By Grant Abston, Sports Editor
On the road for the second consecutive series, the Wildcats will look to remain on top of the Lone Star Conference this weekend when they travel to play Angelo State University in a matchup of two of the top teams in the LSC.
Despite splitting a four-game series with Eastern New Mexico last weekend, ACU (28-10, 21-7) remains on top of the LSC with a one-game lead over Cameron University while Angelo State (26-12, 19-9) is just two games behind. The Wildcats enter the series ranked No. 10 in Collegiate Baseball Magazine’s national poll while ASU is ranked No. 17.
“[San Angelo] is a great team and it’s going to be a battle this weekend,” second baseman Chris Hall said. “If we just execute and play defense and drive runners in when we get the chance, we will be fine.”
The Rams enter the series coming off a series split on the road against Central Oklahoma and have earned at least a split in every LSC series this season. The Rams lead the conference in runs scored and is third with a .340 team batting average. Designated hitter Keith Towne leads the team with 60 hits, 57 RBI and leads Division II with 18 home runs. Towne, the reigning co-LSC Hitter of the Week, hit four home runs last weekend and is five away from the LSC single-season record set in 2002.
First baseman Chris Adamson (.413) and outfielder Isaac Garcia (.387) will also lead ASU who has seven players with averages above .300.
On the mound, the Rams are led by Kenny Elkind (5-2) who is second in the LSC with a 3.11 ERA and ranks in the top five in opposing batting average, innings pitched, strike outs and wins. Joe Key (2-1, 4.37 ERA) and Michael Gunter (2-0, 5.29 ERA) also lead the pitching staff while Jeffrey Asby (2-2, 3.69 ERA) will be key for the Rams bullpen.
The Wildcats, who lead the LSC in batting average (.357) and are third in runs scored, will look to match the Rams offensively this weekend. Catcher Jordan Schmitt, who is batting .432 and leads the LSC in RBI with 65, leads ACU’s offense; Schmitt enters the weekend needing just two RBI to break the LSC record for career RBI. Joining Schmitt is short stop Willie Uechi who leads the LSC in batting average (.435) and hits (64). Center fielder Thomas Bumpass (.412) and Hall (.407) join five other Wildcats batting above .300.
“Right now, our strength is our offense,” head coach Britt Bonneau said. “[The offense] has really come through and put up runs we need to win games and done a good job of getting teams to their bullpens.”
After surrendering two late leads last weekend in the final innings of losses, the pitching staff will look to bounce back this weekend. Starting pitchers Cameron Aspaas (5-1, 3.38 ERA) and Preston Vancil (2-3, 4.58 ERA) lead the starters. Aspaas ranks fourth in the LSC in ERA while Vancil ranks second in strikeouts with 63. Cameron Watten (2-0, 1.15), who has not pitched the past two weeks due to an injury, could return to the mound to give the Wildcats a boost. Cooper Page and Matt Sullivan both started last weekend and could be counted on again this weekend to round out the starting four.
Relief pitchers Kevin Justice (5-1, 3.44 ERA), Corey Kelly (2-0, 3.86 ERA), Andrew Yacek (3-1, 5.62 ERA) and closer Brad Rutherford (5-3, 4.19 ERA) will all play important out of the bullpen this weekend. Rutherford ranks second in the LSC, with six saves and first with 27 appearances.
“Our starting pitching has to go out there and compete better and give ourselves a chance,” Bonneau said. “If we have to go to our bullpen to find other starters, then we will have to do that during the next few weeks. Now’s the time to start making those adjustments to prepare us for any type of playoff run.”
The series will begin Friday at 7 p.m., followed by a doubleheader on Saturday at 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The series will conclude Sunday with a game that starts at 3 p.m.