Rice sophomore pitcher Austin Kubitza struck out eight in 7.0 innings and fellow sophomore Shane Hoelscher drove in a career-best four RBI to pace the sixth-ranked Rice baseball team to a 6-2 victory over visiting FIU in the season opener for both teams Friday night at Reckling Park in Houston.
Rain in the area may have delayed the game’s original 4:30 pm start time more than two and a half hours, but the brief window of clear enough skies to play ball was all Kubitza and the Owls needed in their 2012 debut. The sophomore right-hander from Colleyville, Tex., scattered four hits and three walks over 7.0 innings while striking out eight, the most by an Owl pitcher on Opening Day in four years. He left after seven when the Rice offense used the long ball for a five-run lead, and the bullpen tandem of John Simms and Tyler Duffey combined for another four strikeouts in the last two frames for a 6-2 final.
Rice built a 3-0 lead after the first three innings. With two away in the bottom of the second, new second baseman Christian Stringer blasted a solo home run to right-center for 1-0 Rice advantage. Stringer became the first Owl since Michael Ratterree in 2010 to hit a home run in his first Division I at bat. Michael Fuda and Ratterree then started the bottom of the third with walks which both turned into runs. Hoelscher punched a single into right-center to score Fuda, and Ratterree hustled home from second after a sacrifice bunt by Craig Manuel.
FIU came right back with a run in the top of the fourth after loading the bases on a pair of hits and a walk, and scoring on a Rice fielding error to make it 3-1. The Panthers were looking for more with the bases still loaded and one away, but on the next batter Hoelscher leapt to grab a high-chopping ground ball. He landed from the leap, touched third base and fired the ball across the diamond to complete a double play and end the threat.
Ratterree singled to lead off the seventh and Jeremy Rathjen walked to put men on first and second base. Hoelscher followed with a fence-clearing shot to left for a three-run homer that stretched the margin to 6-1. The Belton, Tex., native finished the night with a career-best four RBI on two pair of hits and with one walk. Ratterree scored a pair of runs on a 1-for-3 night with a pair of walks while starting in his new spot in left field.
Rice won its season-opener for the first time since 2009. The Owls and FIU are scheduled to play game two of the three-game weekend series on Saturday at 2 pm. Sunday’s series finale is slated for 12 noon.