Owls top Pirates for C-USA crown
By By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
GREENVILLE — Showing why they’re the No. 2 team in the country, the Rice Owls took a wild 16-8 win over the East Carolina Pirates in Sunday’s Conference USA Tournament championship game.
It was the second straight tournament championship for the Owls, who also won back-to-back regular-season titles.
The Pirates, who had their best finish in the C-USA Tournament since winning the championship in 2002, will find out their postseason fate today. The 64-team NCAA Tournament will be released at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN.
Clark-LeClair Stadium was packed with 3,810 fans to see the top-seeded Owls (49-12) battle the second-seeded Pirates (39-21). The teams didn’t disappoint as fans saw an entertaining game featuring 24 runs, 28 hits, five errors and a combined 11 pitchers between the two teams.
ECU jumped out to an early 3-0 lead only to see Rice put up an eight spot in the second take a 9-4 lead. The Pirates clawed their way back and pulled within 9-8 in the fourth, but the Owls were too tough down the stretch as they were able to pull away.
The Pirates jumped on Rice sophomore starter Bryan Price in the top of the first, batting around and scoring three times.
Stephen Batts extended his hitting streak to 26 games, two shy of tying Steve Sides’ school-record 28-game streak, with an RBI single to start the scoring.
Jamie Ray pushed his hitting streak to 12 games with a two-out infield single that loaded the bases. Jake Dean, who went 3-for-5 with three RBIs, followed by smashing a two-run hit for a 3-0 advantage.
The Owls trimmed their deficit to 3-1 in the bottom half on Aaron Luna’s single.
ECU got that run back in the top of the second, going up 4-1 after consecutive doubles by Harrison Eldridge and Ryan Wood.
Rice exploded for eight runs in the bottom half to take a 9-4 lead. The runs came off ECU starter Josh Ruhlman (2 runs on 2 hits in one inning), Chris Powell (5 unearned runs on 2 hits in two-third of an inning) and Jason Neitz (3 runs, 2 earned, on 5 hits in four innings).
Powell (0-1) was tagged with the loss.
Jordan Dodson trotted home when Danny Lehmann reached on an error to start the uprising. Joe Savery had a two-run single, while Diego Seastrunk, Jess Buenger and Lehmann added run-scoring hits in the inning.
The Pirates chased Price (6 runs on 7 hits in two innings) in the top of the third with a pair of runs. Drew Schieber had an RBI single and Dean, who had doubled earlier, scored on a wild pitch to make it 9-6.
ECU pulled within 9-8 with a pair of runs in the top of the fourth. Ryan Tousley singled off Doug Simmons (2 runs on 3 hits in one inning) and later scored on a balk by Mike Ojala (2 hits in 2 2/3 innings), who improved to 2-0 with the win. Ray, who singled for the third time, raced home on Dean’s groundout to make it a one-run game.
Neitz was able to cool off the Rice bats until the sixth, when Savery’s RBI single gave the Owls a 10-8 lead. Savery, the C-USA Player of the Year, went 2-for-5 with three RBIs in the win.
The Owls were able to tack on three insurance runs in the seventh off Bailey Daniels (2 runs on 2 hits in two-thirds of an inning) and ECU closer Shane Mathews (4 runs on 4 hits in 1 2/3 innings). Jared Gayhart ripped a two-run triple and then came home on a single by Luna, the tournament MVP, to give Rice a 13-8 lead.
Gayhart, who went 2-for-5 with six RBIs, capped the scoring with a three-run blast off Mathews in the eighth.
C-USA Freshman of the Year Ryan Berry, Rice’s fifth pitcher, threw two scoreless innings and struck out five.
Bobby Bramhall pitched a scoreless ninth to close it out.
2007 C-USA All Tournament Team
MVP – Aaron Luna, Rice
C – Donny Lehmann, Rice
IF – Adam Amar, Memphis
IF – Stephen Batts, ECU
IF – Bill Moss, Memphis
IF – Joe Savery, Rice
OF – Harrison Eldridge, ECU
OF – Josh Irvin, Memphis
Of – Anthony Scelfo, Tulane
DH – Aaron Luna, Rice
P – Barry Bowden, Southern Miss
P – Jagger Good, UCF
P – Matt Langwell, Rice
P – Shane Mathews, ECU
2007 C-USA Tournament
Game 1 – (5) Memphis 12, (4) Houston 4
Game 2 – (1) Rice 16, (8) UCF 6
Game 3 – (3) Southern Miss 9, (6) UAB 5
Game 4 – (2) East Carolina 4, (7) Tulane 2
Game 5 – (8) UCF 1, (4) Houston 0
Game 6 – (7) Tulane 13, (6) UAB 5
Game 7 – (1) Rice 7, (5) Memphis 5
Game 8 – (2) East Carolina 2, (3) Southern Miss 1
Game 9 – (5) Memphis 12, (8) UCF 6
Game 10 – (7) Tulane 6, (3) Southern Miss 2
Game 11 – (5) Memphis 2, (1) Rice 1
Game 12 – (2) East Carolina 9, (7) Tulane 4
Game 13 – (1) Rice 20, (5) Memphis 9
1 p.m. – Championship Game: (1) Rice 16, (2) East Carolina 8