By: John Lockwood
This weekend marks the fourth series in Conference USA play as teams look to improve their positions before entering the mid-way point of the conference season. Thus far, UAB, Southern Miss and Rice all hold 6-3 records, and with it first place in the standings. Houston holds the same .667 winning percentage, but at 4-2. Nationally, Rice remains at #22 after a 2-2 week which included a 2-0 shutout of #7 Texas A&M, while Southern Miss falls to #29 after almost being swept by Memphis over the weekend. Of note, Tigers shortstop Chad Zurcher leads the nation in hitting at .519, thirty-four points higher that C.J. Cron of Utah.
The month of April has not been kind to Central Florida (21-12, 3-6) who is 2-6 since the beginning of the month and has dropped two straight series. Despite senior first baseman Jonathan Griffin’s fourth-consecutive game with a homerun, the Knights fell Tuesday night to Sun Belt-foe FAU, 3-2. UCF starter Chase Bradford only went 4.0 innings, evidencing a problem which has been plaguing the Knights in the month of April: Over the past two weeks, no UCF starter has gone longer than six innings. Terry Rooney and Co. will hope to rectify that this weekend as they travel to Greenville, NC, to take on an East Carolina (22-11, 4-5) team who has fared little better, going 3-6 in the same stretch. The Pirates, who hold the second-lowest team ERA in the nation (1.93), will hope to rebound from tough loss at #6 North Carolina, 5-3, Tuesday night. Luckily for them, this weekend’s contest will be held at Clark-LeClair Stadium, where the Pirates are 17-5 on the season.
After blowing a seven run lead to UCF on Sunday, Tulane (20-13, 3-6) blew a five run lead Wednesday evening against South Alabama. In an attempt to palliate the blow suffered by the injuries to pitchers Randy LeBlanc, Kyle McKenzie and Nick Pepitone, Rick Jones turned to freshman left Wade Konvicka for the start in what was his first collegiate appearance. Konvicka threw a solid five innings, allowing three runs on six hits for the Greenwave, but the bullpen surrendered another five runs allowing South Alabama to escape with an 8-6 victory. The Greenwave travel to Houston this weekend to take on #22 Rice (24-13, 6-3) and National Player of the Year Anthony Rendon.
Elsewhere in conference play, Memphis (19-14, 3-3) hopes to build off of last week’s series win against USM as they travel to first-place UAB (20-13, 6-3) to take on a Blazers team lead by Heartland Community College transfer Dillon Napoleon (5-1, 1.67 ERA). Marshall (1-5, 13-18)—coming off a double-header sweep of Coppin State on Wednesday—will host Houston (17-18, 4-2) in Beckley, for a Friday double-header with the finale to be played as-scheduled Sunday morning.
UCF at East Carolina
Friday: Fr. RHP Ben Lively (5-0, 2.44 ERA) vs. Sr. RHP Seth Maness (4-3, 2.10 ERA)
Saturday: So. LHP Brian Adkins (4-2, 3.07 ERA) vs. Jr. RHP Mike Wright (4-1, 2.61 ERA)
Sunday: Jr. RHP Danny Winkler (3-2, 6.44 ERA) vs. Jr. LHP Kevin Brandt (4-0. 1.02 ERA)
Prediction: UCF 2-1
Memphis at UAB
Friday: So. RHP Dan Langfield (2-2, 4.10 ERA) vs. Jr. RHP Dillon Napoleon (5-1, 1.67 ERA)
Saturday: Sr. LHP Ryan Holland (4-2, 3.66 ERA) vs. Sr. RHP Ryan Woolley (5-3, 2.51 ERA)
Sunday: So. RHP Clayton (3-1, 3.35 ERA) vs. Jr. RHP Michael Busby (0-1, 5.70 ERA)
Prediction: Memphis 2-1
Tulane at #22 Rice
Friday: Sr. RHP Conrad Flynn (2-4, 3.78 ERA) vs. Fr. RHP Austin Kubitza (3-3, 1.32 ERA)
Saturday: So. RHP Alex Byo (1-0, 0.47 ERA) vs. TBD
Sunday: Sr. RHP Drew Zizinia (1-1, 4.55 ERA) vs. TBD
Prediction: Rice 2-1
Houston at Marshall
Friday (Game 1): Jr. RHP Matt Creel (4-4, 6.10 ERA) vs. Fr. RHP Aaron Blair (0-2, 4.35 ERA)
Friday (Game 2): Jr. LHP Jordan Lewis (3-1, 4.14 ERA) vs. Jr. LHP Mike Mason (2-1, 4.81 ERA)
Sunday: Jr. RHP Mo Wiley (2-1, 4.01 ERA) vs. Sr. RHP Arik Sikula (2-3, 3.07 ERA)
Prediction: Houston 2-1
New Orleans at #29 Southern Miss
Friday: RHP Zach Kelt (1-6, 9.26 ERA) vs. Sr. RHP Todd McInnis (5-1, 2.90 ERA)
Saturday: RHP Tyler Sanders (1-7, 10.67 ERA) vs. So. RHP Geoffrey Thomas (6-2, 2.96 ERA)
Sunday: RHP Scott Stonestreet (1-1, 6.75 ERA) vs. Jr. Jonathan Thompson (3-0, 4.36 ERA)
Prediction: USM 3-0