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Conference USA Recap (April 8th-10th)

By: John Lockwood
Upsets were abound in the third weekend of Conference USA play. First place Houston (17-17, 4-2) ran into some tough pitching from the UAB Blazers (18-13, 6-3) before being able to salvage the series finale in come-from-behind fashion after surrendering an early 6-0 lead. Ditto for second-place #23 Southern Miss (23-8, 6-3)who got knocked around by T.J. Rich and the Memphis (19-12, 3-3) offense, before likewise coming back in dramatic fashion thanks to a grand slam by first baseman Adam Doleac.

Elsewhere in CUSA, a bruised Tulane (20-12, 3-6) team stole two from a roller-coaster UCF (21-11, 3-6) team, who beat #4 Florida during the week after dropping all three last weekend to USM. Like the Golden Eagles, UCF staged a dramatic comeback, but this time coming back from a 7-0 deficit, to win the finale in the bottom of the ninth. In Greenville, #22 Rice (23-13, 6-3) took the first two from a tough East Carolina (22-10, 4-5) squad, before running into lefty Kevin Brandt in Sunday’s game.

In their non-conference weekend, Marshall (11-18, 1-5) split a Sunday double-header against visiting Georgia Southern.

CBD Conference USA Players of the Week:

Memphis – Jr. 1B T.J. Rich, 9-13, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 5 R, SB
East Carolina – Jr. LHP Kevin Brandt; W (4-0), CG, 7 H, 2 ER, BB, 6 Ks

#23 Southern Miss at Memphis: Tigers take series 2-1

“Good hitting beats good pitching, but not vice-versa.” This is what I imagine Yogi Berra would have said had he been watching the USM-Memphis series this weekend at FedEx Field. The Memphis Tigers scored 27 runs on the weekend, en route to taking two out of three from visiting #23 Southern Miss.

In game one, Memphis rallied to score two in the bottom of the ninth to win 6-5. Memphis got off to a 3-0 lead before USM second baseman Isaac Rodriguez hit a solo shot to put the Golden Eagles on the board. After Memphis added another run in the seventh, USM scored four runs on one hit in the bottom of the inning to take a 5-4 lead. After a hit batter, and two walks, left-fielder Tyler Koelling recorded the only hit in the inning to single home a run with no outs. After B.A. Vollmuth hit into a fielder’s choice with the out recorded at home, a walk and two wild pitches allowed three more runs to score before the Tigers finally got out of the inning. Shortstop Chad Zurcher walked (his third of the day) to start off the ninth, reached second on a fielder’s choice by Jacob Wilson and both runners advanced on a bunt by T.J. Rich. After an intentional walk to catcher Phillip Chapman, DH Eli Hynes grounded to second, but the second baseman Rodriguez threw the ball into left-field trying to turn a double-play allowing the tying and winning runs to score.

Saturday’s game was a much more offensive-themed contest, with both teams combining for 31 hits and 24 runs in a 16-8 Tigers win. Memphis first-baseman T.J. Rich was 4-5 on the day with two homeruns and six RBI, while third baseman Jacob Wilson had a 3-5 day, himself with a two-run homerun and four RBI total.

From the start, this game was going to be decided by whoever could keep scoring runs the longest. After the fourth inning, this turned out to be the Memphis tigers. The Golden Eagles got things going off-the-bat (pun intended), scoring four runs in the top of the first thanks to back-to-back doubles from Vollmuth and catcher Jared Bales, and an RBI single from first-baseman Adam Doleac. Memphis responded right back with three runs of their own in the bottom half of the first, including Wilson’s two-run homer. After a bases-loaded walk scored a run for USM in the top of the second, the Tigers came right back with two more runs. However, while USM would take a breath, so-to-speak, and score one more run in the 4th and not score again until the 8th, the Tigers were unrelenting, scoring four in the fourth, three more (off a T.J. Rich 3-R homer) in the fifth, and a one more in the 6th. Not to be outdone, the Tigers responded to USM’s two-run top of the 8th (Kameron Brunty hit a two-run homerun) with a three run inning of their own (including a T.J. Rich two-run homerun).

