Feb. 16, 2013
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HOUSTON - Rice junior Michael Aquino
belted home runs in back-to-back at-bats, but visiting Stanford scored a late run and then hung-on for a narrow 3-2 win over the Owls baseball team Saturday afternoon at Reckling Park in Houston.
The Owls jumped on the scoreboard to take an early lead in the bottom of the second inning. Aquino led off the frame and connected on the first pitch for a home run over the left field wall. The round-tripper was Aquino's first career homer. He slugged it in his first at bat of the season after sitting out Friday's opening game of the three-game weekend series.
Stanford came right back two runs in the top of the third on a walk and three-straight base hits. The big blow was a one-out bases-loaded double to right-center by Brian Rigira that plated two. The Cardinal were looking for more on the play, but a sensational relay from freshman centerfielder Leon Byrd to Christian Stringer to Geoff Perrot at home plate got the final runner and kept Stanford's lead to one run, 2-1.
The lead didn't last too long. Aquino led off the bottom of the fourth with an almost exact replay of his previous at bat. The only difference was that this time the junior outfielder from The Woodlands, Tex., hit the first pitch of the inning even further over the left field wall than he did the first time. Not only did Aquino register the Owls' first multi-homer game since national Player of the Year Anthony Rendon in 2010, he tied the contest 2-2 with a single swing.
Stanford broke the deadlock in the top of the eighth. Brett Michael Doran drew a one-out walk and scored on a double to left-center by Justin Ringo.
Rice continued to fight. The Owls had a pinch-runner, freshman Connor Teykl, on third with two outs in the bottom of the eighth. In the final play of that inning, the ball escaped the Stanford catcher on the third strike to batter Keenan Cook. Teykl dashed for home and Cook sprinted to first base, but the Cardinal completed the throw to first base to end the inning with the crowd of 3,879 fans on their feet. Rice also attempted a ninth-inning rally with a one-out single by Perrot, but the Cardinal were able to end the threat for the 3-2 final.
Almost lost in the one-run drama was another steady pitching performance by a Rice starter. Sophomore Jordan Stephens made his first start and worked into the eighth-inning. The right-hander from Alvin, Tex., allowed three runs on five hits and two walks while striking out three. He was officially Rice's pitcher of record, but was solid for much of the day, highlighted by retiring 14-consecutive batters during one stretch. Rice head coach Wayne Graham knows all about the fine-lines in the game of baseball.
""Talk about a game of inches," coach Graham said. "(Stephens) really competed. There in the middle innings he started putting more on the ball. He mainly started using two breaking pitches - slider and curveball - and was better. As the game went on he became more effective."
"I thought we hit the ball a lot better than the result," coach Graham explained. "We had a lot of well-hit balls. We're not striking out, and we hit a lot of balls hard today. They made some good plays and we hit the ball right at them."
With Rice claiming a 5-1 win in the opener on Friday, the series is now tied 1-1. The finale of the weekend set is slated for Sunday at 1 pm at Reckling Park.