Baseball wins first conference series
Rice off to 2-1 Start in C-USA, adds midweek win over Lamar
For the first weekend of Conference USA action, the Owls traveled to the University of Memphis to take on the Tigers for three games last weekend at FedEx Park. The series opener on Friday will go down as the best outing of Matthew Reckling's career to date, as the senior righty fired his first-ever complete game, a three-hit shutout in a 1-0 victory that lowered his league-leading ERA to 1.05 for the season. Rice's lone run came on a groundout by sophomore Shane Hoelscher in the eighth inning that scored junior Michael Ratterree, allowing the Owls to take the opener from their hosts. On Saturday, the bats came alive late for Rice as the team broke open a tight game with a nine-run eighth inning en route to a 15-4 victory. The Owls sent 14 men to the plate in the frame, recording eight hits and putting the game out of reach to clinch the weekend series with the Tigers. The Sunday finale, however, fell in favor of the home team, as Memphis broke a deadlock with four runs in the eighth on its way to a 6-2 win.
"You never complain too much if you win a series on the road," Head Coach Wayne Graham said following his team's performance to open the season's C-USA action. "We feel like we did not play up to our potential, but two out of three on the road and being tied for the conference lead, you can't feel too bad about it. We know we can play better than we played."
The Owls were once again on the road Tuesday as they avenged a home loss last week with a 17-2 drubbing of Lamar University. Rice set season-high marks for runs both in a game as well as an inning when it scored 10 in the fifth to break the game open against the Cardinals. The team tallied nine extra-base hits that evening, improving to 19-8.
Peek around the conference
At 2-1 in C-USA, Rice currently stands tied atop the conference standings with three other teams that recorded series wins in the first weekend of conference action. In the premier matchup of the past weekend, University of Central Florida took two of three at home against East Carolina University to take the top spot in the official standings by virtue of overall record.
The Knights, ranked No. 17 in this week's Baseball America poll (Rice stayed put at No. 9), figure to pose the best threat to the Owls' active streak of 16 straight conference titles.
In other action, University of Alabama Birmingham won the rubber match on Sunday to win this series against Marshall University, and the University of Southern Mississippi took two of three against the University of Houston.
This weekend, the Owls will host Southern Miss for three games in a matchup pairing the top two teams in C-USA from a season ago. The Golden Eagles figure to once again rank among the best teams in the conference, making this weekend's series perhaps the most crucial slate to date for Graham's team.
"With Southern Miss on the weekend, that is going to be a prime series," Graham said. "Southern Miss is capable of being ranked. It is a very important conference series and a great series to watch since there is so much talent on the field."
Reckling will look to replicate last week's gem in the game tonight, with the first pitch set for 6:30 p.m. The last time these two teams met was a season ago in Mississippi in a regular season finale with the conference's title up for grabs. Rice took two out of three to clinch the crown, a standard of success the squad will look to replicate this weekend.
More from The Rice Thresher
On Thursday, sophomore distance runner Grace Forbes proved to the rest of the country what her Conference USA opponents and Rice teammates have known for years – she’s one of the fastest runners in the country. Competing at the NCAA championships in Eugene, Ore. for the second consecutive year, Forbes, took second place in the 10,000-meter, the best finish by an Owl at the NCAAs in over a decade. According to Forbes, who missed the indoor season and the first month of the outdoor season due to extreme fatigue later diagnosed as an autoimmune disorder, the result was a testament to the work she’s put in to overcome an incredibly challenging year.
Five Owls will be heading to next week’s NCAA outdoor track and field championships, after qualifying at the NCAA West Preliminaries which ran May 25 through 28. Headlining the meet for Rice was sophomore distance-runner Grace Forbes, who took first place in the 10,000 meters for the second consecutive year. Forbes will be joined in Eugene, Ore., by sophomore thrower Tara Simpson-Sullivan, junior thrower Erna Gunnarsdottir, senior thrower James McNaney and sophomore vaulter Alex Slinkman. Jon Warren, head coach of the men’s track and field program, said that he was impressed not only by the five qualifiers, but by all 13 Owls who participated over the course of the week in Fayetteville, Ark.
The Conference USA outdoor track and field championships saw Rice’s men’s team place third with 121 points — their best conference championship performance since 2005 — and the women’s team place fifth with 88 points. According to men’s head coach Jon Warren, he was proud to see the work his team put in all season be on full display at the meet.