June 12, 2006
HOUSTON -- Junior Josh Rodriguez tied a career-high with five RBI, Joe Savery slugged a three-run homer and the Rice relief tandem of Cole St.Clair and Bryce Cox kept ninth-ranked Oklahoma in check as the number-one Owls defeated the Sooners 9-5 in the third and final game of the best-of-three NCAA super regional before a Reckling Park crowd of 3,613 and national television audience on ESPN Monday afternoon in Houston.
By taking the final game of the NCAA super regional, Rice secured its fifth trip to the College World Series that starts next week in Omaha, Neb. The Owls return to Omaha for the first time since 2003, the year the baseball program won the school's first national championship in a team sport. In addition to 2003, Rice made trips to the CWS in 1997, 1999 and 2002.
Closing out a talented Oklahoma team that already beaten Rice once in the regular season and the day before in game two of the super regional was no easy task. The Sooners had the lead three different times in the game, including past the halfway point heading into the bottom of the sixth inning.
Oklahoma jumped on the scoreboard for a pair of runs in the top of the first. A hit batsman and back-to-back singles loaded the bases with no one out. Kevin Smith drove in a run with a sacrifice fly to right field and a ground out to the left side scored another for quick 2-0 lead.
Though normally the Owls' closer, Rice brought in St.Clair out of the bullpen with two away in the first inning. He worked out of the jam and proceeded to pitch the next five innings, holding OU to five hits without any walks.
In the bottom of the first senior Greg Buchanan drew a walk and two batters later Rodriguez hit an opposite field two-run homer to the right field corner. Rodriguez' 11th round-tripper of the season made tied the game at 2-2.
The Sooners regained the lead in the top of the third. Second baseman Russell Raley led off with a single through the left side and scored on a one-out double to the wall in left-center by Kevin Smith.
Rice true freshman Aaron Luna tied it back up again in the bottom of the fourth with a home run to left. Not only did Luna's homer make it 3-3, he moved into a tie for ninth on the Owls' all-time home run list with 16.
Oklahoma answered with a solo shot of its own to take the lead. Raley slugged the first pitch over the left field wall for his second home run of the year and a 4-3 lead.
Rice had a chance to go ahead in the fifth by loading the bases with one away, but the Blue & Gray could not convert the opportunity to runs. The Owls made up for it in the sixth. Danny Lehmann led off with a single, Tyler Henley drew walk and Buchanan singled through the right side to put runners on every station. Two batter later, Rodriguez punched a base hit through the left side to score two. Savery followed with a three-run homer to right-center to cap a five-run outburst and an 8-4 advantage.
The Sooners answered with a run in the top of the seventh. Joseph Hughes was hit by a pitch and Chuckie Caufield singled on the line at third base that Rodriguez kept from going for extra bases. Consecutive ground outs scored Hughes from second and cut the margin back to three, 8-5.
Rice loaded the bases again in the seventh on a pair of singles and hit batsman. Rodriguez tallied his fifth RBI of the day with a sacrifice fly and the Owls were back up for good by four, 9-5.
Cox relieved St.Clair and was sharp in pitching the final three innings of the game for his third save of the season. The senior right-hander scattered just two hits without any walks and tied a season-high with four strikeouts.
Rice improved to 55-11 on the season. The has won 37 of its last 40 games. Oklahoma ended its year at 45-22.
The College World Series begins Friday, June 16, in Omaha. Rice meets Georgia, the seventh seed of the tournament and champion of the Athens super regional, on Saturday (June 17) at 1 pm.
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