May 30, 2009

Courtesy: Rice Sports Properties

Houston, TEXAS - In a match-up of former high school teammates who have become two of the top pitchers in college baseball, Kansas State's A. J. Morris weathered several early storms and a last-gasp rally to defeat Ryan Berry and Rice, 7-6 in the winner's bracket game of the Houston Regional at Reckling Park on Saturday night.

Justin Bloxom's solo homer off Berry with two outs in the eighth inning put the Cats ahead to stay, sending them into the championship game of their first-ever NCAA baseball regional appearance. On the night, the Wildcats scored five of their seven runs after two were out in the inning.

One inning after Bloxom's blast, K-State appeared to put a damper on any Rice hopes for a ninth inning rally by scoring three times after two were out. Facing reliever Matt Evers, the Wildcats loaded the bases without a ball leaving the infield. Dane Yelovich and Jurica were hit by pitches while Muenster reached on a bunt single. All three then scored on a two-strike double by Martini into the left field corner.

However the Owls stormed back to score three times and had the winning run at second base when Morris' struck out Mike Fuda with his 144th pitch to end the game. Morris (14-1) went the distance for the fifth time in 16 starts this season.

He scattered 13 hits and walked a pair. His only two strikeouts came in the ninth. Rice, which saw a 13-game winning streak in regional play end, will face Xavier in a 2 pm elimination game on Sunday to determine who will face the Wildcats in the 6 pm nightcap. Rice last lost in a regional on June 6, 2004 when Texas A&M eliminated the Owls, 7-3.

Morris and Berry were teammates at Humble High School north of Houston, where Morris graduated one year ahead of Berry. This season, the pair combined for 20 wins and just one loss heading into their Regional showdown.

After Berry set down the Wildcats in order in the first, Rice handed him a two-run lead in the bottom of the frame.

Brock Holt and Rick Hague bounced singles through the infield and Diego Seastrunk followed with a long double to right center to score Holt. Hague was thrown out at the plate attempting to score on a ground ball by Anthony Rendon, but Rendon still contributed to a run by sliding hard into second on a grounder by Chad Mozingo to break up a double play attempt and allow Seastrunk to score.

K-State broke through on the scoreboard with two outs in the second. After Berry retired the first two hitters of the innings, Drew Biery doubled into the right field corner and then came home to score on a single by Jordan Cruz.

After Rice added a third run in the bottom of the second when Stephen Sutlzbaugh scored on a Morris wild pitch, K-State came right back to cut the margin back to one an RBI single by Nick Martini.

The Wildcats took advantage of a Rice fielding mistake to tie the game in the sixth.

Carter Jurica led off with a single and advanced to second on a ground out. He moved to third when no one covered the base when Ryan Berry attempted a pickoff play and then scored from third on a sacrifice fly by Jason King.

Berry dodged a major bullet in the seventh as he pitched around a pair base hits to open the frame and kept the Wildcats off the board.

Drew Biery led off the inning with a hot shot to third that took a wicked hop and bounced off Anthony Rendon's chest for a single. Jordan Cruz followed with a single to right to place runners at first and second. Catcher Rob Vaughn attempted to bunt the runners up, but Berry fielded the ball and threw to Rendon to force Biery. He then struck out Dane Yelovich, but the pitch got away from Owls catcher Craig Manuel to allow the runners to advance to second and third.

Berry then coaxed Adam Muenster to fly out to center to end the inning. However, he ran out of magic in the eighth as Bloxom drilled his third home run of the regional to give the Wildcats their first lead of the night.

Berry gave up four runs on 11 hits over eight innings while losing for the first time in 2009. He fanned six and did not walk a batter.