BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The UAB baseball program on Monday released its 2011 schedule, which features a challenging mix of 29 home games and 27 away from home. Eight of the Blazers’ 24 opponents in 2011 reached the postseason a year ago with three (Alabama, Coastal Carolina and Virginia) advancing to the NCAA Super Regionals.
UAB will face two of those eight teams in the season’s opening weekend in tournament play at Auburn. The Blazers open the event Feb. 18 against a Virginia team that spent much of 2010 ranked No. 1 in the nation, and UAB then plays two days later against reigning SEC West champion Auburn. It will mark the first time since 2004 that UAB and Auburn have met on the diamond. In between the Virginia and Auburn games is a contest against Sun Belt foe Arkansas State.
“When we ask our players what led them to choose UAB, the two most common responses we get are the family atmosphere of our program and the schedule that we play,” UAB head coach Brian Shoop said. “It is undoubtedly a schedule that young men dream of playing in college, and we are excited about the 2011 edition.”
The Auburn event is just one of two challenging tournaments on UAB’s non-conference slate. The Blazers will meet 2010 NCAA tournament teams Coastal Carolina (a top five team for much of last season) and Kent State in addition to a game with perennial Midwest power Notre Dame at the Caravelle Resort Classic in Conway, S.C. (March 12-13).
Sandwiched between those two tournaments are a pair of home series against Midwestern teams: the home-opening series Feb. 25-27 at Young Memorial Field against Xavier and a four-game set March 4-6 against Cleveland State. The Blazers also have a pair of non-conference series to bookend their eight-weekend Conference USA slate, hosting UT Martin for three games (March 18-20) and traveling West to Salt Lake City for a regular season-ending series at Utah (May 19-21).
“Each year we have attempted to take some special trips for our players and fans and have wanted to undertake the challenge of playing against top-rated teams across the country; in 2011 both of those will happen again,” Shoop said. “And, of course, we are excited to compete in our outstanding conference again. Every weekend is so competitive, and there is very little difference between winning and losing.”
UAB opens its 24-game conference schedule March 25-27 against Marshall in Charleston, W. Va., and hosts East Carolina at Young Memorial Field the following weekend (April 1-3). The Blazers’ three other home series in league play are versus Memphis (April 15-17), Rice (April 22-23) and UCF (May 13-15). The other road series in conference action are at Houston (April 8-10), at Tulane (April 29-May 1) and at Southern Miss (May 6-8). The C-USA tournament will begin May 25 at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Miss.
The league schedule promises to be challenging, as usual. Conference USA, which was the No. 5-rated conference in the country last season, again sent two teams (Rice and Southern Miss) to the NCAA tournament. The conference has boasted at least four postseason teams in seven of the past nine years.
A total of 13 midweek games against traditional Southeastern foes also dot the spring schedule. The Blazers will play home-and-home series with Alabama, Samford, Troy and Kennesaw State in addition to four total contests (two home and two away) with Jacksonville State.
UAB’s home game with Alabama (March 29) will be played for the sixth straight year at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala., home of the Double-A Birmingham Barons. The Blazers also have a home date March 9 with SEC opponent Mississippi State at Young Memorial Field.
“Our school and administration have done a fantastic job providing a first class experience in every way for our players,” Shoop said. “We travel first class and play in great cities and venues against some of the best opponents in college baseball. Our team understands the challenge that awaits us and has worked very hard in preparing for the 2011 campaign.”