May 22, 2013
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HOUSTON ---- Chase Mallardpitched well enough to win, but was outdueled by Rice ace Austin Kubitza, as the top-seeded Owls clipped the eighth-seed UAB baseball team, 3-1, on Wednesday night at Reckling Park.
UAB (22-35) will play its second of three games in pool play on Thursday at 3 p.m. CT against No. 4 Memphis. The Tigers defeated No. 5 UCF, 6-1, to open up tournament play.
Mallard (2-4) fanned a career-high seven Rice (38-17) batters, working the first six innings in just his fourth start of the season. The Cullman, Ala., native yielded only five hits and allowed three runs, just two earned, in the tough-luck loss.
Mallard's counterpart, Kubitza (8-4), was dynamite on the bump for the 19th nationally ranked Owls to earn the win. The right-hander gave up only two hits, both singles, in 7.2 innings. Kubitza struck out nine, walked one, plunked three and gave up just one run in the victory.
The lone hits Kubitza allowed were a fourth-inning leadoff single by John Frost and a one-out single by Griffin Gumin the eighth.
"It's too bad we faced Kubitza, he's really, really good. It was three `plus' arms that Rice ran out there and that's why they're 30-0 when leading after seven (innings). They've got that closer (Zech Lemond) in the back end and really good infield defense, which is a strength," UAB head coach Brian Shoopsaid.
The game got off a rocky start at Reckling Park, as after Ivan De Jesus struck out to start the game and Ryan Prinzingfell behind 0-2 in the count, when play was halted due to severe weather in the Houston area. Play was delayed for 36 minutes before the action resumed in the top of the first, as Kubitza struck out the side.
Mallard fell into trouble in the bottom half of the first as the Owls loaded the bases with one out. But, the Cullman, Ala., native received help from his defense, inducing an inning-ending around-the-horn double play to keep the game scoreless heading to the second frame.
The Blazers, just like the Owls, had a chance to put up a digit on the scoreboard. Tyler Mims and Ivan De Jesus were both plunked by Kubitza in the third, to put runners on the corners with two outs. However, Ryan Prinzingwould ground out to shortstop to end the threat.
Kennan Cook broke up the scoreless tie in the last of the third, with a line drive RBI single, just out of the reach of UAB shortstop Tanner Bryant, to bring home Ford Stainback with the game's first run.
After relinquishing the lead in the third, the UAB offense bounced back, playing small ball against the Owls in the fourth. All-Conference USA First Team selection John Frost started things for the Blazers singling to left. He then stole his team-best 11th bag of the season. Frost moved to third on a Harry Clark ground out, before Jeff Schalkhit a RBI ground out to knot up the score at 1-1.
The lead would be short lived, however, as the first pitch of the bottom of the fourth was rocketed by Michael Aquino off the top of the wall in left-center field. The ball ricocheted back towards center, allowing Aquino to race around the bases for an inside-the-park homer to give Rice the lead.
Later in the fourth, a two-out infield error allowed an additional insurance run to cross for the Owls, expanding their lead to 3-1.
That would round out the scoring both teams as the Blazers would strand five base runners, compared to nine by Rice.
John Simms recorded the final out of the eighth in relief of Kubitza, and closer Zech Lemond allowed just a single to Schalk in the ninth to earn his 14th save of the season.
"I thought Chase (Mallard) was great for us. When you face Kubitza and he's on, you've got to be perfect and Chase was really good," Shoop said. "He had one lapse of command where he walked two on the front end of that hit which was their first run. Then the inside the park homerun which we looked like we were just inches away from catching and we made an infield mistake with two outs and a runner at third for the third run. So Chase pretty much matched him. I'd say it was too much Kubitza and really good guys behind him and really good infield defense."
Rice out-hit the Blazers, 7-3, as Christian Stringer, Kennan Cook and Leon Byrd all finished with two hits. The other hit for the Owls was Aquino's inside-the-park homer that came in the fourth inning.
Freshman Cory Eller made his postseason debut in relief of Mallard, pitching the seventh and eighth frames, giving up two hits with one walk and one strikeout.