Conference play has finally arrived!
As teams have finished their non-conference weekend schedule, there are a few teams that have entered conference play red hot. Here are three teams that have been playing well as we head into the last week of March.
No. 39 UC Irvine
Out of the Big West, UC Irvine had a strong non-conference schedule to overcome, as they had series against Oregon State and Iowa while hosting Arizona State for two mid-week games. When facing those Power 5 opponents, the Anteaters went 5-3.
The Anteaters have started the season off on the right foot behind solid pitching. Friday-night starter Nick Pinto has been somewhat up and down to start his season. Against Oregon State he allowed six runs in 4.2 innings but followed that up with six shutout innings with nine strikeouts against Iowa. This past weekend he struck out seven in six innings.
Though UC Irvine’s offense has not lit up the stat sheet all year, the Anteaters have had multiple high-scoring victories in their last two series, winning games 10-7, 7-6, and 12-6.
The offense is led by redshirt sophomore Nathan Church, who has dominated at the plate so far. Church is hitting .370 at the plate, posting a .481 slugging percentage during the process.
UC Irvine, a team that fell in the Stanford Regional Final a season ago, was selected to finish second in the Big West this season behind Long Beach State. While LBSU had a red-hot start, they’ve cooled off tremendously, as they hold a 10-8 overall record.
The Dirtbags are UC Irvine’s biggest competition for the champion of the Big West, but they won’t match up until April 29-31.
No. 26 UConn
It’s tougher to begin conference play in the Big East than it is in other conferences. Playing in the northeast is fun, but not in freezing-cold weather in March.
While conference play doesn’t begin until April 8, UConn has separated themselves from the rest of the pack in the Big East during non-conference play.
With wins over USC and Louisville, UConn has started the season 14-3 while playing away from home all year.
Their offense has been what has catapulted them so far. The Huskies have five hitters who have a batting average over .308 through their first 17 games of the season. They’re led by Erik Stock, who has a .406 batting average in the 16 games he has played. The Huskies don’t hit many home runs, as they take care of business by getting on base an incredible amount; their team on-base percentage is .377 so far this season.
UConn’s pitching has also been incredibly strong so far, especially their bullpen. UConn has six pitchers who have an ERA under two, with two of them being starters: Enzo Stefanoi (1.48 ERA) and Pat Gallagher (1.95 ERA).
In last year’s South Bend Regional, UConn didn’t have the pitching to survive eventual College World Series participant Notre Dame. This year, it looks like a different story.
No. 44 South Alabama
After beginning the season 1-2, South Alabama has won 14 of their last 15 games as they enter Sun Belt Conference play red hot.
The streak started with a midweek victory in Hattiesburg, Mississippi over Southern Miss. Since then, the Jaguars have been scorching hot outside of a rematch in Hattiesburg, when South Alabama fell by two.
In their first three games in Sun Belt Conference play, South Alabama rolled over UT Arlington, winning each game by a minimum of seven runs. The offense has been unbelievable for South Alabama.
Miles Simington’s .473 batting average is top 10 in the country, as South Alabama’s top four hitters all have batting averages over .329.
Their power comes from Santi Montiel (five homers) and Charles Middleton Jr. (four homers), as the Jaguars offense has been electric to start the year. The Jaguars have averaged 7.4 runs per game in the 18 games they have played this season.
Last season, South Alabama was one win away from a Super Regional. Now, they look even stronger through non-conference play.
But, the real tests will begin for South Alabama this upcoming week.
Tuesday, South Alabama will travel to Auburn before a three-game series at Louisiana-Lafayette. They will conclude a strong week of games with a Tuesday road game at Alabama.
There are 18 mid-major teams ranked in this week's top 50.