Rice baseball finished off the 2019 Shriner’s College Classic with a bang, upsetting Baylor and TCU to earn their biggest wins of the season.
After an 0-5 week which included a series sweep at the hands of visiting UC Irvine, Rice baseball needed a big weekend at the Shriner’s College Classic to prove to the college baseball world and themselves the Owls were here for the long haul. A 1-0 loss to Texas State via an unearned run got the weekend off to a sour start, but impressive wins on Saturday and Sunday against ranked Baylor and TCU made the weekend a tremendous success.
Baylor had entered the weekend undefeated. TCU had an emphatic 10-2 win over No. 1 Vanderbilt under their belts. Rice beat them both. Here’s the rundown of all three games and some final thoughts on the three game slate at Minute Maid Park.
FRIDAY | Texas State 1, Rice 0
Rice can’t realistically ask for much more than they got from their pitching staff on Friday against Texas State. Matt Canterino was every bit the ace he has been billed to be, striking out nine while allowing four hits and no walks in seven innings pitched. The lone run scored during his outing was unearned, a product of a two-error inning from shortstop Trei Cruz.
After allowing Texas State to score an unearned run in the top of the seventh, Rice had their chances. The Owls got a runner into scoring position in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings but couldn’t get him across. After scoring 25 runs in an offensive explosion on Wednesday against Prairie View A&M, Rice was held scoreless on two hits.
SATURDAY | Rice 6, Baylor 3
Perhaps the team needs to ask the administration to move the left field wall at Reckling Park a bit closer to home plate. Rice deposited two home runs into the Crawford Boxes on Saturday against Baylor to compliment a flurry of extra base hits. Andrew Dunlap and Rodrigo Duluc each went deep, helping Rice build an early 5-0 lead against No. 15 Baylor.
Rice scored in the second, third and fourth innings. Starting pitcher Evan Kravetz retired Baylor in order through the first three innings before the Bears broke through in the fourth. Two triples plated three runs and cut the Rice lead to 5-3 after four innings.
The advantage would stay at two until the eighth. With two men on and two outs, Bradley Gneiting delivered. He mashed a double which bounced of the wall in left, scoring Rodrigo Duluc and giving Rice an insurance run and a 6-3 lead. Kendall Jeffries would close things out of the pen, earning his first save of the year and closing the door on the Owls’ biggest win of the season.
SUNDAY | Rice 12, TCU 2
Things picked up where they left off for Rice in the Shiner’s College Classic finale. After a quick first inning, TCU starting pitcher Jared Janczak started to lose command. He allowed a pair of singles to start the inning before a hit by pitch, sandwiched between two walks broke the first inning deadlock. Rice would score three in that second inning, striking first for the second game in a row.
TCU got one back in the top of the third and the fifth, cutting the Rice lead to 3-2. The Owls responded in the bottom of the fifth with three more runs on the back of three extra base hits. The bats stayed active in the sixth, scoring six addition runs on three hits to give Rice a commanding 12-2 advantage entering the seventh.
With a 10-run lead after seven innings, the run rule ended the contest. In some ways it was surreal. From the shutout Friday, Rice ended the weekend with an exclamation point.
TAKEAWAYS | Rice wins one of three in Shriner’s College Classic
1. The starting pitching will carry this team
Matt Canterino spent the offseason with Team USA and entered 2019 with a host of preaseason accolades. The Rice ace has lived up to his billing early on. Despite an 0-2 record, Canterino has been special, compiling a 2.00 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and a 24-to-3 strikeout to walk ratio in 18 innings. The only earned runs he’s surrendered this season came on a series of three home runs against UC Irvine.
Evan Kravetz picked up where Canterino left off. He was perfect through the lineup the first time before Baylor broke through with three runs in the fourth. He bounced back, going 6.2 innings, the longest of his career, before being lifted after a two-out double in the seventh. His nine strikeouts are one shy of a career-best 10K game against Rhode Island earlier this year.
Not wanting to be left out of the accolades, Jackson Parthasarathy closed out the weekend with a strong start. He went six innings, allowing five hits but just two runs (one earned). As a unit, the Rice starting pitching put the team in position to win each game of the weekend. When that happens, good things will follow.
2. Base running errors exposed against Baylor
Baylor starting pitcher Tyler Thomas was erratic in 2+ innings, setting Rice up with a golden opportunity to break the game open in the top of the third. The Owls got runners on second and third with no outs and a 2-0 lead. Bradley Gneiting was thrown out at the plate, trying to advance on a softly hit ground ball to the left side of the infield. Give the situation, the safer decision would have been to stay put and take the out at first.
Two batters later Dominic DiCaprio would single up the middle, a hit which should have scored two runs. With Gneiting already sitting in the dugout, Braden Comeaux scored from second. Justin Collins, who was only on base because Gneiting ran into an out at home, was thrown out trying to advance to third.
Rice would get just one run in the inning. This team has had enough trouble with runners in scoring position this season. Trei Cruz was caught stealing by a wide margin the next inning and thrown out in the eighth at home plate. That’s too many outs on the basepaths.
3. Strikeouts continue to slow the offense down
The offense has been erratic through the first 12 games of the season. There are days when everyone who steps to the plate blasts a double to the gap. Then there are days when the team swings at pitches outside the zone and doesn’t battle well with two strikes. Unfortunately, the latter scenario has been the case more often than not.
Rice struck out 14 times against Texas State, 10 times against Baylor and four times against TCU. As a whole, the team has more strikeouts (120) than they have hits (118 ). That’s going to happen here and there on an odd series against top-notch starting pitching. Still, as good as the pitching the Owls faced this week was, it’s becoming a problematic trend.
The approach at the plate was much better on Sunday, not coincidentally the Owls’ best offensive performance of the weekend. Hopefully a precursor of better outings from the lineup in the coming weeks.