Recap by: John Sullivan, Rice Athletics (firstname.lastname@example.org)
BATON ROUGE, La. -- The Rice baseball team battled all the way to the end, loading the bases in the bottom of the ninth inning, but No. 2 ranked LSU held strong for a 5-0 win over the Owls in front of 10,639 raucous fans at Alex Box Stadium late Sunday evening in Baton Rouge, La.
With the loss the 2017 Rice baseball season has come to an end. The Owls finished with a winning 33-31 record after the team began the year with a 7-19 ledger and was 13-25 in mid-April. LSU improved to 46-17 and will host the NCAA Tournament's Super Regional round next week.
Playing as the visiting team at their own home venue, LSU opportunistically took advantage of two Rice fielding errors for three unearned runs in the top of the second inning. The Tigers collected three hits in the frame but the Owls could have been out of the inning before damage on the scoreboard.
LSU scored a run on a sacrifice fly in the top of the third before adding another in the fourth without a base hit, stretching the margin to 5-0. Without the early unearned runs the score still felt like only a 2-0 LSU lead. Make no mistake, Rice 1) needed to corral the Tiger hitters and 2) get something going on the offense side as LSU starting pitcher Eric Walker was settling in with a sensational outing.
Rice sophomore right-hander Jackson Parthasarathy stepped up to answer the first challenge. The Austin, Texas, native delivered his best outing of his young career on one of the college game's biggest stages. Entering the game in the top of the fourth, Parthasarathy retired 13 in row during one stretch. He went on to fire 5.2 innings of one-hit scoreless relief, striking out four and without issuing any walks.
The Owl offense meanwhile was able to get base hits in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth, but not string together consecutive hits. Finally, in the bottom of the ninth, the Blue & Gray made one final push to extend the season one more day.
If you followed Rice baseball all season, it is perhaps not too far off to see aspects of this particular game as a metaphor for much of the season itself: A good Owl team gave away a little too much early-on, but still fought and wouldn't go away, and surely had the opponents' full attention all the way to the end.
In meeting with a sizeable media contingent afterward Rice head coach Wayne Graham, now with 26 complete seasons at Rice and 37 overall as a collegiate head coach, tipped his cap to the Regional winner. He also liked what he saw of how his Owls fought, and that the team will have to be ready to defend its conference title 2018.
"Obviously, LSU had great pitching and they had a great day on defense," coach Graham said. "I thought our guys competed well. (Rice was) a little tired (playing two games on the day), but we were behind the eight ball once we got in the losers' bracket.
"I'm really proud of our guys and their effort," he said. "We hung in there tonight. Another couple of hits and it could've been a close game, but they never quit fighting, as evidenced by that last inning.
"We got this far when a lot of other teams did not," Graham added. "We had a good year."