April 21, 2012
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HOUSTON - Senior catcher Craig Manuel
blasted a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the tenth inning to lift the Rice baseball team past visiting East Carolina 6-2 in the second of a three-game Conference USA weekend series Saturday afternoon at Reckling Park in Houston.
Rice improved to 30-11 overall and notched its eighth-straight win. The Owls are now 11-3 in C-USA league play and have won the first two games of the weekend set from ECU (now 26-13-1 on the season and 8-5-1).
For the second time in as many games it was a tight contest with high-drama in a 2-2 game. Junior J.T. Chargois, who had started at first base but was on the mound for the final two innings, was still in the offensive lineup when he began the bottom of the tenth with a base hit. After a Pirate fielding error on a fielder's choice bunt, a wild pitch, and intentional walk, Rice had the bases loaded with no outs. Manuel then knocked a Pirate pitch over the right-field wall for the game-winning grand slam and a 6-2 final.
The home run was Manuel's first of the year. Like his game-winning homer from his sophomore year in 2010 that beat Houston in 14th innings, Manuel needed only to be sure to touch all the bases - but that wasn't all Rice needed according to the veteran catcher from Florida.
"We needed this game," Manuel explained. "When you're pitching as well as we are right now, we need to score runs here and there. Hopefully we'll start picking up the clutch at-bats."
Both teams may not have the greatest of days in clutch at-bats (where runners are in scoring position), but the Pirates struck for a run in the top of the first inning. Drew Reynolds singled to left-center and scored on two-out double by John Wooten.
The Owls tied the game in the bottom of the third. Christian Stringer led off the frame with a double to center and hustled to third on a ground out. He scored on a sacrifice fly by Chargois that made it 1-1.
The teams were deadlocked until the eighth when East Carolina struck for a run to go in front 2-1. Wooten led off with a single and moved to scoring position on Jay Cannon's sacrifice bunt. He scored after back-to-back singles by Zach Wright and Philip Clark. With two men still on base and only one away the Pirates were still looking for more, but junior relief pitcher Tyler Duffey was able to get the final two outs and get the Blue & Gray out of the inning.
Rice came right back with a tying run in its half of the eighth. Sophomore third baseman slugged a two-out home run just to the left of the centerfield screen. The round-tripper was Hoelscher's fourth of the season that evened up the game 2-2.
When ECU put a runner on base in the ninth, the Owls moved Chargois from first to the mound. He ended the threat and worked out of another jam in the tenth with a runner on third base.
"J.T.'s got great stuff," said Rice head coach Wayne Graham. "The pitching continued to deliver. East Carolina is a good hitting team and we were able to hold them to two runs."
The C-USA series continues through Sunday, April 21. First pitch is set for 11 am Central Time. The 11 am start is a change from some earlier listings.