This is it for UAB baseball in 2017. After a season of ups-and-downs, UAB will not make the CUSA Tournament for the second straight year.
The Blazers certainly struggled in conference this year, but it also speaks to level of competition in Conference USA right now. There are three teams – Southern Miss, Old Dominion and La Tech – that could get automatic bids into the NCAA Tournament this year. FAU and Charlotte have a shot as well.
I know Conference USA fans love their football and basketball, but this is a baseball conference right now.
Despite the disappointing record for UAB baseball this year, there were some encouraging signs for the future. I will get into that more after the season is officially over.
As for this weekend’s series, UAB has a chance to end Rice’s 22 year streak of NCAA Tournament appearances.
Rice has a healthy two game lead on FIU and Marshall for the final spot in the CUSA Tournament going into the weekend. FIU holds the head-to-head tie-breaker over Rice.
It’s a long shot, but if UAB were to sweep Rice and FIU wins two games over WKU AND Marshall sweeps Charlotte, then Rice would miss the CUSA Tournament.
Rice pretty much has to win the CUSA Tournament to have any chance of keeping their streak alive.
Bad news for the Blazers is that the Owls have gotten hot late in the year. They’ve won 12 of their last 15 games, and four straight conference series.
The Owls started the year banged up, and with the out-of-conference schedule they play it was too difficult to overcome. Even with playing in Conference USA, Rice has the third hardest schedule in all of college baseball.
Because they play such a tough schedule, their RPI is at 64 even though they have an overall record of 25-28. If they were to sweep UAB this weekend and get back to .500, and then make a run in the CUSA Tournament, there is a chance they still get in as an at-large bid.
But more than likely, they’ll still need to win the tournament.
Dominic DiCaprio leads Rice with a .365 average and 39 RBI. Dane Myers is hitting .357 with 39 runs scored, and a team-high 11 stolen bases. Darryn Sheppard is hitting .307 with a team-high 5 home runs and 39 RBI.
Ford Proctor has a chance to go high in the MLB Draft next year. He’s hitting .306 with 44 runs scored, 3 home runs and 30 RBI.
The Owls have a very good offense that has gotten much better as the season has gone on.
Rice is typically known for their great pitching, but they’re just seventh in the conference with a 4.99 ERA. There aren’t many seasons when you won’t see a Rice starting pitcher with an ERA under three, but that’s the case this year.
Matt Canterino is the team’s ace with a 3.86 ERA in 74.2 innings with 85 strikeouts – and he’s just a freshman. Zach Esquivel will follow him with a 3.36 ERA in 75 innings with 59 strikeouts.
Glenn Otto is a dominate arm for the Owls, whether he starts or comes out of the bullpen. He’s struck out 64 batters in 44.1 innings this year.
Even though they’ve been down this year, this is not a staff you are going to stack runs against. UAB will have to earn every run they score against this group.
The offense for UAB has come along slowly this year, but we finally have several hitters putting a lot of good at-bats together each time out.
I think we have a chance to put up some runs against the Owls pitching staff this weekend.
The question will be, who is going to step up in the pitching staff?
It will certainly be an “all hands on deck” weekend for UAB with it being their last games of the season.
You don’t want to miss Thursday’s game with Thomas Lowery on the mound for his final game as a Blazer. He’s had a very special career, and I hope he ends it with a bang.
After that though, I think we’ll see just about everyone this weekend. Including Dylan Munger who will also be making his final appearance as a Blazer.
So come out for a special weekend for UAB baseball as they play for the last time this year and try to ruin Rice’s chance of becoming an at-large bid and possibly making the CUSA Tournament.
But more importantly, come support these players – and especially these seniors – that have worked so hard to build a good reputation for UAB baseball.
Thursday – Young Memorial Field – 6:30 p.m. CT
Friday – Young Memorial Field – 6:30 p.m. CT
Saturday – Young Memorial Field – 1 p.m. CT