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HATTIESBURG, MISS. -- Sixth-seeded UAB got its offense going in the middle innings Wednesday and rode a strong pitching performance from starter Shay Crawford to an 8-3 victory over No. 3 seed Houston in the first round of the Conference USA Championship at Pete Taylor Park.
Crawford (5-2) turned in his best performance of the season, pitching a career-high 7.0 innings and striking out six batters while walking none. The left-hander scattered five hits and allowed just one runner past first base after the opening inning. The lone run he surrendered was unearned.
"The key stat for Shay was that this was the second game in a row he hasn't walked anybody," UAB head coach Brian Shoop said. "When you don't walk people, you really force the opponent to string hits together to score. The ball game is Shay Crawford today. That's where the credit goes."
With the victory, UAB improves to 31-24 on the season and advances to play Thursday at 4 p.m. (CT) against No. 2 seed Rice, which run-ruled seventh-seeded Marshall 13-0 in seven innings Wednesday. Houston falls to 25-30 and drops into an elimination game Thursday against Marshall.
Fans can follow Thursday's action live through All-Access streaming video at uabsports.com. Each tournament game is available on a pay-per-view basis for a one-time payment of $7.95, while current annual subscribers to Blazer All-Access can watch all of UAB's C-USA tournament games for FREE as part of their annual package.
An Internet radio broadcast courtesy of the Blazers ISP Sports Network will also be available through the website for free.
For the first four innings of Wednesday's game, Crawford was locked in a battle with Houston starter Jared Ray, who held UAB without a hit during that opening stretch. But the Blazers broke through with four runs in the fifth to take a lead they would never lose.
Trailing 1-0, UAB first managed an RBI single from Allen Aubin to even things up. The Blazers then moved runners to second and third with two outs, and Jamal Austin came through with a single up the middle to score both runners. The freshman outfielder later came home on a Houston error as the Blazers took a 4-1 advantage.
Austin led UAB offensively with a 3-for-5 performance and three RBI in the contest. Digger Towe, Aubin and Nick Crawford also collected multiple hits in the game.
The Blazers extended their lead to 7-1 in the seventh inning, plating runners on an RBI groundout from Jonathan Merritt, a run-scoring single from Cody McMurry and on another Houston error. UAB then tacked on its final run in the eighth inning on an RBI double from Austin.
"The game was a lot closer than the score," Shoop said. "I thought it was a really well-pitched game. I thought Jared Ray was really good for Houston. We had some very fortunate hits, and we were the beneficiary of some good breaks."
Ray (4-4) took the loss, surrendering seven runs -- five earned -- in 6.0 innings. He allowed seven hits, struck out four and walked four.
Tristan Farrell pitched the final 2.0 innings to close out the game for UAB, allowing single runs in the eighth and ninth.
Caleb Ramsey led Houston offensively, going 2-for-4 with an RBI, while Zak Presley and Chase Dempsay also tallied a pair of hits. Ramsey had an infield single in the first inning to score the first run of the game before UAB responded with eight unanswered.
UAB has now won three of its last four games against teams from the city of Houston after taking two out of three last week against Rice. Thursday's second-round contest will be the fourth game in eight days between UAB and Rice.
Wednesday's victory also marked the second straight season UAB has won its opening round game at the conference tournament. The Blazers upset top-seeded Rice at the event a season ago and went on to win in the second round, as well.