Rice drops TCU 6-3 for 2nd win in regional
The rain showers that saturated Reckling Park late Saturday afternoon only added to the tension for those 4,242 fans who waited for No. 2 Rice and No. 16 TCU to square off.
At no point over the ensuing three hours and five minutes did that suspense wane as Rice and TCU engaged in a gripping showdown late into the night at the NCAA Tournament’s Houston Regional.
Accustomed to finishing such affairs, Rice closer Cole St. Clair managed to suppress the Horned Frogs and cap a 6-3 win with 2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief. No. 1 Rice (51-12) needs just one more victory to clinch the Houston Regional and advance to the super regionals. The Owls will face the TCU-Baylor winner tonight.
St. Clair entered with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh and allowed an inherited run to score on a disputed play at the plate before inducing an inning-ending, double-play grounder from Bryan Kervin. TCU (47-13) managed a pair of runners in the eighth but failed to cut into the Owls’ two-run lead. And after Steven Trout (walk) and Ben Carruthers (double) reached to open the ninth, St. Clair retired three batters in succession to notch his seventh save, retiring Hunt Woodruff on a fly ball to center field, Kervin on a strikeout, and Clint Arnold on a foul pop to catcher Danny Lehmann.
“I really just take it pitch by pitch. That’s the best approach,” said St. Clair, who allowed two hits and one walk with one strikeout. “(TCU) is a great hitting team, and you can’t afford to look past one hitter to the next guy or they’ll get you.”
Lehmann, who got into two verbal exchanges with plate umpire Travis Katzenmeier, provided St. Clair some breathing room with his leadoff homer off Tyler Lockwood in the ninth. Lockwood entered in a situation similar to that of St. Clair, escaping a bases-loaded jam in the sixth by getting pinch hitter Adam Zornes to ground out to first base.
Lockwood retired seven consecutive batters after coming on in relief of the Frogs’ second pitcher, Donald Furrow, but caught too much of the plate on his 3-2 pitch to Lehmann.
“It was a little bit of a momentum shift,” Lehmann said. “It helped get us a little more adrenaline going in that last inning.”
The heart-pounding finish matched the drama that began seemingly from the opening pitch. Rice first baseman Joe Savery sandwiched RBI singles in the first and third around a solo home run from TCU designated hitter Keith Conlon, who pulled the Frogs’ even at 1-1 with his blast to left off Rice starter Ryan Berry (11-2), who didn’t allow another hit until Trout lined a homer to right with one out in the fifth that cut the deficit to 4-2.
In the seventh, Berry began to waver, and he exited after hitting Carruthers with a pitch to load the bases. Berry was certain Carruthers leaned into the pitch, but didn’t get the call.
Lehmann was equally upset when Vern scored after St. Clair entered and got Woodruff to slap a ground ball to third baseman Diego Seastrunk. Lehmann snagged the errant throw and tried to keep his foot on the plate, but Katzenmeier ruled Vern safe on the play.
Berry allowed three runs (two earned) on six hits and one walk with seven strikeouts. TCU starter Chris Johnson (11-3) allowed a two-run homer to Jared Gayhart in the fifth, and was lifted for Furrow after walking Aaron Luna to lead off the sixth. Luna later scored when Jordan Dodson bounced a single to left with the bases loaded and one out. Berry and St. Clair made the lead stick, but they had to grind to finish the task at hand.
“It’s hard to play from behind against Rice,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Their pitching staff is so good that it’s going to be really hard to bunch hits. In the last three innings we had the tying or go-ahead run at the plate three different times, and that’s all you can ask.”