Our Conference USA recap is courtesy of John Lockwood. Thanks, John!
#4 UCF 6 – #8 UAB 4
For 117 pitches, UAB hurler Dillon Napoleon was nearly flawless. On his 118th offering to the plate, however, UCF first baseman Jonathan Griffin sent the recently appointed Conference USA Newcomer of the Year to the bench and turned a 4-3 deficit into a two-run lead as the Knights defeated the Blazers 6-4 in day two of the 2011 C-USA Baseball Championship sponsored by Trustmark Thursday morning at Trustmark Park.
With the win, UCF improved to 38-20 on the year and 2-0 in Pod 1 action. The Knights are now in the driver’s seat to earn the championship’s first berth in Saturday’s title game. UCF’s victory coupled with a Memphis win over Rice in game two of today’s action would give the Knights their first trip to the C-USA finals. If the Owls – who lost to UAB on Wednesday, 9-8 – defeat the Tigers, the winner of Friday’s Rice/UCF contest will earn the title-game berth.
UAB, meanwhile, fell to 29-27 and will close out its 2011 season tomorrow against Memphis. First pitch of that ballgame is slated for 9 a.m. No matter what the Blazers do on Friday, they have been mathematically eliminated from title game contention.
Griffin was one of three UCF players to post two-hit performances for the Knights, joining third baseman Derek Luciano and shortstop Darnell Sweeney. Nick Cicio (3-2) picked up the win for UCF after giving up just one hit while striking out a pair in 3.0 shutout inning of relief. Joe Rogers earned his ninth save of the season after fanning a pair and giving up just one hit in the ninth.
#1 Rice 8 – #5 Memphis 5
In the face of adversity, the cream often rises to the top. Taking the field with its backs already against the wall with an 0-1 postseason record to date and then falling behind 5-0 following the first inning, top-seeded and regular-season co-champion Rice University bounced back in a big way with an 8-5 come-from-behind victory over fifth-seeded Memphis Thursday afternoon in day two of the 2011 Conference USA Baseball Championship sponsored by Trustmark at Trustmark Park.
The Owls scored one in the fourth, three in the sixth and rang up a pair of runs in both the seventh and ninth innings to keep their hopes alive of advancing to the C-USA title game for the third consecutive season and the fifth time in six years as a league member dating back to 2006. With the win, Rice improved to 39-19 and will battle UCF on Friday at 12:30 p.m. The winner of that ballgame will win Pool 1 and advance to Saturday’s championship contest.
Memphis, meanwhile, fell to 29-27 on the year and 0-2 in Pool 1 action. The Tigers will close out their 2011 season tomorrow with a 9 a.m. showdown against UAB.
Designated hitter Michael Ratterree and left fielder Ryan Lewis led a 14-hit Rice attack with three hits apiece while first baseman J.T. Chargois, second baseman Anthony Rendon and catcher Craig Manuel tallied a pair of hits each. The Tigers finished the day with a double-digit hit total as well, but had just seven over the final eight innings.
#3 ECU 4 – #7 Tulane 2 (F/11)
It was a game that featured outstanding pitching, high drama and a pair of extra innings. And while Tulane might look back and remember it as a game of missed opportunities, East Carolina will recall a clutch, two-run double by third baseman Corey Thompson as the Pirates defeated the Green Wave 4-2 in 11 innings in day two of the 2011 Conference USA Baseball Championship sponsored by Trustmark at Trustmark Park.
With the score knotted at 2-2 with two on and one away in the top of what proved to be the final frame, Thompson ripped a first-pitch offering from Green Wave reliever Nick Pepitone into the gap in left centerfield to provide the winning margin. Tulane had a chance to potentially tie things up in the home half of the inning with a pair of runners in scoring position and only one out, Pirates reliever Kevin Brant pitched his way out of the jam by retiring the next two men he faced to spark the ECU celebration.
In victory, East Carolina improved to 38-19 and remains in contention for one of the spots in Saturday’s C-USA Championship title game. The Pirates will need Southern Miss to defeat Houston in Thursday’s nightcap and win over the Golden Eagles tomorrow in a game slated for 7:30 p.m.
Tulane, meanwhile, fell to 30-26 on the year and 0-2 in Pool 2 action. The Green Wave will conclude the 2011 season on Friday with a 4 p.m. contest against Houston.
Brandt (7-3) picked up the win out of the bullpen after giving up just one run on three hits and a trio of walks while fanning three in 4.1 innings of relief. He came on for starter Mike Wright, who gave up a run on five hits and two walks while striking out four in 6.2 solid frames.
#6 Houston 7 – #2 Southern Miss 6 (F/14)
The final second-day game of the 2011 Conference USA Baseball Championship turned out to be an old-fashioned staring contest. With second-seeded and regular-season co-champion Southern Miss standing nose-to-nose with No. 6 seed Houston, the Golden Eagles and Cougars shrugged off the urge to blink through 25 hits, 18 strikeouts and five pitching changes over the course of four hours and 43 minutes.
Following several eye-twitching moments, however, it was the Golden Eagles who blinked first as Cougar second baseman dropped down an RBI-bunt single in the bottom of the 14th to lift Houston to a 7-6 victory at Trustmark Park. The game was the second extra-inning contest of the evening and establish a league championship record for frames played – breaking the former mark of 11 originally set by South Florida and Louisville in 2001 and tied by Tulane/East Carolina earlier in the day.
With the win, the Cougars improve to 27-30 and punched their ticket to the C-USA Championship title game on Saturday. Before then, Houston will close out pool play on Friday with a 4 p.m. showdown with Tulane. Southern Miss, meanwhile, falls to 39-16 and will conclude its run in the C-USA Championship tomorrow against East Carolina. First pitch for that ballgame is slated for 7:30 p.m.
With the score knotted at 6-all after 13 innings, Houston catcher John Cannon got things going for the Cougars in what proved to be the final stanza by reaching on a two-base leadoff error. One out later, centerfielder Ryan Appling singled to right to move Cannon 90 feet closer to home, before Still squared up a first-pitch offering from Southern Miss reliever Collin Cargill.