Division I Weekend Preview
SEC has three teams tied at top of Eastern Division standings
All but a handful of Division I baseball conferences will conclude regular season play this weekend, and while several league races are virtually wrapped up, many regular season champions will be decided during this final weekend of action.
The races are neck-and-neck in the Big 12, Colonial Athletic Association, Conference USA, Southeastern Conference, Summit League, Sun Belt and Western Athletic Conference as less than one game separates the top two teams in the standings.
In the Big 12, Texas A&M leads Texas by one game, and the two squads will battle it out for first place and the top seed in the league tournament in a three-game series beginning May 19.
For the first time in Conference USA’s 16-year history, the first and second place teams will meet each other in the final weekend of regular season action as Rice visits Southern Miss on May 19-21. The Golden Eagles currently hold a one-game lead over the Owls.
Heading into the weekend, James Madison and Old Dominion are tied for first place in the CAA standings with identical 18-9 records. JMU will face Northeastern in a three-game weekend series, while ODU travels to Hofstra to finish out the regular season. ODU took two of three games in the season series against the Dukes, and would have the tie-breaker advantage if the teams end the season tied.
The same scenario will play out in the Summit League where South Dakota State and Oral Roberts share first place with 17-7 records. ORU won three of four games against SDSU, and therefore would have the tiebreaker if the teams end in a dead heat. SDSU hosts IPFW, while ORU hosts Southern Utah in four-game series beginning May 19.
The Sun Belt and WAC races are also heated down the stretch. Troy holds a half-game lead against Florida International in the SBC standings, while Hawaii leads Fresno State by a half-game in the WAC. Hawaii has four games at New Mexico State remaining in league play, while the Bulldogs will play a make-up game against Nevada on May 19 to finish out their conference schedule.
Rhode Island controls its own destiny in the Atlantic 10 as it is a half-game behind Charlotte in the standings. The 49ers have completed their league slate, while URI will travel to Dayton for a three-game series. A series sweep would give URI the 2011 Atlantic 10 regular season title while two wins against the Flyers will create co-champions between Rhode Island and Charlotte.
In probably the most competitive of all races, Southeastern Conference has three teams tied at the top of the Eastern Division standings, and four teams sharing the top spot in the Western Division heading into the weekend. Vanderbilt, Florida and South Carolina boast identical 20-7 records in SEC play as each vies for a league championship. Vanderbilt is at Georgia, South Carolina travels to Alabama and Florida closes the season by hosting Kentucky. There is a possibility of co-champions or even tri-champions. In the Western Division, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and Mississippi State are all even at 13-14. The winner of the division will earn the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament.
Two conference tournaments are also in action this weekend. The MEAC Tournament started May 18, and looks to crown its champion on May 22. Bethune-Cookman went 18-0 in league play and won its opening game against Florida A&M, 18-5. In the SWAC, Alcorn State and Southern are seeded No. 1 in their respective East and West divisions and both earned victories in their opening contests on May 18. The SWAC will also crown a champion on May 22.
Series to Watch
No. 11 Texas A&M vs. No. 5 Texas
The Big 12 regular season title is up-for-grabs this weekend as the Aggies and Longhorns renew their rivalry for the 97th consecutive season in the Lone Star Showdown. The match-up boasts two of the top pitching staffs in the nation as Texas tops Division I with a 2.17 ERA, and Texas A&M ranks eighth in the nation with a 2.55 ERA. The Longhorns also rank first in hits allowed per nine innings (6.19) and 11th in strikeouts per nine innings (8.5), while the Aggies are not far behind, striking out 8.1 batters per game. Texas A&M’s Tyler Naquin paces the Big 12 with a .418 batting average, while Texas freshman Erich Weiss ranks second in the league at a .374 clip. Thursday’s pitching match-up will feature a pair of junior right-handers that rank first and third, respectively, in ERA as Taylor Jungmann ( 11-0, 0.86 ERA) of Texas and John Stilson (5-1, 1.59 ERA) of Texas A&M go head-to-head. Thursday’s game will be held in College Station, while Friday and Saturday’s contests will be played in Austin. Texas leads the all-time series 232-120-5 and has won 17 of the last 20 meetings.
