Wednesday, February 10, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 64, Issue 90

UH-Rice: budding rivalry

A Uh coach is headed to NFL . . . again

About the Cougar

Rice draws first blood in series

By Anna Sivadasan
Daily Cougar Staff

There's a reason why the Rice Owls are the No. 2-ranked team in the country. 

The Owls have a reputation as one of the best hitting teams in the nation, and they reaffirmed it Tuesday afternoon at Cougar Field.

Rice came into the game against No. 24-ranked Houston averaging nine runs per game in its six victories. The Owls weren't expected to keep up that pace against UH staff ace Shane Nance.

But Rice did -- and then some.

Rice trailed 5-1 heading into the fourth, but the Owls' offense erupted for 11 runs in the middle three innings to pull out a 13-9 victory over the Cougars in front of 1,302 fans at Cougar Field. 

The Owls batted around in their half of the fourth, sending 11 men to the plate and scoring seven runs to take a lead it would never relinquish. Rice collected eight hits in the inning, four of which went for extra bases. Center fielder Jason Gray hit his second homer of the game, a two-run shot to left field, and Justin Berg, Jacob Baker and Mitch Ackal also added RBI hits in the frame.

Barry Watson/The Daily Cougar

In a scene indicative of the game, Ricer's Mitch Ackal barely beats out the throw to Cougar first basemen J. P. Woodward (44).

"There's no doubt that they have an excellent club," UH head coach Rayner Noble said. "They swing the bats well, and any time you do that, it should relax your pitching staff."

"I thought we played pretty well for the most part. We just fell apart in that one inning, and that's the difference in the game."

Trailing 12-6 in the seventh, the Cougars attempted to rally. After J.P. Woodward walked and Jayme Sperring singled, Kris Wilken hit a Stephen Bess fastball out of the park for his first homer of the season. The three-run shot to left field brought UH to within three runs, but that was as close as the Cougars would get. UH did manage to load the bases again in the inning, but pinch hitter Jason Pekar was called out on strikes to end the threat.

The seven-run outburst by Rice earlier in the fourth had all but sealed the Cougars' fate. "It's definitely a letdown," Wilken said. "We thought we had them. If we held them that inning, we would have had the game."

In suffering his first loss of the season, Nance allowed seven runs on eight hits in three-and-two thirds innings of work.

"We found out today that Rice isn't any better than we are," Nance said. "They had that one big inning off me. You take that away, and we win the ball game."

Gray, who homered twice off Nance, said, "He probably didn't have his best stuff, and we took advantage of it.

"I knew from high school that he was a quality pitcher, and I knew I had to battle, and (on the home runs), I just got a couple of balls up in that wind. That's fine with me because I know he has the capability of shutting me down next time."

Rice All-American shortstop Damon Thames added, "It's good to come out and get a win against a pitcher like Nance. This is the first time (this year) that we've had a big inning. We just got a lot of confidence; one thing led to another, and we got the ball rolling."

All nine batters in the Rice lineup had at least one hit, and Gray led the way with two homers, four RBIs and two runs scored. 

For the Cougars, Wilken finished the game 3-for-5 with five RBIs, and Brandon Caraway was 5-for-5 with two runs scored.

With the 13-9 win, Rice takes the upper hand in the second annual Silver Glove Series, 1-0. The loss drops the Cougars to 1-1 in the young season. 

UH will next host No. 10 Alabama for a three-game series beginning this weekend at Cougar Field. First pitch is set for 7 p.m. Friday night.

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