The Hoos come into the weekend looking to begin the season the same way they have the last seven years: with a season opening series win. The Cavaliers will travel to the prettiest little village on the plains and play a three game weekend tournament against the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Auburn University, and Arkansas State. It shouldn’t be too daunting of a task for the boys to get that series victory as two of those three teams were picked to finish in the middle or the back of their own conference. The toughest of the three weekend matchups should be the Saturday matchup with the host Auburn Tigers who are coming off an NCAA Regional hosting season in 2010 and look to continue that success. Fortunately, Virginia should be regarded as the best team in the tournament as they are the highest ranked team coming into the weekend.
Friday afternoon the Cavaliers will square off with the UAB Blazers for the first time in school history. Being that it is Friday, preseason All American and Golden Spikes Watch List recipient Danny Hultzen will be on the mound looking to continue the amazing success he has had the last two years on the bump for the Hoos. UAB will counter with senior RH Ryan Wooley, who actually comes from Virginia. Wooley is coming off a 3-4 season where he had a 7.03 ERA and gave up nearly as many runs as he pitched innings. The Blazers have no true offensive standouts coming into the season but have a fairly strong lineup including two players who batted over .333 last year in 1b John Frost and CF Jamal Austin (preseason All-Conf. USA selection). I expect the Hoos to come out and take care of business and not allow Hultzen to be under too much stress. Final Score Prediction: Hoos 9 – Blazers 1
Saturday is the key matchup for the entire tournament featuring the SEC contender and host Auburn Tigers taking on the Cavaliers. The Tigers are coming off a very successful 2010 campaign that saw them win the regular season SEC-West title and host a regional before falling to ACC foe Clemson in the regional final. Junior LHP Corey Luckie will take the mound for the Tigers coming off a strong 2010 season going 6-4 with a 5.91 ERA in 15 games started in the hitter friendly SEC. Auburn is very similar to the Cavaliers in that they lost a significant amount of talent from their 2010 squad to the Draft but still return six of their starters.The Hoos will have to watch out for SR 1B Kevin Patterson who batted .315 and hit 16 HR’s last year in limited playing time and freshman SS Zach Alvord who is one of the top freshman in the SEC. Luckie is supposedly Auburn’s Friday night guy and could pose some problems to the Cavaliers. Wilson should be able to compete with the hard hitting Tigers but unfortunately I don't see them coming out on top. The atmosphere could be a little overwhelming to the 1st and 2nd years who weren't on the team that traveled to Oxford in 2009 and might be the deciding factor. Final Score Prediction: Auburn 5 - Hoos 3
The getaway day matchup will have the Hoos playing Arkansas State of the Sun Belt Conference for the first time in school history as well. RHP Daniel Wright will take the mound for the RedWolves. Wright posted a 3-3 record last year with a 4.10 ERA in 41 innings. The RedWolves are also strong at the plate as well posting a .312 AVG and a .412 SLG last year. The top of the lineup is where they will do most of their damage with CF Michael Faulkner being one of the conference's top leadoff hitters with 23 SB’s in 2010 and a strong two-hole 2B/OF Todd Baumgartner who had the second highest returning average last year and was named to the Pre-Season All Sun-Belt Conference team. The RedWolves could be a strong team and test the Cavaliers who should be hungry on Sunday should they lose on Saturday night to Auburn (nobody wants to lose the series and not watch a movie on the way home), but I can’t see the Cavaliers falling two nights in a row. Final Score Prediction: Hoos 7 – Redwolves 4
A Saturday loss would be disappointing, but it certainly wouldn't be the end of the world and would be understood by all in college baseball. It should be a fun weekend for all down in Auburn, and while wish I could be there as a spectator, what I really wish is that we had gotten to travel to the Plains during my time with the Cavaliers. Make sure to follow the official StreakingtheLawn.com's baseball twitter feed @STLUVABaseball as I will be posting updates from the game as I come across them. As always, GO HOOS and WAHOOWA.