Coming off an impressive series win over Kennesaw State, the UAB baseball team will head to Omaha, Neb. where they’ll face off against Creighton (6-4) in a 3-game series at TD Ameritrade Park, which is the home of the men’s College World Series.
When I interviewed head coach Brian Shoop at the beginning of the year about playing at the home of the College World Series, this is what he had to say, “It will be very neat for our players to play at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. We would love to play there in June in the future. I know not many mid-majors make it there, but we feel like over the past five years we’ve made a lot of progress and have a chance to play there in June one day.”
This should definitely be a real treat for the players this weekend. As someone who has been to the College World Series before, it’s a unique place with a lot of history.
Still, there is a task at hand this weekend as the Blazers have their final tune-up before conference play begins.
As coach Shoop also pointed out in that interview, Creighton is a high-RPI team that is picked to win the Big East, so this will be another difficult challenge for this young Blazers baseball team.
The Blue Jays are an experienced team with 23 juniors and seniors. They return its top seven hitters from a year ago, and all three of its weekend rotation starters, as well as their closer.
Last year they won 32 games, but lost by a run in the Big East title game, missing out on the postseason.
This year the Blue Jays got off to a disappointing start to the season losing their first three games. They then won six in a row before a mid-week loss to Kansas State on Wednesday.
Creighton is batting .265 as team led by Daniel Woodrow at the top of the lineup with a .378 average and a team-high 7 stolen bases. Shortstop Nicky Lopez is leading the team with 8 runs scored, while hitting .300 through their first 10 games.
The Blue Jays are averaging 4.9 runs per game, but the production is spread throughout the lineup as their top RBI guy is Matt Gandy with seven. They’re also not going to hit a lot of home runs as they only have one on the season, and their top home run hitter from a year ago, Ryan Fitzgerald, hit just four in 2015.
The pitching staff has been the biggest bright spot for Creighton so far this year with a team ERA of 3.03. Rollie Lacy is the team’s ace after posting a 2.66 ERA in 74.1 innings with 47 strikeouts a year ago, while this season he is 2-1 with a 2.40 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 15 innings.
Matt Warren will follow Lacy in the rotation with a 3.14 ERA in 14.1 innings with 5 strikeouts. Last year Warren went 5-2 with a 2.83 ERA in 60.1 innings with 37 strikeouts. Keith Rogalla has been the team’s Sunday starter the first three weekends, but he’s struggled to the tune of a 9.90 ERA in 10 innings with just 3 strikeouts. Last year Rogalla had a 3.66 ERA in 59 innings pitched with 37 strikeouts.
If the Blue Jays get a lead they’ll turn to their closer David Gerber who picked up 9 saves a season ago and had a 1.69 ERA in 32 innings with 30 strikeouts. This season he has already picked up 2 saves and has given up just 1 earned run in 4.1 innings with 3 strikeouts.
As you can see, this isn’t a pitching staff that’s going to rack up the strikeouts. They’re going to let the hitters put the ball in play and rely on their experienced defense. They’ve committed just nine errors all season and given up just 8 unearned runs, compared to UAB’s 20 errors this year and 18 unearned runs (UAB has played one more game).
It’s fairly obvious that the key for the Blazers will be to limit the walks and errors, and capitalize on opportunities with runners on base. UAB isn’t a terrible strikeout team, so I expect them to put the ball in play and force the Blue Jays to make plays on defense. The Blazers will also need to try and get a lead early, because Creighton’s bullpen has been lights out.
As for the Blazers, Griffin Gum continues to lead the team with a .316 average, but the senior was lifted in the Saturday game against Kennesaw State and was limited to pinch-hitting duties on Sunday, so we’ll see if he’s 100 percent for the weekend.
Evan Peterson is behind him with a .300 average and a team-high .533 on-base-percentage. Carter Pharis leads the team with 10 RBIs, while Brewer Hicklen is the team leader in runs with 10 and home runs with two.
Much like Creighton, pitching is the key for the Blazers as they boast a 3.60 staff ERA. Ryan Ruggles has been the team’s Friday night starter the past couple of weekends as he holds a 3.21 ERA in 14 innings with 11 strikeouts.
Freshman Tanner Graham has really come on the past couple of weeks after a shaky first start and now has a 3.12 ERA in 17.1 innings with 9 punch outs. Adam Lamar has been good of late as well with a 1.42 ERA in 12.2 innings with 8 strikeouts.
Austin Thomas has been great out of the bullpen with a 0.79 ERA and 7 strikeouts in 11.1 innings, while Thomas Lowery has picked up 2 saves and struck out 12 batters in 11 innings. Garrett Whitlock has also been impressive early on with 13 strikeouts in 12.1 innings.
UAB has yet to win a game on the road (0-2), and this will be a big test for them against Creighton, but I believe if they can limit the errors on defense the pitching can contain the Blue Jays’ offense enough to pick up a win or two this weekend.
Weekend Schedule – UAB (6-6) vs. Creighton (6-4):
Friday – 6:30 p.m. CT – TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. (L, 2-1)
Probable Starters: Rollie Lacy (2-1, 2.40, 12 Ks) vs. Ryan Ruggles (1-0, 3.21 ERA, 11 Ks)
Saturday – 2 p.m. CT – TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
Probable Starters: Matt Warren (2-1, 3.14 ERA, 5 Ks) vs. Tanner Graham (1-1, 3.12 ERA, 9 Ks)
Sunday – 12 p.m. CT – TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
Probable Starters: Keith Rogalla (0-1, 9.90 ERA, 3 Ks) vs. Adam Lamar (2-0, 1.42 ERA, 8 Ks)