HOUSTON The Rice Owls evened the annual best-of-three weekend series for the Silver Glove Trophy at a game apiece after defeating the Houston Cougars, 4-0, on Saturday at Cougar Field.
Rice right-hander Austin Kubitza posted double-digit strikeouts to get out of danger before combining with Zech Lemond on a three-hit shutout, and the visiting Owl baseball team scored some late insurance runs for the Conference USA victory.
The Owls (27-14 overall and 8-6 in C-USA) meet Houston (27-12, 7-4) in the series finale beginning at 1 p.m. Sunday at Cougar Field.
In what fulfilled every promise as one of the most anticipated pitching matchups in the C-USA regular season, Kubitza and Houston ace Austin Pruitt both delivered on a classic duel.
Kubitza (6-2) scattered two hits and allowed three walks in seven scoreless frames. Pruitt allowed one run on a walk and two hits heading into the top of the ninth.
Rice struck for its first run in the top of the third without a hit. Michael Aquino drew a one out walk and advanced to scoring position on Geoff Perrott s sacrifice bunt. He hustled to third base on a Houston wild pitch and scored on an RBI grounder to the right side by freshman Blake Fox.
Kubitza worked his way out of trouble to keep the Cougars off the scoreboard. After getting an inning-ending strikeout with the bases-loaded in the third inning, he stranded another UH runner at third base in the fourth with a swinging strikeout. The Colleyville, Texas native struck out two batters to leave a runner in scoring position in the fifth. Kubitza notched his tenth strikeout of the day in the seventh to help strand a man at second, all with a narrow 1-0 lead.
Lemond came out of the bullpen in eighth, and was part of two big plays by the Owl defense after a fielding error. Perrott threw-out a would-be base-stealer from his spot behind the plate. Lemond then picked a runner off first base after a one-out single.
Still with a 1-0 advantage, the Owls broke through in the top of the ninth. With one away Christian Stringer was hit by a pitch and Ford Stainback followed with an RBI double to the gap in left-center. Michael Ratterree then connected on a pitch for a two-run home run to left-center. Ratterree s fourth round-tripper of the season, and the 26th of his collegiate career stretched the margin to a more comfortable 4-0.
The Cougars continued to fight and hit a double to lead off the bottom of the ninth. Lemond preserved the shutout, however, with his second scoreless inning to earn his team-leading ninth save. Rice registered its eighth shutout of the season and third in conference action.