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Conference USA Weekend Recap (April 1st-3rd)

By: John Lockwood
Conference USA’s second weekend of conference play was marked by impressive performances by the top three teams, with each sweeping their series. Houston (15-14, 3-0) sits atop the standings after a series sweep of Tulane (18-10, 1-5), #28 Southern Miss (22-5, 5-1) is in second after taking all three at UCF (19-9,2-4), and #25 Rice finished the trifecta by blanking Marshall (10-16, 1-5). Elsewhere in conference play UAB (16-11, 4-2) took two from ECU (20-7, 3-3) while Memphis (16-11, 1-2) completed a non-conference sweep of visiting Alcorn St.

CBD Conference Players of the Week:

Southern Miss – DH Marc Bourgeois: 10-15 (.667), 2 HR, 3B, 9 RBI, 4 R, SB

UAB – Jr. RHP Dillon Napolean, W, CG, 4 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K

#28 Southern Miss at UCF

The Southern Miss Golden Eagles looked impressive again this weekend after a clean sweep of a solid UCF Knights squad that came into the weekend with the second best record in Conference USA. In the first game of the series, both teams battled back-and-forth before Golden Eagles clean-up hitter Marc Bourgeois—in a sign of things to come this weekend—hit a three-run homerun off Knights reliever Brian Adkins in the top of the ninth to put USM ahead 6-3. UCF would add two more runs in the bottom of the ninth off closer Collin Cargill (3-1), but Cargill got Jonathan Griffin to ground out to quell the rally and secure the win 6-5.

Game 2 witnessed an offensive explosion as the Golden Eagles tallied 22-hits en route to a 13-2 win. USM scored seven runs in the second inning, while Marc Bourgeois continued tearing up the Knights’ staff going 5-5 with a triple, homerun, stolen base and 3 runs batted in. Catcher Jared Bales went 4-4 with a homerun and 4 RBI, while outfielder Tyler Koelling added 3 more runs on three hits. Sophomore RHP Geoffrey Thomas (6-1) continued his winning ways, tossing eight innings and giving up two earned runs.

Bourgeois put the exclamation point on his weekend by adding three more RBI in the finale to let the Golden Eagles complete the sweep in a 5-2 win. For a UCF team coming into the series after their first series win against Rice ever, this weekend has to be a shot in the mouth. Said third-year Knights coach Terry Rooney after Sunday’s game, “That needs to serve as motivation for our players that we need to keep getting better. We can take nothing for granted and we need to get better every single day.” Unfortunately, Coach Rooney’s squad will have to put this series behind them quickly, as they travel to Gainesville on Tuesday to take on #4 Florida.

Notables:

USM – DH Marc Bourgeois: 10-15 (.667), 2 HR, 3B, 9 RBI, 4 R, SB
UCF -DH DJ Hicks 4-10, HR

Houston at Tulane

The Cougars traveled to Turchin Stadium in New Orleans for their first CUSA series, outscoring their opponents 16-2 on their way to a three-game sweep of the Tulane Greenwave. For the Cougars, it began and ended with their pitching. In the opener, Junior RHP Matt Creel (4-3) tossed seven shut-out innings giving up only 3 hits and striking out 6 in a 2-0 win. Greenwave senior RHP Conrad Flynn (2-4) gave a gutsy performance going eight innings giving up only one earned run and striking out six in the loss.

In game 2, the Cougars got another solid pitching performance, this time from Junior Jordan Lewis (3-1) who allowed two runs in a career-high 7.1 innings pitched in the 5-2 Cougars win. Freshman lead-off man Landon Appling had a 3-4 day knocking in two while picking up his team-leading 12th stolen base of the year and sophomore Dakota Dill picked up his fourth save.

Sunday’s finale was again in keeping with the motif of exceptional pitching as junior righty Mo Wiley (2-1) turned in eight scoreless innings, scattering nine hits and striking out a pair. RF Caleb Ramsey went 2-4 on the day with a double and 4 RBI on the way to a 9-0 Cougars win and a sweep of the series.

This weekend’s result has to be foreboding for a Greenwave team that was ranked in the top 25 at the beginning of the season. A team built around pitching, the news of a season ending elbow injury to sophomore start Kyle McKenzie is a terrific blow to Tulane, which consequently finds itself in a tenuous position just two weeks into conference play. Said head coach Rick Jones after the game, “We’re not playing good baseball at all in any phase right now. It’s hard for everybody to watch and certainly (it is) for us… Our pitching situation rose its head up here. Before these injuries we were able to win close, low-scoring games. We haven’t been an offensive club all year, but three runs in four games, certainly we’re at a low ebb.”

On the flip side, as a team, Houston decreased their team ERA by half a run (to 4.54) over the weekend and has started off conference play on the right foot after a below-average start to the season. Houston will play at #6 Texas A&M Tuesday night.

