This Week in C-USA Baseball (4/25)

This Week in Conference USA Baseball
C-USA Weekly Recap
FIU vs. No. 17 FAU: 7-6, 4-3, 1-9. FIU wins series 2-1. It was the first series win over the Owls for the Panthers since 2011 and it couldn’t have come at a worse time for FAU. The Owls are now only two games ahead of Marshall and sit two full games behind league-leading Southern Miss. Kenny Meimerstorf and Nick Day gave the Panthers a win in the opener and Irving Lopez provided the game-winner in game two to secure the series win. The Owls piled on in the final game with Christian Dicks going 3-for-5 and Esteban Puerta adding a 2-for-3 outing.
Marshall vs. Charlotte: 7-2, 10-5, 0-5. Marshall wins series 2-1. Chase Boster fanned a career-high seven in seven innings of work in the opener as Marshall secured the series by taking the first two contests. D.J. Gee worked a 3-for-5 day at the dish with a double and homerun. Tommy Lane and Aaron Bossi homered and added 3 RBI each in the 10-5 win. Josh Maciejewski had the lone highlight of the weekend for the 49ers, with a complete game one-hitter in the finale.
ODU vs. La. Tech: 4-11, 4-2, 0-12. Louisiana Tech wins series 2-1. The Bulldogs piled on eights runs in the series opener before the Monarchs found their first. Bryce Stark and Chandler Hall went 3-for-4 with two runs and 2 RBI each. Victor Diaz bounced back for the Monarchs in game two with a six-inning, three-hit outing. La. Tech made quick work of ODU in the rubber match, needing only seven innings to close the books on the Monarchs. Marshall Boggs collected two hits with 3 RBI and Sean Ullrich added three hits in the lopsided affair.
No. 13 Rice vs. No. 19 Southern Miss: 1-2, 4-3, 2-1. Southern Miss wins series 2-1. This series was everything it was cut up to be and more as Southern Miss earned its first ever series win over Rice at home in three one-run games. Two of the top pitchers in the conference in the Eagles’ Cord Cockrell and the Owls’ Jon Duplantier worked in game one, with Cockrell earning the win. Rice’s Connor Teykl had the game tying and winning hit in the sixth and eighth inning, respectively, scoring Dave Myers each time to even the series. Daniel Keating made the Eagles a walk-off winner in the finale with a RBI single in the ninth to take over sole possession of first place in the conference.
UTSA vs. WKU: 5-7, 10-14, 5-8. WKU sweeps series 3-0. Steven Kraft and Kaleb Duckworth were Road Runner killers in the sweep for the Toppers. Kraft finished the series 8-for-13 with 7 RBI and Duckworth added 8 RBI with three doubles and a triple as the Toppers move to .500 in the conference while dispatching the Road Runners to the cellar with MTSU.
MTSU vs. UAB: 2-5, 0-8, 1-10. UAB sweeps series 3-0. Ryan Ruggles worked 6 2/3 innings while allowing only one run in the series opener to lead the Blazers back into the C-USA race. Brewer Hicklen finished a perfect 4-for-4 in the finale as the Raiders were outscored 18-1 in the final two games.
Standout Performers
Pitcher of the Week: Charlotte’s Josh Maciejewski turned in a masterful performance in the game three win over Marshall, tossing a complete game one-hitter in a 5-0 win. Marshall’s lone hit came as a leadoff bunt single and the only other runners to reach base came on the lefty’s two walks. He fanned seven Marshall batters in the dominating performance.
Hitter of the Week: Western Kentucky’s Steven Kraft tore the cover off the ball in the sweep over UTSA, going 8-for-13 with 7 RBI, three runs, a double and home run. Kraft hammered out a long ball and 4 RBI in the series opener and followed with a 4-for-5 performance with three more RBI in series clincher.
Conference Matchup of the Week
No. 25 Southern Miss vs. FAU: The top hitting team in the conference versus the lowest team ERA highlights this epic showdown in Boca Raton. The Eagles soared away with the C-USA lead after taking 2-of-3 over Rice while FAU slipped back to the pack after dropping a pair to FIU, making this a must win series for the Owls. FAU now has only a two game lead over fourth place Marshall with the Herd visiting the Blue Raiders, who occupy the basement in the standings.
In the battle of the pitchers, it will be the trio of Cord Cockrell, Nick Johnson and Kirk McCarty for Southern Miss and FAU’s battery of Sean Labsan, Brandon Rhodes and Marc Stewart. With a 2.45 ERA, Stewart sits fourth in the conference in the category while Cockrell comes in at eighth with at 2.88. McCarty trails only Rice’s Duplantier for the lead in strikeouts, fanning 60 for the Eagles. If the closer gets the ball for a shot to slam the door, FAU’s Cameron Ragsdale gets the nod with a conference leading 11 saves. Nick Sandlin works the closing duties for the Eagles, earning seven this season.
