May 8, 2012
Andrew Benak with some steady offensive pressure for a 6-0 victory over visiting Stephen F. Austin Tuesday evening at Reckling Park in Houston.
When Rice opportunistically opened the scoring with a run in the bottom of the second inning after a SFA fielding error, that would be all the room Benak and the Owl bullpen would need on the night. The junior right-hander worked into the eighth for the first time in his career, scattering seven singles and a walk while striking out eight. He and relievers Zech Lemond and Matthew Reckling teamed to keep the Lumberjacks off the scoreboard for the team's seventh shutout of the season.
"That's exactly what we want him to do," said Rice head coach Wayne Graham. "They are a pretty good hitting ballclub. I thought (Benak) did a good job."
The Rice staff may have needed only minimal support, but the Owl offense posted runs on the scoreboard in four of the first six innings. In the bottom of the third sophomore Shane Hoelscher hit a one-out single, moved into scoring position with a stolen base and came home on Christian Stringer's two-out base hit.
J.T. Chargois led off the fourth with a walk and Jeremy Rathjen followed with a bunt for a base hit. Junior Michael Ratterree knocked a Lumberjack pitch over the left field wall for a three-run homer and a 5-0 lead. The shot was Ratterree's sixth of the year, but also his third round-tripper in the last week.
The Owls stretched the margin to 6-0 in the sixth with a solo home run by Michael Fuda. The Owls have clubbed a total of nine homers over the last eight games.
Pitcher's certainly like the offensive support. With an already high level of confidence in the Owl hitters, Benak focused on fine-tuning his own performance.
"The last couple of outings I haven't had exactly the command I want with (my slider), being able to throw behind in the count, ahead in the count, whenever I want," Benak said. "Tonight we were able to get ahead of most of the batters on the night and get some early outs in each inning.
Rice was in control when Benak took the mound to start the eighth, but SFA continued to fight. The Lumberjacks hit back-to-back singles and drew a walk to start the inning. Benak received a spirited round of applause from the 3,332 fans at Reckling Park when he was lifted from the game for Lemond out of the bullpen, but there was still the matter of SFA having the bases-loaded with no outs.
It was certainly a high-pressure situation for the Owl freshman, but Lemond coolly struck out the first two batters he faced. He then worked out of the jam by getting the next SFA hitter to fly out to short right field. Reckling worked a quick 1-2-3 top of the ninth to close out the win.
"Zech went in there and really picked (Benak) up, he was great," coach Graham said. "That was a great-level relief performance. He's a good pitcher now, he's going to be a great one."
Rice improved to 34-13 on the season with the team's third-straight win. The Lumberjacks moved to 19-29 overall.
The Owls continue current homestand through the weekend. Rice next hosts Conference USA foe UAB May 11-13 at Reckling Park. Game times against the Blazers are set for 6:30 pm on Friday, 2 pm on Saturday and 1 pm on Sunday.