May 30, 2012
Conference USA has received four bids to the 2012 NCAA Baseball Championship, as announced by the Division I baseball committee on May 28. Regular season champion Rice will host the Houston Regional, while East Carolina, UAB and UCF will each play in regionals. The four bids are the fourth-highest total of any conference. Only the SEC (8), ACC (7) and Pac-12 (5) had more bids than Conference USA.
The four bids to the 2012 NCAA Championship gives Conference USA 57 NCAA appearances in its first 17 seasons. Ten of the last 12 years a C-USA team has advanced to a Super Regional and six of the last eight years a team has reached the College World Series.
East Carolina (35-22-1) will make its 26th NCAA Regional appearance and 12th in the last 14 years after earning a No. 2 seed at the Chapel Hill Regional in this year's NCAA Baseball Championship. For the second year in a row, the Pirates will square off against No. 3 St. John's in the first round of the regional on Friday at 1 p.m. EDT. Senior LHP Kevin Brandt has logged a league-high 102 innings on the mound, posting a 1.85 ERA in 15 starts, the second-lowest in the conference. He owns a 7-6 record (including four complete-game losses) with 66 strikeouts and 26 walks. Senior 3B Corey Thompson was named to the C-USA All-Tournament team after batting .583 (7-for-13) with three RBI and three runs scored. Junior IF John Wooten has a team-best 23 games with multiple hits on the season. He leads East Carolina in batting average (.341), slugging percentage (.500) and home runs (8), while driving in 38 runs. Sophomore RHP Drew Reynolds is fourth in C-USA in saves with 10, while sophomore RHP Tanner Merritt is tied for fifth with eight saves. The Pirates pitching staff owns a 3.20 ERA, the second-lowest mark in Conference USA.
The Cougars closed out the season on a high note with a 7-3 win over Memphs at the C-USA Baseball Championship. Sophomore OF Landon Appling earned a spot on the All-Tournament team after batting .615, second-highest among all players in the tourney. He also drove in two RBI, walked twice and stole a base. Appling tied a C-USA Tournament record with his five hits against Southern Miss in game two of the Championship. Appling finished the day 5-for-6 with three runs scored and RBI. On the season, he batted .326 with a team-best three home runs, 26 RBI and 10 stolen bases. Outfielder Michael Pyeatt earned a spot on the C-USA All-Freshman team after batting .326 in 26 games (24 starts), including a .326 clip in conference play. Senior IF/RHP Codey Morehouse batted a team-high .327 (33-for-101), while also compiling a 3.38 ERA, going 1-2 with 23 strikeouts in 29.1 innings pitched. Houston's schedule ranked No. 36 in difficulty among all Division I teams in 2012.
The Thundering Herd closed out the 2012 season with a 10-0 win at Tulane. Senior C Thor Meeks was 2-for-4 in his final game and completed his career at Marshall having amassed 199 games played (fifth all-time at MU), 607 at-bats (sixth all-time), 89 walks (sixth all-time), 34 doubles (10th all-time), and 25 home runs (11th all-time). Nathan Gomez's double in the seventh inning of the finale was the junior's 34th of his career, placing him tied with Meeks at number 10 on Marshall's list. Senior LHP Mike Mason struck out five in his final career start May 18, bringing his career count to 217. That total stands fourth all-time at Marshall. Freshman SS Sergio Leon raised his batting average 27 points over the final two weeks of the season to finish at .302. In 42 games played, he hit nine doubles and drove in 20 runs. Junior OF Isaac Ballou finished the season hitting .308, while drawing 43 walks and going 21-of-28 in stolen base attempts. His stolen base total ranked second in Conference USA.
Memphis made its first appearance in the C-USA Championship game, falling to UAB, 5-0. It was also the Tigers first tournament title game since winning the 1995 Great Midwest Conference crown. Memphis finished tied for third in C-USA with a 14-10 record, and the Tigers .583 winning percentage is the highest ever for U of M in C-USA, while the 14 league wins are the most since the 1999 team won 15. The Memphis pitching staff posted a 4.00 ERA, its lowest since a 4.00 mark in 1993. Senior 3B Jacob Wilson was named Player of the Year in C-USA, the second straight year that a Tiger has taken home that honor. Wilson leads the league with 17 homers, is second with 64 RBI and first in total bases 142 and slugging percentage (.615). Wilson finished second in program history with 187 RBI in his career, just five RBI shy of record-holder Adam Amar (2004-07) for first in program history. Wilson also finished in second place all-time with 168 runs scored. Senior OF Adam McClain finished the season with a .392 average, 35 points better than any other player in C-USA. Senior RHP Chase Joiner's three complete-game shutouts this season tied him with Mark Bowlan for second-most in single-season history. The record is five by Danny Parks.
Rice (40-17) won the regular season Conference USA title, extending its streak of consecutive conference regular season and/or tournament titles to 17, dating back to the final year of the Southwest Conference. The Owls are hosting a regional at Reckling Park for the 10th time in the last 12 seasons and are scheduled to meet Prairie View at 6 p.m. CT in the first round of regional play Friday. The 2012 C-USA title is the Rice program's seventh-straight since joining the conference for baseball in 2006. The Owls have won or shared six C-USA regular season titles overall and won the league tournament four times (including the one year the team did not win the regular season in 2009). Junior 2B Christian Stringer has managed to reach base in each of the last 43 games. Senior RHP Matthew Reckling was named Conference USA Pitcher of the Year. He tied for the league lead in victories with eight, averages 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings and has held all hitters to a composite .181 batting average that is the lowest in the league. Reckling was named C-USA Pitcher of the Week three times, more than any other player this season. Reckling is the first Owl to be named the C-USA Pitcher of the Year since Ryne Tacker in 2007. In the last 30 games, junior RHP Tyler Duffey has pitched 28.0 innings in 21 total appearances and not surrendered an earned run. The former Bellaire High School star has allowed one run (unearned), but held all hitters to a composite .117 batting average on the way to a win and four saves. As a staff the Owls have the 13th-best WHIP in the nation (1.19).
