The Rice baseball team rallied for a pair of runs in the bottom of the ninth inning and was still looking for more with the bases-loaded and the potential winning run at the plate, but Arizona worked out of the jam to preserve an 8-5 win over the Owls Wednesday night at Reckling Park in Houston.
Trailing 8-3 heading into their last at bat, the Owls fought back for two runs and sent a total of eight men to the plate. A leadoff walk to Shane Hoelscher, a single by Craig Manuel and a walk to pinch-hitter Keenan Cook loaded the bases with two away. Junior second baseman Christian Stringer delivered a clutch double to right field to score two for an 8-5 game. Michael Ratterree followed with a walk to load the bases again, but this time Arizona reliever Matthew Troupe halted the Owl threat with a game-ending strikeout.
After a 5-1 Rice win on Tuesday night (Mar. 13) in the opening game of the brief midweek series, the two Top 10 foes split the set 1-1. The Owls are now 14-5 overall wile Arizona improved to 14-3 on the season. Rice head coach Wayne Graham tipped his hat to a talented Arizona squad, stayed focused on the positives (particularly the effort of his freshman starting pitcher Zech Lemond) and kept the expectations bar set high for his own team.
“Arizona fought hard tonight and had offensive tenacity,” coach Graham said. “For us to be what we want to be, we’re going to have to have that same offensive tenacity. We’re going to have to be tenacious with the bat.
“I thought Zech did a great job,” the Owls’ head coach added. “He could have gotten out of there with no damage. We made an error where we gave them one (run), but I thought he pitched well. I couldn’t ask for much more.”
In just his fifth Rice appearance and first career start, Lemond worked a career-long 5.0 innings. He surrendered two runs in the fourth inning, but only one was earned after an Owl fielding error prolonged the Wildcats’ at bat. The rookie right-hander from Waltrip High School scattered four hits and faced one batter in the sixth before being lifted.
Rice struck for three runs in the bottom of the third inning to give Lemond an early lead. The big blow was triple to right-center by Michael Fuda that drove-in two.
Arizona chipped away for the two in the fourth and one in the sixth with the help of a Rice wild pitch that tied the game, 3-3. The Wildcats tallied two more runs in the eighth and another three in the ninth off the Owl bullpen. Arizona had the five-run lead to start the bottom of the ninth and finally held off the Owls’ late charge with the tying run at the plate.
Rice’s current six-game homestand continues through March 21. The Owls are back in action with a two-game weekend series on Saturday and Sunday (Mar. 17-18). Rice hosts Grambling State in a pair of games that are slated to begin at 2 pm and 1 pm, respectively.