ConferenceUSALogo

Conference USA Weekend Recap (April 29th-May 1st)

By: John Lockwood

This weekend in CUSA play was full of surprises, each one more unsuspecting than the next. The biggest—by far—came from Memphis, TN, where the best-hitting team in the conference (with the nation’s leading hitter) was outscored 20-4 in game two of their series against last-place Marshall, a series which the Herd took two of three from on the road. In Greenville, NC, as expected there were some terrific pitching performances in a series which involved the country’s top pitching staff—however they did not come from the nation’s top pitching team. In New Orleans—in the only series on the weekend which the home-team won—a team which has been plagued by injuries to its pitching staff outdueled one of the best pitching teams in the conference. And lastly, in Orlando, Conference USA’s worst-pitching team rallied behind the best pitching performance on the weekend to take it’s series from a team with the reigning CUSA/Louisville Slugger/ NCBWA National Hitter of the Week.

CBD Conference USA Players of the Week

MAR – So. 3B Gray Stafford, 7-13, 3 HR (GS), 2 2B, 8 RBI, 6 R

UH – Jr. LHP Jordan Lewis, W(5-1); CG, 6 H, 0 ER, BB, 7 K

#23 Southern Miss at #29 East Carolina: USM Takes Two of Three from ECU

#23 Southern Miss rolled into Greenville, NC, this weekend to take on their toughest opponent yet in #29 East Carolina. From the outset, this match-up appeared to live up to expectations as the nation’s best pitching staff seemed to keep one of the hottest hitting teams in the country at bay. However, it would be Southern Miss that would receive some solid pitching performances to take their series against the Pirates 2-1. In game one, despite a stellar outing from starter Mike Wright, ECU was unable to keep the Golden Eagles off the board late in the game, and dropped the series opener 3-1. Wright (4-3) went 6.2 innings, giving up only one earned run on five hits and a walk while fanning six, but surrendered the go ahead run on an Ashley Graeter RBI single in the seventh which turned out to be the difference in the game. USM starter Geoffrey Thomas improved to a conference-best 9-2 on the year, going six and a third, allowing one run, and sprinkling seven hits and three walks over that span. Collin Cargill picked up his eighth save of the season.

Game two saw another brilliant pitching performance, but from Golden Eagles starter Jonathan Thompson, who shutout the Pirates in USM’s clinching 5-0 victory Saturday afternoon. Thompson (6-0) went the distance, dotting five hits and four walks while tallying three Ks. The Golden Eagles scored all of their runs in the fifth inning, with the big blow coming via a grand slam by right fielder Marc Bourgeois, who was 3-4 on the day. Pirates’ starter Kevin Brandt (5-2), in an uncharacteristic start, only lasted 4.1 allowing eight hits and five runs.

ECU was able to escape with a win on Sunday, holding off a late inning USM rally to come out with the victory 7-6. Leading 2-0 going into the fourth inning, the Pirates got 2-run singles from second baseman Mike Ussery and first baseman John Wooten, as well as an RBI single from third baseman Corey Thompson, to take a 7-0 lead. Pirates’ starter Seth Manness (6-3), recovering from injury, threw four scoreless innings, before allowing the bullpen to take over. Unfortunately, the duo of Shawn Armstrong and Seth Simmons, although eating up a combined 4.2 innings, allowed six earned runs in the eighth and ninth innings. After an Adam Doleac double made the score 7-6, senior Brad Mincey came in for Simmons with two outs and runners on third and second, but was able to get the shortstop Graeter to fly out to left to end the game and pick up his first save of the season.

After this weekend, the Golden Eagles sit alone atop first place in the standings with an 11-4 conference record.

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

So. RHP Jonathan Thompson, W(6-0); CG, 5 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 3 K

ECU – So. 1B/3B John Wooten, 7-12, 3 RBI

Houston at UCF: Cougars Take Series 2-1

Houston and UCF met this weekend, with both teams looking to prove themselves as legitimate CUSA contenders. But it was the Cougars who would come out on top, one of three teams to win their series on the road, taking two out of three in Orlando. The Knights came out of the gates firing however, winning Friday’s back-and-forth opener by a score of 6-4. Although the Cougars got on the board first, UCF responded loudly with a Derek Luciano two-run homer to right in the bottom of the second to make it a 2-1 game. The Cougars would bounce back in the fourth, adding two runs on a Ryan Still triple and Caleb Ramsey double. Down 3-2, UCF would add three in the fifth to take a 5-3 lead, then trade runs with the Cougars in the 6th to make it 6-4. After starter Brian Adkins went six innings, freshman righty Ben Lively and closer Joe Rogers pitched three scoreless innings of relief to seal the win for the Knights.

Game two was all Cougars, or more specifically junior lefty Jordan Lewis who put up another dominant performance, shutting out the Knights 5-0 to even the series at one. Fresh off of his CUSA Pitcher of the Week award, Lewis (5-1) made a strong vie to hold on to the award for another week, tossing a complete game shut-out, scattering six hits and a walk while punching out seven. The Cougars received some more stellar pitching in Sunday’s rubber match, holding off a late comeback by the Knights to clinch the series with a 5-3 win. Houston starter Jared Ray (1-0), in just his second start of the season, tossed five innings of two-hit baseball allowing just one run (a Jonathan Griffin sac fly in the bottom of the first) to pick up his first win of the season. Junior Jordan Mannisto went four innings of relief to pick up his fourth save of the season. Back-to-back doubles in the eighth made it a 3-1 game for the Cougars, before they added an insurance run on a throwing error by the shortstop. That run would turn out to be the difference in the game as Jonathan Griffin launched his 12th homer of the year in the bottom of the inning to make the score 4-3. The Cougars would add another run in the top the ninth on a throwing error by the second baseman Shreve to make the final score 5-3. UCF starter Danny Winkler (3-3) went six innings allowing just one earned run and striking out a career high 11, despite being tagged with the loss.

