GREENVILLE, N.C. – Three unearned runs in the top of the ninth lifted No. 18 Rice (22-10, 5-2) to a 3-0 Conference USA opening series win over East Carolina (14-16, 0-4) Friday night at Lewis Field inside Clark-LeClair Stadium.
On a night that saw 19 combined strikeouts between starters Jeff Hoffman (nine) and Austin Kubitza (10), an errant throw in the ninth inning allowed the Owls to pick up their fifth win in league play and move into a tie for first with Houston.
In the top of the ninth, Christian Stringer and Ford Stainback roped back-to-back singles to start the frame before Michael Aquino moved both runners into scoring position with a sac bunt back to Hoffman for the first out. With the Pirates defense playing in, Kennan Cook sent a grounder to Bryan Bass at second, who immediately fired home trying to get Stringer out at the plate. But the throw came up short of the catcher (Travis Watkins) and one-hopped to the backstop allowing both Stringer and Stainback to score for a 2-0 lead. Rice added its third run when Michael Ratterree doubled home Geoff Perrott with a shot to left field for his 12th RBI of the season.
Zech Lemond (3-1) picked up the win in relief working 1.2 innings allowing a hit and striking out four. Kubitza scattered four hits over 7.2 frames issuing three walks to go with his 10 punch-outs.
Hoffman took the loss dropping to 3-4 on the season after allowing three runs on eight hits with a walk and striking out nine in 8.2 innings. Drew Reynolds recorded the final out in the ninth on a fly ball to right field off the bat of Connor Teykl. The three runs in the ninth snapped Hoffman’s scoreless innings streak at 17.1 innings, which dated back to his last start – a complete game shutout against N.C. Central.
ECU managed five hits on the night getting runners into scoring position in the first, seventh and ninth frames. In the bottom of the seventh, the Pirates were in business when Dylan Brown singled to right center to start the inning. After Jay Cannon flied out to left, Zach Houchins sent a fly ball to right center where Leon Byrd looked like he dropped the ball after landing on the ground on his diving attempt, but the officials ruled the play a catch giving ECU two outs in the stanza. Reynolds, who extended his hit streak to five games, followed with a single through the left side pushing Brown over to second before Kubitza fanned Chase McDonald to end the threat.
Hoffman allowed just four hits through eight frames allowing the Owls into scoring position in the second and fifth innings. He retired 24 of 28 batters before the ninth, including the side in order four times. Aquino, who led off the second with a single, was stranded at third and in the fifth, the Owls left runners at first and second after Hoffman got Teykl to fly out to center and Skyler Ewing to ground out to third.
Kubitza used a 5-4-3 double play to get out of an early first inning jam. Bass singled up the middle to start the stanza and moved to second on Jack Reinheimer’s sac bunt. Brown followed with a one out walk moving Bass into scoring position before Cannon’s grounder to third starting the twin-killing. The Rice starter retired 13 of the next 16 Pirates he faced, which included eighth strikeout to end the sixth.
The Pirates and the Owls continue the three-game series Saturday, Apr. 6 with a 2 p.m. (ET) first pitch scheduled.