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3-Strike Preview: Seton Hall at St. John's

Both the Red Storm and the Pirates completed three-game sweeps in their first conference series last weekend. Now the two regional rivals will square off in a three-game set at Jack Kaiser Stadium.

Sal Annunziata and D.J. Ruhlman celebrate at home plate.
Sal Annunziata and D.J. Ruhlman celebrate at home plate.

Although Creighton owns the best overall record in the conference, this is the marquee series this weekend. Seton Hall (16-10, 3-0 Big East) has a slight edge on St. John's (16-11, 3-0), which is coming off a 5-4 disappointment on Wednesday against Columbia. The loss ended a four-game winning streak for the Red Storm. Here are three things to watch for as the Johnnies attempt to bounce back.

1. Streaking Pirates

On March 22, Seton Hall split a double-header with Connecticut, falling to 7-10 with Big East play just over a week away. Since then the Pirates have pulled a DJ Khaled, winning every game on the schedule, despite having two games postponed and one cancelled altogether due to the unending winter gripping the Northeast. In total, the Pirates have reeled off nine-straight victories, topping Princeton and Lafayette before sweeping back-to-back series against Fairleigh Dickinson and Xavier.

As has been the case whether they're winning or losing, the Pirates have gotten some excellent work from their pitching staff during the winning streak. Starters Zach Schellenger, Anthony Pacillo, Zach Prendergast and Shane McCarthy have all been on their game. McCarthy has been dealing the filthiest stuff, going 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA and a 0.5998 WHIP during his last two starts. Somehow, that is worse than the overall numbers for the Big East's ERA leader (4-1, 0.99 ERA). Schellenger (1-0, 0.93 ERA, 1.1375 WHIP), Pacillo (1-0, 1.54, 1.1140) and Prendergast (2-0, 3-.46, 1.3077) have put up dazzling numbers recently as well.

Prendergast will start for Seton Hall in Friday's opener, with McCarthy and Schellenger following on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

2. Evening the lineup

There is no denying that St. John's is a solid offensive team. It ranks third in the conference in batting average (2.71), while scoring a healthy 5.2 runs per game. However, the Red Storm is far too reliant on the top half of the order. Led by Robbie Knightes (.359), they have four players among the top 10 in the conference in batting average. Opposing pitchers must tip-toe around center fielder Alex Caruso (.349), left fielder Michael Donadio (.344), right fielder Zach Lauricella (.313), Knightes and first baseman Matt Harris (.341), but if they can do that, the task becomes much easier. Freshman outfielder  Anthony Brocato is the next best hitter on the team, hovering around the .240 mark. In the one-run loss to Columbia on Wednesday, the Red Storm's 1-5 batters went 7-for-22. The rest of the team managed only two hits in 14 at bats.

3. POTW matchup

If we're lucky, we'll see Knightes go up against Seton Hall reliever Joe DiBenedetto at some point this weekend. Hopefully, it will come in a high-pressure situation with the game on the line. Knightes, who mans the hot corner for the Red Storm, carried them in their sweep of Butler last weekend. He had a hit in half of his at bats and drove in seven runs which far outstripped his total for the season, which was at just two last week at this time. Meanwhile, DiBenedetto has been a calm force for the Pirates. He collected his first two saves of the season last weekend and has been a big part of the winning streak. He has not allowed an earned run in each of the last six outings, while striking out nearly a batter per inning in that time.

If you'd like to see if Knightes and DiBenedetto square off this weekend you are in luck. All three games will be available on