C-USA Baseball Tournament Preview

With the eight teams locked in to the double elimination format, everyone begins with a bit of a safety net, as a loss doesn’t end the season. As FIU proved last year, anything is possible in the tournament after the Panthers won the event as the No. 8 seed. This year, they return to defend their crown as the No. 7 seed and must deal with one of the top teams in the league to open play.
The Elite
Florida Atlantic took care of business on the final day of the regular season and benefited from Marshall falling to Old Dominion to secure the regular season title. CUSA Player of the Year C.J. Chatham’s .373 average, team-leading 17 doubles and four triples leads the Owls at the plate, followed by Austin Langham and Esteban Puerta as members of the .300 club. As a team, the Owls are fourth in average but lead the conference in pitching with a 3.08 ERA.
A trio of Owls paces the starting rotation with Marc Stewart’s 6-0 mark the best on the team. However, once the ball goes to the bullpen, things get no easier for the opposition. FAU has one of the best closers in the game in Cameron Ragsdale and any chance for the righty to take the ball with a lead in the ninth, tips the scales in favor of the Owls. The junior owns a 0.75 ERA with 14 saves in 21 appearances.
FAU will battle No. 8 Charlotte in the opening round after the 49ers played their way in with a win over UAB in the final game of the season. Charlotte took the series with FAU earlier this season, winning 12-7 and 7-6.
The Field
No. 2 Marshall won its final five series of the season while not losing a conference game in over a month. Marshall’s rotation has been lights out in the second half of the season and the Herd’s power hitters tore the cover off the ball much of the year. No. 3 Southern Miss was swept by FIU to close the season but is playing at the friendly confines of Pete Taylor Park. The Eagles rotation is one of the best in the league and there is no lack of run support each night out. Rice and La. Tech will revisit last week’s epic series in which the Owls were swept for the first time in their CUSA tenure. This easily could be the best game of the entire tournament.
The Underdogs
It would be tough to overlook No. 7 FIU at any point this week, considering it returns as the defending champion after wining it last season as the No. 8 seed. The Panthers took what was the top rated team in the conference entering the final weekend to the woodshed, sending a message to the league not to overlook the defending champs. The Panthers have found their stride at the best time of the season and look to give the Herd all they bargain for to open the tournament.
La. Tech is certainly a team to follow, as the Bulldogs have played their way into the field of 64 conversation after a strong finish to the season. Now they have a shot to better their resume and taking four over Rice in less than a week would most certainly punch the Bulldogs ticket to a regional.
The Schedule
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Game 1: No. 5 La. Tech vs. No. 4 Rice 9:00a
Game 2: No. 8 Charlotte vs. No. 1 FAU 12:30p
Game 3: No. 6 ODU vs. No. 3 Southern Miss 4:00p
Game 4: No. 7 FIU vs. No. 2 Marshall 7:30p
Thursday, May 26, 2016
Game 5: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser (Loser eliminated) 9:00a
Game 6: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser (Loser eliminated) 12:30p
Game 7: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner 4:00p
Game 8: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner 7:30p
Friday, May 27, 2016
Game 9: Game 5 winner vs. Game 7 loser (Loser eliminated) 3:00p
Game 10: Game 6 winner vs. Game 8 loser (Loser eliminated) 6:30p
Saturday, May 28, 2016
Game 11: Game 7 winner vs. Game 9 winner 9:00a
Game 12: Game 8 winner vs. Game 10 winner 12:30p
Game 13: Same teams as Game 11 (If Necessary) 4:00p
Game 14: Same teams as Game 12 (If Necessary) 7:30p
Sunday, May 29, 2016
Championship Game, 1:00p, CBS Sports Network
Final Thoughts
CUSA has paved the way for potentially as many as five teams earning a bid to the NCAA tournament. FAU, Rice and Southern Miss are all in, with La. Tech flirting with an at-large. Meanwhile, Marshall could’ve sealed the deal with a regular season title but fell short, leaving some work to be done to the resume. The Herd needs a deep run in the tournament to plead its case to inclusion. Anything less than a trip to the semis more than likely ends the Herd’s monumental season.