CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Rice baseball team used a big five-run inning in the fifth and another quality start from sophomore starter Austin Kubitza to claim a 5-1 Conference USA victory over Marshall in the second game of the weekend series Saturday afternoon at Appalachian Power Park in in Charleston, West Virginia.
For the second time in as many games of the C-USA series, the Owls mixed a quality start on the mound with a big offensive inning to deliver a knockout blow. In Friday's game starter Matthew Reckling fired 6.2 shutout innings before the Owls broke a 2-0 game open with seven runs in the ninth. On Saturday the Owls clinched the series with a quality start from Kubitza and a breakthrough inning in the fifth.
Rice head coach Wayne Graham was impressed with Kubitza's effort and glad to see that the five-run frame was earlier in the game, but with his eye on the bigger picture he still is looking for even-sharper execution - particularly with runners in scoring position which the Owls had 23 different times on Saturday.
"Austin had great stuff," coach Graham said. "This was another good start for him today, and he's the reason we won the game. He was giving it his all and it didn't seem like we weren't doing anything for him. Where I am happy to win a conference game and get another good start from a pitcher in a road game, I want to be clear that our situational hitting and bunting needs to be a lot better."
Kubitza worked a total of 6.1 innings, his longest outing of the season since he went 7.0 on opening day against FIU. The Colleyville, Tex., native allowed just two hits and four walks while extending his scoreless innings streak to 14.0-straight over his last three starts.
Both teams were locked in a scoreless duel for the first four innings until the Owls broke through for five runs in the top of the fifth.
With one away, J.T. Chargois and Derek Hamilton punched a pair of back-to-back singles while Christian Stringer drew a walk to load the bases. Chargois scored on Michael Ratterree's sacrifice fly for the first run of the game but the Owls weren't quite finished at the plate.
Michael Fuda walked to re-load the bases and Jeremy Rathjen followed with an infield hit to score a run, but an errant Herd throw on the play ended up clearing the bases for a 4-0 Rice lead with Rathjen moving up to second base.
Shane Hoelcher kept the rally alive with an RBI single that stretched the margin to 5-0.
On offense the Blue & Gray continued to threaten the rest of the contest. Rice had runners reach scoring position in each of the next four innings, including bases-loaded situations in both the eighth and ninth innings.
Relievers Taylor Wall and Tyler Duffey worked the final 2.1 frames in relief of Kubitza, who notched his fourth victory of the season.
Marshall avoided the shutout with a run in the bottom of the ninth inning. Herd catcher Thor Meeks led off the ninth with a single and was pinch-ran for by Louie Helmburg. Helmburg advanced to second on a walk to Andrew Dundon and scored on an RBI single to left by Sergio Leon. Kubitza and the Rice staff was well-aware Marshall would continue to fight to the end.
"We saw from (Reckling's) game Friday that Marshall would be aggressive at the plate and stay that way all game," Kubitza said. "I kind of like following `Reck'. Watching him battle and make adjustments in his approach has helped a lot."
Rice improved to 26-11 on the season and 8-3 in Conference USA play.