After their big home win against 22nd ranked Alabama on Tuesday night, the Blazers (9-12, 2-1) will try to take down another ranked opponent this weekend as they travel to face Conference USA foe Florida Atlantic (15-4, 2-1).
The weekend series will start a little earlier than normal because of Easter weekend. So the two teams will play on Thursday, Friday and Saturday so the players can be home with their families on Easter Sunday.
The Owls are ranked 19th in the most recent USA Today poll, and have by far been the best team in the conference this season. FAU went up against the number one team in the country on Tuesday and lost a close one 2-1.
Florida Atlantic is hitting .305 as a team and scoring 7 runs a game. They are led on offense by CJ Chatham who is hitting .364 with 15 runs, 1 home run and 14 RBIs. Chatham entered the season as the conference’s best offensive draft prospect, and he’s lived up to that billing so far.
Esteban Puerta leads the team in RBIs with 26, and is tied for the team lead in home runs with three, while also hitting a solid .347. Stephen Kerr is the other Owl with three home runs, and he’s batting .319 on the year.
The Blazers pitching staff has been great all year, but they’ll have their hands full against FAU as they might be the most explosive offense they’ve faced all year.
FAU also benefits from a great pitching staff as they have the lowest ERA in the conference by far at 2.56. Marc Stewart has been the team’s best starter all season with a 1.55 ERA in 5 starts with 13 strikeouts in 29 innings. Brandon Rhodes has a 4.18 ERA in 5 starts with 26 strikeouts in 20 innings.
The Blazers could also see Sean Labsan who has 0.90 ERA in 10 innings with 11 strikeouts.
The FAU bullpen has been lights out as well with six guys boasting ERAs of 2.16 or lower with at least 6 innings pitched. Cameron Ragsdale has 5 saves and a 2.16 ERA in 8.1 innings with 7 strikeouts as the team’s closer.
For the Blazers, Griffin Gum has been tearing it up at the plate lately with 8 hits in his last four games to raise his average up to .333. He is currently the only Blazer hitting over .300.
Brewer Hicklen is next in line with a .260 average, and he leads the team with 2 home runs and 17 runs scored. Carter Pharis has started to heat up of late as well with 7 RBIs over the last four games, giving him a team-leading 17 on the year.
Ryan Ruggles leads the starting rotation with a 2.36 ERA and 2 wins in 5 starts with 17 strikeouts in 26.2 innings. Tanner Graham was dominant through 5 innings against La Tech last weekend, but things fell apart in the sixth. His ERA now sits at 4.55 in 27.2 innings. Austin Thomas will most likely get the Sunday start with his 2.61 ERA in 20.2 innings.
Neither pitching staff has a high strikeout rate, so it could come down to who plays better defense. UAB has been much better defensively as of late, but they’re still near the bottom of the conference in fielding percentage, while FAU is at the top.
The Blazers are 0-5 on the road this season and will have a hard time ending that losing streak against the Owls, but if they can pick up just one win on this weekend it will be a success. If they pick up two UAB fans should be ecstatic as FAU is a very good team, especially at home.
They key, as always with Coach Shoop’s teams, will be pitching and defense. If pitching limits the amount of walks given up and the defense doesn’t commit any costly errors, then they have a good chance of winning this series.
If the bats stay hot like they were against Alabama Tuesday night then I really feel good about our chances of picking up a series win this weekend!
Weekend Schedule: UAB (9-12, 2-1) at Florida Atlantic (15-4, 2-1)
Friday – 12 p.m. CT – Boca Raton, Fla. – (L, 5-3)
Probable Starters: Brandon Rhodes (3-2, 4.18 ERA, 18 Ks) vs. Ryan Ruggles (2-1, 2.36 ERA, 17 Ks)
Friday – 3:30 p.m. CT – Boca Raton, Fla. – (L, 7-3)
Probable Starters: Marc Stewart (3-0, 1.55 ERA, 13 Ks) vs. Tanner Graham (1-2, 4.55 ERA, 11 Ks)
Saturday – 12 p.m. CT – Boca Raton, Fla.
Probable Starters: Sean Labsan (2-0, 0.90 ERA, 11 Ks) vs. Austin Thomas (0-2, 2.61 ERA, 10 Ks)