March 21, 2009

Courtesy of Rice Athletics

HATTIESBURG, Miss. - Sophomore Rick Hague scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch in the top of the ninth inning to lift the No. 4-ranked Rice baseball team to a narrow 4-3 road win over Southern Miss in the Conference USA league-opener for both teams Friday night at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg, Miss. The tense, ninth-inning victory was just another day at the office for Rice head coach Wayne Graham, who posted his 800th win while at the helm of the Owls' baseball program.

Hague drew a walk to start the ninth inning and giving the leadoff man a free pass proved costly for the Golden Eagles on a night where runs were at a premium for most of the contest. Hague hustled to second on a slow ground out to the right side and took third on a bounding base-hit up the middle by freshman Jeremy Rathjen. Southern Miss second baseman Taylor Walker made a tremendous diving stop that prevented Hague from scoring on the play, but Rice runners were still on the corners. Hague dashed home on a wild pitch in Jimmy Comerota's at bat that broke a 3-3 deadlock.

Senior right-hander Jordan Rogers took the mound for the Owls in the bottom of the ninth and retired USM in order to earn the first save of his career. Rice, now 13-5 on the season with its third win in a row, took the first game of what is already a demanding opening weekend to the C-USA regular season.

Both the teams battled in a scoreless duel for the first five innings Friday. Southern Miss finally struck first for a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth. Kameron Brunty, Brian Dozier and Bo Davis all drew consecutive walks with one away to load the bases. Designated hitter Corey Stephens looped a soft single to center to score the two lead runners and a 2-0 advantage. The Golden Eagles were looking for more but Rice worked out of the inning with the first of what would prove to be two big double plays in the game.
With some momentum from the twin-killing, the Owls charged right back and took the lead in their next at bat. Junior Diego Seastrunk drew a leadoff walk and advanced two bases on a pair of ground outs. Freshman Craig Manuel battled for a base-on-balls that put runners on first and third. Coach Graham then elected to use speedy Michael Fuda to pinch run for Manuel and move worked to perfection. Steven Sultzbaugh knocked a double off the wall in center field to score both runners. Rathjen followed with another base hit to center to plate Sultzbaugh and put the Owls in front 3-2.

The lead was short-lived as Southern Miss answered with a run in the bottom of the seventh. Tyler Koelling led off with a triple to right-center and a base hit by the next batter, Travis Graves, tied the game 3-3 after just two batters. The Golden Eagles were in a tremendous position to break the game wide-open in the eighth. With one out and runners on first and third, the Owls turned a round-the-horn 5-4-3 double play that suddenly ended the threat. Again, Rice turned the emotional lift from the twin-killing into runs in its next at bat.

Sophomore pitcher Matt Evers earned his first win of the season working the seventh and eighth innings out of the bullpen. Southern Miss fell to 12-7 on the year. The second game of the three-game C-USA weekend series is set for a 3 pm start on Saturday. The game will be broadcast live on the radio in the Houston area on KTRU (91.7 FM).