We head south for our choice of the biggest Division II series of the week, highlighting a huge Lone Star Conference tilt as #9 Angelo State (18-4, 8-3 LSC) ventures towards the Gulf to take on Texas A&M-Kingsville (15-7, 9-2 LSC) as the two squads battle for first place in the conference and the driver's seat position.
This series was originally slated for single games on Friday and Sunday with a doubleheader on Saturday, but the threat of inclement weather in the area has pushed the series to a doubleheader on both Sunday and Monday, each day consisting of a seven-inning and nine-inning contest.
Angelo State was one of the handful of teams in Division II to get out of the gates quickly, running their record to 16-1 to start the season, including sweeps of Texas A&M-International, Regis, Cameron and an impressive sweep of Lubbock Christian, arguably their toughest opponent of that stretch. They have slowed down as of late, going 4-3 in their last two weekends, taking two of three from Tarleton State and splitting a four-game set with West Texas A&M.
Offensively, the Rams are the benefactors of a spectacular all-around game at the plate. Through 22 games, ASU already has six players with double-digit RBI and are led by J.C. Snyder, who is leading the team in average (.421), doubles (13), home runs (4), total bases (57), slugging (.750), and on-base percentage (.488). His 13 doubles were tied for second in the country coming in to this week.
As a team, ASU is hitting .324 with 48 doubles, 14 home runs, a .463 slugging percentage and an OBP hovering near the .400 mark.
The strength of the team, however, comes on the pitching mound, where the Rams are carrying a 2.41 team ERA, a .228 batting average against and an obscene 205 strikeouts in 179 innings to only 59 walks. That group is led by Steve Naemark, who may be the top pitcher in the country so far in Division II. He is 5-0 with a 0.63 ERA in seven starts, with 58 strikeouts and only seven walks in 43 innings, allowing only 28 hits so far on the year and a .182 average against. Following him in the rotation have been a pair of more-than-impressive starters, as Bryce Zak (4-2, 1.17 ERA, 37 K in 30.2 IP) and Blake Bass (5-0, 2.03 ERA, 47 K in 40 IP) are more than holding their own behind Naemark. It doesn't get any easier when you get in to the bullpen, which is led by Graylon Brown's 0.53 ERA in 12 appearances and 17 innings of work.
The most impressive aspect of the Rams comes from the usually-unheralded defense, which is sixth in the country in fielding percentage at .978, allowing them to keep themselves in games even when the pitchers are allowing the ball to be put in play, which is rare.
The Javelinas of TAMU-Kingsville may have an uphill battle when it comes to both hitting and pitching, but they are leading the conference for a reason. They got off to a bit of a slower start, beginning the season 1-3, but since then, have reeled off 14 of their last 18, including three of four against West Texas A&M and a sweep of Eastern New Mexico last weekend.
Hayden Vesely leads the offense with a .362 batting average and .486 on-base percentage, driving in 15 runs and drawing a team-high 14 walks. The other big bat in the lineup comes from Cline Andrews, who is hitting .325, but leads the team in hits (26), doubles (6), triples (3) and RBI (17).
Another Hayden leads the pitching staff, as Hayden James has been the ace for the Javelinas so far this season. James is 4-2 with a 1.78 ERA in six starts, including two complete games, and has allowed only 19 hits in 35.1 innings of work with 31 strikeouts. He had a very impressive start against Cameron, where he threw a seven-inning one-hitter with seven strikeouts in a 1-0 victory.
Following him in the rotation are Ryan Benitez (3-1, 3.13 ERA, 42 K in 37.1 IP to only 6 walks) and Matt Terrones (4-0, 4.26 ERA, 23 K in 25.1 IP), while the bullpen is led by a trio of very impressive relievers. Dustin Luna (0.73 ERA in eight appearances, 12.1 IP, 10 K, .140 BAA), Trey Taylor (1-0, 1.38 ERA, .182 BAA in 13 IP) and Weston Silverberg (1-0, 2.13 ERA, 16 K in 12.2 IP and 11 appearances) are closing the door at every turn, allowing the Javelinas to maintain the LSC conference lead despite not having the gaudy starting pitching numbers that ASU does.
Below are the projected pitching match-ups for the series as well as links to live stats for all four games of the huge weekend series:
#9 Angelo State (18-4, 8-3 LSC) @ Texas A&M-Kingsville (15-7, 9-2 LSC)
ASU Preview ||| TAMU-K Preview
Game One (7 inn.): Sunday, March 22nd, 1 PM CT (Live Stats)
Steve Naemark (5-0, 0.63) vs Ryan Benitez (3-1, 3.13)
Game Two (9 inn.): Sunday, March 22nd, 4 PM CT (Live Stats)
Blake Bass (5-0, 2.03) vs Matt Terrones (4-0, 4.26)
Game Three (7 inn.): Monday, March 23rd, 1 PM CT (Live Stats)
Bryce Zak (4-2, 1.17) vs Hayden James (4-2, 1.78)
Game Four (9 inn.): Monday, March 23rd, 4 PM CT (Live Stats)
Kellen Rholl (0-0, 5.87) vs Will Abbott (0-0, 3.09)
Note: Starting pitchers are projected based on past series' and subject to change.