HOUSTON - The Rice baseball team jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning on the way to a convincing 9-2 Conference USA victory over visiting Louisiana Tech in the finale of the weekend league series Sunday afternoon at Reckling Park.
Where Rice had to rally in each of the first two games of the weekend set, the Owls coasted to Sunday's win to complete the conference series sweep. Not only did Rice extend its current win streak to seven-straight to improve to 15-6, the Blue & Gray remained undefeated in C-USA action (6-0) to stay atop of league standings.
Each of the first three Rice batters to start the bottom of the first inning drew walks, and clean-up batter John Clay Reeves followed with a base hit to drive-in two. The Owls then re-loaded the bases with a one-out walk before freshman Tristan Gray drove the runs home with a lining triple to right-center. Gray sprinted home on a tricky infield hit by Kirby Taylor to complete the half-dozen first inning runs.
"It was good to get an early lead, and today it was a pretty big lead so that was a plus," said Rice head coach Wayne Graham. "I thought we played pretty well today. We had some good at bats, Leon (Byrd) played well at shortstop, and Charlie (Warren) made another great play in right field again.
Taylor doubled to lead off the bottom of the fourth and scored on Ford Stainback's RBI grounder to make the score 7-0. Louisiana Tech continued to fight, and plated two runs in the top of the sixth
It was the only inning the Bulldogs scored off junior starter Austin Orewiler, who notched another solid outing on the mound in just his fourth career start. The right-hander from Galveston, Texas, scattered five hits 6.0 innings to improve to 3-0 this season.
"Sometimes pitchers can get too comfortable with a big lead," coach Graham explained, "but Austin had a quality outing. He's come a long way and he's going to continue to help us."
Orewiler was relieved by John Williamson for 2.0 scoreless frames and Josh Pettitte for a scoreless ninth. The Owls went on to add two more runs in the bottom of the seventh to stretch the final margin to 9-2.
On the offensive side the Owls tallied ten hits, the squad's 16th time to reach double-digit hits in 21 games. Reeves finished the day with three RBI on three hits, including his fifth double of the season. Gray also drove in a career-best three runs for the third time.
Coach Graham is less about the individual stats, however, and more about playing well for the end result.
"We didn't always play well this series, but I thought we did today," coach Graham added. "It's always very important to get every win, especially in conference. Sweeping a conference series is as hard as it is important. We got it done. It was a good day for us."
Rice next begins a four-game road-swing starting on Tuesday (March 17). The Owls face crosstown rival Houston at Cougar field. Start time is scheduled for 6:30 pm.