SEC Previews and Notebook

Alabama (3-5) looks to snap a 5-game losing streak when the Crimson Tide hosts UL Monroe in a three-game series in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide suffered a 2-1, 10-inning loss to Jacksonville State on Tuesday night. Junior SS Chandler Avant and sophomore 2B Cobie Vance were a combined 5-for-8 with one run scored and one RBI in the loss to the Gamecocks. The rest of the lineup went 1-for-25. Vance leads the SEC with a .515 batting average. Alabama was swept at home by Oral Roberts last weekend. ULM (4-5) has been outscored 78-13 in its five losses this season. The Warhawks suffered a 32-4 loss at McNeese State on Feb. 21. Junior Johnny DeLaCruz leads the team with .469 (15-for-32) average with one home run and seven RBIs. He has hit safely in eight of nine games this season.

Auburn (7-2) is off to its best start since the 2007 season. The Tigers success can be credited to its pitching staff. Auburn has an NCAA-leading four shutouts in nine games. The Tigers posted only four shutouts in 2016. Junior RHP Keegan Thompson (2 GS, 2-0, 0.00 ERA) and sophomore RHP Casey Mize (2 GS, 2-0, 0.00 ERA) have been a solid 1-2 punch in the AU rotation. The duo has opened the season with 24 consecutive scoreless innings and help opponents to a .136 batting average. Senior RHP Cole Lipscomb (3 G, 1-0, 0.00 ERA) has made three scoreless relief appearances for the Tigers. Lipscomb (6-2) will send RHP Brady Puckett (2 GS, 2-0, 1.72 ERA) to the mound opposite AU ace Keegan Thompson on Friday night. Puckett was named the Atlantic Sun Conference Pitcher of the Week following his 1-hit shutout against Bowling Green last weekend.

Florida (7-2) hopes to generate more offense when the Gators host the Columbia Lions in a three-game series in Gainesville. The Gators are last in the league with a .251 batting average and own an SEC-worst .174 average with runners in scoring position. The Gators have been dominant on the mound (with the exception of Wednesday’s 11-2 loss at UCF). Florida’s weekend rotation of Alex Faedo (2 GS, 1-0, 2.70 ERA), Brady Singer (2 GS, 2-0, 0.71 ERA) and Jackson Kowar (2 GS, 2-0, 1.59 ERA) are a combined 5-0 in six starts this season. The trio has 49 strikeouts in 37.1 innings. Columbia opens the 2017 this weekend against the Gators. The Lions were 17-24 last season. Columbia played in the 2015 NCAA Coral Gables Regional, losing to Miami in the championship game.

Georgia (3-5) is tied with Alabama for the worst record in the SEC. The Bulldogs are back home this weekend with a three-game series against UAB at Foley Field. Georgia ranks last in the SEC with a 5.63 ERA and next-to-last in SEC with a .264 batting average. UAB (5-3) has series wins over Creighton and Valpo to open the season. Sophomore RHP Garrett Whitlock (2-0, 0.53 ERA) has been dominant in his two Friday starts for the Blazers.

Kentucky (4-5) hopes the offensive onslaught continues this weekend when the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos invade Cliff Hagan Stadium. Both teams have struggled in the first two weeks of the season. UK lost its first four games of the season (worst start since 0-5 in 1999), but has rebounded to win four of its last five games. UCSB (4-4) reached the College World Series for the first time in school history last season after shocking No. 2 national seed Louisville in the Super Regionals.

Mississippi State (6-3) hits the road for the first time this season with a trip to the Great Northwest. The Bulldogs play Oregon in a three-game series at PK Park beginning tonight. MSU hopes to right its pitching staff this weekend against the Ducks. MSU ranks next-to-last in the SEC with 5.31 ERA through nine games. Brent Rooker leads the team with three home runs and 17 RBIs this season. All three home runs and 14 RBIs came in a two-game stretch last weekend. Oregon (4-3) has struggled on offense this season and is hitting just .240 through seven games.

