If the college baseball season were likened to the recent Kentucky Derby, we’re in the home stretch this week, and as the saying goes, it’s a hoss and a hoss that might just come down to a photo finish.
Coastal Carolina and Southern Miss are still atop the standings, and both still have identical records at 20-7. Louisiana is now three lengths, umm, games behind the two at 17-10, followed by Troy at 16-11, App State at 15-11, James Madison at 14-11, Texas State at 15-12, followed by a trio of Old Dominion, Georgia State, and Georgia Southern, all at 14-13 as the Sun Belt has a remarkable 10 of 14 members boasting winning conference marks.
The group below .500 that unfortunately enables the top-heavy standings begins with South Alabama at 11-16, Arkansas State at 6-19, and finished out by ULM with 5-21 and Marshall with 5-22.
Both Coastal Carolina and Southern Miss are ranked in this week's College Baseball Central Top 25, Coastal remaining #10 and Southern moving up to #22. Troy is the only other Sun Belt member among the 37 total teams receiving votes in the poll.
Sweeps was the prevailing theme throughout the SBC as the stretch run began, with the pacesetters Southern Miss and Coastal Carolina both going 3-0 for the weekend. The Golden Eagles also ran their win streak to 13 and made themselves at home by beating ULM on the road in Monroe, LA, 8-4, 19-0, and 6-2. Coastal also got comfortable in Mobile, AL, starting off with a close 8-7 victory over South Alabama in 10 innings, followed by two more wins against the Jaguars, 14-11 and 16-10.
Louisiana cooked at home, taking all three as well in Lafayette, over visiting Texas State, 7-3, 9-5, and 8-3. And Troy extended the poor treatment of hosts by going into Huntington, WV, and sweeping homestanding Marshall, 7-6, 6-3, and 4-2. App State followed Louisiana’s side of the sweep trend, at home over Arkansas State, 7-6, 11-10, and a run-rule 16-4 final shortened to 7 innings on Sunday.
The pattern was finally broken by James Madison, as they took two out of three at home over fellow Virginia foe Old Dominion, with 25-6 and 6-4 scores sounding much like the title of the 70s Chicago hit song, before falling just short of their own trifecta in an 8-5 Sunday loss.
But, not to worry, in a Peach State showdown, Georgia State resumed the all-or-nothing model with three wins in Atlanta over Georgia Southern, 11-3, 8-2, and a 16-5 run-rule finale shortened to 8 innings on Sunday.
In statistical categories for conference games only through May 14, Coastal Carolina remains first with a team batting average of .316, Georgia Southern is right behind them at .304, and Southern Miss has moved into the group at or above .300 with a .301 BA.
Southern Miss held onto first in team ERA, the only team below 5.00 at 4.68, with just four others still below 6.00 in Louisiana (5.05), Troy (5.23), Coastal (5.60), and Old Dominion (5.97).
Coastal Carolina has 55 home runs to continue leading that team stat, with Georgia State (52) and Troy (51) the only others at or above 50 round trippers.
Louisiana continues to lead in fielding percentage at .983, compared to .974 for both Georgia Southern and App State, and .972 for both Georgia State and Southern Miss. The race for team stolen bases can probably be called already, as Louisiana at 80-105 is beyond reach of even Coastal (45-51) and Old Dominion (43-47), the only two with more than half the leader total.
Similarly, James Madison continues to enjoy a healthy lead in the SBC for striking out the fewest times, 170, with Southern Miss at 208 the only other within 40 Ks.
Individually, for players with a qualifying number of conference plate appearances, as he has all season, the leading hitter in the SBC remains Jesse Sherrill of Georgia Southern, whose average has now dipped below .500 to .467. Two others are hitting exactly .400, Caden Bodine of Coastal and Nick Monistere of Southern Miss.
Last week’s home run leaders, Shane Lewis of Troy (15) and Slade Wilks of Southern Miss (14) have no change, and they lead a group of seven others all at 10. Payton Eeles (24-27) of Coastal maintains his lead in stolen bases, with only Heath Hood of Louisiana (19-21) and James Cameron of Georgia State (17-20) fewer than 10 swipes behind.
Tanner Hall of Southern Miss again holds the pitching lead in ERA at 2.33, followed by John Holobetz of Old Dominion at 2.93. Kyler Carmack of Arkansas State is up slightly to 3.14 and leads a group still under 4.00 of Logan Ross (3.34) and Grayson Stewart (3.36) of Troy, Ryan Watson (3.56) of Georgia State, Zac Addkison (3.67) of Marshall, and at 3.94, Cooper Rawls of Louisiana and Sam Armstrong of Old Dominion.
In wins, Hall has 8 and moved ahead of Xander Hamilton from App State, still at 7, with Stewart, Watson, and Armstrong at 6. Hamilton also remains the strikeout king so far with 83 Ks, followed closest now by Stewart (70) and Hall (68).
In three-game conference series coming up the final conference regular season weekend:
Southern Miss (35-15) hosts Louisiana (35-18) in Hattiesburg, MS
Coastal Carolina (33-17) hosts Marshall (16-34) in Conway, SC
Troy (36-17) hosts App State (26-21) in Troy, AL
James Madison (29-21) travels to Georgia Southern (24-27) at Statesboro, GA
Texas State (33-19) hosts ULM (16-35) in San Marcos, TX
Old Dominion (31-20) hosts Georgia State (27-26) in Norfolk, VA
South Alabama (23-27) travels to Arkansas State (17-31) at Jonesboro, AR
The Sun Belt Conference Baseball Tournament is set at Montgomery, AL, May 23-27.