Ninth Inning Rice Single Ends Season For Texas

Howell reacts to the Rice win (AP/Dave Weaver)

When sophomore wunderkind <B>Huston Street </B>(8-1) gives up a game winning single (albeit an unearned run) for his first loss of the year in the bottom of the ninth against a team&#146;s No. 9 batter, it just isn&#146;t meant to be. As it was, Rice catcher <B>Justin Ruchti</B> delivered the goods with one out as the top-ranked Owls eliminated Texas, 5-4, from the College World Series in Omaha Wednesday.

Rice (56-11) will play the winner of Thursday's Stanford-Cal State Fullerton game in a best-of-3 series starting Saturday. Texas finishes the 2003 campaign with a 50-20 record, and a suitcase full of championship trophies from the Big 12 Tournament, the NCAA Austin Regional and the NCAA Super Regional in Tallahassee.

Texas also has the small consolation of knowing that the three teams left in Omaha (Rice, Stanford, Cal State Fullerton) were squads that beat them during the regular season. The Horns depart Rosenblatt Stadium in much the same way they entered: as the nation’s No. 4 team, as a CWS participant three of the past four seasons, as college baseball’s most storied program with an equally bright future.

But, dammit!…

…with a chance to rough up the Owls early, Texas left eight men on base through the first three frames with nothing to show for it, including loading the bases in both the first and third innings

Rice starting pitcher Phillip Humber hit three batsmen on consecutive pitches in the opening frame and then added four walks for good measure through three innings, but allowed no runs on no hits. That’s because when Humber’s throws weren’t all over the map, they were right down the pipe as the RHP fanned seven Horns.

Any sort of ESPN highlight reel could have been taken almost entirely from the fourth inning. That’s when Texas broke out on top with three runs on four hits, including three doubles. But Rice answered with four runs in the bottom of the frame to take a 4-3 lead against Texas starter J.P. Howell (who was working on three days' rest after a 115-pitch, six-inning outing in Saturday’s 13-2 win over Miami).

Omar Quintanilla singled in Michael Hollimon from second in the top of the fifth (after replays showed shortstop Paul Janish had tagged Hollimon before sliding in for a stolen bag. An equally horrendous call went against Texas at a critical moment in the eighth).

Still, the score was knotted at 4-4 at the end of five.

Freshman reliever J. Brent Cox came on with one out in fifth and kept Rice off the board through 3-2/3 innings of work.

As if to atone for the officiating call, Ruchti threw out both Thigpen and Ferin trying to steal second in the Texas sixth. Freshman catcher Taylor Teagarden opened the seventh with a stand-up double and advanced to third on Hollimon’s sacrifice bunt. But Street struck out and, after shortstop Tim Moss walked, Quintanilla grounded out to end the frame with runners on the corners. At this point, Texas batters were 2-for-12 with men in scoring position.

After a three-up three-down inning for Cox, Texas brought the meat of its order to the plate in the eighth. Majewski singled to left field and advanced on a Sultemeier sacrifice bunt. (Was I the only Orangeblood aching for coach Augie Garrido to give Sultemeier permission to swing-away?)

That’s when Rice looked to it’s top closer David Aardsma, who now has 13 saves on a club record 39th appearances. Overshadowing his solid performance (in the eighth, at least) was another officiating blunder.

Curtis Thigpen’s hard hit ball clearly bounced into Janish’s glove, who then made the easy throw to first. But the plate umpire ruled that the short-hopper was a catch, and Majewski was thrown out at second after ‘safely’ reaching third. If Janish thought he had actually made the grab, he would have thrown to second in order to retire Majewski.

Parenthetically, this officiating crew lends credence to the phrase ‘Kill the Umpire’. Would someone puh-lease get these jokers, and their seeing eye dogs, and their Bermuda Triangle of a strike zone, the hell out of Omaha? The student-athletes, on both sides of the ball, deserved better.

In the top of the ninth, Teagarden was awarded first base after becoming Texas’ fourth hit batter of the contest and Street reached on Janish’s fielding error. But when Moss whiffed at a high fastball to end the frame, Texas had stranded 15 runners (fifteen!) through nine innings.

Street came on in the ninth to face the bottom of the order but Moss’ fielding error put the winning run on first. Pinch-runner Matt Cavanaugh took second on Dane Bubela's sacrifice, and then scored the winning run after Ruchti's line drive into center field. Joe Ferin tried to charge the ball for a possible put-out at the plate, but it got past him to end the game and Texas’ otherwise remarkable season.

Aardsma (6-3) was credited with the win after posting four outs.

Sigh.

Oh well, Owls. Best wishes against whatever California club you face. And we will definitely see you flockers and your inverted Hook'ems on the football field, September 20, when Texas has the home field advantage…in Houston.

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