Rice holds off late Miami rally
OMAHA, Neb. -- Cole St. Clair was on the mound a lot earlier than usual for Rice.
It was the chance the star closer wanted all season, and he rewarded coach Wayne Graham and the Owls with a clutch performance.
St. Clair pitched five solid innings in his second career start, Tyler Henley led off the game with a home run and Rice held on in the ninth to beat Miami 3-2 in the College World Series on Monday night.
"I wouldn't exactly call it pressuring coach into letting me start, but it's just kind of, I don't know, taking the opportunity when I get it," St. Clair said. "I was excited when I got the news yesterday that I was going to get to start and I just took advantage of it."
He certainly did. The big left-hander with the even bigger leg kick kept the Hurricanes off-balance, allowing one unearned run and three hits before being replaced by Bobby Bell to start the sixth inning.
"He is one of the guys I feel secure in telling him early that he's going to start because instead of it disrupting him in any way, he sees it as opportunity," Graham said. "He goes home and centers himself on the job."
The sophomore closer started one other game in his career, throwing three scoreless innings in Rice's 9-3 win over Sam Houston State on Feb. 21.
"It's a feeling I haven't had in a long time, but after I get past my third inning, I kind of get my second wind," St. Clair said. "It's just a matter of once I get my leg up -- I know I have that huge leg kick -- it feels like it's all downhill from there. So, if I can stay balanced, it just helps me stay balanced."
The victory put the Owls (57-11) in the winners' bracket, and they need to win once more to advance to the championship series. Rice will take on the winner of Tuesday's elimination game between Miami (42-23) and Oregon State on Wednesday night.
Miami fell short in its comeback bid in the ninth as Bryce Cox struck out the last two batters with the tying run on third base and the potential winning run on first.
"Getting those two hitters out showed remarkable character and, obviously, remarkable stuff. He had it," said Graham, a former major-leaguer. "That last slider was the reason I didn't have much of a career in the big leagues. I couldn't hit it, either."
With the count 2-2, Jon Jay checked his swing and plate umpire Randy Harvey appealed to third-base ump Joe Burleson, who said Jay swung for strike three.
Hurricanes coach Jim Morris ran out of the dugout to argue the call and was ejected by Burleson shortly into the discussion.
"The umpire was totally right," Morris said. "It's just a little frustrating. The rule I don't necessarily agree with. Base coaches can't say anything to the umpires, like they're supposed to be statues out there. So you have to come out and say something in a situation like that."
With most of the crowd standing at Rosenblatt Stadium, Cox came right back and struck out Danny Valencia to end it.
"I was feeding off the energy, not only the from the guys playing behind me but also the crowd," Cox said. "They were pretty loud."
Cox scattered three hits in 2 2/3 innings to earn his fourth save.
"I was able to work my curveball in with [Jay] and get a little more confidence with that, and when the next guy came up, I knew I had two pitches I could work and get the guy out with," Cox said.
Rice gave St. Clair an early lead, scoring twice in the first against Danny Gil (4-3). Henley sent Gil's third pitch past the outstretched glove of leaping right fielder Tommy Giles and over the wall.
After Greg Buchanan singled, Brian Friday bunted in front of the plate and catcher Eddy Rodriguez grabbed the ball and sidearmed it to first, but first baseman Yonder Alonso had the ball tip off the top his glove for an error. One out later, Joe Savery's sacrifice fly to left made it 2-0 before Friday was caught stealing for the final out.
"It gave them momentum," Morris said. "Of course, the first hitter hit the ball out. But the second run was unearned. Danny pitched good enough to win. He pitched very good. In these games, the pressure is big at this level now, knowing that this is the game that puts you in the driver's seat."
Miami scored an unearned run against St. Clair in the third after the Owls made two errors.
Rice added a run in the fourth on an RBI groundout by Kenny Ford.
Miami had a chance to tie -- or even take its first lead -- in the seventh, when the Hurricanes hit consecutive one-out singles against Bell.
Cox came in and got Valencia to hit a potential double-play grounder that Friday fielded but dropped as he got ready to toss it to second base. The shortstop recovered the ball and quickly shuffled it to Buchanan at second base as Jemile Weeks scored to make it 3-2. Dennis Raben grounded to second to end the threat.
"I don't think it blows anything for our championship hopes," Weeks said. "We were down the first game against Ole Miss last weekend and lost the first game and came back fighting. I think the last thing for anybody to say is that we're down with hopes. We're going to come back strong and try to come back and win it all."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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