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Baseball suffers first conference series loss of season

By Michael Kidd     3/24/15 4:34pm

The Rice baseball team experienced their first losing week on the season, going 1-3 in four road games.

Beginning on Tuesday night, the Owls lost to longtime rival the University of Houston by a final score of 8-3. In an attempt to bounce back during the weekend series against Old Dominion University, the Owls dropped their first two games on the weekend but managed to respond and win Sunday’s matchup by a score of 6-5. Rice is now 16-9 overall through 25 games this season and 7-2 in Conference USA play.

On Friday night, the Owls could not gain mo- mentum on a night with temperatures in the low 40s and heavy wind. Rice starter Kevin McCanna struggled early on, allowing eight hits and four runs in just over two innings. Through the first five innings, ODU opened up a 6-0 advantage, but the Owls responded shortly after. Senior outfielder John Williamson hit a line drive down the right field side for two RBIs but was thrown out at third base on the play, stopping any further momentum. Rice tacked on two more runs late in the game, but by the then the game was out of reach. The Owls

used seven pitchers and, despite recording 13 hits, the offense left 15 runners on base. The final score for the opener was 12-4 in favor of ODU.

In Saturday’s game, Rice got off to a fast start, scoring three runs in the top of the first before the first out of the game was recorded. A two-run double by junior shortstop Leon Byrd then brought in both outfielder Ryan Chandler and infielder Ford Stainback. With a 5-1 lead through four innings, Rice committed three errors in the fourth and a bases-clearing RBI-double off of junior pitcher Blake Fox saw the game dramatically turn as ODU put up six runs in the frame to take a 7-5 advantage. Headed into the ninth inning down 9-7, the Owls came up short after a bases-loaded flyout by junior first baseman Connor Teykl ended the game at 9-8.

Looking to avoid the series sweep, Rice jumped out to an early lead on Sunday after Byrd hit a two- run single down the third base line to put Rice ahead 2-0 in the third inning. Shortly after, Chan- dler hit a triple to the right field wall for two RBIs to put Rice up 4-0. ODU then battled back in the bottom of the fourth. Rice redshirt junior reliever Jordan Stephens came in with the bases loaded to control the threat and secured a strikeout with the bases loaded to limit the damage to two runs. In a

4-4 ballgame, the Owls regained the lead in the top of the eighth inning after doubles by sophomore Charlie Warren and freshman Tristan Grey. Matt Ditman, on the mound for his second consecutive day, pitched out of trouble in the ninth to secure the save.

Chandler recorded an on-base percentage of .533 this past weekend. Chandler said his .349 batting average is a result of his plate discipline and approach.

“[My strategy] is really trusting my approach and sticking with it all season while listening to our coaches,” Chandler said. “Coach Van Hook taught us the importance of preparing a mentality [to hit the] middle of the field all the time and try to compete and put the ball in play.”

Previously, Chandler and the Owls had not lost a weekend series all year. Chandler said the team has its sights set on winning their next five games.

“We respond by winning all five,” Chandler said. “This past week we didn’t do a very good job of picking each other up when we made mis- takes, so as the team moves forward we need to achieve excellence in all we do and have a goal to win all five.”

Jordan Stephens, a former Friday-night starter for the Owls, has made substantial progress from

injury. He said he embraces the opportunity to be called upon now after being sidelined nearly all of last season.

“When I get called into the game, I’m just ready to do my job,” Stephens said. “I knew that we were struggling to make them actually promote their own offense and instead, we handed them runs. Coach Hallmark made it clear prior to the game that walks and getting behind in the count was our main issue. [I agree because] every pitcher on our staff has the stuff to get out any hitter we will face this season.”

Rice will play seven of their next nine games at home. Stephens said playing at home at Reckling Park will hopefully give the Owls an added burst of energy that translates into wins.

Playing at home is always a good thing when you’re getting into a high volume of games,” Stephens said. “Playing in front of people you know always boosts morale, so I expect to see some fire out of our team this week. ... We’re ready to turn the ship back around.”

The Owls return home to Reckling Park for five games on the week. A weekend series against the University of Southern Mississippi will begin on Friday afternoon. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. 

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