Baseball takes series against conference leader
The Rice University baseball team hosted Middle Tennessee State University this past weekend in a conference series between the two top teams in Conference USA.
Coming off a key road victory against Lamar University, the Owls went on to win the week- end series by securing victories at Friday and Sunday’s matchups. Rice posted a 3-1 record over the week to improve to 22-12 on the season (11-4 in C-USA). Rice’s 11-4 conference record is just percentage points away from the top spot in the Conference USA standings held by MTSU and Florida Atlantic University, each at 9-3 in conference.
On Friday night, Rice junior starter Kevin McCanna went 7.2 innings, striking out six batters and allowing just two runs. One of those runs came in the first inning of the ball game on three base hits but Rice quickly responded in the bottom of the second inning. Shortly after in the fifth inning, the Owls tacked on four more runs on a triple by senior infielder Ford Stainback and a two-RBI double by sophomore rightfielder Charlie Warren. Freshman pitcher Ricardo Salinas came into the ball game for the final two innings and secured the victory. Rice won the game 7-2.
On Saturday afternoon, MTSU got to left- handed junior pitcher Blake Fox early and often by plating seven runs over a span of three innings. Meanwhile, Rice’s offense struggled to get going as the Owls had just two hits through the five innings. In the sixth inning, however, Rice got on the board with a two-run home run by junior first baseman Connor Teykl. In the following inning, Rice cut the deficit to 7-4 after a second home run on the afternoon by freshman outfielder Tristan Grey and a string of singles. Despite the offensive surge, Rice could not complete the comeback as three double-play balls in key situations hindered any further rallying. Fox was credited with the first loss of his college career. It was his first loss in 43 appearances (185.0 innings), and he had previously posted a 21-0 record to begin his career.
On Sunday afternoon, Rice scored three runs in the first inning off base hits by Stain- back and Teykl to take a 3-0 advantage. Rice went on to score four runs in the second in- ning and sent eight men to the plate to open up a 7-0 lead. The offensive outburst was more than enough for Rice redshirt junior starter Jordan Stephens, who pitched 6.0 innings allowing just three hits. In the eighth inning, an RBI double by Warren stretched the lead to 10-0 and the game was called off via run rule, as is the Sunday travel-day protocol. Stephens received C-USA Co-Pitcher of the Week honors for his performance.
Stainback, a four-starter for the Owls, said the series win against conference-leading Middle Tennessee should ignite the team down the stretch.
“Obviously [there are] ups and downs in a season, but I think we have just as talented a team if not more talented than in the past years,” Stainback said. “A big series win against Middle Tennessee [can be used] to get us kick-started to string off wins in a crucial part of the schedule for us.”
Rice redshirt junior pitcher Matt Ditman said he feels the Owls played very well against MTSU and feels the team recognized the type of play needed to be successful going into the postseason and beyond.
“Obviously we wish we would have swept [the series] but taking two out of three from a good team is not a bad thing,” Ditman said. “I think we saw elements of what it takes to succeed the rest of the season.”
Rice will head out to Birmingham, Alabama to face the University of Alabama, Birmingham in a Conference USA matchup. The Blazers are currently 18-12 overall (6-6 C-USA). First pitch is scheduled for Friday, April 10 at 6:30 p.m.
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