HOUSTON - True freshman Tristan Gray blasted a three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning to break a scoreless deadlock and lift the Rice baseball team to a 4-0 victory over visiting Sam Houston State Tuesday evening at Reckling Park.
Gray and his fellow freshman paved the way to Rice's second-straight win. Owl rookie right-hander Dane Myers made his first collegiate start and was sharp in a predetermined workload. He pitched a career-long 4.1 innings, allowing just one hit and a pair of walks while striking out an eye-opening eight batters.
Myers was sound and solid, and junior left-hander Austin Solecitto also did his part out of the bullpen to keep Sam Houston State off the scoreboard through six frames.
The Owl offense meanwhile was trying to support its pitching staff with runs, but Bearkat veteran right-hander Sam Odom was also throwing well with 6.0 shutout innings of his own. Rice had just four singles moving to the bottom of the seventh, but red-hot-hitting Kirby Taylor knocked a one-out single up the middle. Sophomore Charlie Warren, who already had a base hit in the game, belted a tricky fading liner that went into left-center field to put runners on first and second.
Gray had flown out to left and then center in first two at bats of the game. In his third trip to the plate the Houston native from Elkins High School blasted a 0-2 pitch over the wall in right field. His second round-tripper of the season quickly put the Owls up 3-0.
Rice pushed across one more insurance run in the bottom of the eighth. Another freshman, Ryan Chandler, led off with a walk and moved to scoring position as Ford Stainback was hit by a pitch. Chandler advanced to third on Leon Byrd's infield hit, but he dashed an extra 90 feet home as the Bearkats had trouble fielding the ball on the same play.
The 4-0 score was more than enough room for the Owls' third and final pitcher of the night, freshman Glenn Otto. Like Myers to start the game, Otto was in command firing the final 3.0 shutout innings. The newcomer from Spring, Texas, did not allow any hits nor walks while striking out five.
"The young players did well," said Rice head coach Wayne Graham. "Dane had three pitches working tonight that were hard to hit. Tristan had the big, clutch hit at a key time, and it was really good to see Glenn come in there and do so well. We need him.
"You want to play as many young guys as you can," coach Graham explained. "The young guys will have a chance to be a lot better in a month, or two months, from now. If you can keep them in the mix, they're going to keep getting better."
The Owls improved to 17-9 on the season. Sam Houston State is 12-14 overall.
The same two teams are not quite finished with each other this week. A rematch for the longtime foes is scheduled for Wednesday night (March 25) at the Bearkats' home park. First pitch at Don Sanders Stadium in Huntsville, Texas, is slated for 6:30 pm. Rice is then back home at Reckling Park for a three-game weekend series vs. Southern Miss beginning on Friday night (March 27).