In the Houston College Classic at Minute Maid Park - widely considered the premier early-season tournament in college baseball - both the hometown Houston Cougars and Rice Owls managed to have winning weekends, earning two victories apiece against just one loss.
The Cougars came into the weekend struggling, having lost four of their past five games. During that span, Houston's inexperienced lineup had managed to score just six runs. But on Friday, against a hot Tennessee (7-1) team, the Cougars managed to put up some crooked numbers. UH struck first in the game, plating three runners in the bottom of the fourth inning with the benefit of just one hit, thanks to three walks, two hit batters, a wild pitch and a passed ball. Houston piled four more runs on in the subsequent three frames to put the game out of reach. Meanwhile, senior ace Jared Ray was dominant, throwing seven innings of one-run ball while striking out 10 to earn the win, as Houston took the weekend opener by a score of 7-4.
On Saturday, the Coogs got an even bigger test, in the form of an Arkansas squad that came in ranked #4. But the big-time opponent didn't scare off Todd Whitting's squad, as freshman Cory Kay drew first blood with a third-inning solo home run, in just his second collegiate at-bat. Kay would tack on an RBI single in the fifth to make the score 2-0, and came around to score on a Chase Jensen RBI single later in the frame. That was more than enough offense, as seniors Jordan Lewis (6 innings, 1 run) and Codey Morehouse (3 scoreless innings) sparkled on the hill. The Cougars claimed a 4-1 victory for their second straight win.
Sunday wouldn't be as good to the Cougars, who fell 10-4 to Texas Tech, despite taking an early 2-0 lead. The Red Raiders rallied for multi-run innings in the 4th, 6th and 7th innings to prevent Houston from securing a perfect weekend at Minute Maid. Junior infielder Chase Jensen piled up three hits, and drove in two runs in a losing effort.
Meanwhile, Rice took a different avenue to an identical 2-1 result. The Owls started out the weekend with a loss, falling to Texas-Austin by an 11-8 score. Rice trailed 10-3 in the game, before rallying to make things interesting, but ultimately falling short.
But things got progressively better from there, starting with a 6-2 victory over Texas Tech on Saturday. Rice surrendered two runs in the top of the first, but quickly overcame the deficit with three runs in the bottom of the first, and two more in the bottom of the second. Matthew Reckling got past the slow start to earn the win, throwing 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball, and Tyler Duffey got the last seven outs for the save. Michael Ratterree's three-run first-inning homer made him the offensive star.
On Sunday, the Owls were able to run away and hide early on against Tennessee, taking a 5-0 lead after three innings, and blowing away the Volunteers by an 11-1 final score. Freshman Jordan Stephens was sensational on the mound, throwing seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts, and just two hits and two walks allowed. Michael Fuda homered for the Owls, while leadoff hitter Christian Stringer's three hits left him a home run shy of hitting for the cycle.
Houston now sits at 6-5 on the year, and has a tough road ahead of them, with difficult road series facing them each of the next three weekends. The Cougars' next contest is a mid-week game at Louisiana-Lafayette (6-5) on Tuesday, and their weekend foe is Ole Miss (9-2).
The Owls have compiled an impressive 11-1 record that has them ranked in the top 10 of every major poll. They have five games this week, with a road game against Texas State (8-3) on Tuesday, a home contest with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (6-6) on Wednesday, and a much-anticipated weekend series at Stanford (10-1).
For those Houston College Classic fans already looking forward to next year, the 2013 field was announced as Houston, Rice, Texas A&M, Baylor, North Carolina and California.