Week Four of AAC play is now in the books, so here are the updated conference Power Rankings after a big moving weekend across the league.
I'll keep the Pirates at 8th, although they did have a nice week. In midweek action, they took down UNC-Wilmington on the road to get some momentum.
Though they lost the frontend of their series at Cincinnati, the Pirates captured the last two games for a road win against a competent Bearcats club.
Ace Evan Kruczynski is back in the rotation after an injury, and he looks like the real McCoy. On Saturday, he blanked the Bearcats with an 8 IP, 1 hit, 6 strikeout performance in his team's win. That should immediately make the Pirates more competitive than they have been to date in the league.
ECU will be looking to cause havoc going forward, and they have a good chance with surging Tulane coming to the eastern reaches of Carolina this weekend.
Bit of trivia for you too. Despite their 0-10 start, the Pirates are still a significant RPI team at #72 following this weekend. RPI, man.
Memphis didn't show much this weekend with a home loss to USF, where the series was clinched in two games (though Game Two was played as the first of today's doubleheader).
Not a lot here to suggest that the Tigers can move beyond this tier down the stretch.
Look, so much stability in these rankings now with at least three teams staying in place...
Onto the Bearcats. They lost a home series to a winless team. That is not good.
I expect Cincy to cause some issues, particularly for the middle chunk of the league, if they can get their bats going. Right now though, the Bearcats have scored 3 or more runs just once in their last seven games.
This is going to get hard now. You have a logjam at 7-5 with three pretty even teams in resume. There will also be some issues with conflicting head-to-head wins, so I am going to focus on where I think these teams are trending.
After opening 6-0, the Huskies have gone 1-5 after losing series to Tulane and UCF. That is not the trend you want right now.
The good news is that they are a game back, but my concern is if the Huskies' magic is going away at the wrong time. Friday ace Tim Cate has been shelled for two consecutive series (giving up an 8-1 loss to UCF). He was an absolute machine for much of the year, so getting him going will be key to giving UConn momentum down the stretch.
They have a great opportunity to move back up with a home series against Cincy before the real crunch time of their season: the road trip to Houston and hosting USF.
I would argue that a sweep is a must given that schedule and how close this league is right now. We'll check back in next week.
Again, we are splitting hairs here with three teams tied for third, but I'll keep the Bulls at 4th.
How can you do that when they swept UCF? Fair question. I'll talk about why I think UCF is in a great position in a moment, but the Bulls' 2-1 series win over Memphis was good, not great.
Every game is going to matter, and their series loss to Cincy may come back to haunt them in the conference race. Additionally, the Bulls have perhaps the toughest road in: Houston, ECU (now seemingly good enough to win a game), at UConn, and at UCF.
For the purpose of picking the conference winner, USF has the most dangerous stretch to get through. They could gain some ground by winning those series, so we'll see where they are after Houston.
Here's what I said last week when I had the Knights at 5th:
I don't think we learned a whole lot this week about UCF. Their #29 RPI continues to be excellent. They have a home bout with UConn next week. Win two of those, and they might be a higher team.
That RPI kept climbing up to 24 after an impressive home series win over UConn. This changed the complexion of the conference race and certainly brought UCF into the second tier chasing the title.
In that series, they beat UConn 8-1, lost 6-5, and then closed with another 8-2 dismantling of the Huskies.
Their schedule to finish the season sets them up perfectly to have a chance. Remember, they have already beaten Houston.
Next up, a home stretch against struggling Memphis. Then on to the battle, where they will first go on the road to Tulane (a team they need to get in front of), an away trip to Cincy (that also helps), and then a home finale against USF.
So there are two tough series in there, and both of them could help leapfrog conference contenders. UCF is in the position to control its own destiny, but it needs to start with handling Memphis.
What could have been. On Friday night, Corey Merrill pitched a gem at Houston for the Green Wave and the bats came alive for an impressive 7-1 victory.
Wave fans were riding high, as no Tulane team had ever beaten Houston at their house in the first two games. By the 7th inning of Game Two, the Wave had amassed a 7-3 lead and pitcher JP France was rolling into his 7th frame on cruise control.
It all came undone by a combination of losing control at the wrong time, bad luck, and unforced errors. The Coogs won in the 9th to make Sunday a rubber match.
On Sunday, Tulane never had a chance, as unfortunately Ross Massey - coming off a great performance on Tuesday - saw a homerun ball off his first pitch. When it was all said and done in the 1st, the game was out of reach with a 9-0 Houston lead.
The Green Wave can likely steady the weekend rotation with Sam Bjorngjeld coming in next week, as I think they may try after going by committee on Tuesday night vs. LSU. That said, the midweek games certainly matter immensely to Tulane's still live regional at-large chances (sitting at 81st with serious work to do). Tulane desperately needs the re-emergence of Chase Solesky or Ross Massey to help fill the void.
On the positive, there are some good things happening for Tulane at the plate. Looking beyond the top of the order, Grant Brown (already on a roll), Jake Willsey, and Hunter Hope each had productive weekends.
There also seems to be sense that catcher Jeremy Montalbano could be nearing a return -- though it's unclear if that will include catching given his injury. Tulane has found its groove at the plate, and that takes some relief off of the Wave's challenges on the mound.
At any rate, Tulane remains tied for first and will get a shot at Houston again back at home in a few weeks. That's an advantage to a club looking to win a title, with Houston poised to compete until the end.
Before then, the Green Wave needs a road win next week at ECU. A road sweep would be a bonus.
Alright Coogs. You've got this one.
Houston turned a series that was minutes away from not going their way into a huge momentum swing with a furious late inning rally on Saturday night. That is impressive after your ace pitcher has his worst start of the year (pulled in just 4.2 after Tulane's bats came alive).
The pitching this weekend wasn't great, but Houston has bats, as shown today in their 12-2 mercy rule win over the Green Wave. Most impressive was MLB prospect Connor Wong, who nearly became the first Houston player ever to hit four homers (he finished with a modest three and a triple).
Houston has a lot of competitive baseball left with a trip to USF this weekend, hosting UConn after, and then a trip to Tulane (before closing with Cincy at home).
That is a tough stretch even for a good club. What I liked about Houston was how they won on Saturday, as they capitalized on inopportune Green Wave errors with small ball, bunts, and singles. Good teams find a way to win even when things aren't going well, and I think Houston represented that well on Saturday.
I still do not like their field. But good series win.
Where do the teams stand officially? American (AAC) Baseball Standings have been updated here.