A wild pitch ended Rice’s season in the 10th inning of Sunday’s NCAA regional game against Texas A&M, but it was a variety of earlier mistakes that allowed the Aggies to stay in it.
While a lot of things went wrong for the Owls in the Aggies 9-8 victory, the four Rice errors certainly made the list. The second A&M batter of the game reached on a Skyler Ewing fielding error. About three hours later, Kray Bratsen ran home for the winning run on Matt Ditman’s wild pitch.
“It happens sometimes,” Ditman said. “I knew we had a base open, so I didn’t want to give him anything too good to hit.”
A&M (36-25) went on to defeat Texas 3-2 later Sunday, forcing a winner-take-all regional title game between the Aggies and Longhorns tonight. First pitch is 7:05 p.m. at Reckling Park in Houston. It will be televised on ESPN U.
Rice’s errors total this season was 57, the third fewest of any Conference USA team. By comparison, Rice’s opponents committed 78 errors this season.
But the postseason was a different story. Rice committed 13 errors in the last five games, including seven during the three regional games.
“They all bother me,” Rice coach Wayne Graham said about mistakes made in Sunday’s game. “You tend to believe that you should be able to overcome or remove the mental mistakes.”
Rice built a 6-0 lead against the Aggies and seemed poise to face Texas in a rematch Sunday evening. One swing in the bottom of the seventh dramatically changed that thought. Cole Lankford’s grand slam off Chase McDowell cut the Owls lead to 6-5.
“It was a great at bat by Lankford,” said Texas A&M starter Parker Ray. “There were 12 pitches, and he had three bombs in that at-bat (two went foul down the right field line).”
McDowell, who pitched shutout baseball the first six innings, told Graham he wanted to stay in.
“I told him ‘you’re not taking me out unless we get into a huge jam,’” McDowell said. “I wanted to stay in there as long as I could to save our pitching. I thought it was the right choice. I didn’t want to come out even after (Cole Lankford) hit the grand slam.”
A&M took the lead in the eighth inning, but Rice tied it up at 7 when Ewing hit his ninth homer of the season. The Owls went ahead in the top of the 10th when Kirby Taylor scored on what was ruled a hit by Hunter Kopycinski.
Ditman, the Rice closer, asked to be inserted in the game. He got the first batter out before Nick Choruby singled. Choruby went to second on a wild pitch and went to third when Jace Statum reached after a fielding error by Taylor.
Bratsen singled to bring home Choruby to tie the game at 8. Statum went to second. He tried to score on a Blake Allemand’s single to left. Michael Aquino temporarily saved the season by gunning it to the catcher, Kopycinski, for the second out. Bratsen advanced to third on the throw home and then scored on the wild pitch.
Rice finished the season 42-20. It’s the third straight time the Owls failed to win a regional the team hosted.
“I thought we were ready to go,” Graham said. “It’s incredible. It seems like sometimes when you start having misplays that sometimes, but rarely, it becomes contagious.”