Cougars face Tribe with CAA title on the line

College of Charleston freshman pitcher Bailey Ober is listed as questionable for this weekend's series against William & Mary. (photo by Shane Roper). ¬

The math is pretty simple - if College of Charleston sweeps William & Mary this weekend during their three-game series - the Cougars win the Colonial Athletic Association's regular-season baseball title.

Anything less and the Tribe walks away with the CAA crown and the top seed at next week's conference tournament.

The Cougars (36-16, 13-5) and William & Mary (31-18, 14-3) open up their three-game series Thursday night beginning at 6 p.m. at Patriots Point Field. Game 2 is set for Friday at 6 p.m. with the final game coming on Saturday at 3 p.m. The Cougars and Tribe have spent most of the season battling for the regular-season crown and the top seed in the tournament. Both teams have already clinched the top two seeds and will have first-round byes at next week's CAA tournament in Wilmington, N.C.

"We know what is at stake and what we've got to do, but we can't think about winning three games or getting a sweep against a team like William & Mary," said College of Charleston coach Monte Lee. "We're trying to win a league title. That's been our goal from the first day of fall practice. There's only one way to do that, but we've got to be focused on the game Thursday night and worry about winning that one first. We can't be worried about the games on Friday or Saturday."

Slowing down the Tribe's explosive lineup will be the Cougars' biggest challenge this weekend. The Tribe ranks second in the nation, averaging 8.5 runs per game. They are third in slugging percentage (.489) and third in batting average (.319) in all of college baseball. Nick Thompson is the nation's leader with 64 runs, while Michael Katz leads the country with 71 RBIs.

"They just don't have an easy out in their entire lineup," Lee said. "They're as balanced a hitting team as we'll see all season. The key for us is to not give them any extra outs. Making those routine defensive plays is crucial against a team that hits the ball as well as William & Mary does."

The Cougars counter with one of the top pitching staffs in the CAA. Charleston leads the conference in team ERA (2.93), opposing batting average (.225), strikeouts (394) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.70).

Taylor Clarke (9-3, 2.55 ERA) will start Thursday night for the Cougars, while Tyler Thornton is scheduled to start Friday night.

Freshman pitcher Bailey Ober, who leads the CAA with an ERA of 1.41, is listed as questionable for the weekend.

"We're just not sure if Bailey is going to be able to go this weekend," Lee said. "We're going to be very cautious with him. We want him to be able to throw next week in the conference tournament."

Closer Michael Hanzlik leads the conference and is 13th in the country with 12 saves. Carl Wise is currently second in the CAA with 48 RBIs.

"We know as an offense that we have to step up and score some runs this weekend," Wise said. "They can hit the ball well so our pitching staff will be in a huge battle. We have to make the plays behind them and give them some run support. We have played well at home this year, and we want to finish the regular season the right way."