Rice pitcher adds SMS to a record win streak

Sunday, June 15, 2003

OMAHA, Neb. -- Working on a one-hitter through eight innings, Jeff Niemann ignored cramps in his legs and went out for the ninth.

But after giving up back-to-back home runs, the big Rice right-hander was just happy to walk away with the victory as the Owls held on to beat Southwest Missouri State 4-2 in the College World Series on Saturday.

"I wanted to have a no-hitter, and then I wanted to have a shutout," Niemann said. "I didn't do that too well, I guess."

David Aardsma came on in relief and got the last three outs after Greg Mathis and Jacob Hilgendorf homered off Niemann to open the inning.

"There's no quit in Southwest Missouri," Owls coach Wayne Graham said. "They scared me to death that last inning."

Niemann (17-0) won his school-record 18th straight decision over two seasons.

Through eight innings, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound sophomore allowed only Mathis' bunt single in the third.

Niemann walked one and struck out 10. He went to a three-ball count against one batter and threw only 87 pitches.

"Jeff came to the big show and was as good as he's been all year," Graham said. "I don't think he can pitch better than that."

Rice (54-11) advanced to a Monday game. Southwest Missouri (40-25) also will play Monday.

Rice and Southwest Missouri combined for only eight hits, tying the fewest in a CWS game.

Southwest Missouri pitcher Chad Mulholland (10-4) settled down after struggling in the first inning. He hit two batters, walked one and threw a wild pitch -- all against the first three batters.

After loading the bases, Rice picked up two runs on Enrique Cruz's single and Craig Stansberry's sacrifice fly.

Mulholland gave up only four hits the rest of the way, but two were solo homers by Vincent Sinisi in the third and Austin Davis in the sixth.

It was only the 50th and 51st home runs in Rice's 65 games.

"I've always said we have a little bit of power," Graham said, "even though it's not reflected in the stats."

Before Shaun Marcum walked in the eighth, Mathis was the only SMS batter to reach base. His third-inning bunt forced Niemann to come off the mound to his right and try to barehand the ball. But he couldn't get a grip, and scorekeeper Lou Spry ruled it a hit.

"I would have scored it a hit," Graham said.

"I'll take an error," Niemann deadpanned.

Niemann said he started getting cramps in his calves and hamstrings in the seventh inning.

"I gave it all I got," Niemann said. "I was trying to get ahead, throw strikes and get lucky."

But Mathis lofted a ball into the left-field bleachers leading off the ninth, and Hilgendorf's liner cleared the wall near the same spot.

Aardsma then came on and picked up his 12th save.

SMS catcher Tony Piazza said he and his teammates were impressed with Niemann.

"It's hard to hit when you're down 0-2 or 1-2 in the count all the time," Piazza said. "We figure that's the best pitcher we'll see here."

Rice won its CWS opener for the first time in four Omaha appearances.

"I'm tried of getting beat in the first round," Graham said. "I like this place, and I want to stick around awhile."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: