HOUSTON -- Freshman Kyle Russell delivered a pinch-hit, two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift No. 7 Texas to a 5-4 victory over No. 2 Rice in front of 27,134 fans during the 2006 Houston College Classic at Minute Maid Park on Saturday, Feb. 11.
While the home run marked the first hit of Russell's (Magnolia, Texas) collegiate career, the win upped the Longhorns (3-3) winning streak to three games and handed Rice (3-1) its first loss of the 2006 season. Notably, the crowd of 27,134 set a tournament record and was the fourth largest attendance in NCAA Division I regular-season baseball history.
Texas looked to grab an early lead in the bottom of the second when Preston Clark (Rockwall, Texas) singled with two outs in front of a double off the bat of Bradley Suttle (Boerne, Texas), but Rice shortstop Josh Rodriguez made a perfect relay throw to the plate to cut down Clark and end the inning. After the Horns cut down Bobby Bramhall trying to stretch a double into a triple to start the top of the third, the Owls used a hit batter and consecutive base hits from Greg Buchanan and Luna to grab a 1-0 advantage. Responding immediately in the bottom half of the frame, UT received a one-out double inside the right-field line from Clay Van Hook (Brenham, Texas), who moved to third on an ensuing groundout and tied the game on a wild pitch.
Following a scoreless fourth for both sides, the Horns put runners on second and third with one out in the bottom of the fifth via two singles and a sacrifice bunt. Shortstop Chais Fuller (Fairfield, Calif.) then came up with a single through the right side to bring in both runs and give UT a 3-1 lead. While Rice's offense would place at least one runner on between the third and seventh innings, including a two-on, two-out situation in the seventh, Texas starter Kyle McCulloch (Houston, Texas) managed to pitch out of each jam and registered strikeouts to end the fifth, sixth and seventh frames.
In the top of the eighth with two down and McCulloch out of the game, the Owls rallied. Using two singles around a walk, Rice cut the Texas lead to 3-2. A throwing error then let the tying run score before another walk loaded the bases to bring the go-ahead run 90 feet away. At that point, freshman Kyle Walker (The Woodlands, Texas) came on in relief and fanned the first batter he faced on a 3-2 pitch to keep the game knotted at 3-3. After the Horns went in order in the bottom of the eighth, consecutive hit batters with one out in the top of the ninth put the lead run in scoring position for Rice. Following a strikeout, another throwing error allowed the runner from second to score and staked the Owls to a 4-3 lead.
In the bottom of the ninth, Texas received a one-out walk to Suttle, and, following a strikeout, Russell was called on to pinch hit for Van Hook. After taking a called strike, Russell connected on an opposite-field home run to hand the Longhorns a come-from-behind victory. Although McCulloch, who struck out a career-high nine while allowing only one run on five hits over seven innings, received a no-decision, Walker picked up the win in relief after fanning four over 1.1 innings of work. On the other side of the ledger, Rice starter Joe Savery also received a no-decision after allowing three runs on nine hits over 6.2 frames of work while reliever Bryce Cox shouldered the loss.
Paving the way for the Horns' 10-hit attack was Clark, who went 2-for-4, Brett Lewis (Rockwall, Texas), who collected two hits in three at bats while scoring once, and Van Hook, who went 2-for-3 with two runs scored. Rice, meanwhile, was lead offensively by Luna, who went 1-for-3 with one run scored and one RBI, and Travis Reagan, who posted a hit and one run scored. Additionally for UT, both Fuller and Suttle have now hit safely in five of Texas' six games to date after each registering one hit apiece on the night, and Texas pitchers tied a College Classic record with a combined 14 strikeouts against the Owls.
Up next, the Horns play the final of their three games at the Houston College Classic with a 2:30 p.m. Central matchup against No. 12 Tulane on Sunday, Feb. 12 at Minute Maid Park.