NORFOLK, Va. - The Rice baseball team took the lead in the eighth inning then held-off an Old Dominion rally in the bottom of the ninth for a 5-4 Conference USA victory in the finale of the weekend league series Sunday afternoon in Norfolk, Va.
Rice had no trouble taking control early in the contest. The Owls opened the scoring in the top of the third with just one hit. A leadoff walk to John Williamson and one-out walk to Ryan Chandler put runners on first and second. Williamson went to third on a fly out, and Chandler moved to scoring position on a wild pitch. Leon Byrd followed with a single to left for a 2-0 advantage.
The Owls stretched the margin to 4-0 with a two-out rally in the fourth. Williamson singled up the middle and Connor Teykl coaxed a walk. Chandler followed with a stand-up triple to right to drive in both runners and double the score.
Old Dominion responded with two runs in the bottom of the inning. Three-straight one-out singles loaded the bases. The Monarchs got on the board with a wild pitch, and walk then re-loaded the stations. Rice made the move to Jordan Stephens out of the bullpen. The right-hander was able to get one out on a sacrifice fly that led to a run, and a big strikeout to end the threat that kept it 4-2.
The Monarchs tied it up with two in the sixth. Zach Rutherford led off with a single and moved to scoring position on Jason McMurray's sacrifice bunt. Nick Walker followed with an RBI single to left field, and then went to second as Rice attempted to make a play at the plate. The ball got away on an error, however, and Walker was able to advance to third. The Owls then had trouble fielding another ball with the infield in, and ODU used the extended life to plate the game-tying fourth run with a sacrifice fly that otherwise would have ended the inning.
Rice battled back to take the lead in the top of the eighth. Charlie Warren lined a one-out double down the right field line and advanced to third on Kirby Taylor's second hit of the day. Freshman Tristan Gray followed with a big RBI double to right field to pull back in front 5-4.
Stephens had certainly settled things from the mound. The veteran pitched a solid season-high 3.2 innings, scattering two hits without any walks while striking out a season-high six. The game was not over though, and Rice made the move to Matt Ditman for the final two frames.
Ditman had 1-2-3 eighth, but ODU would not go quietly in the ninth. The Monarch's scratched-out two hits before he could finally close the door with a game-ending strikeout. Ditman notched his fourth save of the season while Stephens improved to 2-1 in his return to action.
The Owls are now 16-9 overall and 7-2 in C-USA action. Old Dominion dropped to 12-8 on the year and 3-3 in league play.
Rice has wrapped-up the rugged week-long four-game road swing. The Owls are next back at home at Reckling Park on Tuesday (March 24) with a 6:30 pm game against longtime foe Sam Houston State. Seven Rice's next nine games through April 5 are at home.