Wayne Graham with his team after he was presented a plaque from Conference USA for his years of influence.

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Conference USA Dispatches: Wayne’s World

At The Ballpark


The Wayne Graham Watch is officially – and finally – one win, zero losses for this conference tournament week. Although Mother Nature could probably claim a win over the O.G. since it took all of 22-hours and 58-minutes of real time for the Owls and Louisiana Tech to complete the game, a 6-1 win for the Owls, due to lightning delays and postponements.

Conference USA was finally able to put some games under its belt as the weather took a minor siesta. Rice and Southern Miss posted good first round wins thanks to some sharp starting pitching. 

GAME ONE
UTSA – 009 000 101 – 11  18  1
Charlotte – 100 000 000 – 1  2  3

This one came down to a one-inning nightmare for the 49ers. After a fielding error by the Road Runners helped UNCC to take a 1-0 lead in the first inning, UT-San Antonio came roaring back like Davy Crockett at the Alamo. 

In the nine-run third inning, they took advantage of a Garrett Moon two-RBI double, a Joshua Lamb two-RBI triple and a Bryan Arias two-RBI home run. They also got the benefit of two plunkings, a walk and an error. It all led up to an insurmountable 9-1 lead. 

Three pitchers combined to hold Cornbread Maxwell U. to just two hits and two walks, led by starting pitcher Chance Kirby’s 6.2 innings where he gave up both hits. 

Catcher Dominic DiCaprio congratulates Kendal Jefferies after the final out vs. LaTech.

GAME TWO… sort of.
Rice – 021 030 000 – 6  11  1
Tech – 001 000 010 – 2  5  1

This game wasn’t actually the “second” game of the day, it’s just that it’s conclusion was scheduled between the first two games of the day. 

The Owls took a 6-1 lead into the seventh inning last night when the lightning show began after the completion of the sixth inning and never let up the entire night, even though it barely rained at all. Two bases loaded walks started the scoring in the second inning on Wednesday afternoon. After the two teams traded single runs in the third inning, Owls leadoff man Ford Proctor planted a three-run dinger onto the plaza beyond the right field fence to give his charges that 6-1 lead. 

Louisiana Tech had its rally caps on, but it didn’t work.

After the wimpy lightning “storm” put action on the shelf for Wednesday night, Thursday afternoon saw the Owls put Kendal Jefferies on the mound and let him close things out. He did give up a single run in the eighth inning but the Bulldogs never did pose any real threat to Rice’s lead. Justin Collins and Chace Sachet both posted three hits in the game to help pace the 11-hit attack. Interestingly, the Owls did not have a single hit in the three innings that took place today. 

Matt Canterino got the start on Wednesday afternoon and responding wit 5.0 innings of two-hit, one-run work. He got the win and improved to 7-4 on the season. Jeffries picked up his fifth save.

FIU head coach Mervyl Melendez to coach Graham after his ceremony, “Coach, you have been a role model for me and every one in the coaching profession.”

GAME THREE
UAB – 000 000 000 – 0  4  2 
USM – 010 001 00x – 2  5  0

This one’s easy… the Nick Sandlin Show. That’s it. Run the credits and let’s get out of here.

The Southern Miss ace was very very ace-full again, tossing a complete game four-hitter with 12 Ks and one walk. And yes, that one walk made him very angry. 

Nick Sandlin, here from his sidearm slot, was a big giant ball of confusion for the UAB batters.

The only trouble Sandlin got into in the entire game was in the second inning where a leadoff double by Thomas Johns was followed by an infield single by Stephen Dobbs and a hit by pitch to Price Visintainer which loaded the bases with one out. But Sandlin, a legit Player of the Year candidate, gritted his teeth and got back-to-back punch outs to end the threat. 

USM scored what would be the winning run at the bottom of the frame, when Matt Wallner walked and came around to score on sac fly to deep center by Matthew Guidry. One to none. One and done.

Matt Wallner gets tagged on the noggin by Stephen Dobbs, but was ruled safe.

Sandman kept mowing down Blazer batters left and right and being very miserly with his hits allowed. Six of his nine innings pitched went three-up, three-down. Southern would add another marker in the sixth inning when Mason Irby extended his hitting streak to 16 with a leadoff infield single. He would eventually come around to score on Hunter Slater’s RBI single. 

It wasn’t all completely smooth sailing for Sandlin as he did find some trouble in the ninth when he gave up a Carter Pharis double, followed by a walk to Stephen Johns. That was when pitching coach Christian Ostrander made a trip to the mound to talk things over with his staff ace. 

Did he talk to Sandlin about coming out of the game?

“Oh no,” said Sandlin afterward, smiling. “He just came out there to make sure to calm me down a little bit. There was no way he was going to leave that game.” 

Sandman insisted on pitching a complete game tonight.

Coach Scott Berry was impressed with his phenom on the mound. “Man lemme tell ya’ something, we missed on so many offensive opportunities, a lesser person on the mound all that would have bothered me. But as I’ve said before, he understands what his job is… to keep the opposition from putting runs on the board and we were grateful he took the mound today.” 

When asked if he had seen a better performance from Sandlin, coach Berry was quite frank, “He just shows up and competes and I thought he got stronger as he went along. His ability to minimize a couple of innings and to hold them off when they were threatening there in the first and in the ninth, that’s just Nick doing what Nick does.” 

After this game, I was told that Mr. Sandlin now leads the nation in ERA. After tonight’s game he now has an ERA of 1.13. Hofstra’s John Rooney came into conference tournament week with an ERA of 1.01. Either way, Sandlin improved to 9-0 with the win and his strikeout to walk ratio improved to 134-to-15. 

The Golden Spikes voting is still open people. 

Ryan Wesson gives a guttural yell after recording a big out in the 7th inning.

 

Mason Irby extended his hitting streak to 16 games with a pair of singles.

 

Southern Miss outfielders Gabe Montenegro and Matt Wallner nearly collide on a gapper. Montenegro made the catch.

As of this posting there were no weather delays in the later games. We’ll keep tabs on it.

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