The Rice baseball team rallied for six unanswered runs, including the game-winner in the bottom of the 11th-inning, to help the Owls claim a 6-5 victory over visiting crosstown foe Texas Southern University Wednesday night at Reckling Park in Houston.
Texas Southern jumped out to a big 5-0 lead in the top of the first inning. The upset-minded Tigers collected three hits and took advantage of three Rice fielding errors in the Owls’ first game since April 22, a 10-day break due to the University’s final exams of the spring semester.
“(The defense) was very disappointing,” said Rice head coach Wayne Graham. “Reliable guys made errors, and they weren’t that difficult plays either. It was an incredibly bad inning.”
Down but not out, Rice chipped away for a solo home run by Michael Ratterree in the bottom of the fifth to make the score 5-1. The Blue & Gray added three more in the sixth. Ratterree drew a bases-loaded walk to force in the first run and Ryan Lewis followed with a clutch base bases-loaded hit into right field to cut the margin to one, 5-4.
Owls senior Michael Fuda led off the bottom of the eighth with a single through the left side and he advanced to scoring position on a sacrifice by Shane Hoelscher. Ratterree then tied the game 5-5 with an RBI single to left, but the Houston native still had one more part to play in the game’s final outcome.
Ratterree led off the bottom of the 11th with a walk, as did both of the next two Owl hitters (Ryan Lewis and Christian Stringer) to load the bases with no outs. It was the Owls who then took advantage of a TSU fielding error on a play at home plate. The error allowed Ratterree to sprint home with the winning run and a 6-5 final score. He finished the day with a pair of runs scored, three RBI and two hits, including his fourth home run of the season.
Almost lost in the late-inning excitement was a sensational staff-effort by the Owls’ bullpen. Five Rice relievers, Taylor Wall, Zech Lemond, Tyler Duffey, J.T. Chargois and John Simms all combined to hold the Tigers scoreless over the final 10.1 innings. The five relievers allowed seven hits and three walks while striking out an eye-opening 14. After the first inning the Owl bullpen made TSU strand six runners in scoring position while the Rice offense worked to make the comeback.
“It wasn’t a fluke, they pitched well,” coach Graham said of his bullpen Wednesday. “Everyone pitched well to shut them down. We came back, but pitching was one of the things that won the game for us.”
The Owls improved to 31-12 on the season. The Tigers dropped to 23-24 overall.
Rice’s current homestand continues with a three-game Conference USA league series beginning on May 4. The Owls host another crosstown foe, the University of Houston, in a C-USA weekend set Friday-Sunday. Each of the games has been picked for a television broadcast. Start times against the Cougars are set for 6:37 pm on Friday, 1:37 pm on Saturday, and 1:05 pm on Sunday.