After yesterday's opening Conference USA tournament baseball games, only one thing is clear: if Southern Miss and Houston win today, then they're playing for the C-USA title on Saturday game and none of Friday's games will matter.
But the Rice Owls are hoping to derail UH tonight, which they can do by defeating the Cougars tonight. Rice won its game yesterday, an 11-3 victory over East Carolina, but since the game was an out-of-pod game, the Owls are trailing the Cougars who defeated Marshall 11-7 last night in a pod game.
Despite taking a 1-0 lead with a first-inning homer off of Rice starter Taylor Wall, the Rice-ECU was never in doubt. The Owls, behind the bat of Diego Seastrunk, scored three runs in the bottom of that inning and never looked back, winning 11-3.
Seastrunk accounted for five of the Rice runs with a first-inning single, a two-run bases-loaded single in the fourth, and a two-run homer in the eighth inning. Seastrunk once again had the joy of hitting behind Rice's stud batter Anthony Rendon, and has been the case lately, ECU walked Rendon to get to Seastrunk. And has also been the case lately, Seastrunk made them pay. Time and time again.
"I'm a contact guy, and you've got to play the numbers," Seastrunk said of the strategy. "I mean, walking Rendon is kind of no big deal when you're hitting behind him all year, so you know it's going to happen eventually. You've just got to take it. Every time I get up there, I just try to get a hit. There's just no way around it. You have to perform when you're hitting behind that guy because they're going to walk him all of the time."
Wall was effective, but not great, getting the quality start by pitching six innings, but giving up three runs and seven hits. Rice coach Wayne Graham said he saw some things in Wall's performance to encourage to him, but overall, he wasn't pleased.
"Still not what we're looking for, really, because [Wall's] not -- the problem is he's not getting the ball inside," Graham said. "And so they're taking -- they got three runs, seven hits, and they hit about five other balls right on the screws. So he's got to get inside. Last year, when he was on top of his game, and this year, when he was top of his game, he throws the fastball inside some."
And Wall wasn't happy either, but he found it to be a step forward.
"I thought I needed to throw the ball in a little more, and it was running away from me on some guys," he said. "But for the most part, it was a step forward, and I was pretty satisfied with the outcome."
The Cougars took the field as the visiting team last night, and they immediately stormed out to a 2-0 lead, over the higher-ranked Marshall Thundering Herd. They made that lead 4-0 after two innings, 8-0 after three, 9-0 after four, and 11-0 after five. And with the way Michael Goodnight was pitching for the Cougars, it appeared that the Cougars were just going to coast into their match-up with the Owls tonight. That was before Goodnight, who had a no-hitter through five and a three-hitter through six, tired.
Marshall proceeded to beat up on Goodnight and three Cougar relievers, scoring seven runs over the last four innings. But Mo Wiley was able to get the final four outs and preserve the 11-7 win. The star of the game was clearly Goodnight, who pitched his best game of the season since getting the 1-0 win over Texas back at the Houston College Classic at Minute Maid Park back at the first of March.
"He did a pretty good job tonight," Houston coach Rayner Noble said of Goodnight. "Anytime you can limit the opposition to very few hits, which he did, you're doing your job, which he did. I think probably the heat and humidity jumped on his back there towards the end of his performance, but he was exceptional."
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But Goodnight wasn't looking to take much credit for the win. He chose to focus on the offense, saying his job was easy with such a large lead.
"Our offense was clicking," he said. "I was just trying to get us back in the dugout as quickly as possible, that way our offense could score more runs, and they did a number in the first four or five innings, and that sealed the game for us, in my opinion....It's easy to pitch up 11 to zero. You just try to fill it up and get back in the dugout as quick as you can."
The pitching match-up tonight will be Rice ace Mike Ojala against Houston's William Kankel. For the Cougars to win, Noble says that Kankel has to pitch an exceptional game. For the Owls, Diego Seastrunk says that the Owls must maintain their focus and "play every pitch like it's our last."
SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES: The early game featured Southern Miss defeating Memphis 8-2 in a game featuring four home runs. A Southern Miss win this afternoon against ECU guarantees that they will be one of the teams in the Saturday night championship game....If UH wins tonight, it's 2-0 in pod play, and it clinches. If Rice wins, then Rice has the lead in pod play, but they probably won't be able to clinch without beating Marshall on Friday night...Southern Miss and ECU play at today 11 a.m, Memphis and Marshall meet at 3 p.m., and the UH and Rice play at 7 p.m.