May 20, 2011
HATTIESBURG, Miss. - The Rice baseball team stormed to a 16-2 Conference USA road victory over nationally-ranked Southern Miss to clinch a share of the league's regular season title Friday night at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Rice now has a one-game lead over the Golden Eagles in the C-USA standings with only one game left to play in the regular season (game three of the series vs. USM at 1 pm Saturday). The Blue & Gray can do no worse than tie for the conference's regular season crown, and has clinched the No. 1 seed in the up-coming C-USA Championship next week down the road in Pearl, Miss.
As the Owls were rounding the bases in Friday's game, the team also rounded-out its streak of consecutive conference championships. Rice has won or shared 16-consecutive conference championships (including regular season and/or tournament titles) dating back to the 1996.
The Owls struck for a quick run in the top of the first and proceeded to score in five of the first six innings. The team went on to post new season highs in runs, hits (16) and RBI (15) in a game where it was trying to clinch a share of the conference crown.
Freshman Keenan Cook and J.T. Chargois started the first inning off with back-to-back singles. Anthony Rendon's NCAA-leading 76th walk loaded the bases. Cook scored on Craig Manuel's long sacrifice fly to right for a 1-0 lead.
The Blue & Gray added two more in the top of the second. Michael Fuda drew a one-out walk and scored on a double to the left field corner by Derek Hamilton. A Golden Eagle error on the relay throw to home, however, allowed Hamilton to advance two more stations for an additional run.
The Owls then exploded for five runs in the top of the third. Rice collected three hits and drew three walks while taking advantage of two more Southern Miss fielding errors. When the dust had cleared the Owls were up 8-0 and had scored in each of the first three frames.
Southern Miss got on the board for a pair of runs in the fourth. B.A. Vollmuth started it off with a leadoff double to right field. He went to third on a ground out to the right side and scored on a wild pitch. The Golden Eagles weren't finished, and proceeded to load the bases. A second run scored on a hit batsman, but a foul pop-up near first base and line drive that was snared by Michael Ratterree ended the threat.
After the nifty glove work on defense, Ratterree showed what he can do at the plate in the top of the fifth. The sophomore second baseman clubbed his team-leading sixth home run of the year as part of another five-run inning. In the fifth the Owls were hit by a pitch three times and needed only two hits to stretch the margin to 13-2.
Rice registered another run in the sixth and two more in the ninth on the way to a 16-2 final. Chargois led the 16-hit attack with a career-best 4-for-6 day at the plate and four RBI and a run scored. Hamilton tied a career-best with three hits. Nine different Owls scored on the night.
Senior left-hander Abe Gonzales earned his sixth win of the season working in relief. Gonzales pitched 3.1 scoreless innings, surrendering a pair of hits and three walks while striking out two.
There is still one game left in the regular season. The Rice-USM series concludes on Saturday with a first pitch slated for 1 pm.
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