A week removed from their first home sweep under Matt Bragga, Rice baseball took three straight from Louisiana Tech as their late spring surge continues.
The red-hot Owls have won six in a row as they make their final push for the Conference USA Tournament. Another three-game sweep over the weekend boosted the Owls’ overall record to 21-23 and set them up with a chance to finish their home slate at .500 with a win over Houston on Wednesday.
Another series win brings Rice to 12-9 in Conference play with three weekends to go. Here’s a rundown of their most recent set and a few thoughts on what went well for the Owls against Louisiana Tech.
FRIDAY | Rice 3 – Louisiana Tech 1
Matt Canterino got things off on the right foot with a superb Friday night performance. He struck out 10 in seven innings of scoreless baseball. His counterpart, Louisiana Tech hurler Matt Miller was effective too, save for two booming extra base hits which proved to be the difference-making swings.
Braden Comeaux opened up the scoring with a home run in the fourth. Trei Cruz followed with a triple in the sixth, scoring Comeaux to put Rice ahead 2-0. An error would allow Rice to stretch the lead to 3-0 where it would remain until Lousiana Tech snapped the shutout bid with a solo home run in the ninth.
SATURDAY | Rice 4 – Louisiana Tech 2
The drama started with a close game in the series opener continued through the weekend. This time it was Evan Kravetz on the mound for Rice. He built on Canterino’s impressive start from the night before, throwing 7.1 scoreless innings, striking out seven and walking four before turning things over to the bullpen.
The Rice offense waited til the seventh to get moving, but it struck fast. Bradley Gneiting, Dominic Cox and Comeaux picked up RBI as Rice took a commanding 3-0 lead. After adding one more in the eighth, Rice took a 4-0 lead into the ninth.
With Kendall Jeffries on the mound, Louisiana Tech began to engineer a comeback. Three straight hits pushed Jeffries out of the game. A single off Garrett Gayle cut the Rice lead to 4-2 as the potential game-winning run strode to the plate with no outs in the ninth. Then this happened…
Have you ever seen anything like this before @ESPN?
— Rice Baseball (@RiceBaseball) April 27, 2019
Rice flipped the script, turning a triple play to get out of the jam and secure the series win.
SUNDAY | Rice 3 – Louisiana Tech 2
Louisiana Tech got things going early in the first inning, taking the lead on an RBI double from Tanner Huddleston. They’d tack on another run on a fielders choice in the sixth on which the Owls came extremely close to turning an impressive 3-6-1 double play only to come off a few feet short.
Trailing 2-0, the big bats came through. Trei Cruz followed up singles by Comeaux and Gneiting to get Rice on the board. Gneiting would come around to score on the next at bat by way of an Andrew Dunlap groundout, tying the game 2-2.
Both teams would have their chances through the rest of regulation, but neither was able to push any more runs across. After turning Louisiana Tech away in the top of the 10th, Rice loaded the bases for Cruz who’d stand by as his team won the game on a wild pitch.
— Rice Baseball (@RiceBaseball) April 28, 2019
TAKEAWAYS | Rice wins series 3-0
1. Matt Canterino leads the charge
Like the rest of this team, staff ace Matt Canterino has been up and down through this season too. Even when he’s not at his best, he’s always found a way to compete. Whether it was one mistake too many or not enough help from the fielding and/or offense, Rice won one of Canterino’s first six starts of the season. The team’s record reflecting their inability to win with their best arm on the mound. Then things flipped.
Rice has won each of Canterino’s last five starts. That included Canterino’s first complete game against FIU and two consecutive 7-inning scoreless outings in the Owls’ recent six-game winning streak. Canterino has been better over the past month, but so has his supporting cast.
Winning the first game of the series is incredibly important in the postseason, where Rice hopes to find themselves in a few short weeks. Riding their ace to the finish line will give this team confidence entering the conference tournament.
2. Trei Cruz is ramping back up
Rice shortstop Trei Cruz didn’t go anywhere after he bashed the baseball to bits during the opening series against Rhode Island but his near .400 average dipped down below .300 as his big moments seemed to grow further and further apart. Things came in spurts for a while, but he kept at it. He turned a corner this month and his production has continued to climb
Cruz is hitting .461 over the past two series with four extra-base hits and an RBI in five of the Owls’ six games. He’s one of several guys that seems to be seeing the ball better and making the most of his hard contact.
3. When everything’s good, it’s good
During the rough start to the season, Rice baseball head coach Matt Bragga warned his team to be wary of the snowball effect. Misfortune on the mound, the batter’s box and the field was starting to build on itself. Everything that could go wrong was going wrong, and the resulting losses felt like the Owls’ had missed opportunities all over the place.
Over the past two weeks, the opposite has occurred. The team is playing its best baseball of the year, that’s true. But they’re also the beneficiaries of a more positive version of the same snowballing. From the triple play on Saturday to a walk-off wild-pitch, Rice is finding ways to win. They would have loved to convert more often with runners in scoring position over the weekend, but even with the modest scoring, the balls that needed to fall, fell.
In no way can this weekend’s results be written off as purely good fortunate. Rice stood toe to toe with one of the best teams in Conference USA and won three straight. Luck doesn’t sweep series, good baseball does. Rice is playing good baseball right now. When that happens, the bounces seem to tend towards the positive direction.