April 13, 2013
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HOUSTON - The Rice baseball team rallied from a three-run deficit to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth, only to fall in 12 innings as the UCF Knights claimed an 11-7 Conference USA win over the Owls Saturday afternoon at Reckling Park in Houston.
After a 5-1 UCF win in the series-opener on Friday the Knights have won the three-game weekend set (with one more game remaining to be played on Sunday). It's the first time this season for Rice to lose a series and it was more than a full calendar year since the last time the Owls had lost a weekend series against an opponent (dropping two-of-three at Stanford in March 2012).
Rice quickly put a run on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first as Christian Stringer doubled and eventually came home on a wild pitch. UCF gained the advantage with a two-out, two-run homer by James Vasquez in the top of the third. The Owls came right-back with three runs in its half of the third inning. Shane Hoelscher was hit by a pitch and scored on a one-out double by Stringer. Ford Stainback walked and Michael Aquino hit an RBI single through the right side. The Blue & Gray stretched the margin to 4-2 as Keenan Cook hustled to reach base on a fielder's choice while Stainback scored from third.
UCF took advantage of Rice fielding error to move back in front with a four-run sixth. There was one Knight on base with one out and the Owls had a chance to get out of the inning on an infield grounder. All were safe on the Owl miscue, however, and three more hits, including a double, and a Rice wild pitch gave UCF the lead 6-4.
The Knights added an insurance run in the top of the ninth on an RBI double by Erik Hempe. UCF was looking for more on the play but a sensational throw and relay to plate ended the threat with the score 7-4. The Owls' defensive play seemed to spark the offense, and Rice proceeded to rally for three runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game.
Michael Ratterree drew a leadoff walk and Blake Fox reached on a UCF fielding error to put men on first and second. Geoff Perrott and Hoelscher followed with consecutive singles to score one run. Leon Byrd sprinted to reach safely on a fielder's choice and plate the second run of the inning. A sacrifice fly by Stringer scored Perrott and the game was knotted up 7-7.
Rice worked out of a jam with a double-play in the in the top of the tenth. In the bottom of the tenth Ratterree brought the Owl fans to their feet with a long fly to the gap in left-center that was corralled for the final out.
The Knights finally exploded for four runs in the top of the 12th on two hits, two walks and a Rice fielding error to make the score 11-7. The Owls still would not give-in, and proceeded to load the bases with hits by Byrd and Stringer and a one-out walk to Aquino. Vasquez snared a sharply-hit ball at first base to save some runs and the Knights were able to get out of the inning without damage.
UCF improved to 20-16 overall and 6-5 in C-USA league play. Rice is now 24-13 on the season and 6-5 in conference. Offensively the Owls were paced by Stringer, Cook and Holescher, who all finished the game with three hits in a 12-hit attack. On the mound sophomore right-hander Zech Lemond struck out a career-high six batters in 4.0 innings of middle relief.
The teams conclude the three-game weekend series Sunday at Reckling Park. Game time is set for 1 pm.