Legends On Deck

Baseball Fun In The Sun For the AAC Crown

As the regular season wraps up for a majority of the collegiate programs in baseball, the calendar shifts over to postseason play, as the AAC (American Athletic Conference) will feature its 8 baseball programs this week for the 2022 TicketSmarter American Athletic Conference Baseball Championship which will take place from Tuesday May 24th through Sunday, Championship Sunday at that, May 29th in Clearwater, FL at Baycare Ballpark, the home for Phillies Spring Training and the Low A Clearwater Threshers.

In terms of storylines there will be a lot to look at in this tournament. The major tournament storyline is that this could be the so-called “Final Ride,” meaning that this could be the final time that these 8 programs could be playing for a shot at the AAC crown, as UCF, Cincinatti and Houston will all be leaving for the Big 12 in a matter of years. With that being said it should create for some dream matchups in the tournament that may not occur again for a while.

With that said let’s break down each team heading into the tournament based off their seeding, as the seeding was set based off each team’s final conference record.

#1 ECU Pirates (38-18, 20-4 American)

The ECU Pirates come into this tournament as the odds-on favorite, as the team finished the season with 20 wins in the American, a 6-win difference to the 2 seed in the tourney. One of the keys to this ECU squad is their pitching staff as they don’t allow a tone of extra bases, with them allowing the fewest doubles in the conference and having the best ERA as a team in the conference also. The key hitter on this team has to be Lane Hoover, as he leads the team with his .355 AVG while on the pitching side you have to watch for Garrett Saylor, who has 88 strikeouts on the year and ERA leader for the AAC, Carter Spivey, who enters the tournament with a 2.31 ERA.

Beyond the numbers though, last season ECU got embarrassed early, as they fell to Memphis in the tournament and were not the same, as ECU definitely will have a chip on their shoulder heading into this year’s tournament as they try to right the wrong of last season.

#2 UCF (32-23,14-10 American)

The number two seed in this tournament UCF will also be in the same boat as ECU, as UCF looks to try and get back to the championship game in the tournament for the 2nd straight year, looking however to win that AAC crown this year. UCF finished out the regular season losing 2 out of 3 to the Bearcats from Cincy, however the team was able rack some major wins this season as they were able to knock of powerhouse ACC Miami and SEC Ole Miss during the year.

UCF will be a tough outing as the team has the highest batting average in the AAC, with a team average of .286 and the 2nd best team ERA as well. Watch out for Noah Orlando and Gephry Pena as two offensive contributors as Orlando leads the AAC in OBP and Pena leads in stolen bases as this UCF team is playing small ball style baseball by getting on base and capitalizing on extra bags in any form. The Achillies heal that may be for UCF in this tournament is not so much any specific team drawback, as it is more so ECU, as ECU was able to sweep UCF in their season series, a common occurrence for opposing AAC programs facing the Pirates.

#3 Houston (34-22, 13-11 American) 

Houston comes into this tournament as the #3 seed however the team has been very streaky this season, as they finished the year on a 6-game losing streak. However, their streakiness can be a positive factor for this team as the tournament is a tournament of getting on a streak to get to the title game which could fare well for Houston.

Statistically this season, the Cougars have been near the top in a few of the offensive categories in the conference, as they are 2nd in Batting Average as a team with a .281 average and senior Ryan Hernandez has been a key bat for the team, entering into the week with 12 homers and hitting .297.  On the pitching side of the ball, watch out for Ben Sears, as the right-handed throwing junior has the 2nd best ERA in the AAC at 2.95 and has kept the opposing team average low as well at a respectable .230, proving to be a crucial arm this week for Houston.

#4 Cincinatti (23-29, 12-12 American)

The final of the 3 future Big 12 teams entering the week, the Bearcats come into the tournament looking to improve off their early tournament departure last year, in which they came in ranked were they are this season, #4. Cincinatti came into the season well as they racked early season non-conference wins including over Ohio State and Northwestern out of the Big Ten, however the team has dipped a bit coming into the week.

If you are a fan of the long ball, this is your team, as Cincinatti comes into the week as the leading team in homers in the conference with 82, 16 more than the #2 team in the category and tournament as well, UCF. Not only to they bring the HR leading team, but also the AAC HR leading player in Gerritt Merritt, as Merritt has 17 homers on the year. However, this team does strikeout, as the team has the most offensive strikeouts in the league also with 513. But with Baycare Ballpark being a hitter friendly ballpark, it should provide for an opportunity for Cincy’s long ball to be in effect and possibly help lead the team to a deeper tournament run this year.

#5 Tulane (31-24-1, 11-13 American)

Tulane comes into the week as the only team with a positive overall record, however a under .500 conference record. For Tulane, unfortunately they were unable to rack up wins in conference as they had better performances over out of conference opponents such as wins on March 5th and 6th over Mississippi State and played better during the middle of the year.

