In the ultimate scheme of things, Rice's 15-5 over Houston last night means absolutely nothing. Rice had already clinched the Silver Glove Series, again, which goes to the team that wins the season series between the two teams, and the game meant nothing in the C-USA standings. Still, heading into the final weekend of the C-USA regular season, neither team can be entirely happy.
For the Cougars, who need a miracle this weekend against East Carolina to make the conference tournament they're hosting, the loss crushed any momentum they might have gained from taking two of three against Marshall this past weekend. The team's pitching was disappointing, yet again. And the loss did nothing to make the Coogs confident that they could even compete against Rice in the tournament should they actually make it.
Rice's problem was a bit of a different one. They're heading into the C-USA tournament as the number-one seeded team, but they're headed in as a team lacking a number-one starter. Because while Rice has proven that it can hit anybody, at any time, they're now a team that seems to have just one reliable starting pitcher, Mike Ojala.
Rice took the early 3-0 lead in the first, powered by Anthony Rendon's two-run homer that appeared to land in the McDonald's parking lot across the street from Cougar Field. But UH starter Barry Laird settled down and the Cougars, taking advantage of a throwing error by Rice starter Taylor Wall, were able to score five times, driving Wall from the game and taking the 5-3 lead.
But things fell apart for Laird and the Cougars starting in the sixth inning, and Rice put up 12 runs over the last four innings. Laird gave up a single and a walk to start the sixth before departing in favor of Mo Wiley. Wiley promptly gave up a three-run homer to Michael Ratterree, and Rice was in front 6-5. The Owls then beat up two Cougar pitchers in the seventh, scoring five times, including a three-run homer from Rick Hague, then scored three more times in the eighth, again on a three-run homer from Ratterree.
The Cougars were powerless once J.T. Chargois entered in relief of Wall. Chargois pitched 6.1 innings of scoreless baseball. But even if the Cougars could have gotten more runs, the bullpen proved itself unable to stop the machine that is the Rice offense.
"Our bullpen was just non-existent tonight," Cougars coach Rayner Noble said. "You look at the scoreboard, we held them down for a few innings there, but once they got into the pen, just no bullpen. That's kind of been the reoccurring thing with us. We've just got a couple of guys who have been effective. It's just kind of how it is."
So needing a miracle -- a sweep against ECU at East Carolina and several other conference teams in front of them losing -- the Coogs, at 22-29 (9-12 in C-USA) find themselves with absolutely no momentum, a beat-up pitching staff, and no confidence as they head into the most important series of the season.
"I don't have to tell them -- they know what they have to do," Noble said. "There's no time, really, for rah-rah speeches. They know what they've got to do, and it's just a matter -- it's a matter of their will. If they will it, it will happen. If they don't, and they're ready to roll to the house, then it won't happen. It's in the player's hands. They're the ones who have to go out there and execute. They're the ones who have to swing the bat and get the big hit and make the big pitches. It's their time to shine."
The Owls, 33-19 (15-6 in conference) have no problem with confidence heading into their final, meaningless, conference series of the weekend against UAB. They've got to get their tournament pitching rotation settled, behind Ojala, but beyond that, they've got no worries. Especially with the offense performing all cylinders.
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"We're coming out getting plenty of hits every game now and backing up our pitchers. That's what we need to do to win right now," said Ratterree, the star of the game with his two homers and six RBI.
"It's real important for us to have momentum right now," he said. "We're coming to the end of the season, and the bats are picking us up. We trust our pitchers to just come back and just throw well."
Rice's rotation is unsettled coming into the weekend series with UAB, but Noble said he would be going with Michael Goodnight, William Kankel, and Eric Brooks in that order for the Coogs as they try to sweep ECU.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Rice catcher Diego Seastrunk has reached base on 14 consecutive plate appearances, whether through a hit, walk, error, or fielder's choice....Michael Ratterree's two homers and six RBI were both career highs for one game....the All-Silver Glove Series team was named after the game. The pitchers are Matt Creel of Houston and Taylor Wall and J.T. Rogers of Rice. Catcher was Houston's Chris Wallace. Jimmy Comerota of Rice was at first, joined by teammate's Michael Ratterree at second and Anthony Rendon at third. Houston's Blake Kelso was named the shortstop. The outfield consists of Zak Presley, Caleb Ramsey, and Joel Ansley of Houston, and Jeremy Rathjen of Rice. Also named to the team was Rice's Rich Hague, and the Most Outstanding Player of this year's Silver Glove Series was Rice outfielder Chad Mozingo.