For the second straight year the Bearkats gave Rice all it could handle in the opening round of the Houston Regional, and once again, the Owls were able to pull it out.

Sophomore third baseman Ryan Mooney hit a solo shot in the top of the first inning, but that was the only fireworks as Sam Houston State suffered a 5-2 setback at Reckling Park on Friday night. The Bearkats (36-23) will now face Xavier, a 16-8 loser to Kansas State in Friday’s early contest, in an elimination game today at 2 p.m.

Sam Houston State cranked out nine hits, seven off Rice starter Mike Ojala, but left eight runners stranded on base. Freshman Sean Weatherford (8-6) pitched well enough to keep the Bearkats in striking distance, giving up two earned runs in six innings. The top-seeded Owls (40-15) just took advantage of some SHSU miscues and got timely hits to pull away.

“Rice threw very well when we had men on base. I thought their pitchers really stepped up,” Bearkats head coach Mark Johnson said. “Mike got it going pretty well for them and got on a roll and really pitched well when we had men on base. We just couldn’t back up a hit with another hit.”

Sam Houston took the early lead when Mooney jumped on the first pitch he saw from Ojala and sent a bomb over the left-field fence with one out in the first. But the 1-0 lead was short-lived.

Rice tied the game in the bottom of the second thanks to the Bearkats’ first mental mistake of the game. Freshman third baseman Anthony Rendon led off with a single and moved to third when right fielder Chad Mozingo followed with a base hit to left-center field. SHSU shortstop Jon Reed had a golden opportunity to get Mozingo out trying to advance to second, but he hesitated on the relay throw and failed to get the out.
BR>With runners in scoring position, left fielder Michael Fuda ripped a shot deep in the hole at first that Daniel Nottebart was able to knock down. But no one was covering first and Rendon came into score. Weatherford struck out the next batter and Fuda was gunned down by SHSU catcher Mark Wyatt trying to steal second to end the frame.

The sixth-ranked Owls went up 2-1 in the third when Brock Holt singled with one out and moved into scoring position on a wild pitch. Rick Hague brought the run across with another single to right field.

Rice added two more runs in the fifth thanks to two errors by the Bearkats.

“I just went out there and really wasn’t feeling any pressure,” said Weatherford, who finished with seven strikeouts. “I knew I had to throw my game and my game only. I felt good, the defense was good. We had a couple of errors, but we were able to get through the innings. The offense was good, I couldn’t ask for anymore, but give it to Rice. They are a good ballclub.”

The Bearkats had a chance to tie the game at 2 in the fourth when Reed doubled down the left-field line with one out. Wyatt hit a shallow single to left and Johnson took a gamble and waved Reed around third. Fuda’s throw was a little off the plate, but catcher Diego Seastrunk was able to beat Reed home for the out.

Sam Houston got two runners on in the fifth on singles by designated hitter Heath Pugh and Mooney. But Ojala dug in and got the plays he needed to keep Rice on top 3-1.

The Kats left runners stranded in the seventh and eighth, while Rice tacked on two more runs to go up 5-1.

Adam DeLaGarza finally ended Sam Houston’s scoring drought with an RBI single in the top of the ninth, but Owls reliever Mark Haynes got Braeden Riley to ground out to first to end the game.

Ojala scattered seven hits in seven innings and struck out four to improve to 5-0 on the mound.

“(Ojala) threw well. He threw a lot of offspeed at us,” said Mooney, who went 3-for-4. “He mixed up and hit his spots. When he settled in it kind of threw us off the second through eighth innings.”

The Bearkats dropped a 3-2 decision to the Owls in the opening round of the Houston Regional last season. The game was very similar to Friday night’s game, with Rice catching the breaks and Sam Houston just missing out on some opportunities.

“I think that is the finest number four seed in the country,” Owls head coach Wayne Graham said. “We are very happy to get out of there with a win.”

The Bearkats will go with sophomore lefthander Brent Powers (3-2, 4.28 ERA) on the mound today against Xavier.