May 17, 2013
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HOUSTON -- The Rice bats came alive for 13 runs on 12 hits and the pitching tandem of Jordan Stephens and Matt Ditman combined for the tenth shutout of the season as the Owl baseball team claimed a 13-0 Conference USA victory over visiting Marshall in the second game of a weekend league series Friday night at Reckling Park.
With the win Rice improved to 36-17 on the season and 14-9 in C-USA league play. The Owls moved into a tie for first place in the conference standings heading into the final game of the regular season on Saturday at 1 pm. If the Owls win the final game of the series Rice can do no worse than tie for the regular season championship - the team's 18th league baseball title in a row dating back to 1996.
It's a spot the Owls and head coach Wayne Graham have been in before. A year ago Rice won the C-USA regular season championship on the last day of the league's 24-game schedule. The Owls and UCF were tied for first in the C-USA standings heading into the final game of the 2012 campaign. The Blue & Gray clipped the Knights on the road in Orlando, 5-2, to secure the program's 17th-straight baseball championship.
"I think we have to keep our mind on the goal," coach Graham said. "We have to come out with idea of playing the best game we can play."
With some work left to do Friday night before having another one-game shot on Saturday, the Owls were all business against the Thundering Herd. Rice batted around for three runs in the bottom of the second inning, and then batted around again for three more in the third.
The Blue & Gray added single runs in the fourth and fifth to stretch the margin to 8-0, then batted around one final time for five runs in the sixth. Five Owls, Ford Stainback, Christian Stringer, Keenan Cook, Michael Aquino and Blake Fox all had two hits in the contest.
Almost lost in the all the offensive fireworks was a quiet by sensational pitching performance by Stephens. The sophomore right-hander from Alvin, Tex., worked into the eighth having scattered only four singles and one double. He did not walk a batter and struck out seven while improving his record to 6-4 overall. Ditman was spotless in 1.1 innings of relief to preserve the staff's tenth shutout of the season. the ten shutouts tied the school record set in 2003 and tied again the next year in 2004.
"Jordan and Matt pitched very well," Coach Graham said. "That's gratifying because of what that could mean for us the rest of this season, and the future.
"We had a great offensive day against a quality pitcher and that's not that easy to do," coach added. "We've been grouping the offense together in the lineup a little differently, and we've been able to do a little better and score some runs. We played well, and we need to keep playing well."
First pitch for Saturday's final game of the Marshall series is set for 1 pm at Reckling Park. Six Owl seniors will be recognized before the first pitch in honor of their final regular season appearance at Rice.