PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The BIG EAST baseball season is one month old and teams will cross the midway point this weekend. Through the first 12 games, 2011 preseason favorite Connecticut holds a two-game lead on first place in the conference. The Huskies, who sit at 10-2 in the league, are ahead of Pittsburgh, St. John’s and West Virginia who each own 8-4 conference records. Just three games separate 10th place from second, as the teams battle to finish in the top eight for a chance to compete in the 2011 BIG EAST Championship. Teams will play a day earlier this weekend with the Easter holiday on Sunday, with all of the series beginning on Thursday. Here is a look at the six weekend series.
Notre Dame (14-18-1, 5-7) at St. John’s (19-13, 8-4)
Thursday, April 21, Noon.: ND – RHP Brian Dupra (2-3, 2.03 ERA) vs. STJ – RHP Kyle Hansen (5-3, 2.82 ERA)
Thursday, April 21, 3 p.m.: ND – RHP Cole Johnson (3-5, 2.69 ERA) vs. STJ – LHP Kevin Kilpatrick (2-2, 4.20 ERA)
Saturday, April 23, Noon: ND – RHP Todd Miller (3-3, 3.88 ERA) vs. STJ – Brendan Lobban (4-1, 4.21 ERA)
· Notre Dame owns a 26-16 advantage in the all-time series against St. John’s including a 6-6 mark at Jack Kaiser Stadium. The Irish have won six of the last nine meetings, taking two of three the last time the teams met in Queens.
· Notre Dame’s pitching staff is one of the best in the conference. The Irish lead the league in fewest earned runs allowed (96), fewest walks (74) and fewest home runs allowed (six). The Irish also rank second in ERA at 2.89.
· The Irish have struggled at the plate this season. Notre Dame is last in the conference in batting average (.239), run scored (130) and RBI (109).
· St. John’s puts its perfect 9-0 record on the line at home. Last week, the Red Storm swept Louisville in a home series. St. John’s became the first team to sweep the Cardinals in a three-game series since Louisville joined the BIG EAST in 2005.
· The Red Storm are the top fielding team in the BIG EAST, committing just 32 errors for a .974 fielding percentage. STJ has also allowed the fewest stolen bases against in the league at 25.
Georgetown (19-19, 2-10) at Connecticut (23-12-1, 10-2)
Thursday, April 21, 3 p.m.: GU – LHP Thomas Polus (1-1, 4.26 ERA) vs. UConn – RHP Matt Barnes (7-2, 1.04 ERA)
Friday, April 22, 2 p.m.: GU – RHP Charles Steinman (1-3, 3.80 ERA) vs. UConn – LHP Greg Nappo (4-2, 2.77 ERA)
Friday, April 22, 6 p.m.: GU – RHP Tommy Isaacs (1-1, 3.48 ERA) vs. UConn – RHP Brian Ward (1-0, 4.30 ERA)
· Connecticut leads the all-time series with Georgetown 42-17. The series dates back to the 1985 season. Last year, the Huskies swept the Hoyas in a three-game series in Washington, D.C.
· Connecticut outfielder George Springer leading the BIG EAST in batting in conference games. Springer is hitting .426 through the first 12 BIG EAST games with a team-best 14 RBI.
· After losing his first two starts of the season, Connecticut’s Friday starter Matt Barnes has won his last seven starts and leads the conference in wins (7) and ERA (1.04).
· Friday’s doubleheader will be played at New Britain Stadium, home of the New Britain Rock Cats, the Double-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.
· Connecticut is 13-2 in its last 15 games. The Huskies outscored its nonconference opponents 33-5 in two games this week.
· The Hoyas are 2-10 in their last 12 games entering the series.
· Hoyas’ shortstop Mike Garza leads the team in hitting with a .349 average which ranks fifth in the BIG EAST. He also leads the team in runs scored (38), RBI (31) and on-base percentage (.423).
· Off the field, the Hoyas helped raise more than $1,000 for the American Cancer Society at the Georgetown Relay for Life last weekend.
USF (18-18, 7-5) at Louisville (20-16, 6-6)
Thursday, April 21, 6 p.m.: USF – RHP Randy Fontanez (4-2, 2.47 ERA) vs. UofL - RHP Matt Koch (4-4, 3.52 ERA)
Friday, April 22, 6 p.m.: USF – TBA vs. UofL – RHP Justin Amlung (6-0, 1.29 ERA)
Saturday, April 23, 1 p.m.: USF – TBA vs. UofL – TBA
· Louisville and USF have met 64 times on the baseball diamond with the Bulls owning a 37-27 advantage. The Cardinals have won four straight in the series and eight of the last nine. Last season, UofL earned a 9-7 win in 11 innings in an elimination game at the BIG EAST Championship.
· Friday’s game will be televised locally on the Wazoo Sports Network.
· Louisville has lost six-straight games coming into the series. It is the team’s longest losing skid since 2004. The Cardinals were swept at St. John’s last weekend, marking the first time Louisville has been swept in a BIG EAST series since joining the conference in 2005.
· Louisville Saturday starter Justin Amlung is one of two BIG EAST starters without a loss this season (Seton Hall’s Joe DiRocco is the other). Amlung ranks second in the BIG EAST in ERA (1.29) and opponent batting average (.183).
