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Thursday, June 13, 2024 — Houston, TX

Baseball drops weekend series

By Ryan Glassman     4/18/13 7:00pm

Locked in a race near the top of the Conference USA standings, the Rice baseball team lost its first weekend series of the season after dropping two of three games at home against the University of Central Florida.

It was a tough weekend for top 1-2 pitching duo junior Austin Kubitza and sophomore Jordan Stephens. They entered last weekend's home series against UCF a combined 8-3 for the season with a 1.83 ERA and were averaging nearly 10 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.

Both Kubitza and UCF starter Chris Matulis struggled with control in the Friday night opener, combining to issue 13 walks and hit three batters in a total of 12 innings pitched. But Rice went just 1-for-13 at the plate with runners in scoring position, leaving 13 runners on base. Kubitza allowed a pair of runs in 4 2/3 innings pitched, and the Owls fell 5-1 in the opener.

Stephens was solid in his outing Saturday, but the offense showed more resilience throughout the game behind its sophomore starter. Stephens was chased from the game in the sixth inning, and the Owls fell behind 7-4 heading into the ninth. The Owls rallied for three runs to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth and force extra innings. But UCF put up another four-run inning in the 12th, taking advantage of two hits and an error to go ahead 11-7 late. The Owls' bats were unable to put together any runs in the bottom half, and Rice lost 11-7, dropping its first weekend series of the year.

Head Coach Wayne Graham's team was able to salvage the last game of the series Sunday, rallying late and holding on for a 7-6 win to improve to 7-5 in C-USA play. Junior pitcher John Simms allowed three runs over six innings, but Rice trailed 4-1 until a big rally in the bottom of the seventh. In serious danger of being swept at home in a weekend series for the first time in 20 years, the Owls rallied for six runs on four hits and four walks from UCF pitchers to pull ahead 7-4.

The Knights added a run in the eighth and had two runners in scoring position when trailing 7-5 in the ninth. After a ground ball hit up the middle deflected off of the extended glove of sophomore shortstop Ford Stainback, allowing one run to score, UCF attempted to tie the game on the same play with the runner from second base headed for the plate. But senior Christian Stringer fired home for a game-ending play at the plate, and Rice held on for a dramatic 7-6 win.

Senior Michael Ratterree said Stringer came through in the clutch to save the Owls from a three-game sweep.

"It was a great job by [Stainback] to keep the ball in the infield," Ratterree said. "[Stringer], who's always heads up, made a good throw home, and we tagged him out."

Ratterree said he was glad the Owls denied UCF the sweep, which would have significantly damaged Rice's chances in the conference title race.

"It would have been a horrible loss for us if we got swept at home," Ratterree said. "It keeps us alive in the race for the conference. We're going to have to play flawlessly from here on out, but we're going to have some momentum going into the midweek."

The Owls rode that wave of momentum to an 11-2 win Tuesday over Texas Tech University, led by Ratterree's game at the plate. The senior went 2-for-4, including a two-run home run in the fourth inning to put the Owls ahead 5-0. Kubitza got the Tuesday start after pitching just four innings on Friday and returned to his usual form by tossing four hitless innings against the Red Raiders.

Stainback said the Owls needed a blowout win after a rough weekend against UCF. He said he hopes Rice can use this offensive burst to turn things around.

"We needed to beat somebody by a lot, and we've been playing well, so that was really good to get a big win like that tonight," Stainback said after his two-RBI night Tuesday. "I think everyone really hit well tonight, so that was the big positive for us."

The Owls travel across town for a critical three-game set this weekend against rival University of Houston. Houston and Rice currently rank second and third in the C-USA standings, respectively, trailing only the University of Southern Mississippi.

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