Stansberry stands tall
late for Owls
Rice escapes McNeese State in 10
By Jonathan Yardley
Special to CollegeBaseballInsider.com
Jonathan Yardley is a Rice University sophomore, sports
editor of the Rice Thresher and a radio announcer for Rice baseball on the Rice
University sports network.
HOUSTON – Rice third baseman Craig Stansberry
struggled early in Friday’s NCAA regional opener but came through with a
game-winning hit in the bottom of the 10th inning as top-seeded Rice edged
fourth-seeded McNeese State 3-2 at Reckling Park.
Stansberry had made the final out
of an inning three times, leaving four men on base, but his line-drive single
just inside the left-field line plated second baseman Enrique Cruz with the
game-winning run. The Owls (49-10) move on to face Wichita State, a 4-2 winner
over Ole Miss in the nightcap. The Cowboys (31-29) and Rebels meet Saturday in
an elimination game.
“I just tried to stay confident
and stick to my game plan,” Stansberry said. “He’d thrown me all curveballs, and
he came back with it, and I just got it down the line.”
Stansberry’s hit made a winner
out of reliever Wade Townsend, who improved to 8-1 with 1.2 innings of strong
relief. For most of the game, however, it was a pitchers’ duel between Rice
sophomore Philip Humber and McNeese State’s Rusty Begnaud.
The Cowboys, the Southland
Conference tournament champion, got on top first on a second-inning homer well
over the left-field wall from cleanup man Tim Lemke. McNeese State added a run
in the third when catcher Ran Prince’s two-out double scored Lance Dawkins for a
2-0 lead. Humber settled down, however, even though his normal catcher, senior
Jeff Blackinton, gave way to fellow senior Justin Ruchti.
“The coaches wanted to get Ruchti
in there because they thought he had a stronger throwing arm,” Humber said. “It
didn’t really make a difference to me.”
Ruchti threw out two runners
attempting to steal, as did Ran Prince, in a game that featured momentum swings
and great defensive plays from both teams.
Rice, the Western Athletic
Conference champ, began its comeback by breaking through for a run in the
fourth. Shortstop Paul Janish capped a two-out rally with a single to left that
scored designated hitter Austin Davis.
Humber kept Rice in it, holding
McNeese State without a hit from the third to eighth innings, but needed a
dramatic strike-him-out, throw-him-out double play to end the sixth. Humber then
struck out the side in the seventh, setting up Rice’s game-tying rally in the
bottom of the inning.
Speedy centerfielder Jeff
Jorgensen led off the inning with a single to left against Begnaud and moved to
second on Ruchti’s sacrifice. Cowboys head coach Todd Butler then went to his
bullpen, replacing his ace with lefty Lavelle Morgan. Curveball artist Begnaud
allowed two runs in 6.1 innings and earned plenty of respect from his opponents.
“He had good arm action on his
change up,” right fielder Dane Bubela said. “He kept us off-balance a lot.”
The left-handed Morgan then faced
the top of the Owls’ order, walking Chris Kolkhorst before striking out Bubela.
Sophomore first baseman Vincent Sinisi, struggling through a recent slump, came
up with a two-out single up the middle to score Jorgensen to tie the game.
The dramatics continued in the
eighth after a leadoff double from Dawkins. Humber got two out, including a big
strikeout of Prince, then surrendered a ground-ball single through the right
side to Tommy Eubanks, extending his hit streak to 11 games. Bubela charged the
ball in right field and fired a one-hop strike to Ruchti to nail Dawkins at home
on a bang-bang play.
Rice finally pulled it out in the
10th against relievers Rhett Gulledge and Walt Nolen. Gulledge left after
walking Cruz with one out, and Nolen relieved against Janish. The Owls’
shortstop hit a line drive to deep left field, but Eubanks made a fantastic
leaping catch against the wall to save the game for the moment. Cruz then stole
second, before Stansberry lined a 2-1 breaking ball down the left-field line to
set off the celebrations at Reckling Park.
Rice head coach Wayne Graham said
Cruz’s stolen base, on a day when baserunners were a combined 2 for 6 against
strong catchers, was key.
“It was critical because we’re
not sure if we could’ve scored from first base,” Graham said. “It’s always nice
when you’re in extra-inning games to be the home team.”
The game featured a
highlight-reel sliding catch in foul territory from Sinisi in the fifth and four
batters hit by a pitch. Home plate umpire Bob Gustin had to leave in the middle
of the ninth inning because of heat exhaustion on an afternoon when temperatures
reached 97 degrees and Gustin saw 270 pitches behind home plate. Jack Cox
relieved, moving third-base umpire Jeff Henrichs behind the plate for the final
inning and a half.