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Conference USA Weekend Recap (May 19th-21st)

By: John Lockwood

The Rice Owls and Southern Miss Golden Eagles are Conference USA Regular Season co-Champions for 2011. #17 Rice stormed into Hattiesburg, MS this weekend and took two of three from #20 Southern Miss to take a share of the league title in advance of the upcoming CUSA Championship Tournament to start Tuesday in Pearl, MS. It was the first time in Conference USA’s 16-year history that regular season co-champions have been crowned, and while it was the second consecutive regular season title for the Owls, it was the first for the Golden Eagles since 2003. Elsewhere in conference play, #30 ECU swept Tulane to secure the #3 spot in the CUSA tournament, Memphis took two of three from visiting Houston and UCF took two of three from Marshall. UAB split two games on the road against Utah to finish their regular season schedule. The Conference Tournament starts Wednesday morning at Trustmark Park in Pearl, MS. (See the College Baseball Daily CUSA Conference Tournament Preview for more information in the coming day.)

CBD CUSA Players of the Week:

RICE – Fr. RHP Austin Kubitza, W(6-3); 8.1 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, BB, 9 K

MEM – So. RHP Dan Langfield, W(3-3); CG, 10 H, 2 ER, BB, 11 K

#17 Rice at #20 Southern Miss: Rice wins series; Share of CUSA regular season title

Behind the arm of freshman phenom Austin Kubitza, the Rice Owls were able to set the tone for their weekend series against Southern Miss by winning 4-0 in Thursday’s opener. Kubitza (6-3) made the most of his nationally televised appearance, absolutely dominating the Golden Eagles through the first eight innings. Kubitza finished the day with 8.1 innings, allowing just five hits and a walk while striking out nine. The game remained scoreless until the sixth inning, when Michael Lewis singled home Michael Ratterree to take a 1-0 lead. The Golden Eagles defense collapsed in the seventh inning, as USM committed three straight errors to start the inning, leading to two unearned runs. The Owls would make it a 4-0 game without registering a hit in the inning. The Golden Eagles would get runners on first and second in the ninth, but Rice closer Tony Cingrani got the final two outs of the inning for his tenth save of the season.

The Owls would receive more stellar pitching from a platoon of pitchers in Friday’s game two, but would hardly need it as they scored five runs in two different innings en route to a 16-2 embarrassment of the Golden Eagles. Nine different Owl batters registered hits, while five different players had multi-RBI games. First Baseman JT Chargois went 4-6 on the day with 4 RBI, while second baseman Michael Ratterree went 2-5 with his sixth homerun of the year. Rice lefty Abe Gonzales picked up his sixth win of the season in relief of starter Matt Reckling who only went 3.1 innings. USM starter Geoffrey Thomas only lasted two innings allowing six runs, but was also let down by his defense—which totaled three errors for the second consecutive game—as only two of them were earned.

The Golden Eagles managed to salvage the series, and their share of the conference title, by winning Saturday’s finale 7-3. Down 2-0 in the fourth inning, Golden Eagle second baseman Isaac Rodriguez hit an RBI double to left to cut the lead in half. USM then started off the fifth inning with four straight hits to tie the game, then with two and outs and the bases loaded, senior Mark Ellis lined a double to left to clear the bases and put the Golden Eagles up for good. Junior Ashley Graeter added a two-run triple in the sixth to make the score 7-2. Freshman starter John Simms only lasted four innings for the Owls, allowing five runs on nine hits, but striking out seven. USM senior right fielder Marc Bourgeois finished the day 3-4 in his last regular season game.

With the series win, Rice extends their streak of consecutive championships (winning at least a regular season or tournament title) to 16 straight years. Heading into the conference tournament, Rice will have the #1 seed and USM the #2 seed.

Notables:

Rice – Fr. RHP Austin Kubitza, W(6-3); 8.1 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, BB, 9 K

So. 2B Michael Ratterree, 7-14, HR, 3 RBI, 4 R

Jr. 1B J.T. Chargois, 7-13, 5 RBI, 2 R

USM – Sr. RF Marc Bourgeois, 5-12, RBI, R

#30 East Carolina at Tulane: Pirate Sweep; Take #3 Seed

#30 East Carolina finished the season on a high note, taking all three from Tulane at Turchin Stadium over the weekend. With the sweep, the Pirates secured the #3 seed in Wednesday’s conference tournament. In game one, junior Mike Wright and senior Brad Mincey combined to hold Tulane to just two hits in ECU’s opening 5-1 win Thursday night. The Pirates got on board in the third inning when Trent Whitehead singled home Corey Thompson who doubled to start the inning, and then scored on an infield single by first baseman John Wooten two batters later. Wright (6-3) went six innings allowing just one run on two hits and three walks while striking out three. Mincey picked up the three-inning save without allowing a hit.

The Pirates cruised to a victory in Friday’s game two, winning 6-2 to clinch the series. Seth Manness (8-3) went six innings allowing just one unearned run on four hits to pick up the win. Leftfielder Ben Fultz went 3-5 with a double and two runs batted in while catcher Zach Wright hit his team leading thirteenth homerun of the season.

Saturday’s season finale was anything but easy for the Pirates however, as the Greenwave scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game, before ECU would score in the top of the eleventh to win 7-6. Down 6-2 in the bottom of the ninth, the Greenwave loaded the bases to start the inning before Pirates’ closer Seth Simmons came into the game in relief of Joe Hughes. Third baseman Brennan Middleton singled to score a run and, after Nick Boullosa struck out, pinch hitter Blake Crohan skied a sac fly to center. With some heads-up base running, Garret Cannizaro advanced to third on the throw home, while Middleton advanced from first to second. This left first base open, allowing the Pirates to intentionally walk catcher Jeremy Schaffer, Tulane’s best hitter. With the bases loaded, leftfielder Nick Schneeberger bounced a ground rule double down the right field line to tie up the game. With the game tied in the top of the eleventh, Corey Thompson singled home the winning run in the form of shortstop Jack Reinheimer. Brad Mincey tossed a scoreless bottom of the inning to pick up his second save of the series.

It was ECU’s first ever series sweep over Tulane. With the win, the Pirates will face off against #6 seed Houston.

Notables:

ECU – Fr. LF Ben Fultz, 6-13, 3B, 2 2B, 3 RBI, R, SB

Jr. 3B Corey Thompson, 5-10, HR, 2B, 3 RBI, 4 R, 3 BB

TUL – Jr. 1B Nick Schneeberger, 5-12, 2B, 3 RBI

Marshall at UCF: Knights Take Two of Three

Despite being eliminated from the post-season, the Marshall thundering Herd were determined to give the UCF Knights all they could handle, but ultimately succumbed to the Knights, dropping the series 2-1. It was all Thundering Herd in the opener, however, as freshmen Aaron Blair and Josh King combined to shut-out the UCF Knights, 6-0. Blair (2-3), went six innings allow three hits and four walks with six strike outs, while King picked up the three-inning save allowing just one hit. Four-hole hitter Rhett Stafford went 3-4 with a homerun and 2 RBI.

The Knights evened up the series in game two, winning a back-and-forth game 13-10. The lead switched hands six times and the Herd scored four runs to take a 10-7 lead in the top of the eighth. But the Knights strung together six runs in the bottom of the inning to get back on top 13-10. The Herd used seven different pitchers while UCF pitchers combined for a total 15 strike outs. Knights Travis Shreve and Beau Taylor each had three hits while Erik Hempe continues his hot streak hitting his sixth homerun of the year. Victor Gomez had a four hit day for the Herd.

The Knights took the series finale 8-1 thanks to a career-day from senior starter Chase Bradford and five homeruns from his offense. Bradford (6-1), in his final regular season start, went seven innings scattering seven hits and a run while walking none and striking out a career-high nine batters. Ronnie Richardson, Beau Taylor, Darrell Sweeney and Jonathan Griffin (twice) each hit homeruns.

UCF will face #5 Memphis in the opening game of Conference USA pool play Wednesday.

Notables:

MAR – Sr. 1B Victor Gomez, 7-12, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 2 R

UCF – So. 1B Jonathan Griffin, 5-13, 2 HR, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 2 R

Sr. RHP Chase Bradford, W(6-1); 7 IP, 7 H, ER, 0 BB, 9 K

Houston at Memphis: Tigers Win Series 2-1

The Memphis Tigers took two of three from visiting Houston to wrap-up regular season play this weekend at FedEx Park. The Tigers came back from down 3-0 to beat the Cougars 6-3 in Thursday’s opener. Sophomore righty Dan Langfield (3-3) put on one of the best performances so far in his career, tossing a complete game, allowing just two earned runs and striking out eleven. He was helped offensively by five multi-hit performances, including freshman Ford Wilson’s three hit day which included his first career homerun and first career double.

Game two saw another impressive pitching performance as senior lefty Ryan Holland won his first CUSA victory, beating the Cougars 4-0 Friday evening. Holland (5-3) tossed 6.2 shutout innings allowing just two hits and striking out ten despite walking seven. Ben Paullus tossed 2.1 perfect innings of relief, striking out four to pick up his fourth save of the season. The Cougars came back in a big way Saturday afternoon, run-ruling the Tigers 14-0 to wrap-up the regular season. Houston dominated every aspect of this game right from the start. Start Mo Wiley put up his second consecutive solid start. Wiley (4-4) went six shut-out innings allowing just four hits and striking out three. Six Cougar hitters had multi-hit games, with first baseman M.P. Cokinos going 3-5 with a double, homerun and four RBI. Shortstop Chase Jensen went 2-3 with 3 RBI and freshman Landon Appling hit the first homerun of his career as part of a 2-4, 3 RBI day.

The Cougars will take on #3 seed East Carolina in the opening round of the CUSA tournament while Memphis plays UCF.

Notables:

HOU – Fr. CF Landon Appling, 4-11, HR, 2B, 3 RBI, 2 R, SB

MEM – So. RHP Dan Langfield, W(3-3); CG, 10 H, 2 ER, BB, 11 K

UAB at Utah: Blazers, Utes Split

UAB split their two-game set with Utah over the weekend, losing 3-2 in Friday’s opener but coming back to win 6-4 in Saturday’s game two. The Blazers will play #1 Rice in the opener of CUSA pool play.