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Conference USA Weekend Recap (April 15th-17th)

By: John Lockwood

Another weekend of Conference USA play is in the books and with it a more definitive (or perhaps clouded as ever, depending on your point of view) picture of the conference standings. A menagerie of four teams remain tied atop of the conference standings as Memphis, Southern Miss and Houston each have 6-3 records and Rice is at 8-4.

UCF (22-14, 4-8) dropped their third series in a row this weekend, this time on the road at East Carolina (24-12, 6-6). Memphis (22-14, 6-3) completed its sweep of UAB (19-19, 6-3) on Sunday, while #22 Rice (26-14, 8-4) put up ten runs in the last two innings of their game against Tulane (21-15, 4-8), run-ruling the Greenwave 11-1 to take the series. Elsewhere in CUSA, Houston (19-19, 6-3) took two of three from Marshall (14-20, 2-7) and #29 Southern Miss (27-8, 6-3) swept visiting New Orleans.

CBD CUSA Players of the Week:

Rice – So. 2B Michael Ratteree, 6-13, HR, 2B, 6 RBI, 3

Houston – Jr. RHP/DH Matt Creel, W(5-4); 6.2 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 2 K; 3-5, HR, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 2 R

UCF at ECU: Pirates Take Two from Knights

East Carolina welcomed the UCF Golden Knights to Greenville for a three game set this weekend. ECU was coming off a heart-breaking loss to UNC on Tuesday evening, and seemed to channel that frustration in their bats, as they exploded for nine runs in the first three innings of game one—going on to win by a final score of 12-6. Freshman shortstop Jack Reinheimer had a 4-4 day including two runs scored and two runs batted in. Junior Zach Wright had a 3-4 day with 2 RBI and lead-off hitter Ben Fultz tallied his third homer on the season. The Pirates handed Knights’ starter Ben Lively (5-1) his first loss of the year.

UCF didn’t take to kindly to this however, and responded by winning Saturday’s game 3-2 behind an impressive pitching performance from left-hander Brian Adkins. Adkins (5-2) went seven innings allowing just two runs on seven hits. It was the longest outing of his career. Shortstop Darnell Sweeney made the lead 3-1 with an RBI single in the top of the seventh. Closer Joe Rogers pitched two scoreless innings for his sixth save of the season.

Unfortunately for coach Rooney’s squad, although Sunday’s game was another tightly contested match, they would drop the rubber match of the series—and the series itself—5-3. Knights’ starter Nick Cicio ran into trouble early, lasting just 2.1 innings. He was not helped by his defense however, as two Travis Shreve errors led to three unearned runs for the Pirates who took a 5-2 lead after only the third inning. Despite a gutsy performance by starter-turned-reliever Danny Winkler, who went five scoreless innings striking out six to keep his team in the ballgame, ECU starter Kevin Brandt (5-0)turned in another solid outing (for what seems like the nth week in a row), allowing three runs in eight innings. Pirates freshman DH Chase McDonald had the first 4-4 day of his career, adding two RBI.

Notables:

UCF – So. LHP Brian Adkins, W(5-2); 7 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 3 BB

ECU – Fr. SS Jack Reinheimer, 7-14, 3 RBI, 2 R

Tulane at Rice: Owls Run-Rule Greenwave in Finale to Take Series 2-1

Despite some strong pitching performances, Tulane came up short over the weekend against Rice dropping two of three to the Owls. In game one, Greenwave starter Conrad Flynn was able to keep the Owls offense to just one run, scattering eight hits over seven innings while striking out seven and walking two. Unfortunately, reliever Andrew Garner was unable to keep his team in the game, surrendering a costly RBI double to center fielder Michael Fuda, which would prove to be the game winner as the Owls took game one by a score of 3-1. Owls freshman righty Austin Kubitza was like-wise impressive, going six and a third, allowing a run on six hits and striking out seven.

In Sunday’s match-up, the ‘Wave were able to come back from a 4-2 deficit thanks to a two-run seventh and three-run eighth, going on to even up the series with a 7-4 win. Catcher Jeremy Shaffer again, seemingly willing his team to win, posted two hits on the day including a double to get things going in the seventh. In their usual, unconventional way, the Greenwave offense was able to scrape together two runs in the seventh on a combination of singles, hit batsmen, wild pitches and fielding errors. In the eighth, doubles by infielders Bowen Woodson and Matt Ryan and a single from DH Frank Florio accounted for three runs the conventional way. Right-hander D.J. Ponder (3-0) picked up the win after throwing 3.1 perfect innings of relief.

Rice’s offense came to life in Sunday’s finale however, allowing them to run-rule the Greenwave 11-1 in seven innings. Greenwave starter Alex Byo allowed only one run in five innings (and struck out eight), but the Tulane relievers were unable to subdue the Owls, surrendering ten runs in the two subsequent innings. Michael Ratteree contributed with a three-run homer to left to cap off scoring in the 6th, and then added on a 3-RBI double to cap off a 6-run seventh inning—and the game.

