Recap by: John Sullivan, Rice Athletics (firstname.lastname@example.org)
HOUSTON – Junior Dane Myers drove in three runs on three hits and sophomore right-hander Kendal Jefferies tied a career-high with six strikeouts in 3.2 innings of relief to help pace the Rice baseball team to a 7-4 victory over visiting UTSA in the second game of a Conference USA weekend series Saturday at Reckling Park in Houston.
With the win Rice improved to 17-26 overall and moved into a tie for eighth place in the C-USA standings with an 8-12 conference ledger. UTSA is now 22-19 on the season and 10-10 in C-USA action.
The Owls had to battle to level the weekend series at one game apiece as the Roadrunners were quick to get on the scoreboard in the top of the first inning. Each of the first three batters to start the game collected base hits to put one run on the board. UTSA was looking for even more runs with no outs, but in his first time to start at first base this season Addison Moss made a nice defensive play to throw out the lead runner on sacrifice attempt. Starting pitcher Zach Esquivel then avoided any more trouble with a quick fly out and strikeout to keep the UTSA lead at just 1-0.
Rice answered with three runs in its half of the frame on five hits and a walk. Consecutive RBI singles by Myers, Dominic DiCaprio and Tristan Gray gave the Blue & Gray a lead the team would not relinquish.
When UTSA cut the lead to 3-2 on an RBI double by Kevin Markham in the top of the fifth, the Owls responded. Dayne Wunderlich singled with one away and Ryan Chandler walked. The duo advanced a station with a stolen base and both hustled home on Myers’ single to left to make it 5-2. It was Myers’ 20th multiple-hit game of the season and third time this year with three hits. The Katy, Texas, native also drove-in three runs in a single game for the third time this year.
Rice had the lead, but the same UTSA squad that took the series-opener on Friday proceeded to chip-away for single runs in both the sixth and seventh to pull within one, 5-4. The Owls calmly plated two big insurance runs in the bottom of the seventh after a leadoff walk by Wunderlich, a sac bunt by Chandler, and back-to-back two-out doubles by DiCaprio and Gray to stretch the margin back to three, 7-4.
Eight Rice starters in the lineup hit safely for a total of 12 hits. Since a game at Texas A&M on March 21, the Owls’ offense has averaged more than 10 hits per game.
Esquivel improved to 5-4 on the season allowing just three runs 5.1 innings. Jefferies registered the first save of his collegiate career allowing just two base hits in the final 3.2 frames. The sophomore right-hander from Spring, Texas, equaled his career best with six strikeouts and retired each of the last six batters he faced.
The finale of the C-USA weekend series is Sunday. Start time is set for 1 pm at Reckling Park.