May 26, 2011
PEARL, Miss. - After Memphis opened the game with a 5-0 lead in the first inning, the Rice baseball team rallied to tie the score in the seventh before claiming an 8-5 victory over Memphis on the second day of the the annual Conference USA Championship tournament Thursday afternoon at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Miss.
Memphis exploded out of the starting gate for five runs in the bottom of the first inning. Five of the first six batters hit safely and went on to score. Two of the hits did most of the damage. Catcher Phillip Chapman drove in a pair with a single to left. Tiger right fielder Robby Graham then clubbed a one-out, two-run homer to put Memphis ahead 5-0.
Rice chipped away for a run in the top of the fourth. Anthony Rendon led off with a double to center and went to third on a wild pitch. He scored on Michael Ratterree's single to left-center that made it 5-1.
Rice starting pitcher Taylor Wall had settled down to get seven of the next eight batters he faced after the first inning, but sophomore right-hander Tyler Duffey started the bottom of the fourth. It was something of a tall task when trailing 5-1, but Duffey had the job of holding the Tigers in check.
The Owls cut the lead to one with three in the sixth. Craig Manuel led off with a single to left field and Ryan Lewis' double to right put runners on second and third. Both scored on Derek Hamilton's clutch double off the left field wall to make it 5-3. Keenan Cook singled up the middle, and when Memphis had trouble hanging onto the ball on the play, Hamilton dashed home to make it 5-4.
Rice took its first lead of the day in the seventh when Rendon led off with a towering solo shot to left field. His sixth home run of the season was also the 52nd of this collegiate career. The game was tied 5-5 but Owls weren't quite finished. Ratterree followed with a single to right and Manuel's textbook sacrifice bunt moved him into scoring position. Ratterree went to third on a ground out and scored on a single up the middle by Lewis to put the Owls in front 6-5.
Before the Owls added two more insurance runs in the ninth the team had to work out of a jam in the bottom of the eighth. With a man on base and one out, Rice made its second move to the bullpen. Duffey received a roaring ovation from the Rice fans after holding one of the top hitting teams in the conference to no runs while matching a career-long 4.1 innings of work. The Houston native from nearby Bellaire High School scattered four singles and didn't walk any in one of his most important outings of the year.
Duffey was in line for earning his eighth win of the season, but now the job of stopping Memphis was senior Tony Cingrani's. The veteran left-hander surrendered a single to put the tying run on second base, but he bounced back with a high pop-up that Rendon (who had started at second base for the first time in his collegiate career) corralled in shallow right field. Cingrani struck out the next batter and threat that was over.
Doubles by Ratterree and Manuel and a single by Lewis led to two more runs in the ninth. Memphis put its lead runner on base in the bottom of the ninth, but a double play and a Cingrani strikeout sealed the 8-5 final. Cingrani had notched his C-USA leading 11th save for an Owl team that improved to 39-19 on the season. Memphis dropped to 29-27.
On the offensive side Ratterree and Lewis both finished the day with three hits and combined for three RBI and three runs scored. Five different Owls tallied at least two hits in a 14-hit attack that featured five doubles and one home run.
The Blue & Gray still have one more game to play on Friday (May 26), and could possibly be in line to play one more game Saturday. Rice next meets No. 4 seed UCF at 12:30 pm Friday to close out three days of pool play. The winner of the Rice-UCF contest advances to Saturday's one-game Championship Final (against the winner from the other half of the C-USA bracket). Saturday's Championship Final is set for 7 pm and will be televised by CBS Sports Network.