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Middle Tennessee takes on FIU in critical C-USA series

Raiders battle for spot in the C-USA Championship

May 8, 2014 · @MTAthletics

THE MATCHUP

Middle Tennessee (24-24, 12-12 C-USA) at FIU (34-13, 14-10 C-USA)
FIU Baseball Stadium (2,000) - Miami, Fla.

Friday, May 9 - 5 p.m. CT

LHP Zac Curtis (6-3, 1.99 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Franco (8-2, 0.96 ERA)

Saturday, May 10 - 3 p.m. CT

RHP Paul Mittura (3-3, 4.24 ERA) vs. RHP Cody Crouse (4-2, 1.56 ERA)

Sunday, May 11 - Noon CT

LHP Johnathan Frebis (3-4, 4.37 ERA) vs. RHP Chris Mourelle (8-2, 1.67 ERA)

THE STORYLINE

The final two weeks of the regular season have major implications for Middle Tennessee baseball's postseason fate. The Blue Raiders (24-24, 12-12 C-USA) visit familiar foe FIU (34-13, 14-10 C-USA) in a Conference USA showdown this weekend.

MT dropped two of three last weekend against UTSA. The Raiders are a game and a half up on Florida Atlantic and Marshall for the final spot in the Conference USA Championship in Hattiesburg. Just three and a half games separate the fourth place team to the 10th place team. FIU is currently tied for fourth with UTSA. The Panthers are two games ahead of the Blue Raiders.

Left-hander Zac Curtis toes the rubber for the 13th time on Friday. Curtis (6-3, 1.99 ERA) leads the nation with 110 strikeouts. His single-season total is fifth all-time at Middle Tennessee. Friday's contest should be one the nation's marquee matchups. FIU ace Mike Franco is 8-2 this season with the nation's fourth lowest ERA of 0.96.

Senior Paul Mittura (3-3, 4.24 ERA) looks to rebound after a tough outing last weekend. The right-hander will face the Panthers' Cody Crouse (4-2, 1.56 ERA). On Sunday, MT's Johnathan Frebis (3-4, 4.37 ERA) takes on RHP Chris Mourelle (8-2, 1.67) in the weekend finale.

Blue Raider slugger Trent Miller leads Middle Tennessee with a .351 batting average. His 20 doubles are seventh in the NCAA, while his 103 total bases are tops in Conference USA. Austin Bryant follows with a .290 batting average, while leadoff hitter Dustin Delgado returns to his hometown posting a team-best .391 on-base percentage.

The Panthers are coming off a midweek loss to South Florida. Last week, FIU swept East Carolina in Greenville to move into a tie for fourth place. FIU has a 2.02 ERA, which is second lowest in the nation. Catcher Aramis Garcia has missed the past few games, but still leads the Panthers with a .353 average and seven homers. Josh Anderson is also hitting above .300 with a .317 average and team-best 40 RBI.

Fans can listen to Dick Palmer describe this weekend's action on WMOT 89.5 FM or online at GoBlueRaiders.com.

NOTES (For full version, view PDF):

Curtis Finding Unique Success

Senior LHP Zac Curtis shaved his ERA to 1.99 after his 12th outing last week. Curtis' leads the nation with 110 strikeouts. He holds a 6-3 record in 12 Friday evening starts. The Hendersonville native has not allowed more than one earned run in the last 54 innings, giving up just a total of four earned runs. Curtis' 110 Ks is fifth all-time in a single season and six away from fourth place held by Chris Crabtree. His 184 career punchouts ranks 10th in program history.

Tricky Tollison

Reliever Cody Tollison has made it tough for his opponents to hit in the last few outings. Tollison has not given up a run in the last 14.2 innings pitched. This season, Tollison holds a stingy 0.83 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 21.2 innings of relief.

The National Stage

Middle Tennessee's Zac Curtis and Trent Miller both are making splashes on the national stage. Curtis leads the NCAA with 110 strikeouts, eighth with 10.96 strikeouts per game and 14th with four complete games. Miller is seventh in the NCAA with 20 doubles and is 12th in the NCAA with 0.42 doubles per game.

Scouting FIU

The Panthers (34-13, 14-10 Conference USA) sit in a tie for fourth place with UTSA. FIU swept East Carolina last weekend in Greenville. FIU fell 6-4 to South Florida on Wednesday evening. The Panthers have been without leading hitting Aramis Garcia the past few games. Garcia is hitting 3.53 with a team-leading seven homers. Josh Anderson has been carrying the slack, hitting .317 in 47 contests. The Panthers hold a stingy 2.02 ERA, which is second nationally. All three weekend starters allowing less than two runs per game. Friday starter Mike Franco is 8-2 with the nation's fourth-best ERA at 0.96. Closer Mike Gomez leads FIU with eight saves.

LaRue Racking Up the Walks

3B Hank LaRue has garnered 96 free passes during his tenure at Middle Tennessee. The senior is tied for 10th all-time with Phillip Edwards.

The Stephens Standard

Senior OF Ryan Stephens has started 173 consecutive games in center field for the Blue Raiders, a streak 66 games longer than the next-longest streak of consecutive starts. Stephens moved into second place all-time last weekend and can tie school record holder Phillip Edwards on Friday.Senior Trent Miller has made 107 straight starts between left field, right field and first base.

Miller Inking His Name in the Record Books

Senior Trent Miller ranks sixth with 926 career putouts. The Kansas City native moved into third all-time with his 62nd career double last weekend against UTSA. Miller is eighth with 147 runs-batted-in and 384 total bases.

Kessler Loves the Extra Work

Reliever Kooper Kessler has been phenomenal in long relief situations. The junior has not given up an earned run in outings of three innings or more this season. His latest success was a four inning one-hit shutout against UTSA last Saturday. The sophomore holds a .390 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 30 innings of work.

Up Next: Belmont

The Bruins (20-27-1, 9-14-1 OVC) and Blue Raiders close out the regular season series next Tuesday in Nashville. Belmont has strung together two victories, winning the last game of an OVC series against Jacksonville State and knocking off Evansville on Wednesday. The Bruins play at Murray State to close out their regular season road schedule.

Follow the Blue Raiders on Twitter @MTAthletics for continued updates.