Baseball hosts No. 21 Rice

The Pirates continue their streak against ranked opponents as Rice comes to Greenville

After a demoralizing 6-1 loss to N.C. State on April 2, the Pirates look to bounce back in a three-game home series against the Rice University Owls over the weekend. The series against the Owls (21-10, 4-2) kicks off on Friday, April 5, at 6 p.m. and continues on Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m.

The Pirates (14-15, 0-3) are still searching for their first Conference USA victory this season, which will be a difficult task against a stout Rice team. Michael Aquino leads the Owls on offense with a .345 batting average. Aquino has a team-high five home runs and 20 RBIs, including three doubles and two triples.

Three other Rice batters have a batting average above .300 (Geoff Perrott, Keenan Cook and Shane Hoelscher) and eight batters have 11 RBIs or more, including Perrott and Cook.

On the pitcher's mound, Rice will likely go with a weekend rotation of Austin Kubitza (4-1, 1.42 ERA), Jordan Stephens (4-2, 2.30 ERA) and John Simms (4-2, 2.29 ERA).

In seven starts, Kubitza has allowed 12 runs on 32 hits with 62 strikeouts. Stephens leads the team with 54.2 innings pitched and has allowed 19 runs on 45 hits with one complete game. Simms has given up 16 runs on 35 hits with 52 strikeouts and one complete game in 51 innings of work.

ECU's bats will be looking to connect consistently, something that did not happen against N.C. State when the Pirates only registered four hits. Travis Watkins leads the team with a .328 batting average, though he has only had 61 at bats. Jack Reinheimer holds a .306 average with 14 runs scored, four doubles and a home run.

Chase McDonald has a team-high four homeruns and 20 RBIs.

Jeff Hoffman (3-3, 3.66 ERA) and David Lucroy (3-1, 2.10 ERA) are sure to make weekend starts for the Pirates. Hoffman has given up 21 runs on 41 hits with 35 strikeouts in 46.2 innings with one complete game. Lucroy has thrown a team-high 39 strikeouts, only allowing eight runs in 34.1 innings.

The Sunday starter has yet to be named due to Ryan Williams' midweek performance against the Wolfpack.

After the series, the Pirates travel to Raleigh to face No. 25 N.C. State yet again. This will be ECU's fifth game in a row against a ranked opponent.

All national rankings were taken from the NCBWA poll.

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