March 1, 2013
Box Score html
Box Score pdf
HOUSTON - The Rice baseball team outhit No. 1 ranked North Carolina 9-8, but the Tar Heels took advantage of two late wild pitches to claim a 2-1 win over the Owls in the opening round of action at the annual Astros Foundation Classic Friday evening downtown at Minute Maid Park.
Rice quickly opened the scoring on undefeated UNC with a run in the bottom of the second inning. Junior Michael Aquino led off with his first career triple on a shot to left-centerfield. He dashed home on a sacrifice bunt by freshman Leon Byrd for a 1-0 Owl advantage.
In the early stages that appeared to be all the room on the scoreboard Rice junior right-hander Austin Kubitza would need. The Owls' preseason All-America hurler did not allow the nation's No. 1 team a base hit until the top of the fifth inning. He worked a total of 6.2 frames and was in high-gear striking out nine with just two walks.
UNC led off the top of the seventh with back-to-back singles by Mike Zolk and Brian Holbertson. Zolk took third on a long fly-out to center and scored on a wild pitch before the Blue & Gray could work out of the inning. North Carolina took the lead with a similar play in the top of the ninth. Chaz Frank doubled to left with a man on base, but Rice had made a sensational defensive relay throw from Keenan Cook-to-Ford Stainback-to-Geoff Perrott to retire the runner at the plate. Frank, however, moved up to third on the play and was able to score on another Rice wild pitch.
The Owls attempted one final rally in the bottom of the ninth but UNC hung-on for the 2-1 final. It was not the only time for the Tar Heels escaped Rice's offensive threats. In collecting nine hits and drawing two walks the Owls had at bats with men in scoring position seven different times over five innings.
Rice head coach Wayne Graham, now in his 22nd season at the helm of the Owls program, knows that a game of inches can sometimes be the toughest of all.
"One swing makes a difference in a game like this," coach Graham said. "We didn't get it this time. We just didn't get the hit when we needed it."
Rice junior all-America candidate Christian Stringer led all players with three hits, including one which went for extra-bases. The duo of Aquino and Stainback both finished the night with a pair of hits. Kubitza meanwhile now has an eye-opening 34 strikeouts in just 19.2 innings of work this season.
The Owls dropped to 6-3 on the season. North Carolina improved to 8-0 overall.
Rice returns to action at Minute Maid Park on Saturday (Mar. 2). The Owls meet longtime rival Texas A&M. First pitch with the Aggies is slated for 7 pm.