Southeastern Louisiana (37-20) advanced to the winner’s bracket with their 12-6 victory over Rice (31-30) Friday night, taking advantage of seven Rice errors in the process.
“Well, you guys saw it,” 81-year old Rice head coach Wayne Graham said after the game. “It was ugly.”
The win was Southeastern’s first NCAA Regional opening round win since 1992 when they beat Hawaii in Arizona.
“The third time around felt a little different from the past two years when it was an accomplishment just to be here,” Southeastern head coach Matt Riser said after the game.
“It's time to win one of these things. The only way to do that is get off on the right foot. I thought we did a good job of playing fast, playing hard, playing aggressive, putting pressure on their defense to force the errors there, and came up with some talented plays, some big defensive plays in the right moment, some big pitches in the right moment, some big hits in the big moment. When you do that part, you're going to win a lot of ball games.”
The win held some emotion for Southeastern, who was eliminated by the hand of Rice in last year’s Baton Rouge regional, a memory Lions players were keeping fresh in their minds.
“When we saw that name pop up and saw we were playing them, it fired us up,” Southeastern third baseman Taylor Schwaner said. “(We) just wanted to get back out there and get that win. That's what we did.”
Southeastern opened the game with two runs right off the bat when Ryan Byers walked to lead off the Lions first inning and Brennan Breaud followed suit with a sacrifice bunt that the pitcher airmailed to first, allowing Byers to score. Taylor Schwaner knocked Breaud in with a single to straight center.
Rice cut the lead in half in the ensuing inning when Tristan Gray lead off the inning with a single to right field. He was moved into position before scoring on Charlie Warren’s single up the gut.
Southeastern answered with a run via a Taylor Schwaner solo shot to left, but Rice saw that dinger and tied it with one of their own, a two run jack from Dayne Wunderlich after Dunlap singled.
The game would not be tied for long. In the bottom half of the fifth, Southeastern loaded the bases with two outs and kept it loaded for a while. Five walks and two singles directly led to four runs being scored for the Lions, two of which were plated on an E4 and a wild pitch.
And then SLU exploded for four runs again in the sixth, on the back of two Rice errors, two hits, one walk and a hit by pitch. Believe it or not, before the seventh inning Rice had matched LSU’s error total from game one.
Rice scratched across two more runs in the seventh as Dunlap and Wunderlich lead off the inning and scored on a ground out to first and a single up the middle. However, Southeastern answered with another run in the eighth with the help of another error, a wild pitch, and a groundout. Rice started a rally in the ninth after a Dane Myers solo shot to left to bring it to 12-6, but that was all that was doing for the Owls.
With the win, Southeastern sets up an I-12 date with LSU Saturday night at 7:00 on the SEC Network, a familiar opponent for Southeastern and one the Lions look to get over the hump against. Earlier in the season, LSU defeated SLU 8-2 in a midweek matchup to improve to 68-17 all-time against the school from Hammond, America.
“It was early on in the season,” Schwaner said of the two school’s previous meeting. “I mean, that was a big game for us, obviously, against LSU. We competed against them, and it got out of hand late.”
“One day little brother grows up and becomes a man,” Riser said. “What has to happen to us this weekend is for us to grow up a little bit and little brother to grow up to be a man.”