June 3, 2013
Rice responded to Sunday night's 11-0 shutout by the same nationally-seeded Oregon team by exploding for eleven runs on 15 hits in the winner-take-all showdown. As a result the Owls, now 44-18 overall, advance to the Super Regionals for the tenth time since the NCAA adopted the format in 1999. The Blue & Gray next meet ACC power NC State at 3 pm (Central Time) on Friday (June 7). The winner of the best-of-three Super Regional series advances to Omaha to compete in the College World Series.
Prior to the game Rice head coach Wayne Graham made a series of moves to keep the team's season alive, and all of them seemed to come up big. Career saves leader Zech Lemond and Friday night starter Austin Kubitza switched their more-familiar for the first time all season. Lemond tied a career-long 6.2 innings and set a new career-high with seven strikeouts. Kubitza fired the final 2.1 scoreless frames to keep the Ducks in check.
An in-game injury to regular starting catcher Geoff Perrott on Sunday forced Graham to pick a new receiver for Monday in the team's most important game of the year. Calling on 33 years of collegiate coaching experience (with the last 22 at Rice) Graham went with true freshman Hunter Kopycinski to make just his sixth career start, and his first behind the plate since April 9. The rookie from Houston's Saint Thomas High proceeded to have an eye-opening 4-for-5 night that included four runs batted-in and a triple to the wall in center field.
Eight different Owls in the lineup all had a base hit and each of the first seven batters in the order scored at least one run. Rice got off to a hot start in the top of the first inning. Christian Stringer doubled down the right field line and Keenan Cook walked. Shane Hoelscher followed with a long blast over the centerfielder's head to the deepest part of Oregon's PK Park. Stringer and Cook scored easily as Hoelscher hustled to third, but a Duck fielding error on the play allowed Hoelscher to pick up the final 90 feet and score for a quick 3-0 lead.
Rice's defense in the bottom of the frame, however, was not its best and Oregon was able to cut the lead to one. The Owls failed to catch a high infield pop-up that crossed over from sharp sunlight to the stadium's shadows creeping diagonally across the infield. That baserunner went on to score, and the Ducks soon added another when Rice had trouble solving a run-down on a grounder where men were on first and second base.
It was still 3-2 at that point with a lot of baseball left to play, but the Owls came right back with two runs on a pair of hits in the second followed by another two runs on three hits in the third. Oregon fought back for a run in the bottom of third to make score 7-3, but Lemond found a groove after that. The sophomore right-hander from Houston retired 10-of-11 with four strikeouts during the middle three innings. In the Rice fifth, Kopycinski singled-home fellow freshman Leon Byrd for an 8-4 advantage.
Lemond worked into the seventh, where Oregon rallied for its final run of the night on an RBI single by Tyler Baumgartner. Rice made the move to Kubitza out of the bullpen that effectively ended the threat. The only scoring left was done by the Owls, who capped out the top of the ninth with three final runs in an 11-4 final.
Rice tallied double-digit hits for the 28th time this season. Oregon had nine hits overall. The Ducks' season came to an end at 48-16.
The Owls were well-represented on the All-Regional team as selected by attending members of the media. The Blue & Gray led the way with five honorees including sophomore pitcher Jordan Stephens as the Most Valuable Player. Stephens fired a two-hit shutout at the Ducks on Saturday night that sent Rice to the winner's bracket.
The All-NCAA Eugene Regional honorees included:
C Reid Clary, South Dakota State
1B Ryon Healy, Oregon
2B Christian Stringer, Rice
SS Ford Stainback, Rice
3B Shane Hoelscher, Rice
OF Tyler Baumgartner, Oregon
OF Leon Byrd, Rice
OF Justin Maffei, San Francisco
UT Scott Heineman, Oregon
P Cole Irvin, Oregon
P Jordan Stephens, Rice
MVP Jordan Stephens, Rice