May 25, 2013Leon Byrd, Shane Hoelscher and Christian Stringer all collected three hits each in a 14-hit attack, and starting pitcher John Simms allowed just one run in a solid 8.1 solid innings, to help lift the Rice baseball team to a convincing 10-1 victory over Memphis Saturday afternoon at the Conference USA Championship at Reckling Park. With the win the Owls conclude pod play with an unblemished record and advance to meet Southern Miss in Sunday's Championship Final at 1pm on CBS Sports Network.
The Rice offense was in high-gear early, hitting and scoring runs in each of the first five innings. The Owls plated two runs in the first and fourth frames, one each in the second, third and fifth, and a big four second inning to reach double-digits on the scoreboard. The offensive tally after the first was more than enough run support for Simms (8-3) in his 13th start of the season. The junior right hander from The Woodlands, Tex., allowed just one run on four hits and four walks while striking out six while coming within just two outs of his third complete game of the season.
Playing as the visiting team at Reckling Park, Rice wasted little time jumping out to a lead in the top of the first inning. Stringer hit a one-out single to center, designated hitter Michael Aquino dripped a single through the left side of the infield two at-bats later and Hoelscher ripped a two-run double down the left-field line to stake the Owls to a 2-0 lead.
An inning later, the host team sent nine hitters to the plate, tallied four hits and drew a pair of walks to blow the game open. With one away, first baseman Skyler Ewing walked, shortstop Ford Stainback singled and Stringer posted a base hit to center to load the bases. From there, right fielder Michael Ratterree lifted a sacrifice fly to center, Aquino clubbed a two-run triple to right and Hoelscher laced an RBI-single to center to stretch the advantage to 6-0.
Byrd scored the lone run in the third. He led off with a base hit, moved to second on a Ewing sacrifice bunt and scored on a Stringer RBI single.
Memphis continued to fight, and avoided the shutout in the home half of the third. Outfielder Austin Hatfield lined a leadoff double and scored on a two-out single off the bat of second baseman Zach Willis.
Byrd and Ewing added RBI for the Owls in the fourth with a single and a sacrifice fly, respectively, and left fielder Keenan Cook plated the final run of the contest with an RBI-single to right to bring home Ratterree an inning later.
Memphis stranded a pair on base in the seventh and put the first two on in the ninth when catcher Carter White walked and pinch hitter Michael Sillyman singled before Simms responded to get a fly-ball to left for the first out of the inning. Rice senior Holt McNair and freshman Kevin McCanna followed Simms on the mound and recorded one out each in the 10-1 final.
The Owls improved to 40-17 overall, the 19th consecutive season head coach Wayne Graham has tallied at least 40 victories. Rice qualified for its tenth conference title game in school history. The Owls won the 1996 Southwest Conference crown, claimed the Western Athletic Conference tourney title from 1997-99 (the WAC did not hold a tournament from 2000-05) and participated in championship games from 2006-07 and again 2009-11 as a member of C-USA. Rice won its inaugural appearance, and every odd year since. Memphis concluded the 2013 campaign with a mark of 35-24.