Rice baseball takes on Southern Miss in the opening round of the Conference USA Baseball Tournament. Here’s how both teams match up.
A battle of CUSA heavyweight programs will reconvene in Biloxi. Rice and Southern Miss have won five of the last six Conference USA Baseball Tournament championships. Southern Miss won in 2018 with Rice winning the year prior.
The Owls have undergone plenty of changes since, most notably with the hiring of head coach Matt Bragga. If either program wants to return to the top they’ll need to get past the other this week.
How to watch and game info
Rice and Southern Miss will meet for the fourth time in the 2019 season on Wednesday during the first round of the 2019 Conference USA Baseball Tournament. 7-Seed Rice will look to do what they’ve already accomplished twice this season, an upset of the Golden Eagles.
How Rice wins
Rice blew three late-inning leads in their final regular season series against Marshall. The sound of the Marshall bats pounding out three straight walk-off hits might still be ringing in the ears of the Rice bullpen, a low point for that group. If the Owls have it their way, they’ll be able to minimize the risk that bullpen might add in a survive-and-advance setting.
Staff ace Matt Canterino has been superb this season, but so also have fellow starters Evan Kravetz and Jackson Parthasarathy. The Owls’ trio of starting pitchers is the only set of starters who have each been named CUSA Pitcher of the Week this season. Canterino will presumably start against Southern Miss. If he’s throwing well, it’s going to be hard for coach Bragga to take him out a before the sixth or seventh inning at the earliest.
A complete game from Canterino or a strong start with a few well-executed innings by a select bullpen arm or two have proven to be enough to keep the Southern Miss bats at bay. That combination, plus a big hit or two from the likes of Trei Cruz, Bradley Gneiting or Andrew Dunlap are the recipe Rice needs to employ to move on.
How Southern Miss wins
Southern Miss is playing far from their best brand of baseball, going 3-6 in their last nine conference games. Even in defeat, though, the markings of an NCAA Tournament-worthy team have been apparent. Walker Powell is a top of the line starting pitcher who tossed nine innings in his most recent outing against UAB, striking out eight while allowing one earned run. He’ll go toe-to-toe with the Owls’ Canterino.
The lineup is where Southern Miss will hope to exploit their advantage. The Golden Eagles entering the CUSA Tournament with the third best batting average in CUSA and the second-most long balls on the season (54). Outside of an off weekend in Houston, the Southern Miss offense has tallied 21 runs or more in every conference series they’ve played this season — including the series losses.
Both teams can pitch and both teams can hit. But Southern Miss has proven more capable of stringing those hits together and producing runs consistently. They just haven’t done it against Rice. Which side blinks first?