Recap by: John Sullivan, Rice Athletics (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Rice baseball team found its power-swing with four home runs, and the sophomore pitching tandem of Zach Esquivel and Kendal Jefferies combined on a five-hit shutout, to pace the Owls to an 8-0 Conference road victory at Charlotte Saturday afternoon in Charlotte, N.C.
Rice certainly has been hitting well the last six weeks. The team had maintained a composite .302 average with 10.5 hits per game over the previous 24 contests heading into the middle game of the weekend series. On Saturday the Owls kept the pace up and tallied 11 hits, but it was the power surge that made the biggest offensive impact. The Blue & Gray belted four home runs for the program's highest single game total in seven years (vs. Rider in the 2010 NCAA Tournament).
With one away in the top of the second Rice knocked back-to-back round-trippers with Andrew Dunlap's second homer of the season and Dayne Wunderlich's third for a quick 2-0 lead. The Owls still weren't finished, however, as Ryan Chandler drew a two-out walk and Dane Myers followed with his fourth to make it 4-0. The three-homer inning was also the Owls' first since 2010, when Rice had three longballs in the top of the seventh in a C-USA Tournament game against Houston (and those three were coincidentally back-to-back-to-back).
Rice then added another score in the fourth before Darryn Sheppard's solo blast in a two-run sixth. Chandler then led off the eighth with a double and eventually scored to stretch the margin to 8-0.
The offensive support was more than enough room for Esquivel and Jefferies. Esquivel worked into the eighth scattering five singles and a pair of walks. The League City, Texas, native also registered six strikeouts on the way to posting his sixth win of the season. With two 49ers quickly on base to start the bottom of the eighth, Jefferies came out of the bullpen and induced a double-play grounder on his first pitch. He also fielded a tricky come-backer to end the inning, and fired a scoreless ninth to keep the staff's third shutout of the season intact.
The Owls clinched the weekend series against a 27-win Charlotte squad and improved to 21-26 on the season with the team's eighth win in the last nine games. Rice also holds steady in the conference standings with an 11-12 league record. The 49ers are now 27-19 on the year and 14-9 in C-USA.
The three-game weekend series wraps-up Sunday. First pitch is the series finale is scheduled for 12 noon (Central Time).