May 18, 2007
HOUSTON -- An RBI double by Aaron Luna and a two-RBI single by Jess Buenger lifted the number-two ranked Rice baseball team to the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning and a career record-breaking save by closer Cole St.Clair sealed a 4-2 come-from-behind Conference USA win over visiting Memphis in the second game of a three-game C-USA series Friday evening at Reckling Park in Houston.
Not only was the victory the 17th-straight for Rice, it was the Owls' 25th win in the last 26 games. Paired with Thursday's 6-4 win in the series-opener, Rice clinched the weekend series over the Tigers. The Owls have now won 38-consecutive home series at Reckling Park. The home streak, which includes both regular season and NCAA super regionals, dates back to April of 2001. Rice has also won 29-straight home conference series since that same 2001 series (against Nevada). The Owls have won 25-consecutive conference series, home and away, dating back to March of 2005.
Rice has won every C-USA series since joining the league a year ago, but game two of the Memphis series was a battle. The Owls had to rally past a complete game effort by Tiger starter Scott McGregor to improve to 44-11 on the season and 21-2 in C-USA action.
Two batters into the game the Owls put a run on the scoreboard. Junior Brian Friday laced a triple into the right field corner to lead off the bottom of the first. Jared Gayhart drove him home for his 29th RBI of the season to move in front 1-0.
Memphis came right back with a run in the top of the second to tie the score. The big blow was a solo home run by Kyle Norrid for his fifth round-tripper of the year.
The Tigers took their first lead of the series in the top of the fourth. Bill Moss led off with a double to the wall in left and advanced to third base on a ground out to the right side. Norrid struck out, but he was able to take first base on a wild pitch. Memphis had runners on the corners for Josh Irvin, who reached base on a fielder's choice for an RBI and a 2-1 Tiger lead.
The Owls rallied for the lead in the bottom of the sixth. Friday started it off with a single. He hustled to second base on a ground ball to the right side and moved to third on the second ground out of the inning. Memphis pitched carefully to Joe Savery, but the junior laid off three-straight pitches out of the strike zone to run the count to 3-0. At that point the Tigers elected to give him an official intentional pass to put runners on first and third for Luna. Luna responded with a double to left field that scored Friday for the tying run while Savery sprinted for third. Both Savery and Luna scored on Buenger's single through the right side and the Owls were up by two, 4-2.
Rice senior Ryne Tacker started on the mound and worked 6.0 innings before leaving with the new lead. He allowed eight hits with no walks while striking out eight. Reliever Matt Langwell was sharp in relief firing 1.1 scoreless frames, but Rice went to the pen again after a one-out single in the eighth. St.Clair entered the game and promptly ended that threat with one pitch as Memphis grounded into a double play. In the ninth the Owls' junior left-hander retired the Tigers three-up, three-down, striking out the final two hitters to end the game.
Tacker was the winning pitcher, moving to 9-1 on the season. St.Clair notched his fifth save of the season and the 18th of his Rice career to become the school's new all-time saves leader. The Santa Ana, Calif., native moved ahead of Owl great and current major league star David Aardsma, who recorded 17 career saves as the Rice closer from 2002-03.
Memphis fell to 33-22 on the year and 12-11 against the league. The two teams have just one more to close out the regular season. Saturday's series finale is slated to begin at 2 pm at Reckling Park.
After facing Memphis, Rice heads to Greenville, N.C, next week to play in the C-USA Tournament as the No. 1 seed. The Owls meet UCF in the first round at 12:30 pm on May 23. The C-USA tournament concludes with the championship final on May 27.