CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Rice baseball team exploded for six runs in the top of the fifth inning and junior left-hander Blake Fox earned his 20th collegiate career victory without a loss to highlight the Owls' 10-3 win at Charlotte in the second game of the Conference USA weekend series Saturday afternoon in North Carolina.
Rice tallied runs in each of the first two innings to let Fox pitch with early 2-0 lead. He battled through the game's early innings to get out of trouble. Fox picked a runner off first base after a leadoff hit to start the first, then stranded Charlotte runners at first and third in the second, as well as another runner in scoring position in the bottom of the third, and finally left two more runners on base in the fourth.
The Owl defense was in high-gear behind Fox to help keep runners off the board. The offense then erupted in the top of the fifth to put the game out of reach. Rice sent ten men to the plate with five hits and three walks on the way to six runs, tying the squad's season-high for runs in a single inning. The big blow was a two-run home run to left by junior shortstop Leon Byrd. The round-tripper was the second of Byrd's career and his first since his freshman year in 2013.
Charlotte struck back for a run in the bottom of the frame. Zach Jarrett's two-out double scored T.J. Nichting to make the score 8-1 after five.
Fox left with the eight-run advantage after the sixth to match his season-high in innings (6.0). He scattered eight hits and two walks while allowing just the one 49er run while striking out four.
For his collegiate career the left-hander improved to a perfect 20-0 dating back to his freshman year (2013). Fox has the most wins without a loss in school history. The Houston native has made 39 career appearances at Rice, including 21 starts, totaling more than 165 innings at the collegiate level.
The Owls added one final score in the eighth on a two-out RBI single by Tristan Gray. Charlotte continued to fight. The 49ers pushed across a pair of runs in the eighth and were still looking for more with the bases loaded before Josh Pettitte could end the threat with a strikeout. Pettitte then fanned the side in the ninth for a sterling four strikeouts in 1.1 innings of work.
Rice finished ten runs on 11 hits to improve to 10-6 overall and 2-0 in C-USA action. Senior second baseman Ford Stainback led all players with three hits. Charlotte is now 4-4 on the season and 0-2 in the league.
The C-USA weekend series concludes on Sunday. First pitch is scheduled for 12 noon Eastern Time (11 am Central).