Taking Stock Of C-USA Tourney

At The Ballpark

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HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Two days down, three days to go. I got here to Pete Taylor Park just as the FIU Panthers and ODU Monarchs were taking their pitching duel into the eighth inning. FIU had a 1-0 lead, as pitchers Cody Crouse had held the Monarchs to two hits and only one runner had advanced to third base.

But in the eighth inning, FIU shortstop Irving Lopez misplayed a routine grounder and then left fielder Kolby Follis completely lost a pop-fly in the sun. That led to the game-tying run which helped push this one into extra innings. But in the 11th inning, a two-run ding-dong by Zach Files accounted for the 3-1 final score as FIU survived and advanced.

FAU in warmups before the winner's bracket game vs. Rice at USM's Pete Taylor Park.FAU in warmups before the winner’s bracket game vs. Rice at USM’s Pete Taylor Park.

After Rice downed FIU 5-3 in 10 innings and Southern Miss beat Marshall 9-3 in the evening games, this is how things stand after two days of play in Hattiesburg:

Bracket One: 
– Rice, 2-0
– FAU, 1-1
– LaTech, 1-1
– Charlotte, 0-2 (eliminated)

Bracket Two:
– SoMiss, 2-0
– Marshall, 1-1
– FIU, 1-1
– ODU, 0-2 (eliminated)

As a reminder, here is how the teams came into this the Conference USA tournament in the RPI:
– Southern Miss, No. 21
– Florida Atlantic, No. 22
– Rice, No. 32
– Louisiana Tech, No. 38
– Marshall, No. 65
– Old Dominion, No. 76
– FIU, No. 87
– Charlotte, No. 135

And here is how they look as of this evening:
– Southern Miss, No. 19
– Florida Atlantic, No. 22
– Rice, No. 23
– Louisiana Tech, No. 35
– Marshall, No. 63
– Old Dominion, No. 77
– FIU, No. 86
– Charlotte, No. 152

THE TWO GAMES I SAW TODAY
– FAU-Rice. 
The Owls – of the Rice variety, that is – raced out to a 3-0 lead thanks to a pair of solo home runs from Ford Proctor and Connor Teykl. But starting hurler Blake Fox had his moments of wildness and inconsistency. FAU – who used to be known as the Blue Wave, which would make writing this story much easier – shot back with a single run in the bottom of the fifth after Gunner Lambert tripled and was knocked in by Brett Lashly. Then, the Blue Waves took the lead with three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. C.J. Chatham hit his eighth home run of the year.

Rice stayed stagnant a few innings before finally plating a run in the ninth inning after a double by Ryan Chandler and an RBI single by Teykl.

The Owls from Texas finally took the lead back in the top of the next inning, the 10th, to supply the winning runs. A bases-loaded RBI flyout by Andrew Dunlap knocked in the go-ahead run and Grayson Lewis scored on a wild pitch to account for the 6-4 score.

50 Shades of Gray. Rice first baseman Tristan Gray rounds third after his home run in the fifth inning.50 Shades of Gray.Rice first baseman Tristan Gray rounds third after his home run in the fifth inning.

 

Not so foxy today. Rice starter Blake Fox gave up four runs and eight hits in his 5.2 innings of work against the very capable offense of the FAU Owls.Not so foxy today.Rice starter Blake Fox gave up four runs and eight hits in his 5.2 innings of work against the very capable offense of the FAU Owls.

 

Ricardo Salinas shows the relief felt by most of the Rice fans I was sitting with near the end of the game. (I say "most" because I'm a huge Rice fan but I didn't really care who won. I hate all teams on the same level.)Ricardo Salinas shows the relief felt by most of the Rice fans I was sitting with near the end of the game. (I say “most” because I’m a huge Rice fan but I didn’t really care who won. I hate all teams on the same level.)

– Marshall-Southern Miss.
This one was a scorefest right out of the gate, as the two teams traded first inning runs. Chuckie Robinson’s two-run single provided the runs that would put the Eagles ahead to stay.

But it was the five-run third inning that changed the game completely. Jake Sandlin’s bases-loaded bomb shot was the crippling play as that made it 8-2, advantage Eagles. They would never be threatened again on their way to a 9-3 win.

“I was very proud of our guys tonight,” head coach Scott Berry said. “We came out and competed against a tough Marshall team and I think we played all aspects of the game very well from start to finish.”

Chuckie Robinson would end the night 2-for-3 with three RBI and Jake Sandlin would add his 2-for-5, four-RBI night as well.

