BILOXI, MS (WDAM) - The University of Charlotte started the 2017 Conference USA Championship Wednesday night with a dominating pitching performance from freshman Matt Brooks.
The 49ers got an even more impressive one Thursday night from sophomore Colton Laws.
The 6-foot-8, 223-pound Laws threw a perfect game through six innings before finishing with a four-hit, 5-0 shutout of University of Texas-San Antonio in a winner's bracket game at MGM Park.
Laws ' effort was the first complete-game tournament shutout since Seth Maness tossed a 4-0 gem against the University of Southern Mississippi on May 27, 2011.
"We just couldn't seem to crack the code on Colton Laws (Thursday night)," UTSA coach Jason Marshall said.
Laws gilded his first complete game with no walks and a conference-tournament record 14 strikeouts, breaking the 20-year-old, 13 strikeouts Tulane's Jason Navarro had against the University of Cincinnati in 1997.
The 14 strikeouts matched the single-game high thrown by a conference pitcher this year (Florida International University's Robert Garcia).
"Colton Laws has decided he wanted to be really good," Charlotte coach Loren Hibbs said. "He's physically gifted. He's put in the work.
"For all the pitchers who have come through this league, and to set a game record for strikeouts in (tournament) play … Go look at the list of guys who have pitched in this league and the guys who have pitched in the big leagues. It's just incredible, the length of the list of elite-level guys who have pitched in Conference USA, and for (Laws) him to do what he did (Thursday) is just a testament to his hard work, the plan and his competiveness."
The loss sent the eighth-seeded Roadrunners (29-27) into a 6:30 p.m. elimination game Friday with top-seeded University of Southern Mississippi (45-13).
The game is a rematch of an opening-round contest that saw UTSA beat the Golden Eagles 9-2 Wednesday evening.
"It's always fun playing them," Marshall said. "You're in the state of Mississippi and the stands will be full. They have the best fans in Conference USA, so there will be a lot of energy in here, and we'll be ready and excited to play and looking forward to try and extend the tournament for UTSA."
Fourth-seeded Charlotte (34-22) moved straight into Saturday's 12:30 p.m. semifinal game, where they will meet the winner of Friday's Southern Miss-UTSA game.
One win would put the 49ers into their third C-USA baseball championship game and first since 1998. Should Charlotte fall, the teams would play a second time at 7:30 p.m. for a spot in Sunday's 1 p.m. championship game.
"We've got to play on Saturday and be ready to go," Hibbs said.
Charlotte went up 2-0 in the third inning on sacrifice flies by left fielder Zach Jarrett and second baseman Brett Netzer off C.J. Pickering (3-3).
Laws (7-2) rolled through the first six innings before giving up a lead-off double in the seventh inning to UTSA center fielder Kevin Markham. He allowed three singles in the last two innings, while striking out four to reach Navarro's record.
"Actually, I heard a player say to (assistant) Coach (Shon) Doty, "He's got a perfect game," in the fifth or sixth inning, and I tried to ignore it," Laws said. "I left a slider there to the left-handed kid and he put a good swing on it, so I tip my hat to him.
"It's not something that you think about; it's just what the hard work does for you. I had great defense behind me and was just trying to do my job locating."
By then, Charlotte was toting a 5-0 lead thanks to Jarrett's 12th home run of the season, a two-out, three-run shot over the wall in left-center field.
"It was big, real big," Hibbs said.
Shortstop Hunter Jones led Charlotte with three hits, while catcher Harris Yett and right fielder T.J. Nichting added two hits apiece.
No. 6 Rice 4, No. 2 Old Dominion 3
Over the years, Rice University has earned a reputation for winning close baseball games, and Coach Wayne Graham said the reason for that was very simple.
"Well, if you've got good relief pitching, you look real smart," Graham said shortly after watching his closer, Glenn Otto, surrender only a walk over the final 3 1/3 innings of Rice's 4-3 victory over Old Dominion University Thursday in the second round of the 2017 Conference USA Baseball Championship.
"That's the name of that game, all the way up to the major leagues. Good relief pitching, and you look like you can make all the right moves."
The move gave the sixth-seeded Owls (29-29) a day off Friday and moved them straight into Saturday's 9 a.m. semifinal game. Rice will take on the survivor of Friday's 3 p.m. elimination game between second-seeded ODU (37-20) and third-seeded Florida Atlantic University (34-20-1).
One win would put Rice into its ninth C-USA baseball championship game. Should Rice fall, the teams would play a second time at 4 p.m. for a spot in Sunday's 1 p.m. championship game.
Rice first baseman Darryn Sheppard drove in a pair of runs, including what proved to be the deciding run with a RBI-single in the fifth inning.
But Otto (4-3) proved to be the difference, starting by stranding runners at second and third on a flyball to end the sixth inning.
"Glenn Otto was the difference," Graham said. "Obviously, he was the difference."
ODU coach Chris Finwood agreed.
"Otto was a big-leaguer out there (Thursday night)," Finwood said. "I told our guys I couldn't him. He was on, and when he's throwing the ball like that, he's going to be tough."
The game sported some warts.
Rice committed four errors and its pitchers committed two balks. Finwood said a missed cutoff man cost ODU two runs in Rice's three-run, third inning and still was shaking his head over a runner interference play at the plate that ended a Monarch rally in the fifth inning.
"We had a tough call at the plate that would have tied it up (3-3), and we gave them two runs in the inning they got three," Finwood said. "We've been really good, fundamentally, most of the year, but that really cost us."
Center fielder Ryan Chandler had two of Rice's seven hits, while ODU second baseman Jared Young led the Monarchs with two hits.
No. 3 Florida Atlantic 8, No. 7 Florida International 4 (FIU eliminated)
The first two times Florida Atlantic University catcher Pedro Pages had stepped into the batter's box Thursday morning at MGM Park, Florida International University right-hander Nick McDonald had started him off with breaking pitches.
"I was just looking for something I could shoot back up the middle," Pages said. "The first two at-bats, they threw me first-pitch breaking balls, so I figured they were going to throw it to me again."
McDonald did, and Pages ripped a slider into left field for a three-run double that sparked a six-run, sixth inning as the Owls stayed alive with an 8-4 victory in the 2017 Conference USA Championship.
Pages' hit lifted FAU into a 3-2 lead, and Owls center fielder Jared Shouppe capped the rally with his seventh home run of the season, a three-run blast to right field.
"The bottom line is we didn't get it done when it counted and they put a good inning together on us," FIU coach Mervyl Melendez said. "Unfortunately, (Thursday) it went against us."
The seventh-seeded Panthers (31-27) became the first team eliminated from the eight-team C-USA postseason field.
Third-seeded FAU (34-20-1) will move into Friday's 12:30 p.m. elimination game, facing the loser of Thursday night's Old Dominion University-Rice University matchup."
"We move on, and at this point, you get no style points," FAU coach John McCormack said. "You get no points for looking good or making good moves. Those things are all out the window. It's about winning games, and trying to advance on."
FIU led 2-0 after Nick Day smacked his 11th home run of the season off FAU starter Blake Sanderson, who lasted just two innings and gave up four hits.
Alex House (6-4) came in and allowed just two runs on three hits over seven innings. He walked two and struck out eight.
Day, who would finish with three hits and two runs scored, drove in his third and fourth runs of the game with a two-run double in the bottom of the sixth inning to get the Panthers back within 6-4, but FAU first baseman Esteban Puerta answered with a two-run double in the top of the seventh inning.