E-mail baseball SID John Sullivan
HOUSTON - A season-high eight Rice pitchers made a narrow 2-0 margin stand up by combining for a six-hit shutout of visiting Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Wednesday evening at Reckling Park.
The Owls had a wealth of base-runners in the team's first game since April 26, a quiet nine-day period while the University held its final exams of the spring semester. Rice clubbed eight hits, drew four walks and three times an Owl batter was hit by a pitch. Where the offense didn't get the big hit to break the close game wide-open, no less than eight Rice pitchers passed their part of the test with flying colors.
Rice junior left-hander Blake Fox started the contest and quickly worked out of a jam in the top of the first inning with 6-4-3 double play and strikeout. Owls Ryan Chandler and Ford Stainback started the bottom of the inning with walks and Charlie Warren sacrificed the runners up an extra station. Senior John Clay Reeves followed with a single through the left side and Rice was up 1-0.
By design, junior right-hander Kevin McCanna worked a scoreless top of the second inning, and lefty John Williamson had a quick 1-2-3 third. Williamson was back to pitch again in the fourth and should have finished the frame with ease, but an Owl fielding error in the inning put Rice in danger. The Islanders eventually reached third, just 90 feet from tying the game, but No. 4 on the night, Ricardo Salinas delivered a big inning-ending strikeout.
Salinas went on to work 2.0 full innings on the night while facing just seven TAMCC hitters. Left-hander Austin Solecitto got Rice through the top of the sixth with the slim 1-0 advantage.
In the bottom of the sixth, junior catcher Hunter Kopycinski punched a two-out single through the right side. Chandler followed with a liner to the gap in left-center that drove-in Kopycinski and doubled the margin to 2-0.
The Islanders continued to fight. With two men on base in the top of the seventh, Owl pitcher No. 7 Austin Orewiler came out of the bullpen and ended the threat. The right-hander picked the lead runner off second base, got a harmless pop-out in foul territory, and an inning-ending strikeout.
TAMCC was back on the attack again in the ninth. Zacarias Hardy led off with a single and advanced his way around the bases to third on infield ground outs. Owl veteran stopper Matt Ditman, the staff's ninth hurler of the night, ended the game and preserved the shutout with a strikeout. The save was Ditman's seventh of the season and the 16th of his collegiate career - the fourth-highest career total in school history.
On the offensive side, junior Connor Teykl led all players with three hits. Chandler finished the night with a run, an RBI, a hit and a walk. Rice is now 30-16 overall. The Islanders are 21-24 on the season.
The Owls are back on the road this weekend (May 8-10) for their return to Conference USA league action. Rice plays at No. 12 ranked Florida Atlantic in a matchup of two teams tied for second place in the C-USA standings. Start time in Friday's opening game of the three-game series is set for 5:30 pm (Central Time).