June 5, 2011
HOUSTON -- After enduring a two-hour and 43-minute lightning delay, the Rice baseball team surrendered three unearned runs on three fielding errors in the bottom of the eighth inning, breaking a 3-3 deadlock and lifting California to a late 6-3 win over the Owls in an elimination game on the NCAA Regional held Sunday afternoon at Reckling Park.
With the team's second loss in the Regional's double-elimination format, Rice's 2011 season has come to an end at 42-21. Battling a talented Cal team and the heat of a 2 pm start time for more than two hours was tough enough, but the score was tied 3-3 heading into the weather delay. The Blue & Gray did not shake off the nearly three-hour wait and fell behind in a game that was in a sense re-set to just 1.5 innings.
Rice opened the scoring in the top of the second inning. Michael Ratterree singled up the middle and moved to second on Craig Manuel's sacrifice bunt. A Cal fielding error on the play, however, allowed Manuel to reach first safely. Ryan Lewis followed with a sac bunt attempt and another Bear error on a similar sequence allowed Ratterree to score from second and Manuel to take third. Manuel came home on Cal's third error of the inning, on a failed pickoff attempt to make it 2-0 on two unearned runs.
Cal tied the contest in the bottom of the fourth. Devon Rodriguez led off with a single and with two away, Darrel Matthews was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second. Vince Bruno followed with a single up the middle to score both runners and knot-it-up 2-2.
Rice broke the deadlock in its half of the fifth. Freshman Keenan Cook connected on a 2-0 pitch for his first career home run that put the Blue & Gray in front 3-2.
The Golden Bears rallied to tie it 3-3 in the bottom of the seventh. Matthews hit a leadoff single and moved to second on Bruno's sacrifice bunt. Matthews scored on an RBI single by Austin Booker.
Both teams cleared the field due to lightning in the area in the bottom of the eighth. When play resumed, Mitch Delfino reached on a one-out error and a single to left by Chad Bunting put runners on first and second. Rice was thinking double play on another ground ball off the bat of Louie Lechich, but all were safe on another Owl error to load the bases. Rice got a strikeout for the second out, but a third error in the frame allowed two to score with the inning still alive. Cal's Tony Renda followed with a base hit to left for the third run of the inning to stretch the lead to 6-3.
Down but not out, Rice would not go away easy in the top of the ninth. J.T. Chargois drew a leadoff walk and Ratterree singled through the left side. The Owls twice had the tying run at the plate, but the Golden Bears worked out of the jam for a 6-3 final. Cal (33-21) remained alive in the regional to play a late game against Baylor.
Clearly, Rice was not ready to have its season come to an end so soon, but 2011 was another successful campaign in the face of a host of challenges. The program posted its 17th-straight season of 40 or more wins and 17th-straight year to reach an NCAA Regional. The Owls were league champions for a 16th-straight year, winning both the 2011 Conference USA Tournament title and C-USA regular season co-championship. Rice fought through some nagging injuries that sidelined two prominent players for the entire season.
Rice head coach Wayne Graham reached another career milestone with his 900th win at at the school in this, his 20th year at the helm of the program. The team's talented young freshmen players gained a wealth of on-the-job experience with two regular starters on the left side of the infielder as well as two weekend starters in C-USA league games. A host of returning stars and a talented recruiting class show that Rice baseball is on solid ground for years to come.