Sun Belt Baseball Reaches the Conference Midway Point This Weekend
This is week five of Sun Belt Conference league play and the conference season will be at the midway point after this weekend.
Right now, Louisiana (31-4, 11-1) holds a three game lead over second place Arkansas State (8-4, 18-15) with three teams within 1 1/2 games of second place. Here's the schedule for this weekend.
UT ARLINGTON (14-19. 6-6) AT GEORGIA STATE (16-18, 4-8)--After a tough start, the Mavericks have won five of their last six conference games to get to the .500 mark. One of the reasons is some increased pop in the bats, as UTA is slugging .436 in league games. Ryan Shortall (.377/.630 slugging) and Matt Bottger (.324/.703) have been the catalysts of the offense. UTA has pitched better in the league as well, with an ERA just over 4.00 in league games. Georgia State, meanwhile, has gone in the opposite direction. The Panthers average over eight runs per game overall, but barely five RPG in league play. Nic Wilson's batting averaged has dropped more than 50 points and he is no longer the league leader in batting or RBI. In his last six league games, he's 7-34 and hasn't driven in a run. The GSU pitching staff hasn't been stellar all season and they're giving up six earned runs per game over their last six conference games.
WESTERN KENTUCKY (18-15, 6-6) AT TROY (16-17, 4-7)--WKU struggled swinging the bat earlier in the season, but their conference average is .294 and that's pretty good. The Hilltoppers pitching in league play has been suspect, however, with exception of all-league candidate Justin Hageman and outstanding closer Ian Thompkins. If the rest of the pitching staff can get it together, this could be a very good club. Troy looked lifeless in their weekend series against Louisiana at Riddle-Pace Field. They've hit the ball pretty well in league play, but have been inconsistent. The issue? The best ERA on their team in conference play is Shane McCain's 4.18. McCain and Tanner Hicks were supposed to be on of the league's better 1-2 combinations. They've won exactly one league game between them in Sun Belt play.
TEXAS STATE (18-14, 7-5) AT UL MONROE (13-21, 5-7)--The book on Texas State is pretty simple. They can really pitch. Their staff has given up five runs or fewer in every league game this year. Obviously that makes offense their big issue. The most runs they've scored in their last six league games is four, and they're averaging 2.8 RPG during that stretch. ULM is still last in the league in hitting, pitching and defense, but there's no question the Warhawks have improved as a team since Bruce Peddie took over as interim head coach. ULM has gone 4-2 in the league the last two weeks and their offense is showing signs of life. ULM has scored five or more runs in five of their last six conference games and are averaging eight runs per game during that stretch. Granted it was against UALR and UTA, but runs are runs and wins are wins. Bottom line is, Peddie has them believing they can win. We'll see how they do against this Bobcats pitching staff.
ARKANSAS STATE (17-15, 8-4) AT SOUTH ALABAMA (15-16, 5-6)--Tommy Raffo said he believed his team would be better than where they were picked and he's been right so far. And, the Red Wolves have done it with pitching and defense. Their weekend rotation has been solid and the defense has been impeccable. The offense is averaging a little over five runs per game. And, it looks as though the Red Wolves are starting to shore up some holes in their lineup. South Alabama's offense has been downright anemic. Normally there's something to be said for consistency, but in South Alabama's case, that isn't a good thing. The Jaguars have a grand total of 40 extra base hits all season (by contrast, Louisiana as 150.) They have exactly three homers as a team. Their league stats look about the same. They're close to .500 in the league because they've pitched well, but you can't get away from the fact USA has been held to three runs or fewer in seven of their eleven league games and they've been shut out three times. They had a nice series win at Texas State last weekend, but they've got to find a way to generate some offense. That won't be easy against the Arkansas State pitching staff.