March 9, 2010
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
If Anthony Fazio hadn't showcased his talents to his teammates and his coaches time and again last fall, then his early-season struggles would have been easy to shrug off as a byproduct of his relative inexperience.
Two years removed from pitching competitively and just 12 months out from reconstructive surgery on his right elbow, perhaps all Fazio needed was time to settle in to develop into the pitcher most assumed he'd become. Perhaps a fourth appearance and second start was key.
Assertive on the mound and aggressive in the strike zone, Fazio notched his first career victory in leading Rice to an 8-1 win over Sam Houston State on Tuesday night at Reckling Park, its eighth win in nine games.
Before tiring and losing the feel for his breaking ball in the sixth inning, Fazio, a redshirt freshman from Beaumont, was exceptional. He surrendered just three singles and three walks, two in the sixth, prior to being lifted for Mark Haynes, who allowed an inherited runner to score before slamming the door on the Bearkats' hopes for a comeback. Fazio (1-1) struck out four and lowered his bloated ERA from 67.50 to 8.53.
"I had all the confidence in my stuff," Fazio said. "My outing against Lamar (a 13-7 loss on Feb. 24) I left some pitches up and didn't have the command that I usually have, so it was real big for me to come back and have the confidence to trust my stuff and be able to have a good outing."
Fazio set the Bearkats (3-10) down in order in the first inning, and struck out the side after surrendering a leadoff single in the second. That flash of brilliance ran contrary to the stated goal of pitching to contact and throwing just 12 pitches per inning, but Fazio was armed with a fastball that touched 91 and a sharp slider, so he let his repertoire do the work and built confidence as he cruised along.
"Early on my slider was working good and I had a good changeup," Fazio said. "It was good to be able to go out there and whenever I needed a strikeout I could get one."
Added Rice catcher Craig Manuel: "He's just been pitching away from hitters instead of coming right at them. He just attacked every hitter, and his good performance shows that. He did a great job of throwing strikes and attacking hitters."
After idling for most of the previous weekend during the Houston College Classic, the Owls' offense presented Fazio with an early advantage on Tuesday. While the top four batters in the order combined to finish 1-for-14, Chad Mozingo, Rick Hague, Manuel and Steven Sultzbaugh were 8-for-15 batting fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth. All four reached behind sophomore third baseman Anthony Rendon, who walked to open the second, and all four scored after Rendon came home on a throwing error by Bearkats righthander Andrew Massey (1-2).
Manuel doubled home Mozingo and Hague to build the lead to 3-0, and Sultzbaugh followed with an RBI double that scored Manuel and upped the advantage to four runs. Michael Ratterree capped the five-run frame with his run-scoring single, and Hague added to the margin with a two-run home run in the fifth that put the Owls (8-5) comfortably ahead 7-0.
"Almost all the good hitting was in the bottom of the lineup," Rice coach Wayne Graham said. "It's gratifying to see Steven have a good night. Of course Hague hit one out and Manuel hit the ball hard. The bottom of the lineup did it tonight."
The Owls will open a rare four-game home series on Thursday evening against California at Reckling Park. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.