HOUSTON -- Jon Duplantier struck out a career-high 14 batters in 8.0 innings to help lead the Rice baseball team to a 4-3 victory over visiting UCF in the opening game of a weekend series Friday evening in Houston.
In only the tenth start of his collegiate career, and after being sidelined for all of 2015, Duplantier came up big Friday night. The 6-foot-4 right-hander from Katy, Texas (Seven Lakes HS), recorded an eye-opening 14 strikeouts while working into the ninth inning of a game for the first time in his career. His 14 strikeouts were the most by an Owl in a single game since Eddie Degerman fanned 14 in 2006, and Rice seemed to need every one of them in the close contest between former conference rivals.
Duplantier already had six strikeouts after the first two innings, but UCF was the first to put a run on the scoreboard in the top of the third. Elie Putnam reached second on a two-base Rice fielding error, went to third on a grounder to the right side and scored on Brennan Bozeman's RBI single to right field.
The Owls came right back with three in the bottom of the frame. Freshman Cody Staab reach on a high-chopping single, and advanced to second on Hunter Kopycinski's sacrifice bunt. Staab scored on a double to right-center by Charlie Warren to tie the game 1-1, but Rice wasn't quit e finished. Grayson Lewis singled and Ryan Chandler was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Freshman Ford Proctor followed with an RBI single through the left side and Dayne Wunderlich drove in another with a sac bunt for a 3-1 advantage.
Rice added another score in the bottom of the fifth. Warren dropped a double in a void near the left field line and eventually scored on Chandler's sacrifice fly to stretch the margin to 4-1.
The run proved to be huge because UCF battled to the end. With 14 strikeouts to start the ninth inning, UCF's Luke Hamblin drew a leadoff walk and Rice elected to go to the bullpen. Austin Griffin singled with one-away and a wild pitch moved both men into scoring position. Ryan Crile hit a two-out double to right to drive the runners home and make it a 4-3 game.
UCF had the tying run in scoring position and the go-ahead run was at the plate, but Owl sophomore reliever Glenn Otto managed to close the door with a game-ending strikeout. He had preserved the win for Duplantier while notching his second save of the season. The pitching duo had combined for 16 strikeouts and holding the Knights to just three hits.
Rice is now 5-5 on the season. UCF is 6-5 overall. The three-game weekend series continues through Sunday (March 6). Saturday's contest is set for a 4 pm start at Reckling Park.