HOUSTON - The Rice baseball team posted two big innings in a 13-hit attack to defeat visiting Middle Tennessee 7-2 in the opening game of the Conference USA weekend series Friday evening at Reckling Park.
With the victory Rice improved to 21-11 overall and 10-3 in C-USA. Middle Tennessee is now 16-12 on the season and 8-2 against the league. The Blue Raiders hold a narrow half-game lead over the Owls in the conference standings.
Middle Tennessee was ready for action and struck for a run in the top of the first inning. Dustin Delgado led off the game with a double to right field and scored before a total of three hits in the frame.
Rice came alive for the lead in the bottom of the second. Owl veteran Kirby Taylor was retired on a fly to right field to start it off, but his 15-pitch at bat set the tone where Rice got stronger as the inning progressed. Grayson Lewis followed with a walk on four pitches and Connor Teykl lined a two-out single into centerfield. Freshman Dane Myers coaxed another walk to load the stations and the fifth batter of the inning, junior catcher Hunter Kopycinski, launched a double to right field to plate all three runners for a new 3-1 score.
Middle Tennessee came right back and loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the third on three-straight singles. Rice starting pitcher Kevin McCanna, however, worked out of the jam with two infield fielder's choice plays at the plate - the second of which was a tricky chopper to right of the mound where McCanna had to leap and make a quick, accurate throw while landing.
McCanna went on to retire the side in that inning with a strikeout (that stranded three runners), and was solid for most of the rest of his season-long 7.2 innings. A Brad Jarreau solo home run to right-centerfield with one out in the fifth was the only other damage the Blue Raiders could manage on the night. McCanna allowed nine hits and a walk while striking out six to improve to 3-2.
The Blue Raiders' round-tripper had cut the lead to 3-2, but Rice was quick to answer in its half of the fifth. Kopycinski punched a single through the right side and scored on a triple to the gap in left-center by Ford Stainback. Stainback came home on a sacrifice fly by Leon Byrd, but the Owls weren't quite finished. Kirby Taylor singled and Lewis doubled to put runners in scoring position. Both dashed home on Charlie Warren's double to left field that extended the Rice lead to 7-2.
Rice finished the key conference contest with 13 hits. Stainback and Teykl led all players with three hits each, while Kopycinski had a pair of hits on the way to driving in a season-best three runs. Warren extended his personal-best hitting streak to 20-consecutive games, while Taylor's hit-streak reached 12 in a row.
The C-USA weekend series continues through Sunday. Saturday's start time is set for 2 pm. First pitch Sunday is 1 pm.