CUSA Weekend Preview (May 15th-17th)

This is it, the final weekend of the regular season for CUSA baseball. The regular season title comes down to Rice and UAB. At 20-7, Rice sits one game ahead of UAB who is 19-8 in conference. Rice swept UAB earlier in the year so they would win any sort of tie-breaker. Southern Miss could tie Rice with three wins this weekend, but Rice holds the head-to-head tie breaker over them as well.

There are now seven teams in the conference with 30 or more wins. Those teams include Rice (34), UAB (34), FIU (34), Old Dominion (31), UTSA (31), Southern Miss (30), and East Carolina (30).

In the latest NCBWA Poll, UAB jumped into the top 30 for the first time this year coming in at number 30. Rice moved up one spot coming in at number 17. No one else in the conference received any votes this week.

There are 13 teams in CUSA this year, but only eight of them will make it to the conference tournament, which will be held in Hattiesburg, Miss. May 21-25. This season the conference tournament will be double-elimination—unlike the round-robin tournament CUSA has held in the past.

Six teams have already punched their ticket to the tournament. These include Rice, UAB, Southern Miss, Old Dominion, FIU, and UTSA. East Carolina and MTSU currently sit in the seventh and eighth spots with 14 wins, while Florida Atlantic still has hope with 12 wins and three games left to play.

With that, let’s get into the matchups.

 UAB (19-8, 34-17) @ Florida Atlantic (12-15, 26-24)

UAB comes into this matchup ranked 30th in the country, but coming off a disappointing 1-run, mid-week loss to SEC-foe Auburn that snapped their 10-game winning streak. However, since being swept by Rice, they’ve swept their past three CUSA series. If they can do that again this weekend they’ll assert themselves as a team that deserves to be in the postseason regardless of what they do in the tournament. Chase Mallard continued his dominance throwing a complete game 2-hit shutout against Tulane last weekend. He’s 9-1 with a 1.12 ERA over 96 innings with 87 strikeouts this season.

FAU is trying to hold on and earn a spot in the conference tournament. They’ll need to sweep UAB and hope either East Carolina or MTSU gets swept, or at least loses two games. They took 2-out-3 from Old Dominion in their last CUSA weekend series and beat FIU during the week. Brendon Sanger is hitting .324 for the Owls with 2 home runs and 27 RBIs. On the pitching side, Austin Gomber has a 3.41 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 71.1 innings. FAU ranks sixth in average (.270) and sixth in pitching (3.27) in the conference.

Thursday, 5:30 p.m. CT (cancelled)
Friday, Game 1: 12 p.m.; Game 2 5:30 p.m. CT
Saturday, 10 a.m. CT

Marshall (10-16, 20-28) @ MTSU (14-13, 27-25)

Marshall sealed their fate last weekend when they were swept by Old Dominion. Now they’ll be looking to spoil MTSU’s season by trying to keep them out of the conference tournament.

On the other hand, MTSU will be looking to secure its spot in the conference tournament with two wins over Marshall this weekend. Also, a win and a loss by FAU would punch their ticket to the tournament. MTSU is coming off a huge weekend series win over FIU that put them in this position. Zac Curtis tossed a complete game 2-hit shutout against FIU last weekend, striking out eight in the process. On the season Curtis is 7-3 with a 1.81 ERA in 99.1 innings with 118 strikeouts. Trent Miller has carried the offense with a .340 average, 5 home runs and 42 RBIs.

Thursday, 7 p.m. ET
Friday, 7 p.m. ET
Saturday, 2 p.m. ET

UTSA (15-12, 31-22) @ East Carolina (14-13, 30-23)

UTSA’s spot in the conference tournament is clinched, but their seeding is still to be determined. They could finish as high as third and as low as eighth, and ECU is one of those teams it will be battling for seeding as they are one game apart in the standings. UTSA lost 2-out-of-3 to Rice last weekend and dropped their mid-week game to Baylor so they’ll be looking to get things back on track before the tournament. They remain fourth in the conference in average (.280) and fourth in ERA (2.82). Mike Warren is hitting .335 on the season with 4 home runs and 43 RBIs. RJ Perucki is hitting .320 with 3 home runs and 38 RBIs. Brock Hartson is 6-2 with a 2.18 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 86.2 innings, while Nolan Trabanino is 7-3 with a 2.73 ERA in 66 innings.
ECU also lost 2-out-of-3 last weekend, but they lost to Southern Miss. They were also swept the weekend before that, meaning they’ve lost five of their last six CUSA games. However, they are without their stud ace in Jeff Hoffman. ECU ranks fifth in average (.275) and in pitching (2.99 ERA) in the conference. Zach Houchins is hitting .353 with 3 home runs and 22 RBIs, while Drew Reynolds is hitting .324 with 28 runs scored. Reid Love (4-3, 2.91 ERA) is being asked to fill the shoes of Hoffman as the team’s Friday night starter and staff ace.

