HOUSTON - The Rice baseball team battled a more-rested Louisiana squad with everything it could muster under the circumstances, but the Ragin' Cajuns claimed a 5-2 win over the Owls Monday afternoon to win the NCAA Houston Regional held across town at UH's Cougar Field.
With the second loss in the tournament's double-elimination format Rice's 2015 season has come to an end. The Owls finish the year with a 37-22 overall record and a 20th-straight conference championship resting on the mantle.
Rice did not get much chance for any rest in the regional after rain altered the initial tournament schedule and an improbable 20-inning elimination game that ended after 2 am Monday morning left little turn-around time to beat Sun Belt Conference champion Louisiana in a hot Monday afternoon start time - and that was just game one of a possible double-header for Rice. To advance the Owls would have had to beaten the Cajuns twice on the day where fatigue from a lack of sleep had to have been a factor.
Yet there was Rice baseball, fighting back for two runs on three hits in the bottom of the fifth inning to cut a 4-0 deficit in half. Freshman Tristan Gray led off with a single and senior Kirby Taylor slapped a base hit through the left side. Both scored on Grayson Lewis' lining two-out double to left-center to make it 4-2 with some baseball left to play, maybe even a second game if the team could convert on one more rally.
"I'm very proud of the effort, particularly last night, but the effort was still there today, and there's nobody that didn't give it everything they had," said Rice head coach Wayne Graham. "You know when you're having good games where you don't give much away, and you hit with runners in scoring position? This wasn't that day."
The Blue & Gray had men reach scoring position in each of the last three frames, but Louisiana not only held off the Rice rally but added a final run of its own in the eighth without even needing a base hit.
Five Rice pitchers saw action on the day, led by right-hander starter Jordan Stephens who finished the day with five strikeouts in 4.2 innings of work. On the offensive side the Owls out-hit the Cajuns 11-7 and four had at least two hits in the contest.
The Rice trio of Ryan Chandler (8 hits, 4 RBI, 3 runs scored), Lewis (3 hits, a double, 4 RBI and a steal) and Ford Stainback (9 hits, .450 average, 4 runs) were all named to the NCAA Tournament's All-Houston Regional Team.
"It's still a good, championship, season" coach Graham added. "We're the last team standing, so we're the champions of Houston again. So, we're happy with that. Only one team is in complete happiness, and that's the team that wins the last game. Hopefully we'll work hard towards that next year."