Recap by: John Sullivan, Rice Athletics (firstname.lastname@example.org)
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. -- The Rice baseball team got offensive Saturday, combining for 23 runs on 27 hits including three home runs, to take both games of a Conference USA double-header at Western Kentucky -- which also completed a three-game sweep of the Hilltoppers in the weekend league series.
With the team's first C-USA series win of the season Rice improved to 16-25 overall and 7-11 in the league. The sweep propelled the Owls into a tie for ninth place in the C-USA standings. The team has a chance to be tied for eighth place by the end of Sunday's series finale between UAB at Louisiana Tech.
Scoreboard watching can now be part of the schedule for Sunday's newfound day off. The only scoreboard Rice was interested in on Saturday, however, was the one at WKU's Nick Denes Field. The Owls watched themselves light-it-up for the better part of a long, chilly, damp (and almost improvised) double-header.
Rice quickly went to work in game one, exploding for seven runs in the top of the second to equal the squad's biggest offensive inning of the season. Western Kentucky had a chance to be out of the inning with a lot less damage on the board, but a dropped fly in the outfield extended the Owls' chances. Rice capitalized by collecting six hits as 11 batters came to plate. The big blow was Dane Myers' massive three-run homer to left for a 7-0 lead.
The Owls stretched the margin to 9-0 with single runs in the third and sixth, but WKU battled its way back with a run in the sixth and then four in the eighth to make it 9-5. The Blue & Gray tallied one final insurance run in in the ninth for a 10-5 final. Junior Ryan Chandler went 3-for-4 to pace a 13-hit attack where four players had two or more in the contest. True freshman Matt Canterino started on the mound and struck out seven in 7.1 innings of work to improve to 3-4.
When the teams saw there was still a window of relief from the storms Saturday, but with the forecast less-promising for Sunday, the contingency schedule of a `possible double-header' was given the green light. Cold and damp conditions or not, both teams quickly got ready to play a new nine frames. Rice's performance in the late show was even better than its first of the day.
In game two the Owls piled up 13 runs on another 14 hits highlighted by another two round-trippers. Rice struck for three in the top of first thanks to a big two-out double by Tristan Gray. After another Owl score in the second, the Hilltoppers pushed two runs across in the bottom of the inning to cut the Rice lead in half, 4-2.
The two WKU runs, however, was all Rice pitchers Zach Esquivel and Willy Amador would allow the rest of the night. Esquivel scattered six hits on the way to working a career-best 7.2 innings, the longest outing by any Owl pitcher all year. He also posted a career-high nine strikeouts on the way to his fourth win of the season. Amador was solid for the final 1.1 shutout innings.
Both hurlers enjoyed the offensive support for the double-header and all series long. After the second inning the Rice hitters still had three more three-run innings left in the tank for a 13-2 final. Every starter had at least one hit, with Gray going a game-best 3-for-4 with three RBI. Chandler launched a three-run homer as part of career-high tying four RBI.
Including the Owls' 8-4 win in the series-opener on Friday, Rice batted a combined .333 for the three games (36-of-108) with six home runs, five doubles and a triple for a composite .565 slugging percentage. The Blue & Gray held WKU to a combined .188 batting average with an improvement in issuing walks (14 in 27 total innings).
Rice has concluded the weekend road swing and is scheduled to play its next four at home. The Owls host red-hot UTSA in a C-USA series at Reckling Park beginning on April 28 (Friday). First pitch against the Roadrunners is scheduled for 6:30 pm.