Recap by: John Sullivan, Rice Athletics (firstname.lastname@example.org)
BILOXI, Miss -- True freshman pitcher Matt Canterino stepped up with a career day, and junior reliever Glenn Otto held off a rally in the bottom of the ninth, to help pace the Rice baseball team to a 5-3 victory over Florida Atlantic in the opening game of the C-USA Championship Thursday morning in Biloxi, Miss.
With pitching at a premium in any college tournament setting, Canterino pitched like a veteran while in his biggest starting assignment of the season. The rookie from Southlake, Texas, worked a career-long total of 7.2 innings, allowing three runs on just four hits and one walk while striking out a career-high 11.
Heavy hitting FAU, the No. 3 seed of the week-long tournament where the league's automatic bid to a NCAA Regional is on the line, finally chased him with a third home run of the day in the bottom of the eighth. Otto, who is a veteran on the Rice pitching staff, came out of the bullpen to get the final out of the eighth.
FAU then tried one final rally in the bottom of the ninth, putting two men on base and bringing the potential winning run up to the plate. Otto coolly worked out of the jam and preserve the 5-3 final. Rice improved to 28-29 overall and next advances to the winner's bracket game at 4 pm (opponent TBA as of publication). FAU dropped to 33-20-1 and next plays in the 9 am elimination game.
Rice was ready for Wednesday's 9 am start, jumping on the scoreboard for a pair of runs in the top of the first inning. Ford Proctor hit a leadoff double to centerfield and hustled to third on a fly out. He scored on Dominic DiCaprio's RBI grounder, but the team wasn't quite finished. Tristan Gray followed with a home run to left for his fifth round-tripper of the year and a 2-0 advantage.
FAU used the longball to get on the board in the bottom of the second, but Rice answered with solo shot from DiCaprio in the third. The Coral Springs, Fla., native blasted his sixth of the year to keep the margin at two, 3-1.
Canterino settled in retiring 10-of-11 batters, but in the bottom of the sixth FAU pulled back within a run. Tyler Frank connected on a pitch for a solo homer to make it 3-2.
The Blue & Gray was again quick to answer in the seventh, and again in the eighth. Dayne Wunderlich led off with a single and advanced to second on Proctor's sacrifice bunt. With two away DiCaprio delivered a big RBI double down the right field line make it a 4-2 game. Rice continued to apply the offensive pressure, scoring a final run after Dunlap doubled and came home on an RBI single by Charlie Warren.
The insurance of a three-run lead was nice to have. FAU's Stephen Kerr added a third solo homer of the day to make it a 5-3 game. Three of FAU's six hits on the day were solo home runs. Otto held off the final charge to earn his team-leading eighth save of the season. The save was also the 17thxx of Otto's collegiate career, tied for the fourth-highest mark in school history.