May 29, 2011
PEARL, Miss. - Junior catcher Craig Manuel singled home Anthony Rendon from second base for the winning run in the bottom of the tenth inning to lift the Rice baseball team to a 4-3 victory over the University of Houston in the Championship Final of the Conference USA tournament Saturday evening at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Miss.
With the win Rice officially clinched a 17th-straight bid to an NCAA Regional. The C-USA tournament title was Rice's fourth in six years since joining the league in 2006. Saturday night was certainly one of the Owls' most dramatic.
After falling behind 3-0 Rice rallied for four unanswered runs over the final six innings, culminating with a dramatic walk-off victory in extra frames. Rendon lined the first pitch he saw in the tenth for a long double off the wall left field, his team-leading 20th of the season. The Cougars elected to intentionally walk Michael Ratterree to set up a possible force play with Manuel at the plate. On the night Manuel was 0-for-3 with a walk, but the veteran receiver had a solid tournament by going 5-for-10 with a team-best four RBI, a pair of doubles and three runs scored in three games.
Manuel showed bunt and punched the first pitch foul, but he lined the next offering through the right side. Rendon sprinted around third and slid home with the winning run that the team had to battle for all-game long.
It was Houston that built an early 3-0 lead, starting with a run in the top of the first inning. Ryan Still led off with a single to left field and an Owl fielding error on the play allowed him to reach second base. He went to third on Landon Appling's sacrifice bunt and scored on a wild pitch.
The Cougars extended the margin in the top of the fourth. Joel Ansley drew a two out walk and stole second base. He went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a triple to center by Cody Morehouse. An Owl throwing error on the play, however, allowed Morehouse an extra 90 feet from third and a 3-0 advantage.
Rice had fallen behind in every game of the tournament leading up to that point, but had been able to rally wins with unanswered runs in each of the last two pool-play games against Memphis and UCF. The Owls followed suit Saturday and began the comeback with two of the runs back in the bottom of the fifth. Rice had runners at the corners after Derek Hamilton and J.T. Chargois singled. Hamilton came home on a Houston fielding error that would have ended the inning, but the Blue & Gray weren't finished. Another UH error allowed Chargois to score to make it 3-2.
The Owls tied the game in sixth. Michael Fuda laced a one-out double to the gap in right-center. He hustled to third on a ground out and scored on Hamilton's two-out single into right to knot-it-up, 3-3.
Rice junior Matthew Reckling started on the mound and struck out seven in 5.0 innings. Sophomore Tyler Duffey started the sixth and his work was critical on the night. The right-hander from Bellaire High School held the Cougars in check with 4.2 scoreless innings, scattering two singles and striking out seven.
Duffey got a strikeout to end a UH scoring threat in the eighth. He gave up a leadoff single in the tenth to John Cannon and a sacrifice bunt by Still put the go-ahead run in scoring position. Rice got out of trouble with a pair of fly outs, including a sensational diving-and-rolling catch by freshman Keenan Cook in left field.
Cook's inning-ending grab seemed to give the Owls a lift on the offensive end, setting up the explosive finish to the Championship Final. It marked only the second time in league history, and the first time since 2000, for the final game of the tournament to be decided in extra innings.
Craig Manuel, Ryan Lewis and Duffey were all named to the 2011 All-Tournament team with Duffey as the event's Most Valuable Player. The Owls improved to 41-19 overall. Houston finished its season at 27-32.
Before Saturday, the crosstown rivals had already met five times this year as part of the annual season-long series for the Silver Glove Trophy. Rice and Houston also met in the C-USA Championship final once before, during the Owls' first year in the league in 2006. Saturday's contest was only the second time in the 63-year history of the crosstown series for the two teams to meet outside the state of Texas.
2011 CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
C - Craig Manuel, Rice
INF - John Frost, UAB
INF - Jonathan Griffin, UCF
INF - Ryan Still, Houston
INF - Corey Thompson, East Carolina
OF - Landon Appling, Houston
OF - Ryan Lewis, Rice
OF - Caleb Ramsey, Houston
DH - D.J. Hicks, UCF
P - Tyler Duffey, Rice
P - Seth Maness, East Carolina
P - Todd McInnis, Southern Miss
P - Jared Ray, Houston
Most Valuable Player
P - Tyler Duffey, Rice