March 13, 2013
Hunter Kopycinski's inside-the-park grand slam in the bottom of the first inning helped the Rice baseball team plate six runs and pave the way to an eventual 7-5 victory over visiting Louisiana Tech Wednesday night at Reckling Park.
The Rice offense quickly went to work and batted around in the first inning. Leon Byrd led off with a single and Ford Stainback doubled down the left field line to put two men in scoring position. The runners advanced on a La Tech passed ball to give Rice a 1-0 lead, but the Blue & Gray weren't nearly finished. Christian Stringer walked to put men on first and third, and Keenan Cook reached on a bunt-fielder's choice where the Bulldogs attempted to make the play at home plate. Stainback, however, was safe with an elusive slide to give Rice a 2-0 advantage.
Michael Ratterree walked to load the bases, but La Tech got a short fly to leftfield for the second out and appeared to be on its way to avoiding any further runs. Batting eighth in the lineup, Kopycinski slashed a Bulldog pitch that quickly sailed over the centerfielder's head and bounded towards the warning track. The Rice runners, including Kopycinski, dashed around the bases one-by-one to complete the dramatic inside-the-park grand slam that stretched the margin to 6-0.
The Owls added the seventh run in the bottom of the second on an RBI single by Stringer that scored Michael Aquino. The runs were big as La Tech continued to fight its way back on the scoreboard.
The Bulldogs came back with three runs in the top of the third on three hits, a wild pitch and RBI ground out. La Tech was looking for more with the base-loaded and no outs in the sixth, but freshman reliever Blake Fox worked out of the jam with back-to-back strikeouts and an easy infield grounder. With his eye on the bigger picture, Fox's outing was one Rice head coach Wayne Graham wanted to see from his pitching staff - particularly from the left-side.
"Blake's performance was particularly gratifying because how he threw tonight showed he is going to be able to help us the rest of the way," coach Graham added. "We really needed a left-hander to show that, and he showed everything - he had a good change-up, a good curve ball and good fast ball. He didn't always have a lot of luck, but his ability got him out of the inning."
The Bulldogs chipped away for two runs late in the contest to make the score 7-5, but this time Kopycinski made the key play on the defensive side from his spot behind the plate. The standout from St. Thomas High School threw-out a runner attempting to advance into scoring position to end the eighth inning. Rice sophomore right-hander Jordan Stephens helped close the door in the top of the ninth to preserve the 7-5 final.
"We had a lot of plusses tonight," coach Graham added. "Hunter had the big home run, called a good game (as the catcher) and made a the throw to get a runner. Kirby Taylor played well at first base and had a base hit. We had plusses, we just need more of them and eliminate some mistakes. That will help us to keep getting better."
Rice improved to 11-7 with its second-straight win over La Tech in the two-game midweek series. The Bulldogs dropped to 5-14 overall.
The Owls continue the current homestand with a three-game weekend series against Harvard on March 15-17 (Fri.-Sun.). Game times against the Crimson are set for 6:30 pm, 2 pm and 1 pm, respectively. The Blue & Gray also host state rivals Stephen F. Austin on March 19 at 6:30 pm, followed by a home game against UTSA March 20 at 6 pm.