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Retooled C-USA no match for Rice baseball so far

Rice pitcher Blake Fox moved to 5-0 on the season and 11-0 in his collegiate career after Rice won the battle of Owls 14-1 Saturday. Rice looks for the home sweep of Florida Atlantic at noon Sunday.
Rice pitcher Blake Fox moved to 5-0 on the season and 11-0 in his collegiate career after Rice won the battle of Owls 14-1 Saturday. Rice looks for the home sweep of Florida Atlantic at noon Sunday. Rice Athletics

Florida Atlantic kept Rice off the scoreboard for two innings Saturday, but the floodgates would soon open.

Rice scored four times in the third inning on its way to 14-1 victory at Reckling Park in Houston. The victory was the eighth in a row for Rice (18-6). It also moved the Owls to 7-1 in Conference USA play.

Rice has played conference newcomers Old Dominion, Florida International and now the other Owls nicknamed team, FAU. Rice has given up just 17 runs in those eight conference game. Throw out am 11-7 win at FIU on March 16, and the runs allowed average is just 1.25 per game.

Blake Fox started three of those games on the mound, including Saturday’s tilt. The sophomore from Bellaire pitched 6 2/3 innings, giving up one run on eight hits. He walked one and struck out three. He is now 11-0 is his college career.

Rice banged out 17 hits and took advantage of scoring chances. The team hit 10 of 15 with runners in scoring position and recorded six two-out hits.

“We had 17 hits, but also bunted well today,” said Rice coach Wayne Graham in a news release. “You can’t ask for more lately.”

Rice got on the board when Leon Byrd singled home Shane Hoelscher. Byrd went to second on the throw home and third on an error by FAU catcher Levi Meyer. Keenan Cook was hit by a pitch. Byrd scored when FAU pitcher Jeremy Strawn unsuccessfully tried to pick Cook off based. Cook came home on a Skyler Ewing double and John Clay Reeves knocked in Ewing with a single.

Rice increased the lead to 6-1 in the fourth inning on runs by Michael Aquino and Hoelscher, who hit the first of his career-high three doubles in the inning. Hoelscher was 4-for-4 at the plate overall.

Two more Rice runs in the fifth inning helped put the game out of reach. Cook started the inning with a double and reached third on Reeves’ single. Kirby Taylor entered the game as a pinch hitter and drove in Cook on a sacrifice bunt. Aquino followed with a single to bring in Reeves. Aquino led the team with 3 RBI while Cook and Ewing each scored three times.

FAU fell to 14-9, 3-5 with the loss. The series concludes with a noon game this afternoon at Reckling Park.

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