Shaky pitching, fielding and offense resulted in Rice baseball being swept by UC Irvine, the first series sweep against the Owls under Matt Bragga.
There’s no doubt the Rice baseball team is experiencing some growing pains as the team adjusts to life under new head coach Matt Bragga. Getting the pitching, fielding and hitting in sync has been an issue for the squad through the first two weeks of non-conference play. The results on the field reflect the disjointed start as the Owls fell short in their weekend series against UC Irvine, dropping their overall record to 2-6.
UC Irvine edged Rice in the series three games to none. Here’s a rundown of the series with three final thoughts from the weekend.
FRIDAY | UC Irvine 11, Rice 5
Entering the weekend, Rice pitching had allowed two home runs all season. Owls’ ace Matt Canterino surpassed that mark in five innings, allowing three home runs, two UC Irvine second baseman Brendan Brooks. Even though they fell behind early, Rice battled back. In the home half of the fifth inning after Canterino was pulled, Rice squeezed the deficit back to one run.
Relief pitcher Jackson Tyner was instrumental in the Owls’ comeback bid. In 2.1 innings he stuck out five, walking one and allowing no hits. His secondary stuff had plenty of movement, keeping opposing hitters off balance for the duration of his outing.
Able to push a few more runs across throughout the game, Rice trailed 6-5 from the sixth inning to the ninth. With three outs separating Rice from a comeback bid, UC Irvine exploded for five runs. Instead of trying to mount a comeback from a one-run deficit, Rice found themselves trailing 11-5 in the final half inning. The Owls would give it a shot, but come up empty.
SATURDAY | UC Irvine 7, Rice 0
It wasn’t an offensive assault which forced the Owls to play behind on Saturday, it was a few big hits surrendered by some of their most reliable arms. TWo long balls, both surrendered by Rice starter Evan Kravetz, spotted UC Irvine to a 3-0 lead in the top of the third inning.
The three-run lead would prove to be enough. Rice had a season-low four hits scattered across nine innings. Back-to-back inning-ending double plays, one in the third and the other in the fourth further dampened any comeback attempt. By the time the ninth inning rolled around, it was a 7-0 lead for the road team. That result would hold final as Rice was retired in order for the third time that day.
SUNDAY | UC Irvine 11, Rice 4
Things started off quiet at the plate for Rice on Sunday. UC Irvine scratched two runs in the first two innings on two hits against Jackson Parthasarathy. The dam broke in the sixth with UC Irving scoring five runs to open up a 9-0 lead over the home team.
Facing a significant deficit, the Rice bats woke up. Trei Cruz opened the inning with a home run to right center, his third of the season. A cavalcade of hits followed, vanquishing reliever Michael Frias from the inning after two outs. Rice would score four runs on five hits, cutting the deficit to 9-4.
Rice had another opportunity in the seventh, loading the bases with no outs. A double play and a strikeout ended the frame, thus snuffing out the chance to put another crooked number on the board. From there, UC Irvine tacked on two more runs
TAKEAWAYS | UC Irvine wins series 3-0
Errors, errors and more errors. The Owls fielding mishaps have haunted them throughout the young season. With the series against UC Irvine in the books, Rice has committed 24 errors over eight games, a pace of three errors per game.
There’s something to be said for early season jitters, of which Rice is no stranger. Rice committed 14 errors over their first eight games of last season (1.75 per game), going 3-5 over that span. Over the course of the 59-game season that rate fell to 1.22 errors per game — not stellar, but proof that a bad two weeks of baseball isn’t a season-ending curse.
The same goes for troubles at the plate. Rice has been charged with 11 wild pitches on the young season.
The 2019 squad has plenty of baseball still to play, but something needs to change in the midst of a busy several weeks. The Owls will play nine games in 12 days starting with a midweek contest against Prairie View A&M. There won’t be much practice time to speak of, making the need for a mental adjustment from several members of the team absolutely critical.
2. Situational hitting
In addition to the fielding concerns, Rice needs to work on their production at the plate in pivotal moments. Rice had 22 official at bats with at least one runner in scoring position against UC Irvine. They had two hits, both of which came on Sunday. It’s almost unthinkable Rice could find themselves with 11 such opportunities with their ace on the mound on a Friday night, score five runs and still lose, but it happened.
Trei Cruz is hitting .600 this season with runners in scoring position. That’s an incredible pace that leads the team by a significant margin. Bradley Gneiting is second-best in those situations hitting .333 and Brandt Frazier sports a .286 clip.
No other regular player is hitting better than .250. In fact, most are hitting well below .200 including Braden Comeaux (.083), Dominic DiCaprio (.167) and Antonio Cruz (.167). It’s early in the season, so those sample sizes are drastically too small to draw any meaningful conclusions from, but there’s no doubting the numbers are alarming.
3. Bright spots at the plate and on the mound
Trei Cruz was incredible during opening weekend, but it was readily apparent the Owls would need some other faces to step up at the plate to make this offense productive. Cruz didn’t have any 9-RBI games this weekend, affording plenty of opportunities for someone else to step up and spur on the Rice offense.
Comeaux had his best stretch of games this season, surpassing his four hits over the first five games with five base knocks in the three-game series with UC Irvine. Antonio Cruz hit his first collegiate home run. The rest of the offense was sparse, resulting in just nine runs scored by Rice over the weekend.
On the mound, Jackson Tyner stole the show. A two-sport athlete who played quarterback with the Rice football team in the fall, Tyner was dynamic out of the pen. He entered the game Friday night in relief of Canterino and shut UC Irvine down through 2.1 innings pitched, striking out five of the 10 batters he faced.
Brandon Deskins worked a scoreless inning in relief, as did Ben Schragger. Addison Moss made his season debut, throwing 1.2 innings while allowing two hits, two walks and striking out two on Sunday. His three runs allowed were all unearned by way of two fielding errors by Trei Cruz at shortstop.
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