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.
With conference-leading University of Houston Cougars dropping a series at Marshall University this past weekend, the Rice University baseball team seized the opportunity to move into a tie for first in Conference USA with a series win on the road against East Carolina University.Junior ace Austin Kubitza delivered 7 1/3 shutout innings Friday night and allowed just four hits. With the game tied at 0-0 in the ninth inning, the Owls put two in scoring position with one out after senior Christian Stringer and sophomore Ford Stainback led off with singles, followed by a sacrifice from junior Michael Aquino. Junior Keenan Cook then hit a ball to the right side, where an error by the second baseman allowed two runs to score, the first breakthrough of the game for either side. Rice added a third run from an RBI double from senior Michael Ratterree, and sophomore Zech Lemond closed the door in the ninth to give the Owls a 3-0 win in the series opener.Head Coach Wayne Graham said the pitching was fantastic and that it was much-needed going up against an ace in East Carolina sophomore pitcher Jeff Hoffman."I'm extremely pleased because we got great pitching, and Hoffman was about the best we faced this year," Graham said after Friday's game. "Those zeros up there were no accident."The Owls failed to clinch the series Saturday, dropping their first extra-inning game of the year 3-2 in 13 innings despite solid pitching from sophomore Jordan Stephens and from junior John Simms in relief.Sunday's rubber match proved to be a close contest, a back-and-forth affair in front of a vociferous crowd in Greenville, N.C. The Pirates got out to a 5-1 lead with runs in the second and third innings, but the Owls came back to cut the lead to 7-6 after the sixth. The Owls went right back to work in the seventh, beginning with freshman Leon Byrd's leadoff walk. After a double by Stringer put the leading run on second base, Aquino delivered yet again in what is becoming a habit for the junior, hitting a double to left field to put Rice back ahead 8-7.Spotted a one-run lead, Lemond allowed just a single hit over the final three innings, striking out three in that span to earn the win and clinch the series for Rice. Lemond, whose eight saves lead the conference and rank ninth in the country, has recorded either a save or a win in all six of Rice's C-USA victories this season."Well, this is the biggest game of the year for us to win, I think," Graham said after Rice clinched the road series on Sunday. "We have no problem with heart and no problem with teamwork and no problem with perseverance."Graham said he has been proud of Lemond's pitching this year and that Lemond has been critical to winning close ballgames."What he has done for us this year is beyond belief," Graham said. "He's had a hand in every conference win."The Owls, the only team in the C-USA and one of the few teams in the nation without a loss in a weekend series all season, traveled to Beaumont, Texas on Tuesday to take on 24-win Lamar University in a midweek game. Rice got off to a fantastic start, leading 8-1 through just two and a half innings.Lamar did not back down from the early deficit. The Cardinals scored a run in the third and four more in the fourth, and what was once a comfortable lead became just an 8-6 advantage for Rice. Lamar completed the comeback with two more runs in the seventh to make it an 8-8 ballgame. Refusing to lose, Rice rallied in the ninth for a run, beginning with a leadoff double from Aquino. After a Cook fly ball allowed Aquino to move up to third, Ratterree drove a ball to right field for what proved to be the game-winning sacrifice fly, and freshman Kevin McCanna finished off 2 1/3 innings of perfect relief for his second win of the season.Following Tuesday's 9-8 win, the Owls return home for a three-game set with the University of Central Florida, beginning 6:30 p.m. Friday. Now close to full strength, junior Shane Hoelscher returned to play Sunday after missing five weeks with a hand injury. Rice has a chance to take the outright lead in the league this weekend ahead of its marquee matchup with Houston next week.
