Rice Romps As It Starts To Make Its Move In C-USA

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It's hard to find fault with your baseball team when you win a game 23-1, and that game is called in the seventh-inning because of the so-called travel rule -- it actually appeared to be more of a mercy type thing, but called the game was.

Yet leave it to Rice Owls coach Wayne Graham, the coach of that team that scored 23 runs, to find fault.

Fault with his starting pitcher, Anthony Fazio who according to Graham "basically is not missing bats. He's got to get better." Fazio lasted only four of the seven innings, giving up five hits and one run while throwing 52 pitches.

But while Graham might not have been happy with Fazio, he should have been happy with the rest of a Rice Owl time that put on an offensive explosion against the visiting Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders.

Owls third baseman Anthony Rendon continued on an incredible hot streak, last night going four-for-five with three singles, a home run, and five RBI. On Tuesday night, in a 8-7 come from behind victory against the Sam Houston State Bearkats, Rendon was only three-for-five, with a massive two-run homer in the first inning, a single, a double, and two RBI.

But Rendon's not alone among the Rice batters in terms of being hot. Left fielder Jeremy Rathjen is settling into the third spot in the order, right in front of Rendon, and last night he was two-for-three with a three-run home run in the first, a double, a walk, four runs, and four RBI.

"It's awesome," Rendon says of the bashing being done by Rathjen. "Jeremy's come around. He showed a lot last year, towards the end of the season, and he's a matured a lot this season."

As for his hot streak, Rendon claims that the baseball doesn't look like a beach ball just waiting to be swatted. "I don't know why everybody says that, it looks like a beach ball," he says. "It still looks like a baseball to me when I'm up there. I guess I can just see more spin. I can see depth on it real well. I've been blessed with a good eye."

With the wins Tuesday and last night, and after winning two of three over the weekend against Tulane in New Orleans, the Owls' record for the season is now 21-14 as they head into the last half of the season.

But more important than the 21-14 is the team's 6-3 conference record, which has them first place in C-USA, one game up on UCF, Tulane, UAB, and Memphis. As Graham says, the team's playing for first place this weekend when they head to Orlando to take on UCF.

"It's a big deal," he said. "You know you're basically playing for first place. They're only one game out. They're a very hot team, hitting unbelievably. We've got to score, and we've got to stop them. They're a young, hard-hitting team."

But for the Rice fans, there's no need to fret. UCF may be young and hard-hitting, but they're not perfect. Graham says that UFC has some holes in their game, but those holes won't matter if the Owls don't execute.

"Sometimes those holes don't show up if you don't play well," he said. "They're not a great defensive team, obviously. And they're certainly not a great pitching team. But if you don't do the job, it don't matter."

But the job is something that Rice definitely did last night. The Owls put up 20 hits to go with the 23 runs against the out-manned Islander team, while surrendering only the five hits given up by Fazio in his four innings.

Graham has pretty much decided on a batting order that has Chad Mozingo leading off, Rathjen batting third, Rendon batting fourth, and Jimmy Commerota batting ninth. Since these moves were made, the Owls offense has taken off, and Rendon credits that with the guys getting comfortable and settling into roles.

So as the Owls turn into a team that appears able to hit anybody, the responsibility is going to fall on the pitchers to keep the opposition off the board. Tony Cingani had problems with that on Tuesday, and Fazio was getting hit last night.

But Graham is liking what he's seeing out of his bullpen. Taylor Wall (1-4, 4.20 ERA) will be making the start for Rice on Friday. Mike Ojala (2-0, 4.50) will get the start on Saturday, and at the moment, though subject to change because of possible circumstances on Friday, and Saturday, the starter will be Abe Gonzales (4-3, 1.78 ERA).

The Rice Owls might not have been perfect last night, and they were definitely not perfect on Tuesday night. But they got the two wins, and they're heading into a big conference showdown on a high and confident. And if last night wasn't a perfect game for Rice, then Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is probably fearing what the Owls will look like on a perfect night.

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