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Baseball's Opening Weekend: Team Previews

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Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Hoos travel to Myrtle Beach to kick off the 2016 season and will face two foes they've seen recently and another that has been to the College World Series in the last five years.

Kent State (31-22, 18-9)
" The first day features one of the country’s best pitching matchups: first-team preseason All-American Connor Jones of Virginia against Kent State premium lefthander Eric Lauer." That's what d1baseball had to say about this weekend's opening round matchup between Kent State and the Cavaliers.

After their improbable run to the College World Series in 2012, Kent State has returned to earth having only made the NCAA Tournament since then (2014). But this year's team should be better as they are expected to contend for the MAC Championship and make a return to the NCAA Tournament. Lauer, mentioned above, is Kent State's ace and is likely to be a top round pick in this June's draft. The big lefty is was an All-Mac selection last year and is on this season's Preseason Golden Spikes Award list after posting a 1.98 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 86 1/3 innings last season.

The Flashes will feature a decent lineup that has a lot of experience, but the real sight will be the matchup between Jones and Lauer.

Appalachian State (17-36, 8-21)
Of the five teams to be in Myrtle Beach this weekend, App. St. will likely be considered the weakest. The Mountaineers haven't made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2012 where they went 2-0 against UVa and Oklahoma in the Charlottesville Regional before dropping the final two to the Sooners. Unfortunately, they aren't likely to make a run this year either with their overwhelming youth on their roster. The Mountaineers lost their top 5 hitters from 2015 and will likely have to lean on a sophomore to anchor the rotation before looking to freshmen to fill in the other spots. This team is a far cry from the team that took 2 of 3 from LSU in Baton Rouge the 2nd weekend of the season in 2012.

Coastal Carolina (39-21, 17-7)
The Chanticleers are a familiar foe for the Cavaliers. This will be the 9th matchup all time between the two squads, and the 8th under Coach O'Connor who owns a 4-3 record against Coach Gilmore. Coastal earned an at-large bid last year and was sent to the Texas A&M Regional where they went 1-2 against California, Texas Southern, and A&M. This season, they are expected to compete for the Big South title again and will feature an upper-class heavy lineup lead by Senior Anthony Marks who hit .343 and set the table for them in 2015. As with many teams early in the season, they are still trying to figure out who will be in their rotation, but it could be either a 5th year senior in Adam Hall, or freshman Jason Bilous, who had Tommy John surgery in 2014, but was featuring a mid-90s fastball in the fall.

No matter who is on the mound for Coastal, the key for UVa will be limiting the damage from the Chanticleers' lineup. They will feature eight returning starters that were in a lineup that was 28th nationally in scoring. A tall task in early February.