Sun Belt Conference Tournament Preview – Bracket Two
Yesterday, I previewed the top bracket for the Sun Belt Tournament. Today, a look at the lower bracket featuring #2 Troy, #3 Louisiana, #6 Texas State and #7 UT Arlington.
#2 TROY TROJANS (30-23, 18-10) Coach: Bobby Pierce (450-311), 12th season at Troy; 985-514 including Div II and JUCO Record vs. teams in bracket: 4-5 (0-3 vs Louisiana, 3-0 vs. Texas State, 1-2 vs. UT Arlington)
STRENGTHS: Very athletic offensively. Logan Hill, Trevin Hall, David Hall and Reid Long have provided a solid offensive nucleus. Trojans have some power, evidenced by their 30 home runs, but they can run, too, with 75 stolen bases. During conference play, Troy used the short game a lot and they're good at it.
Grant Bennett is right near the top of the league when it comes to quality pitchers. He allowed one earned run or less in six of his ten starts. He's durable, as his five complete games will attest. He and Lucas Brown are as good a 1-2 starting duo as there is in the league. Ben Tidwell, Jeremy McGowan and Marc Skinner handle their bullpen work by committee and all are capable. Troy is solid defensively, especially on their home turf. Speaking of home turf, these guys have played very very well at home, especially in league play, where they went 13-2.
WEAKNESSES--The bottom of their lineup doesn't scare you. Coach Pierce has given a lot of players plenty of chances to prove themselves and no one really stepped up consistently with the bat. Troy has struggled to have a consistent third starter. This is not a deep pitching staff at all. Pierce basically used just seven pitchers during conference play. That might not be enough if Troy loses a game early.
OUTLOOK--There's no doubt in my mind this team has shown the most improvement in the league from the beginning of the season until now. Down the stretch, Pierce, in his final season at Troy, has molded a cohesive unit that seems to have great chemistry, something that was lacking year ago. They've been almost unbeatable at home. The last time they lost a league game was March 21. This club has the best home field advantage in the league. If they use it to their advantage this weekend, Pierce's career could be extended.
#3 LOUISIANA RAGIN' CAJUNS (34-20, 18-11) Coach: Tony Robichaux (766-488-1,) 21st season at Louisiana; 1,029-655-1, 29th season, all in Division I. Record vs. teams in bracket: 8-1 (3-0 vs. Troy, 2-1 vs. Texas State, 3-0 vs UT Arlington)
STRENGTHS: Blake Trahan is simply one of the best shortstops that's ever played in the Sun Belt. He can hit, show gap power, steal bases and makes spectacular plays seem routine. He'll be a late first/early second round pick. Stefan Trosclair and Kyle Clement have combined to hit 21 homers. The Cajuns have power throughout the lineup and lead the league in homers with 51. They can also play the short game.
Gunner Leger has gone from being a guy on Friday night to being a Friday night guy. He's allowed two earned runs or fewer in his last six conference starts. He leads a trio of talented freshmen starters, along with Evan Guillory and Wyatt Marks. Another freshman, Dylan Moore, leads a deep and talented bullpen. After a rugged first half, the Cajuns have turned into a good defensive club.
WEAKNESSES: After the #4 spot in the lineup, the rest of the group has been feast or famine. They've struggled to hit good pitching and haven't been great with runner in scoring position, especially with two outs. This isn't a particularly athletic group, certainly not in comparison with last year's club. While most of their lineup has been set, left field and third base have been issues for the Cajuns. If Guillory and Marks can't locate the breaking ball, they become very hittable. Like most teams, they've had a couple of guys in the bullpen who have been up and down.
OUTLOOK: Considering they lost about 80% of their offense, their three weekend starters and four of their top five relievers, this team has done well. Robichaux is one of the best pitching coaches in America and this might be his finest hour. The three freshmen have developed under fire. They've learned how to manage a game and its not unlikely for them to turn in seven solid innings on any given night. Of the top ten pitchers on the club, seven are newcomers. But the pitching alone won't be enough. If the Cajuns are going to get out of this bracket, they'll have to get some consistent timely hitting, especially from the bottom part of the lineup. If that happens, the Cajuns could play on Sunday. if not, it might be a short visit.
#6 TEXAS STATE BOBCATS (22-30-1, 14-16) Coach: Ty Harrington (529-408-1) 16th season; 730-489-1 including JUCO. Record vs. teams in bracket: 3-6 (0-3 s. Troy, 1-2 vs. Louisiana, 2-1 vs. UTA.)
STRENGTHS: This team has come alive offensively since conference play began. Tanner Hill, Cedric Vallieres, Granger Studdard and Cory Geisler are all hitting over .300 in league play And, the Bobcats have hit 31 dingers during conference play and 46 overall. Studdard has crazy power. He, Hill and Vallieres are all slugging over .500. Since league play began, this team has been rock solid defensively. Lucas Humpel and Scott Grist can, on any given day, come out and dominate on the mound.
WEAKNESSES: As with a lot of power hitting teams, some of these guys strike out a lot This team isn't particularly athletic, they don't run much and don't bunt a lot. The entire pitching staff has been inconsistent, including Humpel and Grist, who both have an ERA over 5.00 in conference play. There has been no consistent third starter and the bullpen has been spotty.Other than the top two starters (when they're on), no one on the staff scares you.
OUTLOOK: Texas State got a huge blow before the season when their coach, Ty Harrington had to take a leave of absence after being diagnosed with cancer. Pitching coach Jeremy Fikac has done an admirable job filling in. You really have to be careful with this lineup as just about everyone can hurt you and most can hurt you with the long ball. But how long this team will be in the tournament is gong to depend on the way they pitch, especially the top two guys. Grist is the SBC Player of the Week and Humpel was preseason Pitcher of the Year. If they both pitch like that, Texas State could get deep in the tournament. But they'd better keep swinging the bat. Sooner or later they'll need a lot of runs
#7 UT ARLINGTON MAVERICKS (23-30, 14-16) Coach: Darin Thomas (222-203, 8th) Record vs. teams in bracket: 3-6 (2-1 vs. Troy, 0-3 vs. Louisiana, 1-2 vs. Texas State.
STRENGTHS: Travis Sibley is one of the league's best infielders and he has done a great job of driving in runs. Matt McLean does what a leadoff guy is supposed to do. He gets on base, draws walks (40) and doesn't strike out (16). Levi Scott is an imposing figure in the middle of the lineup. Their lineup is pretty solid and pretty consistent with eight guys who are pretty much in the lineup every day. Their starting rotation is pretty consistent. Chad Nack doesn't strike out many and gives up a lot of hits, but he's been very good in the month of May and will give UTA a chance to win. Their pitchers don't walk a lot of people UTA is a pretty solid defensive club.
WEAKNESSES: While this team can hit pretty well, they don't score a lot of runs. They don't do a good job of moving runners and they aren't very athletic overall. Outside of Scott, there's no power on this team and they don't get a whole lot of extra base hits, period. Their pitching staff doesn't get many strikeouts, and that can put pressure on the defense. Jacob Moreland is a dependable reliever but after that it's a crapshoot. Colin Tornberg has eight saves, but he also has an ERA over 5.00.
OUTLOOK: This has been such a tough team to figure out. They've been good enough to beat Texas, TCU, UCSB and Baylor this season. They took a series from the top two teams in the Sun Belt. They went just 5-11 in the month of April They've been better the last few weeks, having won six of nine in May. They look like a team that's performed well in different aspects at different times. If they get everything jelling at once, they could be a tough out. If not, it may be a short visit.