The first Conference USA baseball tournament at MGM Park is only a day old, but the facility has received a general thumbs up.
Louisiana Tech head coach Lane Burroughs, a former Mississippi State and Southern Miss assistant is a proponent of holding the event on the Coast.
“I want it to be a place where you like the minor league setting and the ballpark and a place where you can look every year, ‘We’ve got to make it to here.’ We’ve got to make it to Biloxi instead of hopping around campus to campus,” Burroughs said. “That’s me. I know a lot of people think differently. Hopefully, it will be a successful tournament and the attendance will be good. I love it being here.”
Old Dominion coach Chris Finwood thought the playing conditions at the park were good following heavy rain in recent days.
“It was flying out to left,” he said. “I thought it certainly played fair. It plays big to the middle and it’s a good surface. I think it’s a great ballpark to play in.”
Power display on Day 1
MGM Park doesn’t have the reputation of a hitter’s ballpark for Southern League games, but the balls were flying out early on Wednesday on the first day of the Conference USA baseball tournament.
The FAU and Rice baseball teams took full advantage of the wind blowing out to left field with a total of five home runs hit in a 5-3 victory for Rice. All of the homers were to left field.
Tristan Gray was the first to go yard, clearing the left field fence for a solo home run, his fifth, to give the Owls a 2-0 lead in the top of the first.
In the second, FAU’s Esteban Puerta also found his way over the fence for a solo shot, his 10th of the year.
Rice catcher Dominic DiCaprio provided the biggest blast of the day when he ripped a drive high off the net above the left field scoreboard. It was his sixth home run of the season and will likely turn out to be one of the most impressive shots of the tournament.
FAU’s Tyler Frank hit his 11th homer of the season in the sixth and Stephen Kerr added another shot in the eighth, to cut the Rice lead to 5-3.
All three of FAU’s runs came via solo home runs.
FAU’s postseason chances took a significant hit with its loss to Rice on Wednesday.
With an RPI ranking in the low 60’s, the Owls (33-20-1) needed a strong showing in Biloxi to have a shot at an at-large bid.
A series win over Old Dominion in the last week of the regular season appeared to give FAU an outside shot at making a run at a bid, but that likely came to a close at MGM Park on Wednesday.
Rice is only 28-29 at the moment, but it is not completely eliminated from the postseason discussion thanks to an RPI ranking of No. 53.
Old Dominion swept three games with Rice in the conference-opening series for both teams.
The two teams will meet again at 4 p.m. on Thursday, but the Owls are a very different squad than the one the Monarchs played in mid March.
Rice has won 15 of their last 19 contests.
ODU is the No. 2 seed in the tournament, but was coming of a series loss to FAU in the final week of the regular season.
With Wednesday’s 3-2 win over FIU, the Monarchs (37-19) remain in the hunt for the postseason and for a C-USA tournament title.
“We’ve just got to keep doing what all season,” ODU shortstop Zach Rutherford said. “We’ve just been playing for each other and playing all 27 outs.”