April 30, 2006
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Sophomore Brian Friday slugged a two-out double to drive in a pair of runs in the ninth inning to highlight a late Rice rally in 6-3 win over the University of Central Florida in the finale of a Conference USA weekend series Sunday afternoon in Orlando, Fla., completing a three-game sweep of the Golden Knights for the team's 17th-straight league win.
The contest followed the trend set in the first two games of the series as both pitchers battled without allowing runs in the early going. UCF opened the scoring in the bottom of the fourth inning when Tyson Auer led off with a chop single into left field and Matt Horwath followed with a walk. The runners advanced on a sacrifice bunt and Auer scored on a ground out to the right side.
The lead was short-lived as the Owls came right back for a pair of runs in the top of the fifth. Sophomore Danny Lehmann reached base on a fielding error with one away. The next batter, freshman Aaron Luna, blasted a two-run homer into the wind in left field. The homer was Luna's 11th of the season and tied the Southlake Carroll standout for the third-highest total by a Rice freshman in school history.
The Golden Knights answered with a run in the bottom of the frame to tie the game and another in the sixth to take the lead, 3-2. In the fifth Ryan Williams led off with a bouncing double into left and he moved up a base on a sacrifice bunt by Steve Stropp. Williams scored on a two-out single by Auer to tie it, 2-2. In the sixth catcher Ryan Bono drew a leadoff walk and advanced on a sacrifice bunt. He scored on a two-out single into center by Williams.
UCF escaped a bases-loaded Rice rally in the seventh without allowing a run but the Blue and Gray tied it in the eighth. Friday and junior Josh Rodriguez drew leadoff walks and Joe Savery sacrificed both runners into scoring position. Jordan Dodson lifted a sacrifice fly to right field to score Friday from third and knot it up 3-3.
Rice starting pitcher Craig Crow pitched well to hold the Golden Knights in check. He allowed three runs on just four hits while striking out three, but left with the score tied after a career-long 7.1 innings. Sophomore left-hander Cole St.Clair was brilliant in relief, firing 1.2 shutout innings without allowing a hit. The Owls' big three-run ninth paved the way to his fifth win of the season.
Luna led off the ninth with high fly ball that dropped in for a base hit in shallow right field with some help from the sun and gusting wind. The Golden Knights misplayed a sacrifice attempt by Chad Lembeck putting two men on base, but appeared to be working out of the jam with a strikeout and fielder's choice that erased Luna at third base. With two men on, Friday laced a double to left for his second hit of the day to score a pair. Savery followed with a base hit for an insurance run and a 6-3 final.
Rice improved 39-9 on the year and 17-1 in C-USA action. The Owls had already won the series the day before, the 15th-straight time to take a conference series dating back to March of 2005. Rice is a full three games ahead of Houston in the C-USA standings after the conclusion of weekend play. The Golden Knights fell to 22-24 overall and 5-10 against the league.
The Owls are now off for nine days during the University's final exams period. Rice's next game is at home on May 10. The Owls host longtime rival Lamar at Reckling Park at 7 pm.