Winners of five of their last six contests, the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi baseball team will face a tough challenge this weekend against UT-Arlington at Chapman Field as the Islanders seeks to continue their recent success and postseason push.
The series begins on Friday at 2 p.m. with games on Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 1 p.m., respectively. The series is being sponsored by CenturyLink, which will provide free drawstring backpacks to the first 300 fans on Saturday.
"UTA is one of those coaches that I respect," said Islander head coach Scott Malone. "They had a couple of lean years, but have really built it back up to become a talented team."
At 18-24, the Islanders have matched their overall win total from a season ago with 12 contests remaining. A&M-Corpus Christi is one victory away matching is conference win total from a year ago. They stand 8-13 in the Southland Conference two games behind Nicholls, which is 10-11 in the SLC, for the eighth and final spot in the upcoming tournament. The Islanders enter the weekend five games behind the Mavs at 13-8 in the league. UTA is 20-22 overall.
The Islanders have upped their level of play in the eight games since a 23-1 loss to Rice. As a team, the Islanders are hitting .348 in that span raising their season average to .312, while the pitching has improved tremendously. In the last eight games, the Islander staff has recorded a 4.37 staff ERA.
With three home runs and 10 RBI in the last eight games, Trey Hernandez has taken over the league lead in home runs and RBI with 14 and 53, respectively. Chris Vergne leads the team with 48 runs scored which is third in the league. He is first in SLC games with 29 runs scored. Vergne was named Collegebasebll360 Primetime Performer for his six RBI performance against Southeastern Louisiana in Friday's win.
The Islanders are scheduled to send a trio of lefties to the mound. Jake Liedka will start on Friday, Adam Hoelscher on Saturday, and Chris Pena in the finale. All three have come on strong in recent outings. Liedka is 1-1 in his last three appearances with a complete game and a 3.94 ERA. Hoelscher is 1-0 in his last three outings over 12.2 innings holding hitters to a .190 average. Pena has a 2.61 ERA in his last 10-1/3 innings and a 1-0 record.
UTA comes into the series having won five straight Southland Conference games. They have a 5.60 staff earned-run average which is seventh in the league in all games, but have lowered it to 4.07 in SLC action which is second. They have two starting pitchers in the league's top 10 in ERA. Series opening starter Jason Mitchell is 4-3 with 83 strikeouts including an 18 K performance, while Sunday's starter Logan Bawcom is 4-3 with a 3.68 ERA. Rett Varner, who is scheduled to begin Saturday, has a team-high five wins.
"It will be tough to get past their three starting pitchers," said Malone. "Their three starters are as difficult as any three pitchers we have faced this season."
Offensively, the Mavs are led by junior All-American Michael Choice rated as high as one of the top five outfield prospects in the nation. He has reached safely in 54 straight games and boasts a .401 average which is tops in the league. He is on pace to break the single-season record for walks entering with 53 and tied for second behind Hernandez with 13 home runs.
"We will have to keep Choice in check," said Malone. "He is one of the most talented players in the country. He will get his hits, but we will need to do our best to keep him under wraps so he doesn't beat us."