This Week in C-USA Baseball (4/18)


This Week in Conference USA Baseball
CUSA Weekly Recap
No. 16 FAU vs. Marshall: 6-3 (11), 10-2, 2-7. FAU wins series 2-1. Austin Langham went 6-13 in the series with a double, triple and two runs as the Owls stormed from behind to win game 1 in extras. Marshall got a stellar performance by sophomore Joshua Shapiro in game 3 to earn its first win over a ranked opponent since dispatching Houston in 2013. The southpaw worked seven scoreless innings in the win.
FIU vs. Louisiana Tech: 1-0, 1-6, 0-5. La Tech wins series 2-1. Cody Crouse nearly fired a complete game shutout before handing the ball to the bullpen with one out in the ninth as the Panthers earned their only win in the series. Casey Sutton secured the series win for the Bulldogs with a complete game shutout in the finale.
Middle Tennessee vs. Charlotte: 12-11 (10), 4-8, 3-0. MTSU wins series 2-1. Led by Ricky Delgado’s offensive weekend and Jake Wyrick’s pitching performance in the finale, the Raiders earned the series win. Delgado went 8-14 with a double and four runs while Wyrick tossed a three-hit complete game shutout in the rubber match. Wyrick retired his final 16 batters after allowing back-to-back singles in the fourth.
No. 18 Southern Miss vs. UAB: 3-5, 7-8, 11-0 (7). UAB wins series 2-1. Jared Nixon delivered the Blazers’ first cycle since 2002 as UAB stunned Southern Miss for a series win. Nixon finished 4-9 in his two games, collecting his first triple and home run of the season in game 1. For the third time this season, Southern Miss ended a game via the run rule after dropping the Blazers 11-0 in the final game. Michael Gilbert blasted a grand slam in the win.
No. 19 Rice vs. WKU: 9-3, 3-2, 5-2. Rice sweeps 3-0. Led by Grayson Lewis, Ford Proctor and Dayne Wunderlich at the plate, the Owls completed the sweep with a double-header win on Saturday. Blake Fox continued his stellar performance on the bump, working eight innings while giving up only two runs and striking out nine. Danny Hudzina extended his reached-bases safely streak to 40 games. The senior had a hit, RBI and double in each of the three affairs.
Standout Performers
Pitcher of the Week: Jake Wyrick of MTSU delivered the Raiders’ second complete-game shutout of the season after they had gone nearly two years without one. The crafty southpaw allowed only three hits in the winning effort and retired the final 16 batters he faced. Charlotte did not have a base runner reach after the fourth inning. Wyrick fanned five batters while not allowing a walk.
Hitter of the Week: It took nearly 14 years for the feat to happen, but freshman Jared Nixon used his first career triple and home run to hit for the cycle in a series-opening win over No. 18 Southern Miss. Nixon added 2 RBI and two runs to his production in the series.
Conference Matchup of the Week
No. 13 Rice vs. No. 19 Southern Miss: It’s a battle for the top spot in CUSA with both teams entering the weekend at 12-3. Both have been playing great baseball this season, but the Eagles suffered a minor setback after dropping 2-of-3 to UAB. Rice on the other hand has won its last five, including a three-game sweep of WKU. Both have been tough at home and decent on the road.
If pitching is your forte’, this series is for you as both offer weekend rotations that are the best in the conference. The Eagles’ probable lineup will be a pair of righties in Cord Cockell and Nick Johnson and lefty sophomore Kirk McCarty. Cockrell leads the league with six wins and is 10th in ERA with a 3.02 clip while letting his defense work behind him, allowing only five walks the entire season. McCarty works the other end of the spectrum as he leads the team with 52 strikeouts this season, good for fourth in the league. The Eagles possess a solid closer in Nick Sandlin to anchor things down in the backend when called upon, earning six saves in 16 relief appearances this season.
Offensively, the Eagles pack the big lumber when they come to the plate with 12 of the 14 players with an at-bat owning at least one home run. The Eagles own three of the top five hitters in the conference with Jake Sandlin (.386), Nick Dawson (.382) and Tim Lynch (.381) leading the way. The danger zone in this lineup is anyone one through nine, as the Eagles are hitting .319 as a team. They lead nearly every offensive category in CUSA, including a sizable margin in long balls with 44 to second place Marshall’s 29. The Eagles take the approach that a walk is as good as a hit, drawing 172 free passes and getting plunked another 52 times as well.
The Owls will combat the Eagles with a stellar rotation of their own with Jon Duplantier, Blake Fox and Ricardo Salinas tossing the pill. Duplantier and Fox both own sub-three ERAs and lead the league in strikeouts with 77 and 55, respectively. Salinas ranks sixth with 49. Much like their opponent, Rice offers a solid closer in Glenn Otto, who sits third in the league with seven saves in 18 appearances. As a unit, the Rice pitching staff owns a 2.85 ERA.
