UH falls short to Rice
Any hope the Cougars had of playing mistake-free baseball against Rice died in the first inning when they had two runners thrown out at third base while attempting to stretch doubles into triples.
After that, the miscues kept coming.
The Cougars’ pitching staff was knocked around early and the offense failed to produce in clutch situations en route to a 9-2 loss to Collegiate Baseball No. 10 Rice before a crowd of 2,515 Wednesday at Reckling Park.
Rice (2-2) took advantage of shaky outings from starter John Touchton and reliever Jared Ray, scoring all nine of its runs in the second, third and fourth innings. The Owls’ bullpen slammed the door shut on the Cougars (2-3) in the final five innings, with freshman left-hander Taylor Wall (1-1) pitching three shutout frames to earn the win.’
The Cougars’ poor pitching performance and lackluster effort from their offense, which stranded 11 base runners, saw to it that they never had a chance to pull off the upset in the first game of the Silver Glove Series.
‘We didn’t play well today, that’s the bottom line,’ coach Rayner Noble said. ‘We had a little bit of a competitive flavor early, but we lost that very quickly when our pitchers didn’t go out and pitch.’
Touchton (0-1) came up empty in his first start of the season, surrendering four runs on six hits and a walk in only 2 2/3 innings. He made it through the first inning without much trouble, but the Owls soon caught up with his pitches.
Touchton was replaced in the third inning by Ray, who quickly found trouble. Ray was roughed up for five runs (zero earned) in the fourth, giving up a three-run home run to Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon (4-for-4, two runs, three RBIs).
‘In the first four or five innings, I felt like we really didn’t pitch the ball at all,’ Noble said. ‘That’s what happens against good teams.’
But Noble probably didn’t anticipate his squad running itself out of a possible big inning. The trouble started when shortstop Blake Kelso hit a game-opening double to left-center off Owls starter Andrew Benak. Kelso tried to stretch the double into a triple, but was thrown out by Owls center fielder Steven Sultzbaugh.
UH center fielder Zak Presley followed with a single that would have placed runners at first and third with no outs, had Kelso not been thrown out. The next batter, right fielder Chase Dempsay, crushed a double to left-center to score Presely.
Dempsay also pushed his luck and tried to nab a triple, but was sent back to the dugout after left fielder Jeremy Rathjen’s accurate throw allowed Rendon to tag Dempsay out. The inning ended when first baseman Chris Wallace flied out to right field, leaving the Cougars with only one run after opening the game with three consecutive hits. ‘
‘It wasn’t very smart base running,’ Noble said.
The sharp defensive plays might have given an early boost to the Owls, who jumped on Touchton for three runs in the second. Rendon reached on a one-out single and moved to third on designated hitter Jess Buenger’s single through the right side. Rathjen drove in Rendon and advanced Buenger to third with a single, later stealing second base.
Owls first baseman Jimmy Comerota drove in Beunger with a groundout to second, and Rathjen scored on a wild pitch.
The Owls increased their lead to 4-1 after shortstop Rick Hague hit a solo shot off Touchton in the third.
Things worsened for the Cougars in the fifth, when four of Rice’s first five batters reached base. Rendon supplied the biggest blow with his blast to left field that gave the Owls their final runs of the night.
The Owls’ bullpen took over from there, as four relievers, led by Wall, combined to allow only five hits and two walks over the final five innings.
UH relievers William Kankel and Barry Laird combined to hold the Owls scoreless for the last three and two-thirds innings, but their efforts came too late to save the Cougars.