Middle Tennessee dropped the opening game of a highly-anticipated three-game series 7-2 at No. 14 Rice in front of 2,547 at Reckling Park here Friday.
The Blue Raiders (16-12, 8-2) maintained a one-half game lead over Rice (21-11, 10-3) for first place in the C-USA standings heading into Saturday’s game at 2 p.m.
Starter Jonathan Frebis (4-3) took the loss for Middle Tennessee as he lasted just five innings, allowing 10 hits and seven runs, all earned. Kevin McCanna (4-2) notched the win with 7-2/3 innings of work. It was McCanna’s longest outing of the season. He scattered nine hits and allowed two runs, both earned, struck out six and walked one.
Middle Tennessee had baserunners in all but three innings, including loading the bases with no outs in the third but failed to score.
“We hit the ball and had our chances but we just couldn’t get timely hits,” Middle Tennessee Head Coach Jim McGuire said. “You have to capitalize on your opportunities when you have them against a team like Rice and we didn’t’ do that in this opening game.”
The top of Middle Tennessee’s order was productive with Dustin Delgado, Brad Jarreau and Ronnie Jebavy combining to go 6-for-13 with one home run, two RBI and two runs scored to lead the 10-hit attack.
Jarreau connected for his first career home run, a monstrous jolt over the fence in left center some 375 feet away and finished 2-for-4 with one RBI. Jebavy was 2-for-4 with one RBI and extended his hitting streak to 10 games. He has 17 multi-hit games this season. Delgado continued to battle and went 2-for-5 with one run scored.
Austin Bryant delivered his first triple of the season and Jared Allen, Michael Adkins and Jake Ingold each had one hit.
The Blue Raiders jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Delgado started the game with a double and scored when Jebavy drilled a shot that was misplayed by third baseman Grayson Lewis.
Rice struck in the bottom of the third when catcher Hunter Kopycinski connected for a bases-clearing triple with two outs to stake the Owls to a 3-1 lead they would not relinquish.
Middle Tennessee closed to within 3-2 in the top of the fifth when right fielder Jarreau connected for his first career home run, a solo blast into left center field.
Just as the Blue Raiders pulled to within one, Rice quickly answered with four in the bottom of the inning to stretch its lead to 7-2. Two big Rice innings proved to be the difference in the game.
Austin Bryant provided a one-out triple in the top of the sixth but Middle Tennessee was unable to score him.
Relief pitcher Heath Slatton supplied three innings of shutout relief, striking out three but the Blue Raiders were unable to rally.
Game 2 takes place Saturday at 2 p.m. as junior right-hander Nathan Hoffmann takes the mound looking to even the series.