Greg Byrne's Wildcat Wednesday
Cats Claw Back, Hold Off Owls
By: Arizona Athletics
Release: March 14, 2012
Photo Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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March 14, 2012

Arizona 8, Rice 5 (Box Score)

HOUSTON, Texas - The sixth-ranked Arizona baseball team earned a hard-fought series split with a come-from-behind victory to defeat eighth-ranked Rice, 8-5, here at Reckling Park on Saturday night.

Arizona (14-3) trailed by three runs in the early stages of the game, but two runs in the fourth and another run in the sixth tied the contest at 3-3. The Wildcats then claimed their first lead in eighth inning with a pair of runs and extended that margin to 8-3 going to the bottom of the ninth.

Closer Mathew Troupe made things interesting in the home half of the ninth, allowing two runs on two hits and three walks. Troupe's third walk put the tying run on base and brought Michael Fuda to the plate, who represented the winning run. But Troupe, who recorded two strikeouts earlier in the inning, was able to strike out Fuda to close the game and preserve his second save of the season.

Rice (14-5), which won Tuesday night's game 5-1, jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third inning off UA starter Vincent Littleman. But Wildcat relievers Konner Wade and Stephen Manthei combined to shutout the Owls over the next five innings by setting down 15-consecutive opposing hitters.

That provided ample time for the Wildcats' bats awaken. Seth Mejias-Brean and Joey Rickard had three hits apiece and combined for four runs scored, while Mejias-Brean also drove in a pair of runs to pace an 11-hit attack.

Arizona's rally began in its very next at-bat following the three-run third posted by the Owls as the Wildcats answered with two runs of their own. Mejias-Brean delivered a two-out, two-strike single up the middle to drive in Rickard. Later, Riley Moore drew a bases-loaded walk to force in a second run.

Rice starter Zech Lemond pitched into the sixth inning, but issued a leadoff walk to Johnny Field before being replaced by Taylor Wall (3-2). Mejias-Brean singled off Wall, and Trent Gilbert advanced both runners into scoring position. Wall struck out Moore and had Brandon Dixon on the hook with an 0-2 count, but his next pitch skipped in the dirt and allowed Field to score the tying run on a wild pitch.

With the game tied at 3-3, Mejias-Brean sparked a two-out rally in the top of the eighth inning. His third hit of the game was a double to the wall in right field, and Gilbert was hit by a pitch to put two runners on. Riley Moore followed with an RBI single to right field, and Dixon pulled a run-scoring single through the left side to give the Wildcats a two-run lead.

Arizona tacked on three much-needed insurance runs in the top of the ninth inning. Rickard singled to open the frame and went to third one out later on a double by Robert Refsnyder. Field then drew a walk to load the bases, and Mejias-Brean drove in a run on a fielder's choice groundout.

That left runners at first and third with two down. Mejias-Brean drew a pickoff throw at first and subsequently got in a run down that allowed Refsnyder to score, while Mejias-Brean reached second safely. Gilbert then singled home Mejias-Brean with a two-out hit through the left side.

It was an emphatic comeback for a Wildcat club that was on the verge of getting swept in the brief two-game series. For the second straight night, a multi-run inning had the visitors on the ropes early.

Littleman ran into trouble in the bottom of the third. He hit Christian Stringer with a pitch to lead off the frame, then Michael Ratterree reached on catcher's interference. Fuda followed with a two-run triple to the gap in right-center, ending Littleman's outing after giving up three runs - two earned - in two-plus innings of work. He allowed three hits, a walk and struck out three.

Wade, Arizona's usual Saturday starter, was fabulous in relief of Littleman. With Fuda at third and no outs, Wade recorded a strikeout and two groundouts to escape more trouble, but Fuda scored on the first groundout to push the Owls' lead to 3-0. Wade went on to throw three perfect innings of relief, retiring all nine batters he faced. He struck out three.

Stephen Manthei (1-0) took over in the bottom of the sixth and set down each batter he faced in the sixth and seventh innings. A leadoff walk in the eighth turned the game over to Troupe, who retired each batter he faced in the inning.

The win marked two firsts for the Wildcats, including their first road win and first victory over a ranked team. They now quickly turn their attention to the Pac-12 Conference opener this weekend in Tucson, Ariz.

Arizona hosts Washington State in a three-game series at Hi Corbett Field beginning on Friday night at 6 p.m. (MST). The series continues on Saturday at 6 p.m. and concludes on Sunday at noon.

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