Recap by: John Sullivan, Rice Athletics (firstname.lastname@example.org)
BOCA RATON, Fla. – The visiting Rice baseball team rallied for the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning to claim a 5-4 Conference USA road win at Florida Atlantic Saturday afternoon in Boca Raton, Fla.
The three-game C-USA weekend series is now tied, 1-1. The series finale is set for 11 am (Central Time) on Sunday.
Rice never trailed in the contest against the defending C-USA regular season champion and the league’s co-leader in the standings (when the day began). The team didn’t have many problems getting the lead, but seemingly had a battle on its hands every time it did.
Rice efficiently put a run on the scoreboard in the top of the first inning. True freshman Brad Gneiting lined a leadoff double down the right field line. He advanced to third on a ground out to the right side and scored on Florida native Dominic DiCaprio’s single.
Gneiting was a catalyst for another run in the top of the third. He reached on a ground ball up the middle then scored all the way from first on Dane Myers’ double into left field.
The Blue & Gray took advantage of an FAU fielding error for one more run in the fourth. Ford Proctor was hit by a pitch and hustled to third on an FAU fielding miscue. Proctor slid under a tag for a run on Dayne Wunderlich’s sacrifice fly to center for a 3-0 lead.
It was still early, however, and FAU would not go away so easily. The home nine tied the game in the bottom of the frame, scoring three runs on three hits and a pair of walks to level the score at 3-3.
Rice used the long ball to move back in front with two away in the sixth. Junior second baseman Tristan Gray connected on a pitch and blasted the ball over the wall near the right field foul pole. His first home run of the season made it a 4-3 game, but FAU was soon back on the attack.
Eric Rivera was hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the seventh and the free pass to start the frame proved costly. He went to second on a wild pitch and scored on Jared Shouppe’s double to centerfield to even the score, 4-4.
Rice broke the deadlock in the ninth. Leadoff batter Dayne Wunderlich was hit by a pitch and moved to scoring position on a sac bunt by Gneiting. Ryan Chandler followed with a single through the right side and Wunderlich sprinted home for the 5-4 lead.
There was still the matter of getting one of the best hitting teams in the conference out three more times in the bottom of the ninth. Junior reliever Glenn Otto successfully closed the door to earn his first win of the season. The right-hander from Spring, Texas, finished the day with four strikeouts in 2.2 innings of work. Rice also had some solid work on the mound from the sophomore duo of Zach Esquivel and Kendal Jefferies who combined for six strikeouts in 6.1 innings.
On the offensive side Gneiting, DiCaprio and Chandler all had two hits in a 10-hit attack. Chandler extended his season-best hitting streak to eight consecutive games.
Rice improved to 9-20 on the season and 2-6 in C-USA action. FAU is 17-8-1 overall and 6-2 in conference.