Rice baseball led No. 22 Texas A&M early, but couldn’t seal the deal, falling to the Aggies in their final game before conference play begins.
The early innings breezed by as Rice baseball traded three scoreless frames with Texas A&M (14-3) in a crucial midweek game. The Owls were hosting the No. 22 Aggies looking for their Tuesday victory of the young season.
Rice took a one-run lead in the fourth. Texas A&M responded quickly, pounding out back-to-back doubles in the fifth inning to take their first lead of the night. Rice leveled the score in the bottom half of the inning, holding the score at 2-2 before Texas A&M jumped ahead 3-2 in the seventh. The Aggies would add a decisive three additional runs in the eighth before winning 6-2.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
Entering Tuesday’s game Rice baseball was dead last in C-USA in home runs. The Owls have several players in their lineup with power — they ranked fifth in doubles with 28 — but those big hits weren’t leaving the yard.
Justin Collins and Rodrigo Duluc each blasted their first home run of the season against Texas A&M. Collins put Rice ahead in the bottom of the fourth with a solo shot. Duluc followed an inning later, tying the game on a solo bomb of his own after the Aggies had moved ahead in the top of the fifth.
The bullpen at their best …. and their worst
Rice has been at their best this season when their starting pitching led the way. Rather than ride one arm as long as he could, Matt Bragga opted for a bullpen game, trusting a slew of relievers to be at their best against a dangerous Texas A&M lineup. Things started out well enough but trusting eight pitchers to all be at their best proved untenable.
Brandon Deskins and Kel Bordwine threw four hitless innings to start the game. Matthew Santos and Cristian Cienfuegos had scoreless frames. Garret Zaskoda was okay. Caleb Burgess barely scraped together three outs. Josh Larzabal allowed three hits before Andrew Kane came on and surrendered what felt like the backbreaking 2 RBI single in the eighth inning.
Dealt a tough hand, Kane’s short outing ended with a 6-2 Rice deficit. The bullpen which seemed thin entering the game lived up to that expectation. Rice has a few really good arms, but there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of consistency and pitchability.
Thank goodness for conference play
The 2020 series has been a series of heartbreaks for Rice baseball. Sitting at 2-10 prior to the Texas Tech series, Rice was incapable of holding on to a pair of 5+ run leads. They could have won that series. They could have won a few more games here and there. But from a macro-level view, Rice did not pass their brutal nonconference test. They open conference play 2-14.
The Owls have a half dozen proven arms and about that many trustworthy bats. The rest of the pitching staff and lineup could get there, but the rigors of games against Texas, UC Irvine, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and others were akin to a trial by fire. Everything is a bit singed.
Conference USA play marks a fresh slate. As disappointing as the first month has been, Rice baseball has plenty to play for, starting this weekend against Marshall.
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