Sophomore starter Jordan Stephens came into Saturday’s start with one career complete-game under his belt at Rice. After tonight, the 6’1 185 pound right-handed pitcher has another.
Stephens did not allow a run in nine innings and only gave up two hits, as the Rice Owls defeated the Oregon Ducks in Saturday’s nightcap in the Eugene Regional at PK Park.
He matched a carrer high in strikeouts, 11, which he accomplished on May 4 against UAB.
“It’s still sinking in somewhat. It’s a really good feeling ,” said Stephens. “It’s another complete-game, but this one was a whole lot bigger. Biggest game of my life so far to date against a really good team. It’s just nice to get that win.”
The win that Stephens mentioned makes Rice the clear favorite in a regional that has seen every game decided by one run.
Rice got on the board early when third baseman Shane Hoelscher doubled to the left-center gap, scoring Ford Stainback from second.
The Owls again threatened in the bottom of the third inning, after Stainback walked with one out. He moved to second on a Christian Stringer single to right field.
Stainback was then thrown out at third on a failed hit-and-run, although Stringer moved into scoring position on the play.
Hoelscher followed up with a solid single to right field, but Stringer was gunned down at the plate by Oregon’s Tyler Baumgartner.
Oregon recorded their first baserunner of the game in the top of the fifth, on a one out single to center field by Baumgartner.
The Ducks mounted a minor rally in the sixth inning when Conner Hoffman was hit to lead off the inning. He moved to second on a stolen base, but was stranded in scoring position when Stephens struck out the final two batters to end the frame.
Stephens again faced adversity in the top of the seventh inning when first baseman Ryon Healy laid down a perfect bunt on the third base line. Healy was sacrificed to second by designated hitter Mitchell Tolman, but once again Stephens came up big by getting Baumgartner to fly out to left field before striking out Ryan Hambright.
The though of going to the bullpen in the eighth inning began to permeate, but Rice head coach Wayne Graham decided against it.
“I thought about. It looked like Jordan might be losing it a little bit,” said Graham. “But then he seemed to get it back and I said ‘nah he’s still throwing really good. The curveball was as good tonight as it’s ever been.”
Stephens start is an added bonus to the Owls, as closer Zech Lemond pitched four innings in relief against San Francisco. Now Rice has a well rested bullpen and a solid closer regaining his strength.
Offensively, Rice was highlighted by second baseman Christian Stringer, who was 3-3 on the day.
Oregon has had two hits in both games in the regional. They are a combined 4 for 53 at the plate.
The Owls will play the winner of Oregon and San Francisco tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. PT
Oregon takes on San Francisco at 12 p.m. PT.