The downfall to what the Owls are doing from the bump is the lack of offense the pitchers receive. Rice is swinging only .253, good for 11th in the 12-team conference, and in the cellar with only 149 runs. The Owls have only scored nearly half of the runs as the Eagles have this season. Charlie Warren and Ford Proctor pace the Owls offense from the top, hitting .319 and .314, respectively. Much like Southern Miss sits atop many of the offensive categories, Rice sits at the bottom.
Last Meeting: Rice won 6-3 and 11-4 before falling 5-1 in the finale at home.
OUTLOOK: With lacking the ability to go toe-to-toe with the Southern Miss lineup, Rice must rely on its solid pitching to take this series. Rice owns the best weekend rotation in CUSA, but this will be the best lineup it has faced to date. Southern Miss finds ways to get on base and when that happens, crooked numbers show up on the scoreboard. Rice must limit the mistakes to the Southern Miss hitters and not allow one to lead to the big inning.  The Eagles haven’t lost at home in CUSA this season and has fallen only twice all year. This weekend won’t be much different as the Eagles don’t get to 30 wins on the season, but they get close taking 2-of-3.
Preview of the Week’s Other Key Matchups
Old Dominion vs. Louisiana Tech:  While neither team is ranked, this series is significant to each team’s chances to make the postseason. La. Tech sits in a tie for fourth with Marshall at 8-7 while ODU is one game back at 7-8.
ODU is one of the worst hitting teams in the league but falls in the top five in pitching, giving it a fighting chance any night out. The Bulldogs are mid-pack offensively, but trail only FAU and Rice as the best pitching team in the league.
Connor Myers leads the way for the Monarchs with a .329 average and the Bulldog’s Jordan Washam sits eighth in the league at .360.
Last Meeting: ODU swept La. Tech last year 7-0, 4-2 and 6-5 to close conference play.
OUTLOOK:  This should be an entertaining matchup between two teams scrapping for a spot in the postseason. A series win for either would be nice, but the sweep would be even sweeter, as it would provide an added boost away from the mid-pack logjam. Give the nod to the home team in this one as the Bulldogs win the series.
Marshall vs. Charlotte: Marshall has more to lose than it has to gain this weekend in Charlotte. The Herd is tied for fourth with La. Tech—a team it took 2-of-3 from earlier this year—and dropping a pair to the 49ers would send the Herd spiraling toward the logjam in the middle of the pack. Marshall needs this series and some help from ODU this week to separate itself from the Bulldogs for the overall No. 4 seed with an outside shot of maintaining a close position to FAU in third.
On paper, Charlotte looks to be the better team offensively but they have been a train wreck on the mound. Marshall however, hasn’t been much better once it goes to the bullpen. Charlotte swings it at a .291 clip, fourth in CUSA and has a trio sitting in the top of the league standings. Brett Netzer, T.J. Nichting and Reece Hampton pace the 49ers offensive attack and the team as a whole hits gap-to-gap. Marshall has been bang or bust most of the season, but has great speed at the top of the order for the big sticks to drive home if they get on, with the key word being if. There might not be a faster duo in the league than Corey Bird and D.J. Gee and when they get on base, good things happen for the Herd. They have a combined 30 swipes this year, with Bird’s 17 leading the league.
Last Meeting: Marshall took games one and three, 5-1 and 8-6 but fell 5-4 in game two.
OUTLOOK: The deciding factor in this series will be whether or not Marshall can provide enough run support to get through the bullpen hiccups when necessary. Chase Boster has been solid in series openers and if the Herd has J.D. Hammer return this weekend, it has a solid chance of another series win. The magic number in the matchup is seven, the number of runs it will take to win each game.
Texas-San Antonio vs. Western Kentucky: Numbers typically don’t lie but in this case they can be a bit misleading. WKU sits in a three-way tie for seventh at 6-9 with Charlotte and UAB while UTSA is in a tie with FIU for 10th. However, the five teams are separated by only one game, making this series a crucial one for both. With only eight teams getting into the postseason, its now or never for the teams this season, with one having a shot of placing some distance between the other teams.
Both teams swing it well and both struggle as a staff throwing the ball. WKU owns a team 4.89 ERA and UTSA’s 5.66 is the worst in the league. Needless to say, runs will be plentiful in this series.
UTSA must find a way to contain WKU’s Danny Hudzina if it wants a shot of any wins in this series. The senior leads CUSA with a .445 average, 65 hits, 14 doubles and a .610 slugging percentage. He is what one would call a stat stuffer and a pitcher’s nightmare.
WKU has a couple of fire ballers in the rotation in Ryan Thurston and Austin King, with both landing in the Top-10 in strikeouts.
Last Meeting: WKU clinched the series win in San Antonio with a 5-4 win in game one followed by an 8-2 victory in game two before falling 12-0 in the finale.
OUTLOOK: WKU needs a sweep in the worst way after being swept by Rice last weekend. The Toppers have been terrible on the road, but have a solid 4-2 CUSA record in Bowling Green. UTSA on the other hand has struggled outside the Lonestar state, but has won its last two outings. For one team, the postseason dream goes out the door while the other is able to cling to hope of baseball in late May.
Other CUSA Matchups: MTSU travels to UAB while No. 17 FAU battles FIU for instate bragging rights.