May 23, 2013
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HOUSTON - In the bullpen prior to his start against UCF in day two of the 2013 Conference USA Baseball Championship, Rice right-hander Jordan Stephens had cause for concern as he had a hard time with his command during his warm-ups. Once the game started, however, he and two other Owls' hurlers combined to toss a two-hitter en route to a 5-1 win on Thursday evening at Reckling Park.
Stephens (7-4) carried a no-hitter and faced the minimum through five innings before giving up a leadoff single and a sacrifice fly in the sixth to account for the lone Knights' run of the contest. From there, Blake Fox allowed just one hit over the next 1.2 innings and the only two base runners Matt Ditman allowed in the ninth came on a pair of errors. It was the first two-hit performance by a team in C-USA Championship play since Ryan Berry tossed a complete-game, two-hit contest in an 8-1 victory over UAB on May 21, 2009, in Hattiesburg, Miss.
"I was about 1-for-8 on throwing fastballs for strikes and my off-speed pitch was so-so," Stephens said of his pre-game offerings. "I went out there before the game and even in my warm-up pitches, I had maybe two out of four or five fastballs for strikes. Once the first hitter got up there, it was back to where it was supposed to be so that worked out well."
With the win, Rice improved to 39-17 on the year and 2-0 in pod play. The Owls will square off against fourth-seeded Memphis (35-23, 2-0) at 11 a.m. on Saturday and the winner of that game will earn a spot in the title game, which is slated for Sunday at 1 p.m. and will be televised live on the CBS Sports Network. UCF, meanwhile, fell to 29-29 overall and 0-2 in pod action. The Knights will close out their 2013 campaign on Friday when they square off against UAB at 7 p.m.
Seven Rice batters had one hit apiece, but the day belonged to the pitchers. Stephens retired the first 10 batters he faced, erased a one-out walk in the fourth with an inning-ending double play and retired the side in order again in the fifth. The lone blemish on his day came in the sixth when UCF left fielder Ryan Breen opened the frame with a leadoff single up the middle. Breen moved to second on a one-out walk by nine-hole hitter Tommy Williams, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly to right off the bat of right fielder Erik Hempe. Stephens finished the day with four strikeouts while tossing 77 pitches in a 5.2-inning effort.
Stephens took the mound with a 1-0 lead as second baseman Christian Stringer singled with one out in the top of the first, advanced to third on a single up the middle by right fielder Michael Raterree and scored on an RBI-grounder off the bat of designated hitter Michael Aquino.
The Owls added a pair of runs two innings later as Stainback reached on a two-base throwing error to start things off, moved to third on foul-ball,fly-out and scored on a Ratterree sacrifice fly. Aquino followed with a double to left and scored one at-bat later when third baseman Shane Hoelscher laced an RBI-single through the right side of the infield. Rice closed out the scoring in the sixth courtesy of an RBI-triple by centerfielder Leon Byrd and a run-scoring single by Stainback.
Chris Matulis was saddled with the loss for UCF after giving up five runs (three earned) on seven hits and four walks while striking out one in a 6.0-inning start. Tyler Martin went the rest of the way for the Knights, giving up just one walk to go with a pair of strikeouts.
Rice returns to play its final pod-game in the tournament on Saturday morning against fellow 2-0 pod team Memphis. First pitch against the Tigers is slated for 11 am at Reckling Park.