March 30, 2012
Michael Fuda delivered a key bases-loaded hit in the bottom of the sixth inning to break a 2-2 tie and help lift the Rice baseball team to a 6-3 Conference USA victory over visiting Southern Miss in the opener of a three-game C-USA series Friday evening at Reckling Park.
Rice head coach Wayne Graham certainly expected the weekend series featuring two of the C-USA co-leaders, not to mention both of the league's co-Pitcher of the Week honorees, to be a battle. He was pleased with the first step of a tough three-game test.
"I thought we had a pretty good hitting performance and the defense was outstanding," Coach Graham said. "We ended-up leaving some men on base (12), but we had some good at bats that created those opportunities. Mike (Fuda) had a big opportunity and came through with a big hit."
Rice had opened the scoring in the bottom of the second inning. Ryan Lewis led off with a single up the middle, advanced to scoring position Shane Hoelscher's sacrifice bunt and came home on Michael Ratterree's two-out single to left. After two more singles by Ford Stainback and Christian Stringer, Ratterree came home for a 2-0 advantage.
Southern Miss came right back with two runs in the top of the third. A leadoff hit by Travis Creel and bunt for a hit by Chase Fowler put men on first and second with no outs. Connor Barron's fielder's choice put men on first and third with one away, but a wild pitch put two men in scoring position. Dillon Day plated both runners with a single to even the game 2-2.
Rice batted around to break the deadlock in the bottom of the sixth. Craig Manuel singled, Stainback walked and Stringer singled to load the bases with one away. Fuda slashed a base hit through the left side to score two, but the Owls weren't finished. J.T. Chargois followed with a single to score Stringer and make the margin 5-2.
The Golden Eagles answered with a run in their next at bat. Kameron Brunty started the seventh with a single, moved to second on a wild pitch and hustled home on Creel's single to right field.
The Blue & Gray scored a final run with a two-out rally in the bottom of the eighth. Chargois was hit by a pitch, Jeremy Rathjen drew a walk and Lewis knocked an RBI single to center to make it 6-3.
Senior Matthew Reckling started on the mound for Rice and improved to 5-0 on the season. The right-hander from Houston allowed three runs in 6.1 innings on six hits and a pair of walks. He posted seven strikeouts on the night.
Senior left-hander Taylor Wall pitched a pair of hitless relief innings without allowing any runs. Tyler Duffey retired the last two batters to give the bullpen six-straight outs in the final two frames. Coach Graham said the good bullpen work has his full attention.
"It wasn't Matthew's very best game, but he hung in there," coach Graham said. "He had a quality start against a good-hitting team. He had one unfortunate inning.
"Tonight the bullpen did it's job," Graham added. "We believe in our bullpen. We're going to put them in there, and they did it tonight."
Rice improved to 20-8 overall and 3-1 in Conference USA. Southern Miss is 15-11 on the year and 2-2 in league play.
The C-USA weekend series continues through Sunday. Saturday's game begins at 3:30 pm. Sunday's series finale is 1:07 pm and is set for a television broadcast by Fox Sports Net.