March 19, 2013Michael Aquino drove-in the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the tenth inning to lead the Rice baseball team past visiting Stephen F. Austin 3-2 Tuesday night at Reckling Park.
The Owls (15-7) needed extra frames Tuesday to extend their season-best win streak to six-straight games. SFA retired the first two Rice batters in the tenth, but junior left fielder Keenan Cook battled from behind in the count to get on base with walk. He then stole second to move into scoring position with Aquino, a longtime teammate dating back to their days at College Park High School in The Woodlands, due up next.
Aquino already had a walk and double in the game, but the Owls' home run and RBI leader wasn't quite yet finished on offense. He punched a pitch through the right side of the infield and Cook dashed home with the winning run. Rice head coach Wayne Graham not only liked Tuesday's final outcome, but the changes Aquino has made in his approach at the plate this season.
"Mike has really addressed improving at being able to hit with two strikes," Coach Graham said. "He did a great job on that at bat, hitting inside-out and covering the plate. He hit to right field to drive in the winning run. It was just a great job of hitting.
"We hit some balls hard early in the game, but we'd hit it right at people," Coach Graham added. "I don't think we hit so well for the whole game, but part of that was their pitchers playing pretty well. Give some credit to SFA pitching well tonight."
Rice quickly made the most of one opportunity to open the scoring in the bottom of the first inning. Leadoff batter Leon Byrd connected on a 1-2 pitch for a home run over the right field wall and a 1-0 Owl lead.
The Lumberjacks tied the game in the top of the fourth. Matthew Dickey led off with a triple to right-center and he came home on Ricardo Sanchez' sacrifice fly for a 1-1 score.
Both defenses clamped-down, but the Blue & Gray broke the deadlock three innings later in the bottom of the seventh. Geoff Perrott led off with a single and moved to second base on Kirby Taylor's sacrifice. Perrott hustled for an extra 90 feet on an SFA wild pitch, and he was then able to score on Ford Stainback's sacrifice bunt for a 2-1 advantage.
The Lumberjacks looked as if they would be making an immediate counter-strike in the top of the eighth. With two outs and a runner on second base, Freddy Villalobos lined a Rice pitch into shallow right-center field that appeared would certainly drop in for a game-tying base hit. Owls senior right fielder Michael Ratterree, however, brought the fans to their feet with a spectacular diving catch to end the inning.
"When Mike got that ball I thought he just saved the game," Coach Graham said. "It was an extraordinary play. He's such a great athlete, and he was there when we needed him."
Ratterree helped turn back SFA in the eighth, but the Lumberjacks continued to fight. In the top of the ninth Hunter Dozier led off with a home run to left-center to tie the game once again, 2-2.
"We made one bad pitch, but overall I thought we pitched very well to a good-hitting team," Coach Graham said. "We know what (starter) John Simms can do, and we only wanted him to go five innings tonight no matter what. I thought Blake was fine and Zech was too, striking out five in two and two-thirds.
"I can't complain," he added. "We got a win. It's just imperative we keep the momentum going."
Rice closes-out its current seven-game homestand on Wednesday, March 20. The Owls host state foe UTSA at 6:30 pm at Reckling Park.