This Weekend in Sun Belt Baseball
The Cajuns are getting ready to head up to UALR for a Sun Belt series this weekend, and we'll have a preview tomorrow. But, every game in the league is important from here on out as teams get ready for the conference tournament in less than a month. Here are the series being played this weekend.
FIU (10-8) at SOUTH ALABAMA (10-8)--The Panthers haven't exactly been knocking the cover off the ball. FIU's team batting average in league play is 34 points lower than their overall average. And, losing a series at home to UALR should flash a warning sign. They have a chance to get well against a South Alabama pitching staff that actually got good bullpen work last weekend against Louisiana. The Panthers pitch well. The question is, can they break out of the offensive doldrums. Jags hit 53 points better in league play than they do overall. But against an FIU pitching staff that's third in league play and first overall, that will be tested. If it comes down to defense, South Alabama has a huge advantage. Both of these teams should be in the tournament. But with a round robin, seeding is very important in case of a three way tiebreaker.
FLORIDA ATLANTIC (13-3) at TROY (6-12)--It had to be a frustrating weekend in Boca Raton last weekend as FAU barely managed to get one game in against Arkansas State. But a win in that game puts the Owls firmly in the drivers' seat for the regular season championship. They aren't an at-large lock, however and the more wins they can get between now and the tournament, the better they'll look to the selection committee if they don't win the tournament. And, with three series against teams near the bottom of the standings, they have a chance to do just that. However, any loss to UALR, Western Kentucky or Troy won't look good on that resume. FAU has pitched extremely well in league games. That and their defense has carried them more than anything else. They haven't hit for a great average in league games (.279) but they've got some pop in the lineup. Last weekend was a tough one for Troy. For the first time in over a month they won on Friday night as Tyler Ray pitched a complete game in a 13-3 win over WKU. Troy then proceeded to drop the next two games. They need a great start from Ray on Friday to counter Ryan Garton, but they also need two other good starts to match FAU's pitching. The Trojans have three of their last four series at home, but a series against FAU is no sure thing regardless of where it's played.
ARKANSAS STATE (10-6) at MIDDLE TENNESSEE (10-8)--The Blue Raiders stubbed their toe last weekend, losing two of three at ULM. Middle's pitching staff, which was dominating earlier in the season, has grown more ordinary in the last few weeks. Now, Steve Peterson's club has to face Arkansas State, who is hitting nearly .300 as a team in league play. ASU has to be careful in this ballpark, however. Their team doesn't hit the long ball a lot. Middle does. It's imperative for the ASU pitching staff to keep the ball from flying out of Reese Smith, Jr. Field this weekend. And, with South Alabama, FIU and a trip to Little Rock still on the schedule, there's no guarantee of second place, even with a two game lead in the loss column.
ULM (7-11) at WESTERN KENTUCKY (8-10)--The Sun Belt's worst hitting team got a walkoff single in the eleventh inning on Sunday to give the Hilltoppers the series win over Troy. There's a really good chance tiebreakers are going to come into play at the bottom of the standings, which means when teams in the bottom five play each other, those series are crucial. If WKU can win this series, they'll own the tiebreaker over three of the four teams they're battling with (they lose the tiebreaker to UL.) Meanwhile, I've said all season long if the Warhawks started hitting, theyd be a good ball club, and they scored runs against Middle Tennessee last weekend. ULM is hitting 23 points higher in league play than they are overall and although three of their last four series are on the road, all of them are against teams that are down in the standings. The Saturday matchup of Tim Bado vs. Randy Zeigler could be a beauty. I think the winner of that game wins the series.