Recap by: John Sullivan, Rice Athletics (firstname.lastname@example.org)
BILOXI, Miss -- True freshman second baseman Trei Cruz broke a 3-3 deadlock with a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning to help lift the Rice baseball team to a 5-4 victory over No. 3 seed Florida Atlantic in Saturday morning's winner's bracket game at the 2018 Conference USA Baseball Championship, presented by The First.
Rice, now 26-29-2 on the season, remains in the winner's bracket and is next scheduled to play the winner of the (still-upcoming) Friday evening elimination game between FAU and Louisiana Tech. Rice's next game is scheduled for Saturday at 9 am.
Making his first collegiate appearance in almost three months because of a hand injury, Rice junior right-hander Ricardo Salinas started on the mound and did a solid job pitching 3.0 innings and allowing just two hits. The lone blemish was a solo home run by Andru Summerall in the bottom of the third. Rice, however, would not trail again the rest of the day to the talented 37-win FAU squad.
Rice came right back with an equalizer in the bottom of the frame. Senior Chace Sarchet laced a leadoff triple to the gap in right-center and trotted home on a double to the gap in left-center by Dominic Cox.
The Blue Gray grabbed the lead for the first time in the fourth. Braden Comeaux walked with one away and almost immediately stole second base without a throw. The aggressiveness paid off as freshman designated hitter Justin Collins followed with a RBI single to left for a 2-1 lead.
FAU tied the game, 2-2, on a solo home run by Gunnar Lambert that was his tenth of the season. Rice bounced back in its half of the frame. Ford Proctor was hit by a pitch to lead it off and advanced to scoring position as FAU was careful pitching to Cruz. Cruz walked and Comeaux drove Proctor in from second with a double to left for a 3-2 game.
FAU tied the score, 3-3, in the top of the seventh after a fielding error eventually led to an unearned run. FAU was in fact looking for more with runners still on first and second, but Cruz fielded a hot grounder to his left, flipped back to a charging Proctor at short, who fired to Sarchet at first to complete the inning-ending 4-6-3 double-play.
The defensive gem seemed to ignite the Rice offense in the bottom of the inning. Ryan Chandler drew a leadoff walk and Cruz followed by blasting a 1-1 pitch over the wall in right-center. His sixth longball of the season gave the Blue & Gray a 5-3 lead.
FAU continued to battle, and scored another unearned run after a Rice fielding error that made it 5-4. Reliever Evan Kravetz ended the threat in the eighth with big strikeout. Sophomore Addison Moss picked up his first save of the season with a scoreless ninth, highlighted by a game-ending strikeout. Dane Acker, the second of the four Rice pitchers, earned the win to improve to 5-2. He allowed just one earned run on five hits in 4.0 innings and tied a career-high with five strikeouts.