June 6, 2010
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
AUSTIN - Sunday night wasn't about inconsistency or undisciplined at-bats or poor execution with opposing runners in scoring position. It was about Texas sophomore righthander Taylor Jungmann and his dynamic blend of filthy stuff, exceptional command and brazen self-assuredness.
Rice saw its 2010 season come to an end at Disch-Falk Field because Jungmann was simply better. Sure a couple of errant pitches here and there greased the skids to their 4-1 defeat in the Austin Regional, but in truth the Owls needed to be near-perfect both offensively and on the mound in order to defeat the top-seeded Longhorns' dominating ace.
For the first time since they lost to Texas A&M in the 2004 Houston Regional at Reckling Park, the Owls (40-23) failed to advance in the NCAA Tournament. Having staved off elimination with a 9-1 win over Louisiana-Lafayette earlier Sunday, Rice aimed to maintain momentum against a pitcher who had never tasted defeat in the postseason. Instead, Jungmann (7-3) proved that his big-game reputation was well earned.
"Arguably we were against the top starter and top reliever in the country, and that's a pretty tough task," Rice coach Wayne Graham said of Jungmann and Texas junior righthander Chance Ruffin, who recorded the final four outs. "I thought the pitch-calling for Texas was excellent too; they mix pitches so well that they made it really tough. Our guys competed well today. I'm proud of them."
Owls sophomore catcher Craig Manuel was the lone base runner to advance into scoring position before Rice left fielder Michael Fuda scored on a Manuel double off Ruffin with two outs in the eighth inning. Manuel had singled and advanced to second base on a groundout in the third, but he was stranded when Chad Mozingo grounded out to first.
When Owls sophomore third baseman Anthony Rendon, the Most Outstanding Player of the Austin Regional, popped out to end the fourth, that signaled the start of a morale-crushing stretch. Jungmann set the Owls down in order in the fifth, sixth and seventh, and retired the first two batters of the eighth before Fuda worked a two-out walk. He was lifted after having thrown 84 pitches in the stifling heat, allowing just one run on two hits and two walks while striking out seven. He practically duplicated his impressive line against Rice on March 5 when he surrendered one run on four hits and two walks with eight strikeouts in a 2-1 victory at Minute Maid Park in the Houston College Classic.
"He does everything right," said Rendon, who finished the regional 6-for-15 with four runs, seven RBIs, three walks and three home runs. "His pitch location is spectacular, his fastball goes up to, what, 97 (miles an hour), and his slider is probably 84, 85. He's a phenomenal pitcher."
Said Owls senior catcher Diego Seastrunk, who finished 0-for-3: "I thought he pitched better tonight. He was hitting his spots pretty well and he made few mistakes. It was tough. With a guy like that you kind of have to bear down and try and fight with him and scrap out some hits. A majority of the time the better pitching is going to beat the better hitting. You've just got to try to find a way against a guy like that."
With the margin for error razor thin and runs at a premium, even the slightest mistakes were magnified. Rice junior righthander Boogie Anagnostou (3-5) had allowed a lone run through five innings before Texas designated hitter Russell Moldenhauer stepped to the plate with Brandon Loy on second and one out in the sixth. Moldenhauer, a lefthanded hitter, was 0-for-2 against Anagnostou at that point, and with junior lefthander Abel Gonzales warming in the Rice bullpen, Graham stuck with Anagnostou. On the first pitch, Moldenhauer rifled a double into the right-center gap to double the Texas (49-11) lead to 2-0.
"Boogie had made Moldenhauer look real bad before," Graham said. "That was the main reason for leaving him in. It looked like he had control of him, and it turned out he didn't."
Moldenhauer struck again in the eighth against another Rice righty, this time freshman Tyler Duffey. Following a two-out walk to Tant Shepherd, the first batter to reach against Duffey after he entered following the Moldenhauer double in the sixth, Moldenhauer crushed the first pitch out of the ballpark to right field. Texas' lead was an insurmountable 4-0.
"Either time they didn't throw the ball where they wanted, but I didn't think the pitch was correct (on the home run)," Graham said. "I told Duffey he can throw what he wants to throw, and that's learning. He's a freshman. We'll talk about it and he probably won't make the same mistake next time."
Whatever last gasp Rice had was snuffed when Texas second baseman Jordan Etier made a diving stop of the sharp grounder sent to his right by Jimmy Comerota in the eighth. Had the ball skipped past Etier into center field, pinch runner Daniel Gonzales-Luna would have scored and the Owls would have cut the deficit in half. Instead, Etier recovered and made a desperate throw that Shepherd scooped at first to retire Comerota and end the threat. Ruffin set Rice down in order in the ninth.
In retrospect, the odds were stacked against the Owls the minute their 1-0 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette was completed on Friday. Texas coach Augie Garrido wisely held Jungmann back just in case the Owls clawed their way through two elimination games, and when the Owls did precisely that, Garrido had the stoutest, nastiest card in his back pocket.
"We did recover well. I thought our guys were ready to play," Graham said. "With Jungmann it wasn't just the stuff, it was the mix. He'd throw the breaking ball at any count. That's pretty good. I remember playing at pretty high-level baseball and any pitcher that did that to me, that's tough."