Baseball comes back to life with 3-1 week
Owls Take Rubber Match Against Tulane 5-0, Improve to 6-3 in C-USA
For the second consecutive weekend, the Rice Owls baseball team took a conference series to a decisive third game, as they traveled east to New Orleans for an Easter weekend three-game set. Senior staff ace Matthew Reckling left the Thursday night opener in the fourth inning with his team leading 5-4, as senior Taylor Wall and junior J.T. Chargois combined for more than five innings of scoreless relief to seal the victory. On Friday, however, the Tulane offense jumped out to an early 3-0 lead off of senior Andrew Benak and went on to win the game by a 7-2 tally.
With the series lying in the balance, sophomore Austin Kubitza took the hill on Saturday afternoon for his first weekend start since the beginning of conference play. Rewarded by the coaching staff for his improved mechanics, the Preseason C-USA Pitcher of the Year held the Green Wave without a hit over six innings while walking five and striking out a pair. Senior Jeremy Rathjen and sophomore Shane Hoelscher paced the offense, combining for six hits and three RBIs, as Rice cruised to a one-hit shutout, taking the series finale by a score of 5-0 to improve to 6-3 in the conference.
In the third weekend of the conference season, the league's top three teams didn't flinch as the upper third of the standings stayed put for the week. After dropping the opener, the University of Central Florida won the final two games of their series against the University of Alabama-Birmingham to retain sole possession of first place in the conference at 7-2. East Carolina University played host to Houston, as the Pirates won the first two games of the series by a combined score of 26-4 before the two teams tied a Saturday finale that was called due to the travel curfew rule. At 6-2-1 in the conference, ECU sits in second place, with the Owls trailing by a half-game at 6-3. Memphis went on the road and swept Marshall to move to 5-4, but one-third of the way through conference play, the battle for the league title appears to be a three-team race between UCF, ECU and Rice.
Owls Come Back Against Texas State 6-5, Avenge Early Season Loss
Rice played host to Texas State on Tuesday, their second meeting of the season after the Owls lost in San Marcos on March 6 on a walk-off base hit. But this time around, it was Rice coming from behind with some late-inning heroics to clinch a vital non-conference victory. With his team trailing 5-3 in the seventh, Rathjen came to the plate with the bases loaded thanks to a pair of Texas State errors. With two hits on the evening, Rathjen to added his total with a triple into the corner in right field to clear the bases, putting the Owls ahead 6-5 through seven innings. Chargois finished the final two innings, holding the Bobcats to a single hit while earning his sixth save of the season. With the win, Rice now boasts eight victories this year against teams currently ranked in the Ratings Percent Index top 50.
Rice is on the road for the second straight weekend, as the team heads to West Virginia for three games against Marshall. In the Wayne Graham era, the Owls are 18-2 against the Thundering Herd, including 8-1 on the road. Marshall currently sits at 1-5 in the conference standings but is coming off a midweek sweep of Coppin State by a combined score of 35-2. The first pitch of the opener is set for 1:05 p.m. Central time, as the Owls look for their first three-game winning streak since starting the season 9-0.
On Tuesday, the Owls will head to College Station for a marquee matchup with Texas A&M, ranked No. 2 in the country in the latest Baseball America poll. Entering the weekend, the Aggies have won 12 of their last 14 games, and ranked in the top-25 in Division I in team hitting and staff ERA.
With the regular season now beyond the halfway point, it's never too early to take a look at the early postseason projections. Ranked No. 13 in the RPI, the Owls have benefitted from the emergence of teams such as Dallas Baptist and New Mexico State, early-season opponents that the Owls handled, to move up to No. 6 in the strength of schedule rankings. With these statistics, Rice is firmly in the running to host a regional for the second consecutive season. In its first postseason projection of 2012, Baseball America tabs the Owls as the No. 8 overall seed, hosting a regional that includes in-state rivals The University of Texas and Texas State.
Reckling's Superb Start Recognized
Ranking among the nation's leaders in strikeouts and batting average, Matthew Reckling was named to Baseball America's Midseason All-America Team. Reckling is 5-0 on the season with a 1.87 ERA, striking out 63 batters in 53 innings pitched while holding opponents to a .163 batting average. Reckling was one of four starting pitchers in the country named to the team, joining UCF's D.J. Hicks as the only representatives from C-USA.
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.