Let's talk about Mark Payton's walk-off double against Baylor one more time. It's captured in the video below but that doesn't do the hit justice for a few reasons I'll rattle off in bullet form:
- The bases were loaded. There were two outs. Texas was losing by 2. The count was 3-2.
- Payton needed a hit or walk to extend his streak of successfully reaching base to 70 games.
- Baylor had the conference leader in saves on the mound.
- The video doesn't show it, but the pitch before was a 3-1 fastball that pretty clearly should have been ball four. Payton started trotting to first but returned when it was called a strike. That was critical for a couple of reasons. Texas was down two runs so the bases loaded situation would've been handed over to freshman Tres Barrera with the Horns still trailing. More importantly, however, the runners could take off on a 3-2 pitch, giving Brooks Marlow a head start that allowed him to score on a hit that wouldn't have cleared the bases on a 3-1 pitch.
- Texas had not won a game with a come from behind walk off hit since Cameron Rupp hit a three run homer to beat Nebraska 6-5 in 2010. The midweek win and conference sweep gave Texas its first 4-0 conference week since 2011.
Finally, take a look at the amazing .gif below provided by Bandito (you may need to click on it to get it to play). My favorite part is watching Madison Carter guide Marlow's slide along the left side of the plate to avoid any potential tag. Just an awesome play.
Enough about Baylor, let's talk Rice. The Owls have been struggling mightily of late, going 3-6 over their last nine games including a home series loss last weekend to East Carolina (ISR #100). The Owls have tumbled in the polls as a result, ending up at #21 in Baseball America this week. The Horns, by contrast, have moved comfortably into the top ten in every major poll and remain ISR's #1 team.
A win over Rice would give Texas a series sweep that would look nice come tourney time. Rice desperately needs this game to recapture some momentum, Texas would like to win but that would be lagniappe.
Texas will throw Lukas Schiraldi. Schiraldi has been nails as the weekday starter this year, giving Texas a fourth starting option that few NCAA teams will have in the postseason. The junior has some tendency to lose complete command in the later innings, so some monitoring is needed as we get into the 6th, 7th and 8th innings.
Rice will counter with Caleb Smith. According to Google, Smith is an American literature professor at Yale. His CV doesn't mention any of his pitches so it remains to be seen if Caleb's curveball is able to match his selected publications.
Wait, scratch that. Smith is a sophomore right hander who has made three previous starts for the Owls this season. He seems to have relatively good stuff, with 17 strikeouts and a .217 opponent batting average, but Smith has also walked eight and given up nine earned runs in just 11.2 innings pitched (6.94 ERA). Look for Rice to begin with Smith but be prepared to see multiple Owl relievers.
Tonight should be a fun game because the real work of competing for the conference crown begins on Friday in Norman.
First pitch is at 7 PM tonight and this'll be your open thread.