May 19, 2011
HATTIESBURG, Miss. - The Rice baseball team took advantage of some Southern Miss fielding errors for three of its four runs Friday at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg, Miss., but the Blue & Gray only needed one run on a night when freshman starter Austin Kubitza and senior stopper Tony Cingrani combined on a five-hit shutout of the Golden Eagles in a 4-0 Owl victory.
With the win, Rice (37-17) moved into a tie for first place in the C-USA standings with Southern Miss (37-14) as both now have identical 15-7 league records. Either one of these two same teams can clinch a share of the league's regular season title with a victory in game two of the series Friday at 6 pm.
Both starting pitchers locked-in for a scoreless duel for the first five frames. The Owls struck for the first run of the game in the top of the sixth. Michael Ratterree led off with a single through the left side and Craig Manuel's sacrifice moved him to scoring position. Ratterree took third on a grounder to the right and came home on a base hit by Ryan Lewis.
It would prove to be the Owls' only earned run of the night, but it would be all the room Kubitza and Cingrani would need. Kubitza was close to his dominating, complete game shutout victory over nationally-ranked Texas A&M last March at the Houston College Classic held at Minute Maid Park. In this game he handcuffed a tenth-ranked Southern Miss squad that is leading the conference in hitting and runs-scored, to no runs on five hits, and did so in front of a vocal home crowd of 3,697 USM fans.
The freshman from Colleyville, Tex., struck out nine and when he finally walked his his first batter of the night that put two on with one out in the ninth, he was relieved by Cingrani. The senior left-hander retired both of the hitters he faced with a strikeout and a fly-out. Cingrani earned his tenth save of the season while Kubitza improved his record to 6-3 on the year.
The Blue & Gray was solid on the mound, steady in the field, and opportunistic in one of the late innings. With the narrow 1-0 lead in the top of the seventh, Rice took advantage of some Golden Eagle miscues for three unearned runs. Derek Hamilton led off and reached on a USM fielding error. Keenan Cook was simply looking to sacrifice the runner over, but another error on a bunt put runners at first and second. A Golden Eagle throwing error on yet another sacrifice bunt attempt, this time by J.T. Chargois, allowed Hamilton and Cook to score with Chargois taking third on the play. Chargois scored on Manuel's second sac bunt of the night that stretched the margin to a more comfortable 4-0.
Rice took a big step in game one, but there is still quite a bit of baseball left over the next two days. The first season-ending C-USA series between the league's two co-leaders in the 16-year history of the conference continues in Hattiesburg through Saturday. Start time for Friday, the second game in the series, is slated for 6 pm.