HOUSTON - Rice Baseball tried to battle back from an early deficit with two late home runs, but visiting Middle Tennessee held-on for a 7-4 win over the Owls in the second game of the C-USA weekend series Saturday afternoon at Reckling Park.
Middle Tennessee struck first with a two-out rally in the top of the third to push across two runs on three hits. The Blue Raiders then added another two runs in the fourth and three more in the third to extend the margin to 7-0.
Rice had only two base hits through the first five frames but began to stir in the bottom of the sixth. Senior Ford Stainback led off with a hard single to right-center and junior Connor Teykl connected on a 2-1 pitch for a deep blast that cleared the right field wall.
Teykl's first career round-tripper made it 7-2, and the Blue & Gry was back for more in the seventh. True freshman Tristan Gray led off the inning with a homer to right field for his third longball of the year. Singles by Hunter Kopycinski, Ryan Chandler and Leon Byrd brought Rice to within three, 7-4.
Kopycinski lined his third hit of the day in the bottom of the ninth, but the Blue Raiders ended the threat for a 7-4 final. Give credit to some solid defensive work by Middle Tennessee that helped keep the Owls in check. In the bottom of the fourth Ronnie Jebavy made a sensational diving catch of a liner to the gap in right-centerfield, and the team also turned three double plays to extinguish Rice's offensive chances.
Owl junior left-hander Blake Fox started on the mound and suffered the first loss of his collegiate career in 43 appearances and 185.0 innings overall. He was relieved on the day by newcomers Josh Pettitte, Glenn Otto and Dane Myers.
Rice is now 21-12 on the season and 10-4 in C-USA. Middle Tennessee improved to 17-12 overall and 9-2 in conference. The weekend league series concludes Sunday. First pitch Sunday is 1 pm.