Feb. 24, 2012
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HOUSTON - The No. 4 ranked Rice baseball team held off a ninth-inning rally by state rival Dallas Baptist to claim a 6-5 victory Friday night in Reckling Park and remain undefeated on the young season at 6-0.
The Owls first had to come from behind before keeping a talented DBU team in-check late in the contest. Now 6-0, Rice is off to its best start to a season since 2001 when the team began the year with an 8-0 ledger.
The Patriots opened the scoring in the top of the fourth. After a one-out walk and three-consecutive singles DBU moved in front 2-0.
Rice regained the lead in its very next at bat. Four-straight walks led to a run and a bases-clearing double to left-center by Shane Hoelscher put the Owls back on top 4-2.
DBU answered with two runs in the top of the fifth to tie it back up 4-4. The Patriots were still looking for more with runners on the corners and two away, but John Simms entered the game out of the bullpen and ended the threat with the first of four strikeouts. Rice head coach Wayne Graham, now in his 21st season at the helm of the baseball program, likes what he's seen of Simms so far this season.
"He's coming out competitive," Graham said. "You can see it in his body language. He's coming out of there believing he can do it."
Not only did Simms do it with a big strikeout, the "K" seemed to give the Owl offense a lift. In the bottom of the fifth the team responded with a run on a sacrifice fly to retake the lead, 5-4. The Woodlands, Tex., native limited DBU to just a pair of hits over 3.2 innings of relief. The Patriots scored an unearned run in the seventh to make it 5-5 after an Owl fielding error would have otherwise ended the inning.
One pattern emerged from the game was that every time DBU scored the Owls responded with a go-ahead run. The seventh was no exception. Senior Michael Fuda led off the inning with a long blast over the right field wall on the first pitch to give the Blue & Gray the lead, 6-5. Fuda's blast was at the time only the team's fourth hit of the night, but coach Graham sees a bigger picture.
"Our batting average may have come down a little tonight, but we're scoring a lot of runs in relation to the number of hits were getting," coach Graham said. "Our on-base average (now .449) is extraordinary. Teams are pitching around us a little and making it tougher to hit, but our hitters are patient enough to take a walk. We've had a pretty disciplined approach so far."
DBU still took one last shot to get the lead. Austin Elkins hit a one-out single and coach Graham went to the bullpen. Junior J.T Chargois relieved Simms and got a ground ball that could have been the second out, but another fielding miscue now had the tying run in scoring position and the potential go-ahead run at first with just one away.
Chargois was up to the challenge. The Sulphur, La., standout struck out both of the next two batters to end the game for a 6-5 final.
"Every person on this team is picking each other up right now," Simms said. "We're picking each other up on both sides of the ball. That's when it's fun, because a guy knows that if one play or inning goes bad, he's got a teammate that can come right in and make something happen. J.T. can come in and get those big strikeouts, or Mike can hit that homer on the first pitch to give us back the lead. It's pretty fun right now."
Friday was equal parts fun and drama, and that was only the series-opener. The weekend set with DBU continues at Reckling Park through Sunday. Saturday's game time is set for 2 pm while the first pitch of Sunday's series finale is 1 pm.