May 9, 2010
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
CHARLESTON, W. Va. - There was chastisement on Saturday, which made the adulation earned less than 24 hours later that much sweeter.
On the heels of a miscue-marred display, the Owls provided yet another flash of their exceptionality when the pitching, hitting and defense are wonderfully in sync. On Sunday, with its Conference USA series against Marshall hanging in the balance, Rice produced in every phase and throttled the Thundering Herd 14-4 at Appalachian Power Park.
Rice senior righthander Jared Rogers pitched into the seventh inning on his 22nd birthday, buoyed by an early offensive surge resulting from some timely two-out hitting by Diego Seastrunk and Chad Mozingo. And when Rogers needed his defense to respond and defuse a moment of tension, third baseman Anthony Rendon answered the call with aplomb.
"This was one of our better games today," said Rice coach Wayne Graham, who orchestrated a team meeting in the visitor's dugout after the Owls' 4-3 loss on Saturday. "I thought Jared pitched well. (Abel) Gonzales was really back; he was really good. We really need that.
"So everything clicked today. It was just a good game for us."
Seastrunk set the tone in the first inning with his two-run double down the third-base line, a critical two-out, two-strike hit that gave the Owls (30-17, 13-5 C-USA) a 2-0 lead and reflected their approach against Marshall ace righthander Arik Sikula (6-3), against whom the Owls worked the count with persistence. Rice sophomore catcher Craig Manuel did the same an inning later when he worked a full-count walk with two outs that turned the lineup over to Mozingo, who followed with his first homer this season, a two-run shot to right-center field that twice bounced behind the fence before caroming into the field of play.
That ricochet confused first-base umpire Scott Wilkerson, who at first appeared perplexed as Mozingo stopped at third base and awaited a ruling. After conferring with his cohorts, Wilkerson conceded to plate ump Dan O'Connell, who clearly saw the ball land beyond the wall. Mozingo followed Manuel home and doubled the Rice lead to 4-0.
"I was hoping they would get the call right and luckily they did because they almost stole two home runs from me," Mozingo said, referring to his two-out RBI triple in the fourth that, by several eye-witness accounts, should have been ruled a home run. Rice shortstop Rick Hague capped the Owls' three-run fourth with a double that scored Mozingo and reclaimed momentum a half-inning after Marshall (22-26, 11-10) sliced the Owls' lead to 4-1 in the bottom of the third inning.
Two-out hitting has become an indicator of future success. Once one member of the Rice batting order delivers with two outs, others always seem to follow. Six of the Owls' first seven runs scored with two outs.
"It definitely seemed to be contagious," said Mozingo, who finished 3-for-4 with two walks, three RBIs and three runs scored. "The main thing is don't let (the situation) get in your head. Two outs is the same as one out if a runner is on second - you're just trying to get him in. For the most part it's pretty much the same. It's just relaxation and focus."
Added Seastrunk, who finished 3-for-6 with two doubles, his fifth home run, and three RBIs: "Anytime we can get clutch hits throughout the day it's going to help our team out, just for the morale in general. Getting a big hit with two outs or any clutch situation during the middle of the game just gives the whole team a lift."
Rogers (6-1) earned his fifth win just five days ago against Texas State. Aside from Marshall right fielder Rhett Stafford (4-for-4, two RBIs) having his number, Rogers was both confident and crafty. With a runner at third base in the first, he attacked Herd slugger Victor Gomez, who homered twice on Saturday, and induced a grounder back to the mound. When Herd left fielder Kurt Lipton and Gomez opened the fourth with consecutive singles, Rogers responded with a nasty pitch against third baseman James Lavinskas, an offering that Lavinskas attempted to pull through the hole between first and second but yanked to second baseman Michael Ratterree, who initiated a timely double play. Rogers' pitch was so devastating that the cap of Lavinskas' bat popped off.
With two outs and Lipton at third, Rogers got Marshall first baseman Nathan Gomez to hit a chopper to third that Rendon fielded before it rolled foul. His subsequent throw was made with force and the requisite accuracy as Rogers wiggled free and smothered the Marshall uprising.
"We needed that out of Jay. He stepped up big today," Seastrunk said of Rogers, who allowed four earned runs on nine hits and one walk while striking out three over 6 1/3 innings. "He was throwing that fastball in and getting that slider to bite down hard. Every time he can influence in and get that slider to bite down hard, it's tough for them to hit."
Gonzales had scuffled a bit over his previous five appearances, but he reprised his dominant form of old by allowing one hit and striking out five while finishing what Rogers started. His performance, along with that of left fielder Michael Fuda (3-for-5 with three RBIs), belonged in the mix with those who helped steer the Owls to their fifth consecutive series victory. On Sunday, there was enough praise to go around.