Thursday, 6 p.m. ET (cancelled)
Friday, Game 1: 1 p.m. CT; 6 p.m. ET
Saturday, 11 a.m. ET

La Tech (5-22, 15-32) @ Rice (20-7, 34-17)

La Tech proved it was the worst team in CUSA this year by getting swept by Charlotte last weekend. They’ll limp into Rice this weekend hoping to salvage something from this season.
Rice needs to win two games to clinch the regular season title—or one win and one UAB loss—which shouldn’t be too difficult for the 17th ranked team in the country. Rice is second in CUSA in average at .287 and second in ERA at 2.57. Rice took 2-out-of-3 from UTSA last weekend, but lost a game in the standings to UAB who swept Tulane making this weekend rather interesting. As mentioned, they swept UAB in the regular season so they own any tiebreaker and look good to get the top seed in the tournament. John Clay Reeves is hitting .341 for the Owls with 5 home runs and 32 RBIs, Shane Hoelscher is hitting .348, while Skyler Ewing is hitting .317 with 7 home runs, 42 RBIs and 44 runs scored. Blake Fox is 10-0 this year with a 1.52 ERA.

Thursday, 6:30 CT
Friday, 6:30 CT
Saturday, 1 p.m. CT

Southern Miss (17-10, 30-22) @ Charlotte (9-17, 18-29)

Southern Miss lost game one against ECU last weekend but bounced-back nicely to pick up the series win. They enter this weekend with a chance to win 20 conference games and at least be tied for the regular season title. Two wins would guarantee them no lower than a third seed in the conference tournament. One win guarantees them no lower than a six seed. Matt Durst leads the Golden Eagles with 5 home runs, 35 RBIs and a .279 batting average. Christian Talley threw a complete game against ECU last weekend allowing just 1 run, while striking out 10. On the year Talley has a 2.44 ERA and 69 strikeouts over 73.2 innings. Friday night starter, Conor Fisk, is 5-2 with a 2.69 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 77 innings.

Charlotte has had a rough season, but they’ve made some strides at the end of the year with a sweep over La Tech last weekend. They’ve won 10 of their last 15 games and will try to build upon that success against Southern Miss this weekend. All of their starters have an ERA under four: Brock Hudgens (3.27), Corey Roberts (3.28) and Ryan Butler (3.84). Hudgens has struck out 61 in 71.2 innings.

Friday, 1 p.m.
Friday, 4 p.m.
Saturday, 11 a.m.

FIU (15-12, 34-16) @ Tulane (8-17, 21-28)

FIU was only able to salvage one game against MTSU last weekend, hurting their chances of making the NCAA tournament. However, they are securely in the CUSA tournament, but their seeding remains to be determined. They currently sit tied for fifth but could finish as high as third and as low as eighth. As they’ve done almost all season, they lead the conference in average (.292) and ERA (2.26). Despite a rough outing last weekend, Mike Franco remains one of the best pitchers in CUSA this season with an ERA of 1.12, 8 wins, and 100 strikeouts in 88.2 innings. Cody Crouse (2.36 ERA) and Chris Mourelle (1.70 ERA) have been the other leaders of FIU’s top-ranked pitching staff. On offense, Aramis Garcia has been the leader all year with a .353 average, 7 home runs and 35 RBIs, but has been out of the lineup because of injury the past few weeks. Josh Anderson, who has a .308 average, 5 home runs and 41 RBIs, will try to fill in for the loss.

Any hope Tulane had was shattered last weekend when they were swept by UAB. They’ll look to get some frustration out against CUSA new-comer FIU this weekend. The Green Wave starting pitching staff has put up some good numbers. Corey Merrill has a 3.18 ERA in nine starts, Randy LeBlanc has a 2.60 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 83 innings, and Tyler Mapes has a 2.44 ERA in 73.2 innings.

Thursday, 6:30 p.m. CT
Friday, 6:30 p.m. CT
Saturday, 1 p.m. CT

LIU (24-23-1) @ Old Dominion (17-13, 31-21)

Old Dominion is locked into a tournament spot and will now sit back and see what their seeding will be. They can finish no higher than third, but as low as eighth. They’ll get prepared for the conference tournament with three games this weekend against out of conference-foe Long Island. Old Dominion’s offense is third in CUSA with a .286 average and first in runs scored with 311. Nick Walker leads that offense with a .329 average. Josiah Burney is hitting .315 with a team-high 6 home runs to go along with 39 RBIs. Andy Roberts has been the team’s best starter with an ERA of 3.20 in 13 starts.

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

You can follow Jake Mastroianni on Twitter @ShortStopBall.