HOUSTON – It took 20 innings, 573 pitches, 155 plate appearances and more than six hours to decide, but Rice emerged from a marathon battle against Houston as the last team standing with a 3-2 win.
“I’m not sure I’ve had a game that long before,” said Rice’s nearly octogenarian coach Wayne Graham, “but it ended right.”
Leon Byrd, who entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the 12th inning, roped a double down the right field line to score Ryan Chandler as the clock neared 2 a.m. Monday morning, and Austin Orewiler (6-2) recorded his 28th out in relief in the bottom half of the inning to send the Owls (37-21) into Monday’s regional championship against the Ragin’ Cajuns.
“I had been sitting around for God knows how long… three hours, four hours and you know coming into the 20th inning, I just really wanted to do something for my team just so we could make it to the last day,” Byrd said. “I was really happy for my teammates and everybody and all the seniors and everyone that contributed tonight. We got the win.”
First pitch is set for 1 p.m., and the Cajuns need one win Monday to advance to the super regional round. Rice will send junior Jordan Stephens (6-4, 2.95 ERA) to the mound, while the Cajuns will counter with freshman Evan Guillory (4-0, 4.08).
Rice carried a 2-1 lead late into the game on the strength of Charlie Warren’s two-run single with the bases loaded off starter Kyle Dowdy in the fourth inning. After that, Houston pitching held Rice off the scoreboard for 14 consecutive innings.
The extra innings affair wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for Houston left fielder Corey Julks’ mammoth solo home run to left field off Rice closer Glenn Otto.
Both teams benefitted from Herculean pitching efforts, and both teams only needed three pitchers apiece to make it through 20 innings.
Orewiler and Otto combined to allow just five hits in 14.2 innings of one run ball for Rice out of the bullpen. Houston’s performance might’ve been even more impressive in a losing effort.
Cougars starter Kyle Dowdy struck out 10 as he lasted into the 10th inning. Right-hander Jared Robinson struck out three in 1.2 innings of hitless, scoreless relief before yielding the mound to Aaron Garza (1-4).
The Owls put runners on against Garza, but couldn’t find a way to bring them home until the 20th inning. Garza struck out 11 in nine masterful innings out of the bullpen.
It looked like Houston may have had a shot to tie things up in the last of the 20th inning after Kyle Survance led the inning off with a sharp single to the right-centerfield gap, but he was thrown out trying to extend the hit into a double. Houston went down quietly after Survance was thrown out.
With the loss, Houston – the tournament host – was eliminated from the postseason.
“You know who won this game tonight? Louisiana-Lafayette,” said Houston assistant coach Frank Anderson, who took over coaching duties after head coach Troy Whitting was ejected for arguing a call in the fourth inning. “They’ve got to be laughing. We’re just beating the tar out of each other right there and throwing all kinds of pitchers on the field right there.”