The weather in the Houston area wasn't terribly conducive to baseball last weekend, the season-opening weekend for college baseball, but by Sunday, both the hometown Houston Cougars and Rice Owls had managed to get all three of their games in, and both had earned sweeps to start the season 3-0.
For the Cougars, the rain led to moving Friday's contest to Saturday, as part of a doubleheader. For the Owls, it meant pushing back Friday's start time by two and a half hours. But when the games started, both teams were ready.
Houston defeated Colonial Athletic Association foe Delaware by scores of 7-5, 16-1, and 9-2. But the team started out looking shaky. Eric Young, the Blue Hens' senior ace, dominated Houston for seven innings, while the Delaware bats piled up a 5-0 lead. But as soon as Young came out of the game in the 8th, Houston's offense came alive. The Cougars overcame the entire deficit in that one frame, with senior catcher John Cannon's two-run single tying the score. The next batter was a pinch hitter, freshman Zack Gibson, who cranked an RBI double to give the Cougars the lead. Second baseman Taylor White would conclude the scoring with an RBI triple, his second extra base hit of the inning.
Sophomore Chase Wellbrock earned the win, while senior Mo Wiley, recently converted to the bullpen, picked up the save. The Cougars wouldn't need Wiley the rest of the way. When game two of the doubleheader started less than an hour later, the Houston bats were still hot, obliterating the Delaware pitching staff for 7 runs in the first inning, and 15 in the first four frames, en route to a blowout victory. Junior college transfer Casey Grayson was the biggest offensive contributor, with three hits, three RBI and three runs scored. Senior Jordan Lewis earned the win with 5.2 innings of scoreless, 4-hit ball.
Waiting until Sunday for the series finale did little to slow UH's momentum. The Coogs did trail 1-0 in the middle of the third, but quickly erased the deficit with five runs over the next two innings. Freshman outfielder Price Jacobs was involved in both frames, scoring Houston's first run of the game on a passed ball in the third, and mashing a two-run home run in the fourth. Fellow freshman Aaron Garza was equally impressive on the hill, mixing speeds well and never getting hit hard. In six innings of work, he allowed just one run (it was unearned) on five hits, all singles.
The Owls defeated Florida Internaional by scores of 6-2, 5-4 (12 innings) and 8-1. Sophomore Austin Kubitza was the Friday hero, throwing seven innings of 3-hit, 8-strikeout, 1-run ball. With a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the seventh, third baseman Shane Hoelscher went deep for a three-run homer to put the game out of reach.
On Saturday, Rice took a 3-1 lead into the ninth, but allowed three runs in the frame. With their backs up against the wall, the Owls rallied, with Jeremy Rathjen contributing a two-out RBI single to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. Rathjen would later lead off the bottom of the 12th with a homer to win the game. Senior Taylor Wall got the last out of the ninth, and pitched all three extra innings to earn the W out of the bullpen.
Sunday's finale was less dramatic, with the Owls scoring five first inning runs, in a game that was never close. Senior catcher Craig Manuel contributed to the first-inning fireworks with a bases-clearing double. Four Owl pitchers combined to hold the FIU offense to just one run on seven hits.
Next up for Rice is a Tuesday and Wednesday game with New Mexico State, before hosting the ever-dangerous Dallas Baptist next weekend. The Cougars will face Texas A&M-Corpus Christi for a single game on Friday, before hosting Southland power Texas State for a weekend series.
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