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Conference USA Weekend Recap (April 22nd-24th)

By: John Lockwood

Four teams entered this weekend tied for first in Conference USA, but only the Golden Eagles of #24 Southern Miss (30-9, 9-3) remain atop the standings thanks to a three game sweep of Marshall (15-23, 2-10) in Hattiesburg. The biggest shock from this weekend’s conference play came from the Deep South, where UAB (23-17, 8-7) surprised #19 Rice (28-16, 9-6)—and the rest of CUSA—by taking both games of Saturday’s double-header to knock the Owls out of first. UCF (26-15, 6-9) won their first series since the opening week of conference play, by taking two from the CUSA’s best hitting team, Memphis (24-17, 7-5), on the road. Elsewhere in conference play, the NCAA’s best pitching team, East Carolina (27-13, 8-7) took two of three while visiting Houston (20-21, 7-5), and Tulane (23-17, 4-8) dropped two of three from visiting Mountain West foe Utah in their non-conference bye week.

CBD CUSA Players of the Week:

UCF – So. DH DJ Hicks, 6-11, 2 HR (GS), 6 RBI, 5 R

UH – Jr. RHP Jordan Lewis, W(4-1); 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 10 K

#19 Rice at UAB: Blazers stun Owls, Take Series 2-1

#19 Rice, back into the top 20 after going 12-3 in their last fifteen games, was upset this weekend by a determined UAB team who swept their double-header against the Owls after dropping game one by a score of 9-5. Despite an uncharacteristic hit-laden start from freshman righty Austin Kubitza, the Owls were able to rally from a 4-1 deficit thanks to a five run fifth inning. In that inning, last week’s CUSA Player of the Week Michael Ratterree contributed a 2-run single, while right fielder Ryan Lewis and shortstop Derek Hamilton both added 2 RBI and one-run singles, respectively. Owls’ reliever Tyler Duffey picked up his team-leading seventh win of the season in 3.1 innings of hitless relief.

The Blazers were upset-minded heading into Saturday, however, and accomplished just that by taking game two by a score of 7-2 and the rubber game in an exciting 12-inning finish, 8-7. UAB starter Ryan Woolley (6-3) pitched a complete game allowing two-runs on just three hits, while walking three and punching out six. UAB put up a four-spot in the fifth inning on four singles and a walk to give Woolley all the run-support he would need. Anthony Rendon added his fourth homer of the year in the ninth. Game two was a rollercoaster affair, with Rice getting off to a hot start by scoring four runs in the top of the first. The Owls took the lead thanks to a sequence of a leadoff triple, an error, back-to-back doubles, a single, and a sac fly to start the game. UAB cut the lead in half in the third on a two-run single up the middle by first baseman John Frost. Rice responded by scoring three in the next frame on RBI singles by J.T. Chargois, Rendon and Ratterree. After adding a run in the bottom of the fourth, UAB rallied to tie the game with four runs of their own, capped off by a bases-clearing double from second baseman Keith DePew. Things would calm-down and remain scoreless over the next five innings, before DePew came through with his fifth RBI on the day to end the game, and clinch the series, with a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the 12th.

Notables:

Rice – So. 2B Michael Ratterree, 6-14, 2 2B, 5 RBI, 3 R

UAB – Jr. 2B Keith DePew 6-14 2B, 5 RBI, 2 R

East Carolina at Houston: ECU takes two of three in Houston

The NCAA’s best pitching team rolled into Houston this weekend hoping to build off of last weekend’s series victory over UCF, and left with a series win against a particularly scrappy Cougars team. In Thursday’s opener, the Pirates were down 4-1 before scoring three in the top of the 9th and winning the game in the 12th, 5-4. ECU designated hitter Chase McDonald hit a solo shot in the top of the 9th to cut the lead in half, and Trent Whitehead followed-up later in the inning with a 2 RBI triple to right-center off of Cougars’ righty Matt Creel. Pirates’ shortstop Jack Reinheimer walked on four pitches to start off the ninth and later scored the game winning run on a Whitehead single to left-field. ECU Starter Mike Wright tossed nine innings allowing three earned and striking out seven while closer Seth Simmons (5-1) threw three innings of one-hit relief for the win.

The Cougars evened up the series in Friday’s game behind a terrific start by Jordan Lewis, winning 4-2. Lewis (4-1) notched 10 K’s in seven innings, allowing one run on five hits and three walks. ECU starter Kevin Brandt was tagged with his first loss of the season, going 7.1 innings giving up four runs (three earned). Game three was all ECU however, as the Pirates run-ruled the Cougars 12-2 in seven innings. The Pirates tallied five homeruns as the Cougars went through seven different pitchers. Trent Whitehead, capping off a terrific series, went 2-3 hitting his third and fourth homers of the season and driving in four runs.

