June 1, 2009

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Rice Prevails

By Allen Brown

Special to CollegeBaseballInsider.com

HOUSTON - The Rice Owls (43-16) are headed to their fifth straight Super Regional appearance (and ninth overall) after completing the comeback from Saturday's 7-6 loss to defeat Kansas State (43-18-1) by the score of 13-4 on Monday evening at Reckling Park in Houston before a full house of 4,589. The Owls now advance to play the third-seeded LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge next weekend.


The Owls tied a season high with 20 hits on the evening with Jimmy Comerota going 4 for 5 and Michael Fuda going 4 for 4 and scoring three runs each. Rick Hague, Brock Holt, and Anthony Rendon also had three hits apiece.


Lefty Thomas Rooke made his first career start for K State (after 58 relief appearances in two seasons) and was greeted rudely in the first by the Rice offense as the Owls scored two in the opening frame. Brock Holt led off the game with an opposite-field double for the Owls and then Rick Hague singled him home on the first pitch he saw from Rooke. Michael Fuda hit a sacrifice fly to right field later in the inning to score Hague to give the Owls a 2-0 lead.


Mark Haynes got the start for the Owls, only his third of the season. Wildcats third baseman Jason King led off the second inning with a home run to right field off of Haynes and then Haynes also got into trouble in the third, mostly of his own doing. After Adam Muenster singled with one out, Haynes hit both Clayton Jurica and Nick Martini to load the bases for the streaking KSU cleanup hitter Justin Bloxom. Haynes coaxed a potential double play grounder to first baseman Jimmy Comerota, who whirled and threw quickly and accurately to second base. However, Haynes failed to cover first base for the return throw from second and thus, Bloxom reached on a fielder's choice and K State scored to tie the game at 2.


The game remained tied until Rice exploded for six runs in the bottom of the fourth and put the game out of reach. Michael Fuda, who came to Rice on a football scholarship as a wide receiver, legged out an infield hit to lead off the inning and Chad Mozingo, the last batter that Thomas Rooke faced, followed with a walk. Jimmy Comerota then executed a perfect bunt down the third base line which he beat out at first. The throw to first from K State third sacker King was in the dirt, allowing Fuda to streak home from third. After consecutive RBI singles to left field from Holt and Hague, Diego Seastrunk deposited a 1-2 fastball from reliever James Allen over the fence in right center field for a three-run home run. Seastrunk, who entered the regional hitting a disappointing .274 for the season, had seven hits, including two home runs, a double, and seven RBI in the regional.


Meanwhile, Matthew Reckling (2-2) stabilized the game for Rice in middle relief. In all, Reckling worked four innings allowing three hits and one walk and only two unearned runs. Reckling, whose only other comparably successful outing was his four-inning start (yielding only two hits and one run) at home versus Texas on March 17th in a Rice 6-3 win, also in front of a sell out crowd, stated, "I feel like I pitch better in the big games. I like pitching in front of big crowds."


By the time he left the game with two outs in the Wildcats’ seventh, Rice led 10-3. Ryan Berry, who threw 125 pitches on Saturday night, worked the final two innings in relief for the Owls.


Coach Wayne Graham summed up the regional tournament for the Owls stating, "It's always great to win and even greater when you come out of the losers’ bracket. It speaks to the character of the team."