The series finale began right where game two left off, with Memphis scoring five unearned runs thanks to three Golden Eagle errors, allowing them to jump out to an early 5-0 lead. But after those two innings, it was a completely different ball game. The Golden Eagles pitching didn’t allow a run the rest of the game, and after a particularly slow start, scored eight runs in the last four innings to beat escape the series with a win, 8-5.

Sophomore LHP Dillon Day came in to pitch in the fifth inning and ended up tossing 4.2 scoreless innings, shutting down the prolific Tigers’ attack. The score would remain 5-0 until the sixth when USM scraped together a run on two walks and two singles, wasting a very good scoring opportunity by leaving the bases-loaded. Luckily, it wouldn’t matter as they would tie-up the game, in dramatic fashion, in the top of the 7th. Jared Bales walked to load the bases with one out, when Adam Doleac absolutely mashed a 1-0 offering from Tigers righty Dan Sharp over the left field wall for a game-tying grand slam. A momentum shift indeed, as Day would only surrender two hits (singles) the rest of the way, and B.A. Vollmuth crushed a two-run homerun to right field in the top of the 8th to make Southern Miss go-ahead for good.

Notables:
USM – Sr. 1B Adam Doleac, 7-14, GS, 3B, 6 RBI, 2 R
Memphis – Jr. 1B T.J. Rich, 9-13, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 5 R, SB

Tulane at UCF: Tulane takes two of three from UCF

The UCF Knights lost their second consecutive series this weekend, this time to an injury-plagued Greenwave team, literally limping into its third conference series. Despite a come-from-behind, mid-week win over #4 Florida, the Knights struggled to produce timely hits in the first two games of the series, stranding a combined 17 runners on base. Credit Tulane (and particularly Jeremy Schaffer, see below) for playing some scrappy baseball in the face of insufferable news that stand-out closer Nick Pepitone could miss the next three series of conference play. However, their luck ran out in game three as they blew a 7-0 lead, to allow the Knights to come back and win 8-7 in the bottom of the ninth.

Coach Rick Jones picked up his 1,000 career win in an exciting game one, as the Greenwave came-from-behind to beat UCF 10-8. With UCF ahead 1-0 in the top of the 4th, Tulane left-fielder Nick Scneeberger knocked a two-run double to right to give the Greenwave a 2-1 lead. However, UCF responded right back in the bottom of the inning, as first-baseman Jonathan Griffin hit a two-run homerun over the left-centerfield fence, right fielder Erik Hempe followed-up with a solo shot a batter later, and center-fielder Ronnie Richardson singled in Travis Shreve to take a 5-2 lead. Both teams would go back and forth as Tulane would score two runs on four singles in the top of the seventh, while UCF scored three in the bottom half to take a 8-4 lead. The ‘Wave responded right back in the top of the 8th with three more runs to cut the lead to 8-7, setting up a ninth-inning three-run homerun for junior Jeremy Schaffer to put Tulane ahead for good 10-8. Ironically, Coach Jones was not in the dugout to witness the come-from-behind win as he had been ejected in the seventh inning.

Game 2 was an even closer affair, as the Greenwave just edged out the Knights 6-5. With Tulane ahead 2-0, Schaffer added his second homerun in as many days to extend the lead to three. UCF responded with solo homeruns from third-baseman Derek Luciano in the fifth inning, and Griffin in the sixth, cutting the lead to 3-2. Brennan Middleton added a homerun for the Greenwave in the top of the 7th to make the score 4-2, but UCF came right back with two runs to tie-up the game at four. Greenwave would add one more in the 8th and one in the ninth to make the lead 6-4. An RBI double by D.J. Hicks in the bottom of the ninth sparked a 1-out rally to make the score 6-5, but coach Jones called on lefty David Napoli who was able to get the next batter to ground to third allowing Greenwave third baseman Quinn Pippin to throw out centerfielder Ronnie Richardson at the plate, and get Beau Taylor to fly-out to left-field to end the game.