· USF has won three of its last four BIG EAST conference series after taking two of three from Seton Hall last week.
· USF’s Friday starter Randy Fontanez has been strong in each of his four conference starts. He continues to move the USF record books ranking sixth in strikeouts (274) and innings pitched (356.1), while being tied for seventh in starts (50).
· USF head coach Lelo Prado coached 11 seasons at Louisville prior to coming to USF in 2007. Prado is the school’s all-time winningest coach with 320 victories during his tenure with the Cardinals.
Rutgers (14-19, 6-6) at Pittsburgh (22-13, 8-4)
Thursday, April 21, 6 p.m.: RU – RHP Tyler Gebler (2-3, 2.71 ERA) vs. Pitt – RHP Matt Iannazzo (4-2, 3.20 ERA)
Friday, April 22, 3 p.m.: RU – RHP Rob Smorol (3-4, 4.33 ERA) vs. Pitt – RHP Corey Baker (3-1, 5.18 ERA)
Saturday, April 23, Noon: RU – RHP Nathaniel Roe (3-5, 5.30 ERA) vs. Pitt – RHP Ethan Mildren (3-3, 2.52 ERA)
· Rutgers leads the all-time series 27-10. Last season, the Scarlet Knights took two of three from the Panthers in the regular season. RU also beat Pitt 9-5 in the 2010 BIG EAST Championship.
· The Panthers lead the league in batting average (.312), slugging percentage (.450), on-base percentage (.399), runs scored (246), RBI (219) and triples (21).
· Pitt’s Kevan Smith leads the BIG EAST with a .421 batting average while Zach Duggan (.349) and David Chester (346) also rank in the top 10.
· Panthers’ freshman righty Ethan Mildren has not issued a walk in 50.0 innings pitched this season.
· Sophomore Rob Smorol struck out a career-high 12 batters in seven innings to earn the victory over Cincinnati. The 12 strikeouts were the most by a Scarlet Knight since former RU standout and Washington National reliever Jason Bergmann recorded 15 strikeouts against Iona on April 26, 2000. Smorol has won each of his last two starts.
· Sophomore shortstop Pat Sweeney is hitting a team-best .323 on the season, including .343 in BIG EAST games. He is on a five-game hitting streak entering this weekend.
· The 17 runs in the second game against Cincinnati were a season-high for the Scarlet Knights and the most since a 25-run outburst at Notre Dame on April 10 of last season. The 19 hits tied a season-high for RU.
Villanova (13-21, 2-10) at Cincinnati (18-16, 5-7)
Thursday, April 21, 4 p.m.: VU – RHP Kyle McMyne (3-6, 5.68 ERA) vs. Cin – RHP Dan Jensen (2-3, 2.21 ERA)
Thursday, April 21, 6:30 p.m.: VU – RHP Kyle Helisek (0-5, 5.12 ERA) vs. Cin – RHP Andrew Strenge (1-4, 3.91 ERA)
Friday, April 22, 4 p.m.: VU – TBA vs. Cin – RHP Dan Johnson (4-1, 3.24 ERA)
· Villanova has lost six-straight games entering the weekend series with Cincinnati.
· VU Friday starter Kyle McMyne is second in the BIG EAST with 59 strikeouts this season.
· Wildcats’ outfielder Matt Fleishman is tied for third in the BIG EAST with 14 doubles. Fleishman leads the team with a .346 average.
· Cincinnati’s Justin Riddell is tied for fifth in the league with 33 RBI.
· Bearcats’ Jake Proctor was caught stealing for the first time this season last week. He is second in the conference with 16 steals in 17 attempts.
Seton Hall (16-17, 5-7) at West Virginia (22-15, 8-4)
Thursday, April 21, 7 p.m.: SHU - TBA vs. WVU – LHP Marshall Thompson (4-0, 4.46 ERA)
Friday, April 22, 5 p.m.: SHU – RHP Joe DiRocco (4-0, 1.54 ERA) vs. WVU – TBA
Saturday, April 23, 1 p.m.: SHU – RHP Jon Prosinski (3-3, 3.38 ERA) vs. WVU – Andy Berry (5-2, 4.14 ERA)
· The Pirates and Mountaineers meet in Morgantown for the first time since 2007. West Virginia holds a 24-13 advantage in the all-time series. The two teams met last year in South Orange last year, with WVU taking two of three.
· West Virginia is one of the top offensive teams in the BIG EAST. The Mountaineers rank second in batting average (.306), slugging percentage (.437) and on-base percentage (.381). The team leads the league in runs scored (240) and home runs (25).
· The Mountaineers’ Jeremy Gum leads the team offensively with a .353 batting average. Grant Buckner and Justin McDavid are tied for the team lead with 30 RBI.
· Seton Hall’s Saturday starter Joe DiRocco is one of two starting pitchers in the BIG EAST without a loss this season (Louisville’s Justin Amlung is the other). DiRocco ranks third in the BIG EAST with a 1.54 ERA while only allowing opponents to hit .195 against him.
· The Pirates pitching staff is fourth in the BIG EAST with a 2.94 ERA while leading the league with 254 strikeouts.
· Seton Hall’s AJ Rubarsky is the toughest player in the BIG EAST to strikeout. Rubarsky strikes out just once every 15.8 at-bats (8 Ks in 125 at-bats), which ranks him 40th in the country.