May 21, 2014
Rice combined a wealth of hits with a solid starting pitching performance from Kevin McCanna for a 9-2 victory over FIU on the opening day of the annual Conference USA Baseball Tournament.
The 16th-ranked Owls (38-17) collected 16 hits against three FIU pitchers as Rice logged its 16th victory in 20 tournament games since 2009, the last time the tournament was held in Hattiesburg. Michael Aquino went 4-for-5 with three RBI and two runs scored. Skyler Ewing was 4-for-5with two doubles and two RBI.
"I thought we were tenacious with the bat," Rice coach Wayne Graham said. "We hit a couple balls hard at people and we just kept hitting the ball hard, and that's what you have to do. In playoff ball you can't waste at-bats."
The offensive backing was more than enough to support the work of sophomore starter Kevin McCanna, who allowed two runs on 10 hits in 7.1 innings. The right-hander from The Woodlands, Texas, walked no one abd struck out two to improve to 7-3 on the season.
"Kevin did a great job, and that's what we need from him for the rest of the season," said Aquino who drove in three runs and scored twice. "He's got a big-league slider when it comes down to it, and he's using it well."
Rice will face fourth-seeded Middle Tennessee (31-25) at 4 pm Thursday in a winners' bracket game. The eighth-seeded Panthers (36-19) will meet fifth-seeded Old Dominion (33-24) in a 9 am elimination game Thursday.
Rice took a 2-0 lead in the third inning. After being hit by a pitch, right fielder Keenan Cook stole second, moved to third on third baseman's Shane Hoelscher's single to right and scored on catcher John Clay Reeves' sacrifice fly to left field. After designated hitter Chase McDowell walked, Aquino lined a run-scoring single to left.
Rice, which swept the season series from the Panthers, broke the game open with a four-run fifth inning.
After Reeves reached on an error, McDowell's single sent him to third and Aquino drove in his second run with a single to left. Ewing doubled to score McDowell, Aquino scored on shortstop Ford Stainback's sacrifice fly and Ewing came around on center fielder Leon Byrd's single.
FIU broke through in the sixth inning on a single by center fielder Tyler Hibbert and consecutive, two-out singles by catcher Aramis Garcia and second baseman Edwin Rios.
Aquino knocked in his third run in a three-run sixth inning by the Owls. Ewing and Stainback also had RBI-singles in the inning. Right fielder Brandon Gomez drove in FIU's final run with a single in the seventh.
The C-USA Tournament continues in a double-elimination format until the Championship Final on Sunday, May 25.