on Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. (CT). All three games will be televised by the Longhorn Network.

 Vanderbilt hits the road for the first time for a three-game series at Oklahoma State in the brand new O’Brate Stadium in Stillwater. The Commodores and Cowboys square off Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. (CT) and Sunday at 2 p.m. (CT).

South Carolina (11-0) has won 16 straight games dating back to last season, the second-longest active streak in the nation. Navy has the longest active winning streak with 18 straight wins.

After starting the season with three straight losses to Miss. State, Arkansas and Ole Miss, Texas (8-5) has rebounded to win eight of its last 10 games.

The Gamecocks and Longhorns have met three times previously, with all three meetings taking place at the College World Series. Texas defeated South Carolina in the 1975 and 2002 CWS Championship Game. Texas beat South Carolina 17-6 and 5-1 in 1975. UT won 12-6 in 2002. The two teams will meet next year at Founders Park.

The anticipated matchup in the series is South Carolina junior slugger Wes Clarke against Texas ace Ty Madden. Clarke leads the nation with eight home runs, while Madden is third nationally with 30 strikeouts.

The Vandy-OSU series will match Commodore head coach Tim Corbin with former VU assistant coach Josh Holliday, who is now the head coach of the Cowboys. Holliday was an assistant under Corbin from 2010-12.

Vanderbilt’s power arms on the mound will be matched up with OSU’s power-hitting lineup. 

Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter lead a deep and talented pitching staff in Nashville. The Commodores have used 16 pitchers this season and 10 pitchers have a 1.75 ERA or less. Rocker (3-0, 0.00 ERA) and Leiter (3-0, 0.68 ERA) are combined 6-0 with 51 strikeouts in 30 innings.

The Commodores will be without its leading hitter and one it late-inning bullpen arms this weekend due to Covid issues. Junior Dominic Keegan leads the SEC with a .548 (17-for-31) average through 11 games. He has 13 extra base hits, 13 runs scored and 17 RBIs. Luke Murphy has five scoreless innings in four appearances with two saves.

Oklahoma State has belted 16 home runs in 10 games. Christian Encarnacion-Strand has five home runs and 13 RBIs. Jake Thompson and Nolan McLean have two homers each.

Oklahoma State has compiled a 63-27 record since 2019 and made a super regional in 2019. OSU ranks sixth nationally in ERA (1.91) and 10th in strikeouts per nine innings (12.7) while also leading the nation with four shutouts.

The Cowboys have won four road games while the Commodores, conversely, has not left the state of Tennessee.

The SEC has compiled a 10-4 record against Big 12 teams this season, including an 8-1 mark at a season-opening tournament at Globe Life Park in Arlington.

AROUND THE SEC:

Alabama (12-2) will once again be without the services of All-American lefty Connor Prielipp in the three-game series with Stetson. Tyler RasAntoine Jean and Dylan Smith will be the three-man rotation for the third straight weekend. Alabama third baseman Zane Denton is seventh in the SEC with a .400 (22-for-55) batting average through 14 games. He also ranks second in the league with 22 hits. Stetson (10-4) has lost four straight after a 10-0 start to the season.

Auburn (8-4) is looking to bounce back after dropping two of three games each of the last two weekends. The Tigers host Little Rock in a three-game series at Plainsman Park. AU dropped two games to Oklahoma and Baylor at the Round Rock Classic two weeks ago and then dropped a home series to Boston College last weekend. Auburn leads the NCAA with 122 runs scored and ranks in the Top 10 in the NCAA in eight offensive categories. The issue has been on the mound. AU will be using its fourth different starting rotation in four weeks. The Tigers are next-to-last in the SEC with a 3.76 ERA. Senior right-hander Cody Greenhill returns to the rotation this weekend. He missed the BC series with a foot injury. Junior right-hander Richard Fitts is not in the starting rotation this weekend after he allowed five home runs in his last two starts to Baylor and Boston College. 

Arkansas (10-0) hits the road this weekend for a three-game series at Louisiana Tech. The Razorbacks are seeking the first 11-0 start in the Dave Van Horn era this Friday night in Ruston. Dating back to last season, Arkansas has won 14 straight games. The Razorbacks are the consensus No. 1 team in the country. Arkansas ranks eighth in the SEC in hitting (.288) and ninth in ERA (3.41) this season. The Razorbacks are fourth in the league with 17 home runs. UA leads the SEC with a .986 fielding mark and have made only five errors in 10 games. UA freshman right-hander Payton Pallette is 10th in the SEC with a 1.35 ERA. 

Florida (11-3) welcomes another in-state foe to Gainesville this weekend when hosting the Jacksonville Dolphins in a three-game series. Since dropping its opening series to Miami, Florida is 10-1 in its last 11 games with a five-game winning streak. The Gators rank third in the SEC in hitting (.305) and runs scored (117). Third-year sophomore outfielder Jacob Young leads the SEC with 24 hits and ranks 10th in the conference with a .305 average. Freshman catcher/infielder Nathan Hickey leads the SEC with 18 RBIs. The pitching staff is led by ace right-hander Tommy Mace, who is tied for the lead with three wins.

Georgia (10-3) welcomes Lipscomb to Foley Field this weekend for a three-game series. The Bison have had their last six games canceled due to Covid-19 protocol. Lipscomb has not played since a 7-5 win over Creighton on Feb. 28. The Bulldogs have quietly put together a solid start to the season. The Bulldogs rank fifth in the league in hitting (.297) and sixth in ERA (2.61). Georgia redshirt junior infielder Connor Tate is seventh in the SEC with 19 hits.

