BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Senior John Clay Reeves blasted a big three-run homer to key a five-run fifth inning, and the pitching staff posted another steady outing to help Rice claim a 5-2 road victory at Florida Atlantic on Sunday afternoon.
With the win, Rice not only completed a sweep of the three-game weekend road series, but also the team gained a full-game lead on second-place Middle Tennessee State in the C-USA standings. Rice improved to 33-16 overall and 20-7 in C-USA action with its fourth three-game sweep of conference play. FAU is now 36-14 on the season and 17-10 in the league.
For the first time this series, FAU was the first team on the scoreboard. Brendon Sanger led off the bottom of the fourth with a single and a pair of walks loaded the bases. Sanger scored on a one-out groundout, but that was the only harm done in the frame off veteran lefthanded starter Blake Fox.
Rice came right back with five big runs in the top of the fifth. Grayson Lewis reached on a hard-hit infield single at third base. He moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, and to third on Hunter Kopycinski's come-back shot to the mound. Lewis scored on a shallow, bloop-single to left to tie the game 1-1, but the Blue & Gray wasn't finished.
Ford Stainback followed with a short single to center that loaded the bases. Kopycinski scored on a sacrifice fly to right by Kirby Taylor that made it 2-1. In battling for a long at-bat, Reeves then worked the count to 3-2 before blasting a towering three-run homer to left center field. Reeves' team-leading eighth home run of the season extended the lead to 5-1.
FAU took advantage of a Rice fielding miscue to get a run back in the bottom of the inning. Ryan Miller drew a lead-off walk and Billy Endris' one-out single put runners on first and second. Miller scored all the way from second base on an infield error to make it 5-2.
Only one of the two runs Fox surrendered on the day were earned. A junior from Houston, he pitched 6.1 innings and allowed six hits and three walks to go along with three strikeouts.
Fox was relieved by Matt Ditman, who worked out of a base-loaded situation in the bottom of the seventh with a strikeout. He pitched the final two hitless frames to record his team-leading ninth save of the season. The save was the 18th of Ditman's career to move him into a tie for second place on the school's all-time list with MLB draft pick Zech Lemond.
Rice pitching came up big all weekend against the best hitting and run-scoring team in the conference. In 27.0 combined innings, the Rice staff allowed just three total runs on 19 singles, where only two of the runs were earned.
On the day's offensive side, Reeves finished going 2-for-3 with a homer, three RBIs and a run scored. Stainback had a pair of hits to push his hitting streak to 13 consecutive games as well as notch his 16th multi-hit game of the season.