Rice baseball played a trio of close games against longtime rival Texas, but found themselves on the wrong side of each contest, starting the season 0-3.
THREE FOR THE ROAD | Texas wins series 3-0
1. The starting pitching didn’t dazzle but kept Rice in every game
Alex DeLeon, Blake Brogdon and Kel Bordwine combined to throw 14.1 innings, allowing 14 hits, 12 runs while striking out eight. That’s not up to the lofty standard set by Matt Canterino and Evan Kravetz in 2019, but it’s not going to doom a weekend on its own. It’s a modest starting point for a weekend rotation that will go through several permutations before settling on the three men tasked with carrying a typical series.
Roel Garcia and Dalton Wood could both figure into how the rotation looks come conference time. Both are currently working back to health and should be available in some capacity later in the season. Garcia is expected to make his season debut on Tuesday with the possibility of a Sunday outing from him depending on how he fares in his first time out.
The short outings were the biggest worry spot from the weekend. Not having any of their three starters finish the sixth inning is an unsustainable hindrance for a team with eyes on a winning season.
2. The bats have to wake up
The Rice offense was purported the most likely unit to click this season. Amid concerns with new faces on the mound, Rice returned their best hitters from last season. They’d also added key transfers like Austin Bulman and Daniel Hernandez. Seeing the unit come out somewhat sluggish early on was a bit disappointing.
With opening weekend in the books, five Rice hitters are hitting better than .270 this year
- Braden Comeaux – .417, 1 HR, 3 RBI
- Cade Edwards – .375, 3B, 1 RBI
- Austin Bulman – .308, 1 HR, 1 RBI
- Trei Cruz – .300, 2B
- Daniel Hernandez – .273, 2B, 1 RBI
There’s plenty of room for growth. And it should get better. Sunday was a testament to that. The Owls produced 10 hits, but only two runs. Third baseman Braden Comeaux, who went 4-for-4 in the finale, said Rice “just had to change our plan and our approach slightly at the plate. We were doing a little bit of guessing.”
That’s a decent portion of the lineup hitting reasonably well. The problem has been the situational hitting combined with multiple hitless outings from the likes of Tyler LaRue, Brayden Combs and Justin Collins. The 4-hole hitters combined to go 2-for-12 on the weekend.
Granted, the arms Texas through during the series were some of the better ones the Owls will face this season. Friday’s muted second inning against Bryce Elder — in which Rice scored just twice after being gifted three hit batsman and an error — serves as the uncomfortable encapsulation of the current state of the offense.
3. Don’t fix the stuff that isn’t broken
The schedule is one of the more challenging slates in the conference, if not the nation. Rice baseball doesn’t have any “gimme” weekends to iron out the kinks. They’ll play at UC Irvine, at Texas Tech and home against Missouri State over the next several weekends. Those are quality postseason teams with Omaha experience. Rice is going to have to figure things out on the fly.
The defense and the relief pitching shined on opening weekend. After starting the 2019 campaign as one of the most error-prone teams in Conference USA, Rice eventually became the best fielding team at the conference tournament. That consistently held true against Texas. The Owls watched the Longhorns commit three errors. Rice had none during the first two games before committing two on Sunday.
And although the relievers entered with just as many question marks (if not more) than the starting pitching, the Rice pen was superb throughout the series. Cristian Cienfuegos, Josh Larzabal and Drake Greenwood had great outings, spanning multiple innings against what looks to be a decent hitting team. It’s early, but those two units looked particularly crisp in their first action of the year.
FRIDAY | Texas 7 – Rice 4
Both teams came out a bit rusty on opening night. All Big-12 pitcher Bryce Elder hit three batters in the second inning and Texas committed their first of three errors on the night. That enabled Rice — despite not hitting a ball out of the infield — to take an early 2-1 lead.
Strong bats were enough for the visitors to overcome those lapses. A home run in the third and another in the fourth staked Texas to a 5-2 lead. The third Texas dinger came in the seventh, putting the Owls into a 7-3 hole from which they were unable to recover.
SATURDAY | Texas 4 – Rice 0
The Rice baseball offense was quiet again in the series-deciding Saturday loss. Rice mustered five hits and failed to convert in clutch moments, going 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position and 2-for-8 with runners on base.
Blake Brogdon pitched 5.2 strong innings on the mound, allowing three runs and keeping the Owls in the game before handing things over to the bullpen duo of Drake Greenwood and Garrett Zaskoda. A few solo home runs by the Longhorns proved enough for them to snag the series win.
SUNDAY | Texas 5 – Rice 4
It was Texas which struck first again in the series finale. The Longhorns smoked four balls to the outfield in the first inning, forcing Kel Bordwine to battle back from behind. He eventually settled in, at one point retiring six in a row before being relieved in the fifth inning.
The Rice bats were limited to small bursts. Cade Edwards had an RBI single in the fourth. Austin Bulman had a solo home run in the sixth. A recurring theme from last year reared it’s head again — hitting with runners in scoring position. Rice went 3-for-22 with runners in scoring position this weekend.