Houston’s Shriners College Classic Highlights College Baseball Weekend

South Alabama baseball

BIG GAME HUNTING

By BILL BALLEW

Her is a look at the top matchups in college baseball for the weekend of March 2-4.

South Alabama Jaguars at Texas Tech Red Raiders

Friday 6:30 p.m., Saturday (DH) Noon & 4 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. (All times Central)

South Alabama (7-2) opened its season by winning three games versus four different opponents in Myrtle Beach before defeating Southern Miss and sweeping Hartford. The Jaguars lost a one-run decision to Auburn in front of a record crowd of 4,508 at Stanky Field on Tuesday but are proving to be one of the better all-around teams in the country. The offense has been potent, led by Michael Sandle (.406, 1 home run, 12 RBIs), Travis Swaggerty (.367-3-9), Dylan Hardy (.364-1-6) and Wells Davis (.344-2-13). The pitching has been steady with a staff ERA of 3.56. Tyler Carr is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA through two starts.

Texas Tech (9-0) is ranked third in the country in most of the major polls after outscoring its opponents by a margin of 82-21. The Red Raiders posted three straight shutouts last week and have a staff ERA of 1.89. John McMillon (0.82 ERA), Davis Martin (0.90 ERA) and Ryan Shetter (1.46 ERA) are all 2-0 after making two starts apiece. Pacing the Texas Tech offense are Grant Little (.455, 2 home runs, 11 RBIs), Gabe Holt (.444-1-8) and Josh Jung (.405-3-12).

College Baseball Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic

Here is the schedule for the event that starts tomorrow and features one of the best lineups of teams you’ll see in this type of an event.

Friday, March 2

Noon               Vanderbilt vs. Sam Houston State

3:30 p.m.         Kentucky vs. Houston

7 p.m.              Mississippi State vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

Saturday, March 3

Noon               Sam Houston State vs. Kentucky

3:30 p.m.         Vanderbilt vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

7 p.m.  Houston vs. Mississippi State

Sunday, March 4

11 a.m.            Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Kentucky

2:30 p.m.         Mississippi State vs. Sam Houston State

6 p.m.              Houston vs. Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt (9-1) has been one of the hottest teams in the country. The Commodores’ staff ERA is a paltry 2.00 and the offense is batting at a .352 clip. Nine everyday players are hitting higher than .300, and three players–Austin Martin (.517), Pat DeMarco (.487) and J.J. Bleday (.409)–are batting above .400.

Sam Houston State (6-2) is coming off its first Super Regional appearance in program history and has won six of its first eight games while hosting three teams from the state of Ohio. Hunter Hearn leads the Bearkats in the Triple Crown categories with a .428 batting average, three home runs and 11 RBIs. Andrew Fregia is right behind him with a .364 norm, two homers and 10 RBIs. Seth Ballew has been the team’s best starter, posting a 1.46 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings. 

Kentucky (8-1) also advanced to its first Super Regional in 2017 under first-year head coach Nick Mingione, who has had the Wildcats playing well thus far against modest competition. The ‘Cats possess some power with T.J. Collett crushing five home runs with 17 RBIs while hitting .333 thus far. Luke Heyer has added four bombs to go with a .357 norm and 10 RBIs. Reigning Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year Sean Hjelle has been extraordinary thus far with a 2-0 record and an 0.66 ERA in two starts. Hjelle has allowed only three hits in 13 2/3 innings.

Houston (5-2) has had a strong start, particularly on the bump, highlighted by winning two of three at Cal State Fullerton to open the slate. The Cougars have a staff ERA of 1.95, led by starters Aaron Fletcher (2-0, 1.64 ERA), Trey Cumbie (0-0, 1.50 ERA) and Ryan Randel (1-0, 2.38 ERA). The offense, conversely, has a cumulative batting average of .233 and has hit only three home runs. Lael Lockhart has been the team’s top batter with a .286 average.

Mississippi State (3-5) has suffered some bumps early on. After getting swept by Southern Miss on opening weekend, head coach Andy Cannizaro was fired due to an improper relationship with an athletic department staff member. The Bulldogs head to Houston having lost a pair of 6-3 decisions to Texas A&M Corpus Christi and McNeese State. Josh Hatcher has been the most productive MSU hitter with a .344 batting average, three home runs and seven RBIs. SEC Pitcher of the Year candidate Konnor Pilkington is 1-1 with 2.00 ERA through two starts.

Louisiana-Lafayette (3-5) has gotten off to an uncharacteristically rough start while opening the season at Texas and then hosting an underrated Wright State team last weekend. The Ragin’ Cajuns are hitting just .172 as a team, with Gavin Bourgeois (.286) being the lone player batting above .226. Pitching has kept the team in games. The staff has a 3.36 ERA (compared to 1.93 for its opponents). Brock Batty is 2-0 with an 0.87 ERA in three relief outings, while Colten Schmidt is 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA in two starts and one appearance from the bullpen.

About the author, Bill

Bill Ballew has been involved with collegiate and professional baseball since 1983. He has been the Atlanta correspondent for Baseball America since 1991 and has served as the editorial content manager for Baseball The Magazine for more than five years. He is a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA), National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).