June 1, 2012
Michael Fuda led off the bottom of the seventh inning by blasting a solo home run to break a 2-2 tie as Rice defeated Prairie View A&M 3-2 during the first day of the NCAA Houston Regional at Reckling Park.
Rice starting pitcher John Simms went a season-long seven innings, giving up two hits and one earned run while striking out seven, also a season best. Reliever Tyler Duffey did not give up a hit while striking out three in two innings of work to pick up his seventh save of the year.
The hanging-on for a victory in a tight one-run contest is becoming a little all too familiar for Rice head coach Wayne Graham. On Friday night against the state-rival Panthers the Owls had to first come from behind to finally claim a the team's ninth one-run win of the season.
"I think we are committed to the thriller," coach Graham said. "We can't play a boring game I guess, but when a lefty is throwing like that you are going to struggle. Lance (Berkman) was just down in my office making all kinds of excuses for our hitters, saying he struggled with them too, so I guess it's ok. But thank goodness Fuda hit that one, we had Duffey to close and John (Simms) kept us in the game, so here we are. I'll take the win."
With the win, the Owls (41-17) moved into Saturday evening's winner's bracket game against Arkansas. First pitch is slated for 6 p.m. The Razorbacks defeated Sam Houston State 5-4 earlier in the day. Prairie View A&M (28-24) will play Sam Houston State at 1 p.m. Saturday in an elimination game.
In Friday's contest, Colby Hines' two-run double in the top of the second gave the Panthers an early lead. Hines' drive to right centerfield came after Evan Richard walked and Stef Hernandez got onboard via an error. Hernandez hit a grounder toward shortstop Ford Stainback and got on board when the Rice infielder dropped the ball and made a late throw to second for the potential force.
The Owls would get one of the runs back in the bottom half of the inning. Shane Hoelscher led off the second with a walk before Michael Aquino singled. Geoff Perrott laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move the runners before Stainbeck's sacrifice fly to right field drove in the Owls' first run.
The Owls, who left 11 on base during the night, stranded two runners in both the fourth and fifth innings. Rice was retired in order in the sixth to bring Fuda to the plate to start the seventh. Fuda's home run to left centerfield came on a 1-2 pitch and was the senior's eighth of the season. It was also the Owls' first homer since May 18th.
"He was working away and mixing up, but a lot of us were not staying back," Fuda said. "He would get the ball up and we'd get ourselves out, pretty much. (On the home run) I was thinking triple all the way off the bat. I didn't think I hit it square, but I knew I got a good piece of it and the wind wasn't helping it."
The Owls have taken one step in the Regional. Coach Graham explained facing a talented Arkansas team will be another big step to take.
"Well they (Arkansas) are difficult outs and they've got a guy throwing who definitely is going to be high in the major league draft next year," coach Graham said. "He's got good stuff, but if we pitch well I feel like we can do very well against him. We are going to have to have competitive at-bats, but they are a strong ballclub."