Rice baseball dropped a midweek intrastate battle to the Texas Longhorns 11-4. The Owls return to action Wednesday against Arizona.
Rice took two of three from Rhode Island over the weekend, securing the first series win of Matt Bragga’s tenure at South Main. Neither he or the team had time to dwell on their successes or failure with a short turnaround which began on Tuesday against visiting Texas.
It had been two seasons since the Owls and Longhorns met on the diamond. They last split a four-game set in Austin in 2017. This was the fourth meeting between Texas skipper David Pierce and Bragga, who faced off in the Super Regionals in Austin last season when Bragga was at the helm of Tennessee Tech.
Rice struck first via a Texas error which allowed Andrew Dunlap to reach at the beginning of the second inning. Antonio Cruz came through with a single on the ground to score Dunlap from second and give the Owls an early 1-0 lead.
Texas came thundering back, putting a five-spot on the board in the third before adding three more in the fourth. Rice battled back, clawing back three runs of their own in the fifth to bring the score to 8-4 entering the sixth inning.
The Longhorns would tack on an additional run in the sixth, eighth and ninth innings and win by the final score of Texas 11, Rice 4.
1. Fielding follies loom large
Seven errors on opening weekend wasn’t how Matt Bragga envisioned the beginning of his tenure at South Main. Rice committed two against Texas. Bragga was point blank in his critiques after the game. “It’s not good enough….defensively it’s just not been good for four games.”
The Longhorns came in prepared to test Owls in the field. After a leadoff walk, the next two Texas hitters attempted to lay down sacrifice bunts. The second was successful, forcing third basemen Braden Comeaux to make a quick throw, which he did with little hesitation.
For a brief moment, things looked to be trending in the right direction but two costly outfield mistakes in the second inning flipped the script on this game quickly. Antonio Cruz and Dominic Cox each missed diving attempts, resulting in a five-run inning for the visitors.
Bragga summed it up rather succinctly: “When you give away free bases you’re going to lose games… it’s going to cost us games and it already has.”
2. Two relievers made strong season debuts
Senior Blair Lewis was the third arm to enter the fray against a Texas. His teammates Drake Greenwood and Dalton Wood allowed eight runs (six earned) on a combined seven hits and four walks. Facing a sizable deficit, Lewis was asked to hold the line, which he did admirably.
His four innings pitched was a career high. Designated hitter Zach Zubia punched a solo home run to deep center field in the sixth. Left fielder Eric Kennedy followed with a triple to the same part of the ballpark in the seventh. Both players scored. Otherwise, Lewis was largely effective, eating innings and limiting the damage to two runs on six hits and no walks.
Freshman A.C. Plum made his collegiate debut at the back end of the game as well. He struck out one, walked one and allowed one run which had advanced to third on a wild pitch.
One of the reasons for their inconsistent offensive production against Rhode Islands were the mounting strikeouts. Rice K’d 36 times over the weekend and continued those issues at the plate on Tuesday. Seven different Rice hitters registered at least one strikeout, 11 overall. Cade Edwards and Trei Cruz led the team with three whiffs each.
Discipline is going to be something this team needs to improve, quickly. They’ve simply left too many men on base, stranding nine against Texas. The value of putting the ball into play cannot be underestimated.
Bragga has plans to address during practice later this week. “We’re swinging at a lot of bad pitches,” he said, going on to describe the approach the plate with words like “apprehensive” and “timid.” The issues are apparent. Now it’s time for this team to make some adjustments.