Baseball: Owls Fall in Conference USA semifinal to UAB

Program earned first C-USA postseason win in history.


Michelle Friswell

FAU players celebrate after a win vs Old Dominion on April 26. The Owls beat ODU 6-4 during the tournament. Photo by Michelle Friswell | Associate Editor

Ryan Lynch, Staff Writer

The No. 19 ranked Florida Atlantic Owls were eliminated from the Conference USA Tournament during the weekend, losing their chance at the C-USA automatic bid for the NCAA regionals.

The tournament, hosted by the University of Southern Mississippi, saw rain and tough field conditions midway through on Thursday. The weather compressed much of the tournament schedule, making it tough for all the squads who made the trip.

FAU sits at 40-17 after tournament play, with their only hope of advancing to regional play laying on an at-large tournament bid from the regional selection committee. The selection is at noon on Monday, May 23.

While completely probable that the Owls will move on, a major worry in future play is the run scoring capabilities of the team. FAU left 26 runners on base over the course of tournament play, a concern at a time where every run counts. Here’s what you need to know from each game:

Game One:

FAU 6, ODU 4

The Owls came into the first game of the tournament 2-4 in their final six regular season games, raising many questions and concerns about their postseason readiness. A win against Old Dominion (27-28) got the team started on the right foot.

Junior pitcher Brandon Rhodes took the mound as the first Owl pitcher to see postseason action. Rhodes had previously faced the Monarchs on April 26, pitching 5 2/3 innings, while giving up only a single run on six hits en route to a win.

Rhodes pitched five innings of work, but gave up three runs (all in the top of the fifth) on six hits, while striking out two and walking two.

Run support was not a problem for Rhodes early. Junior right fielder Brendon Sanger hit the first run of the game in the bottom of the first, driving in sophomore second baseman Stephen Kerr to put FAU up 1-0.

The Owls’ biggest inning came in the bottom of the third: Senior third baseman Ricky Santiago scored two runners on a bases-loaded double, extending the lead to 3-0. Junior centerfielder Roman Collins followed with a double of his own to make the score 5-0.

After scoring their three runs against Rhodes, the Monarchs struck senior reliever Reily Monkman for a run in the top of the sixth, on a solo home run from junior center fielder Connor Myers to bring ODU within a run, 5-4.

That’s all they would score. FAU relievers Bo Logan and Seth McGarry combined to pitch 2 2/3 innings of hitless baseball, securing the win for the Owls.

Rhodes went on to recieve the win for his efforts, his fourth of the year. Sophomore Sam Sinnen received the loss for the Monarchs, his third of the year. Sinnen pitched 5 1/3, giving up five runs on seven hits. McGarry earned a save, the fourth of the year for the junior.

The win is the Owls’ first ever in Conference USA postseason play since joining in 2013.

Game Two:

UAB 2, FAU 1:

After a rain-filled Thursday, the Owls were slated to face the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers (32-24) in their second tournament game, now in the winner’s bracket.

Senior Drew Jackson pitched the whole game (8 1/3 innings of work), giving up two runs on five hits in a strong outing. He struck out 12 batters, one shy of the tournament record of 13.

Going into the eighth in a scoreless tie, sophomore shortstop CJ Chatham hit a solo home run to put the Owls up 1-0 with their first lead of the game.

After retiring the first  batter in bottom of the ninth with a strikeout, Jackson gave up a single to junior right fielder Griffin Gum, putting the potential tying run on base. A two-run home run by Blazer senior left fielder Jeff Schalk gave UAB a 2-1 walk-off victory, sending FAU to the consolation bracket.

Jackson was charged with a loss, his third of the year. Sophomore Dylan Munger of UAB received the win, his first of the year.

Game Three:

FAU 5, USM 4

FAU needed a win to stay in the tournament, and stood with host Southern Mississippi (36-18-1) in their way of advancing.

Junior Kyle Miller was given the ball to to start for the Owls, his first postseason start of the year. Miller pitched 5 1/3 innings, giving up two runs on five hits. He did not surrender a base runner in scoring position until the fifth inning.

FAU struck first in the bottom of the first, after Brendon Sanger scored on a Roman Collins single, giving them an early 1-0 lead.

After a three-run top of the sixth that featured three different  FAU pitchers (Miller, junior Devon Carr, senior Reily Monkman) that put the Blazers on top 3-1, FAU found an answer in the bottom of the inning.

Junior right fielder Billy Endris and senior third baseman Ricky Santiago each had an RBI, while CJ Chatham had two to put the Owls up 5-3.

A USM runner scored on a single and an error in the eighth, but Seth McGarry shut the door on the Golden Eagle rally to close out the game, keeping the score at 5-4.

Monkman received his sixth win of the year. He pitched 1 2/3 innings while only surrendering a hit. Junior Luke Lowry received the loss for Southern Mississippi, his fourth of the season. Lowery surrendered two runs and two hits in two-thirds of an inning of work. McGarry received the save, his fifth of the season.

With the victory, FAU hit the 40-win mark for the season and moved into the semi-finals. A rematch with UAB awaited them the following day.

Game Four:

UAB 10, FAU 0 (8)

The Owls once again faced elimination against the team who had beat them the day before, but it was not in the cards for head coach John McCormack and his team.

Freshman David McKay started the game for the Owls, pitching 4 2/3 innings in the first postseason appearance of his career. McKay surrendered three runs on five hits while striking out two. He surrendered all his runs in the fourth and fifth innings.

FAU put runners on base in every inning, but failed to score on every chance they had. Part of the offensive drought came from five separate double plays during the game, a costly total for a team looking to avoid elimination.

FAU only was able to muster five hits throughout the game, a show of tenacity for Blazer senior pitcher Johnny Lieske. Lieske pitched seven innings of scoreless baseball, surrendering four of FAU’s five hits.

UAB (33-24) went on to score seven runs in the final two innings of play, on their way to a 10-0 lead and the eventual mercy rule victory to move on to the championship game.

McKay went on to receive the loss, his second of the season.  Lieske earned the win for UAB, his fourth. UAB went on to face Florida International in the championship game.