Saturday, April 19, 2014

Weekend College Baseball Conference Preview: April 18-20

By SAMUEL BOTWINICK | Staff Writer
April 17, 2014, 7:05 p.m.
@avdbkr20samuel

All of the five Big Five Baseball teams in Philadelphia will play against conference opponents this weekend. The games begin on Thursday and continue through Sunday.  Below is our preview and current status of each series.

La Salle (10-22 overall, 5-5 in A-10) at VCU (26-8 overall, 7-3 in A-10)

About La Salle:  The Explorers will travel to Virginia to play the scorching hot Rams.  The 10-22 record for the Explorers does not show their true potential this year, as evidenced by the 5-5 mark in conference play.  Mark Williams continues to provide a significant source of power for La Salle; five home runs to go along with 25 RBI; and a .302 batting average.  The Explorers' pitching staff continues to struggle with a 6.59 ERA compared to the conference average of 4.26.  Shawn O'Neil has quietly picked himself up from a rough start to this year, improving his line to 4-5, with a 3.64 ERA, and 35 strikeouts through 54 1/3 innings.

About VCU:  The Rams are unbelievably hot, winning five of their last six games.  They have an astonishingly low three losses at home compared to only five on the road.  While VCU has less than the league average in home runs, they have more than 100 RBI more than them, and sport an astounding .315 team batting average, which is more than 60 points higher than the league average of .253.  The Rams' offensive production is due in large part to the fact that no player in the starting lineup has less than 35 hits, and that eight of the starting nine have above a .300 batting average.  The one player (Cody Acker) who doesn't have a .300 average (.292) leads the team in hits, with 45.  On the mound, Heath Dwyer is having a memorable season, posting a miniscule 2.01 ERA, with a perfect 4-0 record, and 40 punch outs in 44 2/3 innings.

Series Probables for La Salle and VCU
Friday: Heath Dwyer (4-0, 2.01 ERA) vs. Shane Hollman (3-1, 3.61 ERA)
Saturday: TBA vs. Joey Ravert (1-1, 2.73 ERA)
Sunday: JoJo Howie (3-2, 3.36 ERA) vs. TBA

Penn (20-12 overall, 11-1 in Ivy) at Princeton (10-20 overall, 5-7 in Ivy)

About Penn:  The Quakers, who are currently on a four game winning streak, will travel to Princeton to play the Tigers in a two day back-to-back series starting on Saturday.  After starting out an abysmal 2-9 through the first 11 games, Penn has completely turned its season around, winning 15 of the last 17 games, en-route to recapturing the Ivy League division lead.  Penn's team batting average is not great, but they are incredibly productive and powerful as a team, cranking out 29 bombs compared to just 14 for the opposition, while driving in 181 RBI as a team in comparison to the league average of 129.  Rick Brebner is having an MVP-caliber season, knocking out seven home runs to lead the Quakers, driving in 29 runs in just 32 games, and hitting .309.  Connor Cuff continues to blow hitters away with his 1.33 ERA, 4-1 record, and 34 strikeouts through 47 1/3 frames.

About Princeton:  The Tigers have almost the exact opposite record of the Quakers (10-20 to 20-12).  The main difference between both teams this season has been Penn's ability to bounce back and get stronger when adversity hit them, while Princeton has not been able to win consistently.  The Tigers' main struggles have come when they are on the road, resulting in a 5-15 away record.  Princeton doesn't have one outstanding player on offense who can carry a team by himself.  Rather, the Tigers have several players who can get the job done as a team, but who struggle when all of the hitters are not up to par.  Michael Fagan has been a strikeout machine on the mound for Princeton, punching out an incredible 55 batters in just 42 2/3 innings.                            

Series Probables for Penn and Princeton
Saturday: TBA vs. TBA
Sunday: TBA vs. TBA
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Temple (10-19 overall, 5-8 in AAC) at Connecticut (18-17 overall, 5-4 in AAC)

About Temple:  Thursday was the first time this year that the Owls played the Huskies.  Connecticut won that game 4-1.  Temple won a hard-fought extra inning battle with Connecticut on Friday to even the series at a game a piece.  Robert Amaro continues his torrid hitting for the Owls, collecting 28 RBI in only 29 games.  Matt Hockenberry, who once owned a 2.10 ERA earlier this season, has come back to reality, increasing that total to a 3.59 ERA.  

