May 16, 2013Austin Kubitza overcame early hits on the way to a season-long 8.0 innings of work, and sophomore reliever Zech Lemond posted his school record 13th save of the season, to help the Owls baseball team secure a 4-2 Conference USA victory over visiting Marshall in the opener of a three-game league series Thursday night at Reckling Park.
Marshall struck for a pair of runs on a walk and two hits off Kubitza in the top of the first inning for a quick 2-0 lead. The Herd then loaded the bases on three infield singles with one out in the top of the second, but this time the Colleyville, Tex., native worked out of the jam with a strikeout and ground out.
Avoiding further runs gave the Owls' a lift in the bottom of the frame. Rice responded by taking a 3-2 lead on three hits, including Michael Ratterree's team-leading ninth home run of the season.
With the lead Kubitza settled down and retired 17 of the next 19 Marshall batters to get though the top of eighth inning. That Kubitza is the one Rice head coach Wayne Graham recognized.
"Austin really righted-himself after the first inning," coach Graham explained. "Marshall did have some hits in the second inning to load the bases, but none of those got out of the infield. I thought he threw well and he started throwing his fastball for strikes better than he had this year - better velocity and more strikes.
"After the early innings we also started having some better defensive plays which really helped," Graham added. "Shane Hoelscher bare-handed one throw (from third), Christian Stringer made a great stop and leaping throw on that ball up the middle, and Skyler Ewing knocked a hard hit ball down at first base when it was still a one-run game."
The Owls added one more insurance run in the bottom of the eighth before turning the top of the ninth over to Lemond. Hoelscher punched a base hit into right-center and then advanced two stations to third as Marshall made a throwing error on Ratterree's sacrifice bunt. Hoelscher scored easily on Keenan Cook's sacrifice fly to right field. The 4-2 lead gave the Blue & Gray some breathing room.
"I think right now Keenan is one of the best clutch hitters we have," coach Graham said. "It doesn't matter if the opposing pitcher is right or left-handed, Keenan has really come-on strong the last few weeks and he's done it in situations when we needed him."
Where a one-run lead was all the room Lemond needed to get his 11th save four days ago (Sunday) against Memphis, and his 12th two days ago at Texas State (Tues.), Rice's new 4-2 lead must have seemed as some kind of over-abundance of run-margin. The Owl stopper set the Herd down in order to close out the top of the ninth. It was Lemond's third save of the week and 13th save of the season, breaking the school's single season mark he had shared with eventual major leaguers David Aardsma (2003) and Tony Cingrani (2011).
Rice improved to 35-17 on the season and 13-9 in C-USA league play. The Owls have won three-straight games. Marshall dropped to 20-32 overall and 6-16 in conference.
The C-USA series continues through Saturday. Friday's game is set for 6:30 pm. Saturday's finale is set for 1 pm. The six Owl seniors will be honored before Saturday's contest in the final home appearance of the regular season.