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Around the Horn: Houston vs Rice

Austin Pruitt: The 5-foot-11 junior made his Houston-debut in relief last Tuesday and fired 4.1 shutout innings allowing just one hit. Making his first career start for the Cougars against No. 5 Rice, the right-hander cruised through his first 4.0 innings of work while keeping the Owls’ offense off-balanced with a very effective slider.

After recording two outs in the fifth, Pruitt surrendered back-to-back RBI hits as he began to leave his pitches up in the zone. Pruitt finished the night allowing five hits, three runs – two of which were earned – seven strikeouts and two walks.

“This is a little higher level than what he has pitched at before but he is going to be a very good pitcher,” said Houston head coach Todd Whitting. “He started to get up around 90 pitches and his stuff started to let up a little bit and he didn’t quite have the command. I am very proud of his effort and what he did tonight.”

Pruitt was a member of the 2011 National JUCO World Series Championship team at Navarro and led the nation with a microscopic 0.81 ERA last season. If he can maintain his fast start for the Cougars, expect the junior to factor into the weekend rotation at some point this season.

Rice pitching: Despite allowing four walks in 5.0 innings of work, Andrew Benak (2-0) was very effective on the mound for the Owls and was able to pitch himself out of tough situations as he stranded six Houston runners on base.

John Simms, a high school teammate of Austin Pruitt (College Park HS, Texas), was very effective in a relief outing for the Owls as he fanned three batters – all of which were looking – in 2.0 innings of work.

Like clockwork, Tyler Duffey and J.T. Chargois did not surrender a hit in the final 2.0 innings of work as Chargois notched his fourth save of the season.

Perfect start: Outside of Stanford, Rice might have arguably one of the most complete teams in the country this season and their 9-0 record proves it. Want more proof? The Owls are off to their best start since the 1993 season when they began the year with a 14-straight wins.

Currently ranked No. 5 in the country in the Baseball America poll, the Owls will be tested over the next two weekends as they put their undefeated record on the line against the field at the Houston College Classic before heading west for a weekend set against unbeaten Stanford.

Defensive woes: Houston entered the Rice game having committed 11 errors in their first seven games this season. On Tuesday, four defensive blunders took the wind out of the Cougars’ sails and essentially broke the game wide open.

1B Casey Grayson was charged with two errors on one play as he muffed a pickoff attempt from Pruitt in the sixth and sailed the ensuing throw to second base allowing Christian Stringer to reach third and later score on and RBI double from Chargois to left center. SS Jake Runte and LHP Aaron Stewart were both charged with one error apiece.

Houston has a young and talented squad. It’s obvious that coach Whitting is the right man for the job and will prove to be a tough out in C-USA. However, in order to make some noise, the Cougars will have to play a more consistent brand of defense to have sustained success.