June 1, 2013Jordan Stephens fired a sensational two-hit complete game shutout with a career-high tying 11 strikeouts as the Owls baseball team defeated No. 8 national seed Oregon late Saturday night in the second round of the NCAA Regional in Eugene, Oregon.
With the 1-0 victory Rice moved into the driver's seat of the Regional's double-elimination format with a 2-0 weekend record. The Owls next face the winner of Sunday afternoon's contest between Oregon and San Francisco. Start time of Rice's possible title game is set for 6 pm Central Time (4 pm Pacific). Oregon and USF play in the elimination game at 2 pm Central (12 noon Pacific).
Based solely on the bottom of the first inning, the 2,591 fans in attendance at Oregon's PK Park might have thought the game would be a Rice run-away as the Owls quickly jumped on the scoreboard. Playing as the home team in the tournament format at Duck's home facility, Ford Stainback punched a base hit through the right side and moved to second on Christian Stringer's sacrifice bunt. Stainback scored easily on Shane Hoelscher's double to left-center for the 1-0 Rice advantage.
That was only one inning, however, with a lot of baseball left to be played. Both Stephens and Oregon ace Tommy Thorpe settled-in for perhaps the best pitcher's duel so far in any of the 16 Regionals held this weekend across the country.
Thorpe scattered just seven hits and two walks while striking out four in 7.0 innings. He was relieved by Garrett Cleavinger, who pitched Oregon's final scoreless frame.
For as well as Oregon, the nation's No. 9 ranked team, pitched and played, Stephens stole the show. The Alvin, Tex., native did not allow the Ducks a base hit until there was one out in the top of the fifth. He hit the leadoff batter to start the sixth, but then struck out the side with that runner in scoring position to end one of Oregon's best offensive chances on the entire night.
The Ducks got leadoff single to start the seventh and sacrificed for him to move up to second base. Stephens ended that threat with a fly-out and his tenth strikeout for his third game with double-digit Ks.
The Owl defense came up with the play of the night to help get out of the top of the eighth. Oregon drew a one-out walk and then hit a smashing grounder hugging the right base-line. With no room for a miscue in the one-run duel, Rice first baseman Skyler Ewing fielded the ball, stepped on first and fired to Stainback covering at second. With the force removed, Stainback knew he had to apply the tag. He did, and also held onto the ball as the two players collided with the game practically on the line.
There was then no-stopping Stephens in the top of the ninth. He notched a career-tying eleventh strikeout to start the inning, before retiring the Ducks' No. 2 and 3 hitters in the lineup to finish the complete game shutout. Allowing just two hits and two walks had Rice head coach Wayne Graham's full attention.
"Obviously Jordan pitched a great game," said coach Graham. "He had great command and we made the plays we needed to make behind him. I also thought we hit better than we scored tonight. I would have liked to get more than one run, but sometimes one is enough."
The shutout was the first of Stephens' career. The complete game was his second this season after going the distance in a road win at Hawaii last February. The right-hander improved to 8-4 on the season.
Overall Rice improved to 43-17 with the team's eleventh-straight win. Oregon dropped to 46-15 overall.
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