By Doug Kyle
The Sun Belt Conference sees someone old and someone new atop the standings this week, at the completion of the 40% mark in the league’s 2023 schedule.
The new co-leader is Louisiana, at 9-3, along with one of last week’s co-leaders, Coastal Carolina. The other co-leader, Old Dominion, is still a game back at 8-4, and Southern Miss has raised its mark to 7-5. Troy and App State come in at 6-5, both seeing their series game 3 this past weekend cancelled by weather.
James Madison at 5-5, along with Texas State and Georgia Southern at 6-6, are all break even this far. The lower half of the standings sees Georgia State and South Alabama at 5-7, Marshall at 4-8, ULM at 3-8, and Arkansas at 1-8.
Currently, Coastal Carolina (20-9 overall) is ranked #24 in the College Baseball Central Top 25. No other SBC teams are ranked or among the 34 teams receiving votes.
This past weekend, Louisiana vaulted itself to the top of the SBC standings with an impressive road sweep at Marshall, by scores of 8-4, 5-2, and 8-2. Coastal Carolina held on to its share of the lead by taking two of three at home over Georgia Southern, winning the first and third games 10-4 and 13-8, but dropping the middle game 7-5. Old Dominion fell a game back by losing two of three at home to Southern Miss, which ascended to fourth place with 4-2 and 11-8 wins in, naturally, games 1 and 3; with the second contest going to the hosts, 8-7.
Troy and App State both saw game 3 of their series cancelled by weather, Troy after beating Arkansas State on the road 6-5 and 8-1; App State after dropping their first two at home to ULM, 12-3 and 3-2. James Madison won two one-run games over Georgia State at home, 7-6 and 4-3, before dropping back to .500 with a 3-1 loss in game 3.
Texas State saw its winning SBC record erased by losing two of three at South Alabama, winning game 1 on a score of 8-4 before dropping games 2 and 3 with a reversed 8-4 and one-run 5-4 walkoff in 10 innings.
In statistical categories for conference games only through April 9, Coastal Carolina remains first with a team batting average of .336, and Georgia State’s .305 is still the only other team at or above .300. Like last week, Old Dominion leads in team ERA, at 3.94, with Louisiana right behind at 3.95 and Southern Miss at 4.36 the only other teams below 5.00.
No team has reached 30 home runs yet, but at or above 20 now are Coastal Carolina (26), Georgia State (25), Troy (22), and Louisiana (20). Louisiana has moved ahead of Coastal Carolina in fielding percentage, .982 to .975. Georgia State leads a trio at or above .970 with .973, and both Georgia Southern and Southern Miss at .970. Louisiana maintains a wide lead in base stealing, 41-50 on the year, with Georgia State and App State, both at 21 steals, the only other teams remotely close. James Madison has struck out the fewest times, 75, with South Alabama still second at 83.
Individually, for players with a qualifying number of conference plate appearances, the leading hitter in the SBC continues to be Jesse Sherrill of Georgia Southern at .444. Five others are batting .400 or better: Will Turner (.435) of South Alabama, Graham Brown (.429) of Coastal Carolina, Alex Bouche (.408) of Old Dominion, with both Kameron Guangorena of Coastal Carolina and Tate Parker of Southern Miss at .400.
Two of last week’s trio of home run leaders remain tied, now with seven each, Will Turner and Slade Wilks of Southern Miss. Heath Hood of Louisiana is 11-13 on stolen bases and shares that total with Payton Eeles of Coastal Carolina, now 11-12. Cameron Jones of Georgia State is not far behind, a perfect 9-9.
In pitching, Tanner Hall of Southern Miss continues to lead with the only ERA below 1.00, up slightly to 0.65 from 0.45 last week. He’s now tied with Xander Hamilton from App State with wins at 4. Only one other pitcher has an ERA below 2.00, Kyler Carmack of Arkansas State at 1.90. Hamilton also remains the strikeout king so far, his 41 still more than 10 in front of Ty Fisher of Georgia Southern (29) and Patrick Copen of Marshall (28).
In three-game conference series coming up this weekend:
Louisiana (23-9) hosts Troy (22-10) in Lafayette, LA
Coastal Carolina (20-9) at Old Dominion (23-8) in Norfolk, VA
Southern Miss (19-11) hosts James Madison (19-12) in Hattiesburg, MS
App State (16-13) at Georgia Southern (15-17) in Statesboro, GA
Texas State (20-12) hosts Marshall (13-16) in San Marcos, TX
Georgia State (15-17) hosts Arkansas State (10-17) in Atlanta, GA
South Alabama (15-17) at ULM (12-20) in Monroe, LA