Game 3 looked to be a blow-out win for Tulane, as they jumped out to a 7-0 (thanks to Jeremy Schaffer’s third consecutive game with a homerun, this time a three-run shot) lead in the middle of the sixth inning. Greenwave starter Alex Byo came back from a shoulder injury to throw four scoreless innings, striking out three. RHP D.J. Ponder had a scoreless inning before surrendering one run in the sixth and one more in the seventh on another Jonathan Griffin homerun (his third of the series as well). In the bottom of the eighth, freshman Andrew Garner came in to pitch for the Greenwave and promptly surrendered a two-run homerun from D.J. Hicks to make the score 7-4. In the bottom of the ninth, coach Jones called on reliever Alex Facundus—who picked up the win in game one—to act as interim closer, but Facundus immediately walked the first two batters and surrendered an RBI single to the third baseman Luciano. Second baseman Travis Shreve followed up with an RBI single of his own and, after another walk, DJ Hicks smoked the offering from Facundus off the right field wall for a walk-off 2 RBI single.

Notables:
Tulane – Jr. C Jeremy Shaffer, 4-12, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 4 R
UCF – Sr. 1B Jonathan Griffin, 6-12, 3 HR, 2B, 4 RBI, 5 R
Jr. 2B Travis Shreve, 8-11, 2B, 3 R, RBI

#22 Rice at East Carolina: Owls Win Series 2-1

The Rice Owls traveled to Greenville, NC, this weekend to take on an ECU team with a particularly frugal pitching staff. Game one lived up to its billing, as Owls #1 Austin Kubitza took on NCAA-active wins leader Seth Maness (4-3), with the Owls winning the as-advertised pitchers’ duel 2-1. Though he only went 5.2 innings, Kubitza turned in an impressive performance surrendering only two hits, one run (unearned), three walks, and striking-out 11. Unfortunately for him, with the bases-loaded in the bottom of the sixth, first baseman J.T. Chargois couldn’t corral the throw from second baseman Michael Ratterree, and ECU scored, tying the game at one. However, reliever Tony Cigrani (1-1) came in, got the final out and proceeded to toss an impressive 3.1 scoreless innings, giving up only two hits and fanning seven on his way to picking up the win. Cigrani wouldn’t have to go long without the lead however, as in the next inning the Owls would score the go-ahead run on an RBI single by center-fielder Michael Fuda. Maness was responsible for both runs in the loss, despite K-ing eight in 6.2 innings.

In Saturday’s game, the Owls got some solid pitching from their bullpen, allowing the Owls to rally to a 5-3 in ten innings. Three errors by Rice gave the Pirates a 3-0 lead after five innings, but an RBI double by catcher Craig Manuel in the 7th and a 2-RBI double by Chargois in the 8th, pushed the game into extra innings. In the top of the 10th, leadoff hitter Keenan Cook scored the go-ahead run on a bases-loaded walk to Owls clean-up hitter Ratteree. They would add on another on an RBI single by Manuel, giving reliever Tyler Duffy (5-1), more than enough support to pick up the win.

In the finale, ECU picked up a much needed win 7-3, to escape the sweep for the second weekend in a row. The Pirates received an outstanding pitching performance from lefty Kevin Brandt (4-0), who went all nine innings, giving up just two earned runs on seven hits, one walk, and six strike-outs. ECU picked up three un-earned runs in the first inning, after a Shane Hoelscher error allowed a run to score and put runners on third and second. Pirates’ first-baseman John Wooten followed up with a single up the middle which cashed-in the two other runs. Rice would respond with two runs of their own in the third, but the Pirates would make the lead 4-2 on an RBI double by DH Chase McDonald in the 4th. Owls’ third baseman Hoelscher would add his third homerun of the season in the ninth, but it far from fazed Brandt who quickly retired the next three hitters to end the game, and the series.

