MAC Weekend Preview (March 7th-9th)

Northern Illinois at #5 Oregon State

The Matchup

Northern Illinois has not made it easy on themselves this season, taking on some of the best teams in the country. This weekend they’ll face their toughest test of the year as they take on Oregon State (10-3). The Huskies overall record of 1-8-1 doesn’t describe the type of ability this team has—they’ve lost four games by 2 runs or less—but they’ll need that talent to be on full display this weekend if they are going to have a chance to compete with the Beavers.

Northern Illinois has struggle to find much offense with an overall team average of .205, compared to a team average of .295 from the powerful lineup of the Beavers. The Huskies have scored just 25 runs in 10 games (2.5 runs/game), while Oregon State has already amassed 93 runs in 13 contests (7.2 runs per game). The pitching hasn’t been much better early on as the entire staff has an ERA over 5, while Oregon State staff’s ERA is under 3.

This will no doubt be a tough challenge for Northern Illinois, but a couple of wins this weekend could give this team a huge boost going into conference play.

Players to Watch

On offense, Huskie shortstop Brian Sisler is off to a good start since being added to the starting lineup. Through 27 at-bats he’s hitting .296 with an OBP of .367. In limited playing time, Brandon Mallder leads the team in average at .321, while Alex Klonowski is tied with Mallder and Chris Divarco for the team lead in hits. On the pitching staff, senior Eli Anderson gives the Huskies their best chance to win. In three starts he’s 1-1 with an ERA of 3.38, striking out 13 batters in 18.2 innings.

Offensively for the Beavers, top prospect Michael Conforto is the one to keep an eye on. In 13 games he’s hitting .333 with 20 RBIs. Another top prospect for the 2014 MLB Draft is Dylan Davis, who is second on the team behind Conforto in RBIs with 15. Kavin Keyes is off to a hot start for the Beavers, leading the team in hits with 18 through 45 at-bats (.400). Jake Thompson and Scott Shultz both have an ERA under two through three starts each, while Jace Fry has an ERA of 2.82 in three starts. OSU’s Friday night starter, Andrew Moore, has an ERA of 0.89 in three starts, striking out 14 batters in 20.1 innings. Ben Wetzler—who has made headlines recently with his suspension after not signing with the Philadelphia Phillies—will make his second start of the season.

Starting Pitching Matchups

Friday, 7 p.m. CT – Eli Anderson vs. Andrew Moore

Saturday, 2:35 p.m. CT – Jordan Ruckman vs. Jace Fry

Saturday, 5 p.m. CT – TBA vs. Scott Schultz

Sunday, 3:05 CT – Alex Klonowski vs. Ben Wetzler

 

Quotes

- Northern Illinois Head Coach Ed Mathey on playing a top-ranked opponent:

“It will be a great opportunity to play a tremendous opponent. (In order to win) we need to limit the big innings. They’re great at putting runners on base; whether it’s hits, walks or errors, so if we can limit those opportunities it allows us to stay in the ball game.”

“From a player’s perspective, they’re really excited about the opportunity. They’re aware of the history of OSU, especially during the 2006 and 2007 years when they won back-to-back National Championships.”

“As a coach, I know we’re going against a team that will be well coached. Pat Casey and his staff does a great job over there and I know they’ll have their team ready to play. They’re going to force us to elevate our level of play. Hopefully we can do just that and set the pace of the game.”

- On Friday night starter Eli Anderson:

“Eli is our one returning all-conference pitcher from 2013. He’s our workhorse; he’s great at working in the (strike) zone, and has a great mound presence.”

- On difficult preseason schedule:

“We’ve played a very difficult schedule this preseason, not just OSU. We started off the season against a very good Minnesota team, and right after the OSU series we go on the road to face a tough Cal Poly team. These are teams that force you to play at a high level consistently. And if you don’t do that, then you’re going to find out very quickly what your weaknesses are.”

- Preparing for conference play:

“Playing games like these can help make a team tough. The MAC is a tough conference and typically the team standing at the top has a bit of toughness to them.”

 

The Rest of the MAC

Ball State (9-3) vs. #22 Kentucky (11-2)

The Matchup

Through the early part of the season, Ball State has established themselves as a serious contender in the MAC this year. The Cardinals have won nine of their first 12 games, while strictly playing on the road as temperatures in Indiana remain cool. Kentucky has shot up the national baseball ranks with their 11 wins early this season. The Wildcats started off the year by taking down top-ranked Virginia, and they’re coming off a double-header sweep during the week over Cincinnati.

