March 14, 2014
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MIAMI, Fla. - The Rice baseball team rallied to tie the game in the top of the eighth before claiming for 3-2 C-USA road victory over nationally-ranked FIU in 13 innings Friday night in Miami.
The Owls had to battle for a win in the team's third-straight C-USA league game to go into extra innings (dating back last weekend to the home series vs. Old Dominion).
FIU quickly put a run on the scoreboard in the top of the first inning on a leadoff walk and a pair of hits. Rice looked like it had possibly avoided any runs at all that inning by nearly turning an improbable 5-4-3 triple play. Two runners were safe on the play, however, with one run home. The Panthers then added another score with three hits in the fourth to make the score 2-0.
Rice answered with a run in the top of the fifth. Chase McDowell led off with a walk and Ford Stainback followed with a single through the left side. Both runners advanced on Charlie Warren's sacrifice bunt and McDowell trotted home on a sacrifice fly by Leon Byrd.
The Blue & Gray tied it in the eighth. Byrd drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on Keenan Cook's sacrifice bunt. Byrd then stole third base, but a FIU error on the play allowed Byrd to take an extra 90 feet home for a new 2-2 game.
Junior right-hander Zech Lemond started on the mound for Rice and worked a career-long 8.0 innings. He allowed just the two runs on eight hits and two walks while striking out five, but he would not be in line for a decision. Holding the No. 19 ranked Panthers shifted to Matt Ditman out of the bullpen.
The sophomore right-hander proceeded to fire 5.0 scoreless frames where he scattered two hits and a pair of walks while striking out eight. Ditman stranded FIU runners at second base in both the tenth and eleventh innings. In the bottom of the 12th FIU loaded the bases one away, but did so without getting a single base hit thanks to a wild pitch on a strikeout, an Owl fielding error on sacrifice bunt, and a fielder's choice where all the runners were safe on the play.
The Panthers then blooped a what could have been a game-tying hit to shallow right field, but a charging Keenen Cook fielded the ball on a short hop and threw the ball directly to home plate where the runner was out. With the emotional surge from that play, Ditman then ended the inning with a strikeout and three FIU runners left on base.
That sparked the Rice offense for a run in the 13th. John Clay Reeves led off with a single and moved to second on Shane Hoelscher's sacrifice bunt. Reeves scored on a single to left by Michael Aquino to give Rice its first lead, 3-2.
FIU would not go away so easily at home. Two runners reached base before Ditman and the defense ended the threat to preserve the 3-2 final and Rice's third-straight win. Rice improved to 13-6 overall and 3-1 in C-USA action. The Panthers lost for only the second time all year to move to 16-2 overall and 3-1 against the league.
The weekend series continues through Sunday. Saturday's start time against the Panthers is slated for 3 pm Central Time (4 pm Eastern).