May 30, 2009

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Morris, Kansas State Stop Rice

By Allen Brown

Special to

HOUSTON – On his 144th pitch Saturday night, Kansas State ace junior righty A.J. Morris struck out Rice left fielder Michael Fuda with the tying run on third and the winning run on second to retire the Owls in the bottom of the ninth and secure the Kansas State Wildcats’ 7-6 win over the Rice Owls in a thrilling, nail-biting classic at Reckling Park.

The strikeout of Fuda was only Morris’ second of the game, but both came in the ninth inning. Morris (14-1) allowed 13 hits and two walks but benefited from 19 ground-ball outs, including key double-play grounders in the fourth and eighth innings.

On offense, Kansas State (43-16-1) tallied all seven of their runs with two outs.


“We seem to focus more with two outs, for whatever reason,” Wildcats coach Brad Hill said.


Jordan Cruz knocked in Drew Biery with a single in the second, Nick Martini knocked in Adam Muenster with a single in the third and Justin Bloxom hit both a sacrifice fly to score Clayton Jurica in the sixth and a home run in the eighth. The big blow from the Wildcats was Martini’s three-run double in the top of the ninth to expand the Wildcats lead to 7 to 3.

Facing lefty Matt Evers, who retired the first two batters in the ninth before hitting both Dane Yelovich and Clayton Jurica (sandwiched around a bunt single by Adam Muenster), Martini worked the count to 3-0. Evers threw two called strikes and then Martini fouled off two pitches before slicing a double deep down the left-field line to clear the bases.


“I had the fast ball timed by then … It was the fifth one in a row,” Martini said.

However, the Owls (40-16) mounted a furious rally in the bottom of the ninth against Morris who threw more than 40 pitches in the ninth inning causing Hill to “keep wondering if I should take him out or not.”


After Steven Sultzbaugh tripled to left-center to lead off the Owls’ ninth, Jimmy Comerota hit an infield single to score him. Brock Holt was able to reach on an error and Diego Seastrunk on a walk to load the bases for the Owls with one out and freshman sensation Anthony Rendon at the plate. Rendon looped a single just out of the grasp of first baseman Bloxom and Comerota scored to make the score 7-5. After a Chad Mozingo ground out scored Brock Holt from third to make it 7-6 with two outs, Morris struck out Fuda to end the game.

Morris credited his improved maturity this year for helping him get through the ninth inning.


“I [recognize] that I can only control the pitch I throw, and I only focus on what I can control,” Morris said. He added, “I wanted to make Rice earn it in the ninth inning…I didn’t want to walk anyone in.”


Bloxom stated he was not worried at all in the ninth inning because he “has total faith in A.J.”

Sultzbaugh was the Owls’ leading hitter tallying three hits. Ryan Berry started for Rice and completed eight innings but allowed 11 hits and four runs (three earned) and absorbed his first loss of the season.