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Thursday, May 23, 2024 — Houston, TX

Baseball knocks off No. 24 Texas Tech to open weekend at Minute Maid


By Daniel Schrager     3/4/23 11:53am

Paul Janish is now undefeated, but the same can’t be said for No. 24 Texas Tech University. Rice’s associate head coach stepped in for head coach Jose Cruz Jr., who missed Friday’s game with a personal matter, and guided the Owls to a 3-2 win over the previously 10-0 Red Raiders to open the Owls’ weekend-long residence at Minute Maid Park.

“Nowhere to go but down,” Janish said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever head coach or not, but worst case scenario, I end up undefeated.”

Janish’s first decision was an obvious one, to stick with Cruz’s go-to Friday — starter sophomore pitcher Parker Smith. Smith made good on his coaches’ trust, shutting down the Red Raiders almost entirely through three with Tech’s one hit coming on an infield single to second. Unfortunately for Rice, Smith’s counterpart Brendan Griton, who entered the game with a 1.64 ERA, was just as effective early, striking out four of the first five batters he faced and retiring the first six.

Griton finally allowed a baserunner in the bottom of the third, when a walk, an error and a ball hit squarely off the pitchers’ back loaded the bases for the Owls without the ball leaving the infield. Rice’s luck ran out when sophomore catcher Manny Garza’s sharp grounder down the first base line was handled, ending the improbable near-rally.

After another scoreless frame from Smith in the top half of the inning, Rice finally broke the deadlock in the bottom of the fourth. Following a double play, senior right fielder Benjamin Rosengard walked, bringing up junior center fielder Connor Walsh. Ahead in the count 2-1, Walsh drove Griton’s pitch half-a-dozen rows deep into the empty right field stands, putting Rice ahead 2-0.

Smith struck out the side in the fifth, but Rice couldn’t extend their lead despite forcing Griton out of the game. The sixth inning troubled Smith in his last start against Stanford University, but he looked poised to get out of it unscathed after two quick outs. Then he walked his first batter of the day and allowed his third hit, and Tech had the tying run on base with Smith nearing his hundredth pitch. But the Owls’ ace had enough left in the tank to force a line-out to left and end the inning. According to Janish, the ultra-competitive Smith thrives in crucial moments.

“He's a jerk in the best way,” Janish said. “He loves being in that spotlight. He loves to compete.”

Junior pitcher Matthew Linskey replaced Smith in the seventh. Linskey didn’t allow a hit, but that’s about the only nice thing to be said about his third-of-an-inning cameo. Linskey walked three of the four Tech batters he faced to load the bases with one out before being replaced by junior pitcher Justin Long. Long, a converted catcher, got ahead 0-2 against his first batter but a wild pitch scored the runner on third. Then a sacrifice-fly scored a second runner, but Long got out of the inning with the game tied at 2-2 on a pop-out in foul territory. According to Long, he took it upon himself to step up for his struggling teammate.

“Matthew Linskey didn't have all his stuff today, but it's one of those things where you’ve got to pick up your brother,” Long said.

The game wasn’t tied for long though. After freshman left fielder Christian Salazar struck out, junior third baseman Jack Riedel swung at the first pitch of his at bat, driving the ball over the exact same part of the right field wall that Walsh had cleared three innings earlier. According to Riedel, after striking out twice earlier in the game, he wasn’t particularly looking to swing at the first pitch.

“He just threw me a good pitch to hit, and [I] just put a good swing on it,” Riedel said. 

After the two traded scoreless frames, Long jogged back out to seal what was effectively an eight-out save. Long struck out his old teammate, former-Owl Drew Woodcox, in four pitches, but with the Red Raiders down to their last two outs, first baseman Gavin Kash crushed a pitch well over the heads of the Rice outfield. The ball bounced off the top of the wall, and instead of tying the game, Kash settled for a double.

“I'm not gonna lie, I thought it was gone,” Long said. “I turned and looked a little bit, [then] realized I was gonna have to back up third base. So I just hustled over there, and then on to the next pitch.”

Long settled down to strike out the next batter, but a five-pitch walk put the go-ahead run on first. According to Janish, he never considered pulling his reliever.

“He was the guy there,” Janish said. “We were gonna live [or] die with him. He was gonna get them out or we were gonna go down with him.”

Luckily for Rice, Janish’s decision paid off. Long struck out shortstop Tracer Lopez swinging on a 1-2 breaking-ball, sealing the upset for Rice. 

The Owls return to Minute Maid tomorrow at 7 p.m. to face Texas A&M University.

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