Rice Thunders Past Marshall, Sweeps the Herd

Kubitza Marshall.JPG
John Royal
Rice pitcher Austin Kubitza with another dominating performance on Friday.
The Final Four dominated the attention of the sports media this weekend, rightly or wrongly. But while that whole NCAA exercise, especially UConn and Kentucky, was making a mockery of the concept of amateur athletics, just down the road from Reliant Stadium, at Reckling Park, Rice and Marshall were playing a 10 a.m. Sunday morning baseball game because Continental United airlines had cut a late flight to West Virginia from their flight schedule, meaning they had to play three hours early so that Marshall could catch an early flight and be home for classes on Monday.

Rice (21-11) was the stronger, better team of the two coming into Sunday morning's game as Marshall (10-16) had lost to the Owls on Friday night and Saturday afternoon. And with the weird game time and the strange travel schedule looming ahead, it was expected that Marshall would be the team out-of-synch as the game got underway.

Yet it was Marshall that took the early 2-0 lead through three innings as Rice starter Matthew Reckling struggled to find the strike zone. And when he did find the strike zone, he was harmed by his teammates, who had problems with the whole fielding and throwing aspect of the game. But Rice gained control of the game in the bottom of the third as they batted around and scored three runs.

Rice tacked on another run in the fifth, and seemed on the verge of the 4-2 victory before Marshall got to Rice reliever Tony Cingrani for two runs in the eighth inning, tying the game and sending it to extra innings, something which both Marshall and Rice were dreading -- Marshall because of the travel schedule and Rice because it had been earlier decided to end the game around 1:30 p.m., no matter the score.

In the end, none of that mattered as Owl freshman Shane Hoeschler doubled home Anthony Rendon from first base in the bottom of the tenth to win the game and give Rice the three-game sweep of Marshall. And with the sweep, Rice went a perfect 5-0 for that week's games, having defeated the Houston Cougars and Sam Houston Bearkats earlier in the week.

"It was awesome," Rendon said after the game. "We needed this bad. We swept the whole week. We were five and oh. Hopefully that's going to boost our confidence throughout conference and throughout our midweek games. We're going to get it going."

The idea of the sweep was made possible on Friday night after freshman Austin Kubitza threw another dominant game as the Owls got the easy 9-0 win. Kubitza went eight innings while giving up only three hits and one walk and striking out six.

"Kubitza's a real deal," Owls coach Wayne Graham said on Sunday. "He's been superior for us."

Marshall SB.JPG
John Royal
Marshall's Isaac Ballou with the steal of second base on Friday night.
The Rice pitching staff struggled on Saturday afternoon, with starter Abe Gonzales lasting just three innings. That put a strain on the bullpen, which went through four pitchers to nail down Rice's 9-6 win. And that made Reckling's Sunday performance that much more important because, though Reckling struggled mightily, tossing over 100 pitches in six-plus innings of work, he was able to get deep into the game while keeping Marshall down and giving the pen some rest.

"Him righting himself and getting through six was huge," Graham said. "He was just way off for most of the game, but he kept throwing some -- he's got great stuff. I don't know how many he struck out, but he must have struck out at least one an inning [he finished with eight] -- he's tough."

The weekend also saw big offensive performances from Michael Fuda and Anthony Rendon. Fuda knocked in two of the Rice runs yesterday and hit the ball hard throughout all of the games. And Rendon, who is still DHing because of his shoulder, broke out big on Friday night with four hits and five RBI. Rendon didn't have a hit on Sunday, but was walked four times as teams continue to work around his big bat.

"Honestly it does get frustrating, but I can't get frustrated," Rendon said of the strategy of working around him. "I'm not going to let it affect me out there because it's just a part of the game. You've got to respect that. It's respect for me. I'll take that as a compliment. It helped us in the long run, and I ended up being the winning run. So it helps the ball team."

The Rice sweep moves them toward the top of the C-USA standings as they're now 4-2 in conference. The Cougars, though 15-14 overall, lead the conference with a 3-0 record while Southern Miss (22-5) is second with a 5-1 conference record. Marshall, meanwhile, stayed in a tie for last place in the conference with Tulane, both teams now being 1-5 in conference play. SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Rice hosts Louisiana-Lafayette on Tuesday night, then travels to East Carolina for a three-game series starting on Friday. The Cougars play at Texas A&M on Tuesday, then host Lamar on Wednesday night before beginning a three-game series at Cougar Field on Friday against UAB.

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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal