Alabama-Birmingham knocked off No. 10 Alabama 2-1 in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday, its fifth win in the last six meetings between the teams, which gives us a good opportunity to give a tip of the cap to the Blazers.
UAB has been a pleasant surprise in Conference USA, holding sole possession of first place at 9-3 in conference play (a half game ahead of 10-5 Rice, whom they still have to play). The Blazers have won all four of their conference series, most notably taking two of three from a solid Florida International team a couple weeks ago, and have lost only one series all year, when they made the long trek to Hawaii in March and lost three of four. All of this comes after the Blazers went 7-17 in C-USA last year and were picked to finish 11th in the 13-team league this year by C-USA coaches.
The Blazers have come this far mainly on the strength of a stout weekend rotation, their three starters—Chase Mallard, Johnny Lieske and Alex Luna—owning a combined record of 14-1. Mallard and Luna own microscopic ERAs of 0.91 and 0.97, respectively, and Lieske stands among C-USA's top 10 as well with a 2.00. Mallard is a true ace, a strike-throwing machine with an 88-92 fastball, a swing-and-miss slider and a good changeup. The senior was dependable out of the bullpen over the past three years, but he has really thrived this spring as a starter.
Of course, none of those guys were on the mound Wednesday, as the Blazers went with a by-committee approach in which eight pitchers limited the Crimson Tide to one run on five hits. After the game was scoreless through five, UAB struck first in the sixth when Adam Smith scored on a third-strike wild pitch that would've ended the inning. Austen Smith homered to tie the game for Alabama in the seventh, but UAB answered quickly. Left fielder Griffin Gum, who had three of UAB's six hits on the night, delivered a two-out RBI single in the top of the eighth that gave the Blazers the lead for good.
The win was UAB's 23rd of the season—and clearly the most notable—after it won just 23 all of last year. The two teams will rematch next week in Birmingham.
Top 25 Upsets
(20) UNLV at Arkansas: The Razorbacks jumped all over Cody Roper (4 IP, 8 H, 7 ER) and cruised to a 9-2 win. Arkansas freshman Alex Phillips (6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K) carried a no-hitter into the fifth and improved to 3-0 on the year.
Other Top 25 Results
(3) Louisiana-Lafayette at McNeese State: Coming off a rare loss on Tuesday, Louisiana-Lafayette found itself trailing again in the late innings Wednesday, as McNeese State carried an 8-7 lead into the eighth before the Ragin' Cajuns offense came alive for six runs and added one more in the ninth to win 14-8. Blake Trahan (2-for-6, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R) and Ryan Leonards (3-for-6, 2 RBI, 2 SB, 3 R) led the way for ULL.
Lamar at (16) Louisiana State: Nine LSU pitchers combined on a four-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts in a 5-0 win. It was LSU’s 11th shutout of the year, breaking a team record set in 1996.
Murray State at (19) Mississippi: Braxton Lee and Austin Knight had three hits apiece for Mississippi as the Rebels knocked off Murray State 8-5, keyed by a six-run fourth inning.
Indiana State at (23) Indiana: Sam Travis and Brad Hartong homered for Indiana, which pulled away in the middle innings to beat ISU 8-4. The Hoosiers picked up their seventh straight win, doing it against the last team to beat them, as they avenged a 12-8 loss to the Sycamores on March 26.
(24) Miami at Central Florida: Miami got five shutout innings from Javi Salas and scored the winning run in the top of the ninth on an Alex Hernandez sac fly to beat UCF 6-5.
(25) Oregon at Portland: The Ducks finished a sweep of their two-game midweek series against Portland with a 3-0 win behind Brando Tessar (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K).