It's 2013. We can learn a lot about people not only from their words and actions, but also from their tweets. Last September, Tamir Jackson tweeted in the wake of the announcement that former Rice student Arsalan Kazemi would be the sixth member of the basketball team to leave the school."People all over and even supporters are going to count us out but I'm going to stand by my team and school," Jackson tweeted.Six months later, the senior point guard of the Rice men's basketball team has played his final game for the Owls. Jackson leaves behind a legacy not only as one of the best players in the program's history, but also as a young man who honored his commitment to his team and his school, refusing to put his head down when the going got tough.Jackson came from a world that did not stress loyalty. As an alumnus of St. Benedict's Preparatory School in Newark, Jackson learned to play the game among many players headed to Division I college teams and the NBA, like former alumnus J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks. His school, among others, breeds these players but also participates in the rapid turnover of these same athletes. Many young men who attend these schools transfer to best position themselves for future offers, paying little regard to team loyalty. This makes it all the more exceptional that Jackson, who played for years among the best high school players in the nation, has for so long maintained his steadfast commitment to Head Coach Ben Braun and the Owls.Surrounded by the tumultuous environment of self-interested players changing schools constantly, Jackson has always put the program first. Jackson signed with the Owls in the early signing period during his recruitment, remaining true to his commitment when Bowl Championship Series programs came with offers later in the process. Jackson started from day one with the Owls, becoming the only player on the 2009-10 team to start every game of the season. As a sophomore, Jackson adjusted to a move off the ball, since he was forced to play more as a shooting guard than a point guard with an incoming crop of freshmen. Jackson took the changes in stride, leading the Owls in scoring during conference play while taking a young contingent of guards under his wing. As a junior, Jackson was again the guiding force for a stable of freshmen. His individual numbers took a hit, but the team's performance improved drastically, as the Owls won 19 games, finished .500 in the league and made a run to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament quarterfinal.Then, over the months leading up to a highly anticipated senior season, the bottom fell out. Six of the team's nine returning scorers left the Rice program to pursue other basketball opportunities, both at the collegiate and professional levels. But, as his tweet indicates, Jackson never expressed any doubts about playing out his senior season with Braun and the Rice Owls.After a 77-71 loss on Jackson's Senior Night last Saturday, the Owls end the regular season at a disappointing 5-24, needing to make a run at this week's Conference USA Tournament to keep Jackson's college career alive. But in last Saturday's game, as has been the case all season long, the final score does not reflect the effort and dedication that Jackson has put forth for his school.With his team trailing University of Tulsa by 10 with under a minute left, Jackson attacked the rim and drew a foul while converting a layup. During the next possession, it was Jackson again, playing in his typically relentless style, who got into the lane and scored to keep hope alive. Trailing by as many as 20 points in the second half, Jackson rallied the Owls to within four in the closing seconds. Tulsa called a timeout, reorganized and put away the short-handed Owls for a six-point victory. But Jackson left everything on the court, setting a career-high with 30 points in his final game in front of the home crowd at Tudor Fieldhouse. After the game, Jackson was as humble as ever, heaping praise upon his teammates for their hard work and resilience. "I'm just glad to be a part of this team and play with these guys," Jackson said. "They never let me down, and I'm never going to let them down. We just fight as a team and stay together- all the time."Jackson is the first player in the program's history to play over 4,000 minutes in a career. He ranks sixth all time in points scored, fourth in assists and fourth in steals. Jackson is only the second player in school history to rank in the top 10 in each of those three statistics. Based on those numbers, Jackson graduates from Rice University as one of the best basketball players in the history of the school. Jackson has always led not through his performance, or his words, or even his Tweets, but through his effort and commitment to Rice University. Thank you Tamir, for putting your school above all else and for remaining devoted to a program at a level where loyalty is taken for granted.
After a home shutout loss to Sam Houston State University last week, the Owls baseball team made the trip east to Miami, Fla., in hopes of improving upon a lackluster 7-6 record, the program's worst start through 13 games since the 2000 season.
With the students away on spring break, the Rice baseball team took a vacation of its own- the Owls headed out to Hawaii for a four-game set against the University of Hawaii Rainbows.
During the Wayne Graham era, the series history between Rice University and Stanford University represents a tale of two stories, depending on whom you ask.