GREENVILLE, N.C. - Rice scored eight runs in the bottom of the second inning on five hits and held on to capture its second consecutive Conference USA Championship Sunday afternoon over East Carolina 16-8 at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
Trailing 4-1 in the second Jordan Dodson starting the inning when he was hit by a Ruhlman pitch and then moved to second on a passed ball. Danny Lehmann reached on a throwing error by Ryan Wood advancing to second base while Dodson scored the first run of the frame. With one-out, Diego Seastrunk singled to left scoring Lehmann pulling Rice within one, 4-3.
Seastrunk knotted the game at four when he crossed home when Jared Gayhart ground out to second. Brian Friday, who reached on a fielding error by Stephen Batts, moved to third on Gayhart’s at-bat then scored on Jess Buenger’s single to right putting the Owls up 5-4. Joe Savery’s single up the middle drove in Aaron Luna and Buenger. Dodson doubled down the left field line in his second at-bat in the frame moving Savery to third. Danny Lehmann drove in Savery with his lone hit of the day and Dodson also crossed the dish on the at-bat capping the scoring at 9-4.
Mike Ojala picked up the win for the Owls (49-12) after working 2 2/3 innings, where he allowed just two hits, walked three and fanned two. Starter Bryan Price went two innings, gave up six runs (all earned) on seven hits, walked three and struck out two. Rice went to the bullpen often using five pitchers: Will McDaniel (1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1BB, 3 K), Scott Lonergan (1/3 IP), Ryan Berry (2 IP, 1 H, 2 BB, 5 K) and Bobby Bramhall (1 IP, 1 BB, 2 K).
ECU (39-21) used five total pitchers with Chris Powell suffering the loss and falling to 0-1. Josh Ruhlman notched his first start of the season lasting one inning, giving up two runs on two hits with one strikeout. Jason Neitz (4 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 2 K), Bailey Daniels (2/3 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 BB) and Shane Mathews (1.2 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 2 BB and 3 K) also saw action.
ECU wasted little time in putting runs on the board and runners on base as they took a 3-0 lead after the top half of the first inning. With one out, Ryan Wood and Kyle Roller drew walks before Stephen Batts singled through the left side plating Wood. Jamie Ray followed with a two-out infield single to third and then Jake Dean drove in Roller and Batts with his single to center.
Rice answered the Pirates with a run of its own in the bottom of the first, 3-1, when Brian Friday led off with a single up the middle. He then moved to second when Jess Buenger was plunked by a Ruhlman pitch and touched home on Aaron Luna’s single to right field.
Back-to-back doubles by Eldridge and Wood in the second pushed ECU’s lead back to three at 4-1. Eldridge doubled to left then scored on Wood’s double to right-center.
ECU closed the gap to three in the third after scoring a pair of runs making the score 9-6. Ray singled to center, Dean followed with a double to left-center the Drew Schieber drove in Ray with the third consecutive Pirate hit, a single to left. Dean came home on a wild pitch to end the scoring for ECU.
In the fourth ECU pulled within one making the score 9-8. Ryan Tousley singled to right to start the inning and Ray followed with his third hit of the afternoon, a single to left. Both runners advanced 90 feet on a McDaniel wild pitch then moved up another base on a balk, which scored Tousley. Dean drove in the second run of the inning on a ground out to second.
Rice plated runs in the sixth (one), seventh (three) and eighth (three) to pad its lead to 16-8.
Offensively the Pirates recorded 13 hits with Ray going 3-for-3, Dean 3-for-5 and Wood 2-for-3. Dean also drove in three runs, while Wood, Batts and Schieber knocked in one a piece.
Batts, Eldridge and Mathews each were named to the 2007 all-tournament team. For Mathews it was the second consecutive year he has made the tourney team.
ECU will await word for an NCAA Regional at-large berth which will be announced Monday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. (EDT).