Southern Miss closed out its season with a win over Rice at the C-USA Championship. The victory allowed the young Golden Eagles team to finish with a 32-24 record, the program's 11th consecutive winning season. Southern Mss won five of eight leagues series in 2012, including sweeps at home against Memphis and East Carolina. The Golden Eagles produced the Conference USA Newcomer of the Year and Freshman of the Year for the first time as members of the league. Junior RHP Andrew Pierce was named Newcomer of the Year after emerging as the ace of the Golden Eagles staff in his first season in Hattiesburg. The two-time C-USA Pitcher of the Week posted a 7-4 record with a 1.99 earned run average, third-lowest in C-USA. Pierce threw two complete games and was a part of three shutouts, including one in which he went the distance. He registered 96 strikeouts (third in the conference), while issuing just 16 walks. Outfielder/pitcher Mason Robbins picked up Freshman of the Year honors after leading Southern Miss in slugging percentage (.470) and triples (5), while batting .330. He had 11 doubles, three home runs and 38 RBI, while stealing seven bases in eight attempts. Robbins also made 10 pitching appearances, including six starts. On the mound, he was 1-0 with a 4.01 ERA in 33.2 innings pitched. The Golden Eagles hit a league-best 17 triples on the season, led by Robbins with five and junior OF Dillon Day with four.
The Green Wave finished the season at 38-20, its highest win total since the 2008 club finished 39-22. Tulane won all four of their Conference USA road series for the first time since 2000 and won six of its eight league series, losing only to top 15-ranked opponents Rice and UCF. The Wave placed multiple players on the All-Conference USA First Team for the 15th time in the last 17 seasons and their six total selections to the first or second team are tied for the second most selections with the 2005 squad. Senior C Jeremy Schaffer headlined the all-conference selections and earned the First Team distinction for the third time in his career. The backstop is just the second player in school history to earn first team accolades on three occasions, joining current assistant coach James Jurries, who claimed All-C-USA First Team honors from 1999-2002. The leading run scorer in Conference USA, junior OF Brandon Boudreaux raked in first team All-C-USA accolades for the first time in his career. He has crossed the plate 56 times in 53 games and ranks among the national leaders in the category. Among his conference brethren, the left-handed hitter sits among the top 10 in nine offensive categories and is among the top five in slugging percentage (.541), runs and total bases (117). Senior RHP D.J. Ponder posted his 12th save of the season against East Carolina in the C-USA Championship to move into a tie for fifth on the school's single season saves chart with Joey Charron (2003). Seven regulars batted .305 or better and Tulane hit .305 as a team, 48 points higher than last year's club that batted .257.
UAB will be making its second appearance in the NCAA Championship when it takes on regional No. 1-seed Florida State Friday at 6:00 p.m. ET in the first round of the Tallahassee Regional. The Blazers (32-28) punched their ticket to the 2012 NCAA Championship by winning the Conference USA title with a 5-0 shutout of Memphis. It is UAB's first NCAA Championship appearance since the 1991 season. UAB's 32 victories this season are the most for the Blazers since the 1996 campaign when they finished with a record of 33-25. Senior RHP Michael Busby was named C-USA Tournament MVP after posting a win and a save in two appearances. In 8.2 innings pitched, he posted a 1.04 ERA with six strikeouts and two walks. Busby was one of three Blazer pitchers named to the All-Tournament team, as he was joined by senior RHP Ryan Nance (the championship game starter) and sophomore RHP Chase Mallard (a surprise starter in the win over UCF). Senior 3B Patrick Palmeiro has played in 116 consecutive games for the Blazers and leads the team in doubles (12), home runs (5) and RBI (34). UAB has 13 one-run victories this season, the most in C-USA.
UCF (43-15) is back in the NCAA field for the second straight year and will open play against Missouri State on Friday at the Coral Gables Regional. As a No. 2 seed once again, UCF will be making back-to-back NCAA appearances for the first time since 2001-02. It also marks the first time it travels to Miami to participate in the NCAA Tournament. Last year, the Knights were the second seed in the Tallahassee Regional. UCF compiled an impressive resume over the course of three months, highlighted by a 17-4 record away from home. Beginning the 2012 campaign at No. 21 in the Baseball America rankings, the Knights never dipped below that ranking over the course of 58 games and finished second in Conference USA play with a program-best 16 wins. UCF's 10-2 road mark in league play this season was the best by a C-USA school since Rice finished 11-1 on the road in 2008. Senior RHP Joe Rogers has a league-high 12 saves on the season and a UCF record 29 saves in his career. Senior OF Alex Friedrich has a league-leading 21 doubles and is second on the team with a .329 batting average. Junior 1B D.J. Hicks has led C-USA in RBI all season long and enters the NCAA Championship with 68 driven in. UCF has stolen 87 bases on the season, 25 more than any other team.