By: John Lockwood
With three weeks left in the season, Southern Miss sits atop the Conference USA standings with a two game lead over the rest of the pack. Houston has rebounded from a sub-par start to the season to amass a 9-6 conference record, tying them for second with cross-town rival Rice—whom they play this weekend. Memphis and UAB are tied for third at 9-9. Nationally, Southern Miss cracks the top 20 for the first time this season at #19, while Rice moves up one spot to #21. East Carolina drops out of the top 30 following their series loss in Hattiesburg last weekend.
In the conclusion of the Silver Glove Trophy series, Houston (22-23, 9-6) will try and prove itself as a legitimate contender for the CUSA title as they take on hometown rival #21 Rice (29-16, 9-6). Rice swept last year’s Silver Glove series taking all five games from Houston. Last year’s National Player of the Year Anthony Rendon is the Owls hottest hitter, going 9-20 (.450) in his last six games with a .593 OBP, nine runs scored and seven runs driven in. The Cougars’ lefty Jordan Lewis (5-1) has been Coach Witting’s best option on the mound this season, by far. And he’s been on fire as of late: In his last two starts, Lewis has gone 17 innings, allowing just one run and striking out 17. Game one starts at 6:30 pm CT, Friday Night at Cougar Stadium.
#19 Southern Miss (33-11, 11-4) returns home this week to Hattiesburg to host UAB (25-19, 9-9). The Blazers will try to rebound from a series loss to Tulane last weekend in New Orleans, despite playing their second consecutive road series. UAB—a team built on pitching—has been setback by injuries to several pitchers, most significantly junior starter Dillon Napoleon, who up until his injury was 5-2 with a 2.58 ERA and held hitters to a .215 opposing batting average. However, the Blazers received a pleasant surprise in CUSA Pitcher of the Week Ben Bullard’s first career start, as he went seven innings only surrendering one run on four hits. The Blazers will hope for some more pleasant surprises as they take on one of the best hitting teams in the country on their home turf.
While UCF (28-17, 7-11) gets a break from Conference USA this week, they hardly get a break as they travel to Tallahassee to take on #7 Florida State. The Seminoles, who have the second highest national ranking in the ACC (behind #3 Virginia), have won 10 of their last 11 and have the third best team ERA in the ACC at 3.32. Junior James Ramsey leads the ‘Noles offensively, hitting a team best .355 with 7 homeruns and 47 RBI. Despite a 7-11 conference record, the Knights have compiled a 6-5 record against ranked opponents this year. Sophomore DJ Hicks is riding a 10-game hitting streak, hitting .450 with four homeruns and 18 RBI during that stretch. It is the Knights first game against FSU since the 2004 NCAA Tournament.
Elsewhere in conference play, Memphis (25-19, 8-7) will aim to rebound after a disappointing series loss to last place Marshall last weekend. The Tigers head to New Orleans to take on a Tulane (26-19, 6-9) squad that is trying to make a strong push in the standings leading up to the conference tournament. The Greenwave took two of three from UAB last weekend at Turchin Stadium, but dropped their midweek game at LSU 6-2. To the north, Marshall (17-24, 4-11) will try to build off of last week’s shellacking of the Tigers as it hosts ECU (28-16, 9-9). However, CUSA Hitter of the Week Gray Stafford and co. will have a much more difficult time putting up those types of numbers against CUSA’s best pitching team with a combined 2.45 ERA.
#21 Rice at Houston
Friday: Fr. RHP Austin Kubitza (3-3, 1.79 ERA) vs. Jr. RHP Jared Ray (1-0, 2.00 ERA)
Saturday: TBA vs. TBA
Sunday: TBA vs. TBA
Prediction: Rice 2-1
UAB at #19 Southern Miss
Friday: Sr. RHP Ryan Woolley (6-4, 3.00 ERA) vs. Sr. RHP Todd McInnis (6-1, 3.03 ERA)
Saturday: TBA vs. So. RHP Geoffrey Thomas (9-2, 2.82 ERA)
Sunday: TBA vs. Jr. RHP Jonathan Thompson (6-0, 2.90 ERA)
Prediction: Southern Miss 2-1
UCF at #7 Florida State
Friday: So. LHP Brian Adkins (5-2, 3.11 ERA) vs. Jr. LHP (7-1, 1.48 ERA)
Saturday: TBA vs. Jr. RHP Hunter Scantling (3-0, 2.01 ERA)
Sunday: Jr. RHP Danny Winkler (3-2, 5.70 ERA) vs. TBA
Prediction: FSU 2-1
Memphis at Tulane
Friday: Sr. RHP Conrad Flynn (3-5, 3.84 ERA) vs. So. RHP Dan Langfield (2-2, 4.43 ERA)
Saturday: Sr. RHP Drew Zizinia (2-1, 4.10 ERA) vs. Sr. LHP Ryan Holland (4-3, 4.99 ERA)
Sunday: So. RHP Alex Byo (1-2, 2.87 ERA) vs. So. RHP Clayton Gant (4-1, 4.27 ERA)
Prediction: Tigers 2-1
ECU at Marshall
Friday: RHP Mike Wright (4-2, 2.68 ERA) vs. Fr. RHP Aaron Blair (1-3, 3.86 ERA)
Saturday: Sr. LHP Kevin Brandt (5-2, 2.19 ERA) vs. Jr. LHP Mike Mason (2-3, 4.70 ERA)
Sunday: Sr. RHP Seth Maness (6-3, 1.93 ERA) vs. Sr. RHP Arik Sikula (2-5, 4.92 ERA)
Prediction: East Carolina 2-1