CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Senior John Clay Reeves went 3-for-4 with two RBI and the Owl pitching duo of Kevin McCanna and Matt Ditman held Charlotte in check in the Rice baseball team's 4-2 Conference USA road victory at Charlotte Friday night in North Carolina.
It may have been an earlier than usual start for C-USA league play, but the Owls went to work just as quickly for a pair of runs in the top of the first inning. Ford Stainback drew a one-out walk and hustled to third on Leon Byrd's single to right. Reeves drove both runners in with a slicing double to right field for a 2-0 advantage.
Charlotte continued to fight and pushed across a run in the bottom of the sixth. Both T.J. Nichting and Brett Netzler reached on infield singles. The runners advanced on a double steal and Nichting scored on an infield ground out to cut the margin in half, 2-1.
The 49ers were looking for more in the seventh. Charlotte drew a leadoff walk and had runners reach second and third on a dropped fly ball to the outfield with one away. Rice was able to hold the runners on an infield grounder for the second out, but elected to intentionally walk Nichting to set up a force at any station.
With the bases loaded (but without any hits), the Owls made a move from McCanna to Ditman out of the bullpen. Ditman quickly ended the potential rally by getting the Niners to ground out on one pitch.
The Owls converted the defense's emotional lift into two more runs in the top of the eighth. Connor Teykl knocked a two-out double and Tristan Gray and Hunter Kopycinski followed with walks to load the bases. Teykl sprinted home on a wild pitch and the remaining runners advanced to second and third. Though more known for his pitching skills, Blake Fox then came off the bench and delivered a pinch-hit single to right to drive-in a run that stretched the lead to 4-1.
The insurance runs proved to be critical. Charlotte fought back for a final run in the bottom of the eighth on a pair of hits that made it 4-2. Ditman retired the 49ers 1-2-3 to close out the ninth as Rice improved to 9-6 overall and 1-0 in C-USA action. Charlotte dropped to 4-3 on the season and 0-1 in the league.
McCanna was sound and solid, finishing the night with a total of 6.2 innings for his second win of the season. The native of The Woodlands, Texas, scattered five hits and three walks while striking out five. Ditman registered this third save with four strikeouts in 2.1 frames.
The C-USA weekend series continues through Sunday. Saturday's second game is scheduled for 1 pm Central Time (2 pm Eastern).