April 14, 2013
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HOUSTON - The Rice baseball team made the game-saving play at the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 7-6 Conference USA victory over visiting UCF Sunday in the finale of the three-game weekend series Sunday afternoon at Reckling Park in Houston.
The Owls had rallied from a 4-0 deficit to take a 7-4 lead into the final two frames. UCF chipped away for one run in the eighth and was staging a two-out rally of its own in the top of the ninth. JoMarcos Woods hit a two-out single to left-center and James Vasquez doubled down the right field line to put men on second and third.
Erik Hempe followed with a ground-ball up the middle of the field that was just too far for a lunging Rice shortstop Ford Stainback to field. Woods was able to score easily and Hempe reached first safely, but the play wasn't quite finished.
Stainback deflected the ball to his teammate at second base, Christian Stringer, who was instinctively charging to his right for the ground ball up the middle. Stringer alertly fielded the Stainback deflection, and rifled a throw to the plate where the Knights were hustling home in an attempt to tie the game by scoring a second run.
Stringer's throw was on-target and Rice freshman catcher Hunter Kopycinski applied the tag on the sliding UCF runner for the final out of the game and a 7-6 final score. The Owls improved to 25-13 overall and 7-5 in C-USA league play. UCF is now 20-17 on the year and 6-6 in C-USA action.
"It was a saving play," said Rice head coach Wayne Graham. "UCF had already won the first two (games of the series) and they had the mindset to win another one. They played hard and played well all weekend."
"Of course it's critical to get a conference win, and it was good to have that big-inning to come-back and take the lead," coach Graham added. "We have got to be able to take advantage of (offensive) opportunities earlier in the game. We will have to pitch better than what we showed this weekend, no question."
UCF was first on the scoreboard in the top of the third. The Knights had a hit and took advantage of a Rice fielding miscue for a 1-0 advantage.
The Knights used the longball to build a 4-0 advantage midway thru the sixth. In the top of the fourth, Chris Taladay led off with a base hit and scored on a one-out home run to left field by Jeramy Matos. Erik Hempe then led off the sixth with a solo home run to left-center field.
Rice followed suit. In the bottom of the sixth senior Michael Ratterree led off with a solo home run to left-center field. His second round-tripper of the season cut the margin to 4-1.
The Blue & Gray then batted around to erupt for six runs on four hits in the bottom of the seventh and move in front 7-4. The big blows were a bases-loaded single up the middle by Shane Hoelscher that scored two, and a base hit to the right side by Keenan Cook that drove in two more.
UCF continued to battle, and chipped away with another run in the eighth. With two away, Matos connected on a pitch for his second home run of the day that made the score 7-5.
The Owls' current homestand continues thru Wednesday. Rice hosts longtime state rival Texas Tech for two games, scheduled for Tuesday (April 16) and Wednesday (April 17) at 6:30 pm and 6 pm, respectively.