Friday night saw a lot of excitement highlighted by UALR Trojans being a pop fly out away from defeating the No. 13 Ole Miss Rebels. The No. 9 Louisiana Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns and the South Alabama Jaguars each had walk-off wins on Friday night. Solid pitching helped the Hilltoppers sweep a double-header and lead the Cajuns', Jaguars and Troy Trojans all to wins on Saturday. On Sunday, solid pitching and timely hitting combined for Troy to clinch a series win and for South Alabama, Western Kentucky and Louisiana Lafayette to clinch series sweeps while the Red Wolves lost a heart breaker and Georgia State finally out-scored Xavier. Action spilled over into Monday with the Red Wolves salvaging a game against Creighton and UT-Arlingon won for a 2-2 weekend.
Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week
Jace Conrad, (Jr., 2B) No. 7 Louisiana Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns
Conrad had two clutch, late-inning hits and a big fly to wrap up the honors for Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week. Louisiana Lafayette loaded the bases Friday night for Conrad to hit a walk-off sac fly then loaded the bases again for Conrad on Saturday for Conrad to jack his third home run on the year, one of the grand slam variety, in a Cajuns' blowout. On Sunday he took part in a six run seventh inning that sealed the series sweep. On the week Conrad hit .400 (4-10) with two runs, 10 RBI, a couple walks and a hit by pitch while managing to avoid a strike out while stealing three bases on three attempts.
Jake Thompson, (Sr., RHP) Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Bowling Green played host to an old-fashioned pitcher's duel on Sunday but the Hilltoppers would get the better of it as Thompson was brilliantly dominant. Thompson lasted seven innings allowing two hits (both in the first inning) and a walk while striking out seven hitters. This was Thompson's longest outing in his career and his career high for strike outs as well. The Illinois Fighting Illini mounted one scoring threat in the second inning and that would be all. Thompson had a stretch in which he retired nine straight hitters en route to holding the Illini to a .087 batting average.
Sun Belt Conference Team Recaps
No. 7 Louisiana Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns (13-2, 0-0 Sun Belt, 49 RPI)
The Cajuns swept Texas Southern (5-4, 13-0, 7-2) this weekend after their midweek game with Southeastern Louisiana was post-poned due to inclement weather. Chase Compton scored four runs while Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week Jace Conrad had 10 RBI and the only home run of the week. Austin Robichaux had a 10 strike out performance while Carson Baranik allowed two hits, a walk and no runs in a nine inning outing. Louisiana Lafayette plays at Tulane in the midweek before travelling to Monroe for their conference opening series at the Warhawks.
Texas State Bobcats (10-5, 0-0 Sun Belt, 155 RPI)
The Bobcats winning streak ended at seven games as they lost at home to Valparaiso 2-3 in the midweek before travelling to the northwest where they lost their series at Washington State 1-2 (6-8, 3-4, 5-3). Granger Studdard and Tanner Hill chipped in four runs each while Colby Targun drove in three runs. Texas State hosts No. 14 Texas Lonhorns in the midweek before hosting UT Arlington to open conference play.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (10-5, 0-0 Sun Belt, 79 RPI)
The Hilltoppers had a disappointing midweek loss at Lipscomb 2-10 before heading home and sweeping Illinois (4-3, 5-3, 1-0) in three games with a total run differential of four runs. Philip Diedrick scored three runs while Cody Wofford, Regan Flaherty and Thomas Peter drove in two runs apiece. All three starting pitchers, Austin Clay, Josh Bartley and Jake Thompson had quality starts this weekend to pace the Hilltoppers. Western Kentucky travels to play two at Georgia in the midweek before playing at Georgia State this weekend to open conference play in a battle of one of the league's best pitching staffs against one of the leaguess highest scoring teams.
UALR Trojans (8-5, 0-0 Sun Belt, 27 RPI)
The Trojans had to post-pone their midweek matchup with Stephen F Austin due to inclement weather. The Trojans hosted the No. 13 Ole Miss Rebels and after a dramatic ending to Friday night's game the rest of the series proved anti-climatic as the Trojans were swept (1-2, 5-11, 1-11) at home. Ben Crumpton and Mitchell Scheuller scored two runs each and Bryson Thionnet had three RBI. Travis McDonald pitching a scoreless 6.1 innings with six strike outs. UALR hosts UAPB before coming to Jonesboro to open conference play against Arkansas State.
