The throw from leftfielder Keenan Cook to shortstop Ford Stainback to catcher Geoff Perrott in the top of the ninth inning of Friday’s game against top-ranked North Carolina prevented the Tar Heels from taking the lead.
The Owls had just gotten UNC catcher Korey Dunbar at the plate to record the second out in a tie game at Minute Maid Park in Houston. However, the euphoria was short lived.
With Landon Lassiter at the plate, Owls pitcher Zech Lemond uncorked a wild pitch. Chaz Frank scooted home from third to give UNC a 2-1 advantage. That ended up being the final score on the opening day of Astros Foundation College Classic
UNC kept its undefeated record intact at 8-0 while No. 12 Rice dropped to 6-3.
The pitching matchup of two of the top starters in college baseball was as good as advertised. UNC’s Kent Emanuel pitched seven innings. While he did give up eight hitters, only one of those came into score.
Rice starter Austin Kubitza also pitched into the seventh inning. His final line was one run on four hits with nine strikeouts.
Rice got an early run in the second. Michael Aquino tripled to start the inning and scored on Leon Byrd’s squeeze attempt. Emanuel had a notion to go home with the throw, but he didn’t appear to grip the ball cleanly.
The Owls had multiple chances to add to its lead. They got two runners on in the third, fifth and sixth, but couldn’t get the key hit off Emanuel. Aquino was tagged out at the plate in the sixth when he tried to score from second on Byrd’s single.
UNC got half the hits of Kubitza in the seventh on back-to-back singles to lead off the inning. Mike Zolk advanced to third on a sacrifice fly and scored on Kubitza’s wild pitch.
The Owls again got two runners on in the seventh, but Michael Ratterree struck out to end the inning.
Stainback gave Rice one last runner with a two-out single in the ninth. Christian Stringer had three hits on the night. However, he made the 27th out on a grounder to first.
Rice is back at it Saturday with a game against Texas A&M. The tentative starters are Jordan Stephens for the Owls and Daniel Mengden for A&M. First pitch is 7 p.m. at Minute Maid Park.
Rice will face Baylor to conclude the classic at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.