Notables:

Tulane – So. RHP Alex Byo, ND; 5 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, BB, 8 K

Rice – So. 2B Michael Ratteree, 6-13, HR, 2B, 6 RBI, 3 R

Memphis at UAB: Tigers Sweep Series on the Road at UAB

First place Memphis continued to roll this weekend, taking all three on the road against the UAB Blazers. Despite popular belief that the Tigers offense would continue to put up gaudy scores for the second straight week, the best hitting team in the conference was stymied somewhat in the first two games, as a particularly stingy Blazers pitching staff was able to keep shortstop Chad Zurcher and the Tigers offense in check. The result was two extra-inning wins for Memphis however, with the Tigers taking game one in thirteen innings 6-4, and coming back to win game two 4-3 in ten.

In game one, Blazer’s closer Ryan Nance (1-3) wasn’t able to preserve a 4-3 lead thanks to a solid performance from starter Dillon Napoleon. Tigers’ center fielder Drew Martinez doubled to start the inning and was singled home by third baseman Jacob Wilson, who went 4-5 on the day. To make matters worse, UAB second baseman Keith DePew had struck out with the bases-loaded to end the bottom of the eighth. (This was a theme for the UAB hitters on the afternoon, as Memphis pitchers tallied 16 strikeouts). Things would remain knotted up at four until the 13th, when Wilson doubled home two more runs off of Nance to put the Blazers away.

Game two was nearly identical, with the Tigers tying up the game in the ninth off of the UAB reliever, this time righty Ben Bullard (1-1). Wilson doubled to start off the ninth, and after two singles and a hit batter, right fielder Robby Graham hit a grounder to short which scored the tying run. The Blazers loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth, but first baseman John Frost struck out looking to end the inning. This would prove especially costly for UAB as the Tigers would go-ahead in the next inning on a bases-loaded walk to Phil Chapman.

In the series finale, the Tigers received some impressive pitching from starter Clayton Gant (4-1), allowing the Tigers to sweep the series with a 6-1 victory. Gant, who went seven innings allowing just one run, had an early 5-0 lead after three innings, thanks to two UAB errors which allowed three runs to cross the plate in the bottom of the third. Robby Graham would add to the lead in sixth, hitting a lead-off homerun over the right field fence for his second homer of the season.

Notables:

Memphis – Jr. 3B Jacob Wilson, 6-13, 3 2B, 3 RBI, 4 R

UAB – Jr. RHP Dillon Napoleon, ND; 8 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 4 K

Houston at Marshall: Cougars take two of three

Houston took two of three from the Thundering Herd of Marshall over the weekend. Game one witnessed an offensive outburst by the Cougars, who won Friday’s contest by a final of 12-1. Leadoff hitter Landon Appling was 3-5 with 5 RBI, sophomore M.P. Cokinos was 4-6 with 4 RBI thanks to his second homer of the year, and left fielder Joel Ansley contributed with a three hit day as well. All of this offensive support was quite unnecessary as Cougars starter Matt Creel was nearly unhittable through the first six innings, eventually surrendering a run (unearned) in the seventh.

Marshall had the last laugh in game two however, as senior shortstop Kenny Socorro hit a 2-out, walk-off, 2 RBI single to right center in the bottom of the ninth to give the Herd the win 4-3. After Matt Creel hit an RBI double to regain the lead 3-2 for the Cougars, the duo of Jordan Mannisto and Codey Morehouse were unable to preserve the Houston lead, allowing the bases to load and for Socorro and co. to walk-off with the win.

The Cougars did not seem fazed by the loss however, as they came back from down 4-2 to win Sunday’s rubber match 10-7. Freshman shortstop Chase Jensen and wunderkind Matt Creel (this time at DH) combined for five hits and six RBI on the day, with Creel adding his first homerun of the year on a two-run shot in the second inning.

Notables:

UH – Jr. RHP/DH Matt Creel, W(5-4); 6.2 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 2 K; 3-5, HR, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 2 R

Marshall – Jr. LHP Mike Mason, ND; 7.1 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 8 K

New Orleans at #29 Southern Miss: USM Sweeps Privateers

In their non-conference weekend series, #29 Southern Miss took on the UNO Privateers who recently announced their switch to Division II beginning next season. The Golden Eagles took games one and two by scores of 11-0 and 14-1, respectively, but were stymied by Privateers starter Tyler Sanders (1-8), winning Sundays game 1-0. Luckily for them, Junior RHP Jonathan Thompson (4-0) threw a one-hitter.

Notables:

USM – So. RHP Jonathan Thompson, W(4-0); 8 IP, H, 2 BB, 4 K

UNO – Sr. RHP Tyler Sanders, L(1-8); 7.1 IP, 8 H, ER, 3 BB, 2 K