This Week in C-USA Baseball (5/9)

This Week in C-USA Baseball (5/9)
C-USA Weekly Recap
UAB vs. Marshall: 1-5, 3-4 (11), 5-9. Marshall sweeps series 3-0. Marshall secured its first berth in the C-USA Championship since 2010 with a sweep over UAB. Chase Boster worked a complete game in the opener for the Herd, striking out four to earn his fifth win of the season. Leo Valenti provided the heroics in game two with a walk-off homer in the 11th while Tommy Lane added two long balls of his own. D.J. Gee and Tyler Ratliff each had three hits, a double and 2 RBI in the finale to propel the Herd to the postseason for the first time in six years.
ODU vs. Charlotte: 8-6, 8-5, 2-5. ODU wins series 2-1. The Monarchs pumped out a season-high 19 hits in game one, led by four-hit performances from Zach Rutherford, Jason McMurray and Turner Bishop. McMurray and Bishop each added 2 RBI in the offensive explosion. ODU did all its game two damage in the second inning, hanging an eight-spot in the frame. Bishop added two more hits with a double and RBI in the clincher. Charlotte managed to salvage a win in game three behind Holden Capps’ career-high eight innings of work.
No. 22 Southern Miss vs. WKU: 12-5, 3-0, 13-4. Southern Miss sweeps series 3-0. Chuckie Robinson was a one-man wrecking machine against the Toppers, finishing 8-for-13 on the weekend, including a 5-for-5 outing in game one, smashing a home run and 7 RBI. Kyle McCarty fanned nine to secure the series, achieving the feat for the third time this season. Hunter Slater and Jake Sandlin led the Eagles’ onslaught in game three, each providing multi-hit games with a double by both.
No. 20 FAU vs. UTSA: 5-4, 13-5, 3-1. FAU sweeps series 3-0. Christian Dicks gave the Owls a walk-off homer in a 3-for-4 performance to begin the series and Cameron Ragsdale picked up his 12th save of the year. Billy Endris went 5-for-6 in game two with two doubles and 2 RBI. The Owls used late inning heroics to finish the sweep after Tyler Frank delivered a pinch-hit game-winning 2 RBI double. Ragsdale added another save to his season total after picking up number 13.
La. Tech vs. MTSU: 8-4, 2-1, 5-0. La. Tech sweeps series 3-0. The Bulldogs secured their first ever sweep in CUSA Play while reaching 30 wins the fastest since 1989. Raphael Gladu smashed a home run and scored three wins to open the series with a win and Chance Lunceford added two hits with a double and RBI. J.D. Perry propelled the Bulldogs to a series win with a RBI in game two and Casey Sutton tossed a complete-game shutout as the Bulldogs pulled out the brooms on the Blue Raiders.
No. 16 Rice vs. FIU: 2-0, 3-0, 12-1 (7). In one of the most dominant performances from the mound this season, the Rice rotation surrendered only one run over 25 innings of work. Jon Duplantier worked 8 1/3 innings of three-hit ball while fanning eight in the game one win. But the weekend belonged to Blake Fox. The southpaw fired his first ever complete game while striking out a career-high 10 batters in the shutout. Dominic Dicaprio paced the Rice offensive explosion in game three, smacking four hits with an RBI.
Standout Performers
Pitcher of the Week: Blake Fox of Rice worked his first ever complete game to secure a series win for the Owls while battling to keep pace with Southern Miss at the top of the conference. The southpaw fanned a career-high 10 batters in the win.
Hitter of the Week:  Southern Miss catcher Chuckie Robinson had quite the weekend at the plate in the Golden Eagles sweep of WKU. Finishing 8-for-13 over the weekend, Robinson exploded out of the gate with a 5-for-5 performance, launching a homer and driving in seven runs in game one.
Conference Matchup of the Week: No. 19 FAU vs. No. 14 Rice
It’s a battle of the Owls with the winner earning a slight reprieve in the CUSA Championship standings, while the other falls into the pits of the hungry fighting for a higher seed. Entering the weekend, Rice is tied with Southern Miss at 18-6, but the Golden Eagles hold the tiebreaker after snatching 2-of-3 earlier this season. Meanwhile, FAU is one game out of first at 17-7 and holds a narrow one game lead over Marshall, who sits at 16-8. Good news for FAU, it holds the tiebreakers between both the Eagles and the Herd, leaving even more at stake in this series.
FAU cruised past UTSA last weekend to hold suit with the front-runners, but has the most difficult task of the entire conference this weekend, winning in Houston.
FAU goes as the duo of C.J. Chatham and Esteban Puerta take them. Chatham’s .366 average paves the way with a team-leading 16 doubles and four triples. Puerta’s eight long balls are best on the team, including 46 RBI. Austin Langham and Billy Endris will be called upon to add to the production, each swinging over .300 on the season.
The probable rotation for FAU sizes up with David McKay, Brandon Rhodes and Sean Labsan. Touting a 1.43 ERA in his nine starts, Labsan has been an anchor in the rotation and will need another stellar outing in a must win series for FAU. McKay and Rhodes leave plenty of scoring opportunities for the opposition, with ERAs of 3.35 and 4.50, respectively. However, if the bullpen gets the ball with a chance to close the door, there’s no better than the closer Cameron Ragsdale. His 13 saves are fourth best in the nation, while boasting a 0.86 ERA in 19 appearances brings a new meaning to closing time when he takes the pill in relief.