Troy Trojans (9-7, 0-0 Sun Belt, 257 RPI)
Troy had a 2-2 week losing at home to Samford in the midweek 11-9 before taking winning a series at home against New Orleans (3-5, 3-1, 3-2). Three Trojans scored three runs each as the team was led by Matthew Howard, Trevin Hall and Nick Masonia, who also led with three RBI. Tanner Hicks pitched eight innings allowing two earned runs with 11 strike outs while Shane McCain went seven scoreless with eight strike outs. Ben Tidwell lasted 5.2 innings with two earned runs. Troy plays a midweek game at Alabama State before travelling to Mobile, Ala. to face the South Alabama Jaguars to open conference play.
South Alabama Jaguars (8-7, 0-0 Sun Belt, 55 RPI)
The Jaguars had a tough midweek in which they struggled with timely hitting, dropping two games, one to Jackson State 4-5 and the other to the No. 24 Mississippi State Bulldogs 0-3 before sweeping visiting Southern Illinois (4-3, 4-1, 5-4) this weekend. Bud Collura led the team with five runs scored this week while Hayden Jones and Matt Wojciechowski split the RBI lead with three each. Kevin Hill, Locke St. John and Tripp Hobbs each had quality starts on the weekend combining for 21.2 innings pitched and four earned runs. The Jag travel to play Southern Miss in the midweek before hosting Troy to open conference play this weekend. Outside of A-State/UALR, this is the series I am most excited to see this weekend. All three pitching match-ups have the potential to be pitcher's duels.
Arkansas State Red Wolves (7-8, 0-0 Sun Belt, 111 RPI)
Winter Storm Titan forced the Red Wolves not only to miss their midweek two-game match-up with Missouri State, but also to have to play 2 of 3 home games this weekend at a neutral site in Millington, Ten. While in Millington I sat down with Friday night starter Bradley Wallace to discuss his pitching career at A-State. The Red Wolves struggled this weekend losing the series to Creighton (3-7, 4-5, 6-2) and the Saturday loss was the toughest as the Bluejays ruined Chandler Hawkins' quality start. Maggio led the Red Wolves with four runs scored and Stuart Levy knocked in three RBI. Hawkins allowed three earned runs, all by home, in six innings with four strike outs. Wallace had four strike outs in four innings but Morgan Croft pitched 4.1 hitless, scoreless innings in relief Monday night. Arkansas State travels to Murray State and then hosts in-state UALR this weekend to open conference play.
Georgia State Panthers (7-8, 0-0 Sun Belt, 147 RPI)
Georgia State had a rough week beginning with a midweek shut out at Kennesaw State 0-3 and then being pounded in their series with Xavier (1-16, 10-11, 6-7). David Mayo scored four runs while Nic Wilson and Caden Bailey drove in four apiece to lead the Panther's offense. Tyler McClure pitched 5.2 innings with eight strike outs and an earned run. Jerry Stuckey pitched 3.2 innings in reliefs allowing no earned runs and striking out three. Georgia State hosts Siena in a couple of midweek match-ups before hosting Western Kentucky to open conference play this weekend.
Louisiana Monroe Warhawks (7-9, 0-0 Sun Belt, 124 RPI)
ULM got the week off to a good start with a midweek win against Michigan State 5-1. However, the Warhawks traveled to Samford and were swept (3-9, 6-9, 5-6) this weekend. Dalton Herrington led the team with six runs scored and Anthony Herrera drove in four. Chris Hunt pitched 8 innings allowing an earned run while striking out six. Carey Taylor stuck out four in four innings with an earned run. ULM plays a home and away with Jackson State this week before hosting in-state rival No. 7 Louisiana Lafayette this weekend to open conference play.
UT Arlington Mavericks (5-10, 0-0 Sun Belt, 228 RPI)
The Mavericks didn't play a series this weekend but did lost to Texas A&M 4-5 in the midweek before splitting at 2-2 during the Hilton Invitational they hosted. UT Arlington split with Utah (3-5, 9-3), beat Missouri State 6-5 and lost to Abilene Christian 1-2. Derek Miller scored four runs and Matt Shortall drove in six to lead the Mavs. Brad Vachon allowed two earned runs while striking out six over nine innings of work. The Mavs host Oklahoma in the midweek before heading to San Marcos, Texas to play Texas State to open conference play.
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Mark West writes for College Baseball Central as the Sun Belt Conference and Arkansas State Red Wolves Contributor. You can keep up with Mark on twitter @MarkWestCBC or email him a email@example.com