March 4, 2012
Jordan Stephens posted an outing worthy of the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award, and his Owl teammates on offensive side did their part with 11 runs on 17 hits, as the No. 4 ranked Rice baseball team coasted to an 11-1 victory over Tennessee in the final game of the annual Houston College Classic Sunday evening downtown at Minute Maid Park.
Stephens recorded a career night on the mound to claim the 2012 Classic's Most Outstanding Player honors. He was one three Owls' on the Classic's All-Tournament Team. In the Sunday finale the freshman right-hander from Alvin, Tex., fired a two-hit shutout in a career-best 7.0 innings, walking two and striking out a career-best eight on Tennessee team that entered the game with an 8-2 record.
"He (Stephens) threw well," said Rice head coach Wayne Graham. "His slider was what we wanted to see. I think he threw a tick harder than he's thrown all spring. He had a lot of strikes."
Stephens needed only 81 pitches for the 7.0 innings, of which 50 were for strikes. After three previous appearances, including two starts, Stephens showed the form that caught the coach's attention in the preseason workouts.
"I think this is my first outing where I finally proved what I can do," Stephens said. "Luckily (the coaches) gave me another chance. Freshmen don't really get three chances."
Owls Jeremy Rathjen (OF) and Craig Manuel (C) joined Stephens on the All-Tournament team. Manuel batted a composite .500 (5-for-10) with a doubles, two RBI, two runs and a walk for a .545 on-base average. Rathjen hit .385 (5-for-13) with four runs scored, two RBI, a home run, a double, a walk and a HBP for a .467 on-base average.
Playing as the visiting team Sunday, Rice jumped on the scoreboard for a pair of runs in the top of the first inning. Christian Stringer led off with a double to the right field corner and he moved to third on a ground out. Stringer scored on a Ryan Lewis sacrifice fly for a quick lead. Rathjen kept the inning alive with a single, and he hustled around the bases to score from first on Chase McDowell's double to the gap in left-center and Rice was off to the races.
The Owls added two more in the top of the second after leadoff single by Manuel and a double into the left field corner by Michael Ratterree. Manuel scored, and Ratterree took third, on a balk. A Tennessse wild pitch allowed Ratterree to come home to make it a 4-0 game.
Rice stretched the margin with a run in the third. Rathjen was hit by a pitch and McDowell singled through the right side. Rathjen scored from second on a Volunteer fielding error for a 5-0 advantage.
The Blue & Gray added two more in the sixth on five hits and a Vol fielding error. Rice then pushed the lead to 10-0 after four hits and a walk in the seventh. The big blow was a two-run homer to left by Michael Fuda for his second round-tripper of the year.
Tennessee avoided the shutout with a run off the Rice bullpen in the bottom of the eighth to make the score 10-1. The Owls came right back with its final run of the night in the top of ninth on three more hits, including an RBI single by Lewis.
"After that loss on Friday I think we kicked it into gear and told ourselves we need to come out with more intensity," second baseman Christian Stringer said. Stringer went 6-for-13 (.462) over the weekend with two doubles and a triple for a .769 slugging percentage.
Rice improved to 11-1, a record which is the program's best start to a season since the national championship team of 2003. Tennessee is now 8-3 overall.
The Owls' recent stretch of games away from home continues through March 6. Rice next plays at longtime rival Texas State on Tuesday in San Marcos, Tex., at 6:30 pm. The Blue & Gray returns home to Reckling Park on Wednesday (Mar. 6) for a game against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The game against the Islanders is set to begin at 6:30 pm.