Schedule: May 19 at 6:35 p.m. CT; May 20 at 6 p.m. CT; May 21 at 6 p.m. CT.
No. 20 Rice at No. 17 Southern Miss
The Owls head to Hattiesburg for a three-game Conference USA series that will decide first place in the league standings. The Golden Eagles hold a one-game lead against Rice and need to win two games to win the regular season outright. If Rice wins two, the teams will share the title, and if the Owls sweep, they will take the regular season crown back to Houston. Southern Miss leads the league in batting with a .307 average, while the Golden Eagles rank third in the C-USA with a 3.43 ERA. Rice ranks second in the league with a 3.20 ERA, while the pitching staff is posting 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings, which ranks seventh in Division I. USM right-hander Todd McInnis (7-1, 2.89 ERA) and Rice right-hander Austin Kubitza (5-3, 2.04 ERA) are expected to take the mound on Thursday night. The Owls lead the overall series 12-6 which dates back to 2006, but the two schools have split the last six games 3-3.
Schedule: May 19 at 7 p.m. ET; May 20 at 7 p.m. ET; May 21 at 2 p.m. ET.
No. 1 Virginia at No. 13 North Carolina
Virginia is looking to close out regular season play as the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division champions, but the talented Tar Heels will be standing in their way in Chapel Hill this weekend. UVa enters the series with a two-game lead over Georgia Tech in the divisional standings, and need just one win or a Georgia Tech loss to Virginia Tech to earn at least a share of the crown. The Cavaliers lead the ACC and rank third nationally with a 2.24 ERA, while they lead the nation with 513 strikeouts. The Tar Heels are also fond of fanning batters, and ranks second in the nation with 492 strikeouts on the season. UNC freshman Colin Moran tops the ACC with 63 RBI, while UVa’s John Hicks and Steven Proscia are second and third, respectively, in the league with 75 and 72 total hits. Virginia LHP Danny Hultzen (1.42) will start Thursday’s contest, and UNC will counter with right-hander Patrick Johnson (9-1, 3.07 ERA). UNC leads the all-time series 171-100-4, but Virginia swept last year’s series.
Schedule: May 19 at 7 p.m. ET; May 20 at 7 p.m. ET; May 21 at 2 p.m. ET.
Clemson at Florida State
Florida State and Clemson will play their final ACC series with the exact same scenario as last year. FSU led Clemson by three games entering the last league series, and the Tigers toppled the Seminoles in all three games to steal the ACC Atlantic regular season title. The Seminoles lead the Tigers by three games again this season, but will host the deciding series this year. FSU has won 15 of its last 18 games, while Clemson has been victorious in 23 of its last 27 games. Clemson boasts a league-leading .321 batting average, while FSU paces the ACC in scoring with 7.5 runs per game. Brad Miller tops the Tigers and the ACC with a .429 batting average, .531 on-base percentage and 20 steals, while James Ramsey paces the Seminoles with a .354 batting average. Thursday’s match-up will face FSU lefty Sean Gilmartin (9-1, 1.25 ERA) against Clemson RHP Dominic Leone (5-1, 3.06 ERA). FSU leads the all-time series 65-53-1.
Schedule: May 19 at 6 p.m. ET; May 20 at 6 p.m. ET; May 21 at 1 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Florida).
Missouri State at Creighton
Creighton is looking to claim its first Missouri Valley Conference regular season title since 2005 as the Blujays enter the weekend with a half-game lead over Missouri State in the league standings. A sweep will guarantee the Blujays first place, but the Bears or Wichita State also have a chance at the title this weekend. Missouri State last won the regular season title in 2009. Creighton's Jonas Dufek (8-1, 2.32 ERA) will square off against Missouri State ace Nick Petree (8-1, 2.89 ERA) on Thursday. The Bears lead the MVC in batting (.295), while Creighton’s Trever Adams leads the league with 13 homers. Creighton also ranks sixth nationally with a .978 fielding percentage. The Bears lead the overall series 37-35.
Schedule: May 19 at 12 p.m. CT; May 20 at 7 p.m. CT; May 21 at 1 p.m. CT.