April 9, 2010
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
NEW ORLEANS - The knee-jerk reaction would be to recall the miscommunication in right-center field between Jeremy Rathjen and Chad Mozingo, extend one's arms angrily to the heavens and curse the terrible luck that has befallen Rice this season, but that would be unjust.
The dropped fly ball that preceded the two-run, walk-off double by Tulane designated hitter Brian Barry that gave the Green Wave a 6-5 victory over the Owls on Friday night at Turchin Stadium clearly resonates, but Rice lost this game at the plate and on the mound, too.
For an offense that stranded 14 base runners, culpability is required. For a bullpen that failed to protect a two-run lead with just seven outs remaining, there are questions to answer. Even the muffed fly ball didn't stand alone, for Owls senior catcher Diego Seastrunk was quick to fall on the sword for his passed ball that allowed Tulane (21-10, 5-2 Conference USA) to cut the deficit to one run in the bottom of the eighth.
"Errors have been killing us all season," said Seastrunk, whose RBI double to right-center gave the Owls a 4-0 lead in the seventh. "Each of us have to look inside ourselves and figure out what we need to do to not make those mistakes late in the game. I had a couple of passed balls.
"I feel like I fell apart towards the end of the game, and I haven't felt that in a long time. I feel like it migrated to the rest of the field. It's unfortunate. We have to look inside ourselves and make sure we don't make these mistakes late in the game."
With runners on first and second and one out, Green Wave second baseman Brennan Middleton lifted a harmless fly ball that Mozingo tracked to his right and Rathjen charged with aggression to his left. A communication breakdown followed, the ball clipped Rathjen's glove and fell to the artificial turn, and the bases were loaded for Barry. Rice closer Tyler Duffey (2-2) was victimized by a series of bloop hits in the middle game of the Memphis series two weekends ago, so it seemed bitterly fitting that Barry found a means to slap a quality pitch just off the outside corner of the plate past the helpless Mozingo in right. Pinch runner Adam Zabel and Garrett Cannizaro scored to give Tulane its first win over Rice (17-14, 4-3) since Game 3 of the 2005 New Orleans Super Regional. Rice had won 12 consecutive games against the Green Wave.
The bizarre conclusion was all too familiar for Rice coach Wayne Graham. Mozingo lost a fly ball in the lights and drizzle in the ninth inning of the series finale at Stanford on Feb. 20, allowing the Cardinal to score two runs and steal a 7-6 triumph. Rathjen lost a fly ball in the sun at San Diego one month later as the Toreros snatched a 6-5 win. Being snake bit for the third time this season left Graham utterly miffed.
"(Duffey) probably wins the game if we catch a routine fly ball," Graham said. "I'm tired of losing games on routine fly balls in the outfield."
Lost in the madness of the ninth was the fact that Owls lefthander Taylor Wall was exceptional through six innings before allowing a pair of solo homers to Rob Segedin and Cannizaro in the seventh. Junior righthander Boogie Anagnostou retired Middleton to close that frame, but he walked Barry to open the eighth before surrendering a double to nine-hole hitter Nick Boullosa. Abe Gonzales entered and retired all three batters he faced, but an RBI groundout and the Seastrunk passed ball allowed both base runners to score and pulled Tulane to within 5-4.
Lost in the madness of the ninth was the fact that Rice left seven runners in scoring position. In every inning in which the leadoff batter reached the Owls scored except the ninth, when the Owls stranded two runners for the third consecutive frame. The Owls left the bases loaded in the sixth, failing to convert on a single, an error and a hit batsman.
When Graham compared the vigor with which Barry fought against Duffey to the multitude of empty at-bats the Owls produced with runners on base, he was left no choice but to deride the effort of an offense that has failed to score more than one run in any frame since the second inning against Houston last Saturday. Seastrunk felt similarly.
"They can't wait for the ball to get to them," Graham said of the Owls' impatience. "We preach stay back and see the ball, stay back and see the ball."
Said Seastrunk: "We have to keep fighting. I think we get down on ourselves too easily. As a team we go through peaks and valleys in a game, and we have to keep believing in ourselves through the game."