Feb. 29, 2012
HOUSTON - The No. 4 ranked Rice baseball team pushed across four unanswered runs in the middle innings for a 4-1 victory over city rival Houston in a non-conference game Tuesday night across town at Cougar Field.
With the win the Owls remained undefeated on the young season an improved to 9-0. The 9-0 ledger is Rice's best start to a season since beginning the 1993 season with 14-straight wins.
Houston struck for the first run in the bottom of the fourth inning. Casey Grayson led off with a single to center field and he advanced second base on John Cannon's sacrifice bunt. Grayson scored on Zack Gibson's hit into center for a 1-0 Cougar lead.
The Owls came right back and took the lead in their next at bat. Michael Ratterree drew a one-out walk and moved into scoring position on a ground out. Ratterree hustled home on Shane Hoelscher's RBI single to left-center to make it 1-1, but Rice was not finished. Hoelscher scored from first base on a double to left-center by Ryan Lewis to put the Blue & Gray in front 2-1.
Rice took advantage of two Houston fielding errors for another run in the top of the sixth. Christian Stringer led off with a single through the right side. Two UH fielding errors on an attempted pickoff play allowed Stringer to move two stations to third base. He scored on a one-out single by J.T. Chargois for a 3-1 advantage. The Owls stretched the margin to 4-1 with another run in the seventh after two more UH fielding errors and a balk.
Junior right-hander Andrew Benak started on the mound for the Owls and allowed just the one run over 5.0 innings. He scattered three hits with four walks and struck out four. Benak was relieved by sophomore right-hander John Simms, who fired two scoreless frames with three strikeouts. Junior Tyler Duffey worked 1.1 hitless innings out of the bullpen before Chargois finished out the last two outs of the night for his team-leading fourth save of the season.
Rice head coach Wayne Graham, now in his 21st season at the helm of the program, liked what he saw of the pitching from both teams. The Owl bullpen meanwhile has not allowed an earned run in its last 15 innings over the last four games.
"Benak pitched solid," said coach Graham. "He had a quality start and we needed one. Their pitcher (UH junior RHP Austin Pruitt) was the ace of the junior college national champion, so he knows how to pitch. This was a tough one, and a good one to get. We have a lot of tough games up here (in the next few weeks).
The challenging schedule continues for the Blue & Gray this week. Rice next heads way downtown to play at Minute Maid Park over the weekend in the annual Houston College Classic (Mar. 2-4). The Owls meet longtime rival Texas on Friday's opening day of the tournament. First pitch with the Longhorns is set for 7:05 pm.