What to Watch: Top teams converge on Los Angeles
After a one-year hiatus and two years away from Dodger Stadium, the Dodgertown Classic returns this weekend with a bang. The Los Angeles event that was played in 2010-12 but forced out to move in 2013 and not held at all in 2014 will feature local teams No. 6 UCLA and No. 23 Southern California as well as powerhouses No. 2 TCU and No. 5 Vanderbilt.
UCLA and USC will each host games at their own stadiums on Friday and Saturday before the main event on Sunday, a twinbill at Dodger Stadium.Friday evening will feature a matchup between the past two national champions, as Vanderbilt (10-2) visits UCLA (11-1) at Jackie Robinson Stadium, where the Bruins are unbeaten this season. In UCLA’s past five games, the pitching staff has given up four total runs and struck out 41 batters. That staff will be challenged by a Commodore offense that has averaged more than 11 runs in its past six games. The matchup on the mound is expected to be Vanderbilt’s Carson Fulmer (2-0, 1.12) opposite UCLA’s James Kaprielian (3-0, 2.84).
Meanwhile, Southern Cal will host TCU on Friday at Dedeaux Field. The Trojans got off to a 12-0 start, their best since 1988, before dropping a mid-week game to No. 26 UC Santa Barbara in walk-off fashion. Friday starter Brent Wheatley has 25 strikeouts in 17 innings with a 2.12 ERA for the Trojans. He is expected to go up against Preston Morrison for TCU, who has yet to give up a run in 18 innings of work this season. The Horned Frogs come in at 8-1 after their series with Cal Poly last weekend was canceled.
UCLA and USC will then switch opponents for Saturday, before the festivities move over to Dodger Stadium for Sunday’s big event.
The two visitors, Vanderbilt and fellow 2014 College World Series team TCU, will get things started. Both teams are No. 1 in at least one poll, as Vanderbilt tops the Baseball American rankings and TCU leads the Collegiate Baseball poll. This is Vanderbilt’s second appearance at Dodger Stadium Baseball Classic -- the Commodores beat Oklahoma State 7-6 in 2010, the first year of the event. This will be TCU’s first time participating.
That will lead into the traditional USC-UCLA matchup. The first of four games between the two rivals in the regular season, this one won’t count toward their Pac-12 records. UCLA has won three out of four against the Trojans in this event, including two out of three when played at Dodger Stadium.
On the Hill: Andrew Lantrip vs. Jared Poche
Flat-seamed baseballs may be causing more home runs this year, but don’t tell these guys. With Minute Maid Park hosting the Houston College Classic this weekend, fans will get the chance to check out Houston ace Andrew Lantrip against LSU’s Jared Poche, Twelfth-ranked Houston and No. 4 LSU are joined in the event by Baylor, No. 14 Texas A&M, Hawaii and Nebraska, but it’s the Friday evening matchup that stands out as a must-see.
Lantrip, a sophomore right-hander, is coming off a stellar freshman campaign. Last year, he went 6-0 in 14 appearances (six starts) with a 1.87 ERA. This year, he’s been the Cougars Friday starter, and he has delivered. Last time out, he went 7.2 shutout innings against Columbia, a team the rest of the staff struggled to shut down. In three starts this season, he has allowed one run.
Runs could be just as hard to come by for the Cougars as they will be for the Tigers, as LSU sends out another sophomore in southpaw Jared Poche. Last season, Poche earned a spot in the weekend rotation and went 9-3 with a 2.45 ERA, and now he is the Tigers’ No. 1 guy. He has given up four earned runs in three starts this year, no more than two coming in one game.
In the Box: Joey FalconeColumbia senior outfielder Joey Falcone was already known around college baseball for his name (he’s the son of 10-year major league veteran Pete Falcone) and his previous military experience. Now, he’s making noise with his bat again.
In the Lions’ season-opening series against Houston last week, Falcone went 7-for-14 with four doubles, two homers and seven RBI as his team earned a split with the top-10 Cougars. His performance earned him Ivy League player of the week honors.
Falcone performed well when he first transferred from College of Staten Island to Columbia, tying for the team lead with a .331 batting average and belting five home runs on his way to an All-Ivy second-team selection. Then he suffered a setback in his junior season, as he made 24 appearances and 17 starts and batted .125.
If the first weekend of the season is any indication, the Joey Falcone of his sophomore is back and ready to lead the Lions back to the NCAA tournament. A three-game series against No. 18 UCF (10-1) is up next for Columbia, and it doesn’t play its home opener until a doubleheader with Dartmouth on March 28.
Around the Bases:
• ACC play begins this weekend. Some highlights include No. 15 Miami (Fla.) at No. 19 Louisville and Duke at No. 16 North Carolina.
• Nevada’s Ryan Howell leads the country in home runs with six. The 11-1 Wolf Pack have a three-game series at UNLV this weekend.
• Coastal Carolina is hosting an invitational involving Michigan, Michigan State, UMBC, Toledo and Akron.