At the plate, Jake Sandlin trails only WKU’s Danny Hudzina for the top average in the conference, swinging at a clip of .395. FAU’s C.J. Chatham’s .370 average is good for fourth. Southern Miss hits .305 as a team and leads 6-of-9 major offensive categories in Conference USA. The Eagles have clubbed 46 homers and their 289 runs better FAU by 23. Needless to say, there’s not a better hitting club in C-USA this season. If the Eagles can find a way to slow Chatham and Esteban Puerta, the Owls’ offense will remain grounded throughout the series.
Last Meeting: FAU won 5-4 in the CUSA Tournament. The Owls took 2-of-3 from the Eagles during the regular season, falling 6-1 before bouncing back for 8-4 and 10-5 wins.
OUTLOOK: The FAU pitching will have its hand cut out while trying to carve up the powerful Southern Miss lineup, especially after allowing the team that trails the Eagles for the offensive lead in FIU to touch up the Owls for 12 runs this past weekend, 11 coming in the first two games. With the power the Eagles possess, they are never out of a contest. With that being said, the Owls are usually in a ballgame regardless of the deficit faced. Any lead in this series is never enough and one mistake could be the deciding outcome in the series.
If the Eagles can win the series, FAU could tumble out of the third place spot depending on what Marshall does at last place MTSU this weekend. With a late series with Rice still to come, FAU needs this series over Southern Miss in the worst way.
Preview of the Week’s Other Key Matchups
UAB vs. ODU: The Blazers has been stone cold before sweeping MTSU this past weekend and have climbed one game above the eight-team cutoff for the conference tournament next month. UAB is tied with WKU at 9-9 in CUSA, trailing Marshall and Louisiana Tech by only one game (UAB battles Marshall next week). Meanwhile, ODU rests on the hot seat at 8-10, leading Charlotte and FIU by one game for the final tournament spot. Even though the teams may not be ranked, this series will have a deciding factor as the C-USA Tournament field starts to take shape.
Neither team swings it well, with both in the bottom three in average and in the bottom half in every offensive category. However, both bring a solid pitching staff to the party, making every hit an important one throughout the series.
Brendan Hicklen paces the Blazers attack, hitting .307 with 12 extra-base hits. Carter Pharis leads the team with 11 doubles and Esteban Tresgallo swings the big lumber with a team-high four homers. The Blazers must make their hay in the top of the order as the production takes a significant falloff in the bottom half of the order.
Tanner Graham and Ryan Ruggles will tote the pill for the Blazers with the third starter yet to be named. Kyle Davis took the ball in UAB’s game three win over MTSU, tossing five scoreless innings while allowing only one hit in his first start this season. Thomas Lowery controls the Blazers bullpen, earning seven saves in 34 innings of work.
The Monarchs are led by Connor Myers’ .333 average. Myers leads the team in hits, doubles, home runs and RBI, and keeps opposing pitchers on edge with the speed threat he brings to the base paths. Should UAB find a way to keep Myers at bay, the Blazers’ winning percentage certainly increases.
ODU will use the combo of right-handers Nick Hartman and Victor Diaz and lefty Adam Bainbridge to cool UAB’s late season surge. Diaz has been razor sharp in his nine starts, owning a 2.06 ERA in 52 1/3 innings of work. With Bainbridge and Hartman both owning ERAs over five, the duo will need plenty of run support to provide the Monarchs with a win.
Last Meeting: UAB took 2-of-3 over ODU, winning the first two games 7-4 and 6-3 before falling 11-0 in seven innings in the finale.
OUTLOOK: With only three C-USA series remaining after this weekend, this series is critical for the postseason hopes of both programs. With only eight teams earning a spot in the tournament, UAB is currently in and ODU is fighting for its playoff hopes. However, one slip up by either team this weekend and those roles could quickly be reversed, putting extra significance on the outcome. UAB needs this series for some breathing room in the standings, but ODU has two of its final three series on the road, including the season finale versus Marshall who sits in the upper half of the standings. A mixture of expectations with a bit of desperation should create quite the atmosphere this weekend in Norfolk; with the winner earning a collective sigh of relief…at least until next weekend.
Other C-USA Matchups: Charlotte heads to No. 16 Rice, FIU visits The Hill and WKU, La. Tech travels to UTSA and MTSU entertains Marshall.