Tulane is a middle of the pack team heading into the tournament in terms of where they are at in the leaderboards, as the team is 2,3,4 in the majority of AAC statistical categories. While there aren’t any major top hitters showing out for the Green Wave, pitcher Grant Siegel will be key for Tulane, as Siegel is 3rd in the conference in ERA with a 3.02 ERA and a 14-9 record, however the big key for Tulane is conference play though heading into the week, as Tulane needs to clean up against the conference in order to have success this week.

#6 Wichita State (21-34, 9-15 American)

As with Tulane, Wichita State and the Shockers take a step back this year, as the team falls from the 3 seed to the 6 seed this tournament. The Shockers season started out rocky with the team falling to an early 0-6 record to start, but 4 Power 5 conference over Kansas, Texas A&M, and twice against Iowa definitely boosted themselves. However, a struggling month and a half of baseball from late March to early May really created some problems for the Shockers, as the team finished with only 5 wins on the road, while playing good though in neutral site games with a 5-0 record, which is what this tournament is considered.

Brock Rodden is the big bat in the lineup for WuShock’s crew, as Rodden, a sophomore from Oklahoma, has 16 homers, 2nd in the conference, and is hitting well over .300. Cameron Bye will be an arm for the Shockers that will be someone to watch, as Bye currently holds a 3.03 ERA on the year and Jace Kaminska, who has 83 K’s and 75.2 innings of work, someone who should get some bulk this tournament.

 

#7 Memphis (25-27, 9-15 American)

Memphis improves this season in terms of their seeding as the Tigers improve from the 8 seed to the 7 seed, however last season it did not matter as they knocked off ECU on the Opening Day of the tournament, putting ECU on edge the rest of the way. This season, the Tigers played well on the road as they finished 12-9, but they have recently struggled while having a good early season start.

As a team, Memphis may not be the most statistically pleasing team, as they are at the bottom of some of the pitching and offensive categories, but they do have some key pieces to the team, as RHP Landon Gartman has kept hitters in check, with an opposing batting average of .177 in 79 innings of work. On the offensive side, Ian Bibiloni will be a guy you will see a lot on the base paths as he enters the Tourney with OBP of .448.

#8 South Florida (28-27, 8-16 American) 

The final team is the reigning champions of the American, as the Bulls come in as the 8 seed in tournament. The Bulls shocked people last season as Billy Mohl’s club went all the way to win the title and punched a ticket to the College World Series regionals and even to the Super Regionals. This South Florida comes into the week with a respectable record as the team did play well out of conference, however they did struggle in the conference putting them in the 8 seed.

Carmine Lane will be a productive offensive bat for the club as Lane is hitting .316 with 10 homers and 54 RBIs. Offensively the Bulls may have a struggle however, as they are only hitting .266 as a club, last in the conference. On the pitching side, the Bulls Orion Kerkering will sure come in as one of the tops of arms as he currently has 89 Ks on the year, the most in the league, with 31 of them looked at strikeouts, proving that he has fooled hitters with his placement of pitches.

This tournament will be entertaining to watch, as with some of the top bats and arms in the country on display, the AAC Championship will be battled hard, as only ECU has a chance to make the CWS even if they don’t win the championship, which should play for some interesting storylines if a non-ECU team club takes home the crown this year.

Here is the Official Tournament Schedule as I will be covering and bringing you all tournament coverage throughout the week:

2022 TicketSmarter American Athletic Conference Baseball Championship
Schedule

Tuesday, May 24
Game 1: No. 5 Tulane vs. No. 4 Cincinnati | 9 a.m. | ESPN+
Game 2: No. 8 South Florida vs. No. 1 East Carolina | 47 minutes after Game 1 | ESPN+
Game 3: No. 7 Memphis vs. No. 2 UCF | 4 p.m. | ESPN+
Game 4: No. 6 Wichita State vs. No. 3 Houston | 47 minutes after Game 3 | ESPN+

Wednesday, May 25
Game 5: Loser of Game 1 vs. Loser of Game 2 | 3 p.m. | ESPN+
Game 6: Loser of Game 3 vs. Loser of Game 4 | 47 minutes after Game 5 | ESPN+

Thursday, May 26
Game 7: Winner of Game 1 vs. Winner of Game 2 | 1 p.m. | ESPN+
Game 8: Winner of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 4 | 47 minutes after Game 7 | ESPN+

Friday, May 27
Game 9: Winner of Game 5 vs. Loser of Game 7 | 1 p.m. | ESPN+
Game 10: Winner of Game 6 vs. Loser of Game 8 | 47 minutes after Game 9 | ESPN+

Saturday, May 28
Game 11: Winner of Game 7 vs. Winner of Game 9 | 9 a.m. | ESPN+
Game 12: Winner of Game 8 vs. Winner of Game 10 | 47 minutes after Game 11 | ESPN+
Game 13 (If Necessary): Loser of Game 11 vs. Winner of Game 11 | 47 minutes after Game 12 | ESPN+
Game 14 (If Necessary): Loser of Game 12 vs. Winner of Game 12 | 47 minutes after Game 13 | ESPN+

Sunday, May 29
Game 15: Semifinal Winners | Noon | ESPNEWS

Dylan Spaulding
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