COLLEGE STATION, Texas - The No. 2 Texas A&M baseball team fell to visiting No. 7 Rice Tuesday night on Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park in front of 5,506 fans.
"This was a pretty disappointing loss," Texas A&M head coach Rob Childress said. "We played just good enough to lose."
The loss dropped the Aggies' record this season to 28-9, while Rice improved to 28-11 on the year.
The Owls jumped out to a 1-0 advantage in the top of the first inning off Texas A&M starter Gandy Stubblefield, who struggled with his command and recorded only two outs before being relieved by fellow freshman Corey Ray.
Rice's starting pitcher fared no better in the first inning as the Owls' Jordan Stephens did not record an out when Texas A&M responded with four runs during its first turn at bat.
The first four batters in the Aggie line-up each reached base and came around to score beginning when junior shortstop Mikey Reynolds led the frame off with a single and was quickly joined on base by sophomore center fielder Krey Bratsen, who walked on five pitches. Junior right fielder Tyler Naquin took advantage of the situation by tripling to left field to drive in both runners. The Spring, Texas, native picked up two hits in the game to notch the 61st multi-hit game of his A&M career.
The big first inning continued as senior designated hitter Matt Juengel doubled to plate Naquin and freshman left fielder Chance Bolcerek, starting for the first time in the outfield this season, added an RBI ground out to give the Aggies a 4-1 lead.
Rice began to chip away at the A&M lead, scoring a single run in the second and fourth innings to cut the home advantage down to 4-3.
Childress was ejected from the contest in the top of the third inning as he discussed a Rice batter being awarded first base after being hit by a pitch.
The A&M bullpen kept the Aggies in the game in the game despite 10 Rice hits as Ray, Daniel Mengden, Estevan Uriegas, Jason Freeman and Kyle Martin combined to throw 8.1 innings while yielding only earned three runs and stranding 15 Rice base runners in the loss.
"We had some pitchers step up and make big pitches to get us out of jams with Mengden, Estevan (Uriegas) and Freeman," Childress added. "All three of those guys made big pitches and made big plays for us tonight."
Rice tied the game in the top of the eighth, scoring on a RBI sacrifice fly off the bat of second baseman Christian Stringer before taking the lead in the top of the ninth when third baseman Shane Hoelscher brought home a run with a single to left off Martin (4-3).
Leadoff batter and Rice shortstop Ford Stainback led the way offensively for the Owls with four hits in the contest.
During the bottom of the ninth the Aggies mounted a final rally as representing the tying run, third baseman Blake Allemand drew a leadoff walk and was bunted over to second base. An Owl error put runners on first and second, but Rice closer J.T. Chargois struck out Bratsen and Naquin to end the game and record his eighth save of the season.
"It's really frustrating," Naquin said. "They (Rice) have good RPI standings and are a good ranked team; you always want to beat those guys. We didn't get off to a very good start (in the top of the first) but we had some guys come out and pick him (Stubblefield) up. Then we came out, put their guy out of the game but after that we couldn't really get anything else going back up... This game reminds me a lot of the South Carolina game in Omaha."
Texas A&M baseball is back in action this weekend when it faces rival Baylor in a critical Big 12 series. The first contest of the three-game set will take place Friday night at 6:35 p.m. on Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park before the venue shifts to Baylor Ballpark in Waco for Saturday and Sunday's contests.