Missouri (7-1) has won a league best seven straight games after dropping its season opener to Eastern Michigan. The Tigers look to stay hot this weekend when they open the home portion if its schedule against Illinois-Chicago. Missouri leads the SEC with a .352 batting average through eight games. UIC (4-3) is coming a series win at Vanderbilt last weekend in Nashville. The Flames won a 10-inning game on Friday and posted a series-clinching 11-inning win on Sunday.

Tennessee (6-1) brings a 5-game winning streak into its home opener today against Norfolk State. The Vols and Hornets will play a four-game series at Lindsay Nelson Stadium. The Vols posted three impressive wins over Seton Hall, San Diego State and UC Irvine at the Tony Gwynn Classic last weekend. The Vols also placed two players, freshmen Justin Ammons  and Peter Derkay, on the 2017 Tony Gwynn Classic All-Tournament Team. Ammons hit .500 (6-for-12) with four doubles, a triple and five runs scored, including a four extra-base hit performance in UT’s tournament finale vs. UC Irvine on Saturday, Feb. 25. Over UT’s three games in San Diego, Derkay hit .667 with one double, one triple and posted a team-best .750 on-base percentage.

Vanderbilt (6-3) hosts Cal State Northridge in the three-game series in Nashville this weekend.  The Commodores rebounded from a tough series loss to Illinois-Chicago with a two-game, midweek sweep of SE Louisiana on Tuesday and Wednesday. SLU had won two of three at Rice the previous weekend. Jeren Kendall went 3-for-4 with two home run and four RBIs in the 9-6 win over SLU on Tuesday. Vandy’s bullpen logged six no-hit innings in the 4-2 win over the Lions on Wednesday. Cal State Northridge (4-4) dropped three of four games at home to Towson last weekend. The Matadors did pick up a 6-5 win over UCLA on Tuesday.

UNDEFEATED TEAMS: There are only six undefeated teams in college baseball. The list includes Arizona (8-0), Baylor (9-0), Louisville (8-0), St. John’s (8-0), Virginia (8-0) and Wichita State (7-0). Seven teams suffered their first loss of the season this week. Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mercer, UT-Rio Grande Valley and UCF all suffered their first loss of the season on Tuesday night. North Carolina and Louisiana Tech fell from the ranks of the unbeaten on Wednesday.

WINLESS TEAMS: A total of 18 teams are still seeking their first win of the 2017 season. The list of winless teams includes Siena (0-8), LaSalle (0-7), Miami-Ohio (0-7), Texas Southern (0-9), Villanova (0-7), Western Illinois (0-7), Arkansas Pine Bluff (0-7), Bowling Green (0-6), Farleigh Dickinson (0-6), Maryland-Eastern Shore (0-6), Northwestern (0-6), St. Joseph’s (0-6), Coppin State (0-4), Holy Cross (0-4), Mount St. Mary’s (0-4), Hartford (0-3), Manhattan (0-3) and Maryland-Baltimore County (0-3).

St. John’s (8-0) is off to its best start since the 1981 season when Frank Viola and John Franco led the Johnnies to a 14-0 record to begin the season. St. John’s will face Appalachian State, East Carolina and Western Carolina in the annual Keith LeClair Classic in Greeneville, North Carolina this weekend.

The Dairy Queen Classic makes its return to Minneapolis this weekend after a four-year hiatus. Minnesota hosts Oral Roberts, Hawaii and Iowa at the three-day event played at U.S. Bank Stadium, the home of the Minnesota Vikings.

Rider (1-4) picked up its first win of the season with a 2-0 win over Lafayette on Tuesday, Feb. 28.

Jacksonville State (5-2) snapped an 11-game series losing streak to Alabama with a 2-1, 10-inning win on Tuesday in Tuscaloosa. The Gamecocks are on the road for the third straight weekend with a three-game series at Dallas Baptist.


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