Kentucky (8-2) will host a battle-tested Georgia State team this weekend in Lexington. The Panthers (4-10) have played all 14 games against ranked, Power 5 teams. GSU has played West Virginia (2-2), Georgia (0-1), Vanderbilt (1-3), Georgia Tech (0-1), Tennessee (0-3) and Florida (0-1) this season. Kentucky is second in the SEC with a 2.20 ERA. The Wildcats have 111 strikeouts in 86 innings this season. UK also leads the league with five saves. On offense, UK freshman infielder Reuben Church ranks second in the SEC with a .469 (15-for-32) this season. He has eight extra base hits and 10 RBIs.

LSU (11-3) made a schedule adjustment on Wednesday when Baylor decided to play a home series this weekend rather than travel to Baton Rouge. LSU will now play a three-game home series with UT San Antonio at Alex Box Stadium. The Tigers are looking to rebound from last weekend’s home series loss to Oral Roberts. LSU All-American Jaden Hill hopes to rebound too. He faced nine batters last week against ORU and allowed eight runs in the loss. LSU leads the SEC with 22 home runs. Freshman first baseman Tre’ Morgan is third in the league with a .422 (22-for-52) average. He is second in the conference with 22 hits. He also has 18 RBIs and score 17 runs. Junior right-hander Landon Marceaux has not allowed a run in 17 innings over three starts.

Mississippi State (10-3) has had dominant pitching as evident by its three consecutive shutouts. MSU is second in the SEC with 180 strikeouts and has 27 consecutive scoreless innings entering the series with Eastern Michigan. MSU has 15 pitchers with at least one inning pitched and a 1.80 ERA or less. Freshman right hander Landon Sims has made headlines on the mound. He has recorded 27 strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings and is averaging a staggering 22.78 strikeouts per nine innings. He has recorded 32 outs this season with 27 coming via the strikeout. Junior Tanner Allen has been steady at the play for MSU with a 10-game hitting streak and 13-game on-base streak.

Missouri (4-9) moved its home series with Illinois State to Normal, Ill., due to forecasted inclement weather this weekend in Columbia. The Tigers snapped a five-game losing streak with a 2-1 win at St. Louis on Tuesday. Mizzou is the only SEC team with a losing record. The Tigers are last in the league in hitting (.237) and ERA (7.88).

Ole Miss (11-2) will be without is No. 1 starting pitcher when the Rebels host ULM. Preseason All-American Doug Nikhazy is out this weekend with a chest (pectoral strain) injury. Nikhazy is 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA in three starts this season. He has recorded 27 strikeouts in 13 innings. Ole Miss will have Gunnar Hoglund on the mound on Friday, Drew McDaniel on Saturday and Derek Diamond Sunday on the mound. The Rebels have won six straight games heading into the weekend series with ULM. The Rebels are averaging 10.5 runs per game during the winning streak.  Third baseman Tim Elko is the reigning National and SEC Player of the Week. Elko went 10-for-17 (.588) with five home runs, eight runs scored and 13 RBIs last week. He compiled a 2.237 OPS in the five games.

Tennessee (11-3) hosts UNC Greensboro on the final non-conference weekend in Knoxville. The Vols are coming off a 9-0 loss at Charlotte on Tuesday. UNCG is riding a 5-game winning streak. Senior shortstop Liam Spence leads the team with a .398 average, 15 runs scored, 21 hits and four doubles. He ranks ninth in the nation with 21 hits. He is riding a 7-game hitting streak. The UT starters had a solid weekend last week against Georgia State. Will Heflin, Blade Tidwell and Mark McLaughlin allowed just one earned run and added 18 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings. Heflin made a midweek start at Charlotte on Tuesday and struggled in his only inning. He has been pushed back to game two against UNCG.

Texas A&M (11-4) brings a seven-game winning streak into its weekend series with Samford. Texas A&M leads the nation with four shutouts this season (Oklahoma State and Stetson also have four shutouts). The Aggies lead the SEC with 190 strikeouts this season and ranks ninth nationally with 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Senior Chandler Jozwiak leads the nation with a 30:1 strikeout to walk ratio. He also leads the SEC and ranks third in the SEC with 30 strikeouts. Senior Bryce Miller is third in the SEC (13th NCAA) with 27 strikeouts. Freshman Jonathan Childress is ninth in the SEC with 23 strikeouts. Texas A&M has outscored opponents 19-0 in the first inning this season. A&M opponents are hitting .089 in the first inning with 28 strikeouts (51 batters faced). On offense, Texas A&M leads the nation with 103 walks. Junior Bryce Blaum is fourth in the SEC and 13th nationally with 13 walks.

TELEVISION SCHEDULE:

There will be five SEC Baseball televised this weekend. The scheduled includes:

Friday, March 12                

South Carolina at Texas, 6:30 PM (CT) (Longhorn Network)

Saturday, March 13           

Little Rock at Auburn, 2 PM (SEC Network)

South Carolina at Texas, 2:30 PM (CT) (Longhorn Network)

UT San Antonio at LSU, 7 PM (SEC Network)

Sunday, March 14 

South Carolina at Texas, 11 AM (CT) (Longhorn Network)