HOUSTON — Grambling State jumped on the scoreboard for three unearned runs in the top of the first inning and hung-on for a 5-4 upset victory against No. 7 Rice on Sunday afternoon at Reckling Park.
The Tigers took advantage of two Rice fielding errors, and made the most of two free baserunners in their first time up. Chris Wolfe led off the game and reached on an Owl fielding error and the next two batters, Joe Gill Jr. and Darren Farmer were hit by consecutive pitches. Cleanup batter Thomas Brown III reached on another fielding error that allowed Wolfe to score with the bases still loaded. Gill Jr. scored a ground out to the right side and Farmer then came home on a passed ball. Grambling was in front 3-0 without recording a base hit in the inning.
Rice answered with a pair of runs in the bottom of the frame. Michael Ratterree walked and Michael Fuda reached on a fielder’s choice to put runners on first and second base. Ratterree scored on a single to right-center by Jeremy Rathjen. Fuda went to third on a single by Craig Manuel and scored on Shane Hoelscher’s sacrifice fly that made it 3-2.
“We had a very poor start that put us behind the eight-ball, but after we got those to runs back I thought we can still get ourselves back on track,” Rice head coach Wayne Graham said. “We were able to hit the ball, but it was right at people and they made plays. They made plays because they are good team. You can’t give any team any runs, which is exactly what we did in the first inning.”
Grambling extended its lead in the top of the fifth. Wolfe led off with a single and a one-out walk to Farmer put runners on first and second. Brown III singled-home Wolfe and Farmer later scored on a base hit by Brian Knuckles to stretch the Tiger lead to 5-2.
Rice freshman pitcher Jordan Stephens entered the game out of the bullpen in the fifth and kept the Tigers in check while the Owls tried to battle their way back. Stephens finished the day with another 4.1 shutout innings, giving him a total of 18 consecutive scoreless innings dating back to a March 4 start against Tennessee in the finale of the annual College Classic held at Minute Maid Park.
The Blue & Gray rallied for a run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Christian Stringer hit safely to right and advanced into scoring position on a balk. He hustled home on Ratteree’s single through the left side that made the score 5-3.
Rathjen led off the bottom of the eighth with a double into the left field corner. He went to third on a ground out and scored on Hoelscher’s second sacrifice fly of the game that cut it to one, 5-4.
Grambling starter Richard Bautista worked eight innings, but the Tigers went to Zach Moreau out of the bullpen for the start of the ninth. Moreau retired the Owls in order to preserve a win for Bautista (2-0) and notch his third save of the season. The Tigers improved to 11-7 on the year. Rice fell to 15-6 overall.
“Their starter went out and threw a lot of strikes,” Graham added. “We struck out only two times, but we could have had some better at bats in some specific situations. Some of the other areas where we needed more attention to details were important to the outcome. We didn’t win the game, but we have a chance to be better now by learning from it. I think we learned something.”