Notables:
Rice – Fr. RHP Austin Kubitza, 5.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R (0 ER), 3 BB, 11 K
Sr. LHP Tony Cingrani; W (1-1), 3.1 IP, 2 H, 7 Ks
ECU – Jr. LHP Kevin Brandt; W (4-0), CG, 7 H, 2 ER, BB, 6 Ks

UAB at Houston: Blazers take series

With the conference best 3-0 record, the Houston Cougars welcomed UAB, coming off a series win against ECU last weekend. In that series, the Blazers relied heavily on quality pitching to take two from the best pitching team in the nation. While the first two games of the series were no different for UAB—they allowed two runs total in the first two games—game three saw them come back from an early 6-0 deficit, only to give up two runs in the bottom of the eighth to allow the Cougars to escape 8-7.

Friday’s game was a one-sided affair, as the Blazers scored six in the fifth en route to a 10-1 victory. After Jamal Austin hit a 2 RBI single down the left field line to make the game 4-1, the blazers would add four more hits (and four more runs), including a two-run triple from right fielder Ryan Nance, to take a 8-1 lead. This would be more than enough for Blazers starter and CUSA Pitcher of the Week, Dillon Napolean, who only gave up one run in seven innings to improve to 5-1 overall.

Game two was very much of the same kin, as senior RHP Ryan Woolley (5-3) shut-down the Cougars, tossing a complete-game, allowing only one run on three hits, to give the Blazers a 6-1 win and clinch of the series. Cougars’ starter, junior lefty Jordan Lewis, pitched well giving up two runs (one earned) on only four hits and a walk in 6.1 innings pitched, while fanning five. The Blazers scored four runs in the final two innings to put the game out of reach.

In the series finale, Houston jumped out to an early 6-0 lead thanks to back-to-back RBI doubles by M.P. Cokinos and second-baseman Austin Gracey in the bottom of the second, as well as a John Cannon 2-run homer and Tyler Magliolo RBI two-bagger in the bottom of the third. The Cougars would add one more in the fifth on a Codey Morhouse homerun, his second of the series and of the season. The Blazers, who had been quiet all game, came to life scoring two in the sixth, two in the seventh and three in the eighth to take an 7-6 lead. However, UAB closer Ryan Nance couldn’t shut the door on the Cougars, as a HBP, single and throwing error culminated in the tying-run scoring. Cokinos then laid down the safety squeeze to tally the go ahead run. Junior Jordan Mannisto pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to pick up the win.

Notables:
UAB – Sr. RHP Ryan Woolley, W (5-3); CG, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 Ks

 

Georgia Southern at Marshall: Game One Cancelled; Teams Split Sunday’s Double-Header

In a break from non-conference play, Marshall welcomed Georgia Southern to Beckley, WV, for what would be a split Sunday double-header, after the first game of the series was cancelled due to rain. In Sunday’s opener, the Eagles scored two in the first inning and never looked back en route to a 9-2 win. GSU senior center-fielder Shawn Payne led the Eagles attack with a 4-5 day including two doubles and four runs scored. Right-fielder Victor Roache and first base-man Steve Cochrane both had homeruns on the day, with each notching two and three RBI on the day, respectively. Herd third baseman Gray Stafford led Marshall going 3-4 with a double.

In the second game, Marshall scored one run in each of the first five innings to split the double-header with a 5-3 win. Senior RHP Arik Sikula was one out away from the complete game, giving up three runs (none of them earned) on six hits, three walks and eight strikeouts. Stafford again went 3-4 for the Herd, this time with a solo homerun and two runs scored.

Notables:
Marshall – So. 3B Gray Stafford 6-8, HR, 2B, RBI, 2 R
Sr. RHP Arik Sikula, W(1-3); 8.2 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 8 Ks