Big fifth inning helps Middle Tennessee clinch series against No. 13 Rice
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- An explosive five-run fifth inning propelled Middle Tennessee past No. 10 Rice, 8-5, on Sunday afternoon.
The Raiders (12-14, 7-5 Conference USA) shook off a slow start and broke up Rice's perfect game in the fourth inning. Middle Tennessee answered with six runs in the next two frames to hold a lead they would never relinquish.
Rice (21-9, 9-3 C-USA) charged back with four runs in the last two innings, but couldn't overtake the Raiders. Middle Tennessee finished the day with eight runs on 13 hits and one error, including three extra-base hits. Rice had five runs on 11 hits and an error, stranding 12 on-base. The Blue Raiders are now 5-1 against league opponents at home this year.
Leadoff hitter Dustin Delgado led the way with a 3-for-4 performance, driving in a pair of runs and collecting two RBI. Hank LaRue also notched three hits with a run and RBI. LaRue recorded his 200th career hit in the fifth inning. Jared Allen, Ryan Stephens and Jake Ingold also managed multiple hits on Sunday.
Starter Johnathan Frebis (2-3) picked up his second win, giving up just a run on six hits in six innings. Heath Slatton allowed three earned runs on two hits in 1.1 innings. Garret Ring was credited with his first career gave, allowing just a run on three hits in an inning and two-thirds thrown.
Chase McDowell (3-2) took the loss for the Owls, giving up five earned runs on five hits in four innings.
Rice opened the game with a Keenan Cook laced a triple to right field. On the next at bat, Skyler Ewing doubled to right field scoring Cook.
Frebis worked out of a pair of jams, including a bases loaded fourth inning to prevent major damage from the Owls.
Delgado broke up the Rice perfect game with a leadoff single in the fourth inning. Michael Adkins reached on with a fielding error, moving Delgado to third. Trent Miller's groundout to second base, scored Delgado to tie the contest at 1-1.
The Blue Raiders loaded the bases in the fifth. Adam Bryant drew the walk on a 3-2 count to score Stephens, giving Middle Tennessee a 2-1 lead. A wild pitch allowed LaRue to cross home plate. Later in the inning, Delgado's single drove in Jake Ingold and Austin Bryant to stretch the lead to 5-1. Miller's double to left field scored Delgado, extending the Raider advantage to five. Miller moved up in the record books to sixth all-time with 53 career doubles.
Rice made a comeback threat in the eighth. Leon Byrd's double to right field scored Michael Aquino to cut the Owls deficit to 6-2. Aquino finished 3-for-5 on the day. An error allowed the Owls to plate another run. Cook's two-out single drove in Byrd, making it a 6-4 contest in favor of the Raiders.
In the bottom of the eighth, Middle Tennessee added a pair of insurance runs from Allen and Stephens to stretch the Raiders' edge back to four. Shane Holescher scored in the ninth for Rice, but the Owls threat was halted with a Byrd fly out to end the game.