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Tuesday, April 23, 2024 — Houston, TX

Owls sweep HCU at home after Hawaiian setback

By Ana Rivera     3/19/24 10:38pm

After playing four games in Honolulu at the beginning of the spring break, the Rice baseball team returned to Houston and is now in the midst of an eight-game stretch at home. The Owls week commenced with a trio of matchups against Houston Christian University, all hosted at Reckling Park due to weather adjustments, turning the series into an unexpected home set for the Owls.

Rice went 1-3 against the University of Hawai'i at Manoa and swept Houston Christian, bringing the Owls’ overall record to 8-11 as of publication. Rice started a midweek two-game set against the University of Houston Tuesday.

Friday night’s game against Houston Christian commenced after a 90-minute weather delay and was characterized by an energetic exchange of runs from the outset. Both teams displayed their offensive capabilities, with the Owls and the Huskies trading runs in the initial innings, setting a competitive tone for the game.

Key players for the Owls included senior infielder Nathan Becker, who contributed a pivotal double in the bottom of the seventh inning, and junior infielder Manny Garza, who followed with a single. Over the past eight games, Rice has accumulated 18 doubles, marking a notable increase from the seven doubles achieved in the first 10 games of the season.

Sophomore outfielder Jacob Devenny was instrumental in Rice’s win, scoring twice after reaching base four times without a hit thanks to three walks and an error. Freshman infielder Tobias Motley continued to show promise, making his second consecutive start and going 1 for 4 with his first career RBI, showing progress with a 3 for 7 record in his recent starts.

On the mound, sophomore closer Davion Hickson secured his second save of the season for Rice, while redshirt junior pitcher Tom Vincent maintained a 1.86 ERA, appearing in three of the last five games and allowing two earned runs over 9.2 innings.

In the end, the game's defining moment came with a grand slam from sophomore outfielder Trey Duffield in the seventh inning, which secured Rice a 10-7 victory over Houston Christian University. Senior infielder Jack Riedel maintained his offensive consistency, extending his hitting streak with a key single, contributing to Rice’s run tally. 

“That was probably one of the most clutch hits I’ve seen since being here at Rice,” Riedel said. “Duffield works really hard, and to see him finally get that job done was absolutely awesome. Tonight, we went out there and played our game, and great things happen when you’re just playing baseball.” 

In the second matchup of the cross-town rivalry series, Rice sought to build on their recent successes, with third-year head coach Jose Cruz Jr. emphasizing the team’s ongoing development.

“Our attitude and execution have been key,” Cruz Jr. said. “We've shown the relentless offensive drive we need, and it's crucial we maintain this energy.”

Houston Christian initially took a 2-0 lead, exploiting Rice’s early errors. However, Rice quickly countered in the second inning, as sophomore infielder Ben Royo scored following an infield single by junior infielder Treyton Rank, which led to a throwing error. Junior left-handed pitcher J.D. McCracken then steadied the game, retiring the next six batters over two innings.

Rice extended their lead in the fourth, with graduate outfielder Kyte McDonald scoring on a wild pitch. The advantage grew to 5-2 in the fifth inning when Royo grounded out to bring a runner home. However, Houston Christian narrowed the gap to 5-3, setting the stage for a tense continuation.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Garrett Stratton then diffused a significant threat in the sixth inning, inducing a crucial pop-up with two runners on base. The Owls then widened the gap with Rank’s two-run double in the eighth, bringing the score to 7-3. 

Despite Houston Christian loading the bases in the bottom of the eighth, senior right-handed pitcher Tyler Hamilton thwarted the rally, preserving Rice’s lead with three crucial strikeouts.

In the third game of their series, Rice took command early, contrasting with the two previous matchups where Houston Christian had initially led. The shift in momentum was marked by senior infielders Riedel and Becker, who each hit solo home runs in the first inning to establish a strong foundation for the game.

The Owls then built on their lead in the second inning, adding a season-high seven runs as 11 batters went up to the plate, collectively securing seven hits. Key moments included Royo’s double that scored Devenny, followed by McDonald’s and Becker’s doubles and a two-run single from Duffield.

Although Houston Christian narrowed the lead, they could not surmount Rice’s early advantage, especially after Davion Hickson escaped a bases-loaded threat in the ninth, securing his third save of the season.

Rice’s offense played a big role in their sweep over Houston Christian with their top four hitters — McDonald, Riedel, Rank and Becker — amassing a combined 11-for-16 (.688 average) at the plate. In addition, the team has improved their rate of doubles with 25 in the past ten games. Riedel’s consistent performance extended his hitting streak, while McDonald’s bat remained hot, matching his career high with three hits in multiple recent games.

"We’ve shown ourselves what we’re capable of,” Cruz said. “It’s about recognizing our potential, knowing we’ve achieved it before and maintaining that momentum."

The Owls’ two games against UH will open the 2024 Silver Glove Series. The games are scheduled for Tuesday, March 19 at 6:30 p.m. and Wednesday, March 20 at 6:30 p.m., and will be available for viewing on ESPN+.

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