Two Weeks Left in the Sun Belt – Who Plays Who – From the Bird’s Nest
There are two weeks remaining in the regular season in the Sun Belt Conference baseball season. And, it looks like nothing much will get decided until the final weekend, maybe even the final day of the season.
And, the matchups the last two weekends really couldn't have been scripted any better. Let's look at who's playing who.
SOUTH ALABAMA (17-7) - The Jags have a one game lead over Troy in the standings, but the Jaguars have two really tough series left: They're at Louisiana this weekend, and the Ragin' Cajuns haven't lost a series at home this year. Then it's back home to play second place Troy on the final weekend (Jags won the first series 2-1). If USA holds onto first place, they'll have earned it.
TROY (16-8) - The Trojans have won 16 in a row at Riddle-Pace Field and they close the home portion of the schedule against Arkansas State this weekend. Then it's down to Mobile for the finale. Trojans control their own destiny in this championship race, but with that trip to Mobile looming, it would do the Trojans well to take care of their business this weekend.
LOUISIANA (15-9) - The Cajuns have been a much better home team than road team this year and they host long time rival South Alabama this weekend before ending the season at last place Louisiana-Monroe. Even if the Cajuns win all six, they'll need some help in order to get to the top. After sweeping Arkansas State over the weekend, the Cajuns become Red Wolves' fans this weekend. But the only thing the Cajuns control is who they play, and this series with USA will be like old times, when the two schools were fighting for championships every year...and didn't like each other very much in the process. The good news for the Cajuns is, if they win the series this weekend, they would win both tiebreakers vs. Troy and USA.
FAU (13-11) - The Owls had it in front of them a couple of weeks ago but now have lost three straight series. Two of those series (Troy, UALR) were at home. Now the Owls finish with six straight league games on the road: at WKU and at FIU. The Owls aren't going to win the league and are probably going to wind up in the 4/5 game. But FAU's challenge now is winning enough games to where they are attractive to the NCAA selection committee. They've got to make sure things don't get away from them on the road, where they've not been real good. I think today the Owls will be in the field, but they've played themselves out of the regionals before.
WKU (13-11) The Hilltoppers dropped a game to Louisiana-Monroe over the weekend and that didn't help their cause while jockeying for position. They entertain the aforementioned FAU Owls this weekend, before closing on the road against a Middle Tennessee team that will be fighting for their season on the final weekend. Western should be in the eight team field in Lafayette, but they can't crater the last two weeks.
FIU (11-13) - The Panthers have been in free fall, losing their last five conference games and Turtle Thomas' club needs to stop the bleeding...and fast. FIU takes on a UALR club that plays well at home before closing at home against FAU. It's been awhile since FIU played a complete game...and if they're going to make a trip to Lafayette, winning some games the final two weekends is paramount.
ARKANSAS STATE (10-14) - The Red Wolves were beaten, and beaten badly in Lafayette this past weekend, and now even making it back to Lafayette is no sure thing. It doesn't get any easier, either. This week ASU is at Troy and the Trojans haven't lost at home since March 16th. And, as they saw this past weekend, they've not matched up well against good hitting teams as their team ERA took a real beating. Then it's back home against UALR the final weekend. The good news is, the Red Wolves have won 12 straight over the Trojans.
UALR (10-14) The Trojans are in the middle of the discussion for teams qualifying for the SBC Tournament thanks to winning five of their last six conference games. Scott Norwood's club is playing some of its better baseball and if they can play well the last two weekends, there's a really good chance we'll see the Trojans in Lafayette. UALR has reeling FIU at home this weekend, before leaving for Arkansas State, who had owned the Trojans the last few years. Good chance a split of the last six gets them in.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE (9-15) You think the Raiders aren't kicking themselves this morning. They blow a two run lead in the 14th of the suspended game against South Alabama, allowing the Jaguars to win the game without even getting a hit in their last at-bat. Then they drop another one in extra innings before holding on for dear life and a win on Sunday. Instead of being in pretty good shape, they're currently on the outside looking in as far as a tournament berth is concerned. They've got six in a row at home to close it out, beginning with last place ULM and closing with a WKU team that swept them earlier this year. If it should come down to it, the Raiders win the tiebreaker with UALR, but lose to Arkansas State.
ULM (6-18) The defending SBC Tournament champs are on life support. And, to know the reason, look at the offense. The Warhawks have scored three runs or less in 13 of their 24 conference games. They've been swept three times. And, in all probability they need to sweep their last six games to have a shot to make the tournament. This week, they're on the road at Middle Tennessee, the team just above them in the standings. Problem is, they've only won two conference road games this year. Then they're at home against Louisiana for three. By then the Warhawks may not have anything to play for.