June 1, 2014
Rice's second loss of the Regional, which followed a tough defeat in extra innings in the very early morning hours Sunday, closed out the Owls' season record at 42-20. Texas A&M survived to meet Texas in Sunday's second game of the Regional, a possible championship game for the Longhorns but another elimination game for the Aggies.
Playing as the visiting team in the NCAA Tournament format, Rice opened the scoring with a pair of runs in the top of the fifth inning. Shane Hoelscher, Connor Teykl and Ford Stainback hit consecutive one-out singles for the first run. Hunter Kopycinski's textbook sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third. Leon Byrd followed with an infield hit to score Teykl for a 2-0 advantage.
The Owls added two more in the sixth. Keenan Cook was hit by a pitch and Skyler Ewing singled. Michael Aquino sacrificed two runners to second and third, and the strategy worked to perfection. Hoelscher singled through the right side for a pair of RBI and a 4-0 lead.
Texas A&M continued to fight, and battled back in the bottom of the frame. Cole Lankford's grand slam homer was the highlight of a five-hit, five-run outburst that cut the margin back down to one, 6-5. The Aggies put together four more hits for two runs in the bottom of the eighth to take the lead, 7-6.
Down to their final two outs in the ninth, Rice's Skyler Ewing connected on a 1-1 pitch for a home run to left field. The Arlington, Texas, blasted his ninth home run of the season to make it a 7-7 game.
In the tenth the Owls went back in front, 8-7. Kirby Taylor singled down the right field line, and went to second on a Stainback sacrifice bunt. Taylor hustled home on Kopycinski's single to left-center field.
Rice now needed just three outs to win and advance. The Blue & Gray had had not fielded particularly well throughout the tournament, and it was fielding that was costly at the end. The Owls had a chance to be out of the bottom of the tenth and batting in the top of the eleventh, but A&M took advantage of its extended life to eventually win on a Rice wild pitch in a 9-8 final.
Rice head coach Wayne Graham, who has now completed his 23rd season at the helm of the program, had high praise for the team coming back from the late/early morning finish and collecting a dozen hits. He was also proud of pitchers getting tough and battling through 21 total innings in a very short turnaround time. The Owls fielding however...
"I thought our hitters hit well, our pitchers pitched well, and that's all I'm going to say (about three facets of the game)," Graham said. "I thought we were ready to go. It's incredible. It seems like sometimes when you start having misplays it sometimes becomes contagious. (Mistakes, both physical and mental) they all bother me. You tend to believe that the mental mistakes you should be able to overcome or remove."
"I'm shocked right now (about the way in which the season ended), but I'm fairly resilient," the head coach said. "I'm sure, just like the young men, I'll be over it tomorrow. I'm looking forward to next year."
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