May 18, 2012
It was a long day-and-a-half of baseball, finishing the first game (that included a second rain delay early Friday afternoon) before the regularly-scheduled nine-inning nightcap. For all the baseball played, the big question of which team will win the regular season remained unanswered.
The Conference USA standings are still deadlocked at the top. Both Rice and UCF are still tied for first place with identical 16-7 league records. The winner of Saturday's final game of the series claims the regular season title and clinches the top seed in the upcoming C-USA Tournament next week in Pearl, Mississippi.
There was one thing resolved for Rice in the late game Friday. Sophomore pitcher Austin Kubitza came up big when his team needed him. Kubitza worked a steady 6.2 innings allowing a pair of earned runs. The right-hander from Colleyville, Tex., scattered four singles with three walks and he hit one batter, but he also balanced the ledger with a season-high nine strikeouts.
Kubitza's teammates gave him a wealth of support on offense. Christian Stringer stroked a one-out single up the middle and he advanced into scoring position with sacrifice bunt by J.T. Chargois. Florida native Craig Manuel drove him home with a two-out single into right field for a 1-0 game.
The Owls doubled the lead with a run on no hits in the top of the fourth. Michael Fuda and Ryan Lewis started the frame off with a pair of walks. The runners moved up on a sacrifice bunt by Shane Hoelscher. Fuda dashed home on Ford Stainback's sacrifice fly that made it 2-0.
UCF came back with runs in its half of the inning. Ryan Breen walked with one-away and scored on a double to the left field corner by Jeremy Matos. Matos scored on a two-out single by Travis Shreve that evened the score 2-2.
Rice answered with two runs in the top of the fifth, again without a base hit. Chargois drew a leadoff walk and Jeremy Rathjen was hit by a pitch. Keenan Cook pinch-ran for Chargois. He and Rathjen advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Manuel. Cook alertly sprinted home on a Knight wild pitch and Rathjen took third. With one out Fuda chopped the ball to third base. UCF came home with the play but Rathjen was safe on a colliding slide under the tag for a 4-2 game.
The Blue & Gray scored for the fourth-straight inning in the sixth that made 5-2. Stringer slapped a two-out double to the gap in right-center and scored as Cook followed with a single up the middle.
The Owls weren't finished, however, and scored twice more in the top of the eighth with just one hit. Rice then added two more runs in the top of the ninth on a big two-run home run by Fuda to stretch the final lead to 9-2. The shot to right field was the senior's seventh of the season.
Rice finished the night with nine hits. The Owls improved to 38-15 on the season. UCF moved to 41-13 overall. The weekend series concludes on Saturday. Start time is set for 12 noon Central Time (1 pm Eastern).