HOUSTON - The Rice baseball team had a four-run lead to start the ninth inning in opening round of the NCAA Regional, but Louisiana rallied for five runs on just two hits to claim a 7-6 win over the Owls Friday afternoon.
Down but not out, Rice next plays in Saturday's 2:30 pm elimination game (the loser of late Houston vs. Houston Baptist game - still t.b.a. at press time). The Owls are now 35-21 overall and have some work ahead to keep the season alive. Louisiana, the champions of the Sun Belt Conference, improved to 40-21 on the year.
For most of the contest things seemed to be going Rice's way. The Owls got a sound and solid start on the mound from junior left-hander Blake Fox, did a steady job of getting the leadoff man on base (four times in nine innings) and had its best day of getting a season-high four sacrifice bunts down to go along with hitting .375 when runners were in scoring position.
The Blue & Gray pushed across runs in the fourth and the fifth innings to go up 3-0, then added three more late for a 6-2 advantage to start the ninth. Rice started the ninth with a strikeout, but a wild pitch on the play allowed the Ragin' Cajuns to get a runner on base. The Owls didn't help themselves by walking two, making a fielding error on a bunt and throwing a wild pitch after a pair of hits. When freshman reliever Glenn Otto was finally able to end the inning with a strikeout, Louisiana had taken the lead 7-6.
The Owls could not return serve with a rally of their own in the bottom of the ninth. Dropping its opening game in a regional for only the second time in the last eleven years, and the fact that each of Rice's last five losses in the NCAA Tournament have all been by narrow on-run margins, are of negligible consolation for the team and head coach Wayne Graham.
On the individual side, Fox earned a tip of the cap in his team-leading 15th start of the season. The Houston native scattered four hits and a walk over 6.1 innings while striking out two. Senior Kirby Taylor went 2-for-3 with a run scored and junior Grayson Lewis had a hit to drive in a pair. Ryan Chandler, the C-USA Freshman of the Year, was right at home in his NCAA Tournament debut by going 2-for-3 with two RBI and a run scored.