Even with all the excitement about the new energy coming into the program under head coach David Pierce, at bats still need to produce hits and move runners and pitchers need to escape jams. It does not help when the opponent is able to move runners when umpires miss calls in important situations. Texas struggled to put themselves in position to score tonight and No. 23 Rice was the beneficiary of an improperly called bunt off the batter’s foot as the Owls took down Texas in the season opener, 3-2.
With the game tied at two in the top of the ninth and a runner on second, Rice catcher Dominic DiCaprio squared around to bunt to move the runner to third. DiCaprio’s bunt glanced off of his footpad while he was still in the box and trickled to sophomore pitcher Nolan Kingham. Kingham threw the ball to first, the runner moved to third, and DiCaprio was called out. By rule, the play should have been declared dead. After an umpire conference, the ruling was upheld, and on the ensuing at bat, Rice first baseman Darryn Sheppard drove in the go-ahead run on a groundout.
“All of them had it as a fair ball,” Pierce said. “That’s all they said.”
The normal four man umpire crew became a three man crew immediately before the controversial at bat when a passed ball struck home plate umpire Darin Steirs, forcing him to leave the game. Texas was retired in order in the ninth, allowing Wayne Graham’s Owls to seal the victory.
Texas opened the season’s scoring in the second inning, when senior first baseman Kacy Clemens flew out to left, allowing junior second baseman Bret Boswell to come in to score.
Following that scoring inning, the game turned into a pitcher’s duel as junior Morgan Cooper and Rice’s Dane Myers were perfect from the third to the fifth. In the sixth inning with over 80 pitches, Cooper had two outs with runners on first and second. Pierce had Kingham ready in the bullpen, but stuck with his ace.
It would be a decision that cost Pierce, as DiCaprio skied a double to deep left-center just out of the reach of diving junior Travis Jones. Two runs would score, and Cooper would retire the next batter to end his evening. Cooper allowed two earned runs and three hits over six innings, walking two and striking out six.
“I knew Morgan was going to pitch out of it,” Pierce said. “I felt very confident in his stuff. The only reason why I went to Kingham when I did was because I didn’t want him throwing over 90 pitches.”
Cooper’s stuff was unhittable over from the second through the fifth after a rough first inning, but Pierce still sees room for improvement.
“I think he can be a lot sharper, especially with his slider, and he knows that,” Pierce said. “He gave us the chance to win, and that’s what we ask from our starting pitchers, and he did a good job of that. I’m sure he would like to have that one pitch back, but that’s part of the ballgame.”
Before Rice took the game over in the ninth, sophomore designated hitter Kody Clemens tied the game in the sixth with a home run over the right field bullpen, an area unchanged in recent renovations.
“In my mind, I was still sitting heater,” Clemens said. “I knew he was going to come back with it. He just left it up. I took my hands straight to it.”
In last year’s offense, a one run lead could sometimes be insurmountable. Pierce was encouraged by his team’s ability to respond quickly, but knows there are still areas to improve.
“I thought that was something we want to see and not worry about what just happened, but move on,” Pierce said. “I thought we could have done a better job offensively in the ninth and fought a little better at home plate, but that’s what we’ve got to get good at. We’ve got to have short memories and move to the next pitch.”
The Disch plays host to a double header Saturday, with junior Kyle Johnston throwing in game one and freshman Blair Henley throwing in game two. Game one begins at 3 p.m. and is scheduled for seven innings.