May 31, 2013
EUGENE, Ore. -- In a game where two pitching-rich staffs weren't about to give an inch to the other, a glaring late afternoon sun took matters into its own hands to decide USF's game with Rice in the NCAA Regional at PK Park in Eugene.
Unfortunately, USF found out in the cruelest of ways how fleeting survival can be in postseason play.
With two outs in the bottom of the 11th inning, left fielder Derek Atkinson lost a seemingly routine fly ball off the bat of Blake Fox in the sun, allowing Shane Hoelscher to score from third base, giving Rice a 3-2 victory over USF.
If the ending wasn't bitter enough, the winning run was unearned, as Rice's Geoff Perrott reached first base on a passed ball after striking out which would have been the third out of the inning.
The loss sends the Dons into an elimination game on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. against the loser of the game between Oregon and South Dakota State. The game can be seen on ESPN 3.
Starters Haden Hinkle for USF and Rice's Austin Kubitza pitched brilliantly. Hinkle allowed just four hits and two runs in 6.2 innings of work while Kubitza allowed a pair of runs on six hits before turning things over to Zech Lemond, who held the Dons hitless over the last three innings.
USF's relief corp of Adam Cimber, Ben Graff, Andrew Pulido, Bob Mott and Abe Bobb worked out of numerous jams in the late innings, as the Owls managed to get the potential winning run in scoring position in each of the last four innings.
The same could not be said for USF, as Rice reliever Zech Lemond held the Dons hitless over the last four innings of the contest.
USF took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning when Mitchell Rowan's double down the left field line scored Zach Turner all of the way from first base.
Hinkle was sailing along until the bottom of the fifth inning, when Perrott hit a screaming liner over the left field fence for a two-run home run to give the Owls a 2-1 lead.
Hinkle then retired the next seven batters he faced before hitting Byrd with a pitch with two out in the seventh. After Perrott followed with a single to left, Cimber was summoned from the bullpen to face pinch hitter Connor Tykel, who grounded out to second to end the inning.
The Dons played small ball to tie the game in the top of the eighth. Pinch hitter Harrison Bruce led off with an infield single, stole second base and was moved to third when Justin Maffei grounded out to short. Jason Mahood hit a grounder to second baseman Christian Singer, whose throw was off-line and late at the plate, as Bruce scored the tying run.
USF had runners on first and second with two out in the top of the ninth but Josh Miller grounded into a fielder's choice to end the Dons' last scoring chance of the afternoon, as Lemond retired the last seven batters he faced.
"It was a tough way lose," said USF head coach Nino Giarratano. "We struck a guy out but dropped the third strike and then an easy fly ball to left field catches the sun in left field.
"I'm proud of how we played today and how we battled to stay in the game as long as we could. I'm disappointed that we didn't execute offensively as well as we could have, but you have to give their pitchers some credit
"We have a tough club. We'll bounce back and play well tomorrow and stay in this regional as long as we can."