Rice shuts out Golden Eagles

Published 11:35 am Friday, May 20, 2011

Southern Miss needed two wins to take its first Conference USA regular-season championship in eight years. Now, it needs a sweep.

Austin Kubitza struck out nine batters in 81⁄3 innings, and Rice shut out Southern Miss 4-0 on Thursday night in Hattiesburg. It was the first game in what amounts to a best-of-three series for the C-USA title and the top seed in next week’s league tournament in Pearl. Rice (37-17, 15-7 C-USA) can take it with another win tonight, while Southern Miss (37-14, 15-7) needs to win the last two in the series to earn its first regular-season title since 2003.

Southern Miss has lost three of its last four games over the past week and allowed a two-game lead to slip away.

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Kubitza allowed only five hits and one walk while throwing 110 pitches. He did run into trouble in the ninth inning, though, forcing the Owls to turn to closer Tony Cingrani to finish the game.

Kameron Brunty led off the bottom of the ninth with a single up the middle, which was followed by a fielder’s choice and a walk. Cingrani then came in and got a strikeout and a line out to center to nail down his 10th save of the season.

Rice broke a scoreless tie with an RBI single by Ryan Lewis in the sixth inning, then blew it open with three runs in the seventh. Three Southern Miss errors led to the big rally, including a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt attempt that allowed two runs to score.

Southern Miss starter Todd McInnis (7-2) allowed one earned run and six hits, but took the loss.

He struck out two and walked two.

Keenan Cook, J.T. Chargois and Michael Ratteree had two hits apiece for Rice.