Baseball in midst of slump after loss to SHSU
Fuda home run caps furious rally, Owls take crucial weekend series
When your program is riding an active streak of 16 straight conference championships, performances like the one last Sunday embody the success of Rice baseball.
In the first home conference series of the 2012 season, the Owls played host to the University of Southern Mississippi team that they shared last year's regular season conference crown with after Rice capped a late-season comeback by taking two of three in Hattiesburg, Miss. in the final weekend of the season. Although the Golden Eagles lost four of their top five bats and all three of their weekend starters from a season ago, their third-ranked freshman class (according to Baseball America) makes them a safe bet to contend with Conference USA's best this season.
In the series opener on Friday night, senior Matthew Reckling worked into the seventh inning while holding Southern Miss to just three runs as the offense scored three in the sixth en route to a 6-3 victory. But after Rice fell 2-1 on Saturday in spite of outhitting its guests 9-4, the shift of power in the second week of the conference season came down to the Sunday finale.
After a scoreless first three innings, junior starter Andrew Benak hit a road bump in the fourth after allowing a pair of walks with three hits, and the Golden Eagles jumped out to a 5-0 lead. But after going down 6-0, facing a 3-3 start to conference play, the Owls began to chip away at the deficit with a four-run fifth inning on four hits. And after freshman Ford Stainback added an RBI single in the sixth to make it a 6-5 ballgame, a single and a walk in the bottom of the seventh put two Owls on base with two outs for senior Michael Fuda, who was mired in a minor hitting slump after pacing the offense for the better part of the early season. Facing a soft-throwing lefty reliever, Fuda turned on a breaking ball middle-in and ripped a line drive down the left-field line. A no-doubter off the bat, the hit hooked inside the foul pole for a three-run home run, putting Rice up by a score of 8-6. Juniors J.T. Chargois and Tyler Duffey combined to hold Southern Miss scoreless over the final 4 2/3 innings, allowing the Owls to clinch the series with a come-from-behind win and improve to 4-2 in the conference.
Conference USA: UCF stays hot; ECU Bounces Back
Now up to No. 15 in the Baseball America poll, the University of Central Florida Knights stayed hot with a three-game sweep of Houston, outscoring the Cougars 20-5 over the weekend to gain sole possession of first place in the conference at 5-1. The Owls will play UCF in the final series of the season, May 17-19 in Orlando, Fla. East Carolina University bounced back from its 1-2 start with a home sweep of University of Alabama-Birmingham, and is now tied with Rice for second place in the C-USA standings. In its first conference series of the season, Tulane University took two of three from the University of Memphis to move into fourth in the nine-team conference.
Owls Drop Midweek Decision to Sam Houston State, Reset Weekend Rotation
Rice played host to Sam Houston State University, one of the hottest teams in the country, in a game marking the return of longtime Owls assistant David Pierce to the Reckling Park confines he called home for nine seasons. In his first year as the head coach of the Bearkats, Pierce brought his team to South Main on Tuesday night, and his squad won their ninth game in a row, downing the Owls 2-1. Rice outhit Sam Houston State 7-4 but went 0-7 as a team with runners in scoring position in a frustrating defeat that dropped the team to 21-10 on the year and just 7-6 in their its 13 games.
Sophomore Austin Kubitza made the start on Tuesday, allowing two runs on three hits while striking out two in three innings pitched. Head Coach Wayne Graham announced after the game that Kubitza, the conference's preseason pitcher of the year, will make the return to the weekend rotation this Saturday at Tulane. Reckling will make the start Thursday, with Benak pitching the middle game on Friday.
Team hits road this weekend for three at Tulane
The Owls are in New Orleans, La. this weekend for three games against the Green Wave, with the series opener taking place last night between the conference rivals. At 19-8, Tulane boasts one of the top-15 offenses in the nation entering the week but has a strength of schedule ranked 241st in Division I. Tulane was picked by the coaches in the preseason to finish sixth in the conference but bounced back from a series-opening loss last weekend to take two of three from Memphis on the road. Due to the Easter holiday on Sunday, the Owls and Green Wave play a Thursday-Friday-Saturday slate this weekend, with Rice traveling back to Houston on Saturday night. Rice will also host Texas State University on Tuesday in midweek action, a team the Owls lost to in walk-off fashion earlier in the season.
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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.