Blake Fox scattered one run across six innings of three-hit baseball Saturday morning against Southeastern Louisiana. It put his Rice Owls into a winners bracket matchup with Baton Rouge regional host LSU, which it lost at the hands of Tigers ace Alex Lange.
In 16 starts, Fox has a 2.69 ERA. Ninety-five strikeouts, too. He emerged from the dugout during his team’s 10-6, Monday night thrashing of LSU with a batting helmet. He’d observed other Owls hack a carousel of LSU relief pitchers so coach Wayne Graham allowed him a turn.
Jesse Stallings threw one pitch. Fox shot it down the right-field line for Rice’s 12th hit. It scored two runs, the ninth and tenth of this upstart Owls offense that scored 25 runs on 29 hits Monday.
“We just couldn’t stop them,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
After a 15-0 win against Southeastern extended their season earlier Monday, the Owls scored on seven LSU pitchers — an augmented number thanks to Caleb Gilbert’s two-inning start that dug his team an early 3-0 hole it eventually erased, tying the game at 4 in the fifth.
Mainieri faced a conundrum with his team still undefeated in the double-elimination regional and one game’s worth of leeway.
“That’s one thing you do a little different when you have a game to play with, so to speak,” Mainieri said. “You don’t want to burn your top bullpen guys if you don’t have a lead. When we came back and tied the game, I had a tough decision there to go to some of the top guys right there or wait and see if we could get a lead.
“I’d hoped we could get through another inning there with a combination of Riley (Smith) and Doug Norman and it didn’t work.”
Seeking a shutdown fifth inning, Smith issued back-to-back one-out singles. Norman was then summoned. Ford Proctor knocked a sacrifice fly to center before Teykl’s RBI double and Chandler’s RBI single evaporated any momentum the 41-minute top half of the inning created.
In all, six runs were scored between the two teams in this crazy fifth.
Three Rice relievers walked four LSU batters, the last a four-pitch, bases-loaded free pass to Mike Papierski that tied the game at 4. Starter Dane Meyers, back after a 52-pitch outing on Sunday, issued a two-run homer to Kramer Robertson, a clutch hit missing throughout the previous four innings.
LSU had four hits in its first three innings. It did not put a runner in scoring position until the fourth, when Robertson trotted to second after Jordan Romero took an awry breaking ball off the helmet.
Two batters later, Robertson scored from second — an aggressive one-out send after Greg Deichmann’s single through the right side — to produce the Tigers’ first run. LSU then stranded the bases loaded, a feat it would replicate in that wild fifth inning.
The focus of scorn throughout the game for his miniscule, moving strike zone that changed seemingly each inning, home plate umpire Harry Greer jabbed his finger toward the Rice dugout throughout the fifth inning, the discipline for endless chatter about his calls.
Out to pull Zac Esquivel after his walk to Papierski, Rice pitching coach Patrick Hallmark continued the conversation while First Team All-Conference USA closer Glenn Otto warmed.
Otto’s curveball is brilliant, a bender that can fall from the proverbial “table” at 76 mph or spiked in the dirt to elicit silly half swings. Though he threw 40 pitches across three innings in the Owls’ 4-2 loss against LSU on Sunday, the right-hander was given the baseball in the fifth inning.
“I felt good enough to go,” Otto said. “If I had any problems with my arm, I would have made them aware of it and they wouldn’t have put me out there. Everything felt good and I was throwing before the game and I felt like I could go. So I gave them the thumb’s up.”
He induced a chopper from Cole Freeman to end the fifth and, after Jake Fraley doubled in the sixth, got a weak popout from Robertson before befuddling Romero with a bevy of those breaking balls to end the threat.
Otto would not relinquish the mound, finishing the final 4.1 innings on 72 pitches. Fraley provided the only spark against him, pushing a two-run home run just inside the right field foul pole in the eighth.
Robertson followed with a single, finding a pulse in an otherwise downtrodden Alex Box Stadium crowd.
Romero’s fielder’s choice and pinch hitter Brody Wofford’s flyout quelled any of it.
“I guess that guy’s got a rubber arm,” Robertson said, “because he had good stuff again today.”
Now LSU faces elimination for the first time this season in a 4 p.m. regional title game at Alex Box Stadium. The Tigers have yet to announce a starter and will be the visiting team for the second straight game, occupying the third base dugout in their home stadium.
In Rice’s four regional games, it has been the home team twice and the visitor twice. LSU’s been the visiting team just once and the home team twice. Because Rice has been the visitor more, it is the home team.
“It doesn’t seem quite fair, I don’t think,” Mainieri said. “It seems we get kind of penalized for starting out 2-0 and not playing as many games.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome