UAB baseball (10-15, 2-4) returns home for Conference USA play this weekend as they take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (14-10, 3-3).
The Blazers have been much better playing in Birmingham this year as they’re 10-7 in home games, but 0-8 on the road. On the flip side, Western Kentucky is 8-4 at home and 4-6 on the road. This will also be the first time this season that UAB plays at its natural home field at Young Memorial Stadium.
UAB has really been good at home lately winning four of their last five at Regions Field, including a 12-2 blowout over Alabama A&M on Tuesday night. The Hilltoppers are coming off of a blowout loss at home to No. 5 Louisivlle 17-0.
Western Kentucky started out Conference USA play on a sour note as they were swept on the road by a very good Old Dominion team, but they bounced right back and swept Middle Tennessee at home last weekend.
So far this season the Hilltoppers have big wins over South Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky.
The offense has been a big part of their success as they rank second in the conference with a .312 batting average and in runs scored.
They are led by senior third baseman Danny Hudzina who is hitting .462 with 25 runs, 1 home run and 18 RBIs. Sophomore Kaleb Duckworth leads the team with 3 home runs, while hitting .398 with 19 RBIs. Another sophomore, Steven Kraft, is having a good year hitting .323 with 26 runs scored, 2 home runs and 20 RBIs.
On the mound, the Hilltoppers are eighth in the conference with a 4.21 ERA. Ryan Thurston is 3-0 on the season with a 3.51 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 33.1 innings, while Austin King is 2-1 with a 3.67 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 34.1 innings. Josh Bartley is the team’s other weekend starter with a 4.33 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 27 innings.
Jackson Sowell has been the team’s only reliable reliever out of the bullpen with a 0.59 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 15.1 innings. The next lowest ERA coming out of the bullpen is 3.86, so if UAB hitters can chase the WKU starter from the game it should give them a chance to win.
Unfortunately, the UAB offense ranks last in the conference in average at .225, and has scored the least amount of runs this season. Despite those poor season stats, a couple of hitters have really started to heat up at the plate for the Blazers.
Griffin Gum has raised his season average to .330 over the past couple of weeks, while freshman Carter Pharis has seen his average raised to .277 since conference play started, and he remains the team’s RBI leader with 17. Freshman Brewer Hicklen has been swinging the bat well as of late too with a .267 average and a team-high 18 runs scored.
UAB will really need their pitching staff to step up this weekend against Western Kentucky’s powerful offensive lineup. They rank third in the conference, only behind FAU and Rice, with a 3.59 ERA. Ryan Ruggles leads the weekend rotation with a 2.76 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 32.2 innings. Freshman Tanner Graham has been the Saturday starter with a 4.83 ERA in 31.2 innings.
Sunday has been a bit of a mixed basket. We could see Austin Thomas (3.75 ERA), Adam Lamar (1.45 ERA), Thomas Lowery (4.43 ERA), Dylan Munger (2.45 ERA), or Garrett Whitlock (2.78 ERA). Those are also some of Coach Shoop’s top arms out of the bullpen.
As has been the case with the Blazers all season, if they pitch well, play defense, and take advantage of what they’re given on offense, then they have chance to win. When they don’t do those things, it’s proved to be fatal.
The key for UAB to win this weekend will be to knock out the WKU starters. All three of their weekend starters are very good, but if UAB hitters can be patient and make them work early, then they can get into the Hilltoppers’ bullpen.
I like the Blazers’ chances of taking 2-out-of-3 at home this weekend against Western Kentucky, and quite frankly they need to win at least two to avoid falling further back in the conference standings.
So come out to Young Memorial Field this weekend to support UAB baseball as they take on conference foe WKU!
Weekend Schedule – UAB (10-15, 2-4) vs. WKU (14-10, 3-3):
Friday – 6:30 p.m. CT – Young Memorial Field
Probable Starters: Austin King (2-1, 3.67 ERA, 29 Ks) vs. Ryan Ruggles (2-2, 2.76 ERA, 20 Ks)
Saturday – 2 p.m. CT – Young Memorial Field
Probable Starters: Josh Bartley (3-2, 4.33 ERA, 27 Ks) vs. Tanner Graham (1-2, 4.83 ERA, 14 Ks)
Sunday – 1 p.m. CT – Young Memorial Field
Probable Starters: Ryan Thurston (3-0, 3.51 ERA, 33 Ks) vs. Austin Thomas (0-2, 3.75 ERA, 12 Ks)