Notables:

UH – Jr. LHP Jordan Lewis, W(5-1); CG, 6 H, 0 ER, BB, 7 K

UCF – Jr. RHP Danny Winkler, L(3-3); 6 IP, 7 H, 2 R (1 ER), BB, 11 K

UAB at Tulane: Greenwave Take Two of Three from Blazers

The Tulane Greenwave showed their resiliency this weekend by taking two of three from a very tough UAB Blazers team at Turchin Stadium in New Orleans. In a battle of senior number ones, Greenwave righty Conrad Flynn bested the Blazers’ Ryan Woolley, as Tulane took game one 6-3. Flynn (3-5) tossed seven solid innings, allowing three runs on three hits and four walks. Woolley (6-4) did not favor as well, going 6.2 while being tagged for six earned runs on nine hits and three walks. UAB took a 3-1 lead in the fourth, as coach Larry Giangrosso pulled off the successful double steal , with DH Harry Clark stealing second and first baseman John Frost stealing home. But the Greenwave rallied for two runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth, capped off by a Bowen Woodson two-run double to left to put the ‘Wave ahead for good, 6-3.

Game two witnessed another pitchers’ duel, as Tulane starter Drew Zizinia got the best of UAB’s Blake Huddleston in a 2-1 Greenwave win. Zizinia (2-1) went five and a third, allowing four hits and a run, and striking out five although walking the same total. Huddleston (1-3) went six innings, responsible for both runs on six hits and two walks with two Ks. Lefty Dave Napoli tossed two and two thirds perfect innings of relief while closer Nick Pepitone moved into second on the Tulane all-time saves list (29) with his 12th save of the season and second in as many days.

The Blazers avoided the sweep on Sunday afternoon however, as reliever Ben Bullard made his first career start a memorable won, leading his team to a 7-1 win. Bullard (5-1) went seven solid innings, allowing just one earned run on four hits and four free passes while fanning six. On the other side of the diamond, Tulane starter Alex Byo (1-2), who despite injury has been one of Coach Jones’ more reliable starters, allowed six runs in seven and a third innings in the loss.

Notables:

UAB – So. RHP Ben Bullard, W(5-1); 7 IP, 4 H, ER, 4 BB, 6 K

TUL – Sr. RHP Nick Pepitone 2 SV; 2 IP, H, K

Marshall at Memphis: Herd Stun Tigers, Take Two of Three on Road

It was is perhaps the biggest upset all season, the Thundering Herd of Marshall came 90 feet away from sweeping the best hitting team in the conference, the Memphis Tigers. The Herd outscored their opponents 36-18 on the weekend, including dropping a 20-spot in game two, and tallying 8 homers in the series—a season high for the Herd. In game one, Marshall rallied from a 4-2 deficit to take the opener 8-5. Marshall first baseman Victor Gomez and third baseman Gray Stafford (who had a monstrous series) each added homeruns, while shortstop Kenny Socorro and centerfielder Isaac Ballou added three hits as well. Herd reliever Aaron Blair (1-3) tossed four innings of shutout relief, striking out five to pick up his first win of the season.

The two teams played a doubleheader on Saturday to avoid bad weather on Sunday. In Saturday’s first game, the Herd picked up right where they left off the night before, routing Memphis 20-4. The game started exactly the same way game one did, with the Tigers getting out to a 4-2 lead, thanks in part to an Adam McClain solo homer and Chad Zurcher RBI double in the second inning. But the Herd unleashed 18 unanswered runs to put away the Tigers. 11 different Marshall players had hits, while eight of those players had multi-hit games, and the Herd combined for five homeruns. Gray Stafford had the most stat-padding day of all, going 4-5 with a grand slam and two-run homerun, for a total of 6 RBI. His brother Rhett also added a two-run homer as part of a 2-6 day. Second baseman Victor Ramos added his first homerun of the year and catcher Thor Meeks partook with his own two-run shot to tie-up the game in the top of the second. The nation’s leading hitter, Memphis shortstop Chad Zurcher, left the game in the seventh inning after being spiked while trying to turn a double play in the top of the first. He re-aggravated the ankle running out a ground ball. Team officials say the injury is not serious and that Zurcher should be available for next weekend’s series against Tulane.

In what was one of the most odd games played all year, the Memphis tigers got out to a 9-0 lead by the third inning, thanks to a seven-run bottom of the third. But the Thundering Herd shot right back with a seven run top of the fourth before adding another run in the fifth to pull within one. However, not another run would be scored all game as the Memphis Tigers—suddenly remembering how to pitch—shut down the Herd offense to hold on to the 9-8 victory. Meeks added his third homerun of the season, while Gomez went 3-5 on the day with a run scored and a run batted in. Left fielder Adam McClain, playing second base due to the injury to Zurcher, left the game after being spiked while trying to turn a double play (sounds familiar). He left the baseball complex on crutches and a timetable for his recovery has not been released.

Notables:

MAR – So. 3B Gray Stafford, 7-13, 3 HR (GS), 2 2B, 8 RBI, 6 R

MEM – LF Adam McClain, 4-8, HR 2B, 3 RBI, 3 R