By: John Sullivan
HOUSTON - Visiting FIU scored 11 runs on 11 hits to claim an 11-1 win over the Rice baseball team in the opening game of the three-game Conference USA weekend series Thursday evening at Reckling Park.
Rice dropped to 33-18 overall and 20-8 in C-USA action, but there was a silver lining by game's end. In other league scores, Southern Miss defeated Middle Tennessee to keep the Owls in sole possession of first place in the C-USA standings by a full game.
With just two more C-USA regular season games left to play, any Rice win or Middle Tennessee loss would lock-up a share of league's regular season championship and the Owls as the No. 1 seed in next week's conference tournament. FIU meanwhile improved to 25-27 on the season and punched its ticket to the tourney with a 13-15 conference ledger.
Rain in the Houston area pushed the start of the 6:30 pm game back more than an hour. The Owls never seemed to get on track after stranding two in the top of the first inning. FIU scored three unearned runs in the top of the third, then pulled away with three more in the fourth, one in the fifth, three in the six and a final run in the seventh to stretch the margin to 11-0.
The Golden Panthers finished with 11 base hits and the Owl pitching staff issued a season-high nine walks. The Rice offense had six hits and went a combined 1-for-13 with runners on base. Credit FIU starter Andres Nunez with allowing just five hits and one walk while striking out five over 7.0 scoreless innings.
The C-USA weekend series continues through Saturday. Start time Friday is set for 6:30 pm. Seven Owl seniors will be honored before the start. Saturday's 12 noon game is scheduled for a live television broadcast on Fox Sports Net.