Rice baseball salvaged a tough weekend series against UTSA with a come from behind win on Sunday, their first victory when their opponent scored first this season.
It was another up and down weekend for Rice baseball as the Owls dropped the first two games against UTSA before rallying for a Sunday victory. The win snapped a seven-game losing streak for the Owls and an 0-5 start in conference play. Here’s a wrap up on each of the three games and some closing thoughts on the Owls’ second CUSA series.
FRIDAY | UTSA 4 – Rice 2
Rice ace Matt Canterino put together a career-long outing in the series opener on Friday, throwing 8 2/3rds innings before being relieved in the ninth by Kendall Jeffries for one final out. As was the case in his outing against FAU, Canterino was sharp for the duration, save for one crooked number which would prove to be the decider.
Canterino retired the first 10 batters he faced, hurtling through his start until the seventh inning where two triples, a single and a wild pitch put his team behind 3-0. Rice would respond with two runs of their own in the bottom half of the frame, leaving the tying run on third after a triple of their own.
UTSA would tack on an insurance run on a two-out double in the ninth, leaving Rice one more chance to even the score. With two men on in the ninth, Cade Edwards struck out to end the game.
SATURDAY | UTSA 9 – Rice 3
Jackson Parthasarathy, bumped up from his typical Sunday slot in the starting rotation, lasted two innings in the second game of this series. He was ticketed for four earned runs on five hits before being replaced by Addison Moss out of the bullpen in what felt like a crucial game for Rice tow in.
Not only was Moss unable to stop the bleeding, he had his second consecutive poor outing, allowing four earned runs on five hits, walking two. Trailing 8-0 entering the bottom of the fourth, Rice was unable to get enough big hits to make a meaningful dent in the sizable deficit.
Andrew Dunlap and Dominic Cox each picked up two hits and scored all three of the Owls’ runs on the afternoon. The bullpen combination of Blair Lewis and Dalton Wood held the Roadrunners scoreless over the final four innings, but it proved to be too little too late.
SUNDAY | Rice 8 – UTSA 3
Rice entered the final game of the series in desperate need of a victory to stop a seven-game skid. Evan Kravetz held his own early, but trouble in the third allowed UTSA to strike first. At that point, Rice was 0-14 when their opponents scored the first run.
Sensing the need to right the ship, Rice flipped the script in the bottom half of the inning. Following an RBI single from Bradley Gneiting, the Owls took the lead on a drooping double from Cade Ewards which landed on the right side of the right field line, scoring two to give Rice a 3-1 lead. UTSA evened the score the following frame with a two-run homer to left field.
Momentum seemed to shift toward the Owls in the fifth. In the top half of the inning, Braden Comeaux gunned down the would-be go ahead run at the plate. In the bottom half, Cade Edwards punched a bullet into center field, scoring Andrew Dunlap to give Rice a 4-3 lead.
TAKEAWAYS | UTSA wins series 2-1
1. If the starting rotation stumbled, Rice is in trouble
The combination of Matt Canterino, Jackson Parthasarathy, Evan Kravetz and Addison Moss have been ticketed as the biggest assets this team has in 2019. Canterino has a future in the big leagues, while the others have each achieved legitimate collegiate successes.
The bullpen has been hit or miss. The lineup has struggled through injuries and been inconsistent when healthy. The starting rotation isn’t all this team has to turn things around, but it’s unquestionably the greatest weapon in the arsenal. But Canterino is losing ball games. Moss and Parthasarathy didn’t make it through three innings. Kravetz was marginally better on Sunday, throwing 4 1/3rd innings and allowing three runs.
Nobody else has emerged to help right the ship. Rice’s big guns need to step up. If the starting rotation doesn’t turn things around Rice is going to lose a lot more 4-2 games.
2. The lineup wasn’t deep … and then came the injuries
Dominic DiCaprio will miss the remainder of the season with recurring back injuries. A senior, it looks like DiCaprio has played his last games ever for the Blue and Gray. He ends his career with a .299 average, 173 hits and 85 RBI. DiCaprio hadn’t been the same since injuries spoiled his junior season, but his veteran presence in the lineup will be missed.
That alone would be a concern for a thin Rice lineup which is already coping with a string of injuries. Braden Comeaux returned to the lineup this weekend after missing a week with a back injury. Brandt Frazier eased back in last weekend against FAU after recovering from a hamstring injury.
Justin Collins didn’t miss extended time, but a midweek scare on a backswing against Texas State made all Rice fans hold their breath. Rice absolutely must stay healthy, particularly with one of their senior bats being put on the shelf.
3. Consistency is needed from Six – Seven – Eight – Nine
Health aside, Rice has been able to find relatively consistent production from their top half of the lineup. The Owls have five players hitting better than .300 on the season, but the rotation of outfielders and whomever draws the start at first base has been problematic.
Dominic Cox, who had four base hits on the season entering the UTSA series, had his best weekend yet with three hits from the bottom third of the order. Outside of his strong weekend, the bottom four spots in the lineup hit a meager 7-for-33 (.212) with nine strikeouts, salvaged by a big seventh inning on Sunday against multiple UTSA relievers.
The bottom third of most lineups in college baseball will punch below the level of the top third; there are only so many bats to go around. Expecting a .400 hitter to emerge from the eight-hole isn’t realistic, but finding someone who can make contact consistently and put balls in play at a reasonable clip is doable. Rice has yet to find the combination which makes that happen.
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