Conference USA Weekend Preview (May 9th-11th)

There are only two weeks left in the CUSA regular season and things are heating up atop the standings. As of now Rice sits in first place with 18 wins, but UAB is right behind them with 16, and Southern Miss is hanging in there with 15 wins.

Overall there are seven teams (Rice, UAB, Southern Miss, FIU, UTSA, ECU and ODU) with winning conference records, and four teams (Rice, UAB, FIU and UTSA) with 30 or more regular season wins.

In the latest NCBWA Top 30 Poll, Rice is the only team ranked, sitting in the number 18 spot; however, FIU and UAB both received votes in this week’s poll.

In other CUSA news, ECU starter and top pitching prospect Jeff Hoffman will undergo season-ending surgery next week. Hoffman, who was projected to go in the first round at the start of the college baseball season, is just a junior and could come back for one more year to prove himself healthy before going pro. Either way, we all hope the best for Jeff and hope he gets back to pitching soon.

East Carolina (13-11, 28-21) @ Southern Miss (15-9, 28-21)

ECU is coming off a devastating series sweep handed to them by FIU that pretty much took them out of the regular season title. Worse than that, as mentioned above, their staff ace is out for the rest of the season. Their offense ranks fifth in average at .276, while their pitching is fifth as well with an ERA of 2.98. Zach Houchins is hitting .343 with 2 home runs and 20 RBIs. Tyler Bolton (2.35 ERA) and Reid Love (2.73 ERA) will try to make up for the loss of Hoffman from the rotation.
Southern Miss is also coming off a disappointing series in which they lost 2-of-3 against Tulane, which knocked them down to third in the standings. However, they’re just three games back of the leader with six games left, so they have hope. Matt Durst is hitting .291 with 5 home runs and 35 RBIs for the Golden Eagles. Conor Fisk leads the starting rotation with a 2.57 ERA, 5 wins and 73 strikeouts in 70 innings.

Friday, 7 p.m. ET
Saturday, 3 p.m. ET
Sunday, 12 p.m. ET

Rice (18-6, 32-15) @ UTSA (14-10, 30-19)

Rice was off last week as they prepare to defend their CUSA crown with six conference games left. They’re up two in the standings and have won eight of their last nine conference games. They rank second in the conference in average at .287 as well as seconding in pitching with a 2.56 ERA. Skyler Ewing is hitting .320 on the season with 7 home runs and 39 RBIs. Zech Lemond is traveling with the team this weekend, but it’s not clear if he’ll make his return to the rotation or not. Blake Fox has picked up the slack with Lemond out as he has a 9-0 record to go along with a 1.42 ERA in 76 innings.
UTSA bounced-back with a weekend series win over MTSU last weekend to boost their stock in the CUSA standings. They’re fourth in average (.281) and they’re third in ERA (2.66) in the conference. They’ve already won 30 games, but a weekend series win over a ranked opponent could go a long way in padding their postseason resume. Mike Warren is hitting .337 with 4 home runs and 42 RBIs, while pitcher Brock Hartson is 5-2 with a 2.20 ERA in 77.2 innings with 65 strikeouts.

Friday, 6 p.m. CT
Saturday, 2 p.m. CT
Sunday, 1 p.m. CT

Old Dominion (14-13, 28-20) @ Marshall (10-13, 20-25)

ODU suffered a minor setback last weekend when they dropped two games against FAU, but they still have a winning record in the conference and are two wins away from 30 for the season. This will be their last CUSA series of the season so they could use a couple of wins to try and up their seed in the conference tournament. They’re third in the conference in batting average at .283, and seventh in ERA at 3.56. Josiah Burney is hitting .313 with 6 home runs and 36 RBIs.
Marshall is coming off a series win over La Tech that will at least give them a chance to finish with a decent record in the conference. They have six CUSA games left including this weekend’s series against ODU. They have to win five of those to guarantee a winning record in conference. Their offense, which is 12th in average at .238, will need to pick it up against a decent ODU pitching staff. Their pitching staff has a season-long ERA just under 4 at 3.92.

Friday, 1 p.m. ET
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

Middle Tennessee (12-15, 24-24) @ FIU (14-10, 33-13)

MTSU suffered a tough weekend series loss to UTSA last weekend, putting them a step back in the standings. A series win over FIU would help boost their position in the middle of the pack in the standings. The MTSU offense is hitting .263 on the year with a staff ERA of 4.33. Trent Miller remains on fire with a .351 average to go along with 5 home runs and 37 RBIs. Zac Curtis was able to get his ERA under 2 at 1.99 to go along with a team-high 6 wins, 90.1 innings pitched and 110 strikeouts.

FIU had a huge sweep over ECU last weekend to move them towards the top of the standings and give them some good wins for their postseason resume. FIU leads the conference in overall wins with 33, but their sitting 4th in the conference with 14 wins. As they have almost all season, they lead the league in hitting (.294) and pitching (1.94). Aramis Garcia is hitting .353 with 7 home runs and 35 RBIs. Josh Anderson is having a good season at the plate as well with 5 home runs and 40 RBIs. Mike Franco may be racking up a lot of awards at the end of the season as he’s 8-2 with a 0.96 ERA in 84.2 innings with 96 strikeouts.

Friday, 6 p.m. ET
Saturday, 4 p.m. ET
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

Tulane (8-14, 21-25) @ UAB (16-8, 31-16)

Tulane is coming off an upset series win over Southern Miss and will try to do the same against UAB this weekend. The Green Wave are not looking good with just 8 conference wins, but they’re not out of it yet with six conference games left. The offense has been a problem all season as they’re last in average at .231, which is not going to be good going up against UAB’s pitching staff. Tyler Mapes has been great on the pitching side of things though with a 2.53 ERA in 67.2 innings.

UAB took advantage of Charlotte last weekend with a fairly easy, much-needed sweep, which put them two games behind Rice for the top spot in the standings. As mentioned, UAB’s pitching has been great all season and they rank fourth in the conference with a 2.78 ERA. That staff has been led by Chase Mallard who is 8-1 with a 1.24 ERA in 87 innings with 82 strikeouts. Alex Luna has been impressive as well with a 6-0 record and 1.55 ERA in 12 starts.

Friday, 6:30 p.m. CT
Saturday, 2 p.m. CT
Sunday, 1 p.m. CT

Charlotte (6-17, 14-29) @ La Tech (5-19, 15-29)

Charlotte had been playing good baseball until getting swept by UAB. They’ll look to bounce-back against La Tech this weekend and try to finish this CUSA season strong. Charlotte’s offense has been decent with a season-long .250 average, while the pitching staff has an ERA of 3.93.
La Tech dropped 2-of-3 from Marshall last weekend and they’ll battle Charlotte this weekend to see who will finish in the CUSA basement. Pitching has been detrimental for the Bulldogs this year as they’re last in the conference with an ERA of 4.68. Taylor Love (.323) and Ryan Jones (.308) are both hitting over .300 on the season. Richie Navari has been one of the few bright spots on the pitching staff with a 2.11 ERA in 81 innings.

Friday, 6 p.m. CT
Saturday, 3 p.m. CT
Sunday, 1 p.m. CT

You can follow Jake Mastroianni on Twitter @ShortStopBall.