UT Arlington is guaranteed a losing regular-season record , but its playoff hopes remain alive.
Sitting in seventh place in the tightly bunched Sun Belt standings, the Mavericks (20-27, 11-13 SBC) host the league’s last-place team this weekend with a chance to avoid putting themselves in a must-win situation on the road in the final weekend.
When Appalachian State (15-34, 7-19) comes to Clay Gould Ballpark for a three-game series, beginning with a doubleheader Friday, the Mavericks need to maintain the home-field dominance that they had displayed since beating TCU on March 31.
Since April 1, the Mavericks have averaged 8.3 runs a game and gone 5-2 at home. However, they are 2-11 on the road during that span and are scoring only four runs a game.
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The fact that Appalachian State owns the league’s second-worst ERA sets up well for another offensive weekend for a UTA team reliant on manufacturing runs due to a lack of power or speed.
Only Travis Sibley and Levi Scott have more than one home run, and the Mavericks are tied for last in the league in stolen bases.
It’s been especially frustrating for the Mavericks, who have gotten good pitching on the weekends. Chad Nack and Joel Kuhnel have been steady, holding Sun Belt teams to just 4.3 runs a game, but it’s been the offense that has struggled.
UTA hoped its tough nonconference schedule had prepared it for the rigors of a 30-plus game Sun Belt slate. The Mavericks have the toughest schedule in the Sun Belt, according to RPI rankings, but a rough April nearly ran the season off the rails.
The Mavericks have been clawing their way back, however, and a good weekend could give UTA some cushion heading into next week’s trip to Texas State.
The Mavericks took care of business with a sweep of Arkansas-Little Rock last weekend, but they remain on the playoff bubble.
It will be the first meeting between UTA and Appalachian State.
The Mountaineers have power with Dillon Dobson (11 HRs) and Michael Pierson (7 HRs), but they’ve been outscored by 86 runs this year.
Taylor Thurber, who starts on the mound Friday, is coming off a complete game against Louisiana-Lafayette when he struck out 11. He’s the only pitcher on the Mountaineers’ staff with an ERA below 4.06.
Appalachian State at UTA
Clay Gould Ballpark, Arlington
3 p.m. Friday: RHP Chad Nack (4-4, 4.60) vs. RHP Taylor Thurber (4-8, 2.36)
6:30 p.m. Friday: LHP Brad Vassar (2-5, 4.11) vs. RHP Travis Holden (0-4, 6.62)
2 p.m. Saturday: RHP Joel Kuhnel (3-2, 3.13) vs. LHP Jeffrey Springs (4-1, 4.20)
Records: ASU 15-34, 7-19 SBC; UTA 20-27, 11-13