BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - The Rice baseball team held-off challenge after challenge to claim a 3-2 road win at Western Kentucky and complete a three-game sweep of the Conference USA weekend series Sunday afternoon in Bowling Green, Ky.
Rice had won the middle game of the series Friday night by the same 3-2 score. With runs at a premium again on Sunday, the Owls seemed to pass each test. In the bottom of both the second and third innings the Blue & Gray forced WKU to strand runners on third base.
When the Hilltoppers pulled to within one with a run in the fifth, 3-2, Rice avoided further trouble by stranding two more runners. With no shortage of pressure the Owls continued to dodge scoring threats in the sixth, seventh and eighth. In all three innings WKU had men in scoring position but was denied getting to home plate.
Rice manufactured a run to be the first on the scoreboard in the top of the second inning. Charlie Warren singled with one away and moved into scoring position with a stolen base. He sprinted home on Leon Byrd's two-out RBI single to left-center for the 1-0 advantage.
WKU took advantage of a Rice miscue to tie the game in the bottom of the second. The Owls were on the way to getting out of the inning with a two-out grounder, but WKU stayed alive as Rice mishandled the ball. The play put Hilltopper runners on first and second, and Leiff Clarkson followed with a RBI single to center that made the score 1-1.
The Owls forged ahead with a pair of runs in the fourth. Connor Teykl powered a double to right field and Grayson Lewis drew a two-out walk. This time is was WKU that had trouble fielding a grounder to the right side and Teykl alertly sprinted home for the go-ahead run. Hunter Kopycinski dropped a looping base hit into right to score Lewis for a little more room on the scoreboard, 3-1.
The Hilltoppers rallied for a run in the fifth. Cody Wofford drew a two-out walk and scored from first base on Ryan Church's double to right-center that made it 3-2. Owl starter Blake Fox finished the fifth allowing just one earned run and he was relieved by Austin Orewiler and then Matt Ditman.
Orewiler got a strikeout to end the sixth with the tying run on second, and a stellar third-to-first double play to help get out of trouble in the seventh. The right-hander surrendered a walk in eighth that wound up reaching third after an error on a steal of second. Orewiler calmly ended that inning with back-to-back swinging strikeouts.
Ditman was brought in for the bottom of the ninth, which also happened to be the most dangerous part of WKU's order. The Owls' saves leader didn't give the Hilltoppers any more chances. He proceeded to strikeout all three batters to preserve the 3-2 final. The save was Ditman's sixth of the season. Fox improved to 5-2 on the year. Orewiler notched three strikeouts in 3.0 scoreless frames.
Rice is now 29-16 on the season and 17-7 in C-USA action. The Hilltoppers are 21-20 overall and 9-12 in league play.
The baseball team does not play again for more than a week. Rice University enters its final exams period where the intercollegiate athletics teams will be off from April 27 to May 5.