June 8, 2013
The Owls were in a similar predicament last weekend, facing a possible end to the season after dropping a game in the double-elimination round at the Oregon Regional, only now Rice (44-19) has twice the hill to climb if the team is to continue playing in 2013. With Saturday's loss the Blue & Gray must defeat NC State twice on the road to survive and advance in the postseason, starting with game two of series Sunday at 3 pm Central Time (4 pm Eastern Time). The contest is set for a national television broadcast on ESPNU.
Saturday's game was nationally-televised on ESPN2 even Rice head coach Wayne Graham stated the entire country was treated to a whale of a college baseball game.
"Obviously, it was a good game and I thought our guys competed very well," coach Graham said. "We just had a few uncharacteristic mistakes late in the game when we were in position to win it. That's the way the game is, you can't make mistakes at the wrong time and we happened to do it today."
With the game knotted-up 2-2 heading into the top of the ninth, it was Rice that broke the ice with the go-ahead run. Skyler Ewing and Hunter Kopycinski singled with one away. The when down to its last out of the inning, Christian Stringer doubled to right field for a 3-2 advantage. Rice nearly padded three more runs to the margin a few pitches later, but a long towering Rice blast to left field was just foul.
The possible insurance runs would have been welcome as NC State rallied for the win in the bottom of the ninth on just one hit. The Owls walked the leadoff batter, hit another and made an error on a failed pickoff attempt. NC State tied the game on bunt where Brett Williamson home under a throw to the plate. Jake Fincher followed with a two-out RBI single to left for the 4-3 final.
Fincher's hit was the Wolf Pack's sixth of the day in nine innings. Rice doubled that total with 12, but did not post a win to show for it.
"It's that kind of game," coach Graham stated. "We had the game, but we walked the leadoff man with a one run lead in the ninth inning. (Sophomore reliever Zech) Lemond has been our guy all year so we can't complain, but it's a tough game and sometimes the hits don't fall right. We get all those hits, but only get three runs. We certainly could have gotten more if we get one more hit at the right time. We missed some opportunities, but we didn't play well in the last inning."
Rice came out hitting in the top of the first and had a total of three base-runners. The Owls were picked-off base, and then had another similar base-running miscue in the second inning after getting something starter with a walk and single.
State posted a pair of runs in the bottom of the first inning on just one hit, a leadoff double by Trea Turner. A walk, sacrifice bunt, wild pitch and ground led to a quick 2-0 Wolf Pack lead.
That was the only real damage allowed by Owl starting pitcher Austin Kubitza. The junior right-hander from Colleyville went on to work a total of 7.0 innings, scattering five hits with no walks while striking out eight. The eight Ks moved Kubitza into tenth place on the Rice's career list for strikeouts with 309.
While Kubitza settled-in, his teammates on the offensive side went on to tie the game with single runs in the fourth and fifth. Shane Hoelscher was hit by a pitch and Leon Byrd lined a one-out single up the middle. Ewing laced a two-out single through the left side to plate Hoelscher for a 2-1 game.
Rice tied it in the top of the fourth. Stringer connected on 1-0 pitch for his second home run of the season. The shot cleared the wall in right field and it was a new game at 2-2. Rice left a runner in scoring position in the seventh and two more again in the ninth. Five different Owls all had at least two hits in the game, led by Hunter Kopycinski with three to follow last week's four-hit day at Oregon.
NC State improved to 48-14 on the season. In the NCAA tournament format the Owls will get to play game two of the Super Regional as the home team. Rice now has its work cut out for it, and will have to repeat some of its storied history to advance.
While playing in a Super Regional for the tenth time since 1999 (when the NCAA adopted the format for the first time), Rice has twice bounced-back from a loss in the opener to win the event. Rice advance to the College World Series in Omaha after losing game one of the Super Regionals in 1999 and again in the National Championship season of 2003.