HOUSTON - With no shortage of drama, the Rice baseball team staged a three-run rally in the bottom of the eighth inning to claim a 4-2 Conference USA victory over visiting league foe Louisiana Tech Friday night at Reckling Park.
With the win the Owls remained undefeated in C-USA action at 4-0. The Blue & Gray improved to 13-6 overall with the team's fifth-straight victory.
Rice held a narrow 1-0 lead through the fourth after Hunter Kopycinski reached on a LA Tech fielding error and advanced around the bases before scoring on ground out.
The Bulldogs would not go away so easily. Tech moved in front, 2-1, in the top of the fifth after three hits and an Owl fielding error in the outfield.
"We were maybe trying to be too aggressive and Charlie (Warren) ended up having a bad play," said Rice head coach Wayne Graham. "But he came right back in the same inning to save a run with a throw for a double-play, then a great diving catch save some runs in the eighth, and then he had a big hit when we needed to keep the rally going in the eighth.
"Baseball allows for redeeming plays," coach Graham explained.
With two Bulldogs on base and one away in the eighth, Warren made a sensational diving catch to keep the runners in check. Reliever Jordan Stephens then ended the Tech threat with a big strikeout that got the Owls ready for the bottom of the inning.
Leon Byrd drew a leadoff walk and stole second to move into scoring position. Tech had been careful pitching to John Clay Reeves, but with first base now open decided to issue the slugger an intentional walk. The .418-hitting Kirby Taylor then drew the third walk of the inning to load the bases. At 90 feet way, Byrd dashed home on a passed ball to tie the score, 2-2.
The Owls still had runners on second and third and were not yet finished at the plate. Tristan Gray came off the bench to put Rice in front with a sacrifice fly, 3-2. Warren, in his last at bat of the night, lined a two-out base hit into centerfield that gave the Owls some more breathing room at 4-2.
Stephens didn't need the insurance and promptly retired LA Tech in the top of the ninth to earn his first win of the season. The right-hander worked 2.0 scoreless innings in relief of Kevin McCanna, recording three strikeouts without any walks. McCanna scattered six hits over 7.0 innings while striking out four.
Six different Owls hit safely in the game, led by Garyson Lewis' 2-for-3 night. LA Tech is now 8-7 on the season and 0-1 to start conference play.
The C-USA weekend series continues through Sunday (March 15). The remaining start times are set for 2 pm on Saturday and 1 pm Sunday.