Feb. 22, 2012
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HOUSTON - The Rice baseball team got offensive with 12 runs and double-digit hits for the second time in as many nights, but right-handed pitcher Andrew Benak
stole the show with a career-high 10 strikeouts in just 5.1 innings of work as the Owls coasted to a 12-4 victory over visiting New Mexico State Wednesday evening at Reckling Park.
In his first start of the season and only his fifth career start since his freshman year in 2009, Benak posted 10 strikeouts without allowing any walks and scattering just two harmless singles in the best outing of his collegiate career. The redshirt-junior from Houston has been sidelined from action for most of the past three seasons, totaling just 35 innings at Rice heading into 2012.
Now finally healthy, Benak made up for lost time with a sensational start against a heavy-hitting New Mexico State squad. He struck out the side in the fifth inning and at one point had fanned nine-of-13 batters. He retired the first batter he faced in the sixth and was immediately pulled after a career-day of work. He left to a standing ovation from the home fans.
One of the reasons the undefeated Owls (5-0) are a consensus Top 10 team, and ranked as high as fourth in the nation in one national poll, is for its depth of pitching. If a healthy Benak's outing is any indication the Blue & Gray might be even stronger on the mound than most expected.
The Rice hitters also had a game to match their starting pitcher. A dramatic two-out rally in the bottom of the second inning ignited the offensive fireworks. With two away and a man on base, five Owl hitters in a row connected for base hits to push across four runs for a 4-0 lead.
The Blue & Gray came right back with three more runs in the bottom of the third. Senior Craig Manuel and Shane Hoelscher started the frame with back-to-back singles and designated hitter Chase McDowell followed with three-run homer to left field. McDowell's first longball of the season stretched the margin to 7-0 after three, but Rice wasn't finished.
The Owls proceeded to score in single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings before adding two more in the seventh. When the dust had finally settled Rice was up a comfortable 12-0. The infield duo of junior Christian Stringer and Shane Hoelscher paced the attack with four hits each. Junior first baseman Ryan Lewis was 3-for-3 with three and RBI. Freshman Ford Stainback chipped-in a pair of hits, including a double, and scored two times.
New Mexico State continued to battle, and rallied for four runs off the Owl bullpen in the top of the ninth inning. Rice improved to 5-0 on the young season for the team's best start through the first five games since 2001. New Mexico State dropped to 3-3 overall.
The Owls close out the current homestand with three more games this weekend (Feb. 24-26). Rice hosts state-rival Dallas Baptist for three at Reckling Park beginning on Friday night. Start time with the Patriots, who are coming off an NCAA Super Regional appearance last season, is set for 6:30 pm. First pitch Saturday is at 2 pm, followed by the Sunday finale at 1 pm.