Recap by: John Sullivan, Rice Athletics (firstname.lastname@example.org)
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Rice baseball team battled for four late runs in the finale of the Conference USA series Saturday at UAB, but unrelenting lightning stormed into the Birmingham area to end the contest with the Blazers claiming a 9-4 win after 7.5 innings.
Because of other results around the league Saturday neither the weather-shortened outcome nor different Rice result would have changed the Owls’ seed at The First, A National Banking Association C-USA Championship next week in Biloxi, Miss. The Owls clinched the No. 6 seed of the tournament, and are scheduled to face red-hot Florida Atlantic at MGM Park, the minor league home of the Milwaukee Brewers’ AA affiliate Biloxi Shuckers. The start time of the tournament’s opening game, featuring Owls-v-Owls, is set 9 am on May 24 (Wednesday).
Rice finished the regular season portion of its 2017 schedule going 14-4 for an overall record of 27-29. The Blue & Gray posted a 16-14 conference mark after beginning league play with a 4-11 ledger. UAB finished its year at 24-31 overall and 9-21 in C-USA.
UAB opened Saturday’s scoring in the bottom of the first inning. Rice issued a walk with the bases-loaded to force in the first run. With the bases still loaded, Brewer Hicklen then stole home for a 2-0 advantage.
The Blazers then added two more runs in the third, four in the sixth and one in the seventh to build a 9-0 lead. Where UAB held the nine-run margin on the scoreboard both teams were an identical 7-7 in the hits column after seven complete frames.
Rice rallied for four runs in the top of the eighth off the Blazer bullpen. A single, hit batsman and walk loaded the bases for Tristan Gray. The junior from Houston punched a base hit through the right side to score two. Darryn Sheppard then singled to reload the stations. Kendall Jefferies reached on a fielder’s choice to drive in a run, but a UAB error on the play plated one more to cut the margin to five, 9-4.
UAB was able to end the Rice threat, but neither squad could anything about the threatening weather. The game entered a lightning delay as the Blazers were about to bat in the bottom of the eighth. Both teams waited out the holding pattern with the tarp on the field. The contest was eventually called a final score in 8-innings.
Rice finished with a 10-9 lead in hits. Sheppard, Gray and Ryan Chandler all collected two hits. A total of five Rice pitchers had a chance to see some action heading into the C-USA tournament, and the group combined for nine strikeouts in 7.0 innings.