HUNTSVILLE – It was a game of few hits Tuesday night at Don Sanders Stadium as both teams had five hits apiece, but Rice made the most of some key Sam Houston State mistakes to capture a 5-3 final-inning victory.
A two-run single by Jordan Cannon in the bottom of the seventh tied the game at 3-3, but Rice (21-26-2) managed to plate a pair of runs in the top of the ninth on a passed ball and wild pitch to come away with the win, evening the season series with a win each in 2018.
It was the third consecutive loss for the Bearkats since Friday’s 5-3 win over Southeastern Louisiana with Brad Demco picking up his first loss of the season to move to 3-1 after putting the eventual winning runs on base in the ninth. Still, Riley Gossett turned in his best performance of the season in relief, retiring 13 straight Owls at one point on his way to 6.1 innings of shutout work after Sam Houston starter Kyle Backhus lasted only 1.2 innings.
Clayton Harp was the lone multi-hit Bearkat on the day going 2-for-4, including a double in the seventh that set up Cannon’s game-tying single. Riley McKnight, Eric Bohnert and Cannon also finished with a hit each with Cannon’s extending his current hit streak to 13 games.
Owl starter Evan Kravetz delivered 5.0 innings of work with his lone hit coming on the first batter he faced before eventually fanning four. Zach Esquivel, Garret Gayle and Kendal Jefferies all saw time on the mound with Gayle capturing his second win of the campaign and Jefferies his second save.
No Rice batter had multiple hits in the game, but Dominic DiCaprio and Justin Collins drove in a run each for the only Rice RBI in the showdown. Ryan Chandler also had a double and drew two walks, while second baseman Trei Cruz who went 1-for-2 and drew three free passes.
It was a hectic opening inning for both sides as Backhus allowed a one-out double and hit the following batter to put runners on the corners after a stolen base. The Owls would score their first run after a Backhus throwing error and add two more with a bases-loaded walk and sacrifice fly.
The Kats would get one back in the bottom-half of the first after McKnight led off with a single and advanced around the base paths thanks to a passed ball, stolen base and a Rice throwing error. But from there, Kravetz would allow nothing else, retiring each of the final 14 hitters he faced before being lifted after five frames with a 3-1 lead.
Meanwhile, Gossett took over on the mound for Backhus in the second inning and after working around a mini-jam in the third, went on to retire 13 straight hitters of his own and before allowing a leadoff hitin the eighth.
The Bearkats finally broke through on the offensive side in the bottom half of the seventh after Hunter Hearn drew a walk and would move to third off a Harp double. Cannon then drove the first pitch he saw from Esquivel back up the middle, plating both runs and knotting things at 3-3.
It stayed that way until the ninth when the Owls were able to scratch across a pair of runs. Chase Sarchet was the first Rice hitter to reach base when Demco plunked him on a 1-2 pitch, but the Kats were in position to get out of it after a strikeout of Bradley Gneiting registered the second out; however, Ford Proctor then delivered his only hit of the game in five at-bats by singling up the middle before Chandler drew a walk to load the bases. That prompted the Kats to turn to Dakota Mills with Cruz coming to the plate, but a passed ball allowed the go-ahead run to cross home and one pitch later a second offering got away which scored Proctor with an insurance tally.
The Kats had one more chance in the ninth, getting the tying run to the plate against Jefferies after an infield single by Harp; but, a long fly ball off the bat of Cannon fell harmlessly into the glove of Ryan Chandler just shy of the warning track in center field for the final out.
Sam Houston will now turn its attention back to Southland Conference play with its final home series of the season this weekend against Houston Baptist. The first-place Bearkats and fourth-place Huskies will kick things off on Friday in the opener, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at The Don.
Coach Matt Deggs on the loss to Rice …
“Baseball is just a very, very funny, fickle game. It’s very humbling. You win seven in a row, then drop three straight and we just haven’t really been able to get on track ever since the extra-inning game on Saturday. We were way too generous tonight and just weren’t able to generate any offense. Any time that happens, it’s not going to be good.”
Deggs on Riley Gossett’s performance …
“It was great to see Riley do what he did. We started Backhus and need to get him back going. Riley was able to back him up and throw up a bunch of zeros and they didn’t score again until the ninth. I’m just really proud of the job that kid did.”
Deggs on what to expect vs HBU this weekend …
“They play us tough every time we play them. For four years now. It’s been like a trip to the dentist. They are going to scrap us, play extremely hard and pitch it well. We are definitely going to have to play better than we played the last three games.”