HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- The Rice baseball team rallied for the game-tying run in the ninth inning, pushed across two scores in the top of the tenth, and then held-off a Florida Atlantic rally in the bottom of the frame for a 6-4 victory Thursday evening in a C-USA Tournament winner's bracket game in Hattiesburg, Miss.
With the win Rice, now 34-20 on the season, gets a day off from tournament action on Friday and next plays the winner of the FAU-Louisiana Tech elimination game on Saturday morning. The FAU-LA Tech winner has to beat Rice twice on Saturday in the league's double-elimination format.
Rice opened the scoring in the top of the fourth inning. Tristan Gray drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on a ground out to the right side. He hustled to third on a long fly to center, and trotted home on Dominic DiCaprio's two-out single up the middle.
The Blue & Gray extended the margin in the very next inning. True freshman Ford Proctor launched a one-out solo homer to left-centerfield. Two batters later, Gray connected on a 3-1 pitch for a solo blast that cleared the wall in right. The program's first multi-homer inning since 2012 had put Rice up 3-0.
FAU answered with a run in the bottom of the fifth before taking the lead, 4-3, with three runs in the sixth. Four hits, including a solo homer by C-USA Player of the Year C.J. Chatham put FAU in front heading into Rice's half of the ninth.
The Blue & Gray continued to battle. Ryan Chandler laced a pitch that caromed off third base and bounded down the left field line for a stand-up double. With speed to burn, Chandler scored easily on Connor Teykl's single to left field and the game was tied, 4-4.
In his very first relief appearance of the year, Rice sophomore right-hander Ricardo Salinas came on in the bottom of the ninth and worked his way out of trouble after regular C-USA regular season champion FAU put two men on base. Rice's defensive hold seemed to give the offense an emotional lift.
In the top of the tenth, senior Grayson Lewis singled up the middle and moved into scoring position with a stolen base. Dayne Wunderlich drew a walk and Rice was content to have both advance on Hunter Kopycinski's sacrifice bunt. All the runners were safe, however, on a FAU fielding error, loading the bases with still no outs. Designated hitter Andrew Dunlap drove Lewis home with a sacrifice fly to left field to put Rice in front, 5-4, but also Wunderlich alertly hustled to third on the play.
Wunderlich scored on a subsequent wild pitch that gave Rice a little more breathing room, 6-4. In the bottom of the tenth Salinas ended-up needing just one run. Rice turned its 41st double play of the year after a walk and was able to end the game with a final fly out to right field.
Salinas improved to 8-2 on the season with the win in relief. Blake Fox started the contest and struck out six in 5.2 innings. Evan Kravetz and Glenn Otto also worked in relief. Freshman Dominic DiCaprio led Rice with three of the team's 10 hits. Proctor's homer was his third in as many games dating back to last Saturday.
Rice's next action in the C-USA Tournament is set for Saturday at 9 am. If the Blue & Gray win that game the team automatically advances to the Sunday's Championship Final. If Rice is defeated Saturday morning, a second elimination game would be played between the same two teams at 4 pm.