Spring follows winter. Night turns into day. Rice University appears in another conference baseball tournament championship game.
Willy Amador scattered six hits over six innings and Rice got early, two-run home runs from third baseman Dane Myers and second base Tristan Gray on its way to a 13-2 victory in seven innings Saturday morning over Florida Atlantic in the Conference USA Tournament.
The victory was Rice’s third in a row at MGM Park this week and sent the Texan Owls into their ninth C-USA title game in 12 years. The 2017 championship game is set for 1 p.m. Sunday against either Charlotte or Southern Miss.
“We need to win (Sunday) worse than any other,” Rice coach Wayne Graham. “We’ve had a lot of adversity.”
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Indeed. Rice came into the 2017 tournament as the sixth seed, two games under .500. That’s neither a slot nor a record that Rice’s proud baseball program is accustomed.
But Rice (30-29) has kicked its game into gear over the past five weeks. Since dropping two of three games in a weekend conference series to the Southern Miss at Reckling Park, Rice has won 17 of 21 games since April 17, including its run through the tournament this week.
“The way our season started, we all knew we were a lot better than how that started off,” said Myers, who drove in four runs and scored three times on three hits Saturday. “But we trust in our game, and seeing us play like this is really nice.”
While Amador (4-5) was holding third-seeded FAU (35-21-1) in check, Rice was pounding out 13 hits against six pitchers.
“We ran into a buzzsaw,” FAU coach Jack McCormack said. “Rice has been playing really well down the stretch.
“We didn’t pitch great, but I don’t think we pitched terrible...They’re just on a roll, and you see that in these tournaments. We all knew going into the year that they were going to be good, and that (their) first 40 games were an anomaly.”
Cameron Ragsdale (2-3), FAU’s erstwhile closer, made the first start of his career, and failed to make it through three innings.
In the first inning, shortstop Ford Proctor doubled and Myers followed with his sixth home run of the season for a 2-0 lead.
In the third inning with two outs, Ragsdale hit catcher Dominic DiCaprio with a pitch and then served up Gray’s sixth home run of the season for a 4-0 Rice lead.
Rice sent 11 men to the plate in a six-run fourth inning, then tacked on three more runs in the fifth inning.
FAU’s only runs came off the bat of second baseman Stephen Kerr, who led off the fourth and sixth innings with solo home runs.