For Rice, the offense has to be far from perfect with the league’s best pitching staff taking up the slack. Rice swings at only a .267 clip as a team but owns the only sub-three ERA in the league. Last weekend, Rice surrendered only one run over 25 innings against FIU, making the task at hand for FAU one of the most difficult it has faced all year.
Rice has four players swinging over .300 this season, with Charlie Warren and Ford Proctor anchoring the top two spots at .343 and .342. Proctor holds the team lead with 12 doubles and 23 RBI, but has yet to hit a home run this year. However, he is not the only one to lack long ball power as Rice has smashed only 12 dingers this season, the fewest of any CUSA team.
Although the offense is lacking in several categories, the pitching certainly makes up for the shortcomings with a 2.69 team ERA. The Rice staff owns the league-league in strikeouts, runs allowed and fewest hits surrendered.
Rice’s rotation leaves no room for error with the trio of Jon Duplantier, Blake Fox and Ricardo Salinas toeing the rubber. Duplantier’s 107 strikeouts are best in the league, bettering fellow teammate Fox by 30 whiffs. Fox, a crafty lefty who worked his first ever complete game last weekend, has been a victim of lack of run support this season. While holding a 2.48 ERA, his record sits at 4-6. Salinas has been the luckiest of the trio, with the highest ERA, 3.06, but the best win-loss record at 7-1. If Rice can provide any of the trio with four-plus runs, the odds for a Rice win exponentially increases.
Last Meeting: Rice swept FAU last season in Boca Raton, outscoring them 16-3 in the series.
OUTLOOK: There’s no hiding how important of a series this is for FAU with what’s at stake. A series win moves FAU ahead of Rice in the standings and with Southern Miss battling a feisty La. Tech team; anything is possible at the top. Meanwhile, Marshall plays struggling WKU in a rivalry matchup, with the Herd hoping to take advantage of any FAU slipup. This is nothing short of a desperation weekend for FAU and with Rice’s stellar rotation; runs will be scarce for FAU. Even though a sweep is not out of the question, a series win is more likely for Rice. But keep those brooms handy Rice fans; the chance is certainly there.
Preview of Week’s Matchups: Marshall vs. Western Kentucky
This matchup pits two teams headed in opposite directions. For Marshall, its won eight of its last nine conference matchups, including back-to-back sweeps over MTSU and UAB. For WKU, it’s been a downhill slide, losing four in a row and six of its last seven. The stakes of the weekend are also very different for each program.
Marshall is in, clinching a berth in the postseason for the first time since 2010, while WKU is tied with UAB at 10-14 for the final two positions in the eight-team field.
After being picked to finish last in the 12-team conference, the Herd has played with a chip on its shoulder all season. After a slow start, the Herd is currently one of the hottest teams in CUSA and has a shot to close out the season with two more series wins.
Offensively the Herd runs in two phases, Corey Bird and D.J. Gee at the top of the order and the big sticks of Aaron Bossi, Tommy Lane and Tyler Ratliff in the middle. All but Bird is hitting over .300, with Ratliff’s .327 leading the way. Each has their own claim to offensive fame while leading a team back from the dead.
From the bump, Chase Boster, Parker Danciu and J.D. Hammer should see the ball in starting roles. Boster tossed his first complete game of the year last week in a 5-1 win over UAB and Hammer returned from a mid-season injury with his first start in over a month. While the starting rotation has been decent along the way, it has been a struggle getting the ball to closer Burris Warner. However, when Warner takes the ball with a lead, it’s typically a win for the Herd. Warner has eight saves in 21 appearances, with a 2.31 ERA.
For the Toppers, Danny Hudzina is the catalyst with a league-leading .408 average, including 16 doubles. Steven Kraft and Kaleb Duckworth contribute to the offensive production with a .337 and .330 clip, respectively, and each providing extra-base power at the plate. However, as a team, WKU is one of the worst home run hitting teams in the conference, smacking only 18 on the year.
From the mound, the Toppers will look to cool the Herd’s offensive attack with the combo of Ryan Thurston, Austin King and Josh Bartley. The trio will have their work cut out with the potent Marshall lineup and runs will be a plenty. None of the projected WKU starters own an ERA under four, with King and Bartley near five. The Toppers have a team ERA of 5.00.
Last Meeting: Marshall took 2-of-3 from WKU in Charleston, winning 3-2 and 5-3 to clinch the series but missed the sweep after falling 12-3 in the finale.
OUTLOOK: Both teams need this series for different reasons. For the Toppers, they are just trying to stay in the hunt for the postseason with a trip to Boca Raton next weekend with FAU to close out the regular season. For the Herd, it could move above the Owls in the standings should they falter in a pivotal series with Rice. However, La. Tech is hot on Marshall’s heels, hoping to take advantage of any mistakes from those ahead. The biggest issue with this matchup lies in the inability of the WKU rotation to control a solid hitting team. Marshall has been seeing the ball well of late with Lane and Ratliff swatting at beach balls with a boat oar. Keep the brooms handy Herd fans; this is shot for the three-peat.  
Other C-USA games this weekend include: MTSU heads to Norfolk for a matchup with ODU. Charlotte travels to UTSA while La. Tech visits league-leading No. 22 Southern Miss and FIU ventures to Birmingham to battle UAB.