HOUSTON – Philip Matulia and Walker Burchfield hit back-to-back homers with two outs in the first inning to open the faucet, the first two of 21 runs scored in a 13-8 win for No. 6-seed Louisiana Tech over No. 3-seed Charlotte in the 9 a.m. Wednesday opener of the 2023 Conference USA Baseball Championship at Reckling Park on the campus of Rice University.
Tech (28-29) led 5-3 after two innings and 8-4 after batting in the fifth before the 49ers tied it up in the bottom of the inning.
But the Bulldogs scored four runs on two hits and three Charlotte (29-26) errors in the seventh, added another in the ninth on a Kyle Hasler double and Ethan Bates sacrifice fly, and Landon Tomkins and Ethan Bates combined to shut out the 49ers in the final three innings as the Bulldogs moved to 1-0 in the tournament they won last year in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Besides Matulia, Tech’s senior rightfielder playing in his hometown, and fellow senior Burchfield, Adarius Myers homered in the second, Dalton Davis hit two-run homers in the second and fourth innings, and third baseman Logan McLeod was robbed of a homer in the fifth on a nice play at the wall by 49er rightfielder Cam Fisher. Myers and shortstop Will Safford each had three hits in the game.
The two-homeruns day for Davis continued a streak hot by any measurement for the Tech first baseman: in his most recent eight games, Davis is hitting .385 with 15 hits, nine home runs, 20 RBIs, 15 runs scored and five walks.
“It was a hitter’s day right out of the gate,” Tech coach Lane Burroughs said. “Two aces going, but it was crazy with the wind blowing out. That’s why we went so long (two innings) with Landon; we wanted to throw him just one inning but when you’ve got a chance to win the game and buy yourself another day in the tournament, you do it. You go for it this time of year, so we had to push him an extra inning.
“I don’t think he was as sharp as he’s been, and neither was Bates, but they did enough to get it done,” he said. “Then our hitters, the guys just kept going and were able to get on some balls and drive them out of the yard.”
Reed Smith, 4-4, got the win after throwing just three pitches – but they were big ones. With the score tied at 8-8 in the sixth, two on and two out, Smith got 49er cleanup hitter Jake Cunningham to ground out. Then the Bulldogs put up four runs in the top of the seventh, Tompkins pitched the seventh and eighth, and Bates closed.
Smith had come on in relief of Caden Copeland, who gave up one run in 1.2 innings in relief of starter Jonathan Fincher, who went four innings, gave up seven runs, struck out five and didn’t walk anyone.
The Bulldogs play Thursday’s second game, scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m., against the winner of No. 2 seed UTSA and No. 7 seed Middle Tennessee. The matchup will be streamed live on ESPN+.
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