The UAB baseball team (6-11) comes into the first weekend of conference play in the midst of a 5-game losing streak, but they can change all that by taking care of business against Louisiana Tech this weekend at Regions Field.
The Blazers went on the road and lost three really close games to Creighton, and then lost a couple of mid-week games to 8th ranked Ole Miss. The offense has scored a total of 7 runs during their current 5-game losing streak.
We knew this team would be young, but it’s time for them to blossom as conference play begins. They’ve faced some very difficult out-of-conference opponents as the combined record of the teams UAB has faced this year is 79-51. Only two of the eight teams that UAB has faced has a losing record – Ohio and Kennesaw State – and the Blazers won both of those series.
So the Blazers are battle tested and ready for anything they see in Conference USA. I believe they have the talent and ability to turn this whole thing around and make a run to the conference championship. It all starts this weekend against La Tech.
The Bulldogs (9-4) come in with a very impressive preseason resume as they picked up wins over 12th ranked Arkansas and 6th ranked (at the time) UL Lafayette during mid-week games, and lost a close 6-3 game to 6th ranked LSU.
Last year La Tech finished the season with a record of 25-27 and only won eight conference games, missing out on the Conference USA Tournament. UAB took 2-out-of-3 against them in Ruston, La. last year.
A couple of junior college transfers in Raphael Gladu and Sean Ullrich are leading the offense for La Tech. Gladu is hitting .463 with 10 runs and 9 RBIs, while Ullrich is hitting .383 with 15 runs scored.
Sophomore catcher Brent Diaz is one of the best backstops in the league, and he’s not too bad at the plate either with a .316 average. Chandler Hall leads the team with 2 home runs, but they only have five as a team.
The offense has been very good through their first 13 games with a combined average of .315, while putting up 7.4 runs a game. They also only strike out 15 percent of the time.
The pitching has been solid as well with a 3.74 ERA, and they’re averaging over a strikeout an inning as a staff with 118 punch outs in 113 innings pitched.
Phillip Diehl has been the team’s Friday night starter as of late. He only started three games a year ago and posted an 8.74 ERA in those outings. He’s been much better this year with a 1.23 ERA in 4 games (3 stars) with 20 strikeouts in 14.2 innings pitched.
Braden Bristo also returns to the rotation this year after making 6 starts a year ago. In 2016 he’s 2-1 with a 5.28 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 15.1 innings. Tyler Clancy started 14 games for La Tech a year ago and won 6 games with a 4.99 ERA. He’s started 4 games so far this year and is 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 21 innings.
They’re third in the conference in hitting, and sixth in pitching so this is a very balanced team that has a chance of finishing in the top four in the conference.
For UAB to win this series they are going to have to play their best baseball to date, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Blazers picked up a pair of wins this weekend.
They have the pitching to slow down the Bulldog offense as they’re third in the conference with an ERA of 3.32. However, the pitching doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts with just 96 in 130 innings, so the defense will need to help them out, which has been a problem as they’re last in the conference in fielding percentage with 24 errors.
Ryan Ruggles has been UAB’s Friday night starter with an ERA of 3.15 in 4 starts with 14 strikeouts in 20 innings. Freshman Tanner Graham will most likely follow him up with his 3.68 ERA in 22 innings.
Adam Lamar, Austin Thomas or Garrett Whitlock could be in line for the Sunday game. Lamar has started 4 games already this season and has a 2.08 ERA in 21.2 innings. Thomas has a 2.60 ERA in 17.1 innings, while Whitlock has a 2.95 ERA in 18.1 innings with a team-high 19 strikeouts.
Dylan Munger has been solid in 7 appearances out of the bullpen with a microscopic 0.69 ERA in 13 innings with 15 strikeouts. He could make a case for the rotation at some point too.
Put pitching is not what has plagued the Blazers so far this season, it’s been the offense. As a team UAB is hitting just .217 on the year and averaging just 3.8 runs per game – both are last in the conference. A lot of that has to do with the fact they’ve run into some great pitching, but it also has a lot to do with the fact they’re starting three freshman in their lineup.
Seniors Griffin Gum (.281), Evan Peterson (.259) and Esteban Tresgallo (.239) have the three best averages on the team. The young kids are simply still trying to adjust to Division 1 baseball, and understandably it’s taking some time.
If the offense can just score 4 or 5 runs a game the pitching staff is good enough to give them a chance to win.
I really believe coach Shoop will get his team ready for conference play, and look for this team to start making improvements this weekend against La Tech. Two wins would be huge, but they have to come away with at least one against one of the top teams in the conference at home.
So please come out and support Blazers’ baseball at Regions this weekend!
Weekend Schedule: UAB (6-11) vs. La Tech (9-4)
Friday – 6:30 p.m. CT – Regions Field (W, 7-0)
Probable Starters: Tyler Clancy (3-1, 3.00 ERA, 18 Ks) vs. Ryan Ruggles (1-1, 3.15 ERA, 14 Ks)
Saturday – 2 p.m. CT – Regions Field (W, 10-8)
Probably Starters: Phllip Diehl (2-1, 1.23 ERA, 20 Ks) vs. Tanner Graham (1-2, 3.68 ERA, 9 Ks)
Sunday – 1 p.m. CT – Regions Field (L, 5-4)
Probably Starters: Braden Bristo (2-1, 5.28 ERA, 18 Ks) vs. Adam Lamar (2-1, 2.08 ERA, 12 Ks)