As a team, the Cardinals are hitting .266 and bringing in just a little over 6 runs per game; meanwhile, the Wildcats offense is hitting the ball at a .323 clip, scoring 9.5 runs per game. On the mound, Ball State’s staff has a combined ERA of 4.33 in 108 innings, striking out 106 batters. Kentucky’s staff has a combined ERA of 2.58 through 115.1 innings, only striking out 85 batters.

Last weekend Kentucky swept another MAC opponent in Eastern Michigan. Ball State will be looking to show the SEC-powerhouse that the MAC is no pushover.

Players to Watch

Since entering the starting lineup, Alex Call has been great for the Cardinals this season hitting at a .423 clip in 8 games. Left fielder Brandon Estep has been great as well, leading the team in hits with 16 and home runs with three, while third baseman Sean Kennedy is batting .359. Sean Godfrey leads the team in RBIs, stolen bases and runs scored hitting from the leadoff spot. On the pitching side, Clay Manering has been the team’s best starter through three weekends with an ERA of 4.08. T.J. Weir has struck out 17 batters in 15.1 innings. Zach Plesac has been great out of the bullpen already winning four games and collecting 2 saves in 6 appearances. He’s only given up 1 earned run in 13.2 innings, while striking out 16.

Kentucky has a plethora of good bats with six guys hitting over .300. That group is led by Austin Cousino who is hitting .446 in 56 at-bats, leading the team in hits (25), runs (20) and stolen bases (7). But junior A.J. Reed has been the leader on the team both offensively and when he toes the rubber. On offense Reed is hitting .426 with a team-leading 7 home runs and 24 RBIs. On the mound he’s 3-0 with an ERA of 1.00, only allowing 2 earned runs and 11 hits in 18 innings, while striking out 11. Kyle Cody has also been strong in the Wildcats’ starting rotation with a record of 2-0 and an ERA of 1.35.

Probable Starters

Friday at 3 p.m. CT – T.J. Weir vs. A.J. Reed

Saturday at 1 p.m. CT – Scott Baker vs. Chandler Shepherd

Sunday at 12 p.m. CT – Clay Manering vs. Kyle Cody*

* – Not confirmed

Quotes

–          Ball State Head Baseball Coach Rich Maloney on playing Kentucky this weekend:

“We are excited to compete against a nationally ranked Kentucky team. Kentucky has a potent offensive attack and tremendous front line pitching. We will have to play our best baseball to have a chance. This is a great opportunity for our team to gauge ourselves and see what we will need to do to improve for our upcoming Mid-American Conference schedule.”

 

Western Michigan vs. Maine & Northeastern

Friday vs. Northeastern at 11:30 a.m.

Friday vs. Maine at 2 p.m.

Saturday vs. Georgetown at 11 a.m.

 

Kent State (7-3) vs. Liberty University (8-6)

Friday at 3 p.m. (ESPN 3)

Saturday at 1 p.m.

Saturday at 4 p.m.

Sunday at 2 p.m. (ESPN 3)

 

Miami (Ohio) (3-6) vs. #10 Louisville (8-3)

Friday at 2 p.m. CT

Saturday at 11 a.m. CT

Sunday at 12 p.m. CT

 

Ohio (3-6) vs. Longwood (5-8)

Friday at 2 p.m. CT

Saturday at 12 p.m. CT

Saturday at 3 p.m. CT

Sunday at 12 p.m. CT

 

Akron (4-5) vs. Austin Peay (4-7) and Univ. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2-5)

Friday vs. Austin Peay at 3:30 p.m. CT

Saturday vs. Milwaukee at 12 p.m. CT

Sunday vs. Milwaukee at 12 p.m. CT

 

Bowling Green (2-7) vs. High Point (8-5)

Friday at 6 p.m.

Saturday at 4 p.m.

Sunday at 1 p.m.

 

Buffalo (6-1) vs. Georgia (7-6), Western Carolina (8-2) and North Florida (4-6)

Friday vs. Georgia at 4 p.m. CT

Saturday vs. Western Carolina at 4 p.m. CT

Sunday vs. North Florida at 10 a.m. CT

 

Eastern Michigan (4-7) vs. Evansville (6-4)

Friday at 5 p.m. CT

Saturday at 1 p.m. CT

Sunday at 12 p.m. CT

 

Toledo (4-6) vs. Charleston Southern (10-4)

Friday at 5 p.m. CT

Saturday at 5 p.m. CT

Sunday at 1 p.m. CT

 

Central Michigan (4-8) vs. University of Central Florida (6-7)

Friday at 5:30 p.m. CT

Saturday at 3 p.m. CT

Sunday at 12 p.m. CT