Rice baseball pushed through the rain for a massive series win over one Conference USA’s best team, taking two of three from Southern Miss.
Pouring rains forced the rescheduling of two games, but the end result was almost exactly what Rice baseball wanted — a series win over the first place team in the conference. The resiliency of this squad was on display as they played their final set of games at Reckling Park this season. The seniors sent themselves out on a high note and put Rice one step closer to a trip to the conference tournament.
Here’s the rundown of how each game played out and three closing thoughts on the impressive series win.
FRIDAY | Southern Miss 6 – Rice 3
The opening game of the series started out much the same way as the typical Friday has for the Owls. Matt Canterino powered through his first five innings with relative ease, allowing two runs on three hits. With Rice behind 2-0 in the fifth, the offense leveled the score. Aaron Beaulaurier flared a bases-loaded single into centerfield, bringing the score back to a 2-2 deadlock. It wouldn’t last long.
Canterino walked the first two batters in the sixth, setting the table for a 2-RBI single from the Golden Eagles. By the time he was relieved later in the sixth by Blair Lewis, Rice trailed 4-2. Southern Miss would add a solo home run in the inning, taking a 5-2 lead into the seventh.
Rice had chances, but four double plays turned by Southern Miss, a high for Rice opponents this season, kept the Owls from finding any level of consistency. Southern Miss and Rice traded single runs in the ninth, closing out the opener 6-3.
SATURDAY | Rice 4 – Southern Miss 0
After Friday’s disappointing showing and another modified schedule courtesy of incorrigible Houston weather, Rice returned to Reckling with purpose. Evan Kravetz was magnificent on the mound. The senior, who was a late addition to the Owls’ rotation to start the year, pitched one of the best games of his career in a moment when the team needed him the most. Kravetz struck out 10 batters in 7.1 innings, walking four while allowing three hits.
Kravetz was aided on the mound by a quick jolt from the offense. Trei Cruz took the first pitch he saw in the first inning and plopped it over the left field fence. The bomb scored Braden Comeaux, giving Rice a 2-0 lead. The Owls would tack on another run in the fifth on an RBI single by Comeaux and another in the eighth on an Andrew Dunlap sac fly.
A shaky relief performance from Kendal Jefferies produced nerves in the Rice dugout before the game was complete. Jefferies loaded the bases in the eighth before coaxing an inning-ending double play. He allowed to Southern Miss batters to reach in the ninth, but escaped that inning without any damage, too. It wasn’t pretty, but he got the outs and the Owls got the win.
SUNDAY | Rice 7 – Southern Miss 2
If a 2-0 lead was comfortable on Saturday, a 4-0 lead felt like an insurmountable advantage for Rice in the rubber game. With Jackson Parthasarathy on the mound, Rice jumped all over Southern Miss. Andrew Dunlap opened things up with a 2 RBI single in the first. Justin Collins followed it up almost immediately, ambushing the first pitch he saw and lifting it over the left field wall, driving in Cade Edwards.
Southern Miss would turn to the bullpen in the first inning. Rice had no such concerns, relying on their Sunday stud through 6.1 innings of one-run ball. In his final home outing, Parthasarathy struck out five, leaving the game in the hands of the bullpen for the final eight outs.
Dalton Wood got the first try but was pulled out quickly after walking two batters on eight pitches. Garret Gayle was up next. He wasn’t perfect, allowing two runs, one charged to each of his proceeding pitchers. He settled down, posting zeroes in the final two frames to lock down the win.
TAKEAWAYS | Rice wins series 2-1
1. This team plays differently with the lead
When Rice has one of their starters on the mound and an early lead the entire psyche of the team seems indomitable. The energy picks up, the bats are more focused and the defense stays in lockstep. That’s what happened Saturday when Cruz launched his home run and it’s what happened Sunday with the big first inning.
The starting pitching is the Owls’ best weapon. When those guys on the mound know they can throw strikes without the need to be absolutely flawless, they pitch better. Rice is going to have the advantage on the mound in almost every game they play through the conference tournament. If those arms can get even the slightest early bump this is a team who could contend for the tournament title.
2. The bullpen keeps getting more and more confusing
If not for a game-changing double-play ball on Saturday evening, Jefferies, one of the Owls most trustworthy relievers could have been sitting on his third bad outing over his last four appearances. He got the job done, but the performance leaves room for doubt.
Blair Lewis and Drake Greenwood both allowed runs in short appearances on Friday. Dalton Wood blew his chance on Sunday and Garrett Gayle allowed two inherited runners to score.
Rice won the series, but there wasn’t anyone in the bullpen who made a strong case to be the first man called in a tough situation. If coach Bragga is going to ride his starters as long as they can go, which makes sense given how good they’ve been, a sticky situation or two might occur. Right now, Rice lacks a go-to guy in the pen and they’ve got a week to find it.
3. Inching closer and closer to Biloxi
Entering their weekend series with Southern Miss, Rice needed to find a way to secure three wins in their final six games to feel confident about clinching a spot in the CUSA Baseball tournament. They didn’t take three from the Golden Eagles but they won two important games.
Rice is 14-13, good for fifth place in CUSA with the tiebreaker over Old Dominion. The Owls are three wins better than Marshall (11-5), UTSA (11-15), FIU (11-16) and Middle Tennessee (11-16). With a single win in their final conference series, Rice clinches a postseason berth.