May 28, 2006
HOUSTON -- Sophomore Joe Savery hit the game-winning home run to help spark the number one ranked Rice baseball team to an 11-5 win over crosstown rival Houston in front of 3,732 fans in the championship final of the Conference USA Tournament Sunday afternoon at Reckling Park. The Owls' tenth win in a row clinched the program's 11th-consecutive conference title as Rice earned C-USA's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament that starts next Friday.
After falling behind 5-1 early in the contest, Rice rallied for nine runs in the middle three innings for a 10-5 advantage. The Owls bullpen was sound and solid in holding Houston to just one hit for the final six innings of the contest on the way to an 11-5 final. On the eve of the official bracket announcement for the NCAA Tournament, Rice improved its season record to 50-10. It's the program's fourth time to reach the 50-win plateau since 1999. Rice has its second-highest win total in school history heading into the NCAA's behind the 1999 squad that won 52 prior to regional play.
The Owls had to rally past a hot-hitting Houston team for the victory. The Cougars jumped on the scoreboard for two runs in the top of the first inning. Isa Garcia and Matt Weston hit back-to-back one-out singles and Dustin Kingsbury drew a walk to load the bases. Luis Flores hit a two-out single through the right side that scored a pair and UH had the early lead, 2-0.
The Owls cut the margin with a run in the bottom of the second. Sophomore designated hitter Joe Savery reached on a two-base Houston fielding error and he scored on a double down the left field line by freshman Adam Zornes.
The Cougars scored three runs in the fourth to push the lead to 5-1. A hit batter and three singles scored a run and a sacrifice fly by Jake Stewart scored another. A Rice throwing error on an at bat by Garcia added two more.
The Owls came right back with three in the bottom of the frame. Junior Josh Rodriguez
led off with a double to center and Savery and Aaron Luna
followed with a walk and hit to load the bases. Sophomore Jordan Dodson
lined a double into the gap in right-center to score two. A Houston throwing error on a ball hit by Danny Lehmann
allowed Luna to score and cut the margin to one run, 5-4.
In the bottom of the fifth Brian Friday led off with a base hit and three batters later Savery gave the Owls their first lead of the game with a two-run homer to right. Savery's seventh round-tripper of the season made the score 6-5 and the Cougars never made up the margin.
In the sixth the first five Rice batters reached base as three runs scored. Henley drove in two with a hit through the right side and Friday knocked a ball to left to drive in another. Rodriguez singled through the left side to stretch the lead to 10-5. Rice's final run was Rodriguez' third hit of the day that scored Friday after a leadoff walk.
Rice relievers Will McDaniel and Cole St.Clair were brilliant out of the bullpen. McDaniel made his first appearance since a start at LSU and worked 3.2 innings of one-hit relief. The sophomore from Houston would go on to earn his seventh win of the season by striking out three and retiring eight in a row during one stretch. St.Clair entered with a comfortable 10-5 lead and retired all six of the Cougars he faced to end the game.
Houston fell to 39-20 on the season. Four Cougars and five Owls, Savery, Dodson, Greg Buchanan, Bobby Bell and Bryce Cox were all named to the C-USA All-Tournament team.
The NCAA has already announced Rice will serve as one of 16 regional sites for the NCAA Tournament. The 64-team tournament field will be announced on Monday at 11:30 am central time. Regional play is scheduled to begin across the country on Friday, June 2.