April 1, 2012
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HOUSTON - Senior Michael Fuda
blasted a clutch three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning to lift the Rice baseball team past visiting Southern Miss by a final score of 8-6 in the finale of the three-game Conference USA weekend series Sunday afternoon at Reckling Park, completing a dramatic Owl comeback after the Golden Eagles jumped out to a 6-0 lead.
Southern Miss took advantage of five Rice-issued walks in the fourth inning alone to help build an early 5-0 advantage. In the top of the fourth a single by Travis Creel scored two, a sacrifice fly by Dillon Day drove in another and the Owls walked-in another two runs while the bases loaded.
The Golden Eagles stretched the margin with another run in the top of the fifth. Connor Barron drew a walk, stole second base and scored on an RBI single by Austin Roussel for a 6-0 lead.
Rice had only one base hit through the first four innings but batted around for four runs in its half of the fifth. The Owls loaded the bases with a walk, fielder's choice and single by Ford Stainback. J.T. Chargois plated a run with a sacrifice fly, but a USM error on the play allowed a second run to score and the runners to advance an extra station. Christian Stringer followed with a base hit to score Stainback, now at second base. Stringer moved up on a walk and scored on an RBI single by Craig Manuel to bring the Owls back to within two, 6-4.
The Blue & Gray chipped away for another run in the bottom of the sixth. Fuda was hit by a pitch to lead the inning off and after he successfully stole second base, he hustled for another 90 feet on am Eagle throwing error. Fuda scored easily on a single by Stainback that made the score 6-5.
Rice completed the comeback in the bottom of the seventh. Rathjen singled with one away and Ryan Lewis drew a walk with two outs to put two men for Fuda. The senior from Katy, Tex., soon drove a USM pitch over the left field wall. The three-run shot was Fuda's fourth homer of the season that gave Rice its first lead of the day at 8-6 with eight unanswered runs.
"Yesterday I was batting in almost the exact same situation," Fuda said. "Today I wanted to be sure to get a pitch I could drive and I tried to put a good swing on it. I was just trying to hit the ball hard."
The Owl bullpen meanwhile had settled-in behind some solid relief work from Chargois. The junior from Sulphur, La., entered the game in the fifth and worked 3.1 shutout innings. He allowed only two hits and struck out three, but two walks and a USM hit loaded the bases in the eighth. Junior Tyler Duffey followed on the mound in the pressure-filled situation and ended the inning with a strikeout. It was Duffey's third time to pitch in as many games in the weekend series and bases-loaded pressure or not, that's fine with the former Bellaire High School star.
"Any time you come in from the bullpen the situation could be anything," Duffey said. "That's the nature of it. Today it was right into the fire, but I felt good. Once I get in a rhythm (pitching on consecutive days) I kind of like it. By pitching I feel I stay sharper."
Duffey then closed-out the Golden Eagles with a 1-2-3 ninth for his third save of the season in the 8-6 final. Rice improved to 21-9 overall and 4-2 in C-USA. Southern Miss fell to 16-12 on the season and 3-3 against the league.
The Owls close out the current four-game homestand on Tuesday, April 3. Rice hosts longtime rival Sam Houston State at Reckling Park at 6:30 pm.