Notables:
The Houston Cougars pitching staff: 27 IP, 2 ER

Marshall at #25 Rice

The Rice Owls hosted Marshall this weekend, completing the sweep on a walk-off double by Freshman Shane Hoelscher in the bottom of the ninth in there series finale. This was a far cry from the beginning of the series, when the Owls dominated Marshall 9-0 to take game 1. Freshman phenom Austin Kubitza (3-3) threw eight scoreless innings, allowing only four hits while fanning six. National Player of the Year Anthony Rendon led the Owls attack with a 4-4 day which included two doubles and accounted for seven of the Owls runs (two scored, five knocked-in). With the exception of centerfielder Isaac Ballou (who went 2-4, managing half of Marshall’s hits), the Herd struggled to do anything against Kubitza. Second basemen Victor Ramos had a day to forget, going for the old “Golden Sombrero”—0-4 with 4 Ks.

In game 2, the Marshall offense finally kicked-in, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Owls from winning 9-6. Going back and forth with the lead, the Owls and Herd were finally tied up at five after six. Ballou singled, and put himself in scoring position by stealing second and advancing to third on a ground out. Rightfielder Rhett Stafford shot a single to left field, scoring Ballou and giving the Herd the lead. But the Owls mounted a rally, taking the lead on a bases-clearing double by Sophormore J.T. Chargois. Sophomore RHP Jeremy Fant (2-0) picked up the win in relief, and Owls closer Tony Cingrani picked up his third save of the season.

Rice finished the sweep with a 5-4 extra innings victory on Sunday. With the scored knotted at four in the top of the tenth, Rendon drew his fourth base on balls of the game, then promptly motored all the way from first to score on Hoelscher’s game winning double to right-field. It was Rice’s first extra-inning win in four attempts this season.

Notables:

Rice – Jr. DH Anthony Rendon, 5-7, 2 2B, 5 R, 5 RBI, 7 BB
Rice – Fr. RHP Austin Kubitza, W, 8 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, BB, 6 K

East Carolina at UAB

UAB took its second straight Conference USA series this weekend by winning the first two against a very good ECU Pirates team. Game one seemed to live up to its billing as a match-up of the two best pitching teams in CUSA, as the Blazers took it 4-1. UAB got an impeccable start from Junior RHP Dillon Napolean (4-1), going all nine innings, while giving up four hits, one run (unearned), walking two and striking out five. The NCAA-active wins leader Seth Manness (3-2) also went the distance for the Pirates, scattering eight hits but surrendering four runs (only 2 earned).

Game 2 saw more of the same, but unfortunately for ECU this also meant some shaky defense as two Pirates errors lead to two unearned runs which were ultimately the difference in the game for UAB, 5-3. ECU starter Mike Wright (4-1) was accountable for all five runs (only 3 earned) in six innings while Blazers starter Ryan Woolley (4-3) got some support from his bullpen as Ben Bullard threw three innings in relief and closer Ryan Nance notched his seventh save on the season with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

ECU was able to salvage the finale of the series as Junior catcher Zach Wright put the Pirates ahead in the top of the ninth with a 3-run homer, en route to the 8-5 win. Wright was 3-4 on the day, adding a double to the pair of homeruns, with four RBI and two runs scored. Although ECU’s defense managed another two-error game—leading to three unearned runs and a UAB lead that would not be relinquished until the last inning—the offense came through in the end. First basemen John Wooten had a two hit day which included a double, an RBI and a run scored. ECU starter Brad Mincey only went 3.2 innings being tagged for four runs (only one earned), before LHP Jake Harris threw a career high four innings in relief. Senior Seth Simmons (4-0) picked up his fourth win of the season in relief.

Notables:

UAB – Jr. RHP Dillon Napolean, W, CG, 4 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K
ECU – Sr. RHP Seth Manness, L, CG, 8 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 K

Alcorn St. at Memphis

In their non-conference series, Memphis took a convincing three-game sweep over SWAC-opponent Alcorn State at FedEx Park this weekend. The Tigers set the tone for the series early, exploding for 17 runs in game one, winning by a score of 17-3. Five players had multi-hit games, with NCAA-batting leader Chad Zurcher adding four hits. Junior DH Eli Hynes added his fourth homerun of the year. Game two, was very similar, with the Tigers scoring early and often on their way to a 15-5 win. Third baseman Jacob Wilson and first baseman T.J. Rich went a combined 6-10 with 6 RBIs. Hynes hit his second homer in as many days. The finale saw the Tigers pull back the reigns a bit, but not much, winning 13-5. Catcher Phillip Chapman was 4-5 on the day with two homers and four runs knocked in. Hynes—you guessed it—added his third consecutive game with a homerun for a total of six on the season. Zurcher still leads the nation in hitting with a .505 batting average.

Notables:

Jr. DH Eli Hynes – 3 HRs, 9 RBI