The insurance run came in a photogenic manner. In the bottom of the eighth inning Rice designated hitter Andrew Dunlap snapped his wrists, sent a ball up and out, the white silhouette of the ball clearing the left field fence and landing somewhere behind the hill behind the fence. His moonshot made the score 5-3 and gave the Owls a winning record in Conference USA play for the first time this season.
“It didn’t feel normal because it got too close,” said Rice head coach Wayne Graham. “But it sure feel better. When you’ve been as behind as were, what were we, 5-10, 6-11?”
Rice pitchers Matt Canterino and Glenn Otto combined to hold the Middle Tennessee batters, a group that had five hitting over .300, to three runs on seven hits.
“I think they’re leading the conference in hitting,” said Graham. “But Dunlap is swinging the bat good. He got one in his groove. He’s hitting .300 now. He’s very strong.”
Dunlap, who entered the game hitting .286 and left the diamond .308 and having hit two home runs for the season.
“We needed insurance, and there was nobody on base, so I was just trying to get a good swing on the ball. I think it was a 3-2 count, so I just shortened up a little bit.”
With the win, Rice moves to 23-27 overall, and to 13-12 in conference and in sole possession of seventh place, a spot temporarily good enough to earn them a trip to the Conference USA tournament. Their motivation remains surviving until then.
“I think being in stressful environments for a long period of time can lead to you not having any fear,” said Dunlap. “Thankfully, we’re playing our best baseball right now, and we want to play as long as we can. That’s why the motivation is survival.”