Recap by: John Sullivan, Rice Athletics (firstname.lastname@example.org)
HOUSTON – Junior Ryan Chandler delivered the game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth inning to help lift the Rice baseball team to a dramatic 9-8 victory over longtime state foe Lamar Wednesday evening at Reckling Park, all before rains soaked the Houston area.
Both teams wanted to beat the impending weather conditions, and started the contest a full 90 minutes ahead of its previously listed 6:30 pm first pitch. Lamar was ready for the time change, and proceeded to build an early 5-0 advantage through its first five offensive innings.
Rice came alive in the bottom of the fifth, exploding for five runs on four hits and three walks. Dominic DiCaprio’s one-out single with two on base scored one, and a walk to Darryn Sheppard loaded the bases. Ford Proctor, a Beaumont native, followed with a double into right field to score two more. Sheppard scored on Tristan Gray’s RBI grounder and Proctor dashed home to tie the game, 5-5, on a Cardinal passed ball.
The tie score did not last long after costly back-to-back walks to start the top of the sixth. Lamar came right back with a run to make it 6-5 on a RBI single by Robin Adames.
The Owls surged in front with three big runs in the seventh by opportunistically taking advantage of a Cardinal fielding miscue. With added life, Charlie Warren, Chace Sarchet and Chandler all collected consecutive singles to give Rice an 8-6 lead.
A 26-win Cardinal squad still would not go away so easily. With two on base and two-away in the ninth, Phil Ingram’s double to left tied the score 8-8.
The Blue & Gray had been in a similar predicament recently, coming to bat in the bottom of the ninth with the game on the line vs. crosstown rival Houston. In that contest Rice had to come from behind or the game was lost. Wednesday the game was tied so it seemed the Owls would at least have more than one offensive inning if the bottom of the ninth didn’t work out.
It seemed Rice might have an extra inning to work with, but it wasn’t a lock. With some heavy rains looming closer and closer, the Owls needed get a result before Mother Nature stepped-in.
Charlie Warren drew a leadoff walk and he hustled up second base on a textbook sacrifice bunt by Sarchet. Up stepped Chandler, the same hero of the April 11 walk-off win vs. Houston, in the same situation.
It was a simple case of lightning striking twice.
Chandler laced a pitch into right-center field and Warren sprinted for home with the game-winning score, 9-8. By the time the media got down to the field from the pressbox to do some postgame interviews, sheets of rain were now hitting the field.
The Owls improved to 19-26 on the season. Lamar is 26-20 overall.
Rice has closed out its four-game homestand and next takes to the road to resume Conference USA league play. The Owls play a three-game weekend series against a red-hot Charlotte squad that has won 10 of its last 11 games. Friday’s first pitch against the 49ers is set for 5:30 pm Central Time, a change in the start time from some earlier listings.