About Connecticut:  The Huskies, who won game 1 against the Owls, look to continue to dominate, winning four of their last five games.  Connecticut is above the league average in team batting average (.272-.232), home runs (16-9), and RBI (155-110).  Their primary offense comes from their top two hitters (Bobby Melley and Blake Davey), who together combined for 10 home runs and 48 RBI, and who together went for 5-7 day at the plate on Thursday.  In Thursday's victory over the Owls, Anthony Marzi notched his 200th career strikeout.

Series Probables for Temple and Connecticut
Thursday: Matt Hockenberry (4-3, 3.59 ERA) vs. Anthony Marzi (4-4, 3.06 ERA)
Friday: Patrick Vanderslice (0-1, 7.89 ERA) vs. Jordan Tabakman (3-1, 2.44 ERA)
Saturday: TBA vs. TBA

Dayton (17-17 overall, 9-4 in A-10) at St. Joseph's (20-10 overall, 9-4 in A-10)

About Dayton:  The Flyers, who are facing the Hawks for the first time this year, have split the first two games with them this series, winning 6-1 on Thursday, and losing 3-2 on Friday.  Dayton was on a tear prior to Friday's loss against the Hawks, winning eight of their last nine games.  A.J. Ryan is having an unbelievable season at the dish, hitting .397, with two home runs, and 25 RBI in 22 starts.  The Flyers don't have any special hurlers on the mound that can blow opposing hitters away with their pitches.  As a matter of fact, only Noah Buettgen has under a 4.00 ERA (3.76).

About St. Joseph's:  The Hawks are hot as well, winning five of their last six games, including Friday's victory over the Flyers.  Brian O'Keefe has cooled his average and production down, but he is still having an MVP-caliber season.  In 30 games, the catcher has five bombs, 27 RBI, and a .380 batting average to lead the team in all important offensive categories aside from RBI.  The leader in that category is Tommy Cunningham, who is having an equally impressive year at the plate, hitting .331, with four long balls, and 28 RBI.  Daniel Thorpe and Jordan Carter have had incredible years, combining for an 11-3 record, and 89 strikeouts.

Series Probables for Dayton and St. Joseph's
Thursday: Joe Wahl (1-4, 6.61 ERA) vs. Matt Morella (0-0, 0.90 ERA)
Friday: Noah Buettgen (5-4, 3.76 ERA) vs. Daniel Thorpe (6-0, 1.81 ERA)
Saturday: Charlie Dant (4-3, 4.43 ERA) vs. Jordan Carter (5-3, 2.72 ERA)

Creighton (18-12 overall, 3-1 in Big East) at Villanova (11-22 overall, 3-4 in Big East)

About Creighton:  The Bluejays have won six of their last eight games, which includes the loss at the Wildcats on Thursday.  They split game two as Creighton defeated Villanova 12-6 in an offensive outburst.  The Bluejays are a power hitting club, hitting more than double the average of the Big East for home runs (13-6).  Mike Gerber has a lot to do with those 13 bombs, as he clubbed 6 of those bombs in the early season.  Creighton's greatest strength is its pitching staff, which has a lower team ERA than the league average (3.82-4.32).  Matt Warren has been the best pitcher on the team, and is among the best hurlers in the Big East.  He already has a perfect 7-0 record, with an equally impressive 1.93 ERA.

About Villanova:  The Wildcats have had a disappointing season thus far, on the mound, and at the plate.  The only offensive category that they are close to the league average in is home runs (9-11).  Connor Jones has been the one bright spot on offense for Villanova this year, leading the wildcats in both home runs (4) and RBI (26).  Hunter Schryver has been the only pitcher to show promise this year, tossing 30 punch outs in 35 2/3 innings, and sporting a 3.79 ERA.

Series Probables for Creighton and Villanova
Thursday: Taylor Elman (2-3, 6.26 ERA) vs. Josh Harris (3-5, 5.96 ERA)
Friday: Matt Almonte (1-4, 4.68 ERA) vs. Brian Sova (2-0, 2.01 ERA)
Saturday: TBA vs. TBA

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