Pitching and defense
wins championship for Rice
Owls shut down Shockers
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-A big dose of
pitching, defense, and Chris Kolkhorst keyed top-seeded Rice to a 5-1 victory
Sunday over Wichita State, completing the Owls’ sweep of their own regional
before a crowd of 3,548.
Rice (51-10), the No. 5
national seed, advances to face the winner of the College Station regional in a
super regional next weekend, most likely at Reckling Park in Houston.
The Owls got a third
consecutive dominant pitching performance from a sophomore right-hander as Wade
Townsend won his second game of the tournament with eight strong innings,
striking out eight and walking none. Townsend won Friday’s game with 1.2 innings
in relief. Junior right-hander David Aardsma pitched the ninth for Rice to pick
up his 10th save of the season, tying a school single-season record and setting
the school record for career saves with fifteen.
On the offensive side,
leadoff man and left fielder Chris Kolkhorst continued to spark the Owls,
reaching base three times in five plate appearances and earning Most Outstanding
Player honors for the weekend. Defense was also key, as Rice made just one error
in the three tournament games, drawing comparisons to its play during its
early-season 30-game winning streak.
“I think we’re playing the
kind of defense we played during the streak,” head coach Wayne Graham said. “Of
course our pitching has been outstanding, and you’re always going to have a
chance with those two.”
Wichita State (49-27) head
coach Gene Stephenson said he was proud of the effort of his young team in
battling back to win Saturday’s second game [against Mississippi] before falling
in the middle innings on Sunday.
“I think that we’re a year
away, but we made a good run at the end,” Stephenson said. “They have
outstanding pitching, great defense, and guys that really stay on the ball well.
They’re a timely-hitting team.”
The Shockers tried to come
up with timely hits of their own after neither team could muster a hit in the
first two innings. With two outs in the top of the third, No. 9 hitter Shawn
Smarsh singled to right-center and took advantage of a slight bobble from right
fielder Dane Bubela to advance to second base. Nick Blasi then hit a high
chopper up the middle and beat the throw to first base from second baseman
Enrique Cruz. Smarsh never stopped running, and it took a perfect throw from
Rice first baseman Vincent Sinisi to catcher Justin Ruchti to nail Smarsh at the
Rice then got timely
hitting of its own in the bottom of the fourth. Sinisi led off with a single to
extend his hitting streak to five games, and designated hitter Austin Davis was
hit by a pitch. Cruz sacrificed both runners to third base, but Shocker third
baseman Brandon Green made a good pickup on a hard-hit ball by Janish and held
Sinisi at third before throwing to first for the second out. Junior third
baseman Craig Stansberry, who had the game-winning hit in Friday’s win over
McNeese State, hit Wichita State starter Mathew Jakubov’s first pitch through
the left side for a two-run single. Senior centerfielder Jeff Jorgensen then
singled to center to score Stansberry for a 3-0 Rice lead.
“Coming into the
postseason, I really hadn’t been playing my best,” Stansberry said. “I felt like
I had to step up, and I just got on the first pitch.”
Wichita State cut the
deficit to 3-1 in the top of the fifth on a two-out hit of its own, Brandon
Green singling through the right side on a 3-2 pitch to score catcher Cody Clark
from second base on another close play at the plate. Townsend got Smarsh to
ground out, however, to end the threat.
Rice then doubled its
advantage in the fifth, with Kolkhorst again the catalyst. The diminutive
sparkplug singled over shortstop to reach base for the third time in as many
tries. When Bubela singled through the right side, Kolkhorst went first-to-third
on the throwing arm of Wichita’s Drew Moffitt for the second time in two days,
just beating the tag at third when Green dropped the ball. Stephenson termed
that a critical play, as a Sinisi single and a Davis groundout made the score
Townsend did surrender a
home run to Ryan Bell in the sixth, remarkably the first home run against him in
93.1 innings this season, but battled to complete the eighth inning and improve
Townsend, whose friendly
competition with fellow all-American Jeff Niemann, Saturday’s starter, has
pushed both to greater heights, said the Shockers were a much tougher opponent
in Sunday’s final.
“They turned into a
different team today,” Townsend said. “We had to do some different things to get
them out. I just try to use the defense as best as I can.”
Graham agreed that Wichita
State had little trouble in physically preparing for Sunday’s game.
“They didn’t make it easy,”
Graham said. “They played an outstanding defensive game and competed with the
bats. They were tired enough to be relaxed and play great defense.”
Stephenson agreed that
defense proved key, stating that “you can’t downplay [Rice’s] defense.”
Rice won its sixth
consecutive postseason game at Reckling Park and its third consecutive regional
in the stadium’s fourth season.