Swept for the second time in as many weekends, Rice baseball leaves a three-game stint at UC Irvine with an 0-6 record for the season.
THREE FOR THE ROAD | UC Irvine wins series 3-0
1. Roel Garcia will be the Owls’ ace
Transfer Alex DeLeon has failed to seize the Friday night role after his first two outings with the Owls. He gave up six runs in four innings on Opening Day. He followed that up with a three-inning, four-run outing against UC Irvine. His 14.09 ERA through two starts won’t knock him from the rotation just yet, but the juxtaposition of Garcia’s first outing in more than a year with DeLeon’s work against the same lineup was telling.
Garcia struck out three and allowed no hits in two scoreless innings. Some rust was understandable in his first time back on the mound since the 2018 season. Holding the Anteaters scoreless through one inning would have been an encouraging sing. Blanking them in two innings is an indication he could be closer to returning to his usual self than might have been anticipated.
The Friday night role will be Garcia’s when he’s back to 100 percent, or perhaps sooner. How DeLeon, Blake Brogdon, Dalton Wood and others fit into the rest of the rotation remains to be seen.
2. Sputtering offense struggles to string together hits
Saturday’s 2-1 nail biter was even more agonizingly close than the final score reveals. After being no-hit through four innings for the second day in a row, Rice had a runner in scoring position in the final five innings. That runner got all the way to third base in four of the final five frames. Rice recorded zero hits in eight opportunities. The only RBI came on a groundout, a productive out, but a hollow showing nonetheless.
The pitching staff has been largely a net-positive through the first two weeks of the season. Singular crushing outings by one pitcher here (and another there (DeLeona and Bordwine in this case) have led to the jagged box scores.
On most days, the Owls won’t need 10 runs to walk away with a victory. Getting two to three of those hits in clutch moments could sway games, even some series, in the Owls’ favor. What Rice can’t do is disappear completely at the plate every time they have the chance to put up a crooked number.
Rice baseball has scored 14 runs through their first six games. Frankly, that’s not good enough. Rice capped the UC Irvine series with four runs on 10 hits on Sunday. Their opponents managed twice the run total (nine) on just one fewer hit.
3. The continued development of Trei Cruz
Coaches and fellow players raved about the growth of Trei Cruz this offseason. A Cape Cod League All-Star and the Preseason Conference USA Player of the Year, Cruz has played well in the Owls’ first two series. The shortstop has made multiple Sportscenter Top 10-caliber plays in the dirt, showcasing his defensive prowess.
His bat has been as productive as the rest of the Rice hitters, but it’s been his discipline that’s been most impressive. Cruz is tied for the team lead in walks (five), taking advantage of pitchers who know how dangerous a mistake thrown his way can be.
Finding protection behind in the lineup should get him more hittable pitches. But for the time being, Cruz is extending innings and giving his teammates opportunities to produce runs. He can’t do it all himself, and he’s not trying to force it.
FRIDAY | UC Irvine 10 – Rice 1
Despite having no offensive output for most of the game, Rice kept the game within reach through five innings. Roel Garcia got the Owls off to a strong start. Alex DeLeon got roughed up upon his entrance but navigated the fourth and fifth innings allowing just one run. Then the floodgates burst and UC Irvine took complete control of the game with a 4-run sixth inning.
Aaron Baulaurier doubled to right center in the eight, breaking up UC Irvine’s combined no-hit bid. Justin Dunlap scored later that inning on a wild pitch. But salvaging a run was too little too late in a one-sided series-opening loss much more convincing than any of the Owls’ losses to Texas on opening weekend.
SATURDAY | UC Irvine 2 – Rice 1
This was the ultimate game of missed opportunities. Rice baseball was one hit away from winning this one for what felt likes hours. The hit never came. Blake Brogdon’s strong night (5 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 8 K) came up void. The two runs Brogdon allowed came immediately following leadoff doubles, one in the fourth and another in the sixth. When faced with similar chances, Rice hitters couldn’t push even the tying run across.
The final effort came with two outs in the ninth. Braden Comeaux and Cade Edwards singled to put runners on the corners. Trei Cruz came to the plate, a hit from tying the game. He popped one down the right field line in foul territory. UC Irvine outfielder Riley Kasper made a play on the ball but was injured and forced to leave the game after an extended delay. Facing one more pitch after the wait, Cruz struck out.
SUNDAY | UC Irvine 9 – Rice 4
Comeaux slapped a leadoff single to start the game, ruining any no-hit bids out of the gate. Rice would tally 10 hits on the day, three more than they’d managed in the first two games of the series. The Owls wouldn’t score until the eighth inning. By that time the game was essentially over.
UC Irvine dealt a three-run blow to Rice starter Drake Greenwood in the second inning. The finishing blow came as soon as he was relieved in the fifth. Kel Bordwine was ambushed upon his entrance. He allowed six runs (five charged to him) on four hits and one walk, retiring two of the seven batters he faced. Down 9-0, Rice baseball played things out to the finish.