Notables:

ECU – Sr. CF Trent Whitehead, 5-13, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 4 R

UH – Jr. RHP Jordan Lewis, W(4-1); 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 10 K

Marshall at #24 Southern Miss: USM Sweeps

#24 Southern Miss took all three from visiting Marshall over the weekend, despite it being a tightly contested series by both sides. Down 4-0 going into the top of the sixth, the Herd scored five runs in the frame thanks to a double and six singles. However, Golden Eagles’ Junior Ashley Graeter tied up the game in the bottom of the inning on an RBI double to left. USM took an 8-5 lead into the ninth, but after a run scored, coach Scott Berry called on closer Colin Cargill to close the door. After giving up an RBI single to Marshall pinch hitter James Lavinskas, Cargill got third-baseman Gray Stafford to ground into a game ending double-play and secure the win for the Golden Eagles, 8-7.

The Golden Eagles swept Saturday’s double-header by scores of 10-8 and 9-4 to clinch the series. Game two was a see-saw of a game, with the Golden Eagles going up big in the first five innings and Marshall trying to come back big in the last four. USM got off to an 8-0 lead thanks to homers from Tyler Koelling and Marc Bourgeois. The Herd would mount a late inning rally, as Rhett Stafford hit a three-run homer in the top of the seventh to make the score 10-5. Marshall would add three more in the eighth, but it would not be enough as Colin Cargill would pick up his seventh save of the season by pitching a scoreless ninth. Koelling went 4-5 with three runs scored, and Bourgeois added an RBI double to his fifth homer of the season. USM got off to another early lead in game three, scoring four runs by the fourth inning, but the other Stafford brother, Gray, added a three run homerun of his own to allow the Herd to pull within one in the bottom of the fourth. Marshall would tie the game in the fifth, but the Golden Eagles would take the lead in the fifth on an Adam Doleac ground out and never look back. Bourgeois had another monster game going 4-5 with two doubles and two runs scored.

Notables:

USM – Sr. RF Marc Bourgeois, 7-13, HR, 4 2B, 3 RBI, 5 R

Sr. CF Tyler Koelling, 8-15, HR, 2 2B, RBI, 4 R

UCF at Memphis: UCF Wins Series 2-1

UCF took two of three from an offensively potent Memphis Tigers squad this weekend in Memphis, winning their first series since their first weekend of conference play against Rice. UCF pulled out a close 10-inning victory in game one, winning by a score of 5-4. Beau Taylor knocked in all three runs for UCF in regulation on an RBI double in the third and a two-run homer in the fifth. Memphis tied the game at three in the bottom of the fifth inning on a two-run homerun of their own from left fielder Adam McClain. The Knights took the lead in the tenth on a sac fly from first baseman Jonathan Griffin and added another before then end of the inning. Memphis mounted a come-back in the bottom of the inning as centerfielder Drew Martinez hit an infield single to score a run and advance the tying run to third, thus bringing the NCAA’s top hitter, Tigers shortstop Chad Zurcher, to the plate. Unfazed, Knights’ closer Joe Rogers got Zurcher to ground into a double-play to end the game.

The Knights took game number two in another tightly contested match, winning 11-9. Memphis put up six runs in the first inning in what looked like a Tigers route of the Knights early on. But the Knights clawed back, scoring one in the second, three in the third and three in the fourth to tie up the game at 7. After TJ Rich put the Tigers ahead in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI single up the middle, the Knights struck back loudly in the top of the seventh as D.J. Hicks launched a grand slam over the right field wall to put UCF on top 11-7. Rich would add a homer in the ninth and the Tigers would add one more to pull within two, but Martinez grounded-out to end the game with the bases-loaded.

The Tigers would escape with a victory in game three however, coming back from down 6-3 thanks to nine runs in the last two innings of the game to win by a final score of 12-7. Zurcher went 3-4 on the day with a double and four runs scored, while third baseman Jacob Wilson went 3-4 with two homeruns, a double and six runs batted in. DJ Hicks and Jonathan Griffin hit their 10th and 11th homeruns of the season, respectively, for the Knights. Zurcher remains first in the NCAA with a .488 batting average.

Notables:

UCF – So. DH DJ Hicks, 6-11, 2 HR (GS), 6 RBI, 5 R

Jr. C Beau Taylor, 6-13, HR, 3 2B, 5 RBI, 4 R

Memphis – Jr. 3B Jacob Wilson, 3-10, 2 HR, 2B, 6 RBI, 3 R

Utah at Tulane: Utes take two of three from Wave

Utah traveled to New Orleans this weekend, as Tulane played its non-conference series against the MWC Utes. The Utes took two of three, with the Greenwave taking Friday’s game two by a score of 7-6. Most notably, the victory saw the return of closer Nick Pepitone. Pepitone’s return to the mound is an invaluable boost to a decimated Greenwave pitching staff which still has its sights set on an NCAA tournament berth. “The difference tonight was that we had Nick Pepitone,” Coach Rick Jones said after the game. “Nick was able to get the leadoff out, then their best hitter (C.J. Cron), who is one of the best hitters in the country, put a good swing on it with two strikes. Then after an intentional walk, (Pepitone) made the pitch he needed to make. Nick Pepitone was the big difference.”

Cron was able to advance on Chad Zurcher’s lead of the NCAA-batting title, but still sits ten points behind, in second, with a .478 mark. Tulane plays a midweek game against visiting Jackson State at Turchin on Wednesday before welcoming UAB next week to return to conference play.