Rice baseball proved their resiliency on Tuesday night, rallying from a four-run deficit to top Lamar at home.
A 1-0 Rice lead was quickly turned into a 5-1 deficit as freshman starting pitcher Dalton Wood struggled in his first collegiate start. Trailing after three innings, Rice turned to the bullpen and took a deep breath. The same bullpen which had control issues against Oklahoma gave the Rice offense a chance — they took it.
It wasn’t a clean game in the field; both sides committed three errors. It wasn’t a crisp game at the plate; the two teams combined to strand 24 runners on base.
Despite the mishaps, Rice erased a four-run deficit, outscoring Lamar 11-0 through the remainder of the game, winning 12-5. Here are three immediate reactions from the win.
1. Gneiting quietly building impressive season
Trei Cruz has drawn the headlines early this season. All his accolades have been well deserved, but the most productive member of the lineup since opening weekend could very well be Bradley Gneiting. The junior utility man led Conference USA in hits entering Tuesday night, adding a first-inning RBI single to give Rice the early lead.
Gneiting added a 2 RBI double in the eight to secure his 10th multi-hit game of the season. His average now sits at.363 with a .440 average with runners in scoring position. Gneiting is second on the team in runs scored (15) and has stuck out only 12 times in 78 at bats, one of the best marks on the team. If the Rice offense is working, Gneiting always seems to be a part of the action.
2. Blair Lewis has become a bullpen staple
The Rice bullpen struggle heavily in the Owls’ Saturday and Sunday losses to Oklahoma. Kendall Jeffries has been tremendous, as has Addison Moss. Jackson Tyner had a rough weekend, but for the most part, has been reliable. After that, it’s been an erratic adventure.
“[The bullpen] just hasn’t been real consistent,” Bragga said honestly after the Sunday finale. “We need to find a couple more pieces.” It’s hard to imagine omitting Blair Lewis from the arsenal of those reliable options.
Lewis threw three innings against Lamar, allowing three hits, no walks and no runs. To this point, he’s been called upon to eat innings, but he’s become one of the most reliable arms Rice has out of the pen as evidenced by his 1.74 ERA in 10.1 innings.
3. No quit
“They don’t give up.” That’s what Matt Bragga had to say about his the growth his team has shown in the first month of the season. That resiliency hasn’t resulted in wins at every opportunity, but the progress has been evident.
Rice left the bases loaded in the first and fifth innings. Entering the sixth inning the Owls trailed 5-3 despite matching Lamar nearly hit for hit. This team had given in to their season-long offensive struggles many times, but Tuesday night would not be a reprisal of those woes.
The Owls broke through with three runs in the sixth, answering Lamar’s 5-0 run with a 5-0 run of their own to retake the lead, 6-5. Given another shot with the bases loaded in the seventh, Rice scored three times, taking advantage of Lamar miscues to extend their lead to 9-5.
This team is going to have its pains at the plate. The bullpen is a work in progress and the fielding remains a concern. Despite the challenges, they don’t quit. That will pay dividends down the road.
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