The UAB Blazers baseball team (4-5) will continue it’s difficult out-of-conference schedule this weekend as they take on Kennesaw State (5-3).
The Owls are just two years removed from a team that won 40 games and advanced to the Super Regionals with first round draft pick Max Pentecost. They took a step back last year and finished the season with a 28-28 record, but they still took two of three from the Blazers a year ago in Kennesaw, Ga.
They return their top hitter average-wise from last year in designated hitter and leadoff man Chris Erwin. In 2015 he hit .332 with 5 home run, 31 runs and 36 RBIs. So far this year – his junior season – he’s hitting .350 with a home run, 7 runs and 7 RBIs.
Sophomore first baseman Austin Upshaw is off to a hot start hitting .423 with a team-high 4 home runs and 7 RBIs. The Blazers have been hurt by the long ball a couple of times this year already, so the pitching staff will have to make sure Upshaw comes to the plate with the bases empty.
Overall, the Owls offense is hitting .314 as a team on the year, while scoring just over 7 runs a game. In comparison, the Blazes are hitting just .250 as a team and scoring 5 runs a game.
On top of being the team’s best hitter, Erwin has also been the Owl’s Friday night starter the past two weekends. We’ll see if that continues as he now supports a 10.80 ERA in those first two starts; although he was much better in his last start against Jacksonville State giving up just 2 earned runs in 6 innings with 6 strikeouts.
The team’s best starter through two weekends has been junior Gabe Friese. He’s 1-0 with a 1.86 ERA in 9.2 innings with 9 strikeouts. The team’s Sunday pitcher will most likely be sophomore AJ Moore who is 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 10 innings pitched.
Out of the bullpen junior Richard Lovelady (what a name, right?) has struck out nine batters in 5 innings, while giving up just 1 run. Junior Erich Stahl is the team’s closer as he has already picked up 3 saves on the season and given up just 1 run in 4 innings pitched.
Coming off a big series win over Ohio last weekend, the Blazers were humbled in a rain-shortened game at Samford on Tuesday 13-2, but then bounced back to shutout Troy on Wednesday 7-0.
Other than that hiccup against a very powerful Samford lineup, the UAB pitching staff has been great this year. They boast a solid 3.74 ERA as a team and have struck out 67 batters in 75 innings. The one thing they really need to improve on is the walks as they’ve given up 46 free passes already this year, and you can’t give an offense like the one Kennesaw State possesses free bases.
Junior transfer Austin Thomas has been a nice surprise for the Blazers posting an ERA of 0.79 in 11.1 innings with 7 strikeouts, while only allowing 3 hits. He’ll most likely get the start on Saturday.
Sophomore Ryan Ruggles got beat up in his second start of the season, but he’ll probably get another shot in the rotation this weekend. Freshman Garrett Whitlock might warrant a weekend start after giving up just 1 earned run in his 8.1 innings of work this year with 10 strikeouts.
Junior Dylan Munger has yet to receive a start this year, but he’s only allowed 1 earned run in 5.1 innings with 5 strikeouts. Junior Thomas Lowery has been excellent out of the bullpen as he’s tied with Whitlock for the team lead in strikeouts with 10 in 8 innings of work.
This will be a huge test for the Blazers pitching staff that has really exceeded expectations early in the season. They were able to cool down a very good Ohio offense last week, and now they face another difficult test against the Owls.
Offensively senior Griffin Gum is leading the way with a .364 average through nine games with 7 runs and 7 RBIs. Freshman Carter Pharis has really started to heat up as of late and now leads the team with 8 RBIs, while redshirt freshman Brewer Hicklen is the only Blazer with multiple home runs, and he leads the team with 8 runs scored.
At some point we know senior Esteban Tregallo is going to break out, and when that happens this offense could really take off.
As a team, UAB has done a great job of getting on base as they’re averaging just over 5 walks a game. With a Kennesaw State pitching staff that’s giving up over 4 free passes a game, that could be a key to UAB picking up a couple of wins this weekend.
Weekend Schedule – UAB (4-5) vs. Kennesaw State (5-3):
Friday – 4 p.m. CT – Regions Field (L, 10-6)
Probable Starters: Chris Erwin (1-1, 10.80 ERA, 8 Ks) vs. Ryan Ruggles (1-0, 5.00 ERA, 6 Ks)
Saturday – 1 p.m. CT – Regions Field (W, 4-3)
Probable Starters: Gabe Friese (1-0, 1.86 ERA, 9 Ks) vs. Tanner Graham (0-1, 4.76 ERA, 5 Ks)
Sunday – 1 p.m. CT – Regions Field
Probable Starters: AJ Moore (1-0, 4.50 ERA, 11 Ks) vs. Austin Thomas (0-1, 0.79 ERA, 7 Ks)