By: Tyler Hotz (Louisiana Tech Athletics)
RUSTON, La (Louisiana Tech Athletics) – No. 16 Louisiana Tech will hit the road for the second time during its stretch of 28 straight Conference USA contests, opening a four-game series at Rice on Friday night.
Friday-Sunday’s series will mark the third of eight four-game conference series in 2021. All Conference USA series this season will consist of four games, one nine-inning game on Friday, two seven-inning games on Saturday and one final nine-inning game on Sunday.
Game times for the conference series at Rice’s Reckling Park are 6 p.m. on Friday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. Saturday’s first contest of the doubleheader will begin at 1 p.m. with the second game being played around 45 minutes after the conclusion of game one. All four games will stream live on CUSA.tv.
Louisiana Tech’s series victory over UAB helped the Bulldogs climb up the rankings in three polls on Monday, rising to No. 16 in the nation in D1Baseball’s and Perfect Game’s Top 25. The Diamond Dogs also checked in at No. 19 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, No. 20 in the NCBWA’s poll and No. 22 in Baseball America’s poll. The Bulldogs have now won three straight weekend series and hold a 12-2 record since a home loss to Arkansas on March 13.
No. 16 LA Tech took three games out of four from the Blazers at the Love Shack over the weekend, opening the weekend with a dominant 16-1 victory on Thursday night. The ‘Dogs blasted four home runs, all of which were multi-run shots, in the runaway, run-rule triumph.
Tech had to find another way to notch a conference victory in game one of Friday’s doubleheader, storming back from a 3-1 deficit with a five-run fifth inning to move to 2-0 in the series. Manny Garcia put the Bulldogs in the lead for good with a two-out, three-run homer to left field to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 Bulldog lead. LSWA Hitter of the Week Adarius Myers gave the ‘Dogs some breathing room just a few batters later, smacking a two-run single past the third baseman to stretch the home team’s lead to 6-3.
UAB responded with a 9-3 win in game two to split Friday’s doubleheader in Ruston. With a 2-1 lead in the series, the Diamond Dogs nailed down the series win with their sixth shutout of the season. LA Tech ranks first in the nation with six shutouts in just 27 games in 2021. Right-hander Jarret Whorff moved to 5-1 on the season after delivering seven scoreless frames on Saturday. Whorff’s start helped the Bulldogs improve to a perfect 6-0 in weekend series’ finales this season.
The series against the Blazers also marked the return of bullpen standout Kyle Crigger. Crigger recorded the final three outs on Saturday, tossing just nine pitches in his first official appearance after an offseason elbow surgery kept him out for the first half of the season.
LA Tech tallied multiple runs scored in at least one inning in each game over the weekend, making it 54 times in 2021 the Diamond Dogs have put up a crooked number. Eight Bulldogs with 30 at-bats or more have eclipsed a .300 batting average. Leadoff batter Taylor Young enters the midway point of the season batting .330 with a team-high 10 doubles, 30 runs scored and seven stolen bases.
No. 16 LA Tech holds a 12-43 all-time record against Rice, sporting a 4-6 record against the Owls in the past 10 matchups. The Bulldogs won all four of those contests in-a-row, recording a road victory at Rice in 2017 before notching a three-game sweep over the Owls in the Love Shack back in 2018.
Rice enters this weekend’s series with a rare 2-5-1 C-USA record, going 1-2-1 at Middle Tennessee this past weekend. Rice’s final game in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, ended in a 9-9 tie after 12 innings due to a travel curfew on Saturday.
The Owls split Friday’s doubleheader against the Blue Raiders, limiting Middle Tennessee to just one run in game two in the 4-1 victory. Rice went 1-3 in its opening Conference USA series against UTSA, winning game one of the doubleheader 10-8 on March 27 in Reckling Park.
In nonconference play, the Owls have one-run victories over Big 12 foe Kansas State and in-state SEC opponent Texas A&M. Rice holds a 10-6 record at home in 2021, but the Owls have lost four of their past five games in Reckling Park.
Infielder Braden Comeaux, a member of the 2021 C-USA Preseason Team, leads the Owls in batting average (.333) and hits (35). Freshman outfielder Guy Garibay tops the Owls in slugging percentage (.523) and walks (18) while ranking second on the team in home runs (five) and total bases (46).
Head coach Matt Bragga entered his third season at Rice in 2021, previously serving as Tennessee Tech’s head coach for 15 years. Bragga led Rice to 26 wins and a C-USA Tournament appearance in his first season with the Owls in 2019.