Coming into the weekend, Southern Miss had the opportunity to take the lead in the Conference USA standings with just three weeks to play in the regular season.
However, they failed to do so as Rice won two out of the three matchups, resulting in USM’s first conference series loss of the season.
In game one, Southern Miss could not get their bats going as they were shutout for just the second time all season. Rice starter Kevin McCanna (5-2) went 5 2/3 innings, allowing just four hits and one walk with eight strikeouts. Reliever Matt Dinman picked up his seventh save of the year, pitching the final 3 1/3 innings and allowing just one USM base runner.
USM starter Conor Fisk (4-2) did not fare nearly as well, pitching 6 2/3 innings and allowing four runs on 10 hits with four strikeouts. Rice got things going in the top of the fourth inning as they loaded the bases before Shane Hoelscher drove in two with a double to left field. Michael Aquino tacked on another run for Rice with a single to left two batters later.
Hoelscher drove in another run in the fifth inning for his third RBI of the game. Rice tacked on another run in the eighth inning to give them the 5-0 victory.
USM had just five hits in the game with Connor Barron and Michael Sterling each having two. USM simply just could not make consistent contact as they struck out 12 times in the game.
In game two, Southern Miss’ inability to clump together hits was their downfall, losing 3-2. They were able to get runners in scoring position, but simply could not break through.
USM got on the board first with a sacrifice fly by Matt Durst in the opening frame, but failed to score again until the seventh inning.
To lead off the sixth inning, Rice right fielder Keenan Cook connected on a 1-1 offering with a triple to center field. Charlie Warren followed with a single to center field to knot the game up at one apiece.
Rice added two more runs in the seventh, thanks in large part to two wild pitches by Jake Winston. USM’s inability to play solid defense and not kill themselves once again proved to be their kryptonite.
Durst recorded his second sacrifice fly of the game in the bottom of the frame to pull USM within a run, but they could not break through as the final seven USM batters failed to get on base.
Rice starter Blake Fox (9-0) continued his stellar season, pitching 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on eight hits to remain unbeaten for the season. Reliever Trevor Teykl was responsible for recording the final seven outs of the game en route to his third save of the season.
USM starter Christian Talley (3-3) pitched six solid innings, allowing two runs on seven hits with seven strike outs. However, Winston struggled in relief as he gave up one run on one hit, one walk and three wild pitches while recording just one out.
Game three was much a different story as USM’s bats came alive for the first time of the series en route to an 8-6 victory to avoid the sweep. This was a monumental game for both squads as Rice had the chance to firmly distance themselves from USM in the conference standings.
After Tim Lynch was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to tie the game at 4-4 in the sixth inning, Durst delivered in a huge way. He launched a fast ball over the left field fence for a grand slam, his fifth of the season.
Hoelscher picked up an RBI in the seventh inning on a fielder’s choice to bring Rice within three of USM. It appeared that Rice had a chance to comeback as Aquino led off the eighth with a solo shot to left field to make it 8-6, but Milton was able to get out of the inning without any more damage and Sean Buchholz struck out two in the ninth for his third save of the year.
Durst’s two hits and four RBIs led the Golden Eagles (26-19, 14-7) along with Lynch’s three RBIs. Luke Lowery (3-0) picked up the win for USM despite recording only two outs. Chase McDowell (3-4) took the loss for Rice (31-15, 18-6), allowing four runs on four hits in just 1 1/3 innings.
Southern Miss will look to continue to track down the Owls when they travel to play Ole Miss (33-12, 13-8 SEC) on Tuesday before returning home for a three- game series against Tulane (17-24, 6-13) this weekend.