Recap by: John Sullivan, Rice Athletics (firstname.lastname@example.org)
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Rice baseball team exploded for 26 runs on 22 hits, including seven home runs to tie for the third-highest single-game total in school history, before claiming an eye-opening 26-17 Conference USA road victory over UAB in the second game of the league series late-Friday night in Birmingham, Ala.
Rice improved to 27-28 overall and 16-13 in C-USA. The Owls have now clinched at least the No. 6 seed in next week’s C-USA Championship Tournament. The Blue & Gray could still move up to the No. 5 seed with a win in the series finale Saturday plus a Marshall win over Charlotte. UAB is now 23-31 on the year and 8-21 in the league.
The Rice offense quickly set the tone in the top of the first inning. The Owls exploded for six runs on just four hits. The big blows were a two-run homer by Dane Myers to straight-away center field, and then a three-run opposite field blast to right by Andrew Dunlap.
It was only the beginning of what ended up being a combined 43 runs on 40 total hits while approaching five hours of college baseball – all in nine innings. Nine innings may be the usual baseball game. Friday’s slugfest was far from a normal day at the yard.
By the time the teams headed to the bottom of the sixth, Rice had a 21-4 lead with five home runs and six doubles in the book. The Owls would have only needed six more outs to evoke C-USA’s Game Two 15-run (stoppage) rule, but UAB continued to battle. The Blazers proceeded to score five unanswered runs for a 21-9 game after seven complete frames.
Rice went back to work for five more runs over the final two innings to make the score 26-9. The Blazers, however, sent 12 to the plate in the bottom of the ninth for eight runs to make it 26-17. UAB was fighting for more, but Rice true freshman outfielder Brad Gneiting made sensational diving catch in left to bring the wild slugfest to a close.
When the dust had cleared, Rice tied its sixth-highest scoring output in school history and the most since plating 26 against Cal in 2010. The squad also had a season-best 50 total bases and a season-best 24 RBI on the strength of seven round-trippers. The homer total equaled the third-highest single game mark in school history and is the most since clubbing seven against Nevada in Reckling Park in 2005.
Dunlap had his fourth and fifth home runs this season to lead a Rice longball brigade that included Myers (5), Darryn Sheppard (7), Ford Proctor (4), Charlie Warren (3) and Ryan Chandler (4). Chandler’s blast was his second grand slam this season to make him one of five Owls in the game with four RBI. Warren led all players with five hits, which is the most by any Owl in a game this year. Dunlap also patiently drew four walks on the way to scoring a total of six runs, which tied the school’s single-game record held by four other players.
Through the first two games of the UAB series Rice is hitting a combined .407 (37-of-91) with ten home runs and 38 runs scored. Consider that the Owls have also left a total of 25 men on base over the last two games.
The series concludes Saturday at UAB’s Young Memorial Field, but with a new first pitch. Start time of the series finale is now a 12 noon start in order to avoid adverse weather conditions expected for the area.