May 23, 2012
Regular-season Conference USA Champion Rice scored three runs over its final two innings at the plate and Tyler Duffey tossed 1.2 perfect innings of relief as the Owls rallied to defeat cross-town rival and eighth-seed Houston 7-5 in day one of the C-USA Baseball Championship on Wednesday at Trustmark Park.
Houston scored three in the first and two in the second to race out to a 5-1 lead, but that would be all the Cougars would scratch across as relievers Zech Lemond, Taylor Wall and Duffey combined to hang zeros over the final seven frames. With the win, Rice improves to 40-15 on the year and will take on Memphis on Thursday at 7 p.m. Houston, meanwhile, fell to 17-34-1 overall and will square off against Southern Miss tomorrow at 3 p.m.
First baseman J.T. Chargois led an 11-hit Rice attack by going 3-for-5 at the plate with a pair of doubles, two runs scored and an RBI. He was one of three Owls players to post multiple-hit outings against Houston as centerfielder Michael Fuda and right fielder Rathjen had two hits apiece.
Wall (6-3) earned the win out of the bullpen after giving up just a pair of hits and a walk while striking out a pair in 2.0 scoreless innings of work. Duffey, meanwhile, got the final two outs of the eight and struck out the side in the ninth to pick up his sixth save of the year.
Cougars' reliever Jared Ray (2-6) was tagged with the loss after giving up three runs (two earned) on three hits and a pair of walks in 2.1 innings out of the bullpen.
Houston came out of the gates red hot as centerfielder Landon Appling drew a leadoff walk, first basemen Jacob Lueneburg singled two at-bats later, and Appling scored on a ground-ball to short off the bat of right fielder Jonathan Davis to stake the Cougars to a 1-0 lead. Catcher John Cannon kept things going with an RBI-double to right central and designated hitter Price Jacobs followed with a run-scoring single to make it 3-0 and chase Rice starter Andrew Benak from the game.
Lemond posted a strikeout to get out of the inning without any more damage done and the Owls offense got on the board in the bottom of the first on a Rathjens RBI-single up the middle. Houston, however, was not done as left fielder Michael Pyeatt lifted a sacrifice fly to left and Lueneburg followed with a triple to right to plate third baseman Codey Morehouse and Appling, respectively.
Down by four, Rice began its comeback in the third. Second baseman Christian Stringer opened the frame with a single and stole second base, Chargois doubled to right, and the pair scored on a two-run single through the right side of the infield off the bat of Rathjen.
The Owls added cut the deficit to one in the fourth when Chargois plated Stringer with an RBI-double down the right field line, and following a pair of scoreless innings, went ahead for good in the seventh. Reserve catcher Craig Manuel, pinch-hitter Keenan Cook and third baseman Shane Hoelscher hit consecutive singles to load the bases. Shortstop Ford Stainback tied the score the easy way with a walk in the ensuing at-bat and Cook scored what proved to be the winning run on a fielders' choice groundout off the bat of Stringer.
Rice added an unearned run in the eighth when left fielder Michael Ratterree came around the touch the paystation on a two-out error by Cougar shortstop Jake Runte to account for the final score.
Lewis gave a workman-like effort on the mound for Houston, giving up four runs on eight hits and four walks while fanning a quartet in 5.1 innings. Aaron Stewart got the final out for the Cougars with a strikeout to end the eighth. Jacobs and Morehouse shared team-high hit honors for Houston with two each.