MORE COVERAGE: Thornhill pitches Texas past old rivals
HOUSTON — Just a couple of hours after a frenzy overtook Reckling Park for the bout between Texas and Texas A&M, top-seeded Rice settled in for a bout against No. 4 seed and Atlantic 10 champion George Mason.
The Owls entered the contest on high alert. Rice head coach Wayne Graham was well aware that Georgia Southern, another four-seed, defeated Florida State. He’d later learn that national seed Louisiana-Lafayette dropped a shocking contest to pitcher Alexander Juday and Jackson State.
Graham and the Owls simply didn’t want to become one of the victims, but they almost had no choice, thanks to a strong performance by George Mason crafty lefthanded pitcher Jared Gaynor.
The situation looked bleak for the Owls going to the bottom of the eighth inning, as George Mason plated a pair of runs in the top of the inning to take a 2-1 lead, one of the runs coming via a Mick Foley RBI single, while the second run scored on an error.
Backs against the wall, down to a No. 4 seed at home in the latter innings, the Owls could’ve easily gone the way of some of the other high seeds that were upset on Friday. However, they responded in impressive fashion, scoring six runs in the bottom half of the eighth inning to take a 7-2 lead, and to win their opening game of the Houston Regional.
“Well, the lefty they had [Gaynor] was very clever and he did a good job against us tonight,” Graham said. “He threw four different pitches for strikes and had good control of the strike zone.”
The Owls had a lot of trouble squaring up Gaynor throughout the night. He had a smallish frame with a low-to-mid 80s fastball. But it was Gaynor's ability to locate his secondary stuff, particularly his changeup, while also keeping his pitches low in the strike zone, that made him so effective against the Owls.
Gaynor finished the night allowing six runs on nine hits in 7 1/3 innings, but that line certainly is deceiving given he allowed just a run going into the eighth inning. There, the Owls made the necessary adjustments to square up the crafty lefty.
“Well, it was more of a change in approach as to hitting (Jared Gaynor). All of us had faced him twice already and it was really just about staying back and seeing the ball as late as you can, because he is not going to blow anything by you. I think once we figured that out, we were able to take him out and that was really what we needed to do. We figured it out a little bit too late, but not too late. It would’ve been nice to have it earlier.”
Though the Rice offense took a while to get going against George Mason, the Owls pitching staff, as usual, rose to the occasion. Sophomore righthanded pitcher Kevin McCanna was called upon in early April to step into the weekend rotation, and he's only flourished in the role. McCanna was sharp again Friday night against GMU, flashing a 90-plus fastball with good command of his offerings. He finished the night with five strikeouts, while allowing two runs on three hits in 7 1/3 innings.
The Owls turned the game over to heralded righthanded pitcher Zech Lemond in the eighth and ninth innings. Lemond relinquished a 1-0 lead in the top of the eighth, but that was partly due to a tight strike zone. The righty came right back in the ninth with dominant stuff, sitting 94-96, and touching 97, with his fastball, while he also showcased his typical mid-80s breaking ball.
“Well you saw it on the board. I think one gun had him at 97 (miles per hour). I think the problem right now is when you throw that hard is that he doesn’t have his good breaking stuff right now. It is just kind of rolling up there,” Graham said. “When you get in the playoffs, anybody can hit the fastball. I don’t care how hard you throw it. They won’t hit it if he hits with his breaking stuff and he struggled a little bit because he wasn’t. He still pitched well, obviously.”
Very little about Rice's win over George Mason was especially pretty, but the Owls finished the first day of the postseason with a victory.
That's more than some other No. 1 seeds can say.
UPSET CENTRAL: No. 1 seeds go down
Jackson State over Louisiana-Lafayette: Covering an NCAA Regional at Reckling Park in Houston always brings up great memories of seeing one of the epic upsets in NCAA postseason history – 2004's Texas Southern upset of No. 6 national seed Rice, which had one of the best weekend rotations ever that season. Well, this isn't quite as big as that upset, but Jackson State sent shockwaves throughout the college baseball world by beating Louisiana-Lafayette 1-0. JSU starting pitcher Vincent Anthonia tossed six shutout innings in the victory, while Alexander Juday earned his third save of the season by allowing just three hits in three shutout frames.
College of Charleston over Florida: Okay, who else besides me isn't that surprised by this result? When the NCAA announced the field of 64 and pairings, this No. 1 vs. No. 4 matchup definitely struck me as one with upset potential. The Cougars put together an impressive regular season record, and the fact they were the No. 4 seed in Gainesville was a surprise. Well, the Cougars jumped out to a 3-0 lead on Logan Shore and Florida on Friday, and never really looked back, beating the Gators 3-2 to advance to a winner's bracket game against sizzling Long Beach State. C of C starting pitcher Taylor Clarke struggled with his command with five walks in 4 1/3 innings, but the bullpen did the job with Eric Bauer (3.2 IP, 1 R) and Michael Hanzlik (1.0 IP, 2 K) rising to the occasion.
Georgia Southern over Florida State: The Eagles are a dangerous club with Aaron Mizell and others leading the charge, and the Seminoles found that out the hard way Friday in a tough 7-0 loss to Georgia Southern. FSU head coach Mike Martin called GSU's performance “beautiful”, and it's easy to see why. In addition to roughing up righthanded pitcher Mike Compton, lefthanded pitcher Sam Howard was terrific for Rodney Hennon's club. Howard, who sits upper-80s and into the 90s with his fastball, along with a good changeup, struck out 10, walked just four and allowed just two hits in a complete game shutout.
HOW THE CONFERENCES FARED
Big 12: 5-0
Big West: 4-0
American Athletic: 2-0
Atlantic Coast: 3-3
Conference USA: 1-1
Big Ten: 1-1
Missouri Valley: 0-2
Big South: 0-2
National seeds went ... 5-3
No. 1 seeds went ... 12-3
PLENTY OF PITCHING PROWESS
Tyler Beede, rhp, Vanderbilt: The talented righthanded pitcher didn't look good in the SEC tournament last week, but stepped up in Vandy's 11-0 win over Xavier to begin the Nashville Regional. Beede struck out 14, walked two and allowed just four hits in eight shutout innings. Beede was still touching 94 late in the contest.
Andrew Moore, rhp, Oregon State: The Beavers opened the postseason with a close, 2-1 win over gritty North Dakota State with Moore leading the way. The righty struck out an Oregon State postseason-high 14 batters, while also allowing just a run on four hits in eight innings.
Travis Bergen, lhp, Kennesaw State: In what was one of my upset picks of the day, Kennesaw State defeated Alabama 1-0 with Bergen leading the way on the mound. The talented lefthander struck out three, walked one and allowed just five hits in 8 2/3 innings of work … Surprisingly, the Owls will now face Georgia Southern in the winner's bracket game in Tallahassee. We all had that in our brackets, right?
Kyle Funkhouser, rhp, Louisville: There's a reason Funkhouser is considered to be one of the top prospects for the 2015 Major League Baseball draft. Funkhouser, who can get up to 96 with his fastball and flashes a very good slider, struck out 10, walked one and allowed just four hits in eight shutout frames in a 5-0 home win over Kent State. UL now faces Kansas in the winner's bracket game. Kansas used plenty of offensive production to beat Kentucky earlier in the day.
Andrew Rohrbach, rhp, Long Beach State: What in the world has gotten into the Dirtbags about the last month of the season? Whatever it is Troy Buckley is drinking, I want some of it. The talented righthanded pitcher put together an outstanding start in a dominant 6-1 win over No. 3 seed North Carolina at the Gainesville Regional. Rohrbach struck out two and allowed just a run on seven hits in 8 1/3 innings. LBSU now faces College of Charleston in the winner's bracket.
Andrew Suarez, lhp, Miami (Fla.): The outstanding lefthanded pitcher shined in a 1-0 win over Bethune-Cookman. He struck out 10, didn't walk anyone and allowed just seven hits in a complete game shutout. Suarez going the distance sure puts Miami in terrific shape with Chris Diaz, Bryan Radziewski and others waiting their turn. The 'Canes will now face Texas Tech, which defeated Columbia 3-2 earlier in the day.
Cal Quantrill, rhp, Stanford: How about this performance for a true freshman? The talented righthanded pitcher struck out six, walked two and allowed just a run on four hits in a complete game performance, 8-1 win over Indiana State in the Bloomington, Ind., Regional. Quantrill has put together an impressive campaign and is a lock to be a PG Freshman All-American.
WHAT HAPPENED HERE?
Clemson head coach Jack Leggett opted to save staff ace and righthanded pitcher Daniel Gossett for a potential Saturday bout against Vanderbilt, but that decision came back to bite the Tigers. Clemson starting pitcher Matthew Crownover was lifted after allowing eight runs on 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings, as the Tigers dropped a disappointing 18-1 decision to Oregon. UO catcher Shaun Case had a night to remember offensively, collecting a pair of hits, including a home run and knocking in four runs. While the Ducks have some momentum going into Saturday's bout against Vanderbilt, Clemson just hopes to regroup.
SATURDAY'S MARQUEE MATCHUPS
1. Houston vs. LSU (Baton Rouge): There were some tense moments for the Cougars in a 3-2 win in 10 innings. LSU enters the rest of the weekend in good shape, while Houston gambled Friday night by holding talented righthanded pitchers Aaron Garza and Jake Lemoine. Now, they have to find a way to best Nola on Saturday.
2. Rice vs. Texas (Houston): The Owls were pushed to the brink by George Mason, but had an offensive onslaught late that turned the corner. Meanwhile, Texas used a dominant pitching performance by Nathan Thornhill and a strong beginning surge from the offense in an 8-1 win over Texas A&M. Something must give when these two baseball rivals take the field Saturday night.
3. Arkansas vs. Virginia (Charlottesville): The Razorbacks used strong pitching from righthanded pitcher Chris Oliver to beat Liberty to open NCAA postseason play. The Hogs will turn things over to righthanded pitcher Trey Killian on Saturday against Virginia. Killian was terrific last week in the SEC tournament, getting up to 93 with his fastball, showing good poise, and also showcasing effective secondary stuff.
4. Cal State Fullerton vs. Oklahoma State (Stillwater): This is the anticipated matchup everyone was looking forward to this weekend. The Titans will go with righthanded pitcher Justin Garza, who threw a no-hitter against Cal State Northridge last weekend, while Jon Perrin has been a steady, high quality, arm for the Pokes.
5. Maryland vs. South Carolina (Columbia): Yep, a matchup involving the Terrapins is one of the top matchups of the day. My, how times have changed. The Terps went with veteran righthanded pitcher Jake Stinnett in the opener against Old Dominion, leaving freshman righty Mike Shawaryn for Saturday's game against South Carolina. Shawaryn is no stranger to pitching in big venues. Earlier this year against Florida State, on the road, the righty allowed a run on five hits in 7 1/3 innings.