Often in a college baseball weekend series, each team wins a game fairly easily, and one game comes down to the wire. That was the case for both Houston and Rice this weekend, and both managed to blow the rubber match in creative fashion.
For the Coogs, that up-in-the-air game came right away on Thursday, in the season debut of the oft-injured Jared Ray. Ray got through four innings of work, giving up just one run on three hits. Matt Creel came on in relief, and pitched four innings of scoreless ball, setting up a 4-1 Cougar lead in the top of the ninth. Creel stayed on for a fifth inning, getting the first two batters of the inning out. Then East Carolina DH Chase McDonald hit a monster home run, followed by back-to-back Pirate singles. With the tying run on base, and Creel in his fifth inning of relief, Cougar head coach Todd Whitting made the questionable call of leaving Creel in. Ben Fultz made him pay, with a game-tying triple. The Pirates would go on to win 5-4 in 12 innings.
On Friday, Cougar starting pitcher Jordan Lewis had a dominant performance, throwing seven innings of two-run ball, with 10 strike outs. The Houston offense scratched out four runs, and Jordan Mannisto pitched two innings of scoreless relief for his third save of the year, while Lewis got the win and improved to 4-1, as Houston won, 4-2. But Saturday was ECU's day, as the Pirates scored a combined 10 runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, en route to a 12-2 mercy-rule victory.
It was a tough series loss to swallow for the Cougars, who despite a decent RPI, are back below .500 with a 20-21 overall record. A series win could have gotten them some momentum towards putting together a respectable record for the NCAA selection committee, but being back below the break-even mark this late in the year is going to make that task awfully difficult.
Playing at UAB, Rice got off to a good start for the weekend with a 9-5 victory on Friday. Ryan Lewis drove in four runs to lead the Owls, and Tyler Duffey threw 3 1/3 innings of scoreless, hitless relief to earn the win.
Saturday's double-header wasn't so friendly to Rice. They could never make solid contact off of Ryan Woolley, who ended up throwing a complete game in the first half of the twinbill, a 7-2 Blazer victory.
In the second game, Rice took a 4-0 lead in the first inning, and later led 7-2, but couldn't hold on to the lead, as two Rice errors and a wild pitched helped the Blazers to a four-run, game-tying fifth inning. The game would go to extras, where Rice sophomore pitcher Holt McNair loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the twelfth, and UAB would end up winning the game on a Keith DePew RBI single.
Both Houston and Rice remain in contention in the Conference USA standings, and both teams will still get a shot at current conference leader Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles lead C-USA with a 9-3 record, Rice comes in second at 9-6, and Houston finds itself in a tie for third with Memphis at 7-5.
The Owls will be off this weekend for finals, while Houston travels to Orlando to take on Central Florida (26-15, 6-9 C-USA).