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Rice Defeats Oregon; Claims Regional Championship

RiceFeaturedMomentum can sometimes be tricky.

One night it can appear to be with the team that scores 11 runs on 15 hits. It takes the form of a two-game jaunt through the losers bracket to force a championship game.

It can also evade a team, when it records three hits and is shutout  just 24-hours ago.

Sometimes momentum can be regained. The discovery can take place by scoring seven runs in the first three innings, or by riding the arm of a closer in a career high effort.

The Rice Owls advanced to the Super Regionals Monday night, by defeating Oregon 8-4, in the Regional Championship at PK Park in Eugene.

“Obviously I am very proud of my team,” said head coach Wayne Graham. “I thought we had more quality at bats tonight than we have had all year. We came to work. It’s one of those games of who’s hot and who’s not. We were hot tonight.”

Rice closer Zech Lemond got the nod to start the Regional Championship, after pitching four innings in relief, in Friday’s opening round win.

The sophomore, who had made two starts during his freshman season, pitched a career high six and two-thirds innings. He allowed four runs on eight hits and one walk. Lemond recorded seven strikeouts, another career high.

“Kubitza wanted to start tonight,” said Graham. “We felt that Kubitza will have a long career and it wouldn’t be right to put him in a position to throw that many pitches. Zach is very capable of throwing the number of pitches he threw. He will probably be a starter next year because he has starter stuff.”

Rice got on the board in the top of the first inning, when third baseman Shane Hoelscher delivered a two-run triple to deep center. The relay throw ricocheted away from the third baseman, allowing Hoelscher to trot home for a 3-0 Owl lead.

“The momentum swinger was big time,” said Lemond. “The first three runs set the tone for the whole game. It let us and the whole pitching staff work easy.”

Oregon would respond in the bottom of the first, when designated hitter Mitchell Tolman roped an RBI single to right field.

The Ducks would add another run in the same inning, after right fielder Scott Heineman hit, what looked like a routine 4-6-3 double play ball, to second base. Rice second baseman Christian Stringer fielded the ball and forced Tolman towards first, before throwing onto Blake Fox to get the out at first. Fox chased Tolman to second, but stopped and looked at Healy breaking for home.

By the time he recovered, both Healy and Tolman were safe and Oregon trailed 3-2.

In the top of the second, Rice put together a rally with two outs. Hunter Kopycinski reached on an infield single to shortstop, Ford Stainback singled to left field, and Stringer walked to load the bases.

Oregon elected to go to the bullpen to stop the bleeding, but that didn’t help, as Keenan Cook reached on another free pass. Hoelscher then delivered with an RBI infield single, his third RBI of the game, as Rice took a 5-2 lead.

The lead would expand to 6-2 in the third when Kopycinski, making his first appearance of the regional, lined a single to right.

Coming into the game, the freshman catcher had only appeared in 16 games this season. He was batting .200 in 25 at bats with seven RBI. He finished the day 4-5 with four RBI.

“It’s definitely a cloud-nine feeling right now ,” said Kopycinski. “I’ll just sleep it off tonight and get right back to work tomorrow.”

Both teams would continue to add, but the Ducks never got to within four of the Owls.

Rice travels to Raleigh this weekend to take on the North Carolina State Wolfpack.

Oregon finishes the year at 49-17.