LONG BEACH, Calif. -- An RBI single in the bottom of the tenth inning by Long Beach State's Danny Espinosa lifted the 49ers to a narrow 1-0 win over the visiting Rice baseball team in the 2008 season-opener for both teams Friday evening at Blair Field in Long Beach, Calif.
Both starting pitchers were locked into an opening day pitcher's duel. Rice's Ryan Berry, the NCAA freshman pitcher of the year last season, looked sharp in his 2008 debut in scattering just five hits with no walks while striking out eight in 7.0 scoreless innings. Long beach State's Andrew Liebel allowed five hits and one walk while striking out a career-high 11. Both bullpens kept the matching shutouts intact to the end of nine innings, but the LBSU rallied for the game's lone run in the bottom of the 10th.
49er right fielder Jess Barger led off the 10th with a single up the middle and Travis Howell sacrificed him over to second base. Barger advanced to third on a wild pitch. Rice got a strikeout for the second out, but Chris Nelson walked to put men on the corners. The Owls almost got out of the jam when catcher Adam Zornes made a snap throw down to third base after blocking a pitch, but Barger was able to get back safely on a close play and inning was still alive. Another walk loaded the bases before Espinosa's game-winning hit to left on the next play ended the 10-inning duel that lasted only two hours and forty-one minutes.
The Owls had a couple of opportunities to get some runs early in the contest. Rice had a runner in scoring position with two outs in the top of the first inning. In the sixth, freshman Rick Hague slashed a one-out double to right-center but was caught at third trying to get an extra base when ball looked like it got away from the Long Beach outfielders. In the seventh, Aaron Luna doubled to center with one out but two runners ended up getting stranded. Hague doubled again in the eighth with two outs but the 49ers ended the threat with a strikeout
Berry did his part to keep LBSU in check. The Humble, Tex., native out of jams in the second, third and fourth. His eight strikeouts was the most by an Owl on opening day since Joe Savery fanned 10 in 2005. He was followed on the mound by Jonathan Runnels and Bryan Price.
Rice is 0-1 and Long Beach State is 1-0. The two nationally ranked teams continue the three-game weekend series on Saturday. The start time for game two is set for 2 pm Pacific Time (4 pm Central Time). Senior all-America Cole St.Clair is scheduled to start on the mound for Rice.