Conventional thinking is Rice baseball will respond one of two ways to blowing a 4-run ninth inning lead Friday and losing to Louisiana-Lafayette 7-6 in the NCAA Houston Regional opener.
- The Owls can’t wait to hit the field again and are emotionally charged to essentially right a wrong.
- The lingering effects of blowing a 6-2 lead means the Owls are emotionally exhausted and worried that no lead in safe.
With the proverbial backs to the wall, Rice faces Houston Baptist at 2:30 p.m. today in a regional elimination game at Cougar Field on the University of Houston campus.
“No doubt about it, (we have to) forget about this game and go out tomorrow,” said Rice junior Grayson Lewis. “And I have complete faith in all my teammates and coaches and no doubt (that) we’re going to come out and get them.”
Lewis is right in saying the team should forget about Friday’s game. But it’s probably easier said then done.
Rice (35-21) took a 2-0 lead in the 4th inning when Charlie Warren scored on a sacrifice fly and Ford Stainback scored on a passed ball. A massive eighth inning, two-out double by Ryan Chandler brought home Stainback and Tristan Gray to gave Rice the 6-2 lead.
After another solid outing by starter Blake Fox, the ball was turned over with one out in the seventh to Matt Ditman, who has the second most saves in Rice history and led Conference USA in saves this season. ULL scored a run in the seventh, but Ditman set the Ragin Cajuns down in order in the eighth.
“I felt good for my first two innings of the game, and that last inning I still felt good,” Ditman said. “I just didn’t throw strikes when I needed to.”
Kyle Clement began the ninth inning by striking out, but he advanced safely to first because the third strike was a wild pitch. Ditman then walked Stefan Trosclair and Tyler Girouard to load the bases.
“Stuff like that happens and regardless of whether you catch the third strike or goes past, it doesn’t excuse the two walks that I had after that,” Ditman said.
With the bases loaded and no outs, Rice coach Wayne Graham went to Austin Orewiler out of the bullpen. Like Ditman, Orewiler was a first-team Conference USA pitcher.
“One of the most reliable pitchers this year is Orewiler,” Graham said. “He’s thrown key pitches in key games late. He’s our number two guy out of the bullpen. We went with him until he kind of lost his way.”
An Evan Powell single scored Clement and Greg Davis knocked in two more with a single to make it a 6-5 Rice lead. Orewiler committed an error on a bunt attempt and then walked in a run with the bases loaded. He was pulled for Glenn Otto, who did record three outs, but not before Blake Trahan’s sacrifice fly gave ULL a 7-6 lead. Rice went down in order in the bottom of the ninth.
“Well, they just weren’t throwing strikes,“ Graham said. “It happens. Their stuff didn’t look quite as good as it usually does, either. Their velocities were not where they usually are, so we were kind of hunting for outs.”
If Friday’s lost lead was an isolated incident, perhaps no alarm bells are going off. However, it was the third time in May that Rice lost a ninth inning lead. Houston scored twice in the ninth on May 12 against Orewiler to win the game 2-1. Orewiler and Ditman couldn’t hold off Middle Tennessee State at the Conference USA Tournament either, allowing two runs in the top of a ninth of a 6-5 loss.
“We’re still playing ball,” Graham said. “Let’s have some fun doing it. We can always win. We have plenty of pitching left. Who knows? Maybe we’ll get a little more consistent.”