Tide upsets No. 2 Rice, 6-5

Two freshmen playing in their first game for the University of Alabama baseball team played a major role in the Crimson baseball 6-5 upset victory over the No. Rice Owls in the final game for both teams at the 2003 Minute Maid Park Classic in Houston.

Right-hander Allen Ponder, a native of Opelika, Ala., allowed on two hits in five shutout innings of relief to earn the win in his very first game for the Crimson Tide. He also walked two and struck out five Owl batters in his debut. The 50th round pick of the Baltimore Orioles last summer, entered the game with one out in the fourth inning and the Crimson Tide trailing 5-2. With runners on the corners and one out, Ponder (1-0) struck out leadoff batter Jeff Jorgensen and then retired No. 2 hitter Chris Kolkhorst on a ground out to end the threat.

"Ponder is mentally tough," Alabama head coach Jim Wells said. "I didn't expect him to pitch like that, but is certainly capable. He is a big kid. He works very hard and has improved a lot since the fall. He is going to be a very good one here."

Ponder left the game after allowing a one-out double to designated hitter Dane Bubela in the ninth inning. Senior right-hander Brian Reed came on to record the final two outs to earn his second save of the season and 11th of his UA career.

Tuscaloosa County High School graduate Charlie Lyons was also instrumental in the Crimson baseball upset win over Rice, which won 51 games last year and placed seventh at the College World Series. Lyons collected his first career hit in the sixth inning off losing pitcher Matt Ueckert (0-1), which led to the eventual winning run. In the seventh inning, Lyons picked off Craig Stansberry at third base for the final out of the inning, thwarting a scoring opportunity for the Owls.

"That was a huge play in the game," Wells said. "He made a very good throw to third base. Overall, we played well defensively today."

In the decisive sixth inning, freshman Evan Bush drew a one-out walk and moved to second base on Lyons sharp single to center field. Travis Garner then walked to load the bases and Allen Rice followed with a bases-loaded walk to score Bush with what proved to the winning run. Left-hander Marcus Ramos then retired Brad Van Winkle on an inning-ending double play to prevent further damage by the Crimson Tide.

Alabama (2-1) opened the scoring in the bottom of the first inning when senior right fielder Beau Hearod greeted former UA teammate Josh Baker with a opposite field two-run home run to stake the Crimson Tide to a 2-0 first-inning lead. Baker retired Travis Garner and Allen Rice before he hit Brad Van Winkle with the first pitch. Hearod then slammed a 1-0 pitch deep into the right field bleachers.

The baseball gods were more than kind to the Owls in the second inning as they scored four runs on five hits to take a 4-2 lead. Preseason All-American first baseman Vincent Sinisi led off with a infield single behind second base. After Paul Janish lined out to center, Austin Davis followed with a baltimore-chop single over the glove of first baseman Zac Welch, sending Sinisi to third base. Rice's good fortune continued as second baseman Enrique Crux blooped a single into center field, scoring Sinisi from third base. Catcher Justin Richti followed with a triple into the right field corner, that just eluded the glove of a diving Beau Hearod. Davis and Cruz scored on the play to give the Owls a 3-2 lead. Jeff Jorgensen's swinging bunt single down the third base line brought home Ruchti and pushed the Owls in front 4-2.

The Owls (2-1) added another run in the fourth and knocked UA starter Jeffrey Norris out of the game. Davis singled to center and moved to third on Cruz' double into left field. Ruchti grounded out to short chasing Davis home from third base with a 5-1 lead. After a walk to Matt Emerson, the No. 9 hitter, Norris was replaced by freshman right-hander Allen Ponder, making his UA debut.

In 3 2/3 innings, Norris was touched for five runs on eight hits, allowing one walk and two strikeouts.

The Crimson Tide tied the game in the bottom of the fourth inning, scoring three runs on five hits to knock Baker out of the game. Al Hecklinski opened the inning with an infield single and moved to third on Welch's base hit to right field. After Adam Pavkovich popped out, Evan Bush blooped a single to right, scoring Hecklinski from third base. After Lyons popped out, Garner and Rice delivered back-to-back two out singles to tie the game at 5-5.

Rice's base hit was his first of the season, snapping a season-opening 0-for-9 slump.

The Owls threatened in the seventh and ninth innings, but could not score the tying run against the Alabama bullpen.

Hecklinski led Alabama with two hits, while Rice and Hearod had two RBI each. Jorgensen, Davis and Cruz had two hits for the Owls, while Ruchti added three RBI in the loss.

Alabama and Rice have met twice in baseball action and the Crimson Tide has won both meetings by identical 6-5 scores. In the only other meeting, Alabama snapped a 5-5 tie in the bottom of the ninth inning to eliminate Rice from the 1999 College World Series.

The Crimson Tide will play its home opener this Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. against Centenary at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. The Centenary game will be the first game of a 17-game home stand, the longest of the season by Alabama.


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