Cole McConnell

Cole McConnell. (Photo credit: Frank Fu) Content Exchange

HOUSTON – Momentum from a four-run comeback in game one resulted in a runaway victory in game two as No. 16 Louisiana Tech completed a doubleheader sweep at Rice on Saturday afternoon at Reckling Park.

LA Tech (23-7, 9-2 C-USA) combined to tally 17 runs between the final two innings of game one and the first three frames of game two to secure the series victory. The Bulldogs' 23rd victory of 2021 helped LA Tech record its best start in its first 30 games since 1987, which is when the 'Dogs opened the year 24-6.

The 1987 Diamond Dog squad finished the season 43-14 and went on to win the Southland Conference Championship.

The Bulldogs and Owls (13-17-1, 2-8-1 C-USA) will close out their four-game series at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Right-hander Jarret Whorff will look to tally his sixth pitching victory of 2021 as Tech goes for the series sweep in Houston.

Game 1 Recap: No. 16 LA Tech 7, Rice 6

For the second time since the start of C-USA play, the No. 16 Bulldogs erased a four-run deficit to tally a one-run conference victory on the road. Despite falling behind 6-2 in the fifth after a two-run homer from Rice's Bradley Gneiting, LA Tech battled its way back into the game with a pair of multi-run frames in the game's final two innings.

Houston native and starting right fielder Philip Matulia sparked LA Tech's rally in the sixth, blasting Tech's third solo home run of the afternoon to trim Rice's lead to 6-3. Back-to-back doubles from Cole McConnell and pinch hitter Jorge Corona again reduced the Owls' lead, making it 6-4 heading to the bottom of the sixth.

Right-hander Greg Martinez then sat down the Owls in order in the sixth before turning it over to the top of LA Tech's order in the seventh. Leadoff batter Taylor Young opened the seventh with a leadoff walk before third baseman Hunter Wells reached on a fielder's choice. Centerfielder Parker Bates then loaded the bases after watching ball four on a 3-2 pitch.

A wild pitch from right fielder turned reliever Guy Garibay trimmed Rice's lead to 6-5 before Manny Garcia belted the hit of the afternoon. After blasting a hard-hit ball foul on a 2-0 count, Garcia kept the next pitch fair with a two-RBI double to left field. LA Tech erased its two-run deficit with nobody out, carrying a one-run lead into the bottom of the seventh.

Right-hander Landon Tomkins nailed down his third save of the season after retiring three straight Owls after a leadoff HBP from Rice's Braden Comeaux. Shortstop Logan McLeod, who entered the game in the sixth inning, gloved a ground ball and fired over to Young covering the bag at second to end the ballgame.

"I knew we had the top of the lineup coming up there in the seventh, so I knew there was a chance," head coach Lane Burroughs said. "That was a big homer from Matulia in the sixth, and with Taylor leading off the seventh I knew we had an opportunity.

"We got some guys on base, and Manny got the big double. Tomkins then came in and got it done for us. It was a good win, and we need games like that where you come from behind and win."

The Diamond Dogs tallied three solo homers in Saturday's doubleheader opener. Beaumont, Texas native Cole McConnell opened the scoring with a solo home run in the second. Catcher Kyle Hasler then doubled Tech's early advantage with a solo shot of his own, blasting the first pitch he saw in the third inning over the center-field wall.

Left-handed reliever Nick Ellis played a pivotal role in LA Tech's victory in game one, keeping two additional Rice runs off the board in the Owls' four-run third inning. Ellis entered the game for Bulldog starter Ryan Jennings with runners on second and third and just one away, inducing back-to-back groundouts to end the frame.

Game one's victory chalked up LA Tech's eighth Conference USA victory of 2021, marking the fourth conference win in come-from-behind fashion.

Garcia led the Bulldogs with two hits and two RBI, while McConnell paced Tech with two runs scored after posting a 2-for-4 day at the plate of his own.

Game 2 Recap: No. 16 LA Tech 20, Rice 6

Seven singles and one double led to eight LA Tech runs in the top of the second as the Bulldogs blew the game wide open early in game two at Reckling Park. No. 16 LA Tech batted around in the second frame, opening the inning with four straight singles to extend its lead to 3-0.

Two-hole batter Hunter Wells increased LA Tech's lead to 5-0 with a two-RBI single up the middle. Centerfielder Parker Bates recorded yet another single to make it 6-0 before Manny Garcia broke the streak of singles with Tech's sole extra-base hit of the inning, belting a double off the center-field wall to stretch the Bulldog advantage to 7-0.

Left fielder Cole McConnell, who finished game two 4-for-5 with four RBI and two runs scored, capped off the second-inning scoring barrage with an RBI single of his own, making it 9-0 Diamond Dogs after just two team at-bats.

Wells tallied his third, fourth and fifth RBIs of the afternoon with a three-run, opposite-field home run to extend the Tech's lead to 12-0 in the third. Rice got on the scoreboard with a sacrifice fly in the fourth before the Diamond Dogs once again reeled off a scoring run, tallying four runs in the fifth to stretch out their lead to 16-1. Four straight walks helped Bates register an RBI walk for the first run before an RBI groundout and a sacrifice fly from pinch hitters Bryce Wallace and Adarius Myers, respectively, marked the second and third runs of the inning. McConnell concluded the four-run inning for the Diamond Dogs with an RBI single to right field.

Rice clawed back four runs in the bottom half before the Bulldogs tallied four of the game's final five runs in the seventh. Yet another one-bagger from McConnell, plus a fielding error on the Rice left fielder, brought home LA Tech's 17th and 18th runs. Catcher Jorge Corona lifted a sacrifice fly to right for the 19th run before shortstop Logan McLeod recorded an RBI single to center field for LA Tech's 20th and final run of game two.

McLeod, Wallace and Jackson Slaughter all tallied base hits after entering the game as pinch hitters earlier in the contest. Slaughter's double put a runner in scoring position for McLeod to drive in his first run of the season.

Game two's victory marked the eighth time the Diamond Dogs' offense has tallied a double-digit run total in 2021. LA Tech's 20 runs against Rice was an all-time best against the Owls, marking the first time the Bulldogs have tallied 20 runs in a conference victory since Tech defeated WKU 20-1 in Ruston back in 2015.

Bulldog second baseman Taylor Young blasted his second leadoff homer of the season on just the second pitch of Saturday's second game, putting the Diamond Dogs in the lead for good just minutes into the contest. Young finished game two with four runs scored and four walks.

Eleven Bulldogs crossed home plate in the second game of Saturday's doubleheader. Wells, Bates, McConnell and designated hitter Ben Brantley each recorded multi-hit performances.

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