Jeremy Rathjen scored a go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning and drove in the tying run in the ninth before blasting a walk-off homer to lead off the 12th as the sixth-ranked Rice baseball team rallied for a 5-4 victory over visiting FIU Saturday evening at Reckling Park.
After being sidelined the final two-thirds of last season, Rathjen quickly made up for his time away in the Owls’ opening weekend of 2012. The Houston native from Memorial High School went 1-for-2 with a pair of walks in the season-opener Friday night. He then went 3-for-5 with two RBI, two runs scored and a big home run on Saturday. In addition to the offensive fireworks where both sides rallied late in the contest to force extra innings, Rathen also snared a tough fly ball near the right field foul line for the final out of the fifth inning when the Panthers had men on the corners.
With a 1-0 lead after a sacrifice fly by Michael Fuda in the bottom of the third, the Owls continued to fight to keep FIU off the scoreboard. The Panthers had a runner in scoring position in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings, but Rice starter Matthew Reckling was sound and solid in firing six shutout innings where he scattered four hits and a walk while striking out seven.
Rice looked to be on its way out of danger in the eighth after Fuda threw out a would-be tying run at home plate, but FIU bounced back to tie the game 1-1 on a wild pitch after a strikeout that allowed a runner on third to score.
The Blue & Gray came right back and broke the deadlock with two runs in the bottom of the eighth. Rathjen led off with a single and moved to scoring position on Shane Hoelscher‘s sacrifice bunt. Chase McDowell drew a walk in his return to action and both he and Rathjen scored on Derek Hamilton‘s double to the gap in left-center to make it 3-1.
FIU would not go away so easy, and proceeded to post three runs in the top of the ninth. The big blow was a three-run homer to left by Jabari Henry that put the Panthers in front 4-3.
Rice answered with a tying run in its half of the ninth. Christian Stringer drew a leadoff walk and he moved to scoring position on Fuda’s sacrifice bunt. Stringer went to third on a fly ball to left and scored on Rathjen’s hustling infield single up the middle that made it 4-4.
Senior left-hander Taylor Wall entered the game out of the bullpen and held FIU scoreless for the final 3.1 innings. He earned the win on the mound when Rathjen delivered the heroic extra-inning blast.
Rice improved to 2-0 with its second win over FIU in as many games. The finale of the three-game weekend series is set for 12 noon at Reckling Park. (This start time is a change from some earlier listings.)