April 8, 2011
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GREENVILLE, N.C. -- The Rice baseball had to battle for a pair of runs against an East Carolina pitching staff that leads the nation in team-ERA, but Owl pitchers Austin Kubitza and Tony Cingrani combined for a sensational outing of their own on the way to a 2-1 road victory over the Pirates in the opener of a three-game Conference USA league series Friday night at Clark-LeClaire Stadium in Greenville, N.C.
Kubitza and Cingrani combined to hold East Carolina to just one run (unearned) on four singles while posting the staff's season high of 18 strikeouts. The Owls needed the exceptional effort as four Pirate pitchers worked together to hold Rice to just a pair of runs.
Early on it might not have looked like runs would be at a premium. Rice put a run on the scoreboard right away in the top of the first inning. J.T. Chargois and Anthony Rendon stroked one-out infield singles. Michael Ratterree knocked a 1-2 pitch into left field to score Chargois for a 1-0 Owl lead.
Kubitza started on the mound for the Blue & Gray and proceeded to strike out seven of the first 10 batters he faced. He added two more strikeouts in the fourth and another two in the fifth, giving him a career-high 11 Ks after only 5.0 frames.
East Carolina struck four a run in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game. Trent Whitehead singled and two more walks loaded the bases. Pirate shortstop Jack Reinheimer then hit the ball back up the middle of the infield, but Ratterree made a spectacular grab on the ball behind second base. He athletically made a throw that would have ended the inning. The ball was in the glove, but popped out. A run was in, 1-1, and ECU still had the bases loaded. Cingrani came in at that point and ended the rally with a pop-up.
Rice bounced right back and regained the lead in the top of the seventh. Ryan Lewis led off with a base hit and he moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Keenan Cook. With first base open Rendon was intentionally walked. The next batter, Michael Fuda, delivered the clutch go-head RBI with single to right-center to score Lewis for a new Rice lead, 2-1.
The Owls still needed a solid three frames from Cingrani and the senior left-hander delivered. He struck out the last two for a 1-2-3 seventh before striking out the side in the eighth.
He fanned the leadoff batter of the bottom of the ninth to make it six Ks in a row, but ECU fought to the end while playing in front of their home fans. Pinch hitters Chase McDonald and Drew Reynolds both collected singles that put runners on first and third. Cingrani regrouped to end the game with a final strikeout, the staff's 18th of the night, for a 2-1 final.
Offensively the Owls finished with 11 hits. Every starter had at least one base hit while Keenan Cook and Craig Manuel shared the team lead with two.
Rice is now 22-12 on the season and 5-2 in Conference USA. East Carolina moved to 21-9 overall and 3-4 against the league.
The C-USA weekend series continues through Sunday (April 10). Start time on Saturday is set for 2 pm Central Time. First pitch Sunday is 9:30 am Central Time.