Rice Defeats Houston 7-5 on Opening Day of C-USA Championship
The Rice baseball team fell behind crosstown rival Houston by as many as four runs early in the contest, but the Owl offense chipped-away at the lead while the bullpen held the Cougars in check on the way to a 7-5 come-from-behind victory over UH on the first day of competition at the 2012 Conference USA Championship Wednesday afternoon at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Miss.
Playing as the visiting team at the neutral site, Houston struck for three runs on three hits in the top of the first inning. The Cougars drew a leadoff walk and collected two-out hits from John Cannon and Price Jacobs to provide the early 3-0 lead.
Down 5-1 heading to the bottom of the third inning, the Owls fought-back for runs in four of its next six offensive innings. Rice’s bullpen of Zech Lemond, Taylor Wall and Tyler Duffey meanwhile combined for 8.1 innings of relief where they held the Cougars to just a pair of runs on six hits while striking out eight. Lemond came up big with his longest collegiate relief outing (4.2 ip) and Wall contributed two shutout innings.
“Once again the bullpen held us in there,” said Rice head coach Wayne Graham. “We got good work from three guys and some clutch hitting, so we’re very happy to win. “You’re very fortunate when you can win after giving that much away early. We had to work the count and get some walks and some hits at the right time. It was a team-effort.”
The team came together by the bottom of the third, Rice strung together consecutive hits for a pair of scores. Christian Stringer led off with a single to center and Chargois doubled off the wall in right field. Both men scored on a Michael Fuda’s single up the middle that made it 5-3.
The Blue & Gray used a two-out rally in the fourth to make it 5-4. Stringer drew a walk and scored from first on Chargois’ double down the left-field line, his second-straight double in the game.
“I got a few pitches to hit and some days you don’t miss them,” Chargois quipped on his eventual 3-for-5 day at the plate. “We had a rough start there. After a couple days off I guess we were a little rusty, but we battled back. I feel like we’ve had a lot of games lately where we’ve had to do that.”
The Owls took their first lead of the game in the seventh. Craig Manuel, Keenan Cook and Shane Hoelscher all hit singles to load the bases. Ford Stainback walked to force-in Manuel and tie the game. As Stringer hustled-out a grounder to reach base on a fielder’s choice, Cook scored from third on the play to put Rice in front 6-5.
Rice added a final insurance run in the bottom of the eighth for a 7-5 lead. The run was good to have on the board, but reliever Tyler Duffey was still in the same groove that helped him earn a national Pitcher of the Week Award last weekend. In the eight he kept Houston of the scoreboard when the Cougars had a runner on third base with just one away. The junior right-hander then struck out the side in the top of the ninth to notch his fifth save of the season.
“(Tyler) has been unbelievable,” Graham said. “He was unbelievable again today – unhittable.”
The Owls improved to 40-15 on the season. Rice has posted at least 40 wins in each of the last 18-consecutive seasons. Houston moved to 17-34-1 overall.
Pool play in the tournament continues through Saturday (May 26). Rice next plays the red-hot No. 5 seeded Memphis Tigers at 7 on Thursday. The Owls are off on Friday, before returning to face No. 4 seed Southern Miss on Saturday. The tournament’s Championship Final is one game between the respective pool winners on Sunday at 1 pm.