Recap by: John Sullivan, Rice Athletics (email@example.com)
HOUSTON – The Rice baseball team broke a 3-3 deadlock with a run in the bottom of the seventh inning, and added another insurance score in the eighth, to claim a 5-3 Conference USA victory over visiting Middle Tennessee in the opening game of a weekend league series Friday evening at Reckling Park in Houston.
Rice is now 23-27 on the season and 13-12 in C-USA action. With the win, and including the results of other earlier league games, the Owls moved into sole possession of seventh place in the conference standings. Middle Tennessee is 21-28 overall and 7-18 in conference.
The Owls were first on the scoreboard. Darryn Sheppard’s fifth homer of the season put the Owls ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the second inning.
Rice stretched the margin to 3-0 in the fifth. Andrew Dunlap led off punching a single through the left side and hustling to scoring position on Charlie Warren’s sacrifice bunt. Dunlap came home on a RBI single up the middle by Dayne Wunderlich, who then scored a base hit by Ford Proctor.
Middle Tennesse took advantage of both an Owl fielding error and a passed ball for an unearned run in the sixth. The Blue Raiders fought back to tie the game, 3-3, in the seventh. Back-to-back one-out singles by Drew Huff and Blake Benefield put runners at the corners. Huff scored on a tricky ground out to third base. Riley Delgado drove home Benefield to level the score.
The tie didn’t last long. Wunderlich led off the bottom of the seventh with triple off the wall in left-center and scored on a fielder’s choice to put Rice back in front 4-3. The Owls added a final insurance run in the eighth on a solo homer by Dunlap with two away.
Rice had the two-run cushion, 5-3, but Glenn Otto fired a 1-2-3 ninth to close out the game for his fourth win of the season. He finished the night allowing one hit with three strikeouts in 2.1 innings pitched. True freshman Matt Canterino had a steady start, holding one of the top hitting teams in the conference to just two earned run on six hits while striking out six.
Four Owls registered two or more hits in the contest. It was the 20th time in the last 28 games for Rice to post at least ten hits. The squad has also belted nine round-trippers in the last four games.
The C-USA weekend series continues Sunday. Saturday’s start time against the Blue Raiders is set for 2 pm. Sunday’s series finale is at 12 noon (and a change from some earlier listings).