HOUSTON - The Rice baseball team has stayed alive (again), this time by defeating crosstown rival Houston 3-2 in 20 innings in Sunday's late elimination game of the NCAA Tournament - emphasis on the late.
Rice next meets Louisiana on Monday (June 1) at 1 pm at UH's Cougar Field. The game is another elimination game for Rice and a possible Regional championship matchup for the Ragin' Cajuns (who the Owls now have to beat twice on Monday).
Playing with a loss since Friday in the double-elimination tournament means Rice has had to win to survive. The Owls first held-off hungry Houston Baptist 3-1 on Sunday morning after a day-long rain delay forced the team to change pitchers at the 11 am re-start.
The Blue & Gray survived, only to then face No. 13 ranked Houston on the Cougars' home field in an 8 pm elimination game. It was the latest start to a Rice game this year to be sure, but that became a distant memory as the crosstown rivals then proceeded to battle for a season- and series-history-long 20 tense innings.
With the score tied 2-2 after eight full innings, the teams extended the deadlock with 11 scoreless frames to approach a marathon-like six-hour duration that crossed over into the wee hours of Monday morning (June 1). Finally, in the top of the 20th inning, C-USA Freshman of the Year Ryan Chandler dropped a one-out base hit into center field. Junior designated hitter Leon Byrd, making his first game appearance since the previous UH meeting back on May 12, followed with a rocket-shot double down the right field line. Speedy Chandler scored easily from first base, and the Owls were in business with their first lead (3-2) since the seventh inning.
Houston continued to fight, however, and started the bottom of the 20th with base hit to centerfield. Now with their respective season on the line, the Cougars tried to stretch single to a double. Chandler answered the challenge with an on-target throw to second base that secured the first out. Reliever Austin Orewiler got each of the next two hitters with fly-outs to finish-out the 3-2 final.
Orewiler capped an eye-opening staff pitching performance where each of the game's three hurlers (Kevin McCanna, Glenn Otto and Austin Orewiler) were not just good, but seemed to be getting better as the long night progressed. McCanna started and scattered six hits over 5.1 innings while walking three and striking out one. He was relieved by Otto, who struck out five in his 5.1 innings of two hit relief. Orewiler then fired essentially a 9.1 inning three-hit shutout where he stuck out seven and walked just one.
Rice started the scoring in the top of the fifth. Freshman Tristan Gray started it off with a base hit and reached second safely as Houston made a wide throw on Kirby Taylor's sacrifice bunt attempt. A hit batsman loaded the stations and Charlie Warren followed with a base hit up the middle to drive in a pair for a 2-0 advantage.
The margin didn't last long. Houston came back with a run in the bottom of the frame after a pair of one out walks and an RBI single by Kyle Survance. Houston was looking for more, but first baseman Connor Teykl snared a low line drive and then doubled the runner off first for an inning-ending double play.
The Cougars tied the game with two away in the bottom of the eighth. Corey Julks connected on a pitch for his fifth homer of the season to make it 2-2. The was all the Owls would allow. The Rice defense worked out of jams in seven more innings over the course of the night.
Rice is now 37-21 on the season and plays again Monday afternoon. Houston saw its season come to an end at 43-20.