Recap by: John Sullivan, Rice Athletics (firstname.lastname@example.org)
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Rice baseball team powered its way to 12 runs on 15 hits, including nine for extra bases, to claim a 12-4 Conference USA victory over league foe UAB in the opening game of a C-USA series Thursday evening in Birmingham, Ala.
Rice improved to 26-28 on the year and 15-13 in conference action. With the win, along with a Charlotte road win at Marshall, the Owls clinched a spot in next week’s C-USA Championship Tournament in Biloxi, Miss. In fact, the Blue & Gray climbed into a tie for sixth place in the league standings with two games left to play in the regular season. UAB moved to 23-30 overall and 8-20 in conference.
Early offense has been the norm for Rice this season and Thursday followed suit. Doubles by Ford Proctor and Darryn Sheppard quickly gave the Owls a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. In 54 games this season the Blue & Gray has now scored a total of 51 first inning runs.
It was another good offensive first inning, followed by a sensational second inning as the Owls batted around for six more runs. Sheppard’s second-straight double plated two to highlight a six-hit attack. The big Rice outburst was at a critical time, immediately answering a two-run UAB homer by Pierce Ressmeyer that put the Blazers in front in the bottom of the first inning.
Rice then used the long ball to add two more in the fourth. Dominic DiCaprio and Sheppard blasted back-to-back one-out home runs to make it a 9-2 game. The round-trippers were DiCaprio’s fifth, and Sheppard’s team-leading sixth, of the season.
UAB continued to battle in its final home series of the season. The Blazers scored two on three hits in the bottom of the sixth to cut the margin to five, 9-4.
The Owls continued to apply the pressure with a run in the eighth. A Charlie Warren solo home run was a highlight of a two-run ninth to extend the lead to 12-4.
Sheppard finished with a homer, two doubles, four RBI and two runs scored as part of his 3-for-6 night. DiCaprio was also 3-for-6 with a homer and a double to drive-in three and score two times. The team combined for a season-high 30 total bases thanks to the three home runs and season-high six doubles.
Two Rice pitchers saw action on the night. Freshman Matt Canterino started and worked 5.0 innings. The rookie right-hander left with a comfortable 9-2 cushion on the scoreboard, allowing two hits to go along with four strikeouts. He was followed by sophomore Kendal Jefferies, who came through with five strikeouts over the final four frames to earn his second save.
The three-game series continues thru Saturday at UAB’s Young Memorial Field. Friday’s start time is scheduled for 6:30 pm. First pitch of Saturday’s series finale is set for 1 pm.