A little undersized, but as gutty as they come, USM starter Kirk McCarty was steady if not spectacular giving up three runs in 5.1 innings of work.A little undersized, but as gutty as they come, USM starter Kirk McCarty was steady if not spectacular giving up three runs in 5.1 innings of work.

In my first visit to Hattiesburg I have to admit that I loved the atmosphere and the energy of "The Pete" today.. Wish they'd get rid of the all aluminum grandstand but it does make for some loud foot-stomping. In my first visit to Hattiesburg I have to admit that I loved the atmosphere and the energy of “The Pete” today.. Wish they’d get rid of the all aluminum grandstand but it does make for some loud foot-stomping.

Chuckie Robinson feels the crush of media after the win over Marshall tonight.Chuckie Robinson feels the crush of media after the win over Marshall tonight.

THE RPI WATCH

The three biggest RPI-based questions coming into this week were..

1- Can Southern Miss play itself back into a regional hosting spot? 
Busting up into the Top 20 won’t be easy, simply because Rice and FAU are in the other bracket and they will only get one chance to play them. Will winning the C-USA tournament title be enough to get a home Regional? I can’t imagine they’ll jump into the top 16 of the RPI, but they can assume the committee isn’t giving a home Regional to No. 15 North Carolina and No. 14 Florida State has taken some bumps an bruises lately, so that takes care of opening up those two bids to elsewhere.

2- Can Louisiana Tech stay off the bubble? 
After taking down Charlotte and then losing to Rice, the Bulldogs have gone up from No. 38 to No. 35. If that’s not off the bubble I don’t know what is. Their next game is against No. 22 FAU, so win or lose, the Techsters should probably make a small gain.

3- Can Marshall or Old Dominion make a mad dash for an at-large bid?
Marshall’s chances took a pretty sharp dip after getting routed by Southern Miss, even though their RPI didn’t change much. Remember, they needed a big jump and it probably isn’t going to happen as they are still at No. 62. They may get another shot at USM in their bracket, but it won’t be enough.

MVPs SO FAR
Offense: 
Chase Lunceford, Louisiana Tech

The entire Bulldog batting order probably deserves this honor after scoring 25 runs on 31 hits and also earned seven free bases at the same time. But Lunceford was particularly crazy, going 5-for-9 with two home runs and four RBI in his two games so far. Lunceford came into the C-USA tourney hitting .329, but is now posting .341-10-47 numbers.

Offense II: 
Chuck Robinson, Southern Miss.

You should’ve heard the ovation he got when he strode up to the plate with the bases loaded in the first inning of tonight’s four game. The entire crowd came to life. And it worked. The first pitch he saw, he absolutely crushed it, big time. But it ended up going just foul down the left field line. But that ball came down with snow on top of it. And just to show his versatility, two pitches later he sliced an inside-out swing into right field, which scored a pair of runs. In the fifth inning he finally got that long-awaited yard call, smashing a salvo over the right-center fence and looking all menacing while he was rounding the bases.

Pitching: 
Cody Crouse, FIU and Sam Sinnen, ODU

For most of their game today these two did just the opposite of what their cohorts here in Hattiesburg had done the first five games… they pitched effectively. You could even say they dominated. Crows went 7.0 innings and gave up zero runs on two hits. Not to be outdone, Sinnen went 7.1 innings and gave up just one hit and one run. The Golden Panthers eventually won the game in the 11th inning, but these two arms managed to turn an Arena Ball atmosphere in Hattiesburg into a pitching clinic.

Pitching II:
Chase Boster, Marshall.

He may have gotten a little lost in all the scoring from the first day of the CUSA tournament, but Marshall starter pulled in 11 strikeouts and gave up just four hits in his 7.2 innings of work vs. FIU. With the 5-3 win, Boster improved to 8-3 on the season.

“Chase is an older guy who you want to throw the first game for you in the tournament or on any Friday night,” MU coach Jeff Waggoner said afterward. “He’s done that since his freshman season. He is beyond his years in pitching ability.”

ON TAP
Here is what is coming up next at the Conference USA tournament in Hattiesburg.

Game Nine:
Louisiana Tech (1-1) vs. FAU (1-1), 3pm Central Time

Game Ten:
FIU (1-1) vs. Marshall (1-1), 6:30pm Central Time

The winner of those two games advance to Saturday which will see the Tech-FAU winner play Rice, who is 2-0, and the FIU-MU winner play Southern Miss.

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