May 22, 2014
HATTIESBURG, Miss. - The Owl bats came alive in the middle innings and sophomore starter Blake Fox was again in cruise control for an 8-2 victory over Middle Tennessee on Day two of the C-USA Baseball Championship Thursday in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Both Fox and Middle Tennessee starter Paul Mittura were deadlocked with near-identical no-hit pitching performances through the first third of the game. The Owls broke through for eight runs in the middle three innings, coasted for an 8-2 final and now have earned a day off from Friday's games in the double-elimination format. Rice's next game is scheduled for the winner of Friday's Middle Tennessee-Old Dominion game (the loser of which is eliminated).
In the bottom of the fourth Rice right fielder Keenan Cook singled up the middle for the game's first hit. Two outs later senior Michael Aquino followed with his sixth home run of the season and a 2-0 lead. By the time the Owls tacked on a total of six more runs in the next two innings, any chance of catching the undefeated Fox had slipped away.
"We hit the ball pretty well and didn't make any errors," Rice coach Wayne Graham said. "Blake pitched very well, but he got a little tired, I think, because of our long innings. He needed to come out because of the heat, but overall, it was just a good game for us.
"The team that advances to Saturday has a chance to win the thing," Graham explained. "It's really hard to come out of the losers' bracket because of the number of games, but you've still got work to do. No doubt about that."
Fox, who is now 18-0 in his collegiate career, allowed just one run and three hits in 7.0 innings. The Houston native walked two and struck out seven. Fox was lifted for Matt Dimtman after giving up his only run of the day in the seventh.
"The first outing (vs. MTSU on March 29) I only threw two curveballs to them," Fox said. "Today the curveball was definitely my out-pitch."
Fox no doubt enjoyed the wealth of offensive support. Designated hitter Chase McDowell went 3-of-4 with two RBI and a run scored. Aquino continued his hot hitting at the tourney with two hits, two RBI and two runs scored. In two tournament games, the veteran is 6-of-9, with a homer, five RBI and four runs scored.
"He's letting the ball come to him," Graham said of Aquino. "He's killed the breaking ball. The scouting report says 'throw him the breaking ball.' Well, he's killing the breaking ball."
Rice improved to 39-17 overall. Middle Tennessee is now 31-26 on the season. The Blue Raiders meet Old Dominion (34-23) at 3 pm Friday. The winner of the game would have to beat Rice twice on Saturday to reach Sunday's one-game Championship Final.