March 14, 2010
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
The momentum Rice established with its breakout sixth inning against California on Saturday night wasn't measured by hits and runs on Sunday, but rather by sublime execution throughout the series finale.
The Owls handled the bat deftly and ran the bases with aplomb in rallying for a 7-4 win at Reckling Park and salvaging a series split.
After slugging their way to a 26-11 victory the previous evening, the Owls (10-7) majored in the minor details on Sunday afternoon. Left fielder Michael Fuda twice executed the hit-and-run to perfection, shortstop Rick Hague drove home Jimmy Comerota with a nifty safety squeeze bunt and third baseman Anthony Rendon capped his sparkling weekend by swiping a pair of bases to bolster a deliberate offensive attack, one that wasn't quite overwhelming but effective nonetheless.
"We played about as good as we can play," Rice coach Wayne Graham said. "An errorless game, three sacrifice bunts including a safety squeeze, we got the sacrifice fly when we needed it from Jeremy (Rathjen), and we got a couple of stolen bases that worked out. I thought it was an unusually good game from the standpoint of execution.
"It shows you what you can do if you play the game right. A team played us tough today, and we did fine."
The Owls pulled even at 1 in the second by manufacturing a run. Rendon walked, stole second base, and scored when catcher Craig Manuel singled to center. They scratched across their second run an inning later when Comerota went first-to-third on a Fuda hit-and-run single up the middle, and scored when Hague dropped a bunt in front of home plate.
After California (9-5) pulled even at 4 against Rice righthander Boogie Anagnostou in the top of the seventh, Fuda produced another hit-and-run single, this one to right, to advance Chad Mozingo to third in the bottom half. Mozingo later scored on a wild pitch, as did Hague after Fuda scored on the Rathjen sac fly to right. Execution equaled success.
"It was good to see that we were actually making routine plays, we were actually getting the small things done," said Rendon, who closed the series hitting 7-for-11 with nine walks, four home runs and 12 RBIs. "All the small things add up to one big thing, and they added up to a victory."
Even though the Bears eventually erased the deficit, the Owls struck their biggest offensive blow when Manuel, who was given the green light on a 3-0 pitch in the fifth with Fuda and Rendon on second and first, doubled both runners home to push the Owls in front 4-3. Manuel, with just one strikeout in 39 at-bats this season, seemed a sound selection to manage the situation, and he delivered according to plan.
"He's a good hitter in that situation because he's going to drive the ball if he gets a pitch," Graham said of Manuel, who went 2-for-3 with three RBIs. "He's not likely to swing at a pitch he can't drive. He hit it good."
When precision failed, the Owls caught several breaks. Anagnostou surrendered the aforementioned 4-3 lead when Jimmy Bosco tripled to open the seventh and Marcus Semien followed with a double that landed inches short of clearing the wall in left. Doug Simmons entered two batters later and stranded Semien at second to preserve the tie. Simmons (1-0), a junior, was later credited with his first career victory.
In the Owls' three-run seventh, Rendon was caught between first and second base as the Owls attempted to complete a double steal with Hague at third. As the Bears' infielders kept close watch on Hague, Rendon gradually crept toward second, and despite being hung out to dry initially, Rendon somehow managed to dive in safely. Hague later scored the Owls' final run on a wild pitch from Bears lefty Joe Kurrasch.
"We finally caught a break," Fuda said. "All year usually everything has been going against us, and we finally got something right. It's nice to have something go our way.
"It's probably the first game all year that we actually executed probably every play that we put on. We scratched out a few runs, and those few runs ended up being crucial because they got us the win."
The Owls will host No. 6 Texas at Reckling Park on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.