It took a few games to get in a groove, but Rice baseball found their rhythm in a 2-1 series win over Missouri State over the weekend.
THREE FOR THE ROAD | Rice wins the series 2-1
1. The bats are here!
Rice scored as many runs in the first inning of their Friday game than they managed in their previous four games combined. That’s seven runs prior to getting three outs compared to seven runs after 36 outs. It wasn’t a completely clean flip of the switch. The offense didn’t do much on Saturday and still could have been better than the five runs scored on Sunday.
Big weekends from Austin Bulman, Bradley Gneiting, Rodrigo Duluc, Trei Cruz and others have given the Owls a semblance of a starting lineup. There’s still a bit more work to be done organizing the outfield, but the offense has cleared the first hurdle. This was a positive step after two successive backward weekends.
2. DeLeon shows he can do it — but consistency still a problem
DeLeon’s seven innings of five-hit, four-run ball don’t qualify as a quality start, nor should they after the rocky start. Still, the way the veteran was able to settle in and battle for as long as he did showed a tremendous amount of poise and control. Getting comfortable after a first-inning as poor as he had and going deep into the game says a lot about his staying power within the Rice rotation.
The stat sheet still shows a grisly 9.82 ERA next to his name. For him, though, the bad has come in bunches. His ERA would drop significantly if not for the few awful innings he’s been a part of for one reason or another. You can’t cherry pick stats to fit a narrative, but any good story need context. DeLeon has been about as good as his high ERA says. That said, there’s clearly room for improvement if he can eliminate his early game struggles.
3. The sky is not falling
Things were grim after the 0-7 start. 2-8 doesn’t look much better on the official tally, but it will feel a lot different between the ears of this Rice baseball team. The psychological impact of a series win outways whatever good this series will have in the final standings. Missouri State hasn’t proven themselves to be all that great of a baseball team this season. Unless Rice plays themselves into a position for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, this weekend won’t drastically impact their season. Still, it mattered to this team. It mattered a lot.
On some level, Rice just needed to remember how to win. Batting around on Friday night, responding to a “here-we-go-again” scare with the most impressive offensive outburst of the season shows what this team can be. Consistency will be the key. And they’ll have to figure that out on the fly too.
FRIDAY | Rice 12 – Missouri State 4
Things started out rocky for the Owls on Friday night. Missouri State stuck with a four-spot in the first inning off pitcher Alex DeLeon. The embattled starter did not face a deficit for long. His offense woke up, batting around in the bottom half of the inning. By the time he returned to the mound, Rice had staked themselves to a 7-4 lead.
A home run by Trei Cruz and triples by Rodrigo Duluc and Bradley Gneiting highlighted a night in which the Owls had more extra-base hits than Missouri State totalled base hits of any kind.
SATURDAY | Missouri State 9 – Rice 3
Missouri State took an early lead, but Rice kept things close in the middle game up until the seventh inning. An error allowed the leadoff man to reach, setting the stage for four un-earned runs to extend the visitor’s lead from 4-0 to 7-0. Rice would tack on a few runs at the end, but it was never enough to make it feel like the Owls were close to making this a game again after that.
SUNDAY | Rice 5 – Missouri State 1
Rice fell behing in the first inning during Sunday’s rubber match. Seeking their first series win of the season, the Owls dug deep, scratching across runs in the third, fourth, fifth and seventh innings to take and extend the lead. Rice only out-hit Missouri State nine to seven, but the Owls got the more timely hits — something that had eluded them in recent weeks.