Rice baseball looked to have settled into some sort of rhythm, but a bad day of baseball led to a dropped double header and a series loss to FIU.
Winners of four straight entering the weekend, Rice was looking to reinsert themselves into the thick of the conference race with a strong showing against FIU over the weekend. Things got off to a strong start, but Rice struggled in a Saturday double header, dropping the series to an FIU team which had been scuttling prior to their trip to Texas.
The Owls’ record moves to 14-20 following the 1-2 weekend. Here’s a rundown of each result and three key things we learned about this team over against FIU.
FRIDAY | Rice 8 – FIU 5
It wasn’t a perfect night from Matt Canterino, but the Owls’ ace delivered his first complete game performance of his career in a winning effort to kick the series off on the right foot. Canterino had one rough inning, allowing four runs in the second, before settling down for the remainder of the contest.
The Rice offense bookended the game with big innings. Andrew Dunlap started things off with a two run home run in the first, his seventh long ball of the season. Rice scratched across one more run over the next five innings before getting the offense up and running once more in the seventh.
Trailing 5-3, Rice battled back with five runs in their final two trips to the plate. Bradley Gneiting picked up an RBI single in each inning. Trei Cruz and Braden Comeaux picked up RBI, too. The rally marked the first time this season Rice had won a game when trailing after six innings, breaking an 0-13 stretch.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON | FIU 13 – Rice 7
Flashes of offense on Friday night turned into a cavalcade of runs in the first half of the Saturday double header. The teams combined for 20 runs on 27 hits. The biggest difference was the dispersion of those runs. Rice scored five of their seven in a single inning, the second. FIU tacked on at least one run in six of the nine innings, putting up two or more on four separate occasions
It looked like the two teams were going to duke it out after Rice answered a 4-0 start by FIU with five runs of their own in the third inning. After a Comeaux triple scored two, Gneiting followed with an RBI single to bring Rice within one. Rice tied the game and took the lead on a pair of one-out singles by Dunlap and Justin Collins.
From that point onward it was all FIU. In relief of Evan Kravetz, who allowed five earned runs in 4.2 innings, Garrett Gayle, Jackson Tyner and Matt Deskins all allowed runs with Tyner allowing three to score while recording only one out. Rice snuck back two runs after falling behind 13-5, but was unable to do enough to climb out of the sizable hole.
SATURDAY NIGHT| FIU 5 – Rice 2
The bats cooled down for both sides as Jackson Parthasarathy and Franco Aleman strung together two of the better outings by any of the pitchers who took the mound this weekend. A two run home run by Jose Garcia put FIU in the lead in the second as the Rice batters struggled to string hits together.
Parthasarathy earned the win in long relief of Addison Moss last Saturday, earning a spot back in the rotation against FIU. His strong start gave Rice chances to get back into the game, holding the visitors to five hits and three runs, striking out three.
Rice would go to Aleman at the end of his outing, forcing him from the game after two runs in the eighth. That would be it for Rice, who dropped the game and the series in rather disappointing fashion.
TAKEAWAYS | FIU wins series 2-1
1. The offense is slowly heading in the right direction
There were moments this season where it felt like Rice needed all the stars to align for their offense to be successful over the course of nine full innings. The Owls scored 13 runs in three games against FAU and 13 in three games against UTSA. A 3-1 victory in the series opener against Old Dominion gave way to a 25 run finish over the final two games, a pace Rice maintained into the following weekend.
Rice managed 17 runs against FIU, the collection of which came from a variety of sources. Comeaux and Dunlap had big weekends, but they’re batting at the top half of the order precisely for that reason. It was players like Aaron Beaulaurier, Dominic Cox, and Cade Edwards who’ve had strong at bats as well.
Those parts stumbled on Saturday. Head coach Matt Bragga was noticeably frustrated with his team’s performance, “There is no magic answer,” he said, “If there was I would be doing it and we would be [winning].” Outside of the series finale, the offense has been moving in the right direction. Next week will be another test of the Owls’ ability to rebound.
2. Three, please
Canterino, Moss, Parthasarathy and Moss have what it takes to be weekend starters in Conference USA. It’s not reasonable to expect scoreless outings from whichever of the three are named to the weekend rotation each time. With that said, Rice hasn’t had a weekend where all three starters through well since they won two of three in the Shriner’s College Classic. The math doesn’t add up.
“When you pitch, you have a chance,” Bragga recounted. He was right. The result of a three-run game can be swung in a single inning. Too often things have been swinging the wrong for this rotation.
Rice has too much talent on the mound to be digging out of at least one sizable hole every weekend. This unit should regularly be throwing at least five innings without leaving the game early with a large crooked number on the board against them. The upside here is they’re capable of flipping the switch. The downside is they’re running out of weekends to put it all together.
3. And now for the home stretch
Even though it feels as if conference play just began, Rice is more than halfway through the 2019 season. The Owls have 34 games under their belt with 22 regular season games to play. It’s been a bumpy ride. Bragga summed it up best, “Good teams aren’t streaky. Good teams win.”
The Owls are within striking distance of .500 in conference play and have wins over in-state powerhouses Baylor and TCU. They have proof they’re capable of going toe-to-toe with most anyone, but the bigger number in the loss column speaks to the inconsistency with which they’ve struggled with all year.
Rice has one of the better arms in the league with a host of guys who could be great on a given night. The lineup is coming together and the fielding has improved by leaps and bounds. They’ll only be able to capitalize on those strengths by putting together more complete games in April and May.