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VOL. 132 | NO. 95 | Friday, May 12, 2017

U of M Baseball Team Seeking Momentum Before AAC Tournament

By Don Wade

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As the University of Memphis finishes out its regular season, there is no guesswork about what the Tigers must do to reach the postseason: win the American Athletic Conference Tournament.

Senior outfielder Chris Carrier leads the University of Memphis Tigers with a .307 batting average, 11 homers and 35 RBIs. His .583 slugging percentage ranks third in the American Athletic Conference. 

(Joe Murphy)

Although the Tigers have beaten Ole Miss twice this season (they were ranked no worse than 11th each time), they have lost 14 of their last 20 games and are in seventh-place in the eight-team AAC with a 6-12 record heading into a three-game weekend series at last-place East Carolina (4-14).

Overall, the Tigers are 26-23 and, well, search for stability.

“We haven’t had the best season we can have, but there’s still plenty of time left to do what we want to do,” said pitcher Jonathan Bowlan. “Our conference, anybody can beat anybody at any time.”

Said senior second baseman Brandon Grudzielanek: “We’ve done all facets of the game at one point, we’re just having trouble putting it all together. We’ve done it a couple of games, just haven’t been able to do it consistently.”

In addition to beating the Rebels twice, the Tigers had an early five-game winning streak and then a season-high six-game winning streak in March that included taking two of three from a solid Missouri State team.

But now as the season winds down, they own the worst defense in the league. They’ve made 66 errors, 10 more than the next-most error prone team.

“We are offensive in the middle of the infield with (Alec) Trela and Grudzielanek,” said coach Daron Schoenrock. “We’re not very rangy as compared to some teams. Now you look at the batting averages and RBIs and compare them to the second baseman and shortstops of other teams and we’re far beyond them. We gotta kinda sit there and live with what we are defensively.”

Offensively, the team’s .255 batting average ranks seventh in the AAC. Senior outfielder Chris Carrier leads the Tigers with a .307 batting average, 11 home runs and 35 runs batted in. His .583 slugging percentage ranks third in the league.

So, he’s the guy opposing teams are increasingly determined not to let beat them.

“I’m trying to calm myself with runners in scoring position, because they’re trying to pitch around me – with a base open especially,” Carrier said. “I’m seeing a lot of breaking balls in the dirt, so my main thing is seeing things up and just staying within myself.”

Trela, a freshman who has hit eight home runs, is also getting careful treatment, Schoenrock said, adding, “He’s learning to lay off pitches.”

Basically 50 games into their season, the Tigers at their best have been very good. But there have only been glimpses of that team.

“I’d say we have spent the entire season being very close to who we want to be,” said Schoenrock. “Early in the year we were winning games and there were a lot of crazy things happening. We were throwing guys out at the plate two times a game, we’d walk a leadoff guy and the next guy would line into a double play. Those things, with any team, don’t go your way the whole year. Now, the mistakes we’re making are catching up with this in this spell. And we’re facing a very good array of arms in this conference.

“This is a pitching and defense league. We’re a little more one-dimensional than I would have liked. We’re not running, our short-game capabilities are not as good as they need to be to beat dominant pitching.”

Last season, the Tigers got hot during the conference tournament and reached the semi-finals. That lends some hope.

“We feel good about making a run and getting into (an NCAA) regional,” said pitcher Connor Alexander.

South Florida, which has 38 wins on the season, is ranked 24th nationally and sits atop the AAC with a 12-6 record. So, that’s the team to beat.

But the Tigers also know they have to first take care of the team that walks out of their dugout. And whether it’s errors, runners left on base, or walks issued and hits allowed, none of what came before matters now and when they get down to Clearwater, Florida, for the tournament. It starts May 23.

“You can’t focus on the past,” Bowlan said. “You focus on the past, you’re gonna be in trouble.”

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