HOUSTON - The Rice baseball team had the bases-loaded in the eighth inning, and twice brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but visiting Southern Miss held-on for a 5-1 win in the finale of the Conference USA weekend series Sunday afternoon at Reckling Park.
Southern Miss opened the scoring with a pair of runs in the top of the first inning, then doubled the margin with two more in the fifth. The Golden Eagles stretched the lead to 5-0 with a run in the sixth after a Rice fielding miscue.
Rice had three hits through the first seven innings off USM starter James McMahon, then grouped three in the eighth to load the bases with two away. The Golden Eagle bullpen worked out of that jam, but Rice continued to fight.
In the ninth, senior Kitby Taylor lined a stinger to the right side for a hit and Charlie Warren punched a base hit into shallow right field. Tristan Gray drew a walk to load the bases and Connor Teykl singled through the left side to put Rice on the board, 5-1.
Still with just one away and the bases-loaded, Rice was looking for more. USM went to its bullpen for the third time and retired the final two Owls for the 5-1 final. The Blue & Gray finished with ten hits in the contest, but left a total of nine on base.
With his eye focused on the bigger picture, Rice head coach Wayne Graham pointed to the positives. Now in his 24th season at the helm of the program, coach Graham is well-familiar with how long seasons can go from week to week.
"You want to get a sweep if you can, sure, but winning a weekend series against a very good team is always good," coach Graham said. "Their starting pitcher is a good one. Some days you just have to tip your cap and move-on.
"I thought Jordan threw the ball well, and that is a very good sign," Graham added about his own starter Jordan Stephens (who continues to work his way back this season after sitting out most of 2014). He struck out seven in 4.1 innings had had only one walk. He threw the ball great. We like Jordan Stephens."
Stephens started on the mound for only the second time this year. The Alvin, Texas, native continues to add to his workload, step-by step. With 18.2 innings now under his belt, Stephens has held all opposing hitters to a composite .215 batting average and struck out 27 while walking only four.
Matt Ditman and Austin Orewiler pitched the final 4.2 innings for Rice Sunday. The three Owl pitchers combined for 12 strikeouts and only one walk. Connor Teykl led all Rice players with three hits with one RBI.
Rice is now 19-11 overall and 9-3 in C-USA league play. Southern Miss improved to 15-10-1 on the year and 4-4 in conference.
The Owls are on the road for their next game. Rice plays at longtime foe Lamar on Tuesday (March 31) at 6 pm. The Blue Gray then return home to host Middle Tennessee on in a second-straight C-USA weekend home series April 3-5.