Owls top Thundering Herd|Blazers upset Cougars

Published 9:43 pm Thursday, May 21, 2009

By Staff
C-USA Sports Information
HATTIESBURG, Miss. — The Rice Owls appeared very much alive and well in the opening round of the 2009 Conference USA Baseball Tournament. After a tough weekend at UAB where Rice dropped a best-of-three series, the Owls found themselves without at least a share of a regular-season baseball championship for the first time since 1996. Second-seeded Rice resoundingly rebounded Wednesday afternoon with a 13-0 shortened-to-seven-innings romp over the Thundering Herd at Taylor Park as freshman left-hander Taylor Wall tossed a complete-game, three-hitter.
Rice registered the first shutout in 20 C-USA tournament games and posted the first tournament victory halted by the 10-run mercy rule since 2006. The 13-run spread was the largest since Tulane topped East Carolina 16-3 in 2005.
"We have a lot of respect for all the teams here, but we had to come out and prove that we're still number one in Conference USA," said Rice freshman third baseman Anthony Rendon, C-USA's player of the year.
"We had a long bus ride over here, and a lot of time to think about it, so we wanted to come out and start the tournament off right. We have some stuff to prove this weekend."
Rice (36-15) will get another crack at UAB at 4 p.m. today, taking on the sixth-seeded Blazers (31-24) in a winner's bracket game.
"We really cratered last week, but the reason we did was because UAB was playing so well," Rice coach Wayne Graham said. "Still, you don't blow leads like we had. We didn't take care of business and that's just the way it goes. Maybe, hopefully, that will jump start us now."
It certainly seemed to Wednesday, as the Owls rolled out to a 7-0 lead after two innings.
Shortstop Rick Hague, who went 4 for 4 with two runs scored and two RBIs had a first-inning, RBI-double and left fielder Mike Fuda hit a two-out, two-run double off Marshall right-hander Dan Straily (4-3) for a 3-0 lead.
Rice, ranked as high as ninth in the national polls, tacked on four more runs in the second as Hague had an RBI-single and Rendon cranked his 18th homer run of the season, a three-run, two-out shot to left-center.
UAB 8, Houston 3
For the first four innings Wednesday morning, UAB couldn't touch Houston right-hander Jared Ray. Then came the fifth.
Center fielder Jamal Austin's two-run single keyed a four-run inning, as the sixth-seeded Blazers ran away to an 8-3 victory over the third-seeded Cougars in the opening game of the 2009 Conference USA Baseball Tournament at Taylor Park.
"We had total confidence coming into this game," said Austin, referring to the Blazers' best-of-three C-USA series victory against nationally-ranked Rice last weekend. "The bats did their job. Everybody did their job."
Particularly UAB sophomore left-hander Shay Crawford, who pitched a career-high seven innings. He allowed the Cougars – the defending tournament champions – a first-inning run, then slammed the door, scattering five hits, while striking out six and walking just one.
UAB (31-24) will play Rice at 4 p.m. Third-seeded Houston (25-30) fell into the elimination bracket, and will play at 9 a.m. against Marshall.