The No. 7 ranked Rice baseball team collected 12 hits and had some solid individual efforts by the pitchers to claim a 9-1 victory over visiting UTSA on Tuesday night at Reckling Park in Houston.
The Owls erupted for five runs in the bottom of the second inning on five hits. Sophomore Shane Hoelscher led off the frame with solo home run to straight-away center field, but Rice was still looking for more. Craig Manuel, J.T. Chargois and Michael Ratterree all singled to load the bases. With one away, junior second baseman Christian Stringer knocked a triple to right field to drive the runners home. Stringer scored on a ground out and the Blue & Gray was up quickly 5-0.
“Christian’s a fine hitter,” said Rice head coach Wayne Graham. “He keeps his hands free, has a nice stroke, and sees the ball well. He’s doing great work with the bat.”
The lead was more than enough room for Owl starting pitcher Andrew Benak. The Houston native was solid once again on the mound, working Tuesday in a pre-determined 3.0 innings of work in advance of the start of Conference USA league play later this week. Benak allowed three singles with no walks and struck out three without allowing any runs. He was relieved in the top of the fourth by sophomore John Simms, who handcuffed the Roadrunners to just one hit and fanned a season-high six in 3.0 scoreless innings.
“Andrew throws strikes and he gets his breaking ball over,” coach Graham said. “Guys that do that are going to be pretty successful, particularly since he throws as hard as he does. John looked really good tonight. Six strikeouts in only three innings was one of his best outings he’s had in a while.”
The Owls added a run in the fifth after Michael Fuda was hit by a pitch and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Chargois. In the seventh Jeremy Rathjen led off with a double to right and scored on Chargois’ single up the middle. Rice extended the margin to 9-0 with two more runs in the eighth. Stringer blasted a solo homer to right field and Rathjen drove-home McDowell with his second double in as many trips to the plate.
Eight different players in Rice’s starting lineup hit safely. Rathjen went 3-for-4 with two doubles, a run and an RBI. Chargois had two hits and two RBI. Stringer had two hits, a career-high four RBI and a pair of runs scored.
“Everyone did pretty well tonight and that’s fun when everyone is working together,” Stringer said. “We wanted to have a good game and I think we did that hitting and pitching. I don’t always have a lot of guys on base when I’m batting leadoff, so I wanted to make that chance (in the second inning) count.”
UTSA battled for a run in the top of the ninth to close out a 9-1 final. The Owls improved to 16-6 on the season. The Roadrunners dropped to 10-11 overall.
Rice closes out the current homestand on Wednesday, March 21. The Owls host longtime rival Lamar at Reckling Park in a 6:30 pm scheduled start. Rice opens Conference USA league play on Friday (Mar. 24) with a three-game weekend series at Memphis. Game times against the Tigers are slated for 6:30 pm, 2 pm and 12:30 pm, respectively.