By Steve Parkhurst
April 27, 2023
The American Athletic Conference heads into its fifth weekend of conference action this week. Wichita State and Houston are tied atop the conference standings after last weekend.
Week 5 Matchups
Memphis (21-20, 4-8) at Wichita State (24-16, 8-4)
Memphis lost their weekend series at home against Houston, but despite being shutout in one game and scoring just one run in a run-rule loss, the Tigers were not without some outstanding individual performances.
Dalton Fowler shut down the Cougars on Saturday, improving to 5-3 on the year while limiting Houston to just two runs over six innings. Logan Kohler went 5-for-5 in the game and shortstop Jake Curtis was 2-for-3 with three RBI.
Wichita State swept East Carolina after travel issues for the Pirates caused the series to start with a Saturday doubleheader and finished on Sunday. The sweep was the Shockers first of a ranked team at home since 1991.
The Shockers weekend was so dominant, that they also dominated the weekly conference awards honors. Payton Tolle was named Player of the Week and Grant Adler, Jr. was named Pitcher of the Week while Garrett Pennington made the Honor Roll.
Tolle hit .364 with seven RBI during the last week, while on the bump he shutout the Pirates on 108 pitches, allowing just two hits and striking out ten batters. Adler, Jr., followed with a shutout of his own, an 8-0 victory on Sunday, where he allowed three hits and no East Carolina runner even reached third base. For his part, Pennington hit .353 with three home runs and seven RBI as the Shockers went 4-0 overall last week.
Houston (23-18, 8-4) at UCF (23-17, 5-7)
Houston is on the road for the second straight weekend having played in Memphis last weekend where the Cougars won their fourth consecutive conference series to open 2023.
Zach Arnold earned a spot on the Honor Roll in The American, one of two players with that distinction for last week. Arnold hit .500 with two doubles and six runs scored in Houston’s 3-1 week. Cougars right-hander Josh Ekness joined Arnold in being honored by the conference. Ekness tossed six scoreless innings on Friday night in Memphis after weather pushed back the start of the opening contest. Ekness allowed just one hit to the Tigers offense, it turned out to be the only hit of the game for Memphis as Houston reliever Maddux Miller pitched the final three innings without allowing a hit or a run.
The 8-0 Friday night shutout was followed by a loss on Saturday but then a dominant 11-1 win on Sunday with the help of Houston starter Cade Citelli who threw six shutout innings.
Houston travels to Orlando this weekend to face the Knights of UCF. UCF was in Tampa last weekend and took the series against South Florida in a 3-1 week overall. Over that week, Andrew Sundean earned conference honors by hitting .444 with two doubles, two home runs, and six runs driven in. One of the Sundean home runs came in Friday’s 6-4 win in which he was 3-for-4. Nick Romano also homered in a 2-for-3 night. Ruddy Gomez got the win on Friday to improve to 6-2 allowing four runs over six innings. Najer Victor and Kyle Kramer both provided scoreless relief out of the bullpen.
The Knights run-ruled the Bulls 11-1 in eight innings on Sunday. Sundean homered in the win and Drew Faurot hit a grand slam in a 4-for-4 afternoon.
Tulane (12-29, 5-7) at ECU (29-12, 7-5)
East Carolina was swept at Wichita State but can right the Pirates ship this weekend when they host Tulane. Travel issues for East Carolina forced the series to start a day later than scheduled, and with a doubleheader. In being swept, the Pirates were shutout in two games, and managed just three runs in the middle game of the series. Lane Hoover and Joey Berini were both 2-for-4 in the defeat.
Tulane had some bright spots in their weekend series in Cincinnati despite losing the series and despite losing the finale 12-1. The Tulane offense jumped out to a 6-0 second inning lead in the opening game, but the pitching staff was unable to keep Cincinnati off the board as the Bearcats rallied for twelve runs to win the game.
In Tulane’s 10-3 win on Saturday, they got a nice start from Ricky Castro who went 5 ⅓ innings and Grant Cleavinger was solid out of the bullpen over 1 ⅔ scoreless innings. Billy Price closed the door on the Bearcats with two innings of scoreless baseball out of the bullpen for the Green Wave as well.
Cincinnati (17-24, 5-7) at USF (17-25, 6-6)
Cincinnati hosted Tulane last weekend and won the series, partly with the help of Honor Roll recipient Kerrington Cross. Cross hit .563 with six RBI and scored nine runs for the week.
The Bearcats fell behind 6-0 in the top of the second inning but outscored the Green Wave the rest of the way to take a 12-9 opening game. After dropping Saturday’s middle game, Cincinnati rallied to run-rule Tulane on Sunday 12-1 in just seven innings.
The Bearcats travel to Tampa this weekend to face the Bulls in a series which can really put some distance between the two teams in the standings.
South Florida hosted UCF last weekend and dropped the series at home. The Bulls took the middle game 14-8 thanks to home runs by Bobby Boser, Daniel Cantu, Drew Brutcher, Rafael Betancourt, and Joaquin Monque. Austin Grause was really good out of the bullpen in Friday’s opener, closing out the final 3 ⅔ innings without allowing a run on one hit and striking out six Knights batters. Boser and Eric Snow both homered in the Bulls defeat.
Steve Parkhurst is a baseball writer based in Houston.