Horns outlast Rice in 11 innings, one win away from regional win
By Steve Habel
HOUSTON – There will likely be a trivia question in years to come about the Texas-Rice NCAA regional game that took two months to play and was won by the Longhorns 3-2 in 11 innings in the early morning hours of June 1 at Reckling Park.
It was a game that started in May and ended in June. Thanks to the laser-sharp pitching of reliever John Curtiss and the clutch, career-high, four-hit performance by Brooks Marlow, the Horns are a win away from winning the Houston regional in the Owls’ home park and get to sleep in rather that trudge to the ballpark for an early game later today.
Curtiss, in relief of starter Parker French and relievers Travis Duke and Morgan Cooper, hurled four innings of can’t-touch-this baseball, retiring all 12 batters he faced. That allowed Texas (40-18) the chance to tie the game in the eighth (on a C.J Hinojosa sacrifice fly) and win it in the 11th, when Marlow ripped a RBI single that scores Zane Gurwitz with the deciding run.
“Either team could have won this game but we found a way to take advantage of some of the opportunities we had in the late innings after not doing so earlier in the game,” Texas coach Augie Garrido said. “We were far from perfect, but we were good enough to win tonight.”
The winners’ bracket game began at 9:40 p.m., two hours and 40 minutes after its originally scheduled starting and because of a sudden rainstorm that blew into the midtown area just as the teams were finishing their pregame warm-ups. The losers’ bracket game between Texas A&M and George Mason – which was won by the Aggies 7-3 – didn’t conclude until 7:40 p.m. because of earlier problems with the weather.
Texas pounded out 14 hits, with Payton, Barrera, Shaw and Gurwitz recording two each, but the Horns left 13 runners on base.
“Really, we were lucky to hang around with them as long as we did with the way Texas hit the ball,” Rice coach Wayne Graham said. “Texas’s pitchers did a great job, especially Curtiss.”
Rice broke on top in the second inning when John Clay Reeves ripped a RBI single to center to score Skyler Ewing. That lead held until the sixth as Texas tied the game on back-to-back doubles by Mark Payton and Tres Barrera.
Payton’s hit allowed him to extend his on-base streak to a nation-leading 97 games, but there is little doubt that tying the game was more important to the Horns’ senior leader.
The Owls (42-19) answered in the bottom of the sixth, as Ewing’s ringing double off the left-field wall plated Shane Hoelscher, who had singled and was sacrificed to second by Michael Aquino.
Texas had a chance to even the score in the seventh but ran itself out of an opportunity. Zane Gurwitz singled with one out and tried to take two bases on a wild pitch that couldn’t initially be located by Rice catcher Reeves but got thrown out at third. Marlow followed with a single to right that would have easily scored the speedy Gurwitz from second base.
Payton’s leadoff double in the eighth finally chased Blake Fox in favor of former Horns’ righthander Trevor Tekyl. After a single by Barrera moved Payton to third and a Madison Carter strikeout, Hinojosa lifted a fly to short right field that was just deep enough to allow Payton to beat the throw from the Owls’ Kennan Cook and tie the game at 2-2.
That left the game to Curtiss (2-2), who was flawless, and to Marlow, who had arguably the biggest hit of the Longhorns’ season.
“This was all about two teams competing as hard as they can and there had to be a winner and a loser,” Marlow said. “We get to sleep in tomorrow while Rice and A&M slug it out to play in the late game, and I think that gives us some advantage but we won’t let down.”