May 15, 2012
Andrew Benak fired a career-long 7.1 innings and the Owl bullpen held off a late charge to key a 5-0 road victory over Sam Houston State Tuesday evening at Don Sanders Stadium in Huntsville, Tex.
Benak scattered five singles with no walks while striking out nine in a career-long 7.1 frames. By the eighth inning only two Bearkat runners reached scoring position off the junior right-hander. It was the kind of start Rice head coach Wayne Graham wanted to see in a key midweek contest against a Bearkat team that had already clinched the Southland Conference regular season championship.
"Benak pitched a great game," said coach Wayne Graham. "He had three good pitches. He had the best change-up he's had this year."
"We weren't very lucky hitting," coach Graham added. "We got five runs, but we hit a lot more balls hard then that. It's a good RPI (Ratings Power Index) win, on the road."
Rice challenged for runs in the first and second inning before finally breaking through in the top of the fourth. J.T. Chargois and Shane Hoelscher started the inning off with singles through the right and left sides, respectively. The runners advanced on a text-book sacrifice bunt by Michael Aquino. Chargois trotted home on a single to left by Geoff Perrott for a 1-0 advantage.
The Owls scored two more in the top of the sixth. Designated hitter Keenan Cook drew a one-out walk and stole second to move into scoring position. In Craig Manuel's pinch-hit at bat, the Bearkats had a wild pitch that allowed Cook to advance to third. Manuel was hit by a pitch then surprised the home team with a steal of second base that two men in scoring position. Christian Stringer followed with a two-out single to left-center to score both runs and extend the Owls' lead to 3-0.
Rice added two more runs on two hits and a couple of wild pitches in the top of the eighth to make it 5-0. There was still some drama to fight through in the bottom of the eighth. Bearkat right fielder Greg Olson led off with a single and Benak hit a batter with one away. The Owls went to the bullpen and issued a walk that loaded the bases.
The Blue & Gray brought in a second reliever, Tyler Duffey, who ended the threat with a total of four pitches to get a strikeout and fly out. With a scoreless ninth Duffey was back in form.
"It felt great out there," Benak said. "I thought I had command of all my pitches and I got the change-up working early which was nice. It was tight there, but we got some runs and it took a little pressure off. Our offense can come up big at any spot in the lineup."
The Owl duo of Stringer and Chargois each had two hits on the night. Rice is now 37-14 overall with six wins in the last seven games. The Bearkats are now 34-17 on the year.
The Owls' road swing continues. Rice next plays a three-game Conference USA series at league co-leader UCF May 17-19. Rice then competes in the C-USA Tournmanent May 23-27 in Pearl, Miss.
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