An 11th inning single by Rice’s Blake Fox brought home Leon Byrd with the winning run as the Owls edged San Francisco to open the NCAA Baseball Tournament Friday in Eugene, Ore.
The winning hit came moments after a passed ball on a third strike extended the inning. The play allowed Byrd to reach third and Geoff Perrott to get to first with two outs. Perrott’s two-run homer earlier in the game accounted for the Rice’s other two runs.
Fox entered the game as a defense replacement in the 8th inning after Skyler Ewing was pinch hit for in the seventh. The freshman from Bellaire hit a single in the 10th and then came through for what was only his seventh RBI of the season. The ball appeared to be a routine fly to left, but the Dons leftfielder Derek Atkinson had trouble seeing the ball in the sun.
The Owls will now await the winner of Friday’s other regional game between host Oregon and South Dakota State. That game will be at 8 p.m. CST Saturday. Since it’s a double-elimination tournament, San Francisco (34-23) is still alive and will face the Ducks-Jackrabbits loser.
Rice got a strong start from pitcher Austin Kubitza and held a 2-1 lead going into the eighth, but Kubitza gave up a leadoff in single, which turned into the tying run. Rice (42-17) had several chances to win the next few innings, but couldn’t get the big hit until Fox delivered.
The Owls have now won 10 games in a row.
The Dons got on the board in the second inning. Cleanup hitter Turner Zachary singled to lead off the inning. Kubitza got the next two hitters to line and pop out, but Mitchell Rowan doubled to bring in Zachary.
Rice got its first running in scoring position in the bottom of the third. Skyler Ewing walked with one out and advanced to second on a wild pitch from Dons starter Haden Hinkle. Ewing didn’t get any further as he was out at third on a 1-6-5 play on a ball hit by Ford Stainback.
After going down 1-2-3 in the fourth inning, Perrott hit his first homer of the year in the fifth. Byrd scored after his single preceded Perrott’s blast.
Rowan singled with one out in the top of the seventh for San Francisco, but he was gunned out by Perrott trying to steal second.
Rice coach Wayne Graham stuck with Kubitza to start the eighth, but he was greeted by a single hit by pinch hitter Harrison Bruce. That ended the day for Kubitza with a line of two runs on six hits with six strikeouts.
Rice closer Zach Lemond came into the game to pitch to Justin Maffei. Bruce stole second and then went to third on Maffei’s groundout. Jason Mahood hit the ball to second and the Owls elected to go home to try to get Bruce. They weren’t successful, as Bruce scored though Mahood was thrown out on the play trying to get to second.
Shane Hoelscher led off the ninth with a walk against Andrew Pulido. He advanced to second on Michael Aquino’s bunt. Bob Mott came into pitch for the Dons and he retired Byrd and Perrott to end the threat.
The Owls got a pair of hits in the 10th inning, but again they remained strained on base when Michael Ratterree flied out.
Hoelscher singled to lead off the 11th and moved to second on a sacrifice. Byrd was intentionally walked. Both runners tried to steal, but Hoelscher was thrown out at third. That’s when the passed ball on Perrott’s strikeout kept the inning going.
Lemond earned the win with four innings of hitless relief. Perrott, Fox and Keenan Cook all had two hits to lead the Rice offense.