HATTIESBURG -- Rice topped Southern Miss 4-3 in baseball Saturday to set up a tie between the two teams atop Conference USA and a crucial game three at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Rice right-hander pitcher Glenn Otto (5-1) proved unhittable in the final 2 1/3 innings to pick up the victory. He struck out three and walked none, but put USM in a position to tie the game when he hit freshman Storme Cooper with one out in the bottom of the ninth.
Cooper advanced to second on a wild pitch with Nick Dawson at the plate, but Dawson went down swinging and Dylan Burdeaux grounded out to shortstop to end the rally attempt.
"(Otto) is certainly the guy they want to get the ball to if they have a chance to win it," USM coach Scott Berry said. "Our guys took some good swings, but he's really good. I thought our guys really battled him. At the end, we had a chance to win it. It just didn't come up our way today."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Sun Herald
Otto, who entered the game with a 1.37 ERA, lived up to his billing as one of the best closers in Conference USA.
"He has a really good breaking ball and he'll sneak one in there at 94 miles an hour just to stay honest," Dawson said. "You really don't know what you're going to get. He breaks the curve ball off and it moves a lot."
Saturday's game was played before a crowd of 4,950, the sixth largest in Pete Taylor Park history. It was also the biggest crowd for a game that doesn't feature an opponent from the SEC.
Southern Miss stands at 28-12 and 13-4 in conference play while Rice sits at 25-12 and 13-4.
Sunday's contest will have a major say in who wins the C-USA regular season title. USM will go with left-hander Kirk McCarty (3-0, 3.51) and Rice will answer with right-hander Ricardo Salinas (6-1, 3.60).
"We really need to win," Dawson said. "Since I've been here, we haven't beaten them in a series. It's a big game for the standings."
Right-handed reliever Walker Powell (3-2) took the loss for USM, giving up one run on one hit in 1 1/3 innings.
Rice sophomore third baseman Dane Myers earned a walk from Powell on 14 pitches to start the eighth and worked his way to third on a pair of groundouts. Connor Teykl brought Myers home from third for the winning run on a double to left just out of the reach of USM's Michael Gilbert.
"(Myers) is going to be a really good player for them," Berry said. "He won that battle and got the leadoff walk. My guy, Walker Powell, battled him as well. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat."
Rice took a 2-0 lead with two outs in the third inning on a two-run home run by Ryan Chandler, his first of the season.
USM senior center fielder Jake Sandlin answered with his own two-out homer, his second of the season, in the bottom of the third to cut the Rice lead to 2-1.
The Golden Eagles loaded the bases on Rice starter Blake Fox with two outs in the bottom of the fourth, setting the stage for Dawson. The senior took advantage of the opportunity, pulling a single through the left side of the infield. Gilbert scored from third and Chuckie Robinson scored from second by sliding home to beat the throw.
"I was seeing the lefty pretty good," Dawson said. "He left a fastball over the plate on a 3-2 count. I just it through the hole."
Rice tied the game in the sixth at 3-3 when Myers took home on a safety squeeze bunt off the bat of Teykl. USM relief pitcher Logan Lowery stumbled off the mound, preventing him from making an attempt to get the man at the plate.
USM was held scoreless in the final five innings after showing life at the plate in the first four.
"It was a tough game," Dawson said. "It felt like we had it in our hands a couple of innings. They scored late and we had to answer back, but we just didn't capitalize."