It Might Have Taken All Night, But Rice Eliminates UH From The NCAA Regionals

It started all so long ago. Back on a Friday in May when we were young. It ended sometime in June on a Monday morning when most normal people were still in bed. There were rain delays and pitching meltdowns. Thunder and lightning and flooded parking lots. There was a near no-hitter and at one point benches nearly emptied. Such were the six ballgames played at the Houston Regional this weekend. And it’s not even over.

Rice and Houston played 20 innings last night/this morning, Rice pulling out the 3-2 win. But because action was suspended due to the weather on Saturday, the Regional is still ongoing with the possible final game set to start at 1:00 between Louisiana-Lafayette and Rice. If Louisiana-Lafayette wins, it’s all over. If Rice wins, they play again at 6:00.

It almost didn’t end up like this. Rice led the Cougars 2-1 going into the eighth inning last night. The Owl pitching staff had struggled all night, going in and out of trouble, but had for the most part escaped damage. But with two outs in the inning freshman Houston outfielder knocked a home run over the left field fence that looked to clear Elgin and land at the McDonald’s. Before it was over the game hit a surreal Twilight Zone level of absurdness that lasted 20 innings, six hours and two minutes (finishing at 2:07 in this morning), and won 3-2 by Rice after Leon Byrd’s single in the top of the 20th inning scored Ryan Chandler.

“I wasn’t sure I’ve ever had a game that long before,” Rice head coach Wayne Graham said. “But it ended right. But I thought the pitching on both sides was outstanding. Their starter [Kyle Dowdy] was amazing…We hung in there. I thought we played a good pretty defensive game — I know we did. We’re just happy to still be alive.”

The Cougars and Owls shouldn’t have even been playing this game. This was the elimination game of the loser’s bracket out of the Regional. And the one and two seeds of a Regional aren’t supposed to be playing each other in the elimination game of the loser’s bracket. But how they got here is a long story that started on Friday, way before Saturday’s action was washed out, way before Houston and Rice played a game that started in May and ended in June.

It’s hard to remember that it all started when Rice lost to Louisiana-Lafayette 7-6 on Friday. A game that Rice led 6-2 heading into the ninth inning only to see the bullpen suffer a meltdown of the type that the Astros bullpen of 2014 turned into a pretty common occurrence. The Cougars struggled early against HBU on Friday night, falling behind 4-0 before scoring six runs in the third inning to win 6-4.

Rice attempted to regroup on Saturday, and was leading HBU 1-0 in the fourth inning when NCAA officials stopped the game because of lightning strikes in the area. Then it turned into a monsoon and the NCAA suspended the game until yesterday morning. That was only the start of the chaos that inflicted Cougar Field on Sunday.

“It came a point, for fan and player safety, where we had to suspend play,” said Mike Knight, the NCAA game representative on site at Cougar Field. “That’s one of the big judgement factors. You want to play the game and get in the action, but there comes a time when it becomes a safety factor for the players and the fans.”

Rice defeated HBU to eliminate the Huskies which brought about Houston versus Louisiana-Lafayette. Houston’s Seth Romero threw a no-hitter for 7.1 innings only to see Houston lose in the ninth inning on another incredible Louisiana-Lafayette walk-off win, this one involving a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Then came last night, and this morning. Rice taking the 2-0 lead in the fifth inning. UH answered with one run in the fifth, but it appeared that Rice would grab the win until Julks homered to tie. There it stayed. Rice nearly scored in the 16th inning, only to have John Williamson thrown out the plate. Neither team was able to do much offensively as the pitching of both teams was the stuff of legend.

“That’s a tough one — 20 innings. The first one was a tough one [the 2-1 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette earlier on Sunday], said Houston pitching coach Frank Anderson who took over for head coach Todd Whitting after Whiting was ejected in the fifth inning for arguing a call at second base. “There’s some situations and tough plays in that first game that I wish we hadn’t even of had to play this one. But we get into it and it’s a 20 inning game and guys are fighting and scratching and clawing and stuff like that — you know what, they made a play and scored a run late and we didn’t. That’s the difference in the game.”

But it’s over. After 573 pitches were thrown. After some players came to bat nine times. After a tough day/night/morning of baseball that began at 11:05 on Sunday morning. The Owls are back at it at 1:00 this afternoon as they face Louisiana-Lafayette at Cougar Field. It’s just another elimination for the Owls, of which they’ve survived several this weekend. As for the Cougars, it’s all over. And suddenly those 43 wins for the season just feel kind of hollow.
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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal