March 13, 2012
Andrew Benak was the key to the Rice baseball team's 5-1 victory over visiting Arizona Tuesday night at Reckling Park in Houston. With the win, Rice head coach Wayne Graham notched his 1,500th career victory as a collegiate head coach (including 21 seasons at Rice and 11 at San Jacinto College).
The Owls went to work early. Each of the first four hitters in the Rice lineup hit safely to start the bottom of the first inning, including doubles by Michael Ratterree and Jeremy Rathjen to drive in the first two runs of the contest. J.T. Chargois singled up the middle for the third run of the game and Shane Hoelscher reached on a fielder's choice that pushed across the final run for an early 4-0 advantage.
That was all the room Benak needed in his fourth start of the year. The veteran from Houston fired 5.2 scoreless innings at a Arizona squad that was ranked as high as sixth in the nation in one national poll. Benak allowed just six hits and walk while striking out one to improve to 3-0 on the season.
"(Benak's) shown a lot of character," said coach Graham. "He got on the breaking ball when he had to and it was another great start."
Rice added one more run in the bottom of the third. Junior centerfielder Jeremy Rathjen led off the inning with a solo home run to left field. The blast was his team-leading fourth of the season to stretch the Rice lead to 5-0. Rathjen and Michael Fuda both went 2-for-4 in the game and combined for three of the team's five runs.
Arizona continued to fight. In the top of the eighth Alex Mejia singled with one away and Robert Refsnyder followed with a walk that moved Mejia into scoring position. Mejia hustled to third base on a fly ball to right field and scored on single up the middle by Seth Mejias-Brean to make the score 5-1.
The Wildcat's run in the eighth was the first Rice had allowed in 17 full innings dating back to Saturday's game at Stanford. Rice fielders made plays to erase runners on the bases in the second, third and ninth innings.
"I think we have one of the best defenses in the nation," Benak said. "I am going to work hard for them because they are working hard behind me. The make the plays, and without them we wouldn't be in the position we're in."
Coach Graham was pleased with his team's performance. He explained he's more focused on players playing-well rather than what-number win he's reached in his collegiate coaching career.
"I'm more happy about winning game against a very good (Arizona) team than any milestones," coach Graham stated. "Milestones are just because you've been around a long time."
With Rice's second-straight win over a team from the Pac-12 conference the Owls improved to 14-4 overall. Arizona dropped to 13-3 on the season. The second game of the two-game midweek series with the Wildcats is set for 6:30 pm on Wednesday (Mar. 14). The contest between the nationally-ranked foes will be televised live in the Houston area by CSS Sports.