By: John Lockwood
Several key series unfolded this weekend as Conference USA finished up its second to last weekend of conference play this season. Houston stole two from visiting Southern Miss, leaving the Golden Eagles with just a one-game lead in the conference standings at a 15-6 record. Right behind them is Rice, who, with their series victory over visiting Memphis, improved to 14-7 in conference play. UCF solidified their spot in the Conference USA tournament, jumping up to a tie for fifth place after sweeping UAB in Birmingham over the weekend. Tied with UCF (as well as with Memphis) is Tulane, who were able to scrape together two wins in West Virginia, as they played an unconventionally scheduled three game set against Marshall. ECU absolutely destroyed visiting Delaware State, taking all three from the MEAC team by an average margin of just over eleven runs per game.
CBD CUSA Players of the Week:
UCF – Jr. RF Erik Hempe, 7-13, GS, 2B, 6 RBI, 3 R
UAB – Sr. RHP Ryan Woolley, ND; 9 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, K
Southern Miss at Houston: Cougars Take Two from First-place Golden Eagles
The Houston Cougars made a statement this weekend, taking two of three from visiting Southern Miss in what turned out to be a hard fought series by both sides. Once more, the Cougars had to come from behind to win the series as USM won a back-and-forth opener in which eight runs were scored over the final two innings, 6-5. The Cougars would carry a 2-1 lead into the eighth inning thanks to centerfielder Landon Appling’s RBI single in the bottom of the sixth. The Golden Eagles would respond with two runs in the top of the eighth to take a 3-2 lead when B.A. Vollmuth scored on a fielding error by the Cougars’ first baseman. Houston would immediately tie up the game in the bottom of the inning on a Chase Jensen RBI double to the right field gap, and then took the lead when Jensen scored on an error by the shortstop Ashley Graeter. Down 4-3 with two outs and the bases loaded, Vollmuth came through with the big hit: a two-run single up the middle to take the 5-4 lead. Vollmuth and lead-off man Kameron Brunty then pulled off the successful double steal of second and home, respectively, to make it a 6-4 game. What made the double steal all the more astonishing was that USM is dead last in stolen bases in the CUSA, and no one player on their team has more than five (Brunty) swipes on the season. The Cougars would not go quietly however, as a hit, fielder’s choice and two walks yielded a run to make it a 6-5 game and load the bases for Houston. However, closer Collin Cargill got the next two batters to ground out for fielder’s choices and allow Southern Miss to hold on to the win. It was the fifth straight win for USM.
Game two was just as exciting, as Houston would cough up a 5-0 lead, only to come back and win by a final of 6-5. Both starters, who have been far and away their team’s respective number ones this season, had a rough day on the mound as USM’s Geoffrey Thomas went five innings, allowing five earned runs on five hits and four walks while the Cougars’ Jordan Lewis only lasted four innings, allowing four runs on seven hits. The Cougars would strike first—and loudly at that—scoring five runs in the second inning to jump out to the early lead. Up 3-0 thanks to a bases loaded walk by Ryan Still, Caleb Ramsey put runs four and five across the plate with a single through right side of the infield. However, the Golden Eagles would respond with five unanswered runs of their own, capped off by a Kameron Brunty RBI single in the sixth to tie the game. In the bottom of the inning, the Cougars would finally get back on the board and took the lead on a sac fly by Ramsey which scored Appling from third. Both sides would settle down on the mound thereafter, with freshman Dustin Fuerst going five innings of relief for the Cougars to pick up the win—the first of his career.
Coach Whitting has evidently instilled his team with the ability to learn from their mistakes, as in Sunday’s rubber match the Cougars would not relinquish a 5-0 first inning lead, going on to win the game 6-1 and take the series against the Golden Eagles. Junior right-hander Mo Wiley (3-4) went the distance on the mound, allowing just one run on eight hits in the complete game victory. He was helped out by being given a five-run lead after the first inning as the Cougars chased USM starter Jonathan Thompson (6-1) from the game before he could even get through the first inning. Oddly enough, the Cougars loaded the bases before Thompson was able to record two consecutive outs without allowing a run. Just as it seemed he would get out of the inning unscathed, Joel Ansley (who had a 3-4 day at the plate) put the Cougars on the board with a two-run single up the middle. An error by the third baseman Vollmuth would allow the inning to go on, allowing the Cougars to score three more times (unearned) off of Thompson in what would be more than enough run-support for starter Mo Wiley. Adam Doleac hit his second homer of the season for Southern Miss’ lone run.
USM – Jr. SS Ashley Graeter, 5-11, 2 2B, 2 R, RBI
UH – Jr. RHP Mo Wiley, W(3-4); CG, 8 H, ER, 4 BB, 2 K
Memphis at Rice: Owls Take Two of Three; Gain Ground on USM
Right across town, Memphis and second-place Rice were duking it out—the Owls hoping to take advantage of the Golden Eagles series’ loss. Rice rode out an early 8-1 lead in game one, taking Friday night’s opener by a final of 10-6. The Owls walked the bases loaded in the bottom of the third, setting the stage for Shane Hoelscher’s two run double into the right center-field gap. After the Owls walked the bases loaded again, Memphis’ starter Dan Langfield doled out an RBI walk to centerfielder Michael Fuda—the fifth free pass of the inning and eighth of the game. Anthony Rendon would hit his fourth homer of the season in the fourth and Hoelscher would follow up with an RBI single, scoring second baseman Michael Ratterree who had tripled in the at-bat prior. The Owls would take an 8-2 lead into the seventh, which would be more than enough for starter Austin Kubitza (5-3) who allowed three earned runs on eight hits in 6.1 innings, fanning six and walking two. The Tigers would mount a late comeback however, scoring a run in the bottom of the ninth and loading the bases with no outs, but Tyler Duffey—after initially issuing an RBI walk to third baseman Jacob Wilson—stuck out the next three batters to hold on for the win.
The Tigers would respond by winning game two 5-3 in ten innings. With the bases loaded, the nation’s leading hitter Chad Zurcher beat out an infield single to third to score the go-ahead run and Jacob Wilson followed up with a single to extend the lead to 5-3. Tigers’ starter Ryan Holland went five and a third, allowing just two runs on five hits, but like his predecessor the day before struggled with walks issuing seven free passes. Tiger reliever Ben Paullus, who had surrendered the tying run to the Owls in the bottom of the eighth, worked around a leadoff walk in the bottom of the tenth to pick up his fifth win of the season. Zurcher, Wilson, and freshman shortstop Ethan Gross would finish the day with three hits apiece.
Game three was another dramatic finish, with Rice scoring three in the bottom of the ninth to walk-off with a 7-6 win. Down 6-5 with two outs and the bases loaded, Michael Ratteree lined a base hit to left to score the tying and go-ahead runs and clinch the series for the Owls. Both teams’ starters struggled for their respective squads, with Memphis’ Clayton Grant allowing four runs on eight hits in just four innings and Rice’s John Simms surrendering ten hits and three runs in four and two thirds. Ratterree had a 3-5 day at the plate, and freshman lead-off hitter Keenan Cook added three hits of his own in the win. Six Tigers hitters had two hit days and every Tiger hitter had a hit.
MEM – Sr. 3B Jacob Wilson, 7-14, 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB
RICE – So. 2B Michael Ratterree, 5-12, 2B, 3B, 2 RBI, 2 R
Jr. C Craig Manuel, 3-7, 2B, 3 RBI, 4 R, 4 BB
Tulane at Marshall: Greenwave Take Two of Three at Marshall
Tulane took two of three on the road against last place Marshall over the weekend. The Greenwave came back from down 4-3 to win game one of Friday’s double-header, 5-4. After relinquishing a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning, the Greenwave answered with two runs of their own in the eighth inning: first baseman Matt Ryan scored on a triple by shortstop Garrett Cannizaro who in turn scored on a sac bunt by Brennan Middleton a batter later. Reliever Alex Facundus (8-2) picked up the win in relief, and closer Nick Pepitone tossed two scoreless innings to finish the game for his 13th save of the season.
Both teams received news that game two had been pushed up to Friday afternoon due to inclement weather, but not until after they had finished game one. And the Greenwave played like a team not expecting to play a baseball game, stumbling out of the gate only to right themselves and then give up four runs in the bottom of the ninth to lose by a score of 7-6. Tulane starter Drew Zizinia only lasted two-thirds of an inning as he could not seem to find the strike zone right from the start. Zizinia walked five batters, including two bases-loaded walks, resulting in the odd stat line of two runs allowed on no hits. Reliever Dave Napoli, who was the one saving grace for the Greenwave in this game, was able to stem the bleeding early by getting DH Steve Ross to strike-out with the bases still loaded to end the inning. Napoli would end up tossing 6.1 innings, allowing just a run on three hits and two walks while tying a career high with eight strikeouts. Napoli put his team in position to win the game when they were able to score four runs in the fifth inning to take a 4-2 lead. With Napoli out of the game in the bottom of the ninth and the score now 6-3, Coach Jones called on Pepitone to pick up the save. Pepitone, who had only thrown eight pitches in game one, could not get a batter out, loading the bases before issuing an RBI walk and two-run single to tie up the game. With DJ Ponder in the game for the Greenwave, Herd clean-up hitter Rhett Stafford singled through the left side to score the walk-off run.
Both teams combined for 27 runs in Sunday’s rubber match, with the Greenwave emerging with the series win, 15-12. 13 different pitchers were used in what was an offensively back-and-forth game which saw a run scored in every inning except the second and ninth. The Herd took the lead 10-8 thanks to a five-run fifth and four-run sixth, but the Greenwave would put up seven in the eighth to make it a 15-11 game. Tulane’s Jeremy Schaffer and Garrett Cannizaro, as well as Marshall’s Victor Gomez had 4 RBI days, with Schaffer and Gomez both going 3-4 (Gomez hit his sixth homerun of the season as well). 11 players had multi-hit games and Tulane’s Blake Crohan and Brennan Middleton had three RBI’s apiece, while the Herd’s Rhett Stafford hit his ninth home run of the season. Pepitone pitched a scoreless ninth to pick up his 14th save of the season.
TUL – So. SS Garret Cannizaro, 4-12, 3B, 2B, 6 RBI, 4 R
Jr. 1B Matt Ryan, 5-13, 3B, 2B, 4 R, SB
So. RF Brandon Boudreaux, 5-12, 2 2B, RBI, 4 R, 2 SB
MAR – Sr. SS Kenny Socorro, 5-11, 5 RBI, 3 R
Sr. 1B Victor Gomez, 5-11, HR, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 2 R
UCF at UAB: UCF Secures Place in CUSA Tournament with Sweep
UCF did Coach Terry Rooney a favor by sweeping UAB on the road this weekend. With the sweep, UCF guarantees themselves a spot in the CUSA Championship in two weeks. As if finishing their conference schedule by being swept at home wasn’t bad enough, UAB puts themselves in a precarious eighth place in the conference standings with the future of their season completely out of their hands.
UAB played well enough to win game one, but a pair of ninth inning solo homeruns by the Knights downed the Blazers, 5-3. Down 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth, Andrew Manning doubled to start off the inning for the Blazers and eventually scored on a John Frost sac fly to tie the game. In the top of the ninth Beau Taylor took the first pitch he saw from reliever Brian Huddleston out over the right centerfield fence. First baseman Jonathan Griffin followed up one batter later with a solo shot to left center. The Blazers got runners to second and third in the bottom of the inning, but Knights’ closer Joe Rogers got Patrick Palmeiro to hit a weak ground ball which Rogers’ carried to first unassisted to end the game.
UCF scored nine runs in the tenth inning to win an odd game two, 9-0. UAB starter Ryan Woolley shut down the Knights through the first nine innings, allowing just four hits and two walks to keep his team in the game. Unfortunately, UCF starter Danny Winkler was also dominant, tossing 6.1 scoreless innings, allowing five hits and two walks while striking out six. Reliever Nick Cicio came into the game in the seventh inning for the Knights, getting out of a bases-loaded jam by getting right fielder Coy Arrowood to foul out down the right field line. While both teams had chances to score throughout the game, it was not until the ninth inning when UCF finally exploded for nine runs off of Blazers’ closer Ryan Nance. Right fielder Erik Hempe started off the inning with a double to left field, and ended the scoring with a Grand Slam over the left field wall. Nance, who was never replaced by Coach Brian Shoop, was responsible for all nine runs in the inning and dropped to 2-5 on the season.
The Knights doubled their run total from the previous day in Sunday’s game three, scoring 18 runs (nine in the first four innings then eight in the ninth) to sweep the Blazers by a final score of 18-6. The game was relatively close, 5-4, through the first three innings. But UCF put five runs across the plate in the top of the fourth to blow open the game and never looked back. Seven UCF batters scored multiple runs, Hempe (who had a terrific series) and left fielder Ryan Breen each had three hits, while Beau Taylor and designated hitter D.J. Hicks each had four. Interestingly, of the twenty hits the Knights put together on the day, only two were for extra bases (doubles by Griffin and Derek Luciano). The Knights, who jumped into sixth place with their three wins over the weekend, play a make-up game against #23 Stetson on Tuesday before finishing up the season at home against Marshall.
UCF – Jr. RF Erik Hempe, 7-13, GS, 2B, 6 RBI, 3 R
So. DH D.J. Hicks, 7-16, 2B, 5 RBI, 3 R
Jr. C Beau Taylor, 6-15, HR, 4 RBI, 5 R
UAB – Sr. RHP Ryan Woolley, ND; 9 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, K
Sr. SS Nick Crawford, 7-13, 2 RBI, R, SB
Delaware State at East Carolina: ECU Sweeps Delaware State
ECU played their conference bye-week series against visiting MEAC team Delaware State. The Pirates outscored Delaware State 37-2 in the Hornets final regular season series, beating DSU by scores of 24-0, 7-1, and 6-1. The Pirates play Old Dominion at home on Tuesday before traveling to New Orleans for their final series of the season against Tulane.