June 2, 2012
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HOUSTON - Arkansas scored an unearned run early in the contest and Razorback pitchers Ryne Stanek and Barrett Astin made it stand up on the way to a 1-0 win over Rice Saturday night in the NCAA Houston Regional being played at the Owls' Reckling Park.
Arkansas advanced to the championship game of the Regional, set for 6 p.m. on Sunday. Rice next meets longtime rival Sam Houston State in an elimination game on Sunday at 1 p.m. The winner of the Rice/Sam Houston State game would have to beat Arkansas twice (including an extra game on Monday night, if neessary) to win the regional. Sam Houston State advanced to play Sunday by beating Prairie View A&M 4-2 earlier in the day on Saturday.
Arkansas grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Dominic Ficociello led off the frame with a walk and advanced to second on Brian Anderson's sacrifice bunt. Ficociello scored on a two-out fielding error by the Owls which would prove to be the game's only run.
The starting pitchers for both teams, Stanek of Arkansas and Austin Kubitza for Rice, settled-in for a duel until both gave-way to their respective bullpens in the eighth. The Owls collected leadoff singles in the fourth, fifth and seventh, only to strand men in scoring position each time.
"Both (starting) pitchers pitched extremely well, and the relievers pitched well," said Rice head coach Wayne Graham. "(Tonight's game) was kind of heartbreaking, but we've got to get ourselves up and get ready for tomorrow."
In perhaps his best starting effort of the year Kubitza worked a total of 7.1 innings where he surrendered just one run (unearned), two hits and three walks while striking out eight. The sophomore from Colleyville, Tex., used an inning-ending strikeout to work out of the fifth after a one-out double. In the top of the sixth Rice avoided runs with a throw and put-out at the plate on ground ball where the Rice infield was drawn-in. The Razorbacks were still threatening for runs in the inning after executing a double steal to put men on second and third, but Kubitza worked out of the jam.
J.T. Chargois pitched the final 1.2 innings, striking out three. The Kubitza-Chargois duo combined to hold Arkansas to just two base hits.
"They're a good hitting team," coach Graham said of the Razorbacks. "We threw good pitches all night. We made one mistake and that's the only reason they scored. No earned runs - that's pretty good pitching."
The Razorback pitching tandem of Stanek and Astin also had a sound a solid effort. Stanek (7-4) allowed five hits and two walks while striking out four in seven innings. Astin allowed just one hit over the final two frames to earn his tenth save of the season.
The Owls left men on third and first to end the seventh. Coach Graham was certain the Owls were going to get one to drop in the seventh after an outstanding individual effort by Ryan Lewis to battle at the plate for a 10-pitch at bat in a pressure situation.
"Late in the game Lewis had a great at-bat," Graham explained. "He hit it right on the screws. If he hits in the gap it's a different ball game. Those things happen."
The Owls attempted one final rally in the bottom of the ninth. Chargois punched a base hit through the left side and moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Jeremy Rathjen. Chargois hustled to third base on a grounder to the right side, but was stranded 90-feet from home in a 1-0 final.
Saturday's loss dropped the Owls to 41-18. It was the first time for the Owls to be shutout since 2011 and marked the program's first shutout loss in a regional played at home.
Arkansas improved to 41-19 on the year. The victory was Razorback head coach Dave Van Horn's 400th at the university.