Conference USA Weekend Preview (March 14th-16th)

#18 Rice (12-6, 2-1) at #29 FIU (16-1, 3-0)

Friday at 5 p.m. CT (Zech Lemond vs. Mike Franco)

Saturday at 3 p.m. CT (Blake Fox vs. TBA)

Sunday at 10 a.m. CT (Kevin McCanna vs. Robby Kalaf)

The Matchup

Rice won its opening weekend series over Old Dominion, and then during the week they beat Texas A&M Corpus Christi and #27 TCU. The offense has really come on as of late and now owns a combined batting average of .272, scoring just over 5 runs a game. The pitching has been solid as usual with a team ERA of 2.49 in 170 innings.

FIU has been one of the biggest surprises in CUSA this year as their 16-1 record has them ranked #29 nationally. They’re coming off a weekend sweep over CUSA-foe Charlotte and a mid-week win over USF. The offense has been crushing the ball averaging 8.6 runs per game with a team average of .336. The pitching has been equally as good with an ERA of 1.43 in 151 innings with 149 strikeouts.

Players to Watch

On offense for the Owls, you definitely have to keep an eye on Skyler Ewing. He leads the team in hits (26), average (.361), runs (14), home runs (3) and RBIs (21). John Clay Reeves has also been solid with the bat hitting .344. On the pitching side, All-American—and Friday night starter— Zech Lemond is 2-0 with an ERA of 1.02 in 17.2 innings with 22 strikeouts. Blake Fox has been just as impressive with a record of 3-0 and an ERA of 1.09 in four starts (24.2 innings).

Aramis Garcia is coming off Conference Player of the Week honors after hitting three home runs against Charlotte over the weekend. On the season, Garcia is hitting .431 with 28 hits, 5 home runs and 21 RBIs. Josh Anderson has been just as good for FIU with a .431 average as well, to go along with 31 hits and 21 runs scored. Friday night starter, Mike Franco, is 3-0 with an ERA of 1.07 in four starts (25.1 innings) with 28 strikeouts. They have five pitchers that have tossed 16 or more innings with an ERA under two. Other than Franco, that list includes Chris Mourelle (0.79), Cody Crouse (1.04), Mike Ellis (1.93) and Robby Kalaf (0.56).

Quotes:

FIU head coach Turtle Thomas

On early season success:

“We have a fairly good amount of veteran players on this team that have been through the battles for a couple of years and know how to handle the daily grind. We seem to have five good starters pitching-wise as well as a good combination of righty and lefties in our batting order.”

- On playing Rice. Keys to winning the series:

“Not sure if there are any keys to beating Rice. Coach Graham is a tough guy (to beat), someone I’m good friends with and someone I have a ton of respect for. Hopefully we can swing the bat and put some balls in play, limiting the number of strikeouts. They have great fielders and a high fielding percentage. They make all the plays on defense, and they’re really starting to hit the ball. (For us to win) we’ll need to make the right pitches at the right time and make the plays when they put the ball in play.”

– On Aramis Garcia:

He was the Conference Player of the Week last week. He has been solid since game 1 this season hitting for power and average. He’s the type of guy you want playing for you.

- On Friday night starter Mike Franco:

“He’s a great competitor. He’s got three really good pitches and can reach the low 90s with his fastball. He has two shutouts this year, and hopefully he can continue to have a good season as he opens up the series against Rice”

 

Southern Miss (7-10) at Marshall (5-10, 2-1)

Friday at 3:05 p.m. CT (Conor Fisk vs. Josh King)

Saturday at 3:05 p.m. CT (A.J. Glasshof vs. Reid Love)

Sunday at 10:05 a.m. CT (Cameron Giannini vs. Matt Margaritonda)

The Matchup

Southern Miss is coming off a weekend series loss to Missouri and a mid-week loss to South Alabama. The Golden Eagles have struggled on offense this year with a .230 average. Mason Robbins leads the team in hits with 19. The pitching has been decent with an ERA of 3.85. Cameron Giannini has been their best starter with an ERA of 1.42 in four starts (25.1 innings).

Marshall started out CUSA play with a big weekend series win over East Carolina before falling to Morehead State during the week. The Thundering Herd offense has been bad with an average of just .205. Cory Garrastazu is the only Marshall hitter batting over .300, with 16 hits in 46 at-bats. The pitching has been better with a combined ERA of 3.88. Friday night starter Josh King is 2-0 with a 2.95 ERA in four starts.

 

Tulane (9-6, 2-1) at East Carolina (8-9, 1-2)

Friday at 5 a.m. CT (Tyler Mapes vs. Jeff Hoffman)

Saturday at 1 p.m. CT (Randy LeBlanc vs. Reid Love)

Sunday at 12 p.m. CT (Emerson Gibbs vs. Davis Kirkpatrick)

The Matchup

Tulane had a difficult weekend playing out in California losing two out of three in the San Francisco Tournament. They also dropped their mid-week game to #11 UL-Lafayette 7-4. The Green Wave offense is hitting .255, scoring almost 5.5 runs per game. Richard Carthon has been the leader on offense with an average of .373. The pitching staff has a combined ERA of 3.00. Randy LeBlanc has been the team’s best weekend starter so far with an ERA of 2.82 in four starts (22.1 innings) with 21 strikeouts.

ECU dropped its opening CUSA series to Marshall and then lost both mid-week games. The offense has failed to support the pitching as they’re only hitting .236 collectively, while the pitching staff has an ERA of 3.00. The bright spot on offense has been Zach Houchins who has an average of .348 and scored 11 runs. Jeff Hoffman struggled with location in his last outing, but he’s still the one to watch.

 

Charlotte (3-10-1, 0-3) at Middle Tennessee (5-10, 1-2)

Friday at 6 p.m. CT (Ryan Butler vs. Zac Curtis)

Saturday at 4 p.m. CT (Corey Roberts vs. Matt Blackham)

Sunday at 1 p.m. CT (Brock Hudgens vs. Johnathan Frebis)

The Matchup

Charlotte was swept in their first CUSA series by FIU, but came back and won their mid-week game over VCU. The offense is hitting a combined .241, scoring only 3 runs per game. Mikal Hill has been the one bright spot on offense with an average of .370. The pitching staff has an ERA over 4, but Friday night starter Ryan Butler has been solid through 3 starts with an ERA of 1.89.

MTSU won its CUSA opener on the road against UAB, but then dropped the next two. They also lost their mid-week game 2-0 against Tennessee. The MTSU offense is hitting at a .243 clip through 15 games, while the pitching staff has an ERA of 5.50. Trent Miller is the leader on offense with a team-high 19 hits and 10 RBIs. Friday night starter Zac Curtis had his best outing of the year against UAB last weekend as he went 7.2 innings, only allowing 2 runs (1 earned) on just 3 hits and 3 walks, while striking out 10.

 

UAB (14-4, 2-1) at Old Dominion (11-6, 1-2)

Friday at 5 p.m. CT (Chase Mallard vs. Ryan Yarbrough)

Saturday at 2 p.m. CT (Johnny Lieske vs. Tommy Alexander)

Saturday at 10 a.m. CT (Alex Luna vs. Andy Roberts)

The Matchup

The UAB Blazers have been on fire this year and it continued into CUSA play as they won the weekend series over MTSU. During the week, they split a double-header against Jacksonville State. The offense has been good scoring almost six runs a game, while hitting at a .283 clip. Chase Davis has been the offensive leader with a .352 average, 18 runs scored, 12 RBIs and 5 stolen bases. The pitching has been exceptional, with a 2.78 ERA in 162 innings with 168 strikeouts. Chase Mallard and Alex Luna both have ERAs under 1 through 4 starts each.

Old Dominion avoided a weekend sweep against Rice by pulling out an extra innings victory in game three of the series. They then swept a two-game series over VMI during the week. The offense has hit the ball well with a .279 average, putting up just over 6 runs a game. P.J. Higgins has 27 hits in 79 at-bats, crossing the plate 14 times. The staff has a 3.11 ERA. Andy Roberts has been their best starter with an ERA of 2.70 in four starts (20 innings).

 

Louisiana Tech (6-10, 1-2) at Florida Atlantic (12-6, 1-2)

Friday at 5:35 p.m. CT (Adam Derouen vs. Austin Gomber)

Saturday at 3 p.m. CT (Phil Maton vs. Jeremy Strawn)

Sunday at 12 p.m. CT (Richie Navari vs. Drew Jackson)

The Matchup

La Tech started CUSA play early losing a weekend series to Tulane in the second weekend of the season. Last weekend they managed one win over SEC-foe Texas A&M before beating Grambling State during the week. The offense is hitting .247 in 16 games, putting up right at 4 runs per game. Taylor Love leads the team in hits (19), average (.345) and runs (10). Tyler Ervine has 3 home runs and 15 RBIs. The pitching has been knocked around with an ERA of 5.83. Richie Navari has been a bright spot with a record of 3-0 and an ERA of 1.61 in 28 innings.

FAU had to start CUSA play on the road and dropped the series two games to one to UTSA. They then went on to split two mid-week games against Maine. The offense has been strong with a .299 average, putting up 5.6 runs per game. Stephen Kerr is hitting .388 with 15 runs scored, while Brendon Sanger is hitting .371 with the same amount of runs scored. The pitching has done its part with a 2.67 ERA, striking out 157 batters in 162 innings. Weekend starters Jeremy Strawn and Drew Jackson both have an ERA just under 2.50, but Austin Gomber has been better as of late and has struck out 26 batters in 22 innings.

 

UTSA (12-5, 2-1)-Columbia (4-4)

Friday at 6 p.m. CT (Brock Hartson vs. David Speer)

Saturday at 1 p.m. CT (Nolan Trabanino vs. Joey Donino)

Saturday at 4:30 p.m. CT (Logan Onda vs. Thomas Crispi)

Sunday at 1 p.m. CT (Justin Anderson vs. Kevin Roy)