It’s been a season of streaks, both good and bad, for Rice baseball. A road series sweep of Old Dominion has the Owls on the upswing.
The back and forth swings of the 2019 Rice baseball season hit a high note in Virginia. After winning their first conference game on Sunday against UTSA, Rice extended their CUSA winning streak to four games in a row with a three game sweep of Old Dominion.
The strong weekend boosts the Owls’ record to 12-18 (4-5 CUSA). While it wasn’t quite a “must win” series, the impact from the impressive showing will have repercussions in the days to come. Here are how each game finished and three final takeaways from one of the Owl’s best weekends of the season.
FRIDAY | Rice 3 – Old Dominion 1
Despite a 1-4 record entering the series, Rice ace Matt Canterino has been steady. Ufnoratunetly for him, one bad inning had spoiled his last few starts as the offense behind him sputtered. He only got three runs of support on Friday night, but Canterino was so locked in that would prove to be more than enough.
Canterino’s only run allowed came by way of a wild pitch in the fifth inning, an inning in which he recorded three of his season-high 12 strikeouts. The run could only even the score — Bradley Gneiting had opened up a 1-0 edge in the top half of the inning with an RBI single.
Rice would tack on two additional runs in the seventh and eighth innings on solo home runs to left field by Braden Comeaux and Justin Collins, respectively. Kendal Jeffries would relieve Canterino after six innings and silence Old Dominion for the remainder of the game, allowing one hit and zero runs as he faced the minimum to earn his third save of the year.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON | Rice 14 – Old Dominion 10
Both offenses came out swinging following the pitcher’s duel on Friday night. Neither starting pitcher made it past the third inning. Tommy Gertner recorded five outs and was charged with five runs after hitting four batters, walking two and allowing five hits. Rice starter Addison Moss was equally ineffective, allowing seven runs while walking three in 2+ innings of work.
Fortunately for the Owls, they had proven starter Jackson Parthasarathy waiting in the pen. He came on in the third and closed out the game, throwing seven innings of three-run ball. Old Dominion wasn’t nearly as fortunate. The Monarchs turned to six pitchers on the day, none of which lasted at least three innings. All but one, Trey Fisher who got the last two outs in the ninth, allowed fewer than two hits and one run.
Outfielder Dominic Cox led the way with seven RBI on three extra base hits, highlighted by his first home run on the season. Andrew Dunlap blasted two home runs of his own driving in four. Every player in the Owls’ lineup reached base at least once and the team totaled just seven strikeouts, tied for the fewest in conference play.
SATURDAY NIGHT| Rice 11 – Old Dominion 2
Bumped up from the previously scheduled Sunday start, Rice picked up where they left off in the earlier game, blasting past Old Dominion in the series finale to sweep the series. Evan Kravetz had arguably the best outing of his career, allowing three hits and two runs in eight innings of work against an Old Dominion lineup which had scored 10 runs against Rice only a few hours before he took the mound.
Kravetz allowed a single in the first before holding the Monarchs without a hit from the second to the sixth inning. Old Dominion scored twice on a pair of sacrifice flies in the seventh, but an 8-0 Rice advantage made the damage seem paltry in comparison.
As Kravetz dealt on the mound, Rice pounded out 16 hits, the most against any conference opponent yet this season. Dunlap hit his third home run of the day, extenind a 1-0 Rice lead to a 4-0 lead in the third inning. Collins would follow with another home run. The five-run margin proved to be more than enough, but Rice would tack on three runs in the seventh and ninth innings for good measure.
TAKEAWAYS | Rice wins series 3-0
1. The offense actually looks balanced
At the beginning of the season it felt like it was Trei Cruz against the world. The talented shortstop carries a big stick, but he’s since fallen down in the stat sheet following his hot start. Four every day starters are hitting .300 or better — that doesn’t include Cruz or Collins behind the plate. Nor does it count red-hot Dominic Cox.
The first seven batters Rice started in the last game of the series on Saturday were hitting .286 or better. Rice scored 11 runs. It’s not rocket science, but seven strong hitters typically leads to more productive offenses than weak lineups with one big-time slugger. That was where the Owls found themselves early on as Cruz flirted with a ,400 average. Now, they’re fairly even keeled with players emerging from all over the roster to make big hits.
This offense is more than just Trei Cruz right now. And perhaps not so coincidentally, the production increased exponentially.
2. More often that not, the rotation is going to be enough
Matt Canterino only went six innings, but he struck out 12. In quick relief of Addison Moss, Jackson Parthasarathy went seven innings on Saturday before Evan Kravetz slammed the door in the final game to secure the sweep. As a unit, it was a pretty good weekend, especially when you consider how much Rice needed to win to a weekend series.
If Rice can get close to that level of effectiveness each weekend in conference play they’ll be a threat to take down all comers. That’s especially true considering the masterful work of the Rice bullpen over the weekend. The three relievers utilized by coach Matt Bragg over the weekend — Jeffries, Parthasarathy and Gayle — allowed three runs on nine hits in 11 innings.
It’s been a season of streaks. After opening with a series win over Rhode Island, Rice looked out of touch in losses to Arizona and Texas as well as weekend series dropped to UC Irvine and Oklahoma. They righted that ship with a huge weekend at the Shriner’s College Classic at Minute Maid Park.
Then things went south again. Rice dropped their first five conference games and looked bad doing it. There were questions about whether or not this team could do enough to earn a postseason berth, something which has been the expected outcome of season at Rice for some time. Sitting in another low spot, Rice rallied again.
Baseball is an intensive character to test. Players on all teams learn a lot about themselves during the strains of tough stretches on the plate or at the ound. It takes intestinal fortitude, guts, to weather the storm and keep fighting. Whether or not they’ll reach the postseason or not remains to be seen, but this team continues to prove they’re going to battle. That’s a good sign.