June 6, 2010
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
AUSTIN - Finally, Rice senior righthander Mike Ojala got his complete game.
It took perseverance against the wilting Central Texas heat and some coaxing of Rice coach Wayne Graham, but Ojala finished what he started for the first time, scattering five hits in a 9-1 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette in an elimination game at Disch-Falk Field Sunday afternoon.
Ojala (6-2) was making his 34th career start and his 10th this season after undergoing ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction last June. As he regained strength in his right elbow and reclaimed the dominant form he flashed before tearing the ligament midway through his junior season, Ojala began lobbying Graham to let him go the distance.
With temperatures in the mid-90s and Ojala admittedly running on fumes, Graham strolled to the mound with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning to check on the Kingwood High product one last time. Ojala cut off Graham near the third-base line with a sincere proposition.
"I made a deal with him," Ojala said of the meeting following his one-out walk to Ragin' Cajuns catcher Chad Keefer. "I said, `If I don't get this guy, you can pull me out.' And he goes, `Alright.' And I go, `If I get this guy, I get the next guy, too.' And he goes, `OK, OK.' And he got out of there."
Ojala induced a fly ball off the bat of pinch hitter Trask Switzenberg to Chad Mozingo in right field for the second out of the ninth, and then carved up another pinch hitter, Brian Bowman, for his ninth strikeout. Ojala retired 12 consecutive hitters in the middle of his 114-pitch effort.
Early and late he relied on his defense. Freshman second baseman Michael Ratterree made a sparkling diving stab of a Justin Robichaux line drive in the second before springing to his feet and making a throw to first base that Jimmy Comerota scooped to double off Tyler Frederick. The Owls turned another double play in support of Ojala in the eighth before sophomore third baseman Anthony Rendon produced his gem.
With a runner on third and two outs, Rendon dove to his left and smothered a sharp grounder from Matt Goulas behind the bag. With haste he made an accurate throw across the diamond to nip Goulas.
"As you could see, the defense was awesome," Ojala said. "That's one of the greatest plays I've ever seen in my life that Anthony Rendon made."
Ojala found his groove after Rice (40-22) posted seven runs in the fourth. Louisiana-Lafayette lefthander Taylor Hubbell (4-4) had dodged bullets in the first and third, stranding a total of five runners before the Owls finally broke through. Comerota, Mozingo and junior shortstop Rick Hague drove in runs over successive at-bats before Jeremy Rathjen and Rendon walked to load the bases for senior catcher Diego Seastrunk. After flying out with the bases loaded to close the third, Seastrunk roped a two-out, two-strike double to the left-field wall off reliever Thad Griffen to clear the bases and double the Owls' lead to 6-0.
Michael Fuda added an RBI single to close the scoring in the fourth before Rathjen stroked a leadoff homer in the sixth and Ratterree a run-scoring single in the ninth to cap the scoring and set the stage for the showdown most everyone had anticipated when the regional was announced. Rice will meet top-seeded Texas (48-11) tonight at 6:30.
Ojala was initially slated to face the Longhorns on Saturday night, but the Ragin' Cajuns altered those plans when they shut out the Owls 1-0 on Friday. With Rice facing elimination, he was the perfect selection to salvage the Owls' season, and the fans showed their appreciation as Ojala labored to finish off the Ragin' Cajuns in the bottom of the ninth.
"He's been with us for four years and managed through some injury," Rice pitching coach David Pierce said. "He's done everything we could possibly ask from him. He was outstanding as we knew he would be."
Added Ojala: "I was fighting back tears. I was throwing as hard as I could those last few pitches. That was about it. The tank was pretty empty."
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