Owls continue winning streak with 7-0 at Reckling
After beginning their seven-game homestand with a sweep of Louisiana Tech University a week ago, the Rice baseball team took on the Harvard University Crimson last weekend in a three-game set at Reckling Park.
Against a young Crimson team sporting just a 1-6 record entering the series, Owls junior ace Austin Kubitza was his dominant self in the Friday night opener. With his offense spotting him a 5-0 lead, Kubitza threw seven scoreless innings, striking out eight batters and allowing just three hits to improve to 3-0 this season. Kubitza now ranks second in the nation with 53 strikeouts this season, one off the national lead.
"[Kubitza] is tough to hit," Head Coach Wayne Graham said. "He'll be the first to tell you [Friday night] was not his very best, but you have to give him credit because seven shutout innings also speaks for itself."
Graham expressed displeasure with his offense after the 5-2 win in which the Owls managed just one earned run, but the bats responded positively Saturday. Senior Christian Stringer's triple in the first inning brought in a pair of runs, the big hit in a five-run inning that saw 11 Rice batters at the plate. The Owls added runs in the second and in each of the final three innings, scoring nine on Saturday with a total of 13 hits. Stringer, freshman Connor Teykl, junior Michael Aquino and junior Keenan Cook all had multi-hit games in support of sophomore Jordan Stephens, who allowed just two runs over seven innings in the 9-2 victory.
Stephens talked about the run support he provided earlier.
"The hitting takes a lot of pressure off the pitchers," Stephens said. "You can go out there and pound the fastball early ... and get ahead [in the count] once you have a good lead."
Graham sent freshman Kevin McCanna to the hill with Rice going for the sweep Sunday, and the freshman responded with the best outing of his career behind another strong performance from the offense. Aquino's triple in the first inning put Rice ahead 3-0, and sophomore Ford Stainback's single in the second brought in two more runs. The Owls put up a five-spot in the seventh inning, capped off by a three-run triple from Cook, but the story of the afternoon was McCanna.
Arguably the most highly touted recruit in the freshman class, McCanna, provided mixed results in his first few appearances of the season. Graham said he wants him to become a regular in the weekend rotation, McCanna's start on Sunday was clearly an opportunity McCanna did not pass up. The freshman threw a career-high seven innings, shutting out the Crimson while allowing just one hit in the 12-0 Rice win.
Teykl was also impressive all weekend long, hitting a combined .526 during the Harvard and Louisiana Tech series. Teykl was named the Conference USA Hitter of the Week on Monday and continues to shine at third while filling in for injured junior Shane Hoelscher.
After the three-game sweep of Harvard, the Owls took on the Stephen F. Austin State University Lumberjacks in a midweek game Tuesday night, looking for their sixth straight win of the homestand. Rice took a 2-1 lead in the seventh on a sacrifice bunt from Stainback, but the Lumberjacks tied the game in the ninth on a solo home run to force extra innings. With two outs in the 10th, Cook drew a walk and stole second base to put the winning run in scoring position. The breakout star on offense this season, Aquino, delivered for the Owls when he punched a single into right field to bring Cook home in walk-off fashion.
"Once I got two strikes on me, I just tried to stay on top [of the ball] with my swing, maybe try and hit the ball the other way, and that's what happened," Aquino said. "Any team that comes in here, we're a target for them. We have to play hard every single game and go after them."
The Owls travel to Hattiesburg, Miss., tonight to begin the next stage of their season and kick off C-USA play with a three-game set against the University of Southern Mississippi. Southern Miss is off to a 8-11 start but was picked in the preseason to finish second in the league behind Rice, where it has finished in the regular season standings in two of the last three seasons. The first pitch tonight is at 6 p.m., followed by a 2 p.m. start tomorrow and a 1 p.m. finale Sunday.
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