Rice baseball concluded a tough midweek set on Wednesday, dropping a somewhat uncompetitive home game to visiting Arizona at Reckling Park.
Defensive lapses put Rice baseball into an insurmountable hole against Texas on Tuesday night, a contest the Owls dropped 11-4. They returned to the diamond for a second midweek contest, this time against Arizona.
Arizona struck first, and second and third. The visitors tallied single runs in the first three frames, putting the Owls into an early hole once again.
The Rice pitchers played with fire all night, as Arizona loaded the bases in the first, fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth innings. The breakthrough came in the sixth against Brandon Deskins. After striking out the side in his first appearance of the year, Arizona roughed him up, scoring three to blast the game wide open, 8-1.
To that point, Rice had managed one run. It came off an RBI single from Dominic DiCaprio in the fourth, his first hit of the season. The Owls cut the deficit to 8-2 in the bottom of the sixth, but that’s as close as the team would get for the duration of the contest, falling by a final score of Arizona 16, Rice 5.
Here are a few things which stood out from the loss:
1. Time to get back to the basics
The eight errors committed by Rice were one shy of the school record, 10, set against UNLV in 1997. Rice committed nine runs in their first four games, but had eight registered mistakes against Arizona alone. It’s not as if one guy was throwing the ball recklessly around the yard, the bulk of the team had at least one error charge to them on Wednesday. If you can’t throw and catch, you can’t win baseball games.
Coach Matt Bragga compared the defensive struggles to “little league” play in the aftermath of the Texas loss on Tuesday. If that’s the case, this team has a lot of work to do before conference play arrives.
2. This team misses Addison Moss
The starts from Drake Greenwood and Kel Bordwine during the Owls’ midweek games were decidedly mediocre. Both guys competed moderately well and were serviceable outside of a few fielding errors which negatively impacted their final lines.
Evan Kravetz was masterful in his spot start Saturday against Rhode Island, but his insertion into the weekend rotation forced him out of a midweek rotation spot, at least for now.
Having Kravetz on Tuesday will make Greenwood and Bordwine available to start Wednesday or come out of the bullpen. It gives coach Bragga options. Without Moss, this rotation looks thin — Rice needs him back as soon as he’s healthy.
3. Trei Cruz needs some help
So far, Trei Cruz is the pacemaker which keeps this offense churning. When he’s locked in, he sends a pulse throughout the entire lineup. It doesn’t mean the others in the batting order have come alive on cue, but without his presence, the offense has flatlined.
Cruz did his part on Wednesday, going 1-for-2 with a run scored before being lifted late in the game. Consistent producers to this point, Cade Edwards, Justin Collins and Bradley Gneiting went a combined 1-for-9 on the evening. Braden Comeaux’s hitless night dropped his season average to .182.
The season is young and someone will have to step up. The question is, who?
4. Position battles continue to rage on
Dominic Cox opened the season in center field for the Owls but his string of less-than-impressive plate appearances opened the door for someone else to have their shot. Aaron Beaulaurier hadn’t registered a hit yet in 2019, but his two doubles against Arizona were some of the best hitting from the Owls all evening. It’s safe to say that spot in the lineup is up for grabs.
Beyond centerfield, designated hitter and first base remain question marks. Andrew Dunlap is still looking for his first hit of the season while Dominic DiCaprio earned his first knock against Arizona. Outside of the heart of the order — Bradley Gneiting, Trei Cruz, Justin Collins and Cade Edwards — the rest of the lineup remains in flux.