April 28, 2006
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Sophomore Jordan Dodson drove in the only two runs of the game in the ninth inning and the the Rice pitching tandem of senior Eddie Degerman and sophomore Cole St.Clair made it stand up by combining for a four-hit shutout as the number one ranked Owls edged UCF 2-0 in the opening game of a three-game Conference USA weekend series Friday evening in Orlando, Fla.
The capacity crowd of 1,018 at Jay Bergman Field in Orlando got the pitchers' duel it expected from a match-up of two of the NCAA leaders in earned runs average. Degerman (ranked sixth in the nation with a 1.29 ERA) and UCF starter Tim Bascom (third in the country at 1.19) carved through the opposing lineups for seven full innings, allowing a combined seven hits between them. Degerman gave way to St.Clair (ERA 1.84) in the eighth, who continued to hold the Golden Knights in check as Rice made a move.
In the top of the ninth the Owls' bats came alive for three clutch hits and an important pair of runs. Sophomore Brian Friday punched a ball through the left side to lead off the inning and junior Josh Rodriguez followed with a base hit into left. A UCF fielding error on the play allowed Rodriguez to take an extra base and Rice had a rare two men in scoring position for the first time in the game. With first base open, the Golden Knights elected to intentionally walk sophomore Joe Savery and draw the infield in to set up a force play. The strategy worked as a ground out retired Friday at home plate, but Rice still had the bases loaded with only one away.
Where Bascom was able to get players out, Dodson was one of the Owls to get good contact off him throughout the night. The standout from The Woodlands singled off him back in the fifth inning, but was stranded on the bases. He also drove a ball to right field in the seventh. In the ninth Dodson slapped the bases-loaded base hit into left field to score Rodriguez and Savery from second for a 2-0 advantage.
UCF looked like it might start a rally of its own in the bottom of the ninth inning. St.Clair hit each of the first two batters to put men on first and second with nobody out, but he calmly worked himself out of the jam despite facing the potential winning run at the plate three times. The Golden Knights attempted a sacrifice to move the runners, but St.Clair opportunistically went to third base on the bunt for the first out. The California native struck out both of the next two hitters to end the game with the 2-0 lead intact.
St. Clair worked a total of two shutout innings for his fourth win of the season. He struck out two, didn't allow a walk and surrendered just one hit, a UCF bunt that stayed fair while hugging the third base line.
Degerman posted one of his best outings of the year in a no-decision. The veteran right-hander allowed just three singles on the night, and two of those were the first two hitters of the game. A slick, first-to-shortstop double play in the first inning got him out of that spot and he proceeded to retire nine in a row. In the fifth, the Golden Knights led off with a single and a pair of walks loaded the bases with no outs. Degerman fanned the next two batters and got a ground out to end the threat without any damage. He finished with nine strikeouts while lowering his season ERA to 1.18.
The Blue and Gray posted its fourth shutout of the season and first since a 5-0 victory over C-USA foe East Carolina in the finale of that series on Mar. 26. Rice improved to 37-9 on the season and 15-1 in league play with its 15th-straight C-USA win. The Golden Knights fell to 22-22 overall and 5-8 in conference. The series continues through Sunday. The game times are 5:30 Saturday and noon Sunday. (All times listed are Central.)