Roadrunners fall short of Conference USA Tournament Championship on Sunday
HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Rice head coach Wayne Graham insisted that nothing came easy on Sunday afternoon against UTSA in the championship game of the 2014 Conference USA Tournament. With seven runs in the final two innings Sunday afternoon, the 16th-ranked Owls turned ran away with an 11-5 victory and ended UTSA's hopes of a second consecutive conference tournament championship at Pete Taylor Park.
It was the fifth time in Rice's nine years in C-USA that it had won both regular season and tournament championships.
"They're all hard," Graham said after seeing his top-seeded Owls (41-18) win their second C-USA tournament crown in as many years. "UTSA has a good team. We just kept hitting the ball hard and eventually it broke through for us."
No one hit the ball harder all week than senior left fielder Michael Aquino, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player after going 12-for-21 (.571 batting average) in five games, with two home runs, nine RBIs and seven runs scored. He collected 18 total bases with a slugging percentage of .857.
On Sunday, Aquino went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and four RBIs, including his second two-run homer of the tournament.
"It's definitely special," Aquino said. "I didn't think I'd be out here doing this. I'm glad I was able to help my team win."
UTSA (35-26), which was trying to become the second No. 7 seed to win the tournament in the past three years, twice rallied, leading 2-1 in the fourth inning and then erasing a 4-2 deficit with a three-spot in the sixth.
"We really felt like we could win the tournament if we got on a roll," UTSA head coach Jason Marshall said. "We got some momentum and were on the doorstep of it. We were six outs away and had the lead.
"Rice makes you play clean, efficient baseball all the way for 27 outs. If you even flinch at all, you leave the door open for them and they will kick that thing in in a hurry. It happened to us in the regular season and happened to us today. They are a good ballclub."
UTSA's lead held until the top of the eighth. Rice reserve catcher Hunter Kopycinski, who came in after John Clay Reeves was shaken up during a play at the plate, and center fielder Leon Byrd led off the inning with singles. The Owls loaded the bases when second baseman Connor Teykl's bunt was misplayed for an error.
Shortstop Ford Stainback tied the score with a fielder's choice grounder and Byrd scored the go-ahead run on right fielder Keenan Cook's sacrifice fly.
Rice tacked up five more runs on six hits in the ninth to put the game out of reach, with Aquino, McDowell, Byrd and Stainback supplying run-scoring singles.
Kevin McCanna (8-3), who won Rice's opener Wednesday, came out of the bullpen to allow one run over the final four innings. McCanna, who became the first pitcher to win two games in a C-USA Tournament since 2010, allowed four hits, while walking one and striking out one.
Ewing and Byrd joined Aquino with three hits apiece for Rice, while catcher John Bormann had three of the Roadrunners' eight hits.