UCLA, the No. 2 team in college baseball, and Southern California will host Michigan and Oklahoma State this weekend in the annual Dodger Stadium College Classic. The action begins Friday, March 8, and concludes Sunday, March 10, with both games at Dodgers Stadium.
These are four storied programs, with 16 College World Series titles amongst them. Let’s take a look at what to watch this weekend.
The UCLA/USC rivalry continues
While North Carolina and Duke face off on the hardwood in college basketball’s biggest rivalry on Saturday, the Bruins and Trojans will go head-to-head in Dodgers Stadium on Sunday in one of college sport’s all-time greatest rivalries. You can watch the game on the Pac-12 Network.
There’s no love lost between these two schools, separated by a mere 13.2 miles down I-10. UCLA (117) and USC (108) are No. 2 and 3, respectively, in all-time national championships, with the Bruins unrivaled on the basketball court and the Trojans second to none on the baseball field.
This season may seem like a bit of a mismatch, with UCLA at 9-2 and USC at 4-7, but don’t underestimate these two squads when they square up. Last season, despite finishing 26-28, USC took care of UCLA in the Dodger Stadium College Classic 3-2.
Those Bruins arms are stingy
UCLA has jumped out to a 9-2 start thanks in large part to a pitching arsenal holding teams in check on the base paths. The staff has a combined 1.08 ERA and an absurd 0.79 WHIP, both second-best in DI only to Tennessee and its surprise start. Eight UCLA pitchers have tossed five or more innings, and each one of them has an ERA under 1.80.
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Sophomore Zach Pettway has been solid in his conversion to ace, going at least six innings in each of his three starts with 23 strikeouts and a 1.80 ERA. Saturday starter Jack Ralston has been on fire as well, sitting at 3-0 with two scoreless starts in his first three on the season. A pair of freshmen round out the rotation. Jesse Bergin, who is 2-0 in his first three career starts, has paired with Nick Nastrini to allow one combined earned run in 28.1 innings.
None of the teams this young rotation faces this weekend are in the top 50 in scoring. The Bruins could continue to roll in Los Angeles.
How will Michigan’s Tommy Henry handle the No. 2 team in college baseball?
Speaking of lights-out pitching, have you heard Tommy Henry is on fire? Michigan’s ace has made three starts this season and has yet to allow an earned run. He has been remarkable the last two times out in particular, a span in which he’s struck out 25 and walked one. His second start of the season against The Citadel was a one-hit, 13-strikeout, complete-game shutout that he needed just 88 pitches to get through. That’s utter domination.
That makes the anticipated Pettway and Henry showdown on Friday night worth watching. The junior southpaw will have to deal with a right-handed heavy lineup, especially with Jake Pries and Ryan Kreidler hitting seemingly everything thrown their way. No. 17 Michigan has a chance to make a statement Friday night with one of the hottest pitchers in the land on the bump.
Can those Oklahoma State bats break out?
The Cowboys got off to the start most expected, winning their first three series of the season before surprisingly dropping two of three to Iowa. There was a lot of intriguing power bats returning in this lineup that put high expectations on Oklahoma State, entering the season in the top 25 of several polls.
That hasn’t exactly panned out, but with sluggers like these, the Cowboys could be a ticking time bomb. They have just nine home runs as a team this season, finding them tied for sixth in their own conference, but hopefully, Wednesday night was a sign of things to come. Colin Simpson — a 2018 Johnny Bench Award finalist whose 18 home runs were the most by a Cowboy in a decade — finally found the other side of the fence, launching his first home run of the season against Wichita State. 6-8 junior outfielder Carson McCusker has been in a groove with hits in six of his last seven games, but not many have gone for extra bases.
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Mitchell Stone has been impressive in the rotation and the bullpen arms of Ben Leeper, Joe Lienhard, Payton Battenfield, Brett Standlee and Jake Lyons have allowed just 11 runs over their first 46.2 innings (a 2.14 ERA), keeping the Cowboys in every game. If these bats can break out against some solid pitching, Oklahoma State could find its way back to the rankings much sooner than later.
5 intriguing players to watch
Let’s take a look at five players to keep your eyes on this weekend.
Tommy Henry, Michigan: Yep, we already mentioned him, but he’s that good. This is a big test and he deserves the attention. While the Bruins can hit, they have also struck out the second-most times (98) in the Pac-12. The red-hot Henry could feast on this aggressive lineup.
Bryce Carter, Oklahoma State: Carter transferred in from Stanford, never really finding success at the plate. Thus far, his Cowboys debut has been superb, hitting .371 and tied for the team lead with 10 walks in a lineup that is very strikeout happy. Perhaps he can be an X-factor for the Cowboys in ’19.
CJ Stubbs, USC: Stubbs missed 2018 with an injury and is quickly making up for lost time. He leads the Trojans in hitting with a .381 batting average with eight extra-base hits.
Chase Strumpf, UCLA: The preseason All-American second baseman is off to a slow start by his standards. He can go off at any time, and you won’t want to miss it when he does.
Brett Standlee, Oklahoma State: We spoke about the Cowboys bullpen, and Standlee has been very good. The redshirt freshman came out hot, striking out seven in his first 5.2 innings not allowing a run. Perhaps what speaks louder is how he rebounded Wednesday night after his first poor outing of the season, bouncing back